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ITALIAN RAPIER GLOSSARY
by Tom Leoni

I have prepared this Italian rapier glossary for use by those interested in historical fencing--especially the Italian rapier. While these terms are amply used in Italian rapier treatises from the late-1500s and the 1600s, most of them apply to Italian fencing in general, i.e. roughly from the early 1500s to our day. If you are looking for a specific term, you may use the edit+find function to easily locate it. I will keep this Italian rapier glossary updated, so check back soon. Please note: as with most Italian masters of the time, I use the words rapier and sword interchangeably. To find out more about the Italian rapier as a weapon, please read my article on the subject.

PARTS OF THE SWORD:

Forte. Literally: "strong". The half of the blade closer to the swordsman’s hand. The role of the forte is twofold: a) it is the part of the sword with which most parries are executed; and b) it is the section of the blade most apt to resist to the pressure of the opponent’s blade when the two swords make contact.

Debole. Literally: "weak". The foible, or the half of the blade closer to the sword’s point.The role of the debole is primarily offensive: apart from its obvious purpose in the thrust, the debole should be employed in its entirety when delivering cuts, thereby adding a slicing motion to the percussive element, as Fabris states in Chapter 3.

Filo dritto (true edge). Literally "right edge". The true edge of the blade, meaning the edge that is pointed to the ground when the sword is in the scabbard. Its role is both offensive and defensive.

Filo falso (false edge). Literally "false edge". The false edge of the blade, meaning the edge that is pointed upwards when the sword is in the scabbard. Its role is also both offensive and defensive, although in Fabris it is not used as much as the true edge.

Piatto (flat). Literally "flat". The flat part of the blade between the two edges. In Fabris, the flat has no active role.

Prima (First). The fourth of the blade closer to the swordsman’s hand.It is the stronger half of the forte, and, as such, it is the safest part of the blade with which to execute parries, even against strong cuts. The first part of the blade has no offensive role, save for covering the line during an attack or a parry-counter.

Seconda (Second). The fourth of the blade going from the end of the first part (see above) to the mid-blade. It is the weaker half of the forte and, as such, it is not as ideal to parry a strong cut, although its defensive ability is still excellent.

Terza (Third). The fourth of the blade going from mid-blade to half-way to the point.Its role is mainly offensive:it should be used in conjunction with the fourth part to execute cuts.

Quarta (Fourth). The fourth of the blade containing the sword’s point.Its role is purely offensive:apart from delivering the thrust, it should be used in conjunction with the third part to execute cuts.

Finimento, fornimento, (Hilt).The part of the sword that protects the hand:in the case of the rapier, it is constituted by two quillon (the "arms" of the sword’s "cross") and the various rings and branches that, later in the 17th Century, would become a solid cup. The role of the hilt is defensive.Fabris makes ample use of the hilt to parry thrusts, and its mass makes for excellent protection of such vulnerable parts as the swordsman’s head.

GUARDS AND LINES

Prima (First). A guard in which the palm of the sword-hand faces to the right. The first guard is generally high, with the sword-hand held at a somewhat higher level than the shoulder.The natural angle formed by a sword in first guard is downward.

Seconda (Second). A guard in which the palm of the sword-hand faces towards the ground. The second guard is generally as high as the shoulder, and the natural angle formed by it is to the inside (i.e. to the left).

Terza (Third). A guard in which the palm of the sword-hand faces to the left. The third guard can assume many different guises, but in its most common form, the sword-hand is lower than the shoulder. The natural angle formed by the third guard is upward.

Quarta (Fourth). A guard in which the palm of the sword-hand faces upward. Like the third, the fourth guard can assume many different guises, although in its more usual form, the sword-hand is at shoulder-height or slightly lower, and it is somewhat to the inside of the right knee. The natural angle formed by the fourth guard is to the outside; however, the fourth is extremely versatile in its ability to form other angles useful to the execution of countless techniques.

Bastarda (Bastard). A guard sharing the characteristic of two adjacent positions of the hand.For instance, a guard in which the palm of the hand faces ten o’clock is a bastard guard between the third and the fourth.

Dentro (Inside). The line to the left of one’s sword. When you and your opponent are in guard, and your opponent’s sword is to the left of yours, you two are in guard to the inside.

Fuori (Outside). The line to the right of one’s sword. When you and your opponent are in guard, and your opponent’s sword is to the right of yours, you two are in guard to the outside.

Di sopra (Above), Di sotto (Below). The lines above or below the opponent’s sword. When you attack your opponent with a thrust underneath his sword, you are performing an attack below.

Line (in line, out of line). A sword is said to be in line when it is directed towards the opponent along any of the four lines described above (inside, outside, above or below).

Presence (in presence, out of presence). A sword is said to be in presence when its point is directed anywhere within the outline of the opponent’s body.Often, the two expressions "in line" and "in presence" are used almost interchangeably.

