Some months ago I posted an article called "Case of Rapiers: A Bluffer's Guide". This was a rather rudimentary discussion of Giacomo di Grassi's case of rapiers and did not include any information from the second part of his treatise. What is presented here is a much more in-depth investigation focusing on what is found in the actual manual and putting this into more useful language for the modern reader. While I have no qualms about leaving the previous article, this one is much more focused upon what di Grassi actually presents in the 1594 version of his manual.
To the Reader
“Euen as from our ſwathing bands wee carrie with vs (as it were) an vnbridled deſire of knowledge:” (di Grassi, 1594)
We all have a desire for knowledge; indeed it is more than likely that it was this desire for knowledge which has led you to read this. What follows is a discussion of the form known as the case of rapiers; this is the use of two rapiers at the same time, one in each hand. Giacomo di Grassi will also refer to this as the two swords as in his manual the word “spada” was originally used and was translated by Thomas Churchyard as “rapier” in many instances as it is this weapon which was in most common usage amongst the English gentry and nobles, hence the translation.
Regardless of the weapon stated the use of both weapons is most advantageous to the reader as di Grassi (1594) states; “practiſe in all ſortes of weapons is praiſ-worthie,” thus regardless of what it has been translated as the same principles which di Grassi presents apply. As far as it is concerned a sword is a sword and while the form will dictate some of its use the principles presented here still apply to both.
Returning to the subject at hand, the principles of the art are important and as such these will be presented in the first part as it is vital that the reader have a foundation in di Grassi’s system before proceeding to a specific form. What is presented here is a three part description of di Grassi’s method for using the case of rapiers. The first, as indicated deals with his foundation principles, the second deals with the case of rapiers as a weapon form in general, and the third deals with the elements found in what di Grassi calls the “False Art”, all of these are necessary in order to understand the system as a whole.
For those who are already very familiar with his work, the first part can be skipped, but it is advised that at least a cursory reading is made in order to re-familiarise with the material presented. Indeed much of what is presented is paraphrasing of di Grassi, with some elements of analysis of the material presented. This is designed to present di Grassi’s instruction in a clear and concise manner.
Part 1: The True Art of Defence
Giacomo di Grassi’s His True Art of Defence was published in English in 1594. The original was published in Italian in 1570. It is important to note that it is the English translation which is being used rather than the original Italian and this does make a difference as already indicated. However, whether using a “sword” or a “rapier”, the same principles which are described still apply.
In his manual di Grassi discusses Judgement and Force as his primary and purposeful foundation. Both are required for the swordsman to strike at the correct time and place, and also the correct manner. The first piece of knowledge that is required in order to achieve this is that all defence and offence comes from the use of the straight and circular lines as this describes the movement of the sword, but it is not sufficient to have knowledge, but also required to have the ability to perform the actions required.
“It is requiſite not onelie that he be-able to iudg, but alſo that he be ſtronge and actiue to put in execution all that which his iudgement comprehendeth and ſeeth. And thus may not bee done without ſtrength and actiuitie of bodie:”
The Means How to Obtain Judgement
In his section on how to obtain judgement, di Grassi presents five, principles which he calls advertisements as to how to operate a sword with skill. These five principles form the foundation of his entire system of attack and defense with regard to all weapons. The advertisements present five statements with regard to the art of defense.
The first states that the straight line is the shortest. This is essentially that an attack or weapon which follows a straight line to its target follows the shortest path. This is a logical statement as it follows a mathematical principle also.
The second states that the closer hits sooner. This means that the weapon which is closer will strike before the weapon which is further away, once again, a very logical statement.
The third states that there is more power at the circumference of a circle than there is closer to the centre. This is based upon the swinging of a sword where the sword is the diameter and the point describes the circumference of the circle. Clearly there will be more power at the edge of this circle than closer to the middle (see Diagram 1).
The fourth is another statement of logic stating that a man may more easily resist a smaller force than a greater one. This is related to the previous statement and the cut and the circle. A man who is able to pass the circumference of the circle and thus catch the edge of the weapon closer to the centre will more easily withstand the blow.
The fifth and final advertisement of di Grassi is that every motion is accomplished in time. This refers to every action that the combatant makes; footwork, attacks, defences and movements of the body. All have to be taken into account with regard to how long it takes to move this statement also implies that the movement which takes the lesser time and the combatant which takes the lesser time has the advantage. It also states that an action which is performed as a single motion, or tempo, will be quicker than the one which is performed as two.
He then explains things a little further and with more direct reference to the actual using of a weapon. Indeed he clearly states how the opponent should be struck with advantage. He states to strike along the right line with point or edge where it carries the greatest force, striking the enemy before being struck, when closer to enemy than he is to you. This statement actually has all of the five advertisements within it. Further to the idea of efficiency presented in the fifth advertisement he also says that a combatant should use as small amount of motions as possible and thus spend less time in striking or defending. This means that the combatant should be efficient in his motions, only performing those actions which give him some advantage.
With reference to the use of real swords in real combat he also states that a man who is about to be struck will defend rather than be struck. Thus he highlights that a man who strikes first has the advantage in that time. The opponent must do something in a defensive form in order to stay safe and prevent himself from being struck. All of the above statements demonstrate clear principles which the swordsman must use efficiently if he is to do well.
The Division of the Art
In the division of the Art, di Grassi divides it up into the True Art and the False Art. The True Art is those techniques in which direct actions against the opponent, whereas the False Art uses feints and similar actions in order to deceive the opponent. In di Grassi’s case he claims that the False Art has no advantage and is dangerous and should only be used for sport and play, however he does supply some information about how it is to be used.
With regard to the False Art he states that it is full of falses which work sometimes against some opponents and are used because of this. He also states that such men who do use them get deluded as to their actual utility with regard to this and such men are often slain in their use. However, he does state that in order for it to be used effectively it has the requisites of deep Judgement, a valiant heart and great activity, but they must be used correctly, as will be discussed in the third part of this discourse.
Of the Sword
In order to understand the art it is requisite that the primary weapon is properly understood, and from the perspective of the theorist who is discussing the weapon, thus a discussion of di Grassi’s sword is necessary. For di Grassi, a weapon is defined as an item for offending and defending in any manner, further he states that the sword is the best weapon and the most usual to be found amongst Gentlemen. This sword is found to have a reasonable length, a point and two edges. Unlike some of the other theorists he does not go into detail about the actual length of the sword, merely that it should be reasonable.
Diagram 1: The Sword
With the sword defined, he then delves into the question of striking stating that in the cut all are circular, with the hand at the centre and the sword being the diameter, as depicted in the diagram above. This diagram and the associated details will become more important as the weapon is discussed. With regard to the striking, the hand must be nimble and the attack must be made at the time of advantage when you are closer to the enemy than he is to you.
He also states that the thrust is more dangerous, but to be effective the combatant must stand properly or lose time. This idea of the importance of footwork is one which will reappear. Further with regard to striking properly, he also states that extra time taken gives the enemy opportunity to counter the actions so the combatant must be situated properly in order to strike, thus linking the movement of the hand and the foot, which will be explained in more detail further along.
With regard to the placement of the body, distance and the placement of the feet, he states that the closer combatant should strike while the other should defend. The strike of the closer prevents the fall of the other’s weapon. This is the idea of priority with the attacker always having it; the defender must defend or be struck. This idea applies more with real weapons but still in any form of fencing the same applies.
Division of the sword
Each part of the sword has a different effect and di Grassi divides the sword up into four parts, as can be seen in the diagram above. The first part is closest to the hilt, and the fourth includes the point of the weapon. He states that the third and fourth parts of the weapon are for striking and that the position on the fourth, four fingers in is the best for striking. Obviously the point is best for the thrust. The first and second parts are the best for defending as they are the strongest and resist the most violence and are also the slowest and carry the least force. From a more modern or traditional point of view with regard to the division of the sword, the first and second could be referred to as the forte and the third and fourth as the debole.
