Learn to Duel in 30 Days – Part Two

Last time, I looked briefly at what Giovanni Dall’Agocchie has to say in his On the Art of Fencing (1572) about teaching a complete newcomer in thirty days how to survive a duel. The simple technique he describes covers enough situations to be effective for a beginner. However, he says, if given more time, he’d teach the student a second guard.

This post looks at his advice for that guard, coda lunga stretta. This guard always maintains the fencer’s right foot forward and the weapon held to the right 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.) Together with this guard position, the porta di ferro discussed last time and Dall’Agocchie’s advice on how to use them forms a solid core for any one interested in cut-and-thrust historical swordplay. A right-handed fencer is assumed.

After teaching several basic techniques from porta di ferro (Meyer’s Iron Gate on the Left), Dall’Agocchie says that if there were time he’d teach the newbie duelist a second guard, coda lunga stretta (Meyer’s Iron Gate on the Right), “because in it, too, he can parry nearly all of the enemy’s blows with the true edge of his sword and attack with a thrust.”  This position is formed by standing with the right foot forward and the sword hilt held low outside the fencer’s right knee. The sword’s point is directed at the opponent’s face or shoulder.

Against any high line attack such a squalimbro, whether from the right or left, he advocate a single time response. The fencer should thrust at the opponent’s face ensuring that the true edge of the sword is turned into the opponent’s weapons. This technique is described in details in Joachim Meyer’s chapter on the rapier in his Art of Combat (1570) but Dall’Agocchie calls these parry positions guardia di faccia (high fourth position) and guardia d’entare (high second position). The parry and counter-attack are delivered in a single tempo.

(It also goes to show that the vast multitude of postures in the Dardi tradition are not be to understood as static poses but descriptions of movement.)

Against any low line attack, Dall’Agocchie says simply to slip back, withdrawing the front foot, and thrust at the opponent’s face. The principle of over-reach takes care of everything else. This is a basic technique found in pretty much every fencing tradition.

To parry an underhand thrust (stocatta), the same technique should be employed from coda lunga stretta as from porta di ferro. That is, the fencer pivots on the front foot, moving his or her left foot to the right and behind the right foot, and bring the sword up into a more vertical position (point upwards) to block the opponent’s attack with the true edge of the weapon.

The counter to the overhand thrust (imbrocata) is the most interesting of the techniques Dall’Agocchie would teach the newbie duelist. He advocates a mezzo mandritto followed by a punta riversa. In other words, the fencer defends against the imbrocata by counter-cutting into it from the right. This is a half-cut (the mezzo part) which ends with the fencer’s point online and pointing directly at the opponent. The opponent’s blade should be pushed offline by this parry. A pivot to the right, as above, helps in this regard. Once the attack has been neutralised, the fencer immediately thrusts at the opponent with the sword hand in fourth position. I don’t consider this an easy technique for a beginner at all.

Dall’Agocchie warns, however, that while he may be able to teach the newbie a whole bunch of useful techniques, the one thing he cannot teach is timing and distance. This knowledge can only be learned by long experience and fencing many opponents.

I’m indebted to Steve Reich of Novo Assalto for his excellent summary of this section of Dall’Agocchie’s text and to Jherek Swanger for his translation of the text into English.