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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.
 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Of the Use of the Off-Hand: Part III

Greetings,

This is the third and final part of my discussion and lesson on the use of the off-hand.

Cheers,

Henry.

Advanced Actions

            There are many further actions which can be utilised in the use of the off-hand; two specific areas will be addressed along with some general ideas and discussions of these more advanced techniques. These are more the combination of simple techniques utilised together for a greater effect. These techniques will obviously be based upon the same principles as the simple techniques, merely expanded to include more techniques and possibilities.

Counters to Counters

            The first area of discussion is the concept of the counter to beat a counter. Actions have been discussed. Counters to these actions have been discussed. By applying the same principles and examining the situation counters can be made to these counters. This cycle can continue until one combatant has run out of ideas and breaks off, until a stalemate has been reached and both combatants break off, or until one of the combatants succeeds in his action.
The most important thing in this is as with all combats is to ensure your safety first. The first thought should be to counter the action of the opponent’s sword and then consider attacking. If both can be achieved simultaneously then you will have a great advantage. In the situation of breaking off remember to ensure your safety in the process of breaking off and also once completed.

Beat and Opposition Follow-Up

            The basic techniques have been described for both the beat and opposition parries in both their defensive and offensive forms. One example has been given of where to direct the force in the pushing to the off-hand side of the opponent. This is only one option of many that may be used. The direction of the parry and the control should be dependent on what the fencer has planned to follow the action.
            The parry may be followed by a simple control, contact with the weapon, or even a second parry with the hand depending on the chosen situation. This is where it is important to know how to control the direction in which the opponent’s weapon will travel and to have some idea of what to follow this action with. Some ideas about this particular concept will be discussed below in the combination and application of the sword and the hand.

Blade grasping 


“Moreover, having the use of your lefte hand, and wearing a gantlet or glove of maile, your enemy shall no sooner make a thrust, but you shal be readye to catch his swoorde fast, and to command him at your pleasure:” (Saviolo, 1595) 

            Saviolo explains the operation of the parrying gauntlet succinctly. The purpose of the gauntlet is to gain the opponent’s sword by grasping it and controlling it. However, there is a little more detail that should go into the consideration in the use of the gauntlet. Some of this has to do with the simple use of it, but a little also has to do with the safe use of it.
            First of all the gauntlet and blade grasping is designed to give the user solid control over the opponent’s weapon whether or not they are wearing the gauntlet. The same actions can be performed with a standard glove but the user needs to be aware of the threat to the hand. There is one great advantage and one major disadvantage to this controlling action. The greatest advantage is the solid control over the opponent’s weapon and thus being able to move it about, however this solid control also tells the opponent exactly what is going on and gives them a chance to react to the action of the grasp. Of course there is also the obvious potential for the hand being cut if the gauntlet is not being worn.
            In practicing blade grasping it is best to consider the advantages that you possess before you begin. The first question is whether a gauntlet is being worn and how this will change the operation of it. To begin, with it is best to practice without grasping the opponent’s blade. This prevents the embedding of the idea of the necessity of grasping and thus inability in other actions. Use the previous drills to get used to the idea of using the hand first. Once this has been achieved you can consider grasping and controlling.

Drill 13: Control of the Weapon

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at combat distance.
2.    One makes an attack at the other which is parried with the off-hand.
3.    Once parried the opponent’s blade should be grasped, and then moved about to get an idea of how the opponent’s weapon is controlled in the grasp.
4.    Follow the same action with grasping about different parts of the blade. This is designed to enable the different levels of control and different positions that the opponent’s weapon can be moved to.

            The choice of grasping or not grasping is always present with the open hand regardless of whether a gauntlet is worn or not, but you need to make considerations with regard to this. First of all for recreationalists the question of permitted use within the rules structure must be answered. The other real question is as to what advantage there is in the grasping of the current opponent’s weapon. In some situations it is actually better to retain lighter control rather than grasping. Grasping is a solid control action and sometimes it is an advantage to have a more mobile ability to the control action. Choosing when is important.

Drill 14: Grasping and Release

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at combat distance.
2.    One makes a thrusting attack at the other which is parried with the off-hand.
3.    Once parried the opponent’s blade should be grasped, and then moved about to get an idea of how the opponent’s weapon is controlled in the grasp.
4.    The same attack and defence should be made, except this time the blade is not grasped on the initial contact merely controlled with the hand. Slide the hand down the weapon and grasp lower on the blade.
5.    The same action can be performed up and down the blade. The important thing is to get the idea of the grasp and release of the opponent’s weapon and the advantages that both give. 