Cut circular and thrust straight
In another part also called “Of the sword” he also details some information about the cut stating that the cut may be made from the shoulder, elbow or wrist. The wrist is the fastest, but weakest. The cut from the shoulder is the strongest but slowest. The cut from the elbow is a good compromise between the two. With regard to the use of this weapon, he states that the cuts from the wrist and elbow are swift sufficiently strong.
In the following section from the above he discusses the actual movements of the sword and the arm in the delivery of the blow. These are the bio-mechanical movements of the attack. This is focussed on the action of the thrust. He states that the blow of the point is both circular and straight. The arm moves circularly from the shoulder, thus things carried by the arm also move circularly. The action of the thrust moves straight due to the circle of shoulder and circle of wrist. The shoulder moves the circle upward, and the wrist moves the circle downward or upward to direct the point to its target, thus the thrust is the result of two circular motions which result in a straight attack.
Diagram 2: The Thrust
In the case of all martial arts, footwork is an element which is essential for the system to work. The art of swordplay is no different and di Grassi clearly states that footwork is the foundation of offence and defence; this has also been found and discussed previously. Also in common with other actions in fencing it is important in these actions that the fencer use as little time and motion as possible.
Further, he states that the body must be stable at all times regardless of the movement. The body should be kept stable with the shoulder toward the target to present a small target. It should also bend more backward than forward in order to move away from danger rather than toward it. In this movement it is directed by the head and the way it moves. Regardless of this the body needs to be kept firm and stable. This is rather than bending and changing position as this takes time. This will be reflected in the position of the wards.
The foot movement itself must be controlled. The fencer should place their feet exactly where they need to be and at exactly the correct time. With regard to this control di Grassi also states that the swordsman should step comfortably to ensure no chance of falling. The steps are self-measured never shortening nor extending them as this would decrease stability.
With the foundation of the footwork made, it is possible to examine the specific steps which are described by di Grassi. These steps are divided by movement into whole, sloped or crooked, retreat, half, and circular or compass paces. Each one of these serves a purpose. What will become clear is that there is some overlap between the steps.
The whole pace is when the foot is taken from behind and placed to the fore. The fore-foot remains still. These steps are seldom done in a straight line. The action of the whole pace is also that of the sloped or crooked pace, in which the hind foot moves forward past the fore-foot crossing as it goes forward out of the straight line. This is a diagonal pace, based on the same action as the whole pace. The back pace, or retreat is one where the fencer moves straight backward. This action is again based on the action of the whole pace. The back pace is one of the few where it is more often made straight rather than crooked.
The two paces which are different are the half-pace and the circular or compass pace. The former is where the hind foot is brought to the fore-foot, or fore-foot is brought to the hind. A following action making a similar action is also possible both of these may be made straight or crooked. For many people these steps are referred to as the gather and slip. The circular or compass pace is made with the hind or fore-foot, to the right or left. The foot circles around behind or in front of the other foot. This may move the combatant forward or backward, as with the slopes the compass is designed to take the combatant out of the straight line.
Of the Agreement of the Foot and Hand
The hand and the foot are tied in movement, the right foot to the right hand and the left foot to the left hand. If this particular rule is not followed it leads to instability in the movement and also a loss of strength in the attack. Further to enhance stability, it should also be noted that in all cases the step is made normally with one foot always grounded. This is the reason for the single foot movement descriptions.
Following the rule of the agreement of the hand and the foot results in stability and security in movement, it also results in a more effective attack, regardless of whether the attack made is a cut or a thrust. The thrust made with the accompanying leg is not only longer it is also more efficient and much more stable, elements which are essential in an effective attack. The same agreement of hand and foot is also essential for an effective defensive action and instability if the same is not followed.
According to di Grassi, the wards or guards are a place of safety. It is in these positions, in his opinion that the combatant has a safe spot for defence and consideration of the opponent and also his next action. These wards at the single sword also form the foundation for all di Grassi’s other forms and thus form part of the foundation for his system. With regard to the wards, he only uses three, High, Broad and Low ward. They will be discussed in this order as this is the order in which they appear in the treatise. In all cases they are formed with the body upright, the front toe pointed toward the opponent, and the feet shoulder width apart. In all cases they may also be formed with either the right or left foot forward depending on the situation.
