Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Lunge and a Pass in Second!

Has it really been almost a month since I've posted? That's not cool! Where did you go, motivation? (Answer: work stress, duh.) Time to get back on the stick and do a quick post on Fabris' lunge and pass in Second! (Lunge on the left, pass on the right.)

As an aside, you really have to love a set of illustrations where (under the pass in Second) Fabris feels the need to remind us that it's "a drawing from life, as are all the others!" Yeah.

Let's look at the lunge first. Fabris notes that this can be done to either the inside or outside of your opponent's blade - this is due to the fact that you are endeavoring to pass yourself underneath your opponent's blade. Fabris warns to be very careful of measure, and that this is best performed as your opponent performs a passing step, as you're trying to get the bulk of your body past their tip as you wound them. If you try to do this at too wide a measure, your opponent can just lower the tip of their blade and strike you before you pass under it.

In a sentence you won't expect to hear very often in many fencing situations, Fabris also notes that your head and your knee are both protected by your guard and arm at once.

Fabris' pass from Second is very similar. However, Fabris points out that because you are passing with your left foot while your right shoulder remains in the lead, you have an extremely long reach with this attack. (You can see this with the lift of the right shoulder, and the bending along the spine. It's very clear in the right-hand figure.) Because of this, while it can be used when your opponent passes (as with the lunge above) it also works when your opponent takes any other kind of attack - or any other tempo, since you will pass under the tip of their blade so quickly.

As with the lunge, you can do this to the inside or outside - it doesn't matter at all because you're passing underneath and your blade will have no real need to oppose your opponent's. Finally, Fabris notes that your second step will be even faster than the first, thanks to your momentum and the drop in your body.

These two attacks are extremely low to the ground - to the point where it looks like your head can be lower than your pelvis in the pass, which just seems mad to me. That said, passing entirely underneath a blade is a really effective technique if you can manage it. I appreciate that Fabris makes it clear with the lunge that if your opponent is too far that it just won't work out well for you. With the lunge as wide and committed as it is, he points out that it's very hard to safely recover from it. It's because of that very fact that I'm trying to work more passing steps into my fight - I love lunges, but the action that we typically term a redouble (recovering forward and immediately lunging again) is slow, potentially dangerous, and is handing my opponent tempo after tempo in which to act. If I can stick a lunge, I'll absolutely use it, but adding passing attacks to my fight is both useful and a very period thing to be able to do.

If it makes people feel better, the lunges from Third and Fourth aren't nearly so low to the ground at all. Also, the lunges in Fourth include some girata, which are super great.

Next, guards in Third!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fabris' Guards in Second

We're back from Pennsic, which means More Swordnerdery! Yay!

Before I start to kick around thoughts like "how accurate are the plates in Fabris, anyway" I'm just going to plow ahead with his guards in Second because I want to keep making forward progress here.

As a reminder, we can see his four guards in Second here and here, and his descriptions of lunging and passing in Second here. The first two guards in Second are pretty straightforward, while the second two are a good deal stranger upon first glance - so we'll dive through them in order.

The first guard in Second is what you end up with when you take the first guard in First (the imperfect one on the left), rotate your hand, and lower your arm. Fabris points out that it's easier to maintain that guard, and that the weak side is now the outside rather than on top. This is another highlight of the concept of the sword being stronger in the direction towards which it points - while we end up in Second while opposing towards the outside, this guard is initially stronger towards the inside. That said, you can parry toward the outside with the forte as it's still far enough forward even with the relatively wide position of the arm, and if you move into Fourth you can parry to the inside. Fabris does say that even though there are some good ideas with this guard, the wider step leaves your right knee somewhat exposed, and the next guard in Second "is much better than this one."

Looking at the plate of the second guard, we can note some changes immediately. The stance is narrower, and the arm is much straighter than the previous guard. Fabris notes that the arm change is important, because since a Second is weaker on the outside, you don't want your opponent attacking that line - even if, as he notes, it is the most covered.

