Friday, December 13, 2013

What is a Master?


There have been questions with regard to the idea of the "master" and "mastery" floating around the internet in various forms for months. Being that I post quite a bit here about fencing and I am known by some, I thought it was time that I set the record straight as to what I think of the concept. Hopefully I will also be able to address some of the mysteries of this word and some of the ideas surrounding it, at least from my point of view. Please remember as you read that this is my own point of view.

Myself as a "Master"

In some circles I am referred to as a "master" of what I do. I thought that it would be most useful to address my own position before discussing a more general pattern and thought process. In my particular case there are two times where I might be referred to by the title master. It will be noted that in each circumstance these are with regard to a specific field of expertise and are specific to the setting in which they are found. Neither has any claims of anything more grand or over-reaching.

The first title of "master" is within the Lochac Royal Guild of Defense, and this is as a Guildmaster, or Guild Master as the case may be. This is a teaching organisation formed within Australia as part of the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) in which each rank is tested. This rank is an accepted level of competence in western martial arts, and more so as an established teacher and researcher of western martial arts. The important part here is that it points these individuals out as teachers, not necessarily as great fencers, even though each is in their own particular way in their own particular right. This title is for the most part only recognised within the SCA, and in many ways only in Australia.

In the second instance of the use of the title of "master" it is Master of the School of Historical Defense Arts (SHDA). This is a title adopted for the school to denote the highest rank in the school, and as an administrative title which could be easily replaced with President or Chairman or similar things. For the most part, however this is to indicate the head trainer of the school and in many ways I get tempted to replace it with a more Elizabethan title in "Schole Maister" in order to be specific as to what the title means. It means that I am the highest rank teacher in the school. Once again no claims of anything but being a teacher and researcher.

You will notice that in both instances the words "teacher" and "researcher" are present with regard to the title of "master" in both instances. I think that this is vital. I know I have much to learn, and I am extremely happy about this. Every practitioner should and must keep learning for many reasons, the main answer for all of them is that it is better for the practitioner and also better for others who the practitioner comes into contact with. I make no claims with regards to my titles other than those which have been presented here, and I am quite happy to discuss this if anyone is interested.

"The Master"

Hopefully in this part of the discussion I may be able to shed some light on what it means to be a "master" of western martial arts. As far as I am concerned the following statement is accurate: A Master is a researcher and teacher. A Master  is not necessarily the most excellent fencer in the world. Therefore the creation of a master in the community of western martial artists is an excellent thing. But this gives little explanation.

In the thoughts of the "general public" a master is an unbeatable, mysterious teacher, a possessor of mystic arts only passed on to dedicated and appropriate students. This is more related to martial arts movies than real expectations. This is one which has been crossed over due to many Eastern Martial Arts movies and even the Star Wars franchise. In these instances people who are referred to as "master" possess mystical martial and other skills and abilities not possessed by normal people.

The title of mastery states an expectation of a certain level of skill at teaching and also period of learning and teaching, nothing more. This is an expectation of time spent engaging with weapons, learning from manuals, researching forms and many hours of practice. It does not state any mystical ability, aside from the ability to pass on the skills of the weapons to others, which is a powerful ability indeed.

There are some western martial arts organisations which shy away from the idea of the title master in order to avoid the entire process. I think that this is foolish. These organisations have accepted levels, as above for mastery and every other level. If you are the head teacher and/or administrator of a martial arts group with a school-ish approach to learning and skill levels, why should you not claim the title? The attainment of this level does not imply any ability to sit back and finish your learning, but encourages you to continue in order that you can pass on more to your students.

How is it a bad thing to create a "master" if the level is pointed toward the teaching aspect? This merely recognises more teachers within the community, and more opportunity for students to learn and learn more. The possession of the title of "master" should encourage someone to do more rather than less, to learn more in order to keep ahead of students, and in order to teach the students more in order that they can be come better at their art. So some organisation creates a "master", how does it affect us anyway? If not over-reaching organisation? If not applicable organisation? If no expectations present? The only time a person should be concerned is where this organisation has the ability to affect what you do or what your school does.

The USFCA has created an historical martial arts mastery qualification. Firstly I live in Australia, so it does not affect me other than demonstrate a forward-looking approach and an attempt to create some pedagogy for western martial arts. Secondly I am not a member which is in any way affiliated with the USFCA, so it does not affect me. As far as I can see, so long as it is bestowed for continued and continuing teaching and researching it cannot be a bad thing.

Take a step back. Do some research. Have a look at what mastery means to you. Have a look at what becoming a master means to you. These are important questions that every western martial artist should look at. We as western martial artists need to stand up for teaching and research and things which encourage them. We should stand up for aspects which encourage pedagogical approaches to learning western martial arts. If this means making masters, based on demonstrated progression in a pedagogical sense, in organisations, then that is what we need to do. In my particular case as long as "masters" are created within the western martial arts community in order to promote the art, and they are given to people with demonstrated teaching and research I can not see it being a bad thing.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Saviolo's Weapons


I took it upon myself to examine the depictions given by Vincentio Saviolo, or at least his artist, of the two combatants and their weapons in order that I might discern the length of the weapons though proper by Saviolo for the practice of his art. While Saviolo gives no indication of the length of his weapons in his text, nor gives any particular preference to the length of the weapon desired by him, the depiction of the weapons gives some idea of what these weapons should be like. The following details the short bit of research that I embarked upon in the search for the weapons of Saviolo.

The first question is why? Or more to the point, why bother? To this I answer that having some idea of the length of the weapons is useful due to the effect which the length of a weapon has upon the combat in which it is involved. Clearly a weapon's make-up will have an effect on the combat. Weapons designed for cutting thrust less well, and vice versa. Thus gaining some idea of the length of the weapons in Saviolo will assist in the understanding of his combat, along with the proportion of the weapon to the user, which also has an effect.

What needs to be noted and accepted is that there are some inaccuracies that need to be taken into account. These inaccuracies will become apparent because of the method used and also some of the data collected from external sources. However, even with these factors the results of this examination are useful as it will give at least an approximate answer to the question.

First of all the "average" height of a male of the Renaissance period was researched in order to give some way to transfer the data from the page and into a "real world" setting. By the research performed on this particular subject the average height was established at approximately 5'5" or approximately 165-cm. The second part was to decide on what images to use to gain the data. So four images were selected, the first four given in the manual. Thus there is the depiction of the three single rapier and one from rapier and dagger. With this information gained it was then possible to start examining the images.

All of the images were scaled so that they were all from a common source. These images were then placed upon the screen and measurements taken of the height of the individual, the length of their sword arm, and the length of the weapons. Clearly using a ruler and measuring them off the screen would result in some inaccuracies, and some differences in the measurements given. As a result averages were made across the data. Not to mention any inaccuracies of the artist who produced the images.

The result of the averaging gave some single numbers to generally reflect the height of the individuals depicted, the lengths of their sword arms, and the lengths of their weapons. In order to bring these measurements into the real world, the average height was measured to the "real world" average height. The result of this calculation resulted in an average height in the real world and a multiplication factor to be applied to the average lengths of arms and weapons.

Assuming that the images depict and individual of average height, the swords depicted in the images have a total length of 118-cm or 46", with a blade length of 104-cm or 41". The total dagger length was 43-cm or 17", with a blade length of 30-cm or 12". Further, due to the calculations given, proportions of weapon to height and weapon to arm length are also possible. The sword was approximately twice the length of the arm, measured from shoulder to wrist, and approximately 70% of the height of the person.

I will in no way claim that these are the definitive answers to either weapon length or proportion to the individual as preferred by Saviolo, nor will I claim that these are the lengths of weapons used in his art. However, they are useful as an experiment as they do give us some idea of the length of weapons used in the period. This alone is useful as it allows us to tailor our weapons to a length which is more appropriate to the art which is being performed. Of course averages could have been taken from sword data, however, swords are very personal things and each person will have their preference, thus the variations would have been much wilder. Further investigation is required in this particular matter, however, the information presented is useful in giving a "ball park" and encouraging the use of weapons of an appropriate length for the art being performed.



Sunday, October 13, 2013

Rapier and Cloak - A Bluffer's Guide


            While there will be reference to three manuals of the Renaissance period, this investigation is more of an introduction to the use of the cloak, based on the general principles found in these manuals. This is designed to give you and understanding of how the cloak operates so that you are able to use it in a competent fashion. More specific lessons on particular masters are of benefit to study however having a foundation in the use of the cloak will make these more in-depth lessons more useful.
            The rapier and cloak combination is one of the more difficult to use, but it can also be one of the most satisfying if performed correctly. There is an inherent amount of flair in the use of the cloak due to the nature of the combination, and much care needs to be applied in its use. There are those who do not like this particular combination and those who like it very much. This is up to personal preference. As with other combinations, there is much, which can be said about it, from the holding of the cloak, to its use.

Source Material

            The source material which is presented in this discussion uses as close to primary materials as possible. Issues with regard to this particular element of the discussion will be noted below in the bibliographic discussion. Further to this these primary materials will be in a distilled form, extracting the most important parts from each and using this as the framework upon which the investigation is based.
            This examination focusses on three masters works with regard to their use of the sword and rotella. Chronologically they are Agrippa’s Trattato di Scientia d’Arme of 1553, Di Grassi’s His True Art of Defence of 1594, and finally Capo Ferro’s Gran Simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della Scherma of 1610. Most of the information found in these manuals is from the point of view of matched weapons i.e. sword and cloak versus sword and cloak, but the information found within can also be applied to other situations with a little modification. The best and most in-depth discussion comes from di Grassi. The other two give basic instruction and ideas about how to use the cloak.

Bibliographical Issues

            In the study of the sword and cloak there are some bibliographical issues that need to be taken into account before any real study can be achieved. One of the first things is with regard to the weapon, the second with the device in the other hand, and lastly there is a language issue that needs to be taken into account. These need to be addressed in some fashion before a real study can take place.
            First of all is the language. Of the four manuals which have been used for this investigation only one of these is written in English, that of Di Grassi’s 1594 manual. Even that is actually a translation of the 1570 Italian manual of the same name. All of the others have been translated from Italian to English in the modern period, by some very knowledgeable people admittedly, but there is still the interference of the translation of the language to take into account.
            Further to this language issue, and directly related is the names of the devices being used, the sword and the rotella. Often “spada” in Renaissance manuals is translated as “rapier” where in actual fact it simply means “sword”. This investigation is more focused on the use of the rapier and cloak and as such the words "sword" or “rapier” will be used in reference to the weapon used.
            As for the cloak itself, there is some discussion and confusion as to whether it is more appropriately called a cape or cloak. The Italian manuals use the word “cappa” while di Grassi uses “cloak”, in various spellings. In some ways this is a question of the object itself rather than a bibliographic issue, as is presented below. For the purposes of this investigation the generic “cloak” will be used.

Cloak or Cape?

            There are many different types of cloak and cape, depending on size, weight and construction, and the choices between these will be of a personal nature. The main difference between a cloak and a cape is the size, the cloak being larger. A larger cloak will protect more, but it will be heavier and easier to entangle. A smaller cloak will protect less, but will be lighter and move faster. In general the item will be called a cloak for convenience.
The cloak should be constructed of a material which will resist tearing but should also be light enough that it can still be used. The use of the cloak should be considered in its construction. It is advised that cloaks of various constructions and sizes be used before one is constructed in order to figure out which will suit you the best. The masters do not actually describe the size or construction of the cloak and thus it must be inferred from images or what they write. There is an equal chance that they could be talking about a cape or a cloak. Simple advice dictates that the best cloak to use for the techniques of the master is one which is appropriate to them and also appropriate to you.

Holding the Cloak

            The cloak may typically be held in one of three different ways, wrapped around the arm, draped over the arm, or held in the hand. Each one of these has advantages and disadvantages, which need to be considered. Wrapping the cloak around the arm will allow for the greatest control, but will limit the range and agility of the cloak. Draping the cloak over the arm will allow for a similar amount of control as wrapping, but will give the cloak more range and agility. Holding the cloak in the hand, gives the cloak the best range and agility, but the least amount of control, it is also the easiest to move the cloak from one position to another by this method, and also to throw the cloak.
            The choice of how the cloak is held will determine what is possible. Rather than focusing on a single method of use a more broad approach will be used. The cloak, as instructed by di Grassi may be wrapped about the arm, held in the hand or even simply placed folded over the arm. This allows more utility in the use of the cloak rather than restricting it. The best thing to do is to hold the cloak however is most suitable for what you want to do with it at the time.


            Just as the method of holding the cloak will determine what is possible with it, so too will the ward play a part. The position of both the cloak and rapier will determine what you are able to do with both of them and what sort of access you have to both offensive and defensive actions. In order to gain an appreciation for the options available it is useful to examine what the Renaissance masters had to say about the ward.
            Agrippa has his cloak wrapped around the hand, and also used in combination with the dagger. The cloak is kept low and the rapier adopts a high or low position. He also depicts taking the cloak off the shoulder and shows it to be about thigh length. This depiction of the cloak is useful for sizing as to usage. Both the sword and cloak are placed in a terza position and centralised.
            Giacomo di Grassi depicts only one ward but describes three wards in his text. Each one of the wards moves the position of the weapon rather than the position of the cloak, depending on the ward. The cloak however is positioned extended from the body, but also with the arm bent in order to cover the body with the position of the cloak for all of the wards. This extended position is similar to that shown by Agrippa, Capo Ferro’s ward is in a similar position.
Capo Ferro places the cloak at the same level, with the cloak draped over the arm, with it extended or retracted. Either the cloak or the rapier may be retracted depending on which item would be used to catch the opponent’s blade. The change in position will allow the combatant to change easily between the two items. Having both extended could lead to entrapment of both rapier and cloak, but gives the opportunity to use both easily. Draping the cloak makes the cloak freer to move than being wrapped, but still will limit its movement. This will also still retain some of the control of the wrapped method.
The common element in all the wards is the position of the cloak. For the most part it is extended. However there are also wards where the cloak is more withdrawn. This is determined by what the ward is most suitable for and how the cloak is likely to be utilised. The position of the weapon is commonly placed in terza, a good central position with access to variations in attack and defense. It is an advantage to change the ward to suit the situation, and thus it is advised that the wards demonstrated as well as others are examined and utilised.


            With regard to defense there are all of the usual options, plus a couple which are unique to this combination. Obviously there is the void, footwork and the sword parry, as with any other use of the rapier. For the cloak and rapier you add the parry with the cloak and also the parry with the combination of cloak and rapier.
            For the most part the masters advise that the parry with the cloak is most suitable for any attack which is below the shoulder as lifting the cloak to defend the head will obscure vision. There are a couple of instances where the cloak is used higher than the shoulder but these are usually exception rather than the rule. In these instances the sword is used to parry, and as is described by Capo Ferro the use of the guardia di testa, or head guard, may also be used to defend the head.
            Clearly where the cloak is used as a defense, the position of the sword should be considered in order not to entrap it along with the opponent’s weapon. Those times where the cloak and rapier are used together it is the cloak which is the primary parry while the rapier supports the defense. In this way the sword can then be withdrawn and used for the counter-attack.
            In using the cloak defensively, wait for the opponent to attack and then use the cloak to block or deflect the opponent’s attack. The weight of the cloak should be focused on the debole of their weapon. The motion should be a sweeping one, away from the body. The cloak can also be used to deflect the opponent’s blade. This should be done with either the loose part of the cloak or the part, which is over the hand. The cloak will take time to move and it needs to be done correctly so that the blade of the opponent is collected with the maximum amount of weight behind it. Once again the aim should be contact with the debole as primary. The cloak will require a lot of practice to use.
            Practice with the cloak alone in parrying first to understand and feel how the cloak will move and how much time it will take to move. Practice with the cloak in all of the different methods, wrapped, draped and held in the hand. Once it is easy to move the cloak, then the rapier should be added, ensure that the rapier is not entangled when parrying otherwise this will cause a lot of problems.


            Clearly the best offensive actions with this combination are made with the rapier. These attacks are all the same as found with any other combination. However it should also be noted that there are offensive actions which can be made with the cloak. The actions of the cloak are most often used to enhance the attack with the rapier which follows immediately behind it.
            In the use of the sword when used in combination with the cloak, you should make sure that the cloak is clear of the line of attack in order that it does not become entangled. For the most part the best attacks made in combination with the cloak are also made with a forward motion of the feet in order to clear the cloak. An attack can easily be fouled by the bad positioning of the cloak when the attack is made.
The most dramatic use of the cloak is when it is thrown. This is mostly made against the opponent, either directly against them or against their weapon. This action is designed to entangle either the opponent or their weapon in order to allow an attack with the weapon to be more effective. The throwing of the cloak is something which requires practice in order to gain the target and in order not to foul the weapon. The other offensive actions of the cloak are designed directly against the weapon and thus will be discussed in the next section.


            With little surprise all the actions of the sword alone may also be used when the cloak is also being used. Being that these are discussed with regard to the single weapon these will not be detailed here. However what will be discussed are those actions of the cloak which may be used which involve the use of engagement of the opponent’s blade.
            While the throwing of the cloak, as indicated above is the most dramatic action of the cloak, there are others which can also be performed. The cloak can be used to beat the opponent’s weapon off-line to allow for an attack. The ideal for this is the same as the beat performed with the sword. The weight of the cloak makes this particularly effective however the action can be quite slow and can leave you vulnerable, thus must be performed at the correct time.
            Simple forms of blade engagement may also be performed with the cloak. Stringere is possible with the cloak allowing for an attack with the rapier to follow it. Likewise it is important that the cloak be directed against the debole of the opponent’s weapon in order to be most effective. In this way the cloak can be used like a gauntlet as it has the advantage that the hand is safe from being cut through it.


            The rapier and cloak form is a complex combination, and is one, which will require a great deal of time and practice to perfect. This combination can be used to great effect, and against any other weapon form. The combatant should learn to use each method of using the cloak, and then learn how to counter them so that both sides of the rapier and cloak are understood. The cloak is a great entangling combination, but must be used properly otherwise this effect can quite easily backfire on the combatant, and leave them with no defense. Practice and learn with the cloak and it can become one of the most thrilling and satisfying weapon forms.
            The lesson which has been presented will give the basic attributes of how the rapier and cloak are used in combination. This has merely scratched the surface of the many possibilities in the use of the rapier and cloak. While the description above has described direct actions against an opponent while using the cloak, the cloak may also be used as a form of deception and thus its contact with the opponent’s weapon will be incidental, this is another way in which the cloak may be used. More research and experimentation than has been described here is required in order to truly understand the operation of the rapier and cloak.


