Camillo Agrippa, Part the Second

This is the second part of my delvings into the morass which is Camillo Agrippa‘s 1553 fencing text, Trattato Di Scientia d’ Arme. Today, I want to look at Agrippa’s third primary stance which Capo Ferro calls the only true guard position. I’m going to check out how to stand in it and what attacks and defenses can be best used from it.

Before getting stuck in, I’ve got to acknowledge again 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 CStance C: Hold you weapon in third position in a wide stance. That is, stand with your feet about shoulder width apart with your right foot forward and your left foot slightly to the side of a straight line from you opponent, through your right foot and out behind you. The sword is held to the outside of your right knee.

Camillo Agrippa - Stance FStance F: This is the same as Stance C except that you are in a narrow stance, meaning that your feet are close together. You can get the Stance F from Stance C by either stepping forward (drawing you left foot up next to your right) or by stepping backwards (drawing your right foot back next to your left). Both movements have their uses.

Camillo Agrippa - Action GAction G (and P): The only difference between Action G and Action P is that G aims a thrust at the head and P aims a thrust at the belly. The actions are performed in the same manner and both actions aim to get you out of the way while you counter thrust at an opponent who is in the process of attacking you. There are two keys to this action.

  1. Take a large step to your right to immediately void your body – to get yourself off the line of your opponent’s attack. Agrippa says to do this with your right foot. The same effect is achieved by moving your left foot to the right in a maneuver which came to be known later as a punta riversa or volte.
  2. At the same time as your move (or even beforehand), change you sword hand into fourth position in order to simultaneously block the opponent’s sword and use it to guide your point straight back into your opponent’s body. This technique is called a thrust with opposition or contra-punta.

Camillo Agrippa - Action KAction K: This is the mirror image of Action G in that it performs the same function while you step to the left. The keys to the action are:

  1. Agrippa says to take a large step to the left with your right foot. This sounds warning bells for me because it leaves you with your legs crossed and in an unstable position. I think that making this step with your left foot achieves the same end and maintains your stability.
  2. At the same time (or even beforehand), change your sword hand into second position in order block the opponent’s sword and thrust at him or her as in Action G above.

Attacks and Defences from Stance C

Next, let’s have a look at what Agrippa says you can do from Stance C. In terms of defence, Agrippa really only has one general strategy. He suggests that, as an opponent launches an attack at you, you should step back from Stance C into Stance F. At best, this is enough to counter the attack. At worst, it gives you additional time to deal with it using an off-hand weapons such as a main gauche or by blocking the attack with your sword “di cruce” (from the cross). Once you’ve dealt with the attack, counter attack. This is standard double-time response stuff. Nothing special here.

He also talks about some single time responses to an attack such as turning your hand into second or fourth position as appropriate and thrusting home or blocking the opponent’s attack at the cross and responding with a cut. Other than some flourishes, this seems to be the extent of the defenses from Stance C.

The only attack of any substance that Agrippa discusses comes in two variations. It involves provoking your opponent to attack you then murdering him or her while they are “disordered,” to use his term. Here’s how it goes.

  1. Step forward from Stance C into Stance F. If your opponent does nothing, your sword point goes through his or her head. That’s fine in itself but what you’re looking for is the inevitable defensive move. Most people do not stand idly by while someone stabs them in the eye. Those who do, deserve it.
  2. Use Action G (or P) or K to counterattack as appropriate. If the opponent’s blade is to your left, use Action G (or P). If the opponent’s blade is on your right, use Action K. I don’t like having to make a decision at this point in proceedings. My brain is not quick enough for that any more. I guess there is scope to angle step 1 in some way to provoke a particular response rather than any ol’ response from your opponent. I’ll have to experiment more with this at training.

Plays Beginning in Stance C

Agrippa’s plays (or set-piece drills for training purposes) are pretty similar. I need to study these much more closely and test them out on the field to ensure I understand them correctly. On the face of them, however, they seem sound and I can see how they work.

Play One: The student stands in Stance C; the partner in Stance A (hand in first poisiton, narrow stance). The partner thrusts at the student who uses Action G both block/cross the partner’s weapon and thrust home. This is a single time defence.

Play Two: The student stands in Stance C; the partner in Stance B (hand in second position, narrow stance). The partner thrusts from Stance B. The student sweeps across the body from Stance C, capturing the partner’s blade and ending with a thrust against the partner in Stance H (hand in second position, wide stance).

Play Three: The student stands in Stance C; the partner in Stance B (hand in second position, narrow stance). The partner steps forward to thrust at the student (hand in second position, wide stance). The student slips back (withdraws into Stance B) and, once the partner’s blade has passed, attacks with a thrust in Stance H (hand in second position, wide stance).

Play Four: The student stands in Stance C; the partner in Stance D (hand in fourth position, wide stance). The partner changes his stance to attack in A (hand in first position). The student changes stance from C to D to block the attack and lunges at the partner (Action I).

Update: See further instalments at: