Capo Ferro Chapter X: The Defense & the Guard

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.

This chapter we start to get a little more into the hows. We’ve spent a lot of time on theory/philosophy and a bit on body posture. This chapter looks at the guard — specifically your “on guard” guard.


So far we’ve looked at the handling of the sword and the position of individual body parts. This section begins the look at the physical defense.


Defense is composed of two parts — the defensive (guard) and the offensive.


The guard is the position of the arm and the sword extended in a straight line right in the middle of the parts that can be attacked. The body is in ordinary stance to keep your body the furthest away from an attack, while being able to still attack him easily if he comes too close.

This really just describes the basic on-guard stance of Capoferro.

Ordinary (Regular) Stance
Ordinary (Regular) Stance


Capoferro says only terza can be defined as a guard. But not a terza with the guard on the outside of the knee (which is often how it’s taught by instructors) but lined up to divide the torso into two halves. He says you do this so you can easily defend either side of your body and are equally ready for all attacks and defenses.

Capoferro terza
Pardon the odd camera angle (it skews things) but this should give you a rough idea at what terza looks like — arm more toward the middle of the profile torso, and around waist height (my arm looks more like chest height because of the photo angle). It leaves your sword arm exposed, but allows for equal transition to seconda or quarta.

I find this to be a bit of odd revelation based on my other Italian studies. Halving your body like that means there are more defensive options one needs to worry about. Normally, we pick a guard that closes one line off completely, forcing your opponent to attack the lone open line.

Basically, Capoferro is telling people that more options are good. I don’t really agree with this approach, but as an A&S study, there ya go.


Capoferro  says seconda and prima aren’t guards because they’re not adequate for seeking the measure. He says they leave the body too uncovered and not equidistant from all parts of the body for offense/defense moves. He also throws quarta under the bus, too, saying it’s more of an offensive position.

If we base what we think a guard is, in modern terms, he’s wrong. However, Capoferro is working on a different definition of what a guard is (as described in 97). We think of a guard as any ward or position that protects you/cuts off attack on a single line, but Capoferro is working on a very interesting and narrow definition of what a guard is.

As he said in section 97, a guard is “the position of the arm and the sword extended in a straight line right in the middle of the parts that can be attacked.”

I, personally, count prima, seconda and quarta also as valid guards, but are ones that are designed for specific lines of defense. Howeve, that’s me looking at it from a modern POV. Capoferro is just looking at a general, solid all-around guard to start off from. In that case, terza is it. It’s also the main guard I take when moving around, seeking measure.


There are three reasons why it’s difficult to hit a target:

  1. Distance
  2. They’re already in a strong guard
  3. They can move quickly into a strong guard

I’m using the modern terminology for guard in this case, not Capoferro’s.


Capoferro says terza supports all three of these points.


Capoferro says he won’t even talk about changing from one guard to another (aka, from seconda to quarta), because he says only terza is a true guard.

clueless animated GIF

Dude is saltier than the sea.


Capoferro drops his “the best defense is a good offense” line here. He describes offense as a form of defense in which we seek measure and attack our opponent.



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