Agrippa, C. (2009) Fencing: A Renaissance Treatise, Translated by Ken Mondschein, Italica Press, New York, USA

Di Grassi, G. (1594) His True Art of Defence, Temple Barre at the Signe of the Hand and Starre, translated from the 1570 manual by I. G., London, UK

Kirby, J. (2012) Italian Rapier Combat: Ridolfo Capo Ferro, Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK

Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to buy it in a book format? I have put a selection of my blogs into a book entitled Un-blogged: A Fencer's Ramblings, along with some extra articles. If you are interested in purchasing it you can buy it here: among other distributors.

Friday, September 20, 2013

di Grassi's Rapier and Cloak - The Second Part


This is an unusual case, as  there is a second part to the most recent blog which has been posted on di Grassi's Rapier and Cloak. Many people who read about di Grassi's Rapier and Cloak either only read the first part found in his manual or read on the second part. In order to understand the proper and complete operation of the use of the cloak it is necessary to have both. Thus what is presented below is di Grassi's information about the use of the cloak from "The Second Part intreatinge of Deceites and Falfinges of Blowes and Thruftes".

As with the previous presentations the "long s" has been replaced by "f", and all of the spelling and punctuation has been kept as it was in the original. All of the previous mentions of the conditions of the previous presentations of di Grassi's work thus also apply to this one. Enjoy.



Of Sword and Cloke, or Rapier and Cloke

For to difceyue the enimie with the cloake, it is neceffarie to know how many waies in may ferue the turne, and to be skilfull how to fould it orderly about the arm, and how to take aduantage by the largenes thereof: and farther to vnderftand how to defend, and how to offend and hinder the enimie therewith, becaufe it fales not out alwaies, that men fight with their cloake wrapped about the arm, and the fword in hand, Therefore it is the parte of a wife man, to knowe alfo how to handle the cloake after any other manner.
            Wherefore one may get the aduãntage of the cloke, both when it is about his bodie, and when it is folded about his arme: The cloke being about the arme in this maner. When it chaunceth any man to bicker with his enimie, with whom he as at poynt to ioyne, but yet happelie weareth about him at that inftant no kind of weapon, whereas his enimie is weaponed, & threateneth him, then by taking both fides of the cloake as neare the coller as is pofsible, he may draw it ouer his owne head, and throwe it at his enimies face, who then being intanglerd and blinded therewith, may either be throwen downe, or disfurnifhed of his weapon very eafely by him that is nimble, efpecially if he haue to deale againft one that is flow. A man may after an other manner take the aduantage of the cloake which the enimie weareth, by taking with one hande both fides thereof, neere the coller; which fides being ftrongly holden, caufe the cloak to be a ginne or fnare about the enimies necke, the which ginne being violently haled, and plucked with one hande, he may fo forciblie ftrike him with the other on the face or vifage, that he will goe neere hande to breake his necke.
            There be manie other waies whereby one may preuaile with the cloake, to the greateft parte whereof, men of meane iudgement may eafely attaine vnto. Therefore when one hath his cloake on his arme, and fword in his hand, the aduantage that he getteth thereby, befides warding of blowes, for that hath bene declared in the true arte is, that he may moleft his enimie by falfing to fling his cloake, and then to flinge it in deed. But to falfe the flingyng of the clok is verie daungerous, becaufe it may not be done but in long time. And the verie flinging of the cloake, is as it were a preparation to get the victorie, and is in a manner rather true art then deceit, cõfidering it is don by the [ftrenght] ftreyght or fome other fhorte line: neither for any other caufe is this the rather here laide downe, in deceite, then before in true arte, then for that when one ouercometh by theis meanes, he feemes not to conquere manfully, becaufe he ftrikes the enimie before blinded with the cloake, wherefore when one mindeth to flinge his cloake, he may either do it from and with his arme, or elfe with his fword: and in fo doing it is neceffarie, that he haue not the cloake too much wrapped about his arme: I faie, not aboue twice, neither to hold it ftreight of faft with his hande, that thereby he may be the better able when occafion ferueth to fling it the more eafelie. If therefore he would fling it with his arme, and haue it goe with fuch fury, and make fuch effect as is required, he muft of force ioyne to the flinging thereof the increafe of a pace, on that fide where the cloake is, but firft of all he muft incounter, either finde, either fo enfure the enimies fword, that by the meanes of the increafe of that pace it may do no hurte.
            And it is requifite in euerie occafion, that he finde himfelfe to ftand without: and when either an edgeblow or a thruft comes, be it aboue or in the middle, as foone as he hath warded it with his fword, he fhall increafe a pace and fling his cloake, how foeuer it be folded, either from the coller, either from any other parte, or elfe to hale it off from his fhoulder, although it bee on his fhoulder: and in this order it is eafelie throwne, & is thereby the more widned in fuch fort, that the enimie is more entangled and fnared therewith.
            Concerning he flinging of the cloake with the fword, I faie, it may be throwen either with the point, either with the edge: with the poynt when one ftandeth at the lowe warde with the right foote behinde, an the cloake before: In which cafe the cloake would be well and thicke doubled and placed on the arme, but not wrapped. And in fteed of driuing a thruft with the poynt which fhalbe hidden behinde the cloake, he fhal take the cloake on the poynt of the fworde, and with the increafe of a pace, force it at the enimies face. And in this manner the cloake is fo forciblie, and fo couertly deliuered and flinged, that the enimie is neither a ware of it, neither can avoyde it, but of force it lighteth on his face, by meanes whereof, he may be ftroken at pleafure in any parte of the bodie.
            The cloake may be flong or throwen with the edge of the fworde, when one ftandeth at the lowe warde, with the poynt of the fword turned backewardes, one the left fide and the cloake vpon it, folded at large vpon he arme vp to the elbowe: but not faft wrapped about it, and whileft he falfeth a reuerfe, he may take the cloake on the edge of the fword and fling it towards the enimie, and then ftrike him with fuch a blow as fhal be then moft fit for his aduantage deliuer.
            Manie other deceites there might be declared of the cloake, afwell of flinging as of falfing: but becaufe I thinke thefe to be fufficient for an example to frame manie other by, I make an ende.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Giacomo di Grassi's Rapier and Cloak


What appears below is a transcription of Giacomo di Grassi's Rapier and Cloak from the 1595 edition of "His True Art of Defence". I have not included the image from the source, but have placed a marker in its place, but the spelling and punctuation is as close to the original as could possibly be transcribed. The "long s" has been replaced by "f" as was dog for the most part in the original document. Enjoy.



P.S. a .docx or .pdf version of this document is available on request.

The Rapier and Cloake

That I maie continue in the weapons which are moft vfuall and moft commonly worne: After the Dagger, I come to the Cloake: The vfe whereof was firft founde out by chaunce and after reduced into Arte. Neither was this for any other caufe then for that nature doth not onely delight to inuent things, but alfo to preferue them being inuented. And that fhee may the better doe it, fhee taketh for her helpe all thofe things that are commodious for her. Wherefore, as men in diuers accidẽts haue cafually proued, that the Cloak helpeth greatly (for as much as they are to weare it daily) they haue deuifed how they may behaue themfelues in all that, in which the Cloak may ferue their turne. Which accidents, becaufe they are infinite, & do not generally ferue for our purpofe, I wil reftraine my felfe and fpeake of thofe onely which appertaine to this Arte, the which are fuch and fo effectuall, that they may greatly helpe to the obteining of fafe victorie, if they happen to be placed in fuch a man as knoweth howe to vfe and handle them. And for that in true Arte it doth little preuaile, the vfe thereof being in a manner altogether deceitfull, I was refolued to put ouer all this to the treatife of Deceit, as vnto his proper place. Notwithftanding, to the ende it may not feeme ftrange to any man, to read nothing of the Cloak in al the handling of true Arte, I am minded to laye downe a certaine fewe blowes in the accuftomed wardes, referring the more abundant handling thereof vnto the treatife of Deceit.

The manner how to handle the Cloake

As the Cloake in this Arte, hath in it three things to be confidered, to witt: length, largeneffe, and flexibilitie: fo it is to be wayed how far each of thefe will ftretch, to ferue the turne. Of which three, one doth properly belong vnto it, and that is flexibilitie, which maie neither be encreafed nor diminifhed: The other two, may receiue alteration. But yet it is at any hande to be prouided, that thefe two alfo be not diminifhed. For the Cloake is no ftrong thing, which of it felfe may withftand the blowes of the weapon, being directly oppofed againft them.
And therefore he fhall proue himfelfe but a foole who trufting to the Cloth wrapped about his arme, doth encounter any right edgeblowe therewith. For feeing the Cloake is not flexible in that parte (which flexibilitie is his onely ftrength) litle preuaileth either length or largenes, wrapped about a folide fubftãce. But being oppofite in that parte thereof, where it hath length, largenes and flexibilitie (which is from the arme downwardes) it is auailable: for all three being ioyned togither will warde any edgeblow: which manner of warding fhould not be fo fure, if the cloake had onely length and flexibilitie: for hauing behind it litle ayre, which is the thing that doeth ftrengthen it, it may eafily be beaten too, and cut, by any great blowe. Therefore, if a man haue fo much liefure, he ought to wrapp his Cloake once or twice about his arme, taking it by the Cape or coller, and folding his arme therein vp to the elbowe, and therewithall to warde all edgeblowes from the flanke thereof downwardes, afwell on the right fide, as on the left fide, alwaies remembring to carrie his foote differing from his arme, for the auoyding of danger that may rife by bearing his legg on the felfefame fide, neere his cloak knowing the Cloak wardeth not when there is any harde fubftance behind it.
            Thruftes alfo themfelues, may be giuen without if with the Cloake, or with the hand in the Cloake, the enimies fworde be beaten off, one handfull within the poynt thereof. For the edge hauing but fmall power in that cafe, is not hable in fo litle time, to cut the hand. The blowes alfo, afwell of the poynt, as of the edge, from the flanke vpwardes, ought to be warded with the fworde; For to lift the arme fo high being burdened with the waight of the Cloak, which naturally draweth downwards, as it is violent thing it is alfo perilous, leaft the arme be placed in fteede of the Cloake, and fo reft wounded, or left the arme or Cloake be placed before the eyes, which by that meanes remaine blinded.