Blade grasping clearly gives some great advantages over the opponent and solid control over the opponent’s weapon, however just as with any other skill it should be combined with others and used when it is best suited to the situation. Just as with any other skill it is also one that needs practice to become effective. The use of blade grasping will often result in the actions of closes and gripes and you should consider the consequences of the use of blade grasping and apply this to the current situation.

Sword and Hand

            The following part of the lesson will discuss the use of the sword and the hand together. Most of the actions previously have used the sword and the hand together but in a passive sense. The following considerations are for actively using the sword and hand together.
            The first point of call for this discussion is what will be called a “1-2”. In this action the sword or the hand is placed on the opponent’s weapon in defence and then the contact is swapped to the other. This can be performed with initial hand contact or initial sword contact. This response is designed to enhance your response to the opponent’s attack. These actions can be extended to include three or more points of contact either using the hand or the sword twice depending on the desired result and time available.
For these actions to work you must consider the placement of your sword and also your hand to ensure that they do not get entangled in the process of the action. If your hand or your sword is placed incorrectly you will end up entangling yourself or even possibly damaging yourself. For this you need to consider the final result for the action to be placed correctly. Some of this was discussed in the discussion of entanglement early in the lesson. Because the sword is the offending object it is usually best placed in front of the hand to give access to the opponent, so the hand is placed behind the point of contact for the sword, or the sword is placed in front of the point of contact of the hand.

Drill 15: Hand and Sword: The “1-2”

1.    Partners stand across from one another at combat distance.
2.    One person makes a thrusting attack against the other to a high line.
3.    The defender parries with the sword and then places their off-hand on the opponent’s weapon to control it and then makes a riposte. The hand must be placed behind the position of the sword.
4.    The partners reset and the attacker makes another thrusting attack to the high line.
5.    The defender parries with the hand and then places their sword on the opponent’s weapon to control it and then makes a riposte. The hand must be placed behind the position of the sword.

This drill demonstrates two simple “1-2” combinations using an initial contact with the sword and an initial contact with the weapon. Further techniques can be added to these to make the action more complex and you should investigate these using the same drill. The sword and the hand are best used in combination and the options open up the more this option is used.
The actions so far described in the drills deal primarily with the use of the off-hand as the primary point of contact. This is in order that the off-hand is actively used, however it should be noted that complex sword actions can be used in combination with the off-hand in order to increase the effect of the off-hand. There are many different actions which can be used to achieve this however the bind is often the most useful. In this action the sword is used to parry to set up for a bind in which the sword is delivered to the off-hand for control.

Drill 16: Parry and Bind with Off-hand Contact

1.    Partners stand across from one another at combat distance.
2.    One person makes a thrusting attack against the other to a low outside line.
3.    The defender makes a simple parry to defend. From the parry position a bind is made against the opponent’s weapon designed to move the blade up and across to the defender’s waiting off-hand. This technique will also work against an attack made to the high outside line.

It is the action of the bind which places the sword into the fencer’s off-hand. Performed and positioned correctly, there is actually very little movement that the off-hand needs to make as the bind will deliver the opponent’s blade to the hand. This action frees the sword up for further actions while maintaining control over the opponent’s weapon. You should consider what other actions can be used in order to extend the control over the opponent’s weapon.
There is a technique which uses both the hand and the sword together in order to get an increased effect which is primarily considered to be a longsword technique, but can also be used with a rapier. This technique is half-swording. In this technique the hand is placed about the blade of the fencer’s sword up around the mezzo or debole in order to gain more leverage to this part of the weapon. The part of the blade between the hands can also be used for leverage against the opponent’s weapon. This technique is most effective where two combatants have come together at the close.
One time where the use of the half-sword is particularly effective is where the combatants have come close the fencer has his hand on the opponent’s hilt and is applying pressure with his weapon against the other’s in order to gain position. If the off-hand is removed from the opponent’s hilt and placed about the mezzo then extra leverage can be applied and a greater chance for an attack may be made. The important thing here is the increase in pressure while maintaining control. The above description can be used as a drill for demonstration and practice of the technique and to figure out other ways that it can be used.

