At the end of Giovanni Dall’Agocchie’s On The Art of Fencing (1572), there’s a wonderful aside in which he explains the basics techniques he’d teach a complete fencing newbie who must fight a duel of honour in thirty days. In this post, I want to point out the similarities with the single sword system of Dall’Agocchie’s contemporary, Joachim Meyer, whose Art of Combat (1570) includes an extensive chapter on use of the rapier.
Dall’Agocchie proposes to teach the prospective duellist only one of the multitude of guard position in the Bolognese tradition. What he calls the porta di ferro stretta Meyer calls the Iron Gate in a variant which is held to the left side of the right handed swordsman (2.54R).
From this position, Dall’Agocchie advocates only two actions to parry all attacks and counter strike. The first is beat away an incoming attack to the right by transitioning into guardia d’alicorno (Meyer’s Right Ox; 2.53V) and thrusting at the opponent’s face. Meyer describes this action in several places (2.89r3, etc). The second is raise the hilt and cut a riverso squalimbro (Meyer’s Defense Cut from the left; 2.55R) against an incoming attack to the left then thrust into the opponent’s flank. Meyer describes this action here (2.70r2).
These similarities are hardly a surprise. After all, there’s only so many ways to swing a lump of metal. What strikes me as interesting is Dall’Agocchie’s use of provocation. He advises the newbie duellist to draw his weapon, passing into guardia d’alicorno (Right Ox), and immediately thrust at the opponent – not to wound but to force the opponent to act. Then, he says, the duellist can use one of the two basic actions to score his or her point of honour. This is a perfect example of Meyer’s provoker – taker – hitter schema in another tradition.
Dall’Agocchie is adamant however that simply practising these techniques does not a fencer make. The newbie duellist cannot in thirty days be taught tempo, which he says only comes from fencing a variety of partners. Tempo is a subject on which Meyer is almost entirely silent. While he speaks of fighting in the vor and nach, this refers more to siezing and controlling the initiative of the fight than the timing of fight actions.
While the similarities between the two schools of fence are in many ways to be expected, the differences are most enlightening. For me, Dall’Agocchie’s admonitions and Meyer’s silence on the subject of tempo shows the advantages of training in more than one fencing tradition. Each illuminates the practice of the other.