An Aduertifement concerning the warding and wrapping of the Cloake.

There are two waies (in thefe daies) to wrappe the Cloake, the one is, when one hauing leafure taketh the Cloake by the cape or coller, and fo fouldeth it once or twice about his arme: The other is, as often times it falleth out, when letting the Cloke fall downe from the fhoulder, it is happelie taken by one fide, & fo is turned once or twice about the arme.
            Nowe as concerning ftriking, a man ought in the handling of thefe weapons as he would ftrike, firft to increafe and carrie the one foote neere to the other, and then farther to increafe a halfe, not a whole pace, as in other weapons: For at thefe weapons, it is daungerous leaft (making a whole pace) he entangle his foote or feete in the Cloake and fall downe therewith. And this muft be taken heede of, in the firft and fecond foulding, but principallie in the fecond, becaufe in it the Cloake is longer, and therefore doth more eafilie touch the earth & intangle his feet: In the firft fold, although the cloak touch not the earth, becaufe the arme doth orderlie beare it, yet by reafon of werines, the arme falleth & caufeth the foresaid effect.

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The hurt of the high ward at Rapier and Clok.

In thefe maner of weapons, asin others, I will frame three wardes: The firft by the forefaid reafons, fhall be the high warde, which in thefe kind of wepons more then in anie other deferue the name of a ward. For the Rapier (fomething bending) wardeth as farre as the clok hand, and the clokhand down to the middle legg: foe that in this ward a man is warded from the top of the head down to the foot.
            Therefore ftanding at this warde, whether it be with the right foote before or behinde, he may deliuer a thruft with the encreafe of a halfe pace forwards, ftaying himfelfe in the lowe warde.
            The right edgeblowe ought to be deliuered from the wrift without any motion of the feete, refting in the lowe warde: but in deliuering of the reuerfe, it is neceffarie to fetch a whole pace, and in a manner ftraight. If the enemie warde it with his fworde, then the encounter of the enemies fworde, muft be ftayed fuddenly with the Cloake-hand in the firft part thereof, and a thruft be deliuered vnderneath, with the encreafe of a ftraight pace.

The defence of the thruft, right and reuerfed blowes of the high warde at Rapier and Cloake.

For the better auoyding of the hurts which proceede from the high warde: it is neceffarie to ftande at the lowe warde, in the which the thruft is to be warded iiij. manner of waies, to wit: either with the fingle fworde within and without, either with the fingle Cloake within and without. If with the fingle fword within, it is requifite to fetch a compas with the foot backwards on the right fide. In like cafe to turne the bodie the fame waie, to the intent, to carrie it out of the ftraight lyne (in which the blowe commeth) and to driue a reuerfed thruft at the face, the which thruft in fuch order deliuereth is the longeft that is, and fuch a one, as thereby the hurt is not onely voyded, but alfo at the felfefame time, the enimie is ftroken in the face. If it chaunce, that the fworde be encountered without then it is not onely profitable but alfo neceffarie, to ftep forwardes and with the Cloake to encounter the enimies fworde in the firft parte thereof. And recouering his owne fworde, to difcharge a thruft vnderneath with the encreafe of the right foote. And although it be laide down for a rule, not to vfe a whole pace in handling of the Cloake, this ought to be vnderftoode in ftriking, in the which (whileft one endeuoureth to ftrike with his fworde) it may be forgetting the Cloake, his arme may fall, by meanes whereof he may ftumble againft it: but in warding, it doth not fo happen. For nature being carefull to defende her felfe (at euery litle danger) lifteth vp both her armes, yea, although they be oppreffed with waight and burden.
            Wherefore it is not be feared, that in warding this thruft, his hand will be drawen downe by the waight of the Cloake.
            The fame wardes and defences may be vfed with the fingle Cloake, in which, one muft likewife ftrike, with the encreafe of the right foote. This maner of warding is not verie fure, and therefore it requireth great actiuitie and deepe iudgement, confidering he ought to beare his Cloake and arme ftretched out before him, & to marke when the enimies fwords poynt fhall paffe within the Cloakhand one handful or litle more: and not to fuffer it to paffe farther, but to beat it off, and encreafing to difcharge a thruft vnderneath; with the encreafe of a pace with the right foote. But as I haue faide, this manner of warding hath litle certaintie and great perill in it, and yet it ftriketh well, if it be done in fhort time.
            The right edgeblowe may in like manner be warded with the fingle fworde or cloake: but when it cõmeth aloft, it fhall not be commodious to encounter it with the fingle cloake, for by that meanes the eyes blinde themfelues. How much this importeth, let others iudge. But, when the faide right blo we commeth in manner lowe, fo that it may well be warded, keeping the enimie in fight, then the cloake is to be oppofed, with the encreafe of the left pace, &; prefently thereupon, a thruft to be difcharged, with the encreafe of a right pace.
            When one oppofeth the fingle fworde againft teh right blowe, he muft driue a thruft at the face, & fetch a compas with his hinder foote, cutting the face with the faide thruft and ftaie himfelfe in the broad ward. The felfe fame muft be done, when he defendeth him felfe with both together, to wit, with the fword and cloake.
            Againft the reuerfed blowe, the felfe fame manner is vfed in warding to wit, either with the one, or with the other, either with both ioyned together.
            With the cloake, by the encreafe of a pace, and by encountring the enimies fworde, as farre forwards as is poffible, that thereby it may be done the more commodioufly, deliuering a thruft therewithall vnderneath, with the encreafe of a pace of the right foot.
            With the fingle Rapier, the fame defence may fuffice, which is layde downe in the treatife of the fingle Rapier, and that is, to difcharge a thruft at the enimies thigh, the which withftandeth the full of the reuerfed blowe.
            Nowe, if one would defend himfelfe with both thefe weapons ioyned togither, he muft encreafe a pace with the right foot, &; ftaying the enimies fword with his cloake, recouer his owne fworde nimbly, and then deliuer a thruft with the encreafe of a pace of the right foote.

The hurt of the broad warde, at Rapier and Cloake.

In this warde, as well as in others, a man may both thruft and ftrike, yet diuerfly: For he may not difcharge a right edgeblowe beneath. And the reuerse is manifeftly dangerous: So that, when he is to deliuer it, he ought to perfourme in this order.
            Firft, he fhall driue a thruft, fetching a compas with his hinder foote, that by that meanes it may reach the farther, then fuddenly (without mouing of himfelfe) he fhall difcharge a right edgeblowe, from the wrift, after the which prefently, the reuerfe muft followe, with the encreafe of a pace of the right foote: and further, muft follow on with the thruft alreadie prepared, and increafe the like pace.

The defence of the broad warde, at Rapier and Cloake.

To him that will fafely warde himfelfe from the hurt of the broad warde, it is requifite, that he ftand at the lowe warde. And when the thruft vnderneath hand commeth, he fhall thruft at the face, fetching a compas with his hinder foote towardes the right fide, with which kinde of thruft, it doth lightly happen that the enimie is hit in the face: but if it faile, yet for all that, the enimie obtaineth not his purpofe, in the difcharge of the thruft of the broad warde: For by deliuering the thruft vnderneath, and compaffing of the hinder foote, the bodie is carried out of the ftraight lyne: So that, as foone as the thruft is deliuered at the face, and the foote to be plucked backe, fetling in the broad warde. To warde the right and reuerfed blows, there is a thruft to be giuen at the thighes or fome other place that may moft hinder them, in the verie fame time that fuch blowes are in their circle or compas. Although I do not beleue that there is any man fo foolifh, that (in his warde) will deliuer a reuerfe onely.

Of the hurt of the lowe warde, at Rapier and Cloake.

This warde is fo ftraight and perilons, that no man ought to affure himfelf to deliuer an edgeblow in any manner of waie. For vnder any of them he may be eafily ftrooken, and each of them may eafily be warded with the Cloake. Therefore, he muft diligently take heed, that he thruft onely, the which muft neuer be difcharged before the enimies fworde be found, and then as farre forwardes as is poffible. So then finding it, he may thruft both within and without. Neither is there in this thruft any other aduantage to be gotten, then to fteale a halfe pace vnwares of the enimie, which may be done verie commodioufly, confidering the cloak occupieth the enimies fight, And hauing drawen this halfe pace, and found the enimies fword, he muft encreafe an other halfe pace forwardes, and ftrike him, cofting and forcing the enimies fworde, on that fide where it may do no hurt. And this maie be vfed both within and without: But he whome it pleafeth, and who doubteth not to be entangled in the Cloake, maie (finding himfelfe within) carrie his left foot making a pace therewith, and betweene his cloake &; his fworde, clofe the enimies fworde, and deliuer a thruft with the encreafe of a pace of the right foote: And finding the enimies fword without, he may vfe the felfe fame encreafe and thruft. But if he finde not the enimies fword, he may deliuer a litle edgeblow from the wrift of the hand, in fuch forte, that the enimy haue no leafure to enter in: And hauing found the Sword, to difcharge a right or ftreight thruft, or elfe not voyding the enimies fword by the encreafe of a left pace, to driue a thruft from aloft downwards, lifting vp the fift fomewhat high, and deliuering it with the increafe of a pace of the right foote.