Conclusion

            The off-hand is a useful device which is often overlooked in favour of using the sword for an action. What has been presented is a lesson about how the off-hand can be used effectively, especially when used in combination with other techniques. The documentation from period masters is clear that the use of the off-hand is a technique which needs attention paid to it for a fencer to reach their potential.
            Just as with any technique in fencing the use of the off-hand needs practice and this lesson has described several drills which can be used to familiarise you with the use of the off-hand and then used to continue the practice and thus increase the proficiency with the off-hand. In this practice it is important that the people involved understand what is happening and the goals for it to ensure that the goals are reached. Once proficient with the use of the off-hand the techniques will be performed as naturally as any other technique.
            While each person will find that they will have favourite techniques which will seem to work particularly well for them, you should attempt to use as many as possible to increase your ability. Only through the practice of each technique will a level of ability and familiarity be built. Practice varying techniques and discovering new ways to use the techniques; this is best done with a partner with a similar goal.
            The advantage of using the off-hand in fencing from the simplest point of view is that it gives other options and responses to actions which the opponent may perform. Further to this there are also times where the off-hand will actually have an advantage over the use of the sword; this is especially the case where the sword is freed for use due to the use of the off-hand.
            This lesson was designed to reveal different possibilities in the use of the off-hand in fencing and to re-establish its position as a valid technique. Too often the use of the off-hand is overlooked, ignored or pushed aside in favour of other techniques, or taught ad hoc to fill in a technique. The use of the off-hand is worth the attention paid to any other technique. Indeed those who develop the skills associated with the use of the off-hand will have a great advantage over those who give it a mere cursory glance.

Bibliography 


Di Grassi, G. (1594) His True Arte of Defence: Showing how a man without other Teacher or Master may Safelie handle all Sortes of Weapons

Saviolo, V. (1595) His Practice in Two Bookes

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Of the Use of the Off-Hand: Part II

Greetings,

This entry is part 2 of using the off-hand in rapier combat.

Cheers,

Henry.

Technique

            With the elements of theory enumerated it is possible to start to examine the practical elements in the use of the off-hand. Essentially, the off-hand is used in two techniques which are related to one another. The first is the parry and the second is the action of control. The parry, and choice of parry, will often determine whether an action of control is possible. To begin with the parry will be dealt with.

Parry

            In parrying using the off-hand is much like using the sword. It has the same options available to it, and same principles apply. It is possible to perform a beat or a parry with opposition, and it is also possible to perform a purely defensive parry or one of a more active nature. Before the specifics of these different parries are examined the overall elements need to be examined.
            There have been some principles described above and these apply to the use of the off-hand in all instances, however more detail is required. Firstly the hand should be held with an open palm, the fingers may curl a little, but the open palm is the primary method that will be used. The open palm reduces the instinct to always grasp the opponent’s weapon. In the use of the off-hand it is the palm that should be placed against the opponent’s weapon; this should be done in a smooth, sweeping motion to allow the best contact.

Drill 1: Hand on the Blade

1.    Two fencers stand across from one another one with the weapon extended but not fully, the other in his normal ward. They should be close enough that they can reach each other with the point of their weapons.
2.    The fencer from his normal ward should extend his hand and place the palm against the opponent’s weapon, first the inside then the outside of the blade.
3.    The action should be performed gently, only contact is needed. This focussed on the action of placing the palm on the opponent’s blade.
 
This first drill is designed to familiarise the combatants with placing their hand against the opponent’s weapon with the palm and on different sides of the weapon. This only covers a single position but highlights the basic concept of the use of the hand against an opponent’s weapon. The next part of the process is the parry itself.

Beat or Control?

There are two options which have been described the beat and the control, or parry with opposition. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The beat removes the opponent’s weapon with impact and force and diverts the opponent’s blade off-line; this is the faster parry however control is lost over the opponent’s weapon. The parry with opposition or control parry retains the opponent’s weapon and thus control however there is the potential that the hand can be cut and it is slower. In actual fact it is better to know both types of parry and when they are advantageous than to purely focus on one.

Parry Execution

The parry with the off-hand is designed as an action to remove an incoming threat against the fencer. This needs to cover all four lines to some degree however the fencer should be careful about over-reaching. This is especially important for the low line parries. As described defensively the fencer should wait for the incoming attack and then defend against it. The active beat and control will be discussed further along.
In the previous drill the hand was placed against the flat of the blade so that the combatant can see how the hand is placed against the opponent’s weapon. The execution of the parry is much like this. The execution of the parry, regardless of whether it is a beat or opposition parry is the same, the change being made toward the end of the parry.
From a normal terza ward, to protect the high inside line the hand should be turned so that the palm comes into contact with the opponent’s weapon and then is pushed over the shoulder of the off-hand. This is the easiest of the parries as it takes minimal movement of the hand and arm.
To protect the high outside line the hand should be pushed across the body to come in contact with the opponent’s weapon and then pushed past the sword side of the body. Care should be made that the combatant does not inadvertently parry their own weapon. To avoid this, the sword should be dropped a little or lifted a little depending on where the attack is aimed at.
With regard to the low line parries, no hand parry should be made lower than where the wrist sits on the fencer when his arm is placed down at his side. To attempt to parry lower will lower the head toward the opponent’s weapon. For the low inside line the arm is dropped toward the opponent’s weapon the palm is turned toward the weapon and pushes it to the off-hand side. This is often performed as a sweeping action. For the parry to the low outside line, the arm and hand with the palm is dropped and pushed across the body so that the palm pushes the opponent’s weapon past the sword side of the body.