Diagram 3: High Ward
The High Wards is the first ward, and called so by di Grassi, this is formed by the drawing of the sword from the scabbard, in much the same way as Camillo Agrippa forms his first ward. The sword arm is extended directly from the shoulder upward. It is not merely enough that the weapon is drawn from the scabbard, the arm and the sword are high, but the point must be directed at the opponent. A thrust from this position should describe a straight line from the point to the target which is most likely to be the face or breast. The point of the weapon must not be too high or the opponent will pass beneath it, or too low otherwise the opponent will capture and bind it.
Diagram 4: Broad Ward
In similar fashion to Agrippa the Broad Ward, di Grassi’s second ward lowers the arm to shoulder height. Unlike Agrippa, however the arm is extended from the shoulder to the right or left depending on the handedness of the combatant. This places the weapon far out to the side of the combatant. As with the High Ward the point must be directed at the opponent or the fencer will have trouble.
Diagram 5: Low Ward
The Low Wards is also referred to as the base ward or lock ward. This is the foundation ward, it is the best for attack and defence, and it is also the most comfortable. The arm is directly down by the side on the outside of the knee with the point raised and a little to the left side. Once again the point should be menacing the opponent. This is di Grassi’s preferred ward as it is the optimum position for the thrust and also defence. There are two depictions of this ward found in the 1595 version of the treatise, as presented in the diagram above. The foundations of the ward are, however the same in both versions of the ward.
Attack and Defence
The following section discusses di Grassi’s descriptions with regard to the delivery of blows and also the defences against them. Clearly without some sort of knowledge and description it is difficult to proceed with the description of any weapon form and how it is used to attack and defend. Some of this has been presented previously; this, however deals with the application in a combative scenario describing how they should be performed.
The manner how to strike
For di Grassi, the thrust is better than the cut; it takes less time and is more deadly, as such he uses the thrust for the foundation of his system. The thrust itself is easier to deliver and is more dangerous to the opponent. However, di Grassi states that, being performed with the right hand, it should be accompanied by the left foot compassing behind the right to the straight line of the hand and the sword. This is for alignment of the body with the attack. This is further accentuated by the hind foot being drawn forward a half-pace in the completion of the thrust in order to send the point further. Thus it can be seen that di Grassi’s thrust when made is a committed action. The cut however is not merely discarded.
When it is Better to Strike with the Edge
In his instruction di Grassi states that the cut should be used over the thrust only due to Time, as this is most important. In all situations the blow which is best is the one which spends the least amount of time to arrive at the target, regardless of the action. The thrust, when on-line takes one time, however when the point is out of line and thus takes two times, the cut should be used instead due to the lesser time taken.
With regard to opportunities one of the best times for the cut to be used is when the sword has been beaten. The momentum and power of the beat can be transferred to the sword in order to swing it and turn it in order to strike with the edge. In this di Grassi states that the enemy will have no time to defend against this due to the beat performed and the strike which follows the beat. Needless to say the combatant should take himself out of the line in order to strike safely.
The Means to Defend
Finally, there is the question of defence, what follows forms the foundation elements for all responses for all forms. This description of how to defend yourself tends to wander a bit here and there in his description. These wanderings form foundations for what he is stating in his instructions.
There are three defences against attack which di Grassi describes. The first is to oppose the blow with a weapon or other item, the second is to perform a counter blow and the third is to void the body out of the way. Obviously more detail is required for each of these and will be presented, along with di Grassi’s arguments for their use.
In his first defence di Grassi states that the defence can be made by opposing the blow with the weapon or other item. In order to enhance this he states that the fencer should learn how to defend himself with all devices. In this he states that a true soldier knows how to do this. Further to this he states that the Art requires training and that there is much to learn; “He that perſwads himſelf that he can learn this Art by the exerciſe of a few perticuler ſtroks of the point and edg is vtterlie deceiued:” (di Grassi, 1594).