Of the defence of the lowe Warde at Rapier and Cloak.

To the ende a man may warde himfelfe from all the thruftes reckned in the hurtes of this warde, he neither ought, neither happely may doe any other thing then voide his bodie from the ftraight line, wherein the enimie purpofeth to ftrike, making a left pace forwards, fomewhat thwarting or crofsing and ftriking the enimie fafely. The which doth not fo chaunce, when one defendeth himfelfe either with the fingle Cloake or fingle Rapier: For whileft he affaileth to defend himfelf, he cannot ftrike. And if the enimie do firft moue, and ftrike ftraight, in the which, his fworde is not carried much outwardes (and it hardly done,) I faie, the enimie may be ftealing of half paces, difcharge a thruft perforce. And therefore he muft take heede, that (as the enimie moueth) he encreafe a flope pace (by the meanes voyding the hurt) then a thwart or croffing pace next, with the encreafe of a ftraight pace of the right foote, to ftrike the enimie with a thruft vnderneath.
            This may fuffice, for the handling of thefe weapons as much as appertaineth to fure plaie. All that which remaines is referued to the treatife of deceit, in which place fhall be feene manie handlings of the cloake no leffe profitable then pleafant.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Move Slow, Learn Fast


The meme of moving slow and learning fast is one which has been around for ages. For the most part it is a principle which I like and can easily relate to, however I will be presenting this idea from a slightly different point of view as my main focus will be fencing. Odd? A little in some ways, but as will be demonstrated below, the slow movement principle applies more to the use of the sword than many would think.

Fencing for the most part is a quick, energetic form of combat or sport, depending on what your weapon is. This means that the actions are quick and precise. With this in mind, for some, it will be difficult to understand how practicing actions slowly will help them progress when in the end they are going to have to perform the same actions at speed. This is something which you will find will come from the greener students for the most part, but some advanced students as well.

In the SCA, the heavy combatants, i.e. fully-armoured combatants use what is know as "quarter-speed" this is slow movement of the weapon and body in order for warming up for the most part and also for practice without armour. Essentially this is moving at a slow speed where both combatants can see the weapons moving and thus there is a less likelihood of injury even when not wearing any armour. This same technique, or something like it can also be applied to fencing.

The use of slow work allows us to see the body and weapon moving. This is something which is much more difficult to see at full-speed when bouting. What this means is that the combatant and any observer can see how the combatant is moving his or her weapon and body. This can allow a person to see where a possible change in footwork, body movement, or hand movement can make a difference to their technique. As a diagnostic tool, slow speed performance of technique is very useful.

Even in training and especially for drills the movement at slow speed is very useful. Corrections to technique are more easily made at slower speed than they are at faster speeds. A student can develop a lot of muscle memory by moving slowly because they can focus on the movement of individual parts of their body in order to make the technique being performed more efficient. A trainer can see the movement of each part in slow speed and make corrections to engagement and position of the student in order that they are learning the correct techniques.

Movement at slow speeds is obviously slowed as compared to that at faster speeds. What this means is that a combatant needs to balanced in their movements. Sure there are some actions which are difficult, if not impossible at slow speeds, but the movements which are allowed become more comfortable at slow speed. If the movement is not comfortable they can be corrected until they are. Slow speed movement promotes efficiency in motion as pure speed is removed. Efficiency results in better movements in combat.

The use of slow speed combat as a learning tool is something which should be embraced by all combatants. Eastern schools have demonstrated its utility in arts such as Tai Chi, which promote movement of the body and health. As western martial artists, should we not take advantage of proven theory in order to improve ourselves? Movement at slow speed promotes balance and efficiency in movement both of which are a great asset to the fencer.



Saturday, July 13, 2013

Case of Rapiers: A Bluffer's Guide


            The case of rapiers is a challenging weapon form to learn and one which is quite difficult to master. Indeed the authors of the reference material to be used in this lesson advise the reader that this weapon form should only be used by a practitioner who is sufficiently trained and experienced in their use, to quote di Grassi “he which is not much practised and exercised therein, ought not to make profession of this Arte: for he shall find himself to be utterly deceived.” (di Grassi, 1594).
The case of rapiers is essentially the use of two rapiers at the same time however it is not always as simple as this. These weapons are often matched in length, but not necessarily. The weapon form is sometimes called “Florentine” by some, describing the use of two swords simultaneously. In some ways this combination is similar to rapier and cane as there are two long items, but different in that both are weapons and can be used offensively. In a way it is also similar to the rapier and dagger combination in that there are two offensive items to use, but it is also different in that both weapons are long.
            This is a weapon form which has been discussed by several theorists and masters of the Renaissance period. For the purposes of the following investigation the focus of the research will be on one of these, Giacomo di Grassi. The single source was chosen as it supplies a relatively simple approach to the use of the case of rapiers, and provides a solid foundation for the theoretical elements found in its use. This lesson will also take into account my own experiences in the use of the case of rapiers, which has been noted to be somewhat different to most.
            The focus of this lesson is the investigation of the use of the weapon form in a practical manner. In order to find a foundation it will be based upon having opponents with matched weapons in the active descriptions of the form on the basis that the manuals describe this. This is most useful as it describes not only how to attack but also to defend against the same combination. Before this is possible it is important that a more general approach is taken to the form, thus the operation of the weapons alone, before coming to a place where contact with another opponent is possible.

Bibliographic Issues

            In the study of the case of rapiers there are some bibliographical issues that need to be taken into account before any real study can be achieved. One of the first things is with regard to the weapon, the second with the device in the other hand, and lastly there is a language issue that needs to be taken into account. These need to be addressed in some fashion before a real study can take place.
            First of all is the language. The True Art of Defence by di Grassi was originally written in Italian and published in 1570. The 1595 version of the manual which is being used for this investigation is an English translation of this manual. This is important as it means that however skilled the translator of the language there will be some interference between the different versions of the manual. Indeed there are even issues as the 1595 version was written in Elizabethan English which is different to the modern language. This issue does form a barrier to the research, but not one which is insurmountable.  
            Further to this language issue, and directly related is the names of the device being used, the sword. Often “spada” in Renaissance manuals is translated as “rapier” where in actual fact it simply means “sword”. This is the case for the translation from the 1570 Italian to the 1595 English. While it would be more accurate to refer to this description as a case of swords lesson, the rapier is the focus and while cutting actions are primarily the purview of the sword, the cutting actions can be performed with a rapier. Aside from this, the fact that it is referred to as a rapier in the 1595 version makes the discussion of the weapon valid.


            The case of rapiers would seem to be one of the most complex systems devised, and in some ways it is, however what should be noted about this is that as with any system it is based on principles and for the most part these principles are relatively simple. While the principles do not explain the entire system they are advantageous in gaining an understanding of the foundations of the system.
            The simple thing is that the case of rapiers places a sword in each hand this is clear and evident to all. Regardless of the length of the weapons and whether they be matched or not it is two swords. These weapons have the ability to both strike and defend the wielder. It is important that both hands can be used to attack and defend for maximum effect, “a man ought to accuftome his bodie, armes and handes afwell to ftrike as defend.” (di Grassi, 1594).
            The case of rapiers is two weapons, as stated, two weapons which can both attack and defend. What needs to be realised here on a conscious level is that the weapons are one in each hand and each can be used independently and in combination in order to achieve the end of the combatant.

“For feeing they are two weapons, & yet of one felffame kind, they ought equally and indifferently to be handled, the one performing that which the other doth, & euery of thẽ being apt afwel to strik as defend.” (di Grassi, 1594)

            This means that the weapons can be used alone against the opponent doing what needs to be done or they can also be used in combination. The used in combination is the more effective choice but the independent option should not be forgotten. In combination, the actions of one weapon should be supported by the actions of the other weapon. Thus where one is used to defend so the other should strike, and where a weapon is used to strike, so should the other defend. This allows for the maximum benefit possible from using two weapons.
            As with any weapon form in the arts of the Renaissance period, circular and sloping footwork is the best approach to the opponent. In the case of two weapons of length this is vital. To approach directly upon the opponent is substantially less effective than to use circular or sloping footwork to change the facing and thus gain an advantage over the opponent.
            The case of rapiers is a complex weapon form, but the basics should never be forgotten, they still apply. The simple actions which work at single rapier work just as well with the case of rapiers. In all instances the single weapon can dominate and beat the double weapons so long as the one using the single does not forget the foundation elements. This is the same with ward choice, using one which confirms to the basic principles and works for you is best, remember to move through them rather than remaining static.
            These are the base principles which will form the foundation of the information which follows. The principles will be found in the various elements and elucidated upon in order that their real meaning can be completely understood. Without the principles which have been presented this system works substantially less well.