Drill 2: Simple Parry Action

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One of the partners should make slow thrusts toward the partner and the partner should parry each one using his off-hand. The attacks should be slow but deliberate toward each line.
3.    The focus of the drill should be parrying the opponent’s weapon away from the fencer using the palm of the hand in each line. Placing the palm against the opponent’s weapon and pushing it, or guiding it, away is sufficient at this stage. Speed can be increased once the partners are comfortable with the parries.

Opposition Parry

            The opposition parry is the parry which has been described in both the description of the parry and also the drill above. The only real difference is that the off-hand will stay in contact with the opponent’s blade for an extended period of time rather than simply leaving it once the threat has passed.
            The purpose of the parry with opposition is to gain and maintain control over the opponent’s weapon. This relies on the off-hand maintaining contact with the opponent’s weapon in the process. It is this parry which is used to push and control the opponent’s weapon. The important thing, at this stage, is that this is performed with an open hand, using the palm of the hand to control the opponent’s weapon. Grasping is a skill which will be discussed further along as it is a little more complex.
            For the most part the parry with opposition is used passively and thus defensively against the opponent’s weapon. The control elements and moving the opponent’s weapon come as a result of the passive nature of this parry. It can be used more offensively, but you need to place yourself in the correct position to do this. For the most part this consists of taking control of an extended weapon and pushing and controlling it to where you want. This will be discussed more under actions of control.

Beat Parry

            The beat parry is one of the options available. This parry is designed to remove the opponent’s threat with velocity and impact of the parry against the weapon. This technique is often the first that will be used by fencers as it is relatively simple but still requires technique.
            The effect of the beat should be made at the very end of the parry rather than performing a full-blooded swipe at the opponent’s weapon. Just as with the beat with the sword the impact should come from the wrist, in this case sending the palm against the opponent’s weapon with velocity. Saviolo states, “then must the scholler with his left hand beat aside his masters rapier, not at the point, but in the strength and middest of the weapon,” (Saviolo, 1595). The beat is better performed against the opponent’s weapon on the debole or mezzo for greatest effect.
            In the performance of this parry you need to come into contact with the opponent’s blade on the flat. To come into contact with the edge will sting the palm and even worse if the fingers come into contact. You should always aim to parry with the palm rather than the fingers.

Drill 3: Beat Parry: Defensive

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One of the partners should make slow thrusts toward the partner and the partner should beat parry each one using his off-hand. The attacks should be slow but deliberate toward each line.
3.    The focus of the drill should be parrying the opponent’s weapon away from the fencer using the palm of the hand in each line. Speed can be increased once the partners are comfortable with the parries.
4.    Once comfortable with the basic defensive parries, the partners should experiment with the directions that the opponent’s weapon can be beaten.

Placing the hand into correct position for the defensive parry has already been described. However, just as with the sword there is also a pre-emptive or active beat. The active beat can most effectively be used against an opponent whose weapon is left out of good control, or in an overly extended ward. In this beat parry you should aim to remove the opponent’s weapon by striking it with the palm, preferably against the debole for the greatest effect, as described by Di Grassi, “men do much use at this weapon, to beate off the poynt of the sworde with their handes:” (Di Grassi, 1594). The direction that the beat is made is dependent on what you have planned for after the beat is made.

Drill 4: Beat Parry: Offensive

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One should be in an extended ward. One of the partners should beat the one whose blade is in the extended ward. The goal should be to beat the opponent’s weapon off-line.
3.    Once comfortable with simply beating the blade away, the partners should practice deliberately beating the opponent’s blade in different directions to see the effect.

Actions of Control

            The beat parry does not maintain control over the opponent’s weapon and this is its greatest failing. The parry with opposition maintains control over the opponent’s weapon and thus leaves you with more options as to what actions can be performed. However, the beat parry should not be disregarded as it also has its own advantages.
            The actions of control primarily begin with the use of the parry with opposition with the hand however this is not the only way that they can begin. This part of the lesson will focus on the use of the off-hand as the primary and continuing contact. The hand is placed upon the opponent’s weapon as is described in the parry with opposition above. The contact must be on the flat of the blade and with the palm of the hand for greatest control; this contact needs to be maintained so that you can push the opponent’s weapon to the location desired. This contact enables you to retain control and knowledge of where the opponent’s weapon is.