Fabris feels that due to the sword placement and body posture in this guard, the only clear opening should be your head over your sword. Your lower body is safe due to your posture. Fabris does note that your opponent could feint toward your head and redirect to a line below your sword, which is always a thing to beware of if you've really only got a couple clear openings. If we ignore cuts for the moment, you can parry most attacks in Second. Inside thrusts should be parried in Fourth. Fabris notes that these defenses are easy due to the straight direction of the sword - something which also allows you to make very tiny cavazione and counter people trying to find your sword. Similar to guards in First, Fabris closes by noting that keeping your arm in this posture is tiring over time.

The third guard in Second is really one of the first guards in this manual that will make people blink a lot and wonder what the hell Fabris is thinking here. The big thing to note is that moreso than any other guard we've seen yet, this isn't something that you settle into without context. Fabris wants you to settle downwards into this guard as your opponent gets closer. When your opponent is within measure, your body should be as low as you can get it and your sword as far back as possible while still keeping it on line with your opponent. Fabris points out that you need to keep it straight so your opponent stays on the inside. Also, keep your left hand way back to help keep your lucky face safe.

The very moment that your opponent's sword penetrates yours, you should strike towards the inside in Fourth. (Fabris notes that "your right foot forms a transverse step" so that "at the moment of your attack, your body will be out of presence before you even move your feet." I admit, I'm still working on exactly how that sorts itself out.) If your opponent's sword is directed towards yours, your body should go underneath, and you should push in Second against their debole.

The last guard in Second is also one of those guards that makes people wonder what's up, but generally not nearly so much as the previous. Similar to the previous, this is also a transitional posture - Fabris states that you should really move from a Third into this guard to invite an attack by your opponent. If they attack you while you are transitioning into this guard, cover with your left hand and straighten your sword into them. If they wait until you have formed this posture, you can use a girata and strike in Fourth or parry and respond in Second.

Fabris does make it very clear that this is not a posture to hang out in; form a new guard without stepping (so that you can move backward or forward to parry or counter as you need).

That's it! The next entry will either be going through the guards in Third, or maybe going over the lunges and passes from First and Second. Probably the latter, just for a bit of a break before More Guards.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Transforming Your SCA Fight to a More Period Fight

I'm going to take a short break from Fabris (and the next entry on guards in Second is about half done, sitting in the drafts queue even now!) to kick around ideas about how to change your existing fight to a more period one. This is intended more for the existing SCA fencer who can generally perform pretty well in that context, but who wants to evolve their game to one much more rooted in historic rapier rather than the sport/historic/Olympic/raw athleticism mishmash that characterizes a lot of SCA fencing.

There are a couple ways that you can do this. The first way, and the one that I expect almost nobody to do, is to entirely stop free-fencing for a year, and do nothing but pick up a manual and work on footwork, body posture, and looking exactly like the plates. Do nothing but solo drills, and paired drills where you carefully go through the scenarios presented, increasing speed while maintaining accuracy. Do this for a at least two extended practice sessions each week and fill in the other days with some solo time. No freebouting. You're trying to completely rewrite how you fence from the ground up.

On the one hand, this will totally rebuild your fight from the ground up. If you seriously work at this, you'll become a terrific period fencer. On the other hand, a lot of people won't find this particularly fun - doing pickups and fighting in tournaments are where a lot of people find their enjoyment, and it can really suck going from competitive fencer to nonexistent for a year.

The second way to evolve your game requires a lot more attention to your time, and it can get frustrating at points, but you get to keep fencing through it so that's just a lot more fun overall. Plus, you get to see how your performance changes over time, so that's also pretty great. In short, when you're at a practice, drill period technique. Drill it a lot. Be sure to make forward progress, but don't neglect anything, no matter how basic. Footwork? Make sure you're doing it correctly. Guard postures? Check them. Blade contact? Do it or don't do it, but be sure you're doing it correctly. Build on each skill as you grow in mastery, and keep working on them constantly. Paired drills are great for this, because it lets you work in collaborative partner drills, adversarial drills, and everything in between. (It's also nice because you can keep checking progress with your partner.) Do this for a good chunk of each practice.