In order to learn how to defend himself properly and with safety the fencer needs to have knowledge of all principles and rules. It is only through training that the trained instinct can then use what is available to him. The simple opposition of one weapon against another is not sufficient, judgement is required and this is gained from the knowledge attained in training.
He also states that to withdraw the body and foot is also not beneficial. Firstly the weapon is then encountered where it has the most force, and secondly if the combatant then wants to strike he must then return to his position taking more time to do so. Instead the combatant must make a slope pace forward and encounter the enemy’s weapon low, and if it is a thrust beat it aside. The advantage lies in the body being out of line due to the slope pace, but near enough to offend the opponent. Should the opponent withdraw he can also be followed with a straight pace. This form of defense is the standard one that di Grassi uses, moving toward the opponent rather than away.
The second defence, which is actually hidden within the text and takes a little searching to find is to act in counter-time. Strike in counter against the cut with a thrust taking short time to do so, where the blades are sharp a man will generally not run into a sword if it is perceived, but will withdraw his weapon and himself. Even a minor wound will give him pause for thought.
The third defence is to take the body out of the line of the attack. This uses a void in order to achieve it. With regard to the void, di Grassi states that it will rarely be used alone, but by slipping the blow a combatant may counter attack against the opponent in the same action. This is the simplest defence. These three form the core of the defences which di Grassi uses in his system.
Part 2: Of the Case of Rapiers
With the foundations of di Grassi’s system laid out it is now possible to investigate the specifics of the case of rapiers form. This description will deviate from the original in parts in order to better present the details which di Grassi elucidates. This being said the foundation material and the thoughts are all the same as presented in his treatise. The first part of this process is to look at the form in general in order to gain a basic understanding of it.
The case of rapier is to use one rapier in each hand. In order to perform this effectively it is necessary to be able to us the left hand as well as the right, this being said this skill is useful in all weapon forms. Further, the fact that it is two weapons also clearly establishes that both weapons are able to do all the actions of offence and defence, not relying on one or the other but using both together. Needless to say, this takes a lot of practice in order to master this skill-set. On the subject of such practice, di Grassi clearly states; “And he which is not much practiſed and exerciſed therein, ought not to make profeſsion of this Arte: for he ſhal find himſelfe to be vtterly deceiued.” (di Grassi, 1594). This is clear demonstration that this form is not for those without practice and that it takes time and effort to master.
The Manner How to Handle Two Rapiers
There are two weapons in the form meaning that both are able to perform offensive actions. Indeed, both may strike at the same time in paired blows however this is not the most advantageous way to use the form. It is better that one weapon is used to defend while the other is used to offend. With regard to this, di Grassi states that this is the case, but the defence must be made first and the strike made second. What should be noted is that the roles of each weapon can change, striking with the right and defending with the left, and striking with the left and defending with the right; at no time is or should any weapon be used only for a single purpose.
Of the High Ward at Two Rapiers
The principles of the High Ward have already been discussed from the point of view of the single sword. These foundations remain true and are only modified to suit the High Ward at the case of rapiers. In the High Ward at the case of rapiers there are actually two wards, one with each foot forward, yet in essence they are the same. The hind arm is held in the high position, while the lower arm is held in a Low Ward. This is actually the case for all the wards that follow. The rear arm is the “descriptor” weapon and position in the ward.
Diagram 6: High Ward
A special note needs to be made which is only found later on in his description of the Low Ward and that is that for di Grassi to stand “within” means to have one weapon between the opponent’s while “without” is to stand with both weapons on one side or the other of the opponent’s. When striking the ward is maintained, while a high thrust is given with the hind foot to a low position, the other hand is lifted to the high position, thus maintaining the ward. In order to strike, the combatant should stand without, find the enemy’s weapons with the fore-sword, beat with this weapon, thrust from high with an increase of pace and follow with another.