Changing lines (It: mutare effetto). The act of changing the course of a fencing action (typically an attack) between any of the four lines described above. A cavazione (see definition) is the most common way to change lines.

Over the right (or left) foot. Whether you stand in guard with your right or your left foot forward. When this is not specified, most Masters of that time implied that the guard was formed over the right foot (i.e. right-foot forward).

Counter-guard (It: contrapostura, contraguardia). 1) A slight variation or adjustment of any of the main guards to conform with the placement of the opponent’s sword and shut it out of line.This is the way Fabris views the counter-guard. 2) A specific guard to oppose a specific guard of the opponent.

THE MEASURES

Misura Larga. Literally "wide measure". The distance between you and the opponent from which you can offend him with the point of your sword by lunging with your right foot (keeping the left stationary). Clearly, this measure (as all the others) depends on several factors such as your stature, ability, and on the length of your sword. Measures are therefore relative and not absolute.

Misura Stretta. Literally "narrow measure". The distance between you and the opponent from which you can offend him with the point of your sword by just bending your body and knees forward and extending your arm (without moving the feet).

Fuori misura (Out of measure). The distance between you and the opponent from which you would be unable to offend him with the point of your sword even if you lunge with your right foot.

In the measures, in the distances (nelle misure, nelle distanze). Being in the measures (or in the distances) means being in the misura larga or misura stretta, i.e. being in a generic distance from which you can offend the opponent with one motion in a single tempo. A measure or a distance in Fabris is only one from which you can offend the opponent.

Rompere di misura (Breaking the measure). The action of retreating from within the measures to out of measure, i.e. from where offenses can be effected in one motion to where they cannot.

Guadagnare la misura, entrare in misura (Gaining or entering the measure). From out of measure, it is the act of stepping into measure. From the misura larga, it is the act of stepping in the misura stretta.

ADVANTAGE OF THE SWORD

Trovar di spada (Finding the sword). Finding the sword means situating your blade against the opponent’s in such a way that yours enjoys a mechanical advantage.This is chiefly accomplished by crossing blades at a point that is closer to your forte than to his and by forming an advantageous angle. Finding the opponent’s sword gains you the advantage of the sword. In Fabris, this action does not involve blade-contact.

Although there is still some disagreement among modern researchers and teachers, this techniques is found in period texts under these synonyms:trovare (finding), occupare (occupying), guadagnare (gaining), stringere (stringering), acquistare (acquiring).

Free sword, keeping the sword free (Spada libera). A sword is free when it has not been found (occupied, gained, etc. see definition above) by the opponent.

Perder la spada (Losing the sword). Losing the sword to the opponent means losing your advantage of the sword to him. In other words, if you had originally found the opponent’s sword and then, through a series of circumstances, he found yours instead, you have lost your sword.

FOOTWORK

Pie’ fermo (Firm-footed). 1) An attack executed by lunging with the right foot, leaving the left one anchored.2) An attack executed by extending the arm and bending the body and knees forward without any movement of the feet.

Passata (Pass). An attack executed by moving forward with both feet, one after the other. Typically, a passata is a series of steps forward starting with the back foot (the left in most cases).

Passo grande, passo piccolo (Wide, small step). The distance between the feet while in guard. Standing in guard over a wide step means having the feet roughly 40" or more apart; doing so over a small step means having the feet close together.

Girata. Literally "turn(ing)". A voiding action accomplished by either turning the left foot back and around the right one, or by turning the right foot (and the body) away from the opponent’s attack. In both these actions, footwork is the basis for removing the body from the line of the opponent’s attack.

TIMING

Tempo. Literally "time". Although period Masters define it in slightly different ways, a tempo in rapier fencing is the time required to perform a motion within the measures and the offensive opportunity given to the opponent while that motion is performed.

Taking the tempo (Prendere il tempo). Taking advantage of an offensive opportunity created by a motion ( = tempo) made by the opponent within the measures.The general rule about how to judge which tempo to take is this: a tempo should be taken if the time required for the attack is less or equal that required for the opponent’s defense:

     Take the tempo if:  Ta ≤  Td

Where Ta = time required for the attack; Td = time required for the opponent’s defense.The reason why even an equal time (Ta = Td) would be a good tempo to take is because the attacker has the advantage of initiating the action. The way to estimate this time is helped by considering 1) the distance between the point of your sword and the target and 2) the distance between the opponent’s forte and your blade.

Contratempo. An attack executed by taking the tempo from opponent’s own attack (who, in turn may have initiated the attack by taking the tempo from a motion you performed).

One tempo, stesso tempo. Expression used in reference to a parry and counterattack executed in one motion (i.e. in one tempo).

Due tempi (two tempi). Expression used in reference to a parry and riposte executed in two distinct motions one after the other (i.e. in two tempi).