For the last part of practice - maybe the last quarter or so - shake off the drills, and then go freebout. Remind yourself how to just fight your fight. Don't try to force the period actions you've been working on. Do them if they work (and things like footwork and guards are always easy to work in) but I've found that it's really easy to try and focus far too much on doing whatever it was you were drilling earlier, regardless of whether it's the appropriate action. Just fight, and remember your fights and think about what actions you could have taken instead. Don't worry about being super period here, that way lies frustration. What you'll notice happening over time is that more and more of the period system that you're drilling with start to filter into your fight. You'll notice that your guards are just shifting a bit, or that your bladework is changing. A reflexive defense will look like a plate you were studying. As this happens, if you're deconstructing your bouts with your opponent, and you think about how you should have handled an attack that they landed on you, your solutions will start to look like the system you're working on. (Which is the best feeling - a few months ago, I thought about how I should have handled an attack deep on my inside by someone who's very good with his twohander, and when I got home that evening and cracked my copy of Fabris to write a blog entry, right there on paper I saw the response I came up with. Awesome!)

The more your fight shifts to become the period system, the easier it'll be for you to begin to actively adjust your fight rather than letting aspects filter in, and then the process accelerates dramatically.

For established fencers, I'm really a fan of the second process. It'll take longer, and it'll be messier, and it can be frustrating, but I think it's important for the community as a whole to be able to see this process happening. It shows that even experienced fencers can study, learn, and perform new skills. They can see how winning isn't everything (but it is pretty great and yeah, you saw me say that winning isn't everything), but developing yourself as a fighter, a student, and a teacher matters so much more. It can help other fencers undertake similar processes, and help everyone up the quality of their fight and also increase historic fencing's visibility in the whole community, which is all really great.

But mostly it means that you can keep fighting lots of people while you learn, and that's a really big deal.

Next up, getting that entry on Fabris' guards in Second out of the draft queue and posted!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fabris' Guards in First!

Seeing First used is rare in the extreme in SCA fencing, at least from what I've seen. I'm pretty sure that this is due to a number of factors - it's not a natural looking or feeling guard, it takes a lot of strength and endurance, head cuts aren't typically an issue (save for C&T), and I believe it to be more useful in Fabris' fight than, say, the more upright fight of Capo Ferro or Giganti - but that may not be saying too much. If you're standing in Capo Ferro's upright and backward-leaning stance, denying your head and upper chest, taking a guard which defends those areas isn't generally going to be the most optimal action you might take.

(As a reminder, here are the visuals!)

We're going to speed through the first guard, mostly because as Fabris says, it's not that safe and it's imperfectly formed. He does note that the high placement of the sword will cause you to rely on your off hand if someone really tries to drive home a shot underneath it, unless you break measure as part of your defense. Attacking from this would be a two tempo action, and we all know how he feels about relying on those!

Looking at the second, properly formed guard though, gives us a lot more to work with. The blade is lower, pointed at your opponent, and the forte is better positioned to defend you. All good things! Fabris notes that you don't want your opponent coming in over your sword, since that's the weakest part.

Here's where we're going to take a slight tangent! Up until now, a lot of the focus on keeping your blade position strong has involved the hand position and the true edge; if you want to oppose your opponent's blade on the inside, you use Fourth, with your hand turned palm up and the true edge in your opponent's blade. Similarly, if you want to oppose your opponent's blade on the outside, you use Second, with your hand palm down and your true edge, again, in your opponent's blade. What we're seeing here (and what we'll see in future guards) is a an emphasis on the fact that the blade is stronger in the direction towards which it is pointing - and it's far easier to point the blade downwards. Additionally, in this (or any) situation, just having your blade physically on top is going to be a pretty huge advantage when it comes to displacing your opponent's weapon. (Devon Boorman's statement to me on finding the blade was something to the effect of "you can cheat a lot of the other requirements, but crossing on top is the biggest advantage you can get.")

Anyhow. Fabris says that you can just keep moving towards your opponent and find and remove his blade from your presence as you do so. You want to wound your opponent while you are over his sword, and on the outside. If he cavziones and tries to get on top of your blade, you can wound him underneath in the same way "by just lowering your body and widening your step even more, while still keeping the arm in the same position."

I can see a couple of ways this statement can be taken, and I believe that they are all accurate. If your opponent is below your blade, you can step in, lower your body, moving your forte through his blade, and strike him. If your opponent has performed a cavazione above your blade, lowering your body and passing underneath your opponent's point will keep you safe as you strike. If possible, you can pick up your opponent's blade to the outside, as he mentions earlier. You can see this concept illustrated here - on the left, we see our fencer passing cleanly underneath the opponent's blade with no contact, and on the right we see our fencer in First, with his hilt on the opponent's blade, pushing them to the outside, just as described here!

We'll close with Fabris' statement, "This guard would be just as good as any other if it were not so fatiguing to hold the arm in such a manner for a long time." Yeah, ain't that the truth. I'll be trying to do more with First, either as a guard or as something to specifically mutate my posture into.


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Single Rapier Guard Overview!

I'm going to step back from Fabris' illustrated wounds for a little bit, and take a cue from having gone over his cloak guards to take a brief look at his single rapier guards. This is mostly a brief overview just to familiarize us with what we'd be seeing; I'll go into the guards in much more detail in subsequent posts. (It's the first in a series! Get in on the ground floor!)

First, let's go over what Fabris has to say about good counterguards. He begins that section by saying, "Forming a good counter-posture means situating the body and sword in such a way that, without touching your opponent's blade, the straight line between the opponent's point and your body is completely defended." Doing this means that if your opponent wants to strike you, they must move to another line, which is a longer tempo, which means you can better deal with the threat and also strike your opponent. He has more to say about counterguards, but it focuses mostly on measure and doing so in a controlled way, so we'll move on to examining his single rapier guards in earnest.

If we're looking at the guards, let me give you a quick index of the plates for his single rapier guards. He breaks them down by hand position (guards in First, guards in Second, and so on).

Guards in First: Just these two.
Guards in Second: These two, and these two. (As an aside, he illustrates lunging and passing from Second as well.)
Guards in Third: Two shown here, and one here (the right plate being a lunge in Third).
Guards in Fourth: Two shown here, two more here. We also see a lunge and girata here, as well as another girata and a pass in Fourth here.

Let's examine the guards in First. The first one (on the left), according to Fabris, is imperfectly formed. The point is out of presence, the sword is too far back, and it just looks sloppy compared to the properly formed guard on the right. This is because it's representative of what you'd be doing having just pulled your sword from the scabbard. While almost anything you try to do from here will necessitate a two tempo attack, your head is pretty well covered from the outside. The second guard in First is much cleaner - the sword is extended, the upper chest and head are well covered, the body is bent well forward, and there is a small step.

His guards in Second start off with two which look quite similar. Again, Fabris notes that the first one is weaker than the second. It is stronger to the inside as that is the direction toward which the blade points, but to really defend to that side, you'll need to turn your hand into Fourth. His second guard shown is slightly lower relative to your body, and the sword is much straighter. He notes that you can perform very small cavazione from this guard, and it is therefore hard for your opponent to gain your blade effectively, but that it can be tiring to maintain this guard for long. (Although not nearly so as the guard in First!) The second pair of guards in Second are really specialist postures - one sets up particularly well against the inside line (though certainly not solely that) and the last guard in Second is effectively an invitation to attack your head or chest.

Continuing the trend here, the first guard in Third is not what Fabris would call a good one. While it is certainly easier to form and hold, Fabris feels that there are a number of disadvantages which can be taken advantage of by the skilled fencer. He does admit that not everyone knows these disadvantages, so you can use it to trick your opponent. The second guard in Third is much tighter, and one that Fabris considers one of the most useful due to its ability to rapidly move into Second or Fourth. The last guard in Third is mostly a problem-solving guard. It can be used to free your sword, withdraw your body, and to play with your opponent's sense of measure.

Finally, the guards in Fourth. The first one covers well to the inside, but the bent arm will make your cavazioni cover more distance, and be slower because of it. As we might expect, the second guard here is much better formed, and in fact is one that Fabris considers the safest guard to take. The last two are intended to invite the opponent into specific attacks, and Fabris goes into detail with what to do from each of these guards in the face of the opponent's actions.

For the next entry, we'll take a much more detailed look at the guards in First, and probably ramble about the application of them in SCA rapier.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A quick and dirty summary of Fabris' cloak!

So this weekend at Sommer Draw (a nice chill local event that people should wander out to) one of the twists in the rapier tournament is that you need to spend the first half fighting with what you think your worst form is.

I bet a lot of people will take cloak. Frankly, out of the people who can take cloak in a tournament, I imagine that nearly all of them will end up choosing that as their worst form. So let's jump around in the manual a bit and see what Fabris tells us about cloak! (See, I'm helping.)

