Cavalcabo: Passing? Traverse? Triangle Step?

This technique appears in various formulations so frequently in the text [1]the very influential translation by Villamont from Italian to French of Cavalcabo’s Treatise or Instruction on Fighting with Weapons (1597) and a similar essay by Patenostrier, available in English translation by Rob Runacres of the Renaissance Sword Club that it must be at the core of Cavalcabo’s teaching. In its most concise form, it is written like this:

To understand how one must attack for the best

When you want to attack the enemy, you must strike the nearest part, awaiting his riposte. Further, wanting to attack him, place yourself in quarte guard then, passing with the left foot, strike him with an estocade straight to the face, and put yourself swiftly back in seconde guard, so that by counter passing with the right foot you can give him an estocade, returning to quarte guard where, awaiting the response and from there [your enemy] going to strike you, you will parry him with your sword by passing the left foot to his right side, securing the enemy’s sword with your dagger, in order to give him a seconde.

So, the procedure is:

  1. From quarte guard, pass to the left, thrust at the opponent’s face, recovering into seconde guard.
  2. From this seconde guard, pass right, thrust at the opponent, recovering into quarte guard again.
  3. Await the opponent’s response.
  4. Parry the riposte with your sword, control the opponent’s sword with your dagger as thrust in seconde.

This appears simple enough … until you attempt to do it.

Steps 3 and 4 are easy. They’re the basic form of attack and counter-attack within this system. I find steps 1 and 2 more problematic. Maybe it’s me. “Passing” to me has always denoted moving forwards or backwards, one foot in front of the other. In other words, walking, after a fashion.

Step 1 is a thrust on a left foot pass. Ok. Got it. It’s brought me from out of distance (as stated in one formulation) into close distance. I now have the left foot forward in close distance to the opponent. Step 2 says I take another step with the right foot to put me back into quarte guard with the right foot forward.

The problem is in which direction do I step with the right foot?

It can’t be a step forward, as I imagine a pass to be. That would take me, at best, physically into the opponent. I’m not interested in grappling, which isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the text. This is rapier. I want to keep my distance and poke at the opponent like a sewing machine.

The text says “counter pass” which in French implies moving in the opposite direction. Ok. So, I pass backwards with the right foot? But the right foot is already rearmost.

This isn’t going to work. Unless …

Maybe passing means movement which is much more lateral than forwards and back. If we understand the movement as a traverse to the left in step 1 followed by a traverse to the right in step 2, things make more sense. It even makes batter sense of the position of the sword. Movement to the left, to the opponent’s right, is better protected by seconde guard while when returning to the original position we are covered again in quarte guard.

This even makes a deal of sense in terms of Villamont’s French. The word used in Villamont’s translation of Cavalcabo’s Italian (and, yes, I’m aware that we have Chinese whispers already at work here) is “passagier” which he defines in his glossary as “se pourmener ou remuer d’un lieu à l’autre” (“to stir oneself[2]Cotgrave, R. A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611, gives the definition as “To walke, to stir up and downe. Ie le pourmenay. I will cours him, I will keepe him stirring.”  or move from one place to another”). There’s nothing here about movement solely in the forwards/backwards plane.

Could we extend this further and suggest that Cavalcabo intends a kind of triangle step in which we change orientation from right foot forward to left foot forward on step 1 and back to right foot forward on step 2 – much like many of the early interpretations of Joachim Meyer’s triangle stepping? This may be carrying things too far.

Notes   [ + ]

1. the very influential translation by Villamont from Italian to French of Cavalcabo’s Treatise or Instruction on Fighting with Weapons (1597) and a similar essay by Patenostrier, available in English translation by Rob Runacres of the Renaissance Sword Club
2. Cotgrave, R. A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, 1611, gives the definition as “To walke, to stir up and downe. Ie le pourmenay. I will cours him, I will keepe him stirring.”