Companion class 14/02/11

Tonight, as promised, I adressed breaking the guards.  The problem with this whole concept is that for it to be truly effective, there’s a whole lot of theoretical baggage that needs to be downloaded by the students first, so I plunged into that headlong, with the hopes that they would have a better tactical understanding of the guards, their uses, and how to use them to good effect, rather than simply using them haphazardly.

There are twelve canonical guards illustrated by Fiore, with relationships defined between them.  Despite this number, there are actually several more, since many of them are symmetrical.  Posta di finestra, for instance, is only shown on the right – although it can be used to good effect on the left as well.  If we only count the twelve poste, and assume that each one can conceivably oppose any other, this leaves us with at least 144 combinations, symmetry notwithstanding.  Understanding then the tactical use of each guard, and how it can be used to oppose or break the others’ guard is half the battle.

To begin, try and group them by purpose or tactical similarity.  This lowers the number of options you have to deal with.  Point-on guards all have similar tactical uses, so we can safely group finestra, longa, porta di ferro mezana, bicorno and breve together.  All threaten with the point, forcing the opponent to deal with it.  Porta di ferro mezana is essentially posta longa with the point low, keeping it refused and out of engagement range.
The pulsativa guards, tutta porta di ferro and posta di donna are, for all intents and purposes the same guard.  What?! you say?  Yup.  Both can do everything the other can, and oppose one another handily.

This leaves us pretty much posta frontale, which really is a transitional position, and is used defensively.
First: similar guards oppose one another.  Posta di donna opposes posta di donna, tutta porta di ferro opposes itself, and so forth.  This is tempered by the length of the sword (another way to express reach) when it comes to the point-on guards, where we are told the longest reach offends first.

Taking what Fiore then says: Posta di donna breaks all the guards.  Since it is functionally similar, so does tutta porta di ferro.

So, if we believe Fiore and most fencing masters since, “breaking” a guard is simply a way of saying you should assume a guard that gives you an advantageous position in relation to your opponent, forcing him to move out of it or remain vulnerable.  Right posta di donna versus left is an example.  The person on the defensive often feels at a marked disadvantage, although you might assume this guard on purpose to seek a strategic advantage.

There is, however, another way to break a guard, and that is by initiating an attack or feint that forces the opponent to move out of the guard to meet the perceived threat.  If you attack someone threatening you from posta di finestra, for instance, to the head on the left side of their head, he will be forced to move out of his guard, and you can now work to attack the opening line instead.  *You must be prepared* for this, knowingly opening the line as a first-intention action, then moving to another second-intention action in response.  Be prepared for your opponent’s response, and remember to reduce your choices by figuring out what his most likely response will be.

Finally, a note on longa and breaking guards: Longa is a special case, in that it is the onbly guard that actively occupies the centerline.  You have no choice but to deal with the point to enter.  Otherwise, he will track you and stab you.  With finestra, you can attack an opening.  Ditto for porta di ferro mezana and breve.  Longa has no such vulnerability.  You may, however, engage the point to get passed it, which is its weakness.  In short, you can’t use an attack to create an opening versus longa – you have to physically displace the guard.
Since it seems I’m waxing on and on about breaking guards, but having trouble putting coherent thoughts together on a page, I’ll just move on to the exercises we did.

  1. Player assumes a guard, companion assumes a guard he thinks will counter it.  5 minutes.
  2. Player assumes a guard, companion assumes a guard he thinks will counter it.  The focus is on quick, smooth transitions.  If the Player sees any hesitation, he is to attack, given the tempo to do so.
  3. Player assumes a guard, Companion assumes a guard he thinks will counter it.  Again, if there is hesitation, smack him.  Once the guards have been assumed, the Player attacks, testing each of their positions in terms of tactical viability and looking for the strengths and weaknesses of each guard.
  4. The Player assumes a guard, the Companion attempts to break the guard using an offensive action, forcing them out of their guard and emplying a second-intention action.
In the end, you need to be comfortable from all the guards, and know the inherent weaknesses of each versus other guards.  Because in truth, you will get caught out of an advantageous position, and that’s when the opponent will strike.  You can’t always break their guard, nor oppose it favorably, but knowing the guards will help you be a better fencer, and allow you to make better tactical choices.