First though, here's what we've got for plates that you can feast your eyes upon!

Fabris shows some postures with the cloak here, here, and the left plate here. He shows wounds on the right plate here, as well as here, here, and here. Also, here are a couple more wounds with cloak that he describes later on. Note that the second one, while hilarious and effective, is not permitted in either SCA rapier or C&T combat, which is really a shame. (Fabris notes that the cape is both a defensive and offensive weapon - and it's specifically offensive in the sense that you can hit your opponent with it and throw it over his head or hand. We'll be focusing on how to best use it defensively here. For now.)

Before he gets into guards at all though, Fabris spends a good chunk of text outlining his general principles for sword and cape, which is where we'll be spending the bulk of our time today. (As an aside, Fabris notes that sword and cape is "a very noble weapon combination" and one well worth spending time on because carrying a cape does not fall under any legal restrictions, whereas carrying a dagger can be forbidden in some places. Neat!)

The first thing that we'll notice, both from the plates above and in the text, is that Fabris does not want us using a cape like you typically see it fought in the SCA. Generally in the SCA, you see people with a half-cape held in their off hand, and it's swirled and snapped around at high speed to baffle the opponent and intercept their blade. Fabris is describing how to use a much larger and heavier cape, such as you'd generally be wearing outside. It's much less swishy and flashy, and not so high energy.

Fabris says that you should hold the cape such that it's covering your arm from hand to elbow. It should hang at a level such that you can hold it at the level of your head and look over it at your opponent and still have it protecting your lower body, yet not hang so long that if you lower your arm you have a tripping hazard.

You commonly hear in the SCA that people would wrap their cloaks around their arms to use almost as bucklers against their opponent's sword. While this is true to an extent - the layer or two of heavy cloth was absolutely better than nothing when defending yourself - Fabris explicitly tells you not to put your arm in the way of a cut, because they could still injure you through the cloak. In fact, he says "even if you were to wrap the cape completely around your arm, you may still be unable to oppose a cut without injury to your arm, while leaving your lower body dangerously exposed." This is extremely relevant to SCA rapier and C&T, because whatever you wear explicitly does not prevent you from taking a blow to that area. Interposing your arm between your head and a cut will cost you that arm, regardless of how many layers of cape it has wrapped around it. On that note, be sure that you can calibrate properly through the layers of cloak you have wrapped around your arm. Calibrating before a fight is never a bad thing if there's any possibility of something like that coming up!

Right, then. You have your cape set and ready. How do we assume a good guard with it?

Fabris recommends keeping the edge of the cape directed towards your opponent. This is primarily what you use against your opponent's sword. You can deflect thrusts to either side with it, as well as catch cuts with it. He does remind you that the cape will have some give in it before it moves your opponent's point off-line, which is important to remember. If you hold your cape flat-on against your opponent, they could thrust through it and wound you. While our swords in the SCA won't pierce the cloak, they could reasonably push the cloth right up against your body if you're not careful, and that will work just as well.

In general, you should be joining the cape to the sword. Your sword will offer protection to your off hand, the cape bolsters the protection of the sword, and there's not nearly as much open along your body. Note in plates 97, 98, and 100 how the cape is acting in concert with the sword, and how the cape is joined to the sword relatively far down its length. If your arm gets tired, Fabris advises that you pull it back to the hilt of your sword, but to keep it joined with your sword there, to prevent people from attacking between them. You can see this in plate 99.

Now that you've got a good guard, on to actually using the cape!

If your opponent thrusts high, lift your cape from your elbow (rather than the shoulder), and push their attack up and out, as in Plate 102. As an aside, you can see that the hanging cape offers some additional defense to the side of your head when you perform this parry that you don't get with a dagger or open hand.

If your opponent thrusts to the outside, you can cover with your sword as you typically do, or you can cross-parry with your cloak as seen in Plates 103 and 104. Fabris is very clear that when doing so, you only move the hand, and do not raise your whole arm. This lets you keep sight of your opponent over the cloak, whereas if you lift your whole arm, you blind yourself. Again, this comes up in Plate 103.