There is actually another form of the ward with the right foot to the fore or behind. In this the weapon and the foot are separated and so with the separation it has less strength. Thus di Grassi gives no detail of this ward as it does not follow his foundation principles.
Hurt of Broad Ward at Case of Rapier
In the original text, di Grassi presents his defence against the High Ward before proceeding to the Broad Ward. However it is better to look at the wards first and their offensive actions and then examine the defence against each. In this way the offences and defences are kept together, and a better understanding of the action of each ward is better understood.
Just as with the High Ward, in the Broad Ward there are two wards one with the right foot to the fore and one with it behind, and just as before it is the rear foot which has the extended arm for the Broad Ward. The foundations for the ward are once again found in the single weapon and these principles are important for the ward to be correctly utilised. In the offence the opponent’s weapon is found with the fore-sword and forced outward. A slope pace is then made in order to strike the enemy in the thigh, flank or head, however the thigh thrust will hinder the opponent’s weapon due to its position. It is important to note that in the attack to always stand without and always re-set to Broad Ward with the other arm, just as in the High Ward.
Hurt of the Low Ward at Case of Rapier
The Low Ward is di Grassi’s third ward, and as with the others, the foundations for this ward are found in the original principles of the single weapon. Just as with the others there are two ways to form the ward, one with the right to the fore and one with the right to the rear. In the form of the Low Ward, the rear should be kept a little to the rear and not extended in order to not have the weapons to close to one another and thus easily bound.
In the attack, di Grassi claims one blow from within and two from without. He states that there are six blows total but three are copies of the other three and as such he will only describe three. With the right foot to the fore and within, the left is used to oppose the opponent’s right, then the right makes a disengage to the inside and makes a thrust. The opponent may make a thrust but by holding the rapier with the hand down and the point up it is defended. There is no extra defence needed as the opponent must defend or be struck.
With the right foot to the fore and without, the first method is to beat the opponent’s rapier with the fore-sword and thrust with a slope pace into Low Ward with the hind-sword. The second method is to make a slope pace and thrust with the fore-sword above the rapier, the hind rapier thrusts under the opponent’s rapier strongly. The opponent must save himself backward or be struck, then follow the opponent and thrust with the increase of the right foot into Low Ward.
Defence of the High Ward at Two Rapiers
Now that the wards have been established and the foundation of the offensive actions has been made, it is important to examine the defence against each one of the wards. This will not be a simple defence with no reply; rather this discussion will also cover counter-offensive actions as well. These defences usually accompany each ward in the original text, but separating them allows the clear delineation of the wards and also the clear examination of offensive and now defensive actions.
The Low Ward is used against the High Ward as a sort of contra-postura against it. This is no doubt in di Grassi’s mind because of the preference for this ward due to the advantages which have already been described for it. However, it is not merely standing in the ward, there are further instructions presented. He also advises to stand with the same foot forward as the opponent and also without. This is in order to position the fencer in the most advantageous position both to receive the attack of the opponent, but also in order to make a counter-attack.
When in the Low Ward and without, allow your sword to be beaten as it has less effect due to the position which the opponent is in. The swords are far from one another so the position is weak. The Low Ward is strong due to both weapons being closer. As the enemy thrusts make a slope pace with the right and with the hand drive the high attack out to the right. The other beaten sword should be used to advantage, returning the beat against the opponent’s weapon. When the slope pace is made and the thrust defended, make a straight pace and make a low thrust, continuing the beat against the opponent’s weapon. This is the surest method of defence.
In the Low Ward, oppose the beat by turning the edge of the weapon toward it and lifting the point of the weapon. This position will defend against both the beat and the thrust from high due to its position. In fact both weapons will be hindered by this position. Once defended, make a straight pace with a thrust against the enemy.
Defence Against the Broad Ward at Case of Rapier
In much the same fashion as the High Ward the opposing position for the Broad Ward is once again the Low Ward. This is for the same common reasons as presented above for the High Ward. It is then advised by di Grassi that you should observe the opponent for information.
