Camillo Agrippa, Part the Fourth

This the fourth part of my series looking at the rapier teaching Camillo Agrippa outlined in his 1553 text Trattato Di Scientia d’ Arme. In this port, I want to look at the last of the primary guard, Stance A. I’m not entirely sure that this is a guard position that one would adopt in preparation for a duel but rather a position one falls into during the fight in order to make an attack.

Again, I’d like to acknowledge that I’m a beginner and make no claim to the accuracy or utility of what follows. I’d love anyone who understands Agrippa to correct me.

First, let’s define some terms. Agrippa defines a number of stances (static guard positions) and actions (movements for attack or defence) in his own quite peculiar way. They form a short-hand to understand how he wants you to move in a given circumstance. I’ll be using the hand positions first, second, third and fourth as discussed in my previous post on Agrippa.

Stances and Actions

Camillo Agrippa - Stance A

Camillo Agrippa - Stance A

Stance A:  Hold your weapon in first position in a narrow stance, that is with your feet close together but your right foot a little forward of your left. In first position, your sword hand rests above your shoulder pointing forward with your palm facing to the outside. Keep your other hand or off-hand weapons (main gauche or buckler) well up in front of your chest.

It seems that Agrippa intends this guard as a way of drawing out a response from one’s opponent. The advantages he lists for the guard include the ability to advance and retreat rapidly while maintaining one’s point in the face of the opponent. It fulfills the old maxim of always keeping steel between you and your enemy thereby restricting his or her possible lines of attack.

He also suggests that by adopting Stance A after his manner, you will be “a half- or quarter-step further from your adversary” while still maintaining an ability to strike him or her. I’m not so sure about that. Experimentation will determine the issue.

The only real piece of tactical advice he gives regarding Stance A he applies equally to all stances and actions. He says to you should avoid parrying the other guy’s attacks but should instead slip back or dodge so that the other guy strikes nothing but air. If appropriately armed (main gauche, dagger or mailed glove), beat away your opponent’s point with you left hand.

The most common response against someone standing in Stance A that Agrippa expects is for the adversary to cut into the blade to beat it out of the way or otherwise control it. While this may be true of beginners, I’m not sure an experienced fencer would fall for such a trick.

Plays from Stance A

In his text, Agrippa outlines three basic plays from Stance A. The second play is found in two, mirror-image formats. All of these plays seems pretty good but they all require cracker-jack timing and so I don’t recommend them for beginners.

  • Play One: Your opponent cuts at you. Regardless of the actual nature of the cut thrown against you, step back with your right foot. In this way your void the attack which passes straight by. Immediately the cut as passed, step forward again and thrust at your opponent before he or she can respond.
  • Play Two: This play comes in two forms. Your opponent thrusts directly at you. How you act depends on which side the attacks tends to. If the attack is aimed at your right side, step out far to the left to execute Action K (counter-thrust in 2nd). If the attack is aimed at your left side, step far to the right and execute Action G (counter-thrust in 4th).
  • Play Three: Regardless of the nature of the attack your opponent makes at you, sweep it away to your inside line (eg: to the right if you are right-handed). At the same time, step forward into your opponent’s space and place your sword hand into 2nd position. With your left hand, grab your opponent’s sword arm in order to immobilise it. Then you are free to stab him or her as you please.

Update: See further installments at: