Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Some thoughts on the Scalp Cut

"You can’t throw any mastercut at any time, at any distance at any version of the guard and expect it to work because the Liechtenauer elf sprinkles his magic indes dust to bless your german fencing superiority." — Christian Trosclar

Following from an interesting discussion on facebook I was thinking about how I would best deliver a Scalp Cut against someone in Fool.

The issue being that if you deliver a Scalp Cut into someone waiting in Fool then a likely outcome is they will deliver a false edge cut to your hands with a step backwards. This doesn't to my mind preclude the Scalp Cut as very useful against Fool but only highlights the general foolishness of attacking a prepared position against a opponent who is trained in the same technique and aware of basic geometry:

1. If you are in Fool expect a Scalp Cut
2. If you aim for his head with a Scalp Cut and he gathers backward then his sword will be in measure to hit your hands and your sword will not be in measure to reach his head.

Of course you might also reach his hands at the same time, he might miss your hands and then he is lined up for you to deliver a beautiful thrust etc. However, there's a good chance he's getting a hand hit and if he keeps retreating out of measure he'll probably get to restart without any negative outcomes. 

I use a Scalp Cut to the head regularly against Alber (most point off line positions in fact) and it's effective. It's about provoking a time to strike or about recognising a situation where it is likely to succeed.. 

These are the "times" and provocations I think I already use:

1. My opponent cuts through into a Fool position, I have slipped back with his cut so while he over cuts I step forward again and tag him straight down on the head (After) 

2. I go into Day and as my opponent responds by changing down to Fool, as soon as his point comes off line I spring in and hit him before he settles in guard 

3. My opponent is in Fool, I gather and drop from Day as if I'm going to block their sword. As they pause to think about moving out from under my block I strike them to the head

4. I quickly step to one side with my rear foot, if they automatically step to realign I attack (this one is tricky and almost has to be executed as one move)

5. I gather my front foot backwards, if they automatically step forwards a full step I attack

These are the situation judgments I would assault a prepared Fool with a Scalp cut:

1. If my opponent was "timid" and I would expect them to balk rather than respond aggressively
2. If my opponent was especially slow
3. If my opponent was using an especially shorter sword
4. If my opponent was especially smaller in stature

Or you can just do what I feel Ringeck is suggesting which is basically to not throw it at the head but to provoke halfsword:

"The Parter is a danger to the face... With its turn the chest is quickly threatened."

Note, this is when you strike-in and hang the point to the face with the parter: if he then shoves the point firmly upward with his hilt in the parrying of the parter, invert your sword with the hilt high in front of your head (such that the thumb comes below), and set the point under his hands upon his chest (as stands pictured since)"

Throw the Scalp Cut short (either out of measure or with withdrawn arms would be my thought) to threaten the face with a thrust, he'll engage your blade to take the point off line and come to halfsword. Perfect, let the halfsword commence. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Giganti - on body mechanics

"It must be kept in mind that all the motions of the sword are a signal to those who know how to decipher them." - Nicoletto Giganti, The School of the Sword.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Capo Ferro - becoming accomplished

"Anyone who wishes to become an accomplished swordsman must, beyond taking lessons from a master, strive to play every day, and with different antagonists, and when possible he must select better fencers than himself, so that by playing with so many practical men, he may see wherein dwells perfect merit" - Ridolfo Capo Ferro

Egerton Castle - The Principles of the Sword

From Schools of Masters of Fencing by Egerton Castle, 1885.

I'm rather impressed with myself that the "principles" I puzzled out for myself from reading 16th century sword play are pretty much identical.

"The 'time', 'distance' and 'proportion' of the early Anglo-Italian masters of the sixteenth century are still as much as ever the first notions to be grasped. They are now called 'time', 'measure' and 'guard."

"The very first principle of all fencing is obviously to keep the proper 'measure,' namely, to keep out of easy reach when on the defensive, and conversely, never to deliver an attack without being within striking distance."

"The next principle is to keep proper 'time,' namely, first, to reduce the motions of weapon and body to the strictly necessary, both in number and extent, so as to employ the least possible time in attack and parry."

"Secondly to balance those motions carefully with the adversary's in order to seize at once the least opportunity and to reduce the number of chance hits to a minimum."

"A man is said to be on guard when, holding his drawn weapon in front of him, he is in such a position as to be able to deliver every possible attack and come to every possible parry with the least expenditure."

"The definition of guard introduces the questions of 'lines,' 'engagement,' and 'position of the hard.' These three factors determine the nature of the guard, as they do also that of all attacks and parries"

"A man may be said to be engaged in a particular guard in a given line when the relative position of his weapon to that of his adversary's is such as to defeat all attacks in that line unless some means be taken to displace the guard and force an entrance."

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The True and False Art

"I am constrained to divide this Art into two Arts or Sciences, calling the one the True, the other, the False art" - Giacomo di Grassi

The difference between the False Art and the True Art is interesting. It's quite important to Di Grassi and Silver so it's worth a few notes. It's amusing for me because it reads a lot like an early example of the "real martial arts" v's "sporting martial art" spat that rumbles on to this day.

It's worth noting that it's not as simple as good and bad technique. Certainly I've had it explained to me in the past that they authors when saying "True" this just means "good" technique and conversely that "false" was simply saying "bad" technique. Certainly authors such as di Grassi and Silver think that the "True Art" is superior however much like the modern Sport V's Martial argument it's all about correct context. 