ATTACKS

Distesa (lunge). A thrusting attack in which the sword-arm is extended towards the opponent and the right foot is brought forward in a very large step, in order to achieve maximum reach. The left foot remains anchored on the ground and, according to good form, should not slide forward. In the typical 17th-Century Italian rapier lunge, the body bends forward so that a few extra inches of reach are added to the attack.

Taglio (Cut). An offensive action in which the sheering ability of the edge of the sword is used to cut into the opponent’s flesh. Italian Maestri from the 16th and early 17th-Century use the head and the limbs as a preferred target for this type of attack.

Punta (Thrust). An offensive action in which the point of the sword is used to penetrate the opponent’s flesh more or less in a straight line. According to 16th and 17th-Century Italian Maestri, the thrust is preferable to the cut because of two reasons:1) its greater lethality and 2) its requiring only one motion (tempo).

CUTS

Classification of the cuts

Nomenclature of cuts generally consists of two words: the first one describes whether the cut proceeds from the right or the left side of the cutter (mandritto or riverso) and the second specifies in what direction the cut travels towards its target (fendente, squalembrato, tondo, ridoppio).

The first name of the cut is either mandritto or riverso.

A Mandritto is any cut that proceeds from the right side of the swordsman doing the cutting.

A Riverso is any cut that proceeds from the left side of the swordsman doing the cutting.

The second name of a cut is any of the following, depending on the specific direction of the action.

Fendente: a cut proceeding vertically downward.

Squalembrato: a downward cut proceeding diagonally.

Tondo: a cut proceeding along a horizontal plane.

Ridoppio: an upward cut proceeding diagonally.

Examples: mandritto tondo ( = a cut proceeding from the right side of the swordsman and traveling on a horizontal plane); riverso ridoppio ( = a cut proceeding from the left side of the swordsman and traveling upward, diagonally).

There are four cuts that do not follow the typical nomenclature of mandritto or riverso:

Falso dritto: an upward cut proceeding diagonally right-to-left, delivered with the false-edge of the sword.

Falso manco: an upward cut proceeding diagonally left-to-right, delivered with the false edge of the sword.

Sottomano: an upward vertical cut proceeding from the right side of the swordsman doing the cutting.

Montante: an upward vertical cut proceeding from the left side of the swordsman doing the cutting.

CAVAZIONI

Cavazione. The act of changing lines by moving your sword from one side of the opponent’s blade to the other (sideways or vertically). Since a cavazione involves a tempo (see definition), it is often performed with a simultaneous thrust. Cavazioni can be of two kinds:

      Cavazione of tempo (di tempo): performed in the tempo of your opponent’s stepping forward with the right foot in order to find your sword.

      Cavazione of obedience (di ubbidienza): performed to free your sword after the opponent has found it. (See also "Obedience").

Controcavazione. The act of responding to the opponent’s cavazione by performing one of your own; in this manner, your blade ends up on the same side of the opponent’s as before he performed the cavazione.

Ricavazione. The act of responding to the opponent’s controcavazione by performing an additional cavazione.

Half-cavazione (Mezza cavazione).The act of moving your blade from ether side of the opponent’s sword to right under it.

Commitment of the sword (commettere di spada).The act of interrupting a cavazione and moving your sword back to the same side where it started.

OTHER ACTIONS AND CONCEPTS

Void, voiding (Schivar di vita).A motion of the feet and/or body designed to escape or side-step an incoming attack from the opponent.A void can be used as an alternative to the parry or in conjunction with it. (See also "Girata").

Feint (Finta). A deceptive action designed to make the opponent move and thereby make a tempo or create an opening. Very often a feint consists of an attack: when the opponent moves to parry, he creates an opening somewhere else where he can be reached by means of a simple cavazione.

Counterfeint (Contrafinta). A feint in response to a feint. Example. The opponent feints an attack to your inside.Instead of parrying (as he would want you to), you in turn feint an attack to his head; feeling threatened by your counterfeint, he lifts his sword to parry, thereby leaving his low line open to your attack.

Invitation (Chiamata). The act of deliberately showing an opening to the opponent; the goal of an invitation is to lure the opponent to attack so that he can be defeated with a well-planned counter. Plate 6 of Fabris is a perfect example of an invitation, with plate 44 showing the counter when the opponent attacks.

Mutation (Mutazione). Any motion or change of posture, guard or foot-placement. A mutation in the measures is also a tempo; one outside the measures is merely a mutation.

Parry (Parare, parata). A defensive action in which the sword, a companion weapon or the left hand is used to avert an incoming attack.

Obedience (Ubbidienza). A situation in which the opponent is compelled to follow your designs and performs the action you want him to perform. For instance, you may be in a situation where you wantyour opponent to lift his sword; in order to make him do this, you feint a thrust to his face. If he lifts his sword to parry your feint, he will have "gone to the obedience".

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11