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!