Meyer’s Rapier Parries

The chapter on the rapier in Joachim Meyer’s The Art of Combat lists parrying technique after parrying technique without ever clearly articulating the basic principles which underlie them. At best (or worse) he says “we’ve already covered this in the section on the longsword so I won’t explain it here.” This post reduces the multitude of parrying techniques he describes to their basic principles in order to discover the secrets of his art.

Combat, he says, is based on two elements: the cuts used to overcome an opponent and the parries used to bear off the opponent’s attacks. (1.15v). All cut techniques are also parry techniques (1.15v) emphasising the counter-cut as the chief defense. Meyer also discusses single- and double-time parries in that they are designed to either:

  • Catch and bear off an opponent’s attack giving you time to make a counter-attack (2.17r). In the dusack and rapier chapters, he suggests the best response is to bring your point on-line after parrying and thrust.
  • Happen at the same time as your attack (2.17r2). This includes the idea of the longsword master cuts which injure and protect at the same time.

All parries with a single-handed weapon are derived from either the High Cut (the vertical downwards strike) or from the Low Cut (the upwards diagonal strike) (2.16v). This is a slight change from the longsword in which the High Cut takes away all over cuts but itself, the diagonal or middle cut takes away the High Cut and a Low Cut “with stepping out” suppresses the High Cut as well (1.16r).

How does this apply to the rapier? Meyer calls out eight specific techniques for rapier parries and possibly hints that double-time responses are to be preferred to single-time responses. These techniques can be reduced to four basic principles.

Counter-cut/Thrust Response

Aggressively cut into the opponent’s weapon, generally done as a vertical or downward diagonal cut (high cut or wrath/defence cut). This has the effect of not only knocking his or her blade off-line but of bringing your point on-line directed at the opponent’s head or torso. Your second-intention action is simply thrusting into Longpoint to hit your opponent and withdrawing back into a safe guard position. An alternative response, instead of the thrust, is a false edge cut.

Cf: Slicing Off (2.68r2), Suppressing (2.68r3).

Hanging Parry/Cut Response

With the hilt up and blade pointing downwards, sweeping the opponent’s blade away across your body. You end up in a position known in other swordplay schools as Hanging Guard. From here, you can quickly roll your wrist, elbow or shoulder to quickly cut make a vertical or downwards diagonal cut at your opponent (ie: high cut, wrath cut, reversed cut). Withdraw into guard.

Cf: Hanging (2.69), Außschlagen (2.70r2-3).

Beating Away

This is in many ways the default parrying action: interposing your weapon along the opponent’s line of attack to stop a cutting attack or, using either the false or true edge of the sweeping away a thrust attack. This can be performed with either the blade pointing upwards or pointing downwards.

If performed with the blade pointing upwards, once you have stopped his or her attack, you have the option of either making a cut (generally a horizontal or middle cut) against your opponent or dropping your point on-line and making a thrusting attack.

Cf: Barring (2.70r1), Außnemen (2.70v1), Going Through (2.68v1) and possibly Setting Off (2.68r1) if performed in double-time.

Quick Counterthrust

The quickest response to any action by your opponent is a straight thrust. The difficulty is finding a way of protecting yourself against whatever action the opponent was performing. This is done in two ways. First, always ensure that the long edge of your blade is turned towards his or her weapon. This has the effect of interposing steel along the line of your opponent’s attack. Given the angles of the blades, it does not guarantee safety as you will often form what George Silver called a “narrow cross.” You protection is enhanced by the second way, stepping out, which changes the blade angulation to something more like Silver’s “true cross” and removes you from the target area.

Cf: Setting Off (2.68r1) performed in single time and possible Going Through (2.68v1) if this action is read as a cavazzione or disengagement.

Update (10 Sept 2011): I may have to re-think some of this, especially the Quick Counterthrust paragraph. After learning a little about Spanish Destreza, Meyer’s Setting off (2.68r1), Slicing Off (2.68r2) and even the Suppressing Cut (2.68r3) look just like the Destreza atajo. Hmmm. More to come soon.