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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.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

True and False Arts: A Discussion of Tempo in the Use of the Feint


Feints are a subject which come up in discussions with regard to the tactics of fencing quite often, and quite frankly I am surprised I have not written an entry in this blog about them yet. So, in order to fill this particular hole in my explanations of fencing I present the following entry on the subject of the True and False Arts. I can tell you that this is only examining on element of the feint, but it is one that needs to be considered as it is vital to how feints work, or don't work.



“I am constrayned to divide this Art into two Arts of Sciences, callinge the one the True, the other, the False art: But withall giving everie man to understand, that falsehood hath no advauntage against true Art, but rather is most hurtfull and deadlie to him that useth it.” (Di Grassi, 1594)

            The first question is what is this all about, True and False arts? Discussion of Tempo? Put simply, tempo is something, which is integral and one of the founding elements of fencing, essentially to understand this discussion the reader must understand that all actions in fencing take time. As for the True and False Arts, this is a discussion which has raged since the Renaissance, and will continue to rage amongst those who use the rapier, indeed any sword. In essence the True Art is the use of the blade using direct attacks against the opponent, and the False Art is the use of the blade using feints and misdirection. If the two concepts are combined then it will be understood as to what this discussion is about.
The feint can be used to quite good effect to deceive the opponent into opening themselves up for an attack. This is using the False Art. There were Renaissance masters who thought that the False Art was something, which a person should stay away from, for various reasons including that it was dishonourable. On the other hand there were other masters that said that a combatant who masters both the True Art and the False Art was a much better swordsman than one who stuck to one or the other. The other argument against the False Art, and the focus of this discussion, was that using the False Art lost time in the attack and therefore reduced its effect.

“Through lack of practice, tempo is lost for the reason that the body is not yet well loose of limb, or when the scholars acquire some wretched habit, going back to the vanities of feints, and disengages, and counter-disengages, and similar things thus done.” (Capo Ferro, 1610)

             Each movement of the blade takes time, so a thrust takes time; the parry takes time, and so on. If a feint is used time is lost in the attack if the feint could not hit the opponent, but if the feint is convincing enough, then the opponent will attempt to parry. “The feints are not good, because they lose tempo and measure;” (Capo Ferro, 1610). When the opponent uses the parry and the blade then moves to another line of attack, the feint has actually increased time for the defence and reduced it for the attack. If the feint is not effective in presenting itself as an attack, then the opponent will wait for the real attack, and the defender keeps the time advantage. In the first scenario, the combatant gains time through the use of the feint; and in the second he loses time due to the use of the feint. The combatant should be aware of this if they are going to use the False Art. It has its advantage, but it also has its disadvantage. The combatant needs to make the feint convincing enough that the opponent has to parry it for the feint to work, otherwise it is simply extra blade work and lost time.


Capo Ferro, Ridolfo (1610) Great Representation of the Art of the Use of Fencing, translated by Wm. Jherek Swanger and William E. Wilson

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