Swordsman & Geek

A Midsummer Night’s Blog

Movements and Tactics in Spanish True School


In La Verdadera Destreza, Movements are vectors which describe the motion of the sword (or sword arm) in a direction. You can read about these movements in my previous article here.

The Weapon can move in 3 dimensions


To go further we need to classify movements into two groups.

  • An Executive Movement is a vector of the weapon with the potential to deliver a wound either by thrust or cut.
  • A Dispositive movement is a vector of the weapon which does not deliver the final wound. This may be a preparation strike, a defensive movement, or even wasted movements

Executive Movements:

  • Forward
  • Natural (downward)
  • Aligning Lateral

The forward movement of the weapon is an attacking movement, or an Executive movement

Dispositive Movements

  • Backwards
  • Offline Lateral
  • Violent (rising)

Chambering a cut may prepare an attack but it is not the final movement of an attack.  A non-attacking movement (even a preparation) is a Dispositive movement


Note: Without too much effort you can imagine instances in which a rising movement might be executive (rising cut) and a natural movement might be dispositive (atajo).  More on this later.



By decomposing a fencing phrase into its movements we gain insight into both the fencing tempi and the role of each movement.  Here is an example fencing phrase broken down by movements:

The Master executes Atajo and thrust by detachment:


Violent (rising) mixed with Offline Lateral to cross the opposing sword on the inside line



Natural (downward) to subject the opposing steel



Aligning into presence mixed with Forward to deliver the thrust


The student parries and ripostes by half reverse:


Natural mixed with Offline to subject the opposing steel downwards on the inside line



Aligning mixed with Forward to deliver the half reverse to the right eye


Opposing the Enemy’s Movements with Movements

In his book (Treatise 3, Ch.3) on the opposition of Movements Ettenhard plainly describes the tactical solution to each movement committed by the adversary:




Violent (rising)


Forward (Right Angle)

Offline Lateral


Forward (Right Angle)



Forward (Right Angle)



Natural (Atajo)

Aligning Lateral


Natural (Atajo)



Natural (Atajo)

The Forward movement which presents right angle or the thrust opposes all the Dispositive movements:

With which I say that this is the one [Forward Movement] that is opposed to all because since it is worked in reason of the Right Angle it has the preeminence of the greatest reach, moving in correspondence to the nearest Point of Contact, where one should constitute the strike in the opponent…

~Ettenhard (translated by Dr. Mary Curtis)

The Natural movement which subjects enemy attacks downward opposes all the executive movements (from which the strikes are composed):

To the Dispositive Movements, the Executives follow, whose opposition is different due to having to make it with an engagement of the Sword and the other of free cause: in a way that the Forward Movement, that of Aligning Lateral and the Natural (which are the ones that by nature form the strikes) are destroyed and opposed to the Natural by its greater speed, strength, and reality…

~Ettenhard (translated by Dr. Mary Curtis)

Simplest Form:

  • Adversary presents Dispositive Movement, Right Angle
  • Adversary presents Executive Movement, Atajo

When the adversary presents a dispositive movement, the defender answers with a thrust in time.

What Ettenhard describes lines up nicely with Pacheco’s counters to vulgars. Pacheco’s process of analysis decomposes a treta into simple movements and then his counters largely align with Ettenhard’s oppositions described above with additional options and details. With this principle in place you can decompose any technique of the adversary and apply counters movement by movement.
It is also essential in understanding the True School’s usage of timing contexts to describe attacks in first intention, attacks in time, and attacks which transfer the adversary’s attack to you.

Challenging the status quo without losing yourself

I have been in the situation where I felt I needed to challenge the conventional wisdom about a sword tradition and there are good ways and bad ways to tackle that problem.

Full title: Saint George and the Dragon Artist: Gustave Moreau Date made: 1889-90 Source: http://www.nationalgalleryimages.co.uk/ Contact: picture.library@nationalgallery.co.uk Copyright © The National Gallery, London

Beware when fighting monsters that you don’t become one yourself.


In my opinion, it is most effective to concentrate on the **work** instead of the **person** in the counterargument. If you have a position there’s a decent chance we want to hear it, hell, we need to hear it if the position has merit.

However, not all positions are good and we have seen plenty of half-baked nonsense in our time. Polish up your argument into its best form, have a friend read it for tone and clarity, and set it out there without assigning intention or motivations to the other researcher or the original author (unless the source definitively tells you, “By this I mean X, Y, Z…”)

Good work can be made better by critical process. I’ve been wrong and errors in my work have been fixed by others. (“There is no such thing as a transversal step backwards.”  Oops.  Fixed it.)  It is not wonderful to be wrong, but I would rather see my stuff fixed than propagate errors.

As an aside, translation is an art. The lovely Dr. Curtis did a presentation on a single passage from Don Quixote and how the translation style changed the outcome of each piece. That’s expected.  Multiple translations in different styles is a feature.  I think we all want access to the different insights, tone, and flavor that each translator brings to the text.  If you want to disagree with a translation it is probably about choices made.  You could say, “By making this choice, the emphasis on these keys aspects is missing.  Or, “This choice loses this context which I think is essential.”  That’s constructive and potentially useful to the neutral observer.


