Swordsman & Geek

A Midsummer Night’s Blog

Destreza Teaching Video with comments…


For better or worse, here is a partial video of a class I taught at Known World Academy of the Rapier in 2007.  Watching  the video today, there are things I would change. I have added a description of the Italian techniques as described by the Spanish and the counters below.  I have also included notes on my interpretive choices as well.

These are counters to Italian technique taken from Pacheco’s New Science and the Manuel Cruzado’s 1702 commentary, The techniques of the vulgar common fencing….

ITALIAN TECHNIQUEThe Gaining and Regaining:

The gaining is formed, placing the sword over, and transversal to the opposing one, without making in it aggregation, nor contact, for which reason they call it gaining in the air.”

This describes the Italian rapier practice of finding the sword without touching it.  It’s a commonality between Fabris, Giganti, and Capoferro.  In classical Italian fencing today, engagement with contact is more typical and you will find many of the same actions are possible in Italian foil if you start with a blade seizure.


…when his opponent makes the gaining, that is from the measure of proportion, before he finishes the remiss movement, he will make a transverse compass with the right foot to the opposite side: and turning the point of the foot to the right rectitude, so that the imaginary line from it cuts the diameter…

Before the adversary finishes gaining the weapon, take a diagonal advance with the right foot to the right side, pre-turning the foot to the right side.

…he will make a mixed movement violent and accidental that serves as an aggregation of the opponent’s sword, and as an attack to his face: and continuing with a curved compass of the left foot and to its side, he will go closing the obtuse angle, that until then will correspond to him, making a Movement of Conclusion on the outside…

Threaten the adversary with a thrust to the face with superior engagement of the blade.

There is a question of interpretation here. The opponent’s response to this threat is not explicitly described but it is clear that we close the high line and our engagement moves from the inside line to the outside line.  If the adversary parries, we may lift the guard to close the high line and then execute the movement of conclusion on the outside line with a curved compass of the left foot.  We see evidence of the same type of wheeling cut from an atajo on the inside in the system so this interpretation is not invalid theory even if I like it less now.

Another possible interpretation I like more is that the diagonal advance (transverse compass) is accompanied with a disengagement from the inside to the outside line to affect an attack to the face which closes the high line and is finished with a movement of conclusion as before.  The text does not explicitly describe a disengagement, but this interpretation seems martially more sound to me.

DISCUSSION ON PRECEDENCE OF THE POINT – Then follows a short discussion on how to engage the adversary’s weapon and parrying

Unfortunately, my wife and normal demonstration partner couldn’t make it and as I attempt to demonstrate at speed, I am working with a volunteer from the class.  The tall gentleman in the red is trying to use a French foil parry with a bent wrist which doesn’t protect him as well from the assault.  Because I am trying to demonstrate something specific, I need to force him into a parry that gives precedence to the point.

With the French parry he provides, I could blow through with a forced glide or the General Technique of Narrowing (which is similar to a classical Italian transport of 2nd).

Part of the reason I favor the other interpretation now against the gaining in the air is that the disengagement with the transverse compass provides better cover against unpredictable technique.  It’s pretty easy to close the entire outside line by creating a cross of the swords.  Once you have commitment on the outside line, the movement of conclusion is the natural response.

ITALIAN TECHNIQUE – The Botonazo (Lunge on the Inside Line)

…making what is called a gaining, helping themselves with a simple compass of the right foot, without moving the left, almost along their left transversal line, and with an extreme of the arm and body, and the hand fingernails up, without separating oneself from the adversary’s sword, they strike with a thrust in the face.


At the beginning of the remiss movement (before it ends) the Diestro will make a curved compass with the right foot, and to its side, or he will move over his center, and he will strike with a thrust in the right collateral, …

As the adversary engages, take a curved step to the right side moving your center over his weapon.  The ‘center’ is defined as either the point at which your hand grips the weapon or the handle.  This indicates that we are taking control of the line through subjecting the adversary’s weapon in engagement and striking on our right side.


The beat of the sword consists of three movements, violent to place oneself above the diestro’s sword, remiss for the transversalness, toward his left side, and the diestro’s right, and the last natural for the beat.”