Depending on the side which is Broad on the opponent will decide the position and movement against him. Void the part to be hurt by the broad thrust, and also strike against the part which is striking. More specific instructions detail the process. When the enemy finds your sword, at the same time he comes forward to thrust, opposing with your own sword make a slope pace as strike against the part striking broad. This would imply the arm or the shoulder of the opponent. This is the best and only real target as the body is in motion.
Defence Against the Low Ward at Case of Rapier
The final defence consideration for di Grassi’s method is against the Low Ward, and it should be of little surprise that he instructs the reader to use the Low Ward against it. What is most interesting about his approach with regard to this defence is that while the others spent most of their time opposing the weapons, his first instruction does not.
The first instruction is to void with a very sloped pace as soon as the enemy thrusts, or if nimble make a traverse pace and strike against the opponent. This is clearly designed to avoid contact with the opponent’s weapons completely. The second instruction or method is more of his traditional thought. Before his weapon is closed in as instructed in the offense, make a slope pace in order to void the attack and make a thrust to the opponent’s face. The first instruction is counter-offensive, this one is more defensive but carries many of the same attributes. Clearly he wants to keep the weapons free and at liberty and not bound with the opponent’s.
Part 3: The Second Part Entreating Deceits and Falsings
The previous instructions present how the combatant should both attack and defend against the attacks of di Grassi’s three wards at case of rapiers. This lays the foundation for the system in general, followed by specifics for the case of rapiers. For the most part this is where the investigation will stop for many people however there is more to be found in his treatise in the second part. This will be addressed in the following. The second part of di Grassi’s manual is often forgotten as it often does not deal with specifics, merely general instruction however it is most useful to understand the complexities of the weapon form. What needs to be presented first is what he means by this.
Of Deceits and Falsings
“For Diſceit or Falſing is no other thing, then a blow or thruſt deuered, not to the intent to hurt or hitt home, but to cauſe the enemie to diſcouer himſelfe in ſome parte, by meanes whereof a man maie ſafely hurt him in the ſame part.” (di Grassi, 1594)
Deceits and falsings, or feints as they would be called today are, as far as di Grassi is concerned, only useful for school-play and bouting, not to be risked in an actual fight with sharp weapons. In order to use these skills the combatant needs to have a good handling of the body and also precise use of all parts. This implies that there is most definitely a level of skill presented however this can lead in to traps.
Some men become so blinded by conceit that they think that they are better than others and thus can use these skills in an actual fight. Their experiences in using the falsing and due to successes with this they become arrogant and think themselves to be undefeatable, and think that the falsings have no defence. For the most part these are defeated by simple actions and slain. This is due to the falses adding more time and complexity to the actions performed. Thus the falses should only be used in sport and exercise, or against slower, unknowing opponents. He does, however give quite a bit of instruction as to how they should be used, and defended against, for each form he presents.
Of the Falses at the Two Swords or Rapiers
What would seem to be the case is that di Grassi would spend time only on the falsing, however there is a lot more detail to be found in this section about the weapon form. The first thing he acknowledges is that while he details three wards, there are other wards which can be used with the weapon form. These need to be considered and he states that while most are sure, there are some which are not.
A ward which has both weapons on the outside of the opponents is unsure, as is a ward where both weapons are backward or upward, or both in the Broad. There are many combinations which may be made of the positions. These combinations can be learnt and used as wards. Indeed he even states that it is possible to learn how to use a ward with one weapon forward and one backward, and to be effective with it.
Either hand may false. Indeed it is possible to false with one and then strike with the same or the other weapon, and the same in defence. To false and strike takes two times, so is considered by di Grassi to be hurtful because of the loss of time, however case has two weapons so each may strike or defend in diverse fashions.
What should be noted is that there is more danger from the attack with the increase pace. The fore-sword is weaker for offence, but stronger for defence. The hind is stronger for offence due to the increase pace, but weaker for defence as it is further away. It is possible to false with the fore and strike with the same, false with the hind and strike with the same, or false with one and strike with the other.