            In the case of the wards for the case of rapiers, they are wards in the truest sense; they are positions from which a defence or offence is launched not positions of safety. Giacomo di Grassi uses his wards as positions from which the action is started. These are foundation positions which enable the weapons to be used against the opponent. Regardless of the ward chosen there are some important factors which need to be taken into account.
            The first factor has already been iterated in that they are positions from which an action is made, not guards and thus positions of safety. The combatant should always remain alert and aware of the actions of the opponent regardless of the position he is in. Further to this the combatant needs to be aware of the position of his weapons.
The weapons need to be held in such a way that they are not easy to tangle. This issue of tangling must be taken into account whether it is an active action of the opponent in order to immobilise the weapons or an inadvertent action of the combatant making an action of his own. In this they need to be kept separate in some fashion, in order that one weapon does not foul the action of the other or by its action become entangled in the other.
In the discussion of the sword there is always the consideration of lines. These are important for defensive and offensive purposes. In the typical situation the lines are based on the position of the primary weapon. In the case of using two swords, both are essentially the primary weapon thus resulting in a complication. In essence due to the doubling of weapons the lines are doubled; one for each weapon.
The place where this is of most importance is the inside and outside lines. This is not to say that there is less significance for the high and low lines. Each weapon has an inside and outside line. What needs to be noticed here is that the inside lines will occupy the same space as they cover the same area. It is possible to make all four parries with each weapon, thus two parries could be used to cover a single line. More of this will be discussed later on.
In his manual, di Grassi discusses three wards, as he does through the entire manual. These wards are the High, Broad and Low wards. In all cases it is the rear weapon which is the focus of this description. The forward weapon, regardless of the hand, will adopt a Low ward, which is slightly more extended in the double Low ward. The rear weapon accompanies the rear foot. The only ward which is actually depicted in his manual is the High ward. The following is the depiction from the 1570 manual.

            The High ward as presented has the left foot forward with the left sword in a Low ward, while the right sword is in the High ward position. The rear arm is high above the head in the position of first while the other is in the usual position of the Low ward. This footwork position remains the same for all of the wards as does the rear foot accompanying the “descriptor” weapon at the rear.
            The Broad ward as described has the same footwork position as above and the same position for the left-hand sword in the Low ward. The rear arm is extended from the body to the right in a position of second with the point aimed at the opponent. The arm needs to be extended in this position for the ward to be formed properly.
            The Low ward, and di Grassi’s preference for ward, is slightly different from the others but the same principles apply. Once again the footwork position is the same with the left to the front and the right to the rear. In this case the weapons are both in the Low ward position and the forward weapon should be pressed forward a little from the front leg for clearance. This ward is clearly demonstrated as the preferred ward as it is used to oppose the other two wards using contra-postura, and also di Grassi spends more time discussing the Low ward than any other ward.
            There are other wards which can be used indeed Marozzo describes a ward for each hand alluding to the use of two weapons independently in the process. Other wards which may be adopted are ones such as the open ward in which one weapon is placed to the front aligning with the foot on that side and one is placed to the rear in a “long tail” position. As a combatant you should experiment with many different wards to see which ones work the best for you. Remember to move through the wards to a position which is most advantageous to you.


            The footwork position for the wards described actually forms the foundation for the footwork which di Grassi describes in his manual. The weapon in the offensive position is the one to the rear, and the most advantageous way to bring this weapon into play is through the use of a passing step with the rear foot. This simple fact results in most of the footwork found in di Grassi being passing steps. He does also use more direct steps but usually to set up for the use of the passing step.
            The description in his manual discusses the use of one foot moving, this is for timing purposes and when the position of the feet is found, it means that the passing step is the clear choice in most instances. He does use slope paces and circular movements both with the forward and rear feet, however in order to place the primary weapon, the rear one, into the attack a passing step is made in some form or another.
            For the combatant using case of rapier, the most important thing to see is that circular and sloping footwork is secret to gaining the advantage over the opponent. Going straight at the opponent is like two warships standing within gun range and using broadsides at one another, while one side may win this is not going to be without casualties on both sides. To be effective you need to shift yourself into a position of advantage, simply put this is where you can gain dominance with one of your weapons over the pair of the opponent’s or where both of your weapons are in a position to attack where only one of the opponent’s is. For the most part this involves gaining the inside with at least one of the weapons. The best way to achieve this is through the use of circular and sloping footwork. Defensively footwork is also an important part of the defensive apparatus available.


            Considering defensive options, the first point that must be reiterated is that the lines are doubled due to the use of two swords. The result of this is that the parries are doubled meaning that there are two parries for each line one using each sword; this results in an increase in the defensive options available, however you need to be careful as this can also result in entanglement of the weapons. The same can be said of any combination. It is best to practice the parries with the weapons first alone and then with the other present.
            In the case of di Grassi, he uses several different defensive techniques. First of all is the beat against an incoming attack. This is much like the beat attack and beat parry; in fact it is a combination of these concepts. The utility of this particular technique is that it clears not only the opponent’s weapon but yours as well allowing for a hole in which an action with the other weapon may be performed. In effect this action is both offensive and defensive in nature.
            While the parry with opposition is not named specifically this technique is used in an active way rather than a passive way. This technique is much like that of stringere in that it forces the opponent’s weapon off-line however this is more of a defensive action in this case. Clearly this action requires timing in order to perform properly.
            The final defensive action which is useful to you is the combination of voids and footwork. This is designed to displace the body while placing it in a position of advantage. Either footwork or a void alone can be used to defend against an opponent’s attack but the combination of the two is more effective.
Each defensive option should be practiced both alone and with a partner to test it out against an attack being made. This practice should start slowly and then increase. In these actions the defensive partner should also be considering their own final position and where they can move from there in order to make a counter.


            Just as defense is doubled so too is offense, being that there are two weapons both with edges and points this results in there being offensive actions present for both weapons. What should be noted here is that while the edge can be used, it is the point which is the primary used. The thrust is easier to perform with case of rapier as it uses less room and thus is less likely to entangle.
            In his manual di Grassi indicates that there are cuts which can be used at the case of rapiers but he does not present a single example of a cut being actually used in his description of the weapon form. This clearly demonstrates the dominance of the thrust over the cut in the use of the case of rapier. Likewise he indicates that a person with the practice and skill can execute two attacks simultaneously, however he also does state that this requires practice.
            As with any other weapon form the position of the weapons needs to be taken into account, both the opponents and the combatant’s. Obviously it is useless to make an attack against a line which is closed, but you must also consider what you are exposing in the process of making the attack. Clearly the attack should only be made after some sort of defensive action is made in order to make you safe, as di Grassi states, “for first a man must endeavour to defend himself, and then to strike others.” (di Grassi, 1594). In order to make the best choice for attacking the opponent, practice with a partner in both defending and attacking should be made.

Time and Engagement

            So, this section is called “time and engagement”, however it will be covering quite a bit more than that. This will also deal with how the weapons are used as a system and some of the general points of note about the combination which either do not exactly fall into one of the previous categories or needs further explanation with a wider focus. This will also be about putting the previous information together in a more usable format.
            The often case, especially with newer combatants is that the weapons are used for a single purpose only. One is used for attack and the other is used for defence. The only change to this will be a changing of hands and thus roles. This is a very basic use of the combination and while the weapons are both being used much improvement can be made.
            The first thing in the use of the case of rapiers than needs to be acknowledged consciously is that the sword is simultaneously offensive and defensive. In this it means that both hands can operate offensively and defensively. For the most part, until this is acknowledged in a conscious manner, the actions available will be limited.
            To be effective with case of rapiers you need to work with both hands offensively and defensively for maximum effect. This means that both hands need to be used offensively and both need to be used defensively. In this the weapons need to be used combined and separately, this opens a lot more options for you. For the most part to use the combination, the actions of one weapon need to be supported by the actions of the other weapon. It is through this that it is possible that the opponent can be put into a position by one weapon and then struck with the other.
            However, singly each weapon can be used to great effect. Thus the weapons can be used on their own for great effect both offensively and defensively. In this you must realise that even a person who is armed with a single sword can defeat one who is armed with two. It is about the application of the weapon to the situation. Keeping these points in mind will allow you access to a lot more option that applying any sort of artificial limitations on their use.


            As with any combination time is an important factor. With regard to this there are some points which are useful in application to the use of the case of rapiers. With regard to the hand and foot, di Grassi uses them accompanied, right hand with right foot and vice versa. This allows for the full extension of the weapon in its movement. This also allows for better timing in both attack and defence. There are instances where this is not the case and these should also be noted in practice.
            For di Grassi the actions of the weapons are usually double time, one weapon defends and the other follows through with the attack once the defence has been made. There are instances of counter-time and single time present however it is double-time which dominates. Of course, with practice the other times can be effective and come to be used.


            With regard to engagement, this is considering any time that the weapons come into contact with one another. There is very little evidence of absence of blade in di Grassi; he prefers solid contact between the weapons in order to know where they are. The first element of note with regard to this is the use of the beat action, be this a parry or an attack, it is one which appears regularly often as the primary defensive action with the weapon. He does use other actions such as presses and elements of stringere but these are not named as such. The important element for di Grassi is, as stated, solid contact with the opponent’s weapons.
            The idea of the doubled lines has been noted previously in both the defensive discussion and also under the wards. This particular element leads to how to gain advantage over an opponent who is using the same combination. This requires the use of sloping or circular footwork in order to change the facing and thus be able to gain the best line on the opponent. This line is the inside line and the forward weapon should always be moved to a position where it can gain this position.
            The final element which is of important note and one that defeats experienced and inexperienced combatants is that the weapons need to be kept separate in some fashion in order that they are not entangled. This entanglement can be due to the action of the opponent or the action of the combatant. This primarily happens due to a lack of consciousness of the position of the other weapon when an action is made, or when an action is completed. It is for this reason that the Low ward starts with one weapons slightly extended and the other more withdrawn.


