Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Some thoughts on "Parrying" in Longsword

"And guard yourself from all parries which the simple fencers execute, and note when he cuts, so you also cut; and when he thrusts, so thrust as well; and how you shall cut and thrust, you find that written in the five cuts and in the setting-aside."

This is just some thoughts around parrying with Longsword, specifically "holding against" parrying:

Ox and Plough guard an Opening because "they are in essence the position of a thrust", i.e. they threaten a thrust. The key point however is that this is a counter attack (same tempo) action not a parry and riposte (two tempo) action. If you actually receive a Principle Cut to a high opening that you are covering in Ox you'll notice how you often get your hands cut, end up suppressed under his blade and are unable to riposte without some further work. Likewise if you receive a low cut in Plough your hands are vulnerable and he takes your point with his strong. This is because if someone attacks into a opening covered by these positions you are expected to be prepared to counterattack (i.e. thrust in the same tempo) killing them instantly. Thus people will avoid an opening "guarded" by Ox and Plough. This is the same logic of Day or Wrath "guarding" the high lines: if you don't do the action you are pretty screwed.

If you are simply going to "hold your sword against his blow" as Meyer puts it then the best postures for this are Side Guard against low cuts and Speaking Window (moving up into Crown) against high cuts. This puts you hands out of reach behind your cross and creates a bind. However Meyer is clear when discussing Speaking Window that you do not want to "guard" in these positions, only to go into them to meet an action.

So Plough threatens a counter thrust from below or, by moving upwards into Speaking Window to form a parry against the high lines. Likewise Ox threatens a counter thrust from above or by dropping into Side Guard a parry against the low lines. Now as Meyer doesn't follow through with counter thrusts this means he features Side Guard and Speaking Window a little more than earlier treatises.

However overall, as Meyer and Ringeck (above) says, you are best not to "hold against" to parry but instead to cut into his cut.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Agrippa - on "insignificant" blows

"Let me note that one often places oneself at risk of being hit by insignificant blows in order to emerge the victor and kill the other combatant. Accordingly, you should learn how to void your center, use your unarmed hand, make attacks in time and counter-time and understand the importance of the points, lines, circumferences, and surfaces." - Camilo Agrippa, 1553

Friday, 31 July 2015

Meyer's Trivium?

So I never picked up on this before, and I'm not certain it is in any way significant, but I've just noticed that Meyer orders his Longsword on the divisions of the "classical education" the Trivium which would have been the norm at the time (1.1v Forgeng):

"...to discuss it very briefly but clearly in such a manner as is done with all other arts and practices:

Firstly to show the vocabulary and manner of speaking that pertain to it, which have been invented by the masters of this art with particular diligence, so one may learn and grasp the secret and genius of it more promptly and rapidly

Next to explain and interpret this vocabulary, so that everyone may properly understand what is meant by this manner of speaking.

Then thirdly to present the practice of the art itself, and how it shall be carried out in the work from the cuts and postures that I will have explained."

So the first is his grammar (input), the next his logic (process) and finally his rhetoric (output) which make up the Trivium.

This could explain why his book is structured the way it is. I notice that there three books in Longsword ("the third part of the treatise on the sword" 1.44v/a) but I don't see that as aligning with that. 

It could potentially split out: 
  • The introduction is vocabulary or definitions
  • Chapter 1-9 is explanation
  • Chapter 9 on wards presenting the practice or devices
But I don't think so. 

I think he is ordering each chapter this way, for example: Chapter 3 has an introduction to the vocabulary (1.5v - 1.6r), then explanation (1.6v - 1.9v) and finally the practice (1.9v - 1.10v)

Whatever, it's interesting in the sense that it gives a reason for the sometimes baffling way he presents himself. What's interesting to me is the idea that to advance you could design some kind of Quadrivium. Firstly you learn the number (Mechanics), then number in space (Mechanics & Measure), then number in time (Mechanics & Time) and finally number in space and time (Mechanics, Time & Measure). I need to re-read Meyer bearing this in mind.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Some thoughts on "Time"

I've historically not really thought hard about the significance of Time within fencing and have tended to only think that it's about the speed of an action (1 Action = 1 Tempo) and pretty much left it at that. This is true but this really misses the point that that's "a Tempo" not "the Tempo." The Tempo is the rhythm or speed made up by a series of individual Tempos. Once you've added up tempos from a few exchanges you will implicitly have formed "The Tempo" of the fight.

