A good swordsman must be able to handle a range of different opponents, and so must train to face lots of different styles of attack and defence. This is quite difficult to accomplish within a relatively small group of training partners, which is one of the reasons that it’s a good idea to travel a lot to fence new people, and one of the reasons why I encourage my students to attend tournaments even though they are not our focus of study. But travel is time consuming and expensive, so it helps to have ways to shake things up a bit at home. We addressed this problem in last Monday’s class, so I thought I’d write up my class notes for you here.
We started as always with a quick chat about goals; what were the students currently working on? The answers ranged from the moral:
- Win or lose, do it gracefully
To the general:
- Closing the line to avoid double hits
- Be more committed when attacking
- Maintaining flow and stability under pressure
To the really specific:
- Generate roverso attacks from my opponent onto my prepared parry-riposte.
I had them start with our favourite set-up: hold the field. In this set-up, one person holds the field and is attacked in turn by each other member of the class. When they have faced everybody, the next fencer takes their place, and they join the queue to attack. I left them completely free to attack and defend as they pleased. (You can read more about freeplay set-ups in the third instalment of The Swordsman's Quick Guide.)
I then pulled out a deck of Audatia cards (the Galeazzo deck, if you’re interested), and separated out the posta (guard) cards. I used these as a randomiser; the defender had to wait in whatever guard I pulled from the deck. Oh, and of course I took out their usual favourites. This forced the defender to act from a less familiar position, and also the attacker got some variety.
After a round of that, I let the defender choose freely, and took the strike cards (with all the mandritti fendenti cards removed, because why not?) and the attackers had to attack with whatever card I drew for them. This generated even more variety than the guard restriction, and forced the attackers to be much more imaginative.
On the third round I added in the stretto plays cards, and each person (attackers and defender) drew a card; whatever they got, they were supposed to generate the conditions in which they could strike using that action. Mandritto mezano, not so difficult to engineer. Soprana tor di spada? Much more so. Incidentally, as they were all wearing gauntlets, I drew for them, and reshuffled between each draw.
This round was very interesting, and made certain gaps in our training curriculum quite clear. Also, in this round, the fencers could come and choose a new random card at any time.
This was perhaps the most difficult round for them, so we broke up into pairs once everyone had held the field, and they worked on how to generate the necessary conditions for whatever action they were trying to accomplish in freeplay.
Then the last five minutes was spent in freeplay, with the fencers either just letting off some steam, or carefully trying to get the action they had been working on, to work.
This sort of training is really useful (they all agreed, in the after-action review), because not only does it force the individual fencer to change their game a bit and try something different, but it also creates much more variety in opponents, without having to find new people.
Of course, to win fencing matches, you should get very good at a few favourite moves, and then learn how to make other fencers give you the necessary conditions for your move. (What Harmenberg describes as your “Area of Excellence” in Epee 2.0 (that's an affiliate link, BTW).) But it is also true that anything you don’t train against you are vulnerable to. We tend not to attack with sottani blows, because they are less powerful and harder to close the line with than fendente blows; they are less perfect actions for attacking with. But if you never train against sottani attacks, you will get hit by them every time. This may be why Vadi explicitly tells us how to defend against them, but not how to attack with them. (See chapter XV of De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, or pp. 99-102 of Veni Vadi Vici, or here on the wiki, for details.)
This sort of practical, in the salle, sword in hand application is one of the main purposes of Audatia; if it couldn’t be used to train students, I wouldn’t have gone to the effort of producing it. And oh my lord, what an effort it has been. But it was totally worthwhile, because not only does it work, but it has made a small but fierce cohort of seriously dedicated players very happy. I was inspired to use the cards this week in particular by an amazing video, so I would like to dedicate this blog post to its creators, Carlos Loscertales, João “Sig” Gregório, and Paulo Peixoto. I cannot tell you how pleased it makes me to see my game getting this kind of fan feedback.