Last chapter, we looked at the proper position of the body, and before that, the head. Today we look at where those gangly limbs called arms are supposed to go.
You can find links to all the chapters I’ve interpreted in the Historical Fencing section of the site.
I’m using two translations as my sources. The Swanger/Wilson translation of Capo Ferro’s book (download it here) and Tom Leoni’s version. Both are solid, but have weird translation issues that make more sense when each version is compared to one another. It helps to get a rounder view of the material.
When on guard or seeking measure, your arm should be slightly bent. Your upper arm should slope and be directly in front of your flank and on the same line as your forward knee.
When on guard/seeking measure, your off hand/arm, thigh and leg should provide counter weight to the body/forward thigh leg. Your off hand should also be extended somewhat so it’s in line with the left knee, the elbow opposite your flank, and the forearm “gathered” (tucked in to itself) so it can be thrown to help propel the body forward.
While striking, your sword arm should be in a straight line, turning the hand and forearm upward and turned in/out depending on the line of attack.
In other words, as you attack and you turn your arm, you’re moving the true edge of the sword goes from 6:00 to either 3:00 or 9:00.
When striking, the left arm should be extended so it forms a straight line with the right arm and hand turned upward. If your arm is held too far forward before the shot or if stopped in an “oblique line” it would slow the tempi of the attack and the measure be shorter.
You’re basically throwing your off hand backwards as you strike, creating a strong solid line and providing some counter weight. It helps keep you profile, too, meaning a smaller target for your opponent to try to hit you back in. The downside is your off hand is no longer in a good position to reinforce your guard or fend off counter shots.
Your sword should be one with your arm. It’s an extension of your arm and should be in a straight line with your forearm (aka, no weird bends in the wrist) just in front of the bend of the right flank. This allows the sword/arm to easily defend any part of the body that’s attacked since the distance between the head and the flank is the same as between the flank and the knee.
Capo Ferro also says not to worry about the legs because to properly attack the leg it brings the opponent’s body so far forward that you can easily strike their head.
This is true of both opponents have equal reach. Alas, in the SCA, you run into plenty of two-hander longswords that makes a leg shot a low risk/high reward attack. Even throwing a counter shot at their hands is tough if the reach difference is great enough. But it’s a general true rule if two fencers are using your typical rapier.
As a short fencer, I only get leg shots on people if A) they parry a thrust into their leg (hooray!) or B) they parry my shot and, as I recover/retreat, I try a draw cut on my way out (a little something for my efforts).
Because your sword is an extension of the arm, the location/positioning of the sword is the same as the arm when striking.
Here Capo Ferro talks about the sword point:
Your point should remain aimed at your adversary’s openings (the flank and thigh).
He also says don’t worry about the left side of your opponent’s body (off-hand side) as it’ll screw with your measure and tempi. AKA, the sword side is a closer target, so concentrate on that.
Again, this is a good general rule if the two fencers are both fighting in a proper profile stance. We run into plenty of fighters in the SCA who stand very square, making the off hand side nearly as close as the sword side. We also run into plenty of sword refused positions, ready for a quick draw thrust. In general, it’s still better to concentrate on the sword side as you need to make sure the can’t hit with their sword while you attack them. But, the off hand side becomes a bit more of a valid target.
Speaking of hand/sword refused, Cappo Ferro is strongly against it.
“[The withdrawn sword] does not suit the purpose for which the sword was invented.”
He says it’s harder to assess measure, which makes seeking measure tough since the sword point is too from your opponent’s body. It makes it difficult to strike in the right tempo, or keep opponent at the right distance.
It also makes striking your opponent tougher as your measure is off and tempo is slower. You end up striking when your opponent is closer (which is more dangerous to your health). It’s also not good for the sparare la botta, aka the “powerful thrust” which uses body mechanics to create a very strong attack.
Again, we see this refused guard plenty in the SCA, mostly when there’s a secondary weapon involved. There it becomes a clear-and-shoot game. In single rapier, a refused guard in single becomes a quick draw. Fine for a game where no one’s life is on the line, but not so stellar if it was an actual duel.
I’ve also noticed that when people who do off hand weapon extended/refused sword do single, they tend to shift to a sword forward/off hand back guard (like Capo Ferro suggests), which is great but it’s a position they’re not used to and end up struggling to adapt their techniques.
What’s nice about this basic Capo Ferro guard is that it translates to other off hand weapon forms without needing to chance your game up significantly.
TL;DR version: Don’t keep your sword arm refused in single rapier and keep it simple stupid.
On the flip side, don’t leave your arm fully extended when on guard either. It makes it harder to defend the body from attacks.
Not sure if this is a dig at the Spaniards or not. 🙂
Next chapter is about your legs, so make sure you do Squatmas before hand.