Drill 4: Weapon Movement

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their normal wards.
2.    One makes a slow thrust against the other who uses a parry with opposition against the attack.
3.    The partner who parried now moves the opponent’s weapon around using the control of the palm. The sword should not be grasped. Movements should be made in all directions.

The drill above introduces the idea of the movement and control of the opponent’s weapon to places where you wish it to go. The hand should be placed about the debole or mezzo at this stage for the simple movements of the opponent’s weapon, however this is not the place where the greatest control over the opponent’s blade is gained but it is the most likely first contact with the opponent’s weapon.
Control over the opponent’s weapon increases the further down the blade you go. With your hand at the point the opponent has a lot of movement, as your hand moves closer and closer to their hilt they lose more and more control over the weapon. This is due to an increase in leverage on your part and a decrease in leverage on theirs. The location of the maximum control over the opponent’s weapon is to place your hand on their hilt or pommel. As a result the hilt is where you should be aiming for control of the opponent’s weapon.

Drill 5: Leverage

1.    Partners stand across from one another, only one weapon is required. One holds the weapon the other places his hand on the point.
2.    One who is holding the weapon should move the weapon about. One with the hand on the weapon should notice the movement, and then move his hand down to the debole and repeat the process.
3.    The change in leverage should be noted by both of the combatants involved. The process should be repeated until the hand reaches the hilt of the weapon. The increase in control of the combatant with his hand on the blade should be noted.

What has been described and demonstrated is the increase in control over the opponent’s weapon the closer to the hilt that the off-hand comes. Logically this would mean that the greatest control would be to place your hand on the opponent, however this is not actually the case. For simple practical reasons if you place your hand on the opponent’s arm he may swap the weapon to the other hand thus renewing the threat. While fleeting contact is allowed within the rules of the SCA, it is best to aim for the forte of the weapon with the hope of gaining the hilt, thus contacting the weapon and not the individual. This will gain the greatest advantage. The clever fencer will actually practice swapping the weapon to the other hand in case his person is contacted by the opponent.
            With contact made upon the opponent’s weapon the question of location becomes apparent. The goal of moving the opponent’s weapon is to place you in the position of greatest advantage. Where this may be will be dependent on the particular situation that you find yourself in.
In general it is best not to tangle yourself in your opponent’s weapon. This would seem to say to move the weapon as far away from your weapon as possible, but this may not be always the case. The simplest movement in defence is to move the opponent’s weapon toward their sword side and attack down inside of the opponent. This is the simplest approach when both combatants are right-handed. This approach works for both inside and outside lines.

Drill 6: Parry and Riposte

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against the other to the inside line. The defender parries to the off-hand side with his hand controlling the weapon and then makes a riposte to the inside line.
3.    The partners then re-set and the attacker makes an attack to the outside line.
4.    The defender parries with the off-hand, controlling the weapon and attacks to the inside below the arm of the opponent.
 
The drill above results in simple parry and riposte techniques, but can lead to more advanced movements thanks to the result of the opponent’s weapon being in the off-hand. Another approach is to gain the opponent’s weapon and then use the weapon against them by crossing it over and using to block the opponent’s off-hand side. This is most useful when the opponent is carrying a supplementary item.

Drill 7: Parry and Control to Block Off-hand

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against their opponent. The defender parries with the off-hand and then carefully, maintaining control over the opponent’s weapon crosses it to the opponent’s off-hand side.
3.    The defender should step toward the opponent’s off-hand side to increase the leverage with a diagonal step. From this position an attack can be made either over or under the arm with either cut or thrust.

The drill above gives the primary control over the opponent’s weapon and demonstrates one approach to controlling the opponent’s weapon and then using the situation to your benefit. What may be noted is that there is an element of entanglement in this approach. The most important thing is to ensure that the situation is to your benefit in the end.
Just as with the beat parry, there is an offensive version of the parry with opposition. This action is designed to actively gain control over the opponent’s weapon, and just with the beat parry it is best performed when the opponent’s weapon is extended from them. This is not simply reaching out and grabbing the opponent’s weapon, instead it is placing the hand on the opponent’s weapon, gaining control and moving it to a position advantageous to you.

Drill 8: Parry with Opposition to Gain Control

1.    The partners should stand across from one another in their wards. They should be at a combat distance.
2.    One should have their sword more extended. The other should move forward and gain control with the off-hand. The sword should then be moved out of line and to a position more advantageous so that an attack can be made.