Regardless of the action, always one weapon should be pointed at the enemy in order to hinder him. In defence it is important to have judgement in order to know which part the enemy has found when he falses so the defence may be made against the weapon threatening and strike with the weapon closest to him, more detail on defence against the false will be provided further along.
The false is most commonly made with the fore-sword in order to occupy the opponent’s weapons, and then strike with the hind-sword with an increase of pace. This is the primary method in di Grassi and follows his principles. Falsing with the hind-sword is less profitable as it is not close enough to threaten the opponent, or to occupy the weapons, therefore it is not safe to strike against the opponent.
If a false is made with the hind-sword it must be accompanied by a pace, as the enemy moves, strike with the same sword not with the other as it is now hind and requires an increase of pace to strike and thus time taken. If a false is made with the fore-sword, the strike may be made with the same or the hind with an increase of pace. With regard to falsing, di Grassi presents the following rule:
“I wil laie downe this for a rule, in the handling of theis weapons, that if a man falſe with the foreſword, he may alſo ſtrik home with the ſame, or elſe with the other, ſo that he increaſe a pace. And if he falſe with the hinder ſword, he ſhall preſently, and reſolutely force the blow home with the ſame ſword, but yet with the increaſe of a pace: but if he doe not fullie deliuer it, he ſhall againe procure immediatly to ſtrike home with the ſelfe ſame ſword, either with a thruſt, or edgeblowe, be it high or lowe, as at that inſtant ſhall be moſt commodius to ſerue the turne.” (di Grassi, 1594)
An Advertisement Concerning the Defences of the Two Swords
A statement was made previously about the defence against the false with the case of rapiers, and indeed indication of further information presented. The information which follows is that information as to how to deal with the false at the case of rapiers. For the most part it is quite generalised as is much of the information presented in the second part of di Grassi’s treatise.
In order to defend the combatant may use any ward, but it is indicated that it is better to imitate the opponent as this makes it more difficult for them to false against the fencer. The fore-sword is used to defend against falses and blows, and of course may be used to perform the same.
The fore-sword is used to defend against all, and as soon as the blow is defended a slope pace should be made and thrust with the hind-sword. A mandritta is then made to the legs or riverso against the arms or face. The enemy’s fore-sword is occupied and so cannot threaten, and the hind cannot oppose or strike due to distance and the body being out of line. As soon as the enemy’s sword is encountered by the fore-sword, strike with the hind. There is no fear of the opponent’s hind-sword as it cannot reach, or else is defending and so cannot offend.
The defence principle is essentially to defend against the opponent’s attack with the fore-sword; then while stepping off-line then counter-attack with the hind-sword. The opponent’s hind-sword is of no threat is it cannot reach to offend, and is most likely defending against the attack of the fencer. The following cuts instructed are designed to disable the opponent should the initial thrusting attack not be conclusive. This following attack is common in di Grassi’s instruction.
What has been presented is a three part discussion of the use of the case of rapiers as described by di Grassi’s 1594 treatise His True Art of Defense. The first part was designed to give the reader a foundation in the essential material found within the treatise; those parts which flow through the rest of the discussion and are included in all the weapon forms. The second addressed the case of rapiers as presented by di Grassi in the first part of the treatise, and finally the third examined the information which is found in the second part of the treatise on deceits and falsings. Each one of the three parts is necessary in order to understand the weapon form completely from di Grassi’s point of view, however it is only with all three that a complete grasp of the system presented can be understood.
The system presented by di Grassi is indeed a system. Admittedly in many ways he only actually scrapes the very upper levels of this system in his treatise, but the follow-through of core ideas and principles which is present in this and other weapon forms demonstrates that there is a system present. The treatise itself is more of an introduction to the weapon forms most likely encountered by a gentleman of the period with simple instruction so that the gentleman can competently use the weapons. It is not an in-depth study as the more vague aspects of the second part of the treatise demonstrates. This being said, there is enough present in the treatise that the intelligent reader with appropriate attention to detail can learn how to competently use the weapon forms and hold his own against an opponent.
di Grassi, G. (1595) His True Arte of Defence, Signe of the Hand and Starre, London