Meyer’s Rapier: Provoker, Taker, Hitter

In his Art of Combat (1570), Joachim Meyer unifies feints, parries and strikes and thrusts into a schema inherited from his version of Leichtenauer’s longsword practice. He calls these actions either provokers (feints), takers (parries) and hitters (cuts and thrusts). This schema provides a very useful mental framework for thinking about how and why you act in a bout, regardless of the weapon being used.

As we’ve all discovered, attacking someone standing in a solid guard position is a sure way to get hit. The best you can hope for is that you both hit each other. To the problem become one of how to inspire your opponent to step out of his or her secure posture and give you an undefended opening to attack. As Meyer says: “you cannot attack without an opportunity […] therefore you must see how you can bring him out of his advantage” (2.67r).

Let’s define the terms then examine a couple of quotes to find these actions in them.

  • Provokers (coloured blue in the quotes) are actions intended to force the opponent to act. In other traditions, this is called a feint.
  • Takers (coloured green in the quotes) are actions which prevent your opponent from hitting you and are otherwise known as parries.
  • Hitters (coloured red in the quotes) are self-explanatory. These are the cuts and thrusts you use to injure your opponent.

Any strike can perform any of these roles. For example, the Wrath Cut is a diagonal cut from high to low used as a hitter. The Defence Cut is the same action used as a taker. When this action is performed solely to draw out a response from your opponent, it is a provoker.

Here’s a couple of quotes from Meyer to show the three roles in action. The roles highlighted in colour.

“Quickly lift your weapon, and act as if you intend to cut aggressively at his lower leg, and actually cut in a little way; with this cut, lean your body well forward after the step and cut, so that it seems you have made yourself quite open, but see that you do not lose control but keep full command over your weapon. And note diligently as you thus cut in, whether he will rush to your opening; if so, then pull your threatened cut back up against his incoming blade, and strike it out upwards to the side with this pulling upward, and thrust at his nearest opening before he recovers.” (2.84v1)

Note: the taker in this instance could be the hitter if your opponent does nothing.

“If you find an opponent in one of the low postures then in the Onset deliver a Middle Cut suddenly through his face from your right. With this cut you will cause him to go quickly upward, and thus he becomes open below; therefore cut the second quickly from your left through his lower leg before he realises it: that is the Hitter. After this he will be quick to rush upon you, therefore thirdly deliver a Defence Stroke from your right, so that you take out his incoming blade: that is the Taker.” (2.67v2)

Note: the actions need not always follow the provoker – taker – hitter sequence. In this case, the hitter comes directly after the provoker and the taker is used to ensure you can safely withdraw from danger.

This schema provides a clear insight into Meyer’s thinking about how to approach the fight. Once you can recognise the actions, you can see them in close to every example his gives in his book. It also corresponds to the modern Olympic fencing notion of second (and third) intention attacks and period ideas of the feint.

The downside, of course, is that you need to make the provoker sufficiently tempting that your opponent takes the bait. Personally, I don’t like the idea of my success in a bout relying on the other guy making a mistake.