The direction and location which the opponent’s weapon is moved to is dependent on the attack or action that is to follow the action. In the simplest form this action will simply open the opponent up to an attack. More pressure can be gained upon the opponent’s weapon by forward movement. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the opponent’s weapon is controlled before any forward movement is made.

Defence

            What have been described thus far have been offensive ideas about how to use the hand, based on a simple defence against an attack by an opponent. What have been missed up to this point are the defences against the techniques which have been described. These techniques are just as important as, if not more so than the offensive actions. Defence in the close against techniques such as those which have been described work off some general defensive principles.

1.    Place your hand on the opponent’s weapon, as with offence try to aim as low on the weapon as possible. This helps prevent the opponent from continuing their action.
2.    Regain control of your own weapon. You need to get your own weapon back in order to gain more control of the situation.
3.    Move either toward or away from the opponent. Moving away is not always the best option as it may give the opponent the chance to attack. Moving toward the opponent can cramp them and will also increase your own leverage.
4.    Move circularly to increase the control of your own weapon and to decrease that of the opponent. Moving toward your sword side will increase the pressure of your own weapon upon your opponent, however releasing this pressure may regain the weapon.
5.    Gain control of as many elements present as possible. This refers back to the previous principles but encourages the use of multiple at once.

These are the general defensive principles in the use of the off-hand especially at the close. The same principles also apply at distance and should be used here also. Anytime that your opponent places their hand on your weapon, you should be considering what your hand is doing and where it is. You should be considering where the opponent’s attack will arrive to and defend that line.
The defence against the parry and riposte using the off-hand is relatively simple. Consider where you are open in your attack and be prepared to defend that area with your own off-hand, you may have to shift your position in order to achieve this. This is actually simpler against a beat parry than against the opposition parry as the opponent’s hand is cleared away.

Drill 9: Parry and Riposte Counter

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against the other to the inside line. The defender parries to the off-hand side with his hand controlling the weapon and then makes a riposte to the inside line.
3.    The other partner defends against the riposte using his off-hand.
4.    The partners then re-set and the attacker makes an attack to the outside line.
5.    The defender parries with the off-hand, controlling the weapon and attacks to the inside below the arm of the opponent. As previous, the defence against the riposte is made with the off-hand.

The drill above should be practiced using both beat and opposition parries on the part of both partners and against different lines. This will enable both fencers to see the actions involved and to consider what could come from this position. In the discussion of position, blocking the off-hand was the next technique which followed. The counter against this technique is to simply follow the first principle and to place your off-hand on the opponent’s weapon and thus counter the pressure that he is applying. If this is not possible then placing the hand against an open line is the next best option.

Drill 10: Parry and Control to Block Off-hand Counter

1.    Partners stand across from one another in their ward at a combat distance.
2.    One person makes an attack against their opponent. The defender parries with the off-hand and then carefully, maintaining control over the opponent’s weapon crosses it to the opponent’s off-hand side.
3.    The defender should step toward the opponent’s off-hand side to increase the leverage with a diagonal step.
4.    To counter the increasing pressure the off-hand should be placed on the defender’s sword to counter an attack while stepping circularly away.

The defence against the offensive beat parry and offensive opposition parry all work on similar principles. For the most part they work on the action involved by the opponent and what he gains through his action. The offensive beat parry is used to displace the weapon by force. If the same force applied is not resisted by the fencer through the loosening of the wrist the point of the weapon will come back on-line again. In the meantime the off-hand should be used to defend against the following attack.

Drill 11: Offensive Beat Parry Counter

1.    Stand with a partner at a range where each can strike the other with a fully extended blow.
2.    One should be in an extended ward. One of the partners should beat the one whose blade is in the extended ward. The goal should be to beat the opponent’s weapon off-line.
3.    Against the force of the beat the wrist should be loosened so that the point can be controlled back on-line using the force of the beat. The off-hand should be prepared to intercept the opponent’s attack.

The counter to the offensive beat parry is relatively simple on the basis that the offensive action works on relatively simple principles which can be countered easily. Against the offensive opposition parry a little more consideration needs to be made as to the counter to the action, however once again this counter is derived from the principle of the action. The parry with opposition is designed to gain and maintain control. This can be countered by removing the weapon and thus the object of control or forcing the weapon to a place of better leverage against the action. In both instances the off-hand should be prepared to counter any attack.

Drill 12: Counter to Parry with Opposition to Gain Control

1.    The partners should stand across from one another in their wards. They should be at a combat distance.
2.    One should have their sword more extended. The other should move forward and gain control with the off-hand. The sword should then be moved out of line and to a position more advantageous so that an attack can be made.
3.    In response to this the weapon can be withdrawn from the opponent’s hand thus removing control, or it can be forced forward with hand and arm to a place of better leverage. Both techniques should be considered and attempted. The off-hand should be in position to counter any following attack of the opponent.