By consciously understanding The Tempo of the fight, which tells you the probable speed of the upcoming action, you can then vary your timing within that upcoming Tempo. This is acting slightly faster (Before), the same speed (Instantly) or slower (After).

Of course a more masterful fighter will look at timing from a more strategic perspective, perhaps referring to the character of their opponent, to deliberately set a slow initial Tempo to hide their true speed capability which will then allow them to then more easily act in the Before later in the fight. Or conversely they will try to set a faster Tempo to overwhelm their opponent and force their opponent into hasty action to regain the initiative thus allowing them to more easily act in the After.

So "Time" as a principle is about understanding The Tempo to use Timing to create advantage in a fight. And it's tied up with Mechanics and Measure because different movements of our body have different speeds and different Measures have different speeds: to stand at close measure and cut from the wrist facilitates acting in the Before, while standing at long measure and cutting long from the shoulder facilitates acting in the After.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Some thoughts on "Judgement" and the "Initiative"

"There is no doubt but that the Honorable exercise of the Weapon is made right perfect by means of two things, to wit: Judgment and Force: Because by the one, we know the manner and time to handle the weapon (how, or whatsoever occasion serves:) And by the other we have the power to execute therewith, in due time with advantage." Di Grassi, The true Art of Defense

Following on from this post I thought I'd put some thoughts around about reaction time or "judgement".

Speed is composed of two elements: movement speed and reaction speed. Most historical sources are aware of this distinction referring to movements of the body and your "judgement" or "reason." Improving the physical action is relatively easy: you work until you become faster. However this is of little use if you do the wrong action. Therefore being fast is also largely about thinking fast and forming the correct action. This is the subject of serious concern in many treatises because fencing is complex, it has both complex stimuli and complex reactions to those stimuli. It's not like Sprinting where you have a simple stimulus (the gun goes "bang") and a simple decision (go/don't go). The more complex the stimuli and more responses that are possible the longer the decisions process and the more important this is to the sport.

I'm going to slightly tangent here to have a ramble about the concept of initiative. I usually talk about the initiative in a very careless way but it's understood that whomever is dominating the fight has "the initiative" and letting the other person "lead" equates to "loosing" the initiative. But in general I have tended to equate who is moving first with who has the initiative. Surely the first mover is the faster, therefore they must be leading? I'll illustrate why this is incorrect with an example: press an opponent from the Onset and then, when they're flustered, pause at long measure to give them opportunity to attack an deliberately exposed opening, then deliver the prepared counterattack into the anticipated action. In this example I would argue that you have maintained the initiative throughout but have allowed your opponent to act first in the middle segment; you have simply varied the timing.

The point behind this is that it is not the first mover who dominates the fight but the first thinker. In other words: the first person to accurately evaluate the situation and select the optimal movement has the "initiative". Of course, as I covered previously, if you move really slowly then thinking time becomes unimportant however once you are conditioned to act at intensity thinking fast can take significantly longer than moving fast. Watching an experienced fencer lazily work a less experienced fencer into a frenzy of activity by seemingly always to be in the right place, at the right time with the right action is demonstrating the advantage thinking fast against simply moving fast.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

George Silver - Fencing, good or all that ails you

"the exercising of weapons puts away aches, griefs, and diseases, it increases strength, and sharpens the wits. It gives a perfect judgement, it expels melancholy, choleric and evil conceits, it keeps a man in breath, perfect health, and long life. It is unto him that has the perfection thereof, a most friendly and comfortable companion when he is alone, having but only his weapon about him. It puts him out of fear, & in the wars and places of most danger, it makes him bold, hardy and valiant." - George Silver, Paradoxes of Defence 1599

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Some thoughts on understanding Meyer through Principles

Something I'm working on at the moment is breaking down Meyer's devices using the Principles as I understand them: Mechanics, Time & Measure.

