The past three weeks have seen the start of the new fall session, and accordingly, we’ve got some new blood, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and raring to get some swordy goodness. So we gave them swordy goodness.
Done as a series of intro classes, students were introduced to a couple of longsword poste, notably posta di donna, porta di fero mezana and posta frontale, with a couple others mixed in according to whatever position their cuts or actions took them. The onus wasn’t on learning a bunch of names for positions, simply on some basic actions we can tag names onto later, once they’ve assimilated the plays.
First class saw students go through a good half hour of cuts, some moulinets and strammazone, full and half fendente, and some sottani falso executed as “ribbon” cuts.
Following this was an introduction to a basic parry, so students could get the basic idea of how to form a parry (crossing of the opposing blade) and do so with proper form, beginning with a parry versus fendente mandritto. The parry is executed simply and efficiently, by keeping the hands close to the body, elbows tucked in for structure, and moving to a posta breve like position (it can also take a form more resembling posta frontale, depending on the height and angle of the cut – posta frontale and breve have a definite relationship, but that’s the subject of another post) to “cover” the sword. I have to acknowledge Devon Boorman’s pedagogy and terminology here, wherein he uses three “winnings” for a bind: edge alignment, leverage and “crossing” (essentially gaining an overbind). It doesn’t change much to how we actually execute techniques, but it’s a great tool for explaining the structure of a parry. So, thanks Devon!
Once the basic form of the parry was explained, students were let loose to practise. We followed up with the same basic parry versus cuts from all angles (fendente, mezani, sottani). Class ended. We went home.
Second class saw us do more cutting in a variety of angles, adding in some compound cuts. we then reviewed the basic parry before moving on to another technique: the collection.
Students saw what I like to call the “oh shit” parry: a collection in posta frontale. This is a point-up collection, offering little in the way of an immediate riposte, but is an effective and intuitive defence in all kinds of situations, and is useful for teaching blade sensitivity. You shouldn’t be hitting the opposing blade, but rather, “accepting” it and letting it slide to your cross. Salient points: cover your head, bringing the cross just high enough to cover it (generally to the eyes), keep your elbows tucked in to provide structure, keep the blade pointed slightly forward and up, and form a ramp towards your outside, keeping the blade away from your body. We practised from porto di ferro mezana, since it is intuitive and easy for beginners to come to posta frontale from this middle guard.
This was augmented with some follow-up techniques: a direct blow (fendente mandritto from the bind), since you have total control of your partner’s mezza spada on your tutta spada (hilt) as well as a volta stabile of the sword, to put the point online for a thrust. I pointed out that if the thrust fails, or measure is short, it can easily be changed to a slice or cut.
Again, class ended on a high note, we went home, and slept. Eventually. Or so I assume.
Finally, the third class saw more cuts, specifically all cuts from posta di donna (I’ll have to work in some thrusts next week…), and a review of the previous two weeks’ techniques (parry and posta frontale collection).
Continuing with the frontale theme, the next technique demonstrated was a beat against the sword. In short, striking the incoming blade to provide a sharp impulse against it. When performing this, one must once again remain behind the sword, and don’t overcommit your blow – end it in posta frontale or thereabouts, so that if the technique fails, you remain covered. Providing the impulse to the incoming attack proved tricky for some, so we’ll work more on that.
Finally, again remaining with the frontale theme, we did the rebatter from dente di cinghiale. I didn’t tell them it was dente di cinghiale, but I assure you, it certainly was. How tricky of me. As a pedagogical device, I refer to beats “in front” of the blade as just that: beats, while beats beneath the blade I refer to as deflections. Yes, striking the blade in whatever capacity is a beat (aka a forceful expulsion, but I’ll use expulsion for other actions… sigh…), but this helps students keep things straight and unmuddled in the brains. When I ask for a beat or a deflection, they’ll know of what I speak. Until I tell them they’re doing the first remedy master and the rebatter… I know. Glutton for punishment.
So, salient points on the deflection: move point first, get it into place, clear the blade forcefully, don’t overcommit, end no further than… you guessed it, posta frontale! Oh, and make sure you properly close the line, because the single most prevalent point of failure is to “shovel” the sword, letting the opposing blade through the pivot point of your own. Frontale. Fron. tal. e.
Class ended on a high note, with deflections all over the place (it’s a very dynamic play, and tons of fun to do) and we went home. See you next week.