These actions are designed to counter those which have been taught previously. In the case of both sets of actions, they are based on simple and similar principles. These actions are designed to introduce the idea of the use of the off-hand as further, more complex actions are possible but they are based upon the simple ones and as such these must be established first.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Of the Use of the Off-Hand: Part I

Greetings,

This entry is the first part of the lesson on the use of the off-hand in particular in the use of the rapier. It should be noted that much of the information will relate more closely to those of the recreational bend and in particular more toward those within the SCA. However, I hope that the information presented here and in the following entries will be of interest.

Cheers,

Henry.

Introduction


V. I will tell you, this weapon must bee used with a glove, and if a man should be without a glove, it were better to hazard a little hurt of the hand, thereby to become maister of his enemies Swoorde, than to breake with the swoord, and so give his enemy the advantage of him.” (Saviolo, 1595)

            The following lesson could be seen as an introductory to Saviolo however the parry with the off-hand is not restricted to Saviolo. Other masters described and used the off-hand to parry with. Fabris argues against the use of the off-hand to parry, but includes techniques on how it should be used in four different instances. Capo Ferro demonstrates and describes techniques using the off-hand to parry or grasp with on four different plates. Thus the use of the off-hand is actually more widespread than most would give credit.
            In the standard modes of rapier training the off-hand is often neglected or brushed over in favour of the sword parry. Indeed the techniques involved with the use of the hand parry are often simplified almost to the point of ignorance of their use. However it is a useful technique and gives the user an additional defence when used. The use of the off-hand for parrying can also be beneficial to use of off-hand equipment later on as the hand is already active.
            The use of the off-hand is even presented in most of the guards presented in rapier combat as they present the off-hand in front of the body ready for use, rather than behind the body. Even if it is static the off-hand can provide a defence if it is accidentally hit rather than the body, however it is a much more active use which will be the focus here.
            Saviolo is the most active user and advertiser of the use of the off-hand. Indeed he even prefers the use of the use of the off-hand parry to the use of the sword for the same action. His principle use is based upon the idea that it is better to use the hand and keep the sword free and point on-line and thus threatening the opponent easy for use. However even in this he does not give much instruction as to the specifics of the use of the off-hand, merely describing the particular situation and its use. This lesson is designed to introduce such specifics and present the off-hand as a useful, if often forgotten, option for the fencer to use.

Off-Hand Definition and General Use

            Before the details of the use of the off-hand can be discussed some important definitions and principles need to be addressed. The first part of this is to define exactly what is meant by the off-hand. The off-hand is that part of the body which extends from the points of the fingers to the wrist bone, in most instances. However, should a parry be missed with the hand and caught with the forearm and still successfully made, then it can also include this.
            In the use of the off-hand against the opponent’s blade, the palm of the hand is the optimum contact surface. This is due to the padding which is present on the palm of the hand and also the increased control in using the palm of the hand. Firstly, if the back of the hand is used, the knuckles can come into contact with the opponent’s weapon and this will sting. Secondly, the back of the hand gives no option to grasp the opponent’s weapon and gives less control.
            While the parry with the hand is a technique which can be used and effective in and of itself, it is even more effective when combined with another technique. In defence the off-hand parry can be enhanced by the use of a void, for example. This is a technique which needs to be added and used with other techniques; use the hand, sword and other techniques together and it will be substantially more effective.
            When the hand parry is considered one subject which always eventuates is the subject of the parrying gauntlet. This is a subject, which is best discussed and defined early in the lesson. The parrying gauntlet is not required for the off-hand to be effective, but can be used as an adjunct to enhance its use.

