Learn to Duel in 30 Days – Part One

I’m making a side trip into the rapier fencing technique of Giovanni Dall’Agocchie as outlined in his On the Art of Fencing (1572). He’s considered the last writer within the Dardi School of rapier fencing. The book has a fascinating little section on how to teach a complete novice within thirty days enough skill and technique to allow him or her to survive a duel. His advice is extremely useful to anyone interested in cut-and-thrust swordplay.

While I’ve said previously that I could not explain this section of the book better than Steve Reich of Nova Assalto, I’m going to give it a go. This is the first of two posts and I’m going to assume right-handed fencers throughout.

You can find a translation of Dall’Agocchie’s text on Jherek Swanger’s home page.

Dall’Agocchie’s plan is very simple:

I would train him in only one guard, and would make him always parry with the true edge of the sword and strike with a thrust.

The guard in question is porta di ferro, known in Meyer’s text as Iron Gate on the Left. This guard always maintains the fencer’s right foot forward and the weapon held to the left pointed at the opponent. (It’s unclear whether the point is aimed high at the opponent’s face or lower at his or her body.)

From this guard position, Dall’Agocchie advocates defending almost all attacks using a riverso strike from above (riverso squalimbro) against an attack to the fencer’s high line or from below (riverso ridoppio) against attacks to the fencer’s low line. The riverso squalimbro is also used against a thrust from below (stocatta). This counter-cut parry should always be accompanied by stepping to the left (for the right hander) with the left foot.

EDIT: After a couple of questions, I figured it best to stress that the step to the left (triangle step?) is the secret to making this work. It takes the newbie duelist off the opponent’s line of attack and puts him or her in a position to make the parry effectively.

After the opponent’s blade has been parried, his advice is to strike with an “overhand thrust” from guardia d’alicorno, otherwise known by Meyer as High Guard on the Right for the Thrust or first position, in modern terms. The overhand thrust always ends back in the porta di ferro position.

Only against an overhand thrust from the opponent does he advocate a different technique. In this case, Dall’Agocchie reminds me strongly of Joachim Meyer. He advocates pivoting on the right foot, that is stepping with the left foot behind the right foot. The parry is performed by bringing the true edge of the blade up against the attack (Meyer would suggest almost vertically). From the clash of blade, thrust (presumably in fourth position) at the opponent and recover back into the porta di ferro position.

But there’s more to the fight than just parrying attacks. The real trick is to provoke the opponent into making an attack so that the fencer can use all the new tricks he or she has been taught. For this, the Italian recommends changing off between porta di ferro and guardia d’alicorno. From the latter, he advises to thrust at the opponent as a feint while stepping towards the left and towards the opponents outside line. If the opponent doesn’t react to this, you can simply thrust to hit.

That’s it. Dall’Agocchie reckons this is enough with four weeks of daily training to allow anyone to survive a duel with a better-than-average chance of wounding the opponent.

In part two, I’ll look at the “advanced” version in which Dall’Agocchie says he’d teach a talented newbie duellist a second position, coda lunga stretta or Meyer’s Iron Gate on the Right.