            The case of rapiers is an interesting and exciting weapon form. It is also one of the more complex ones available. The information presented here is designed to introduce you to the use of the case of rapiers rather than claiming to be everything possible. The best way to learn about how the case of rapiers works for you is to use them against an opponent, however it is important to remember the essential points.
            The basic elements are the key to the useful and effective functioning of the case of rapiers. There are two weapons and two hands therefore there are always two options, one for each weapon. The weapons can be used both separately and also together, in this there are offensive and defensive options for each weapon. It is this multitude of options which makes the form so complex and so challenging. The problem being that an incorrect choice can lead to real problems.
            The base ward that you choose needs to be comfortable and the weapons need to be in a good position in order to prevent entanglement. More to the point the wards need to be moved through and each stop needs to be a firm position from which an effective offensive or defensive move can be made. The ward must allow you to move effectively in offensive and defensive actions.
            As in all cases it is footwork which is the key to being effective. It is through this that you are able to position yourself effectively. In the case of this weapon form the use of circular and sloping footwork which is the most effective and will gain the most positive results. Moving directly against the opponent, especially armed with the same weapon combination will gain you little.
            In defense it is most effective, as with any other form to use all forms of defense. Thus parries and voids are effective, but so can the use of footwork and body position. These need to be taken into account in order for you to be effective, as with any other form the rounded defense is the most effective. In case consideration of defense, not blocking avenues of offense also needs to be considered along with ensuring that there is no entanglement in the process.
            In offense the blade is used either with the point or the edge. In the case of rapiers the point is more effective due to the nature of the form and the positions of the weapons. Cuts are less useful due to time and position. As was indicated in defense above, the action of offense needs to be considered in order that it does not hinder you in the process or after-effect.
            In the case of time, all forms are used and can be used effectively. What is of most note with regard to the case of rapiers is that the hand and foot move together, right with right and left with left. This gains you length and dominance in the process. The extension using same foot and hand is also more effective due to the momentum of the blade. Further this leads to engagement, in which the position is important for both offensive and defensive actions. The weapons can be used in many ways and thus many forms of beat and control should be used in order for the weapons to be effectively used. Once again, as with all elements of this form, the position of the other weapon is of great importance.
            Practice is required for the case of rapiers to be used effectively indeed di Grassi expresses this particular fact as indicated in the introduction. Both weapons need to be used effectively along with the body in order to be effective. The tactical side of the case of rapiers needs consideration and much practice is required in order to find how the form is most effectively used.


di Grassi, G. (1595) His True Arte of Defence, translated by I. G., Signe of the Hand and Starre, London

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

What's Next?


Much has been posted on this blog and others about weapon forms and what we should be doing about training and a myriad of other topics. These topics are all important and should have not paid to them, however there is another topic which needs addressing. A school curriculum is only so long and the completion of such a curriculum is important and an achievement of note, however the question remains when this curriculum is completed... what's next?

A good school will teach the basics in a formal or at least semi-formal manner in order that the student can build their skills gradually. Regardless of the weapon form chosen, this process will teach the student the basic operations of the weapon and set a foundation for the student in order that they can participate in the martial aspects of the school. Once this foundation is laid then the student will, or should, after a while, ask "What's next?"

So the student will progress on to more advanced techniques. These may involve more advanced techniques on the same weapon and/or may include the addition of other weapons. Once again, based on the foundation laid in the beginnings of training, the skills of the student will develop. This is the purpose of the training at this point in time to develop and hone the skills. This will, no doubt, take some time if the student really wants to understand the weapons properly. Once, after some time, the more advanced techniques are learnt the student will eventually come to the end of the curriculum. At this point in time the student will be fully involved in the martial aspects of the school. The swordsman is well-developed and on their way. However, just as at the end of the foundation elements the same question should remain, "What's next?"

Up to this point in time, for the most part, the student has been fed techniques and principles from senior students and trainers. Now the student can count themselves amongst the senior students. The trainers at this point in time should be asking this student to help with training and to learn how to become a trainer. This is not an easy process and the student to trainer development will take time. Indeed this process should start while the student is undertaking the advanced training syllabus. So the student becomes a trainer, over period of time. They are teaching new students, and even the more advanced students. This is not the end of the road, the question remains, "What's next?"

The swordsman should always attempt to keep sharp. This applies to mind and body. Basic drills should be a normal part of the regimen along with combats against other opponents. These keep the body sharp but in order to keep the mind sharp more is required. In order to stay motivated the swordsman should always be looking for new projects and new things to learn. This can be broad or focused dependent on the interest at the time. There is always something which can be learnt for fencing or something which can be refined. The swordsman should always be thinking, "What's next?"



Monday, May 13, 2013

Giacomo di Grassi's Case of Rapiers


What appears below is a transcription of Giacomo di Grassi's Case of Rapiers from the 1595 edition of "His True Art of Defence". I have not included the image from the source, but the spelling and punctuation is as close to the original as could possibly be transcribed. The "long s" has been replaced by "f" as was done for the most part of the original document. Enjoy.



P.S. A .docx or .pdf version of this document is available on request.

Of the Cafe of Rapyers

There are alfo vfed now adaies, afwell in fcholles, as in the lifts, two Swordes or Rapiers, admitted, and approued both of Princes and of the profeffors of this art, for honourable and knightlie weapons, albeit they be not vfed in the warres. Wherefore I fhall not varie from my purpofe, if I reafon alfo of thefe, as faire as is agreeable to to true art. To him that would handle thefe weapons, it is neceffary that he can afwell manage the left hand as the right, which thing fhalbe (if not neceffarie) yet moft profitable in euery other kind of weapon. But in thefe principally he is to refolue himfelfe, that he can do no good, without that kind of nimblenes and dexteritie. For feeing they are two weapons, & yet of one felffame kind, they ought equally and indifferently to be handled, the one performing that which the other doth, & euery of thẽ being apt afwel to strik as defend. And therefore a man ought to accuftome his bodie, armes and handes afwell to ftrike as defend. And he which is not much practifed and exercifede therein, ought not to make profefsion of this Arte: for he fhal finde himfelfe to be vtterly deceiued.

The manner how to handle two Rapiers.

It is moft manifeft that both thefe weapons may ftrike in one and the fame time: for there may be deliuered ioyntly togither two downright edge-blowes on high and two beneath: two reuerfes, and two thruftes, and are fo rich and plentifull in ftriking, that it feemeth they may be vfed onely to ftrike. But this ought not to be practifed, neither may it without great daunger. For all that, whatfoeuer may be done with either of hem, is deuided into ftriking and defendinge. That this is true, it may be perceiued in the fingle Sworde, which affaieth both to ftrike and defend. And thofe who haue taken no fuch heede, but haue beene bent onely to ftrike being moued either through coller, either beleeuing, that they had to deale with an ignorant perfon, haue remained therby mightily wounded. Of this, there might be laid downe infinite examples, which I leaue to the entent I may not fwarue from my purpofe. I faie therefore that of the two Rapiers which are handled, the one muft be applyed towardes the other to ftrike, regarding alwaies to vfe that firft which wardeth, then that which ftriketh: for firft a man muft endeuour to defend himfelfe, and then to ftrike others.

Of the high ward at two Rapiers.

Prefuppofing alwaies, that either hand is very well excercifed, afwell in ftriking as in defending, this high ward fhalbe framed after two waies, which yet in manner is all one. The one with the right foot, the other with the left foot, fo working continually, that the hinder arme be aloft, the former beneath in maner, as when the lowe warde is framed at the fingle fword. And as a man ftriketh, he muft alwaies maintaine & continue this high warde, which at the two rapiers, is moft perfect & fureft and he may eafily performe & do it: for whileft he entereth to giue a high thruft with his hinder foote, although that foot be behind yet it muft accompanie the arme vntil it hath finifhed his thruft, & fettled it felf in the low ward. The other fword & hand (which was borne togither with the former foote in the lowe ward) remaining behind by reafon of the encreafe of the high thruft, muft prefently be lifted vp, & be placed in the fame high ward.”
            Therefore it is to be noted, that whofoeuer meaneth to fhift from this ward & ftrike, whether it be with his right or left foot, before or behinde, it is requifite that he ftand without, & when he would ftrike, he fhal firft proue with his low fworde, whether he can finde the enimies weapons, & hauing fuddenly found them, he fhal nimbly beate them back, and (in a maner) in the fame inftant force on a high thruft, with the increafe of a pace of the right foot: from the which, if the enimie (for fauing of himfelfe) fhal haftily and directly giue backwards, he fhal follow him, deliuering prefently the other high thruft behind, alreadie lifted vp. And this thruft wil fafely hit home & fpeede, becaufe it is not pofsible that one may go faft backwards, as an other may forwards.
            Farther, afwel in this ward, as in others, the warde may be framed with the right foote before, & the right arme lifted, & fo cõtrariwife. But becaufe there is fmal force in this ward both in the feete & handes, which ftand not comodioufly either to ftrike or defend, and feeing there is required in the handling of thofe weapons, great ftrength and ftedfaftnes I haue thought good, not to laie it downe, as to fmall purpofe.