Parrying Gauntlet

            There are several different types of gauntlet that can be used on the off-hand in order to enhance the techniques which will be discussed here. The most common type of gauntlet recognised is made of mail however there is also the gauntlet of plates of steel, of leather, and even combinations of the above. Each has its own advantage and disadvantage.
            The gauntlet of plate is rigid and is protected from thrusts and cuts on the outside where it is plated, however where it is not protected is on the inside, here the user may be cut. The gauntlet of mail covers the entire hand and protects it well from cuts however it is vulnerable to thrusts. Hutton mentions in The Sword and the Centuries of a glove of “stout leather” used to protect the hand when it is in use. However this could be mistaken for a normal leather glove so is often overlooked. The combination of a plate gauntlet with a mail palm would seem to be the ultimate choice in this situation, however there is a weight consideration to take into account. What also needs to be considered are the conventions which may be used with the item.
            In normal SCA rapier combat the parrying gauntlet is considered to be a glove of mail worn to protect the hand up to and including the wrist bones. This gauntlet protects the wearer’s hand from cuts and can allow the combatant to grasp the opponent’s weapon. The important thing to realise here is that the grasping of the opponent’s blade is a convention that must be agreed to before the bout starts, as are any other conventions, such as plate being protective against thrusts which may be agreed to by both combatants. If there is no agreement then the convention is not used.
The use of the gauntlet will be mentioned in those instances where it is specific to it however all of the techniques can be used with the parrying gauntlet. The parrying gauntlet should not be considered to be required for the use of the off-hand more as a supplementary item to enhance the ability of the off-hand. Always practice the hand parry with and without a parrying gauntlet. Further, do not rely on the grasping ability of the gauntlet, as will be described, be able to use the parries as normal as well, this can only be an advantage.

Theory

            The use of the off-hand in fencing is based upon elements of fencing theory as are all sound techniques. It is the application of these theoretical elements which is important. Time and distance are as applicable to the use of the off-hand as they are to the use of any other element of fencing technique. Further to this the use of the off-hand can be related in to the use of the sword.
            The first relationship between the off-hand and the sword is that there is the availability of an option for a beat parry or parry with opposition with both. This means that both can be used to beat or control the opponent’s weapon. There is also the simple fact that the hand can be seen as a pure forte, in much the same way that a dagger is. However, just as control is tenuous at the debole of the dagger so too is it tenuous at the tips of the fingers. What this also means is that there is a great deal of leverage possible on the opponent’s weapon with the off-hand, just as with the dagger.
            Just as with the parry with the sword, the fencer needs to wait for the opponent’s weapon to arrive before making his parry. In this it is just as much a mistake to reach with the hand in a parry as it is with the sword. Thus all the principles of timing and distance apply just as much to the use of the off-hand as they do to the sword.
            In the use of the hand, a person may consider that the hand might be hurt in the process however, it is better than the opponent’s weapon striking something more vital. This is one of the primary principles in the use of the off-hand. This principle is supplemented with the idea that two hands can be used, one for attack and one for defence. The off-hand parries leaving the weapon free for attack; this is the principle which Saviolo points to the opening quote, and performed in the same tempo this can be extremely effective.
            There are some simple principles which need to be followed to use the off-hand effectively in combat.

1.    Contact the flat not the edge – this is regardless whether a parrying gauntlet is worn or not. It is safer and reduces potential damage to the hand. 
2.    Move from the elbow as the primary method of use – the shoulder is slower and less efficient.
3.    Move the opponent’s attack away from the body not across – use the shortest route possible.
4.    In defence wait for the opponent’s attack to arrive – don’t reach for the opponent’s weapon.
5.    Always remember that there are two options, beat and control – choose depending on the situation and know how to use both.

There are other elements which are important which will be noted in the following but these are the essential principles. For example, it is best that you do not parry your own sword with your hand, however you may find a situation where parrying the opponent’s weapon into yours gains you more control. Always consider the particular situation that you are in.

Entanglement

Entanglement is something which some fencers fear, however entanglement is something which can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the control and the situation. In close combat situations, which are sometimes the result of using the off-hand, are situations in which control over the opponent’s weapon, your own, and the situation is vital. If one element is missing then trouble is usually the result. Accidental entanglements are those which cause the most problems, deliberate entanglement on the part of one fencer is different. Consider what the entanglement will gain you before engaging. 
In the use of the off-hand you must consider how you will get around the opponent’s weapon and of course your own. This often results in questions of whether it is better to move the hand first or the weapon and which one should be in front. This is dependent on the particular situation that you find yourself in. In general if the offhand is used first then the sword must go below the arm, if the sword is first then the sword will usually go above. This is dependent on the situation, of course. The most important thing is not to put yourself in a situation where your resulting attack will contact you. The weapon must be given a clear line to the target, or one that can be cleared without compromising the defence.
In the close, the prime location you should attempt to place the opponent’s weapon against their body. Obviously you will be attempting to do the same with your own in order to complete your own attack. If you can control the opponent’s weapon enough to place it against the opponent’s body, not only will you have gained control over their weapon, but you will also have the potential for damaging them with their own weapon.
Some will state that it is best to move the opponent’s weapon away from your own. This is dependent on the situation. There are times when the extra leverage provided by your sword against the opponent’s sword can result in a great advantage. This situation can also result in the chance for an opportunity to change control items to or from the off-hand in order to change the situation. In all instances you should consider what advantage, or disadvantage occurs from your movements, and also those of the opponent.