Di Grassi is especially interesting concerning the True and False Art as he talks about it clearly and extensively. To summarise:
  • The True Art is technique to be used when your life is on the line in a real fight or duel. You do not know how skill your opponent is so you must assume the worst case that your opponent is very fast and observant. It is about dealing a half or single tempo blow behind secure opposition in the fastest times. 
  • The False Art is impressive technique to be used in the salle to show off your skill and to impress your peers. You have the opportunity to sound out your opponent and determine their level of ability without serious negative outcomes. This give you room to trust more of your defense to agility (slips, twists, leans, height) and misdirection (feints) in the hopes of landing showy blows on your opponent.
It's important to note that he is not against the "False Art" in of itself:

"It shall be good that I entreat of Deceit or Falsing, aswell to perform my promise, as also to satisfy those who are greatly delighted to skirmish, not with the pretense to hurt or overcome, but rather for their exercise and pastime: In which it is a brave and gallant thing and worthy of commendations to be skillful in the apt managing of the body, feet and hands, in moving nimbly sometimes with the hand, sometimes with the elbow, and sometimes with the shoulder, in retiring, in increasing, in lifting the body high, in bearing it low in one instant: in brief, delivering swiftly blows as well of the edge as of the point, both right and reversed, nothing regarding either time, advantage or measure, bestowing them at random every way." 

But rather it is about context:

"For avoiding of this abuse, the best remedy is, that they exercise themselves in delivering these falses only in sport, and (as I have before said) for their practice and pastime: 

With the True Art to be used:

"when they are to deal with any enemy, & when it is upon danger of their lives, they must then suppose the enemy to be equal to themselves as well in knowledge as in strength, & accustom themselves to strike in as little time as is possible, and that always being well warded." 

To tangent from this point about Sport and Martial context, one interesting question of the "True Art" is how do you hit your opponent without "falsing" or feinting? The problem is, to jump forward in time somewhat, well expressed by Colonel Monstery in his concept of Certain and Uncertain time:
  • Certain time: strikes executed "when your antagonist expects it"
  • Uncertain time: strikes executed "after feints when the antagonist does not expect it" 
To fight the "True Art" behind your solid guard is to be fighting in Certain Time. You are throwing blows or thrusts from positions that have solid opposition but will also strongly communicate your intention, i.e. are easily parried. An obvious solution to this problem is feinting: showing one blow but giving an unexpected blow.

However the problem with Feints are well summarised by Capo Ferro:

"Feints are not good, for they cause loss of time and distance; in fact, feints must either be made within distance or out of it. If made out of distance, they are useless, as you need not answer them. If, on the other hand, the adversary feints within distance; as he feints, strike"

Given that feints rely upon fooling your opponent and can spectacularly backfire the "True Art", which is about surviving fights against opponents of unknown perception and quality, discounts them and instead is about seizing those certain "secure" times and measures to strike that don't rely upon misdirection to set them up.

For example Dal'aggochie:

"Gio. Since you give me an occasion to speak of tempo, I’ll tell you. There are five ways of recognizing this tempo of attacking. The first one is that once you’ve parried your enemy’s blow, then it’s a tempo to attack. The second, when his blow has passed outside your body, that’s a tempo to follow it with the most convenient response. The third, when he raises his sword to harm you: while he raises his hand, that’s the tempo to attack. The fourth, as he injudiciously moves from one guard to go into another, before he’s fixed in that one, then it’s a tempo to harm him. The fifth and last, when the enemy is fixed in guard, and he raises or moves his forward foot in order to change pace or approach you, while he raises his foot, that’s a tempo for attacking him, because he can’t harm you as a result of being unsettled."


"Some hold that there are four times, other five, and some six, and for mine own part, I think there are many times not requisite to be spoken of, therefore when you find your enemy in the time and measure before taught, then offer the stoccata, for that is the time when your enemie will charge you in advancing his foot, and when he offer a direct stoccata, in lifting or moving his hand, then is the time: but if he will make a imbroccata unto you, answer him with a stoccata to the face, turning a little your bodye toward the right side, accompanied with your point, making a half incartata: if he strike or thrust at your leg, carry the same a little aside in circular-wise, and thrust a stoccata to his face, and that is your just time"


"3 actions by which you may endanger him & go free yourself:

1. The first is to strike or thrust at him, the instant when he has gained you the place by his coming in.
2. The second is to ward, & after to strike him or thrust from it, remembering your governors
3. The third is to slip a little back & to strike or thrust after him."


"The time is understood in this way: if the enemy is in guard, it is best you set yourself outside the measure and go with your guard secure to the enemy's sword with yours and understanding what you want to do. He will have to circle it, in that circling you are able to would him. This is one time, the changing of his guard, while he is changing it is a time. If he circles, it is a time. If he comes to bind in measure, while he steps forward to arrive in measure, this is one time to wound him in the instance in which he is throwing with you warding and wounding in one time. All of this is a time. If the enemy is standing waiting firmly in guard, you go to bind him and as you are in measure you throw where he is uncovered, this is one time to wound him. This is because any motion of Dagger, Sword, Feet and Body, as changing of guards, this is a time to wound."

Finally, showing that this wasn't just a 16th century concern, Hope has the following to say on the subject:

"Although it be not taught with so good a grace as abroad, yet, I say, if a man should be force to make use of Sharps, our Scots-play is far before any I ever say abroad, as for security; and the reason why I think so is, because all French play runs upon Falsifying and taking of time, which appears to the eyes of the spectators to be a far neater and gentler way of playing than ours; but no man that understands what secure fencing is will ever call this kind of play sure play, because when a man makes use of such kind of play, he can never so secure himself but that his adversary may contre-temps him with every thrust." 

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Colonel Monstery, the first rule of defense

"The first rule of defense is to watch your opponents hands, not his eyes, as the old fashioned boxers and fencers advised. A man cannot hit you with his eyes." - Colonel Monestry, Self-defense for Gentlemen and ladies, 1870's

Happy new year and a badass cutting video

Enjoy this entirely serious video of our clubs latest cutting session.