This was the last in our series of introductory spear classes, so I took this opportunity to introduce the formal dei Liberi spear plays, of which there are few, in actuality. I was slightly pressed for time, since I wanted to get through it to allow some of our people who need to leave early a chance to bout a little bit. Owing to this, I skipped the spear poste dance, and got straight to the nitty-gritty.
Actually, we began with just a quick recap of the past weeks’ classes – a couple of exercises involving inside and outside parries before moving into the canonical material.
Before going any further, let me simply say this about dei Liberi’s spear material: while the plays in and of themselves are few, the rest of the method for wielding it can be amply sourced in the armoured sword and pollaxe material.
First up were the poste, of which there are three on the right: tutta porta di ferro, porta di ferro mezana and posta di finestra. The left side has dente di zenghiar, posta di vera croce and posta di finestra as well.
With this bit out of the way, we practised the scambiar di punta on the right, then on the left. Advanced students were reminded how the play from the left utilises the same principles as the universal parry – rising into a descending thrust.
Last was the counter: the butt strike. This is performed with a rising blow under the arm to displace the spear, followed by a thrust to the face with the butt. Since the goal was not so much perfection of technique, but an introduction to the tactical framework involved, I didn’t harp too much on mechanics. That said, most students had serious measure issues. Rather than remaining in spear measure and using the length of the weapon in the counter, people stepped aggressively into measure and tried to butt with the four inches of butt protruding out from their hand. Aside from being a weak blow, it simply doesn’t make use of the tactical advantage offered by the spear. On the bright side, it means I still have work!
In fact, measure was *the* major issue throughout the spear portion of the curriculum. For most, it was brought about by their too-wide grip on the spear, which brings them closer to their opponent due to a psychological trap. Most people seem to want to fence with their spear tips touching, or just within reach of one another. Aside from the obvious tactical implications of this that allow your opponent to gain control over your weapon before even initiating an attack, it makes you close distance, since when your grip is spaced wide, the point is more drawn back, which brings you closer to keep your tip in contact. This became clear when students were having trouble performing a thrust to one line, withdrawing, then thrusting to another line. They got “jammed” up, and couldn’t change lines adequately. there were some other issues going on as well, but that was a major component – one that we will need to work on next time. Again, I didn’t harp too much on this and let them discover the problems on their own, since the goal, pedagogically speaking, was to instil the mechanics of the attacks, the various parries and point control. We’ll go into more depth in another round of spear in the new year.
After a quick stop for some water, we suited up for some loose play with the spear. Pedagogical goals were simple: try to put into practice what you’ve learned; form an introduction to controlled bouting in a limited environment; make use of the spear’s length and practice point control; have fun. The rules reflected this: no butt strikes (for safety reasons more than anything else – an uncontrolled butt strike could knock someone silly with a fencing mask, and since there are quite a few newbies, this is a real risk), no grappling (stay in spear measure and control measure, practice you point placement), and first blow counts for three points in a five point bout. This last one emphasises the importance of initiative and the first blow, as well as properly defending to prevent starting down 3 points.
The bouting was spirited and fun, with again some fine displays by students. Part way through, I decided it was time to play “king of the hill”, so the winner got to stay in the centre. Sébastien put on a fine display, and finally ceded his place because of exhaustion! Kudos to everyone else as well, well done.
Bouting was followed by the inevitable pub visit, where we enjoyed fine company among friends and companions in arms. I thank you all once again for your company and your confidence in me.