This describes a beat across my blade down and to my right side.  (A simple beat in 4th using classical Italian terminology.)

In the video, I have included an additional movement of the adversary which takes the point off the diameter to chamber the beat.  Whenever the point is removed from the line of offense, the Advantage of the Right Angle is a possible counter.


The Right Angle has control over this technique, and causes its effect against the second and third movement, the diestro making a semicircle with the wrist from the inside to the outside, striking with a thrust in the right collateral due to the jurisdiction of the arm:…”

As the adversary attempts to lift his blade to strike yours, you may elude it with a disengagement and strike with a thrust on the outside line closing to the right.

and if he does find it and makes the beat, the diestro can make use of the mixed movement of remiss and natural, that the swords make and continue the circle forming a vertical, or diagonal reverse, making a backward compass for the first, or for the other a mixed on backward and of trepidation to the right side: …”

A mixed movement remiss and natural carries the point off the line and down.  In this case, we complete the circular action into a full vertical circular cut and end with a vertical strike to the head.  In this demonstration, I am using a curved compass to the right instead of a retreat as described in the text.  The direction of the remiss movement is not specified and I have chosen to close the line of attack with the circular action.

5 people have expressed their views!

  1. Wrt to countering the (attempted) gaining of the sword, I like the initial Spanish counter you depict the first time I encountered this video on YouTube, and I still like it, though there’s nothing wrong with the alternate counter you’re now describing. I think that what the Spaniard may be doing is (effectively) gaining the sword from below (the accidental motion will move more of the Spaniard’s fuerza under the Italian’s blade), thus giving him the mechanical advantage. The violent motion could I think be turned into a beat upwards, moving the Italian’s point safely out of presence, if need be. Pallavicini describes a similar “set play” (but the setup is different); he finishes his with a mandoble, rather than a movement of conclusion.

    By Charles B on June 2, 2009 10:49 pm

  2. I don’t think either technique is bad Spanish theory because I can point to similar examples of both in the book. I just prefer the disengagement now with the caveat that the transverse compass to the right (angular advance) is the mechanism by which the blade changes lines rather than an explicitly described disengagement. That’s an interpretive choice and I would be curious to see what others think.

    The Spanish describe gaining as similar to the Atajo and trying to gain or place Atajo from below is a tough call because I know Maestro Martinez demonstrates Atajo from the inferior line (that is engagement from below) in his videos. Yet, the texts repeatedly speak to the disadvantage of the violent movement (upward) in opposition to the natural (downward) movement and the description of Atajo indicates we are in the superior line. For example, Etthenhard states that if you do not occupy “the superior line of the Diameter” you will not be able to perform an Atajo. That seems to directly contradict Maestro Martinez’s interpretation of Atajo from below.

    I don’t necessarily mean that we never place the blade in the inferior line because we do in the General Technique of the Strong Under the Weak, but Atajo is, by definition, placed over the adversary’s weapon.


    By puck on June 3, 2009 7:16 pm

  3. Given the passage above, here is how I would interpret the play. I’m talking it through a bit verbosely, because I want to make sure I’m not missing anything important. I’m sure much if not all of it may seem simplistic.

    The opponent begins in the measure of proportion. If both weapons are of equal length, then the measure is prop[r]io for both; i.e., point is just before the hilt of each. Italian moves to find. In that tempo (“before he finishes”), Diestro moves. Now, what is the Italian doing? He’s making a remiss movement, so his sword is moving away from his centerline, and by implication the Diestro’s as well, since we assume they’re occupying the same diameter initially. Diestro capitalizes on that by moving in the opposite direction (“with the right foot to the opposite side”–so to the left side), thus effectively magnifying the movement of the Italian’s point away from his centerline. How is he doing that, exactly? Is he stepping on the short chord, or the long chord? Stepping on the short chord (my terminology) is if the right foot, pre-turned, were to land on the same (inner) circle it started from, just in a different place on that circle. Stepping on the long chord (again, my terminology, since I can’t bring a Spanish term to mind) is if the right foot, pre-turned, were to effectively shorten the diameter between the Diestro’s new position and the Italian’s current position, since a circle running through that new position of the right foot would have a center behind the Italian’s current position. In the first case, the Diestro will have done nothing to shorten the measure: if the Italian were to move his sword back around, and neither does anything else, their positions would be the same as at the start. In the second, the Diestro is approaching, or has attained, “offensive measure”. We assume then, that is what he’s done in the ideal case.