The defence of the high warde, &c.

The direct oppofition & defence of the high warde is the lowe ward, the manner whereof fhal be feen in his proper place. That which principally is to be confidered (for the lowe warde alfo, in like fort as the other may be framed after two fortes) is this, that of neceffitie a man ftand with the fame foote before as the enimie doth, to wit: if he beare the right foot before, to put foorth the right foote alfo, and to endeuour as the enimie doth, to ftand without, for of both wayes this is of the more aduantage and fafetie. Finding himfelfe therefore without, in the lowe ward, he muft not refufe, but rather fuffer his fword to be found and beaten by the enimie: for this doth redowne much more to his own aduantage then to his enimies becaufe the enimie carrieth fmall force in his low hande wherewith he endeuoureth to finde and beart off the fword, confidering it is born to farre off frõ the other: for that which is flẽderly vnited, is leffe forcible: whereas ftanding at the low ward, he bereth both his hands low neere togither and fufficiently ftrong. Therfore as foone as the enimie hauing beaten back the fword, shal refolue himfelf to giue a thruft, he muft encreafe a flope pace, & with his hinder low fword, driue the enimies high thruft outwardes towarde the right fide, if it chaunce that he were in the low warde with his right foot before, And fuddenly with the other low fword behind (which was fuffered to be beatẽ off by the enimie, becaufe it might turne the more to his difaduantage: for feeing the enimies fword being flenderly vnited, as I haue saide before, carried but fmall force, it was the rather beaten off and difappointed: So that as foone as the flope pace is encreafed, and the faide high thruft warded, before the enimie place his other fworde alfo in the high warde, hee may with the ftraight pace of the right foot deliuer a low thruft continuing ftill to beate downe the enimies fworde with his owne lowe fworde, that is borne before: And this manner of warding is moft fafe and fure: for befides that it ftriketh the enimy with the flope pace, it doth likewife in fuch fort deliuer the bodie from hurte, that of force the enimie is difapointed. Neither is there any other fure waie to warde this high thruft, being fo ftrong, and befides, hauing fo great encreafe of pace.
This manner of defence is moft ftrong and fure, & is done with that fworde which is fartheft off. Yet there is another waie, & that is, with the low fworde before, the which is no leffe ftronger and fure than the other, but yet much fhorter. For looke in what time the other defendeth, this ftriketh.
Therefore in the low ward is to be noted, (when the enimie moueth, pretending to beate off the fword and there withall to enter,) that then the poynt of the fword before be lifted vpp, keeping the hand fo ftedfaft, that it oppofe it felfe and keepe outwards the enimies high thruft, and hauing made this barre, to keepe out his weapons, then & in the felffame time, he fhall encreafe a ftraight pace, & with the low fword behind fhal ftrike the enimie in the breft, to whome it is impofsible to do any effectual thing, or to auoid the faid ftroke, for that (by meanes of the point of the fworde lifted vp in maner aforefaid) both his fwordes are fo hindred, that they may not fafely ftrike, either with the edge or point.

Of the hurt of the broad warde at the two Rapyers.

            This broad ward, may in the felfe fame maner be framed in two waies, and it may deliuer the felf fame blows, in the one as in the other: This ward is framed with one foote before, and one foote behind, the arme (which is borne on the fide of the hinder foote) being ftretched wide & broad outwards. Therfore when one ftandeth at this ward, and would as ftrayght and as fafe a thruft as is poffible, he fhal firft proue with his low Rapyer, whether he can find the enimies Rapier, which being found, he fhal turne his fift outwards, and force the enimies Rapier fomuch, that it may do no hurt, and then withall increafing prefentlie a flope pace, fhall go forewards to ftrike the enimie in the thigh, with the wide thruft. He might afwell alfo thruft him in the flanke, or in the head, but yet the other thruft is vfed, becaufe the Rapier, which is directed to the thigh, is in place to hinder the enimies other Rapier to light on the legges.
            And as in the high ward, fo likewife in this, he muft alwaies ftand without, and hauing deliuered the wide thruft, he ought prefentlie to widen the other arme, and fettle himfelfe in the broad ward.

Of the defence of the broad ward at the two Rapyers.

For the defence of the thruft of the broad ward, it is neceffarie that a man ftand at the lowe ward, and there withall diligently obferue, the mocions of the enimies bodie, how it compaffeth and paffeth to and froe, by knowledge and due confiderations whereof, he may eafilie defende himfelfe. Yt therefore the right arme be ftretched out wide, the right foote alfo (being behind) fhall be in like maner widened, the which, when it increafeth forwards, fhall alfo carrie with it the right fhoulder, voyding alwayes with the left fide.
And the felfe fame muft be confidered, & practifed, when he ftandeth at this ward, the contrarie way. That therefore which he muft doe, for the defence of him felfe, fhalbe to voide that part of his bodie, which may be hurt by the enimies wide and broad thruft, and to oppofe himfelfe againft that part of his enimie, which commeth forwards pretending to ftrike: And this he fhall doe, at what time the enimie (finding the fword) would come forwards in his thruft. And in the felfe fame time, (affuring himfelf with his own low fword) fhall increafe a flope pace, thereby inuefting and incountring that part of the enimie, which came ftriking, and with the which he framed the broad ward. Neither can it be fafe ftriking at any other place, for either, he fhall find nothing to incounter, by meanes of the mocion of the bodie, or els if he do not oppofe himfelfe againft that fhoulder of the enimie which carrieth the hurt, he is in hazard to be ftroken by the enimies broad thruft.

Of the hurt of the low ward at the two Rapyers.

            The low ward fhall be framed after two waies, the one with the right foote before, the other with the left, and each of them may ftrike, either within, either without. The way which ftriketh within, hath one blow, the way which ftriketh without hath two, and in all, they are fixe. I will lay downe but three, becaufe they differ not from the other three, but onelie in the hand and foote, which muft be placed before, fo that they are the felfe fame, for I haue alreadie prefuppofed, that he who taketh vpon him to handle thefe weapons, can afwell vfe the one hand, as he can the other. He may therefore finde himfelfe to ftand with his right foote before and within, (I vnderftand by within, when he beareth one of his fwordes betwene both his enimies fwordes, and likewife when the enimie carieth one of his, betwene the other two. Yt is likewife true, that this alfo may be faid within, to witt, when both weapons are borne in the middle betweene the other two. But I fuppofe no man fo foolifh, who handling thefe weapons, will fuffer both his fwordes to be without, being a verie vnfure ward whereof I leaue to fpeake.
            That therefore, which he is to do, (finding himfelfe with both his rapiers below, & within, with his right foote before, after the faid firft way of being within) fhalbe, that marking when he may clofe in the enimies Rapier, betwene the which the enimies rapier fhall be fo fhut in and barred, that it may do no hurt, and one of the two Rapiers, that is to fay, the right Rapier fhall paffe under the enimies rapier, and thruft fafelie. And his other Rapier albeit, it may thruft directly, yet (for the better fauing of himfelfe, from the enimies other Rapier that is at libertie) he fhall beare it fomewhat abafing his hand, with the point vpwardes, the which point fhall fauegarde him, from the enimies faid Rapier, although this laft note, be fuperfluous. For feeing the enimie muft ward himfelfe from the thruft that hurteth him, he hath no leafure, nor happilie mindeth to ftrike, but onely to defend himfelfe, either by voyding his bodie, or els by fome other fhift, which he fhall then find out.
            The waie of warding without, may ftrike directlie after two waies: The firft, by beating off the enimies Rapier, with his owne that is before, and by deliuering a thruft, either at the breft or head, with the Rapier that is behinde, increafing therwithall a flope pace, and fetling himfelfe in the low ward, with his left foote before.
            The fecond is, by taking opportunitie, which he may do, if he be nimble. And he ought with the increafe of a flope pace, to driue the point of his former Rapyer directlie towards the enimie, and aboue the enimies Rapier. And his other owne rapier, which before the increafe was behind, he muft force on, under the enimies rapier. And thus, not giuing over, thefe two thruftes muft be ftronglie and nimblie driuen towards the enimie, by meanes whereof being ouertaken, the enimie hath no other remedie to fafe himfelfe, then to retire backe: for he may not come forwardes, but he muft runne himfelfe vpon the weapons, and that he will not doe. So then, the enimie retiring himfelfe may be followed, as farre as the increafe of the right foote will beare, then, fetling in the low ward.

Of the defence of the low ward at the two Rapyers.

            Al three thrufts of the low ward, by ftanding at the fame ward, may eafilie be warded, and that after one maner. If a man remember firft to void his bodie from hurt, by the increafe of a pace, that is verie flope, or crooked, either before the enimie commeth thrufting, either as foone as he moueth himfelfe for the fame purpofe, or if he be actiue and nimble to trauerfe, and in defending himfelfe to ftrike the enimie.
            Therfore when any of the fame three thrufts come, and before he perceiueth his Rapier to be clofed, and barred in, he fhall moue a flope pace, to th’entent to auoid himselfe from hurt, and with his Rapier, which is at libertie, he fhall go forwards and deliuer a thruft at the enimies face, which thruft, doth furelie fpeede, if he be refolute to enter.