Swordsman & Geek

A Midsummer Night’s Blog

Using Classical Phrasing to Teach the Spanish Attacks

When a classical instructor from my tradition introduces new techniques each fencing action is taught individually with a focus on form, distance, and timing.  Too much emphasis on individual actions can create fencers without depth or the ability to react tactically within the moment.

One of the teaching methods used later in the process is the building of extended phrases of actions to challenge the student.   The instructor continually pushes the student with progressively more difficult actions executed in situations more like actual fencing.

By creating an extended sequence, the student is asked to perform at a higher level.  Form, Distance, and Timing are still critical and actions executed in extended phrases help to prepare the student for the rigors of the bout.

The 5 Spanish Attacks

  1. Thrust
  2. Half Cut
  3. Half Reverse
  4. Circular Cut
  5. Circular Reverse

(For more on the Spanish Attacks read Mary’s Ettenhard Translation )

Our students have been working on these attacks in different situations for the past 9 weeks.  At times a focus on technique can feel scripted.  While important, technique building work (like repeated lunges in the Italian tradition) may not reflect the action-reaction dynamic that occurs in actual fencing.

By developing a sequence of actions, we provided the students with a glimpse of how a fight could progress and gave some sword-in-hand insight into different choices that could be made in the phrase based on the adversary’s action.

If he does this, you can respond with this.”

If he does this instead, consider this response.

Asking your fencers to consider different tactical options and to think critically about fencing theory in actual practice will create better fencers.  Learning to read and adapt to your adversary is one skill that requires attention and practice.  There is no substitute in a sword fight for good problem solving skills!

Creating an Extended Phrase

My goal was to include each Spanish attack once during the different mutations of the phrase.

A Guide to My Fencing Notation

Each action is notated once in sentence form as I would call it in a lesson.  Then I briefly notate the action again by Movements which is a more Spanish approach.  The Spanish notation provides us information about time as well.

Example:

“X. Sentence describing some fencing action…”

  • Movement 1 – do this
  • Movement 2 – do that

HINT: Count the Movements and you are also counting the tempo.  Spanish notation is fairly sophisticated in its ability to simultaneously describe an action and the timing.  In Pacheco’s work he often notates an Italian action and then breaks down his tactical responses movement-by-movement.   Compare this method to the Bolognese example of notating from starting guard through motion to final guard and you will see a similar idea.

If the notation or jargon looks intimidating, consider peeking at my previous articles to help decode the action.

If there is some interest in this particular phrase, I will do what I can to post a series of videos showing how they can be executed.

The Lesson

Note: All lessons begin and end with a formal salute.

This lesson was performed by pairs of students alternating roles.  As the sequence progresses the instructor (the fencer receiving the touch) either invites to initiate the action or responds to the student’s invitation.

Understand the difference between skill-building and fencing

This lesson includes some unrealistic actions.  The most heinous example is the initial invitation that removes the point from the line of the diameter.  This would be expressly condemned in the Spanish texts because the movement serves no purpose but to create an avenue for the adversary’s attack.

As an instructor, I might use this offline motion as an in-time cue (a motion cue) intended to immediately provoke the student’s attack.

Example: Thrust executed in time

In time as the instructor invites on the outside line, thrust to the chest with a transverse step to the left.

  • Movement 1 – Instructor invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up).  Student thrusts with a transverse step left.

As the instructor, I certainly want my student to capitalize on a movement of this kind.  In this case, we are using the 1-movement thrust.  In the lesson below, I use the 2-movement half reverse instead.

On the student’s side it is perfectly reasonable to assume that at some point during a bout, the adversary might deviate your weapon from the line of the diameter (perhaps with a beat).   Knowing how to respond when your point has been deviated from the line is valid training and creating this initial disadvantage provides us with a key training opportunity for placing an atajo over the incoming attack.

I should also point out that the thrust has fewer movements (1) than the other attacks (2-3).  In the sequence below, there are numerous instances when a thrust would be a faster response than the various cuts.  Again, the intention is to force the student to execute certain technical actions like the cutting attacks and placing an atajo under stress.

Thrust (Line in Cross)

1. From the student’s atajo on the outside line, thrust along the diametric to the chest with a curved step right.

  • Movement 1 – Student executes a thrust with a forward movement and a curved step right.

Half Reverse

2. From the instructor’s invitation on the outside line, half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right.

  • Movement 1 – Instructor invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up).  Student chambers the half reverse with an offline movement left.
  • Movement 2 – Student delivers the half reverse with an aligning movement and a curved step right.

Half Reverse & Thrust (Line in Cross)

3. From the student’s invitation on the outside line, the instructor executes a half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the outside line followed by a thrust along the diametric to the chest with a curved step right.

  • Movement 1 – Student invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up). Instructor chambers the half reverse with an offline movement left.
  • Movement 2 – Instructor delivers the half reverse with an aligning movement and a curved step right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.
  • Movement 3 – Student executes a thrust with a forward movement and a curved step right.

Half Reverse & Half Cut

4. From the student’s invitation on the outside line, the instructor executes a half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the outside line followed with a half cut to the inside cheek and a transverse step left.

  • Movement 1 – Student invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up). Instructor chambers the half reverse with an offline movement left.
  • Movement 2 – Instructor delivers the half reverse with an aligning movement and a curved step right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.
  • Movement 3 – Student executes a half cut with an aligning movement and a transverse step left.