Firstly the tools Meyer has based on the Principles, these are:

Mechanics: he explains these through his system of Guard Positions as we know that every action takes place through a sequence of these positions. Taking the information about bladework and footwork from his devices we can broadly reconstruct the mechanics. We then use the pictures as occasional reference checks to ensure we're on the right track.

Time: there are two tools for time, these are Tempo and Timing. Tempo is really just breaking down the device into time sections broadly by actions, a single action being one tempo. Meyer will highlight these by saying occasionally "for the first" or "for the second" etc. Within the Tempo there is also the question of Timing which he specifies in terms of Before, Instantly and After. Sometimes he explicitly outlines what the Timing is by saying "in the before" and "act instantly" or the like, and sometimes you can infer what it is, such as when you get a complete action from your opponent you can assume you're acting in the After.

Measure: Meyer uses his phases of combat to indicate the measure and the associated techniques: Onset for longer measure techniques, Middle for closer techniques and Withdrawal for transitioning out.

So, what does this look like?

1.26v.1 – Introduction to the Devices (Translation from Forgeng second ed)

(1) In the onset come into the right Change; take heed as soon as he pulls up his sword for a stroke, and quickly slash through upward before him, and cut in with a Thwart from your right at the same time as him; in the cut, step well to his left side. If he sends his cut straight to your head, then you will hit him with the Thwart on his left ear.

(2) But if you see that he does not cut straight to your head, but turns his cut with the long edge against your Thwart to parry, then before it touches, cut quickly with a long Thwart at his right ear; step at the same time with your left foot well around to his right.

Now you have laid on with two Thwart Cuts to both sides, opposite each other, this you take from the first section of this treatise. After this Onset, if you wish to proceed further to the Middle-work, the second section helps you thus:

(3) if he strikes around from your sword to the other side, then chase him with the slice on his arm. Push him from you with the forte of your blade or with your shield with a jerk;

(4) while he is still faltering from the push and has not recovered, the go rapidly up with crossed arms and strike with the short edge over his right arm at his head, and this (as I have said) before he recovers from the push.

(5) However, if he should recover and slip upward to parry, then let your sword fly back away and deliver a Thwart to his left ear with a back-step on your left foot.

(6) Afterwards step back with your left foot and deliver a horizontal middle cut with the long edge from your right at his neck, and as soon as it clashes, then draw away to his right with high strokes.

[I took out this action as it is an alternative action: (5a) Or if he does not go away or strike around, but remains with the slice or long edge on him, then reverse your sword so that your short edge comes on his; wrench his sword to your right side; then let your weapon snap around in the air, so that your hands come back together crosswise up over your head; and strike with the short edge at his head as before, before he recovers from the wrenching.]

Well there's probably a lot of room for conjecture about the mechanics but I hope to get more of an overview of how he fights by looking at the principles guiding his actions. I feel this process is really important to advance from a basic understanding to intermediate understanding.

By "basic understanding" I mean to be just learning how to do the actions by rote with little or no understanding of the wider context. A basic practitioner would attempt technique based on very basic context such as the most obvious mechanics, i.e. Openings and oppositional Guard Positions. They deliver single set pieces actions and then look to seize opportunities.

An intermediate understanding I mean to be understanding the actions within wider context. A practitioner with intermediate understanding can use phases to understand which technique to employ at each stage of the fight, understanding the initiative/timing to further hone this and a more subtle appreciate of mechanics to "read" more totally the strength/weakness and potential responses of their opponent. Intermediate practitioners can work through multiple tempos because they have model that limits the decision making to a shorter list of the optimal actions.