Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Capo Ferro's Hierarchy of Defense

Recently I was pointed at Guy Winsdsor's video describing Capo Ferro's hierarchy of defense. It's one of those things that summarized a lot of dispersed information in his manual in a really concise and excellent way, and helped me get a much better understanding of Capo Ferro.

(Go watch it here.)

The comments on the video summarize the procedure, but not in a way that I could use as a way to introduce this drill to people - let alone really integrate it into my own brain - so I'm re-writing it up here in a way that will be useful to me, and hopefully other people.

In short (and hopefully correctly), through Capo Ferro's manual, a consistent set of responses and counter-responses can be found. The most common attack in rapier is, once your blade has been gained, to disengage out of stringere. Guy uses that term, I'm used to cavazione, so let's roll with that for consistency.

Capo Ferro flowcharts out four possible defenses for this attack. They are:

  • Two tempo parry-riposte
  • Counterattack in opposition (aka "single tempo parry-riposte" because Capo Ferro uses parry and riposte kind of interchangeably at times. This is performed simply by turning your hand over into the opponent's blade, not with a countercavazione.)
  • Void and counterattack (aka "counterattack with avoidance")
  • Countercavazione
Each of these defenses, naturally, has a counter. So when your opponent gains your blade, you feint with a disengage to flush out one of those defenses and then you counter it. (This is the core of the way the Capo Ferro plates are set up: Action, Defense and then Action, Defense, Counter.) The counters are:
  • Two tempo parry-riposte: disengage back, avoiding the parry
  • Counterattack: two tempo parry-riposte
  • Void: two tempo parry-riposte (note: scannatura is a two-tempo parry riposte, just saying)
  • Counterdisengage: any of the initial defenses, though for this drill just recavazione for simplicity's sake
From my quick glance now, it looks like a drill could be set up to chain one into another into another, but practicalities of range, hitting the other person, and working an action out of a void would probably cause it to break down a little over time. Still though, it's a thought.

The basic drill is, in effect, to recreate the plates from Capo Ferro, running through everything in sequence. So it goes like this:
  1. You start off having gained your opponent's blade. Your opponent performs an attack by disengage. You perform one of the initial defenses and strike your opponent. Repeat until you have performed all four defenses against your opponent's attack.
  2. You again start off having gained your opponent's blade. Your opponent feints a disengage, and you respond with one of the initial defenses. Your opponent performs the correct counter for the defense and strikes you. Repeat until you have performed each defense and your opponent has countered them.
  3. Switch sides. Do it again. When you begin to run it through for the second time on a side, remember to change your starting inside/outside blade positions, so you work both lines.
Guy does bring up a very good point near the end of the video, that is well worth keeping in mind: Four possible actions can come out of you performing a feint. You need to be able to predict (or better, force) your opponent's reaction. How do you do that? Discuss!


  1. Donovan,

    Do you have an opinion on Windsor's "the Duellist's Companion"? I just picked up a copy, and was hoping for some commentary from more experienced fencers on how good at is in the context of SCA rapier.

    1. I like the book (I can't find it), but I find trying to learn fencing with is very much a 3D experience a little more difficult in 2D (figuring out blade alignment can be hard). But it has some great drills and class agendas for learning Capo Ferro.

    2. By "can't find it" I mean I own it but it's lost. :(

    3. I haven't read it yet (it's on my list of books to acquire) but I've heard good things about it.

  2. Great work breaking this down. I think it'll be a lot easier to digest and do. Seeing it written out combined with Guy's video is A+.