Half Reverse & Circular Cut

5. From the student’s invitation on the outside line, the instructor executes a half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.  In response the instructor seeks to increase degrees of strength in the engagement with a movement of increase and attempts to gain an atajo on their own outside line.  The student eludes the movement of increase with a circular cut to the inside cheek with a curved step to the right.

  • Movement 1 – Student invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up). Instructor chambers the half reverse with an offline movement left.
  • Movement 2 – Instructor delivers the half reverse with an aligning movement and a curved step right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.
  • Movement 3 – Instructor uses a mixed violent and aligning lateral movement in an attempt to execute a movement of increase and place an atajo on his own outside line.  In response the student executes an offline movement left to escape the engagement.
  • Movement 4 – Student chambers the circular cut with a violent movement.
  • Movement 5 – Student delivers the circular cut with a natural movement with a curved step right.

(Movements 3 & 4 may be combined into a mixed movement offline and violent to elude the engagement and chamber the circular cut simultaneously.)

Half Reverse, Circular Cut, & Half Reverse

6. From the instructor’s invitation on the outside line, the student executes a half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right which the instructor intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.  In response the student seeks to increase degrees of strength in the engagement with a movement of increase and attempts to gain an atajo on their own outside line.  The instructor eludes the movement of increase with a circular cut to the inside cheek and curved step to the right.  The student intercepts the circular cut with an atajo on the inside line and executes a half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right.

  • Movement 1 – Instructor invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up). Student chambers the half reverse with an offline movement left.
  • Movement 2 – Student delivers the half reverse with an aligning movement and a curved step right which the instructor intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.
  • Movement 3 – Student uses a mixed violent and aligning lateral movement in an attempt to execute a movement of increase and place an atajo on his own outside line.  In response the instructor executes an offline movement left to escape the engagement.
  • Movement 4 – Instructor chambers the circular cut with a violent movement.
  • Movement 5 – Instructor  delivers the circular cut with a natural movement and a curved step right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the inside line.
  • Movement 6 – Student uses an aligning lateral to deliver a half reverse with a curved step right.

(Movements 3 & 4 may be combined into a mixed movement offline and violent to elude the engagement and chamber the circular cut simultaneously.)

Half Reverse, Circular Cut, & Circular Reverse

7. From the instructor’s invitation on the outside line, the student executes a half reverse to the outside cheek with a curved step to the right which the instructor intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.  In response the student seeks to increase degrees of strength in the engagement with a movement of increase and attempts to gain an atajo on their own outside line.  The instructor eludes the movement of increase with a circular cut to the inside cheek with a curved step to the right.  The student intercepts the circular cut with an atajo on the inside line.  The instructor responds with a movement of increase attempting to place an atajo on their own inside line and the student responds with a circular reverse to the outside cheek with a transverse left or a circular step left depending on the distance.

  • Movement 1 – Instructor invites with an offline movement left (fingernails up).  Student chambers the half reverse with an offline movement left.
  • Movement 2 – Student delivers the half reverse with an aligning movement and a curved step right which the instructor intercepts with an atajo on the outside line.
  • Movement 3 – Student uses a mixed violent and aligning lateral movement in an attempt to execute a movement of increase and place an atajo on his own outside line.  In response the instructor executes an offline movement left to escape the engagement.
  • Movement 4 – Instructor chambers the circular cut with a violent movement.
  • Movement 5 – Instructor  delivers the circular cut with a natural movement and a curved step right which the student intercepts with an atajo on the inside line.
  • Movement 6 – Instructor uses a violent and aligning lateral movement in an attempt to execute a movement of increase and place an atajo on his own inside line. In response the student executes an offline movement right to escape the engagement.
  • Movement 7 – Student chambers the circular reverse with a violent movement.
  • Movement 8 – Student delivers the circular reverse with a natural movement while stepping transverse left or curved left depending on the distance.

(Movements 3 & 4 may be combined into a mixed movement offline and violent to elude the engagement and chamber the circular cut simultaneously.)

(Movements 6 & 7 may be combined into a mixed movement offline and violent to elude the engagement and chamber the circular reverse simultaneously.)

3 people have expressed their views!

  1. Two questions. Who made the weapon in the picture? When are you moving to Chicago? I hear the weather’s not as bad as it used to be. (Seriously, I haven’t looked at the above closely yet, but I have read the equivalent section in Rada, and seeing this stuff being taught in English is wonderful. You can be sure I’ll be looking at the above closely in the very near future. “Nice work” I think might sound condescending, so I hesitate to say it, but it is nice work.)

    By Charles Blair on March 15, 2010 9:39 am

  2. Hola Charles,

    Sorry about not replying to this sooner. As far as I know I’m not moving to Chicago anytime soon but a little bird told me that there might be more Destreza information in English very soon.

    The weapon (and arm) in the picture belongs to my friend Rodrigo in Madrid. The blade was made for him by Spanish armorer and if you really want I can probably track down the guy’s contact information.

    ~P.

    By puck on April 19, 2010 3:38 pm

  3. Thanks, Puck. In that case I’m going to guess that it’s the work of Julio Ramírez (Mimes de Azzaria Armorum), though I could be wrong. I’m in the market, so my interest is more than passing.

    By Charles Blair on April 20, 2010 12:02 pm

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