Take care of yourself first. When you form a critical position, how you do that will make a lasting impression on the people reading your argument. When you use ad hominem attacks, assign nefarious intention, or imply fraud you have gone beyond academic discourse into personal grudges. At that point you’re going to see friends and allies rally to defend the character of the original researcher.  Once that starts it can be very difficult, even if you are absolutely correct, to have a productive discussion.

There are ways to challenge existing work without compromising your personal reputation. Sometimes it’s absolutely necessary to do this to foster growth in the community and to correct misconceptions. Maybe that necessary conflict is being driven by you and your work. I’ll be the first to admit that doing this well isn’t easy but if you can thread that needle you’re going to be an asset the community will continue to draw upon going forward.

Consider having a friend read your argument to pull out things with loaded words like “refused”, “obviously”, “clearly”, “ignores”, “deluded”, “recklessly”, and so on.  What I want as a reader is the core of your argument presented in its best form.  I can make decisions about the personal motivations on my own.

For example,

  • I think there is real value in considering this alternative which I think better reflects X,Y,Z…
  • By considering how the images were chosen we can gain insight into X,Y,Z…
  • I think this is an error based on this <citation>.  Based on that consider this alternative which allows us to…

Each of those methods helps the reader understand there is potential value in at least considering your position.  By buttressing the argument with citations  and avoiding loaded language you open up some space in the dialogue and you preserve and protect yourself by avoiding self-inflicted wounds.


Don’t be an authority and instead be a resource. I’ve seen multiple examples of individuals trying to be an authority (Maestro-cop to the universe) and their work collapses underneath them as their attempt to assert authority is outpaced by the increased knowledge of the growing community.  Having had the benefit of watching these implosions I made a commitment to myself not to walk down the same road.

By refusing to own the tradition but rather trying to build and restore it, I permit myself the necessary space to be wrong and correct the work as I gather new evidence.


If you have done enough research to disagree with an established interpretation, you have value whether you are right or wrong.  By encouraging you to argue well, I hope to preserve your place in the community for my own selfish reasons.  Critical feedback and challenging of existing work is essential to what we do. I hope you’ve got something useful and can present your work effectively.

Atajo for the Short Fencer

The first principle of LVD is to defend yourself and attack while defended.  In any defense of steel you require a crossing of the weapons to deviate or subject a threat. By inspection we find that defensive crossing can’t happen with two blades that are perfectly parallel (or the defensive action is difficult and less useful if perfectly aligned).

As you move closer to the opponent, drop your hilt to increase defensive power

As you move closer to the opponent, drop your hilt to increase defensive power

Knowing that the defender must move from right angle into a mixed angle. In Atajo Pacheco tells us the movements are violent (to lift into the superior plane), offline (to cover the opposing weapon), and natural (to subject downward).

Likewise Atajo requires:
1. Equal or greater degrees of strength in the engagement
2. Subjection from above
3. The line of attack is closed such that you cannot be struck in a single movement
4. Not participating in any extremes

We also know the hand is fingernails inside (as if you had naturally extended it to shake hands) or Italian 3rd.

In my personal experience the atajo will start in something near right angle at MdP but will use different degrees of mixed angle as the distance closes to increase the defensive potential.

If that is the case, it provides us with guidance for the short fencer who needs to place an atajo over the blade of a taller fencer.  In a contest between unequal reach, a shorter fencer can maintain right angle and then step curved to either the inside or the outside dropping into mixed angle to subject with atajo which may be engagement or without it in a similar manner to finding the sword in the Italian school. The goal is to close the line and dominate the high line to reduce the opportunities of the adversary into predictable lines of attack which can be quickly defeated because the path of attack is known.

Stepping Inside (towards your front)
From MdP to step to the fencer’s inside (curved right for a right-hander) drop the hilt while lifting the point directing into the opposing steel. Make a curved step with the rear foot to find an atajo just as Capoferro describes in his book. Once you have the opposing weapon, step into MPal to seek MPado.

Stepping Outside (towards your back)
From MdP to step to the fencer’s outside drop the hilt while lifting the point directing into the opposing steel. Bring the rear big toe near the front heel to gather the feet together. Once you have the opposing steel, step into MPal to seek MPado.

This is a variation on a normal gaining step which can be used to find atajo on the outside line.

This is a variation on a normal gaining step which can be used to find atajo on the outside line.

In both cases your mixed angle should be deep enough to force a larger disengagement. If the adversary disengages, carry the blade directly across your body leading with the point into the opposing steel and take atajo on the new line.

Once the shorter fencer dominates the line at what we call in our school the “dangerous middle place” or MPal, they have an advantage over their longer-limbed adversary.  There are other techniques that work well for shorter fencers but that’s another conversation.

There is also a tendency to race to the high line without regard for protecting yourself.  If your taller adversary lifts the point such that the blade is in obtuse angle strike him.  If you cannot reach the body in the time available, strike the bottom of the arm.

Key Points
1. The right angle will beat the obtuse (or acute angle).

2. The atajo will beat the right angle.

3. If you can’t easily cover the adversary’s weapon with yours, point over and into it and move off the line to find your atajo.


Building a Flail Trainer

This is how we built a two-handed 3-headed flail trainer with parts you can find at your local hardware and sports store.   The method described here isn’t the only way to build a flail and the training weapon here is experimental.  If you build it there is every chance you could injure yourself with it if you get as crazy as my brother might.  So… I warned you.

The parts list:

  • 6-foot closet pole (1.8 meters)
  • 2 matching screw-mounted rope hooks
  • 2 bolts with matching nuts
  • Nylon paracord
  • Duct tape (of course)
  • 3 racket balls
Flail parts laid out

Flail parts laid out

The Measurements

Our flail has a 3-foot handle and three approximately 3-foot “chains” including the heads.


1. Cut the closet pole down to size.  (For our first flail we tried a length of 3 feet (0.9 meters).  It worked fine but we’re thinking of making the next handle slightly shorter by about 4 inches for a total haft length of 32 inches (0.8 meters).)

2. Use the rope hook as a guide for marking your drill target.  We chose to bring the hook as far down into the pole as possible to increase the strength of the trainer.

Use the Rope Hook as your Stencil for your Drill Guide

Use the Rope Hook as your Stencil for your Drill Guide

Marked and Ready for Drilling

Marked and Ready for Drilling

3. Slowly drill all the way through the pole and remove any frayed edges.

4. Align the two Rope Hooks facing each other to form the “chain’s” looping anchor point on the flail.  At this point you may want to remove some stock from the pole to ensure a snug fit by marking the end of the shaft and using a round file to remove the extra.

Marking the Head of the Flail to Remove Extra Stock

Marking the Head of the Flail to Remove Extra Stock

We will file that out

We will file that out

Filing out the Extra

Filing out the Extra. (It’s easier if you use a vise.)


Stock Removed. Also, now it looks like the Bat symbol. (Batman would be proud to train with us.)

4. Now that you’ve created a perfect fit, fasten both Rope Hooks onto the shaft with the bolts so that they face each other to form a looping “chain” anchor point.

Two Rope Hooks makes a good loop.

Two Rope Hooks makes a good loop.

Fastened Down Tight

Fastened Down Tight.

5. At this point you have created something dangerous with the exposed metal bolts.  I recommend using a hacksaw to cut the exposed bolts off and then cover anything with sharp edges with a layer or two of tape.  You want to minimize the possibility of cutting yourself if you accidentally hit yourself in the head.

6. Next, drill a hole through each of three racket balls.


Yep… That’s a hole clean through a racket ball.

7. Run your nylon paracord through the hole.  To do this, we used fishing line.

Push a loop of fishing line through the holes and then insert your paracord into the loop on the far side. Pull it through and, "Tada!" it is threaded.

Push a loop of fishing line through the holes and then insert your paracord into the loop on the far side. Pull it through and, “Tada!” it is threaded.



8. Tie the cord just underneath the flail head using a bowline knot.  ( Click here to see how to tie this knot! )


Tie it with a bowline knot.

9. Tie it to the anchor point using the same bowline knot.  (Repeat the process for all three flail heads.)

10. We used duct tape on the edges of the Rope Hook to avoid any grab on the nylon rope “chains”.


It doesn’t have to be beautiful.


The Completed Flail Trainer

Yep... It is a flail.

Congratulations… you have given birth to a baby flail with a 3-foot shaft and 3-foot chains.

This is much lighter than an actual flail when you swing it around but you still get a scary amount of force with it such that hitting people is probably a terrible idea.  While exercising the flail we found that swinging it at high speed didn’t seem to cause any problems with the racket balls but striking solid targets caused cracks around the drilled holes which would be eventual failure points.

Still, not bad for flail 1.0.


The Montante Mile

“Montante, Montante, how will I learn to understand?”
Montante says, “Walk a mile of the rules with me in your hands.”
“Montante, Montante, how will I learn still more?”
Montante says, “When you’ve done a single mile then walk another four.”


A Collection of Greatswords

The Montante Mile: Martial Challenge

There is an aphorism that states, “You do not know another person until you have walked a mile in his shoes” and in this case we want to know the montante in the same way. There will be no partner or adversary. There will be no one keeping score or time. There will be you, your weapon, and one mile of work to be done.

The goal of this martial challenge is to gain personal knowledge of the forms and the usage of the weapon beyond merely an academic level. It is our hope that at some point during the challenge you and the weapon will find common cause and greater understanding through physical action as a form of learning and meditation.

The organizers will lay out a measured course and be available to teach a few simple traditional montante forms that will allow the challenger to move forward along the course. After that it’s merely a matter of the challenger using a few forms to travel a mile in laps on the course.  You can use traditional forms, you can alter or combine forms, or you can use techniques from another tradition entirely.  The challenge is in the doing.

The course will have laps measured at 60 feet. You will pass a mile with 90 laps and complete the challenge. If you break your laps out into 3 days then 30 laps per day will accomplish the goal. If you cannot reach the full mile you could aim for the Montante Medio at 45 laps.

What happens when your conscious mind relaxes and you can listen to what the Montante is telling you?  Perhaps you will find out in the Montante Mile.