    Now, Italian theory says one can’t perform two contrary motions in the same tempo. So, if the Italian were to begin a movement of reduction, to bring his point back in presence, the Diestro will not only be ahead of him in time, but the shortening of the measure means that the Italian’s point (or debole, for that matter) is no longer a threat: the guard is in the way. Meanwhile, the Diestro is not standing still: his movement of conclusion is bringing the left hand into play (and also, of course, the left foot), therefore arresting any further motion of the Italian’s sword arm.

    The Diestro’s safety (and the martial soundness of the action) depends on two things: taking the tempo correctly at the start; establishing the correct measure for the conclusion. If he does this, the Diestro is past the point of the opponent’s threat, and doesn’t need an extra “wall” of safety. If he doesn’t do this, then all bets are off.

    If the above is accurate, then I don’t see the need for a disengagement. It’s an unnecessary motion. If the Italian is coming in from out of measure, or wide measure … but this isn’t what the extracted text here says: “… when his opponent makes the gaining, that is from the measure of proportion”. The plain reading is that I’m “aggregating” from under his weapon.

    If I’m obviously wrong about any of this, I’d appreciate a correction, or, please feel free to ignore me, since time is precious. (In any case, I plan to take your classes at WMAW, so I can find out then.)

    By Charles B on June 4, 2009 6:24 pm

  4. Hola Charles,

    I have to say it is nice to see someone reading the text and making some sense of the fencing.

    I think for me the big point of difference is the idea of engaging the weapon from below which I wouldn’t do because I think it is weaker. It’s possible we might be on the same page however if you mean that from below you carry your point over the adversary’s weapon on the inside line and regain the superior position with engagement leading into an attack to the face. I agree this is valid theory as described by the Spanish.

    The tricky interpretive bit in this technique is the Movement of Conclusion on the outside line. If we follow Ettenhard’s example of the Atajo (folio 130 – 154 and plates XIIII, XV, and XVI), we end with a Movement of Conclusion on the inside line by reaching over our own sword. In that case, it plays out a lot like you describe. Once we have gained Atajo on the inside, we can subject the adversary’s weapon and execute the Conclusion with the passing step. That’s also good theory and I’m going to teach Ettenhard’s version at WMAW.

    If we have to perform the Conclusion on the outside, we’re left with the question of how we change lines. In my initial interpretation, I asked the adversary to parry. If he doesn’t parry and leaves his point in my left rectitude, I’m in danger when I take the curved step left unless I can carry his weapon to the opposite line. In the superior position, I might be able to hook him with my cross and lift his point, but the General Technique of Narrowing seems like a safer answer.

    By disengaging during the transverse, I’m no longer reliant on him to react and if I have a good Atajo on the outside line, I should be able to take the curved compass to the left in safety. As an interpretive question, I don’t have any final decision myself and I’m happy with both provided they don’t violate the theory.

    Speaking of theory, I’m very impressed with your ability to discuss this and I’m looking forward to more critical feedback like this in the future. If we can build a community of Destreza scholars who can discuss, interpret, and even have civil arguments with each other, everyone will benefit from it. Good work on your part and don’t cut me any slack in my interpretive decisions.

    By puck on June 4, 2009 9:39 pm

  5. Hola Charles,

    I took another look at this after working through Ettenhard’s section on the Atajo and there’s another possibility as well.

    Assuming a gain on the inside line, the diestro takes a transverse left and attacks the face. If the adversary parries in Italian Sabre 7th, we can perform an action remarkably similar to Ettenhard’s description of Atajo as well with a Conclusion on the outside.

    By puck on June 8, 2009 5:50 pm

What do you think?

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