This is getting pretty long, so let me summarize how you deal with cuts - you parry them with your sword as you typically do (because remember, interposing your arm is bad) but you support them with your cloak for additional defense. There are absolutely occasions where you're parrying with the cape, but in those situations you want to get the cape right to your opponent's hilt, where it's safer and you can effectively smother any blow they want to deliver.

You should consider cavazione over your opponent's sword, rather than underneath, to prevent your blade from fouling on your cape or your opponent's cape. Also, all of the above information is assuming a sword-foot forward stance, though Fabris notes that cape is very well suited to an off-foot forward stance, as the cape can protect the lower body very well.

There we go! Fabris on cloak. Now all the fencers who're going to Sommer Draw are all kinds of prepared! Helping!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

We're back! Fabris Plates 30 and 31!

Remember when I'd poke at some Fabris plates, and did that, and posted about it? Me too! Let's do that again, and roll in with Plates 30 and 31.

(Yeah, things got kind of crazy for me, and I lost a lot of free time in my brain. Now it's back, so good.)

Plate 30 has what Fabris calls "a wound of mandritto to the head against a third." For reference, a mandritto is a cut delivered from right-to-left. There are a number of sub-types, as you might expect, and Fabris only specifies the type of mandritto in one variation.

The first variation in Plate 30 has one fencer having found the other's sword to the outside. Fabris doesn't specify who has found who, and it really doesn't matter. The action really starts when the fencers both "lock blades" and our opponent starts pushing us to the outside. As soon as we feel that pressure, we yield to the pressure and deliver a cut from the wrist while keeping our hilt on top of the blade. Fabris notes that the opponent's blade will fall enough so that we can put our forte on their blade, holding it down, and thus prevent them from parrying the cut.

I may be missing some implicit information here, but I'm interpreting the delivery of the cut to be entirely on top of the blade - it's very similar to how Fabris wants us to avoid the blade entirely when a beat is delivered. Release your pressure, the opponent's blade falls, and you can deliver the cut while angulating your blade above theirs. Keeping your blade on top and your hilt by their blade is key, because you'll be using that to stuff their attempts to bring their blade back into play.

The second variation of Plate 30 is a good deal different, though. We find our opponent's blade on the inside. Our opponent performs a cavazione and pushes forward to strike from the outside. As they do this, we have turned our hand over to re-find their blade on the outside - but just "let the point fall" into a mandritto fendente, again keeping our hilt by our opponent's blade.

Sometimes it's just easier to drop a cut into your opponent's head than to bring your blade back into line and then push it that way, y'know?

Plate 31 returns us to what's probably more familiar territory for most rapier fighters, and more point work. The first variation starts with both fighters in Third, to the outside. We make an invitation to the outside, and our opponent takes it, moving into Second and striking while stepping with their right foot. Our response is to bail on parrying, perform a girata of the left foot while we cavazione to the inside (rolling our hand into Fourth), and striking.

The other way this wound could happen is if both fencers are on the inside. We move to find our opponent's sword, and they cavazione while turning their hand into Second (which is normally a really good idea). We continue our motion from finding our opponent's blade (and this is a really important detail - don't pause, just keep moving your blade) and perform a contracavazione with the girata and striking - all without touching our opponent's blade.

I really like Plate 31 - it's an interesting application of the fundamentals (Avoid blade contact! Don't pause! Strike in mezzo tempo! Your hilt to their blade!) but it reasserts points from earlier plates that you don't always need to be on top if you're doing things correctly. You want to be, sure, but striking with your blade angled downwards is fine if that's the most efficient way to close a line and to keep your point free of your opponent's blade.

I find performing a girata in earnest combat hard. That said, I think it's really one of those movements that you don't plan for, but just happens. It's worth pointing out how I see the differences in how Fabris illustrates it here than from how Capo Ferro illustrates it, though. Capo Ferro has a fairly extreme body twist, and the left foot is thrown way out there. Compared to Fabris, who doesn't have nearly as extreme a torso twist and keeps the feet much more together and under the body, it really seems to me like the girata of Fabris is one that can be much more easily recovered from. When I try to do it and actually succeed, it feels very much like I can continue to step forward from there and press my opponent. I don't remotely feel like that when I try to duplicate Capo Ferro's girata. I should try to see if it's a product of the opening body postures or what, because based solely on this, I really prefer how Fabris is doing them.