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Tactical Advice for the Rapier
by Tom Leoni

Rapier students and practitioners often ask me if Fabris addresses certain tactical situations that seem to occur regularly in rapier fencing. These situations can present dilemmas as to how to face them. In most cases, my answer is that he does - directly or indirectly.

When Fabris addresses a practical problem directly, he also gives us his train of thought that lead him from the problem to the solution: we see how he manipulates the rules of the art like ingredients and combines them into a winning hand. By doing so, he teaches us what methodology we must employ to solve practical problems. The result is that even when we are faced with a fresh situation, we can solve it by using a similar thought-process - using the rules of the art like we would for a math problem.

Below is a list of the tactical situations that recur most often in studentís questions, together with practical advice on how to solve them. In some cases, the advice comes directly from Fabris; in others, the conclusion is mine, but I was very careful to draw it from the rules of the art rather than the imperfection of my "common sense" or my experience.

Bear in mind that these solutions rely on good execution. Nothing will work if the fundamentals are sloppy, tempi are not taken properly or the sword is used like a poking-stick.

If the Opponent:

Then You Should:

Keeps his sword withdrawn so you cannot reach it (find it) with yours to secure the line

Use the counter-postures instead of finding his sword. Place your forte so that it intercepts the imaginary line from his point to your body - thereby making that line of attack unavailable to him - and direct your point to the closest opening. Do not advance into measure; let him do so, and use the tempo of his step to defeat him. If he frantically brings the sword forward to parry, switch lines and defeat him with a feint.

Relies heavily on his left hand to grab your sword in preparation for his attacks

Keep your sword at a slight upward angle, so that he will have to lift his hand to reach your debole. As he does so, use that tempo to cavazione around his fingers and deliver a thrust in fourth under his arm. You will notice that the left hand is easier to deceive than the sword.

Keeps molesting your sword with his from out of measure

Drop your sword-point, draw your body back and widen your stance by bringing your right foot forward (see Fabris, plate 11). This way, your point will be unavailable for him to molest, and you will look farther out of measure, encouraging him to advance. As he does so, lift your sword and lunge at the nearest opening by a quick extension of the body - you won't even need to move your feet by virtue of your wide step.

Keeps attacking you with wild "charges" and multiple, uncontrolled arm-extension thrusts

Opponents who fence in this manner have very little reach because they seldom employ a proper lunge. This is one case when it is safe to parry and riposte in two tempi: pass back with your right foot (maintaining the right side of your body forward) while parrying his first arm-extension thrust, then deliver the riposte in the form of a good stramazzone to the head. Sometimes, you won't even need to parry, the void from the backward pass being enough: in this case, arrest his forward motion with a stop-thrust to the head or upper chest.

Takes the measure from your hand or forearm instead of your body, like a modern epee fencer

Withdraw your forearm, always ensuring that there is a straight line between your elbow and the point of the sword. Then, perform a subtle invitation by lowering your sword. As he advances to hit your arm, quickly take the tempo: lift your sword-hand in second, pass forward with your left foot, secure the line with your left hand and thrust at your opponent's chest.

Is good at parrying your attacks, but does not counter or riposte

Employ a simple attack to find out the pattern of his parries. Then, anticipate his parry with a feint; for instance, if he always foils an inside attack with a simple parry in fourth, feint that attack and as he motions for the parry, cavazione to the outside and thrust at his chest or flank in terza.

Is considerably taller than you or has a much longer sword

Remember: by virtue of his longer reach, he will be in measure before you. Make sure that you use the counterposture to secure any line he may use. When he steps into his measure, use that tempo to quickly pass to either side of his sword - but as straight as possible, so as to not lose any distance. Use either the forte or your left hand to secure the line and complete the pass all the way to his body.

Tries to get an advantage by walking around you in circles

This is one of the best gifts an opponent can give you, for every step he takes is a favorable tempo for you to attack, provided that you are in measure. Subtly adjust your feet so that your stance (and the point of your sword) is always directed at him: you will be the center of his circumference. As he comes into measure, predict what his next step will be and meet him there with a well-placed thrust.

Keeps breaking measure every time you advance

Change your game completely, and start retreating. This will give him a false sense of security, and he will start advancing in turn. Make sure that you always maintain the advantage of the sword and/or counterposture. As he advances into measure, use that tempo to deliver a thrust (with or without a feint).

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11