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Thibault – Chapter 6

On Attacks and Counters In the Straight Line

Zachary, in the preceding chapter, saw how easy it was for Alexander to defend the simple attacks at First Instance. He asks Alexander to give him those attacks so that he can practice. Alexander, being a jerk, tries to win the drill by introducing the subjection, to which Zachary responds with a variety of “oh my god, you have your SWORD in my FACE” reactions.

Circle 1-3 are the subjection. I think it is important that he specifies that at the end of 3 Alexander stops with the sword at Zachary’s face, and reserves the option to proceed through the estocade with vigor. Zachary, seeing the sword point pause in front of his face, parries with different degrees of strength to the inside, leading us to Circles 4, 8 and 9.

Circle 4 is the case where there’s just enough pressure to move Alexander’s sword away. Alexander pretty well already has his sword in the right place to respond, by bringing his left side in and turning his outside quillion up. Note that this is not a curved thrust to Zachary’s left side, but rather going with the pressure but still presenting the point to Zachary’s face, stopping without continuing the thrust. Zachary parries out further, and the actions flows into Circles 5 and 6/7.

If (as shown in 8 and 9), Zachary parries the initial estocade more strongly across, Alexander needs to change his direction of motion back to the center of the circle, rather than tracking along the diagonal. In order to do this, he brings his left foot up to his right, does a little weight change and steps back to the center with his right. In the end, he still winds up with his sword curved around and pointing at Zachary, but his feet are in a totally different place to 4. Again, Zachary does not like having the point in his face, so pushes it away, and we flow into Circles 10-13.

The text actually refers to Alexander’s footwork during this as a demi-fleuret, but we believe this is more a description of the required rhythm and an indication that it’s a close gather step, not a particular footwork technique.

In the initial subjection action as Alexander is proceeding to the estocade, he steps toward his destination on the inscribed square with his right foot and brings the left up to finish in the straight line at third instance. His direction of motion, and the way his body is facing, is along that angled line past Zachary’s left side. In order to get to where he needs to be for Circle 8 and 9, the direction of motion changes 45º back toward the diameter. Given that Zachary parries as Alexander’s right foot lands, Alexander can then change direction by putting his left foot down near the right, stepping back toward the center with his right, and allowing the left to follow.

Returning to the sequence of 8/9 through 10-13, Thibault specifically calls out the trick of moving from 10 to 11 – as Zachary detaches to come back at Alexander’s face, Alexander must follow the sword rather than letting it go. If Zachary does not detach, Alexander is free to release his sword and cut Zachary across the face.

There are two important things about the drills in this chapter. First is that Zachary is not stepping or changing his feet, other than in circle 7. Second is that all of Zachary’s responses occur when Alexander has presented his point with courtesy at the “end” of the subjection. Alexander smoothly works with the weight of the parry to counter, making comfortable steps to keep the point on line, rather than trying to curve around the parry.

Thibault’s own postscript on the chapter emphasises something different, namely that to think about attacking someone in the straight line, first you need to move safely past the sword. Despite the importance of the specific drills in the chapter in themselves, he’s interested in how Alexander can safely enter against Zachary:

…when the enemy holds himself in the straight line, it is necessary to come closer to him in order to put him in danger; but to do so with assurance requires also a good foot and a good eye. And I believe firmly that neither quickness of body nor promptness of arm are to be prized more than a good approach.

Two-factor in the middle of the night

Wherever possible I have been enabling two-factor authentication and similar protections. Not that I am paranoid, it’s just that I am paranoid. One of these I have had in play for a long time is protection on my Google account. So it’s somewhat comforting to get an unexpected SMS message from Google in the middle of the night sending me an unexpected authorisation code. Because it means whoever just tried to access my account could not.

Lock your doors people. A simple username and password combination, particularly on anything critical, is effectively useless.

Thibault – Chapter 5

On Attacks at the First Instance, and Feints

This is the first chapter where Thibault leaves off his purely theoretical discussion and begins actual paired exercises. Poor Zachary comes off rather the worse for wear here, as he launches a variety of simple thrusts straight down the diameter (with one exception) from the first instance i.e. the distance he minutely detailed in the previous chapter. At least part of the point of this chapter is to setup the reasons for the actions and plays in the next chapter, as well as illustrate that the straight line is sufficient preparation and fortification against these attacks. Having said that though, to use his own words:

…fortified against all manner of feints, assured against all attacks…always making the (counter) with small movements, which have more force than showiness, and making the execution with as much force and assurance as possible, in opposition to common practice. If you say to me that it is not likely that anyone may easily reach such perfection in demonstrating all these effects, I answer that nothing commendable can ordinarily be acquired without great labour.

The chapter begins with a discourse on four types of feints, equating to four distances. He then says to ignore all this until Chapter 27, advising the neophyte student to treat it as theory for the time being because “you cannot fly without wings”. It feels to me that the main reason for this discourse at this point in the book is to ensure that Zachary understands the distance for the second feint, as all the plays in the chapter begin with this feint followed by cutting under the sword to the other side for the attack.

The four distances are:

  1. the body moves a little to suggest the attack, but the point does not pass your cross guard;
  2. the point reaches to your wrist;
  3. the point reaches the middle of your forearm;
  4. the point reaches your elbow.

And the responses to these are:

  1. ignore it;
  2. raise your point a little on the side of the feint and cover “with a little superiority”;
  3. as for 2, but raise your right foot in preparation to step if required;
  4. hit him in the face with a little step along the diameter.

There are four different plays in this chapter, each with some variations on either the attack or the response, or both. Before I dive into them though, I want to use this opportunity to caution the reader against relying just on the illustrations to understand the actions. Not only is the text significant in it’s detail, mostly the postures in the illustrations are showing the end of a motion, or at best a point part way through a motion, and there is critical information in the text about how to carry out the motion to keep yourself safe

Indeed, this chapter implicitly details one of the prime tenets of Thibault’s style: first assure your safety, and then strike while maintaining your safety. While this is common to other writers as well, I feel that Thibault’s thinking is particularly sound in considering how in a given situation the opponent may be able to move his sword to wound you, after his initial action, and covering his sword in such a fashion as to prevent that.

The first two are quite straight forward: Zachary feints to the second distance, then cuts under Alexander’s sword to thrust on the other side. Figures 1 and 2 show a thrust to the inside, while 4 and 5 show the corresponding thrust to the outside. These pairs of actions are also used to show the “arrest with courtesy”, followed by the committed thrust.

I have seen the the “arrest with courtesy” interpreted as just a courtesy for play. It is true that you can stop just in front of the face rather than thrusting through it, which comes in handy during courteous play, but there is more significance to it. This is a distinct beat where you have either hit your opponent in the face, or stopped just in front of the face, and make a judgement about your safety before ramming the sword right through. It’s about giving yourself the opportunity to ask “did my defence just work” before moving into a place of considerable danger.

The committed thrust in these two plays is quite interesting and important as well, because you can grasp one on of the reasons for the sword being held with the cross horizontal rather than vertical – as you ram the sword through, his sword becomes trapped by the cross so you can safely carry it away from yourself. He also talks a little about raising the outside or inside arm of the cross a little during the feint to help cover the opponent’s blade

Figure 3 shows a feint of the fourth kind to the inside, with the response being to move in the time of the feint to hit Zachary in the face. A corresponding action to the outside is not shown, but the response should be similar. As expected, the action in this play needs to happen during the time of Zachary’s motion, although Thibault emphasises that the action is during the feint, not during the attack as it is in the preceding plays.

Before leaving the feint and thrust to the high line, figures 6, 7 and 8 show a variation to the attack on the outside line by Zachary, where the thrust is curved around rather than being a simple linear thrust. When practicing this play, note that Zachary is still moving down the diameter, even though his sword leaves that line – if Zachary steps off to his left during this play, the response needs to be different to what is shown.

While it looks complicated, the response here is actually fairly simple – Alexander steps forward along the diameter with his left foot, which turns his body, and as he does so he brings his and down and point up to cover Zachary’s sword. If he reaches a place inside and is safe, he then brings his sword down and pokes Zachary in the chest.

The final plays show Zachary attempting to thrust to Alexander’s belly after a feint to the outside, rather than to the shoulder or face. The plays vary according to how high Zachary’s hand is relative to his body as he performs the thrust. In the Figure 9 his hand remains in the same place relative to the shoulder that it is during the straight line posture – if you can think of being in the straight line posture, and bending forward a little at the waist without moving your arm at all, you get the right shape. In this instance, Alexander perceives that Zachary’s shoulder is available, and so reaches out to touch it. Figure 10 shows the continuation – having assured himself of his safety, Alexander drops his hilt on top of Zachary’s sword, and runs up it, forcing the arm and sword down into the acute angle.

When we worked through this initially, the obvious question arose: why does Alexander hit Zachary’s right shoulder, instead of his face? Trial and error gave the answer, although it is not spelled out in the text – if Alexander tries to reach Zachary’s face, Zachary can still hit him in the belly, and you have two dead idiots.

Figure 11 shows the variation where Zachary, fairly sensibly, raises his hand a little to cover his shoulder during the thrust. This shortens the line sufficiently that now Alexander can safely reach the face. There’s no corresponding illustration of the continuation of Alexander’s action, as it’s essentially the same as Figure 10.

Figure 12 is the final variation, where Zachary raises his hand during the thrust high enough to cover his face. The response here is significantly different, and it is a little hard to see what is happening. If you look at the shadows of the swords, you will observe that Alexander’s sword forms a strong cross over Zachary’s, with both swords touching at about the middle. Alexander has also withdrawn his arm somewhat to allow this action. The overall action is similar to the subjection that is shown in the next chapter, although not clearly called out as such. Having got this cross, and assured himself of safety, Alexander continues in Figure 13 to subject the sword, and pushes the thrust strongly through, catching the sword in the cross again.

A final word around practicing these plays: it can be a common failing during paired drills for the “losing” partner to not be as actively involved as the “winning” partner. That very much breaks these drills, as Alexander’s responses are related to very specific pressures and angles from Zachary. Some of the initial chapters of Thibault may appear as though they are not “practical”, they rely on quite artificial attacks – after all, who just pushes down the straight diameter on an attack (other than all the times you do it during sparring, because you are over-excited)? The point of these chapters is to demonstrate very specific fundamental technical points, and to drill very specific foundational responses, without which later actions cannot be carried out successfully.

So please, Zachary, give a good feint, and a good thrust, with attention to maintaining the required line of the attack! You get to swap with Alexander and hit her in the face next!

If it looks like a Duck

Wikipedia has a good article on the probable source of what is now known as the Duck Test

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.

In recent weeks, in light of what is happening in the US, and the direction various European states are moving, I was going to write a rant about using “Nazi” as a short hand descriptor. But I won’t.

Until recently, I was never particularly comfortable with any modern reactionary being labelled as a “Nazi”. Even “neo-Nazi” is something I was not keen on. My reasoning behind this is a little circuitous, and I know that some folk won’t agree with me, so bear with me a little. Over my lifetime I have seen a change in the way that “Nazis” were presented in popular western culture, and how they are present in the zeitgeist. Going back to the 70’s, I recall that we started to see movies (other than movies about WW2) where villains were identified as Nazis – I am thinking of things like Marathon Man and The Boys From Brazil, where the villain was a remnant representive of an ancient and terrible evil. Fast forward to the 80’s, and we see a more light-hearted and comic-book evil in Raiders Of The Lost Ark, or the 90’s with Doom and other video games where Nazis have transformed into “abstract Bad Guys”. Most presentations of Nazis in popular culture now are as arbitrary mooks that nobody can object to seeing punched, shot, or bombed.

This is not a new idea of mine, if you dig around you will find far better analyses of this process of abstraction, and indeed trivialisation. I encourage you to do so. So until recently, I would rather that real-world current evil bastards not be labelled with something that has become a trivial insult. I would until recently have said “look, they are not actual Nazis, and you are using that label as a lazy short hand for evil bell ends who should be locked away on an island for our own safety

Except I can’t. Not any more. If it looks like a Nazi, salutes like a Nazi, marches like a Nazi, talks like a Nazi, I think we should treat it like a Nazi. Particularly since it is evident that in the US there are significant numbers of people who are literally draping themselves with the symbology and styling of the historical Nazis.

So my plea to you now is: If you want to label someone as Nazi, please double check your reasons for doing so. We owe it to the people who fought the Nazis last time around to take the label seriously. Mostly for myself I will be trying to use “racist arsehole”, “nationalistic bell-end” and “evil twat”, because I do not want to award these pricks with any of the weight that the very specific historical name carries.

Thibault – Interlude and context

A brief interlude resulting from a conversation over rather a nice stout, while we explore Chapter 5 with sword in hand. It is worth thinking about the context for Thibault’s life. Think about some of the other people and masters:

Who Birth Death
Thibault 1574 1627
Narvaez 157? 1640
Fabris 1544 1618
Giganti 155? 1622
Swetnam ???? 1621
Carranza 1539 1600
Shakespeare 1564 1616
Ben Jonson 1572 1637
Elizabeth I 1558 1603

It is also worth noting that he was roughly contemporaneous with Luis Díaz de Viedma, who we have been looking at with LLA in recent months.

His late life is framed against the Thirty Years War, and the years when he was (probably) studying La Verdadera Destreza saw the publication of Don Quixote, Guy Fawkes’ adventure underneath Parliament, the establishment of the Jamestown, Virginia, and the Dutch East India company beginning to trade.

It is far too easy, and common, for you and I, the modern reader, to view a historical individual or event as a discrete and disconnected entity, forgetting or not observing what is contemporaneous. Take 1969 for example: Nixon became POTUS, Armstrong stepped onto the moon, the Beatles are photographed crossing Abbey Road, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus began to be broadcast.

The cultural milieu of Thibault needs to be taken into account – what is the context of sword play? What contemporary and near-contemporary masters influenced him? What sort of people would have he been teaching, and why? There are direct clues to some of this in his book, even the simple differentiation between “arresting with courtesy”, a thrust, and ramming it through the opponent’s eye suggests the student will be playing, but may expect to be fighting in earnest.

Some entirely context-less links for your additional consideration:

Henry VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2

The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.

I’ve heard back from my contact at Blue Point regarding the defunct electric car chargers. On 4th of August I was assured by Berkeley’s “Head of Estates” that matters were going to be soon resolved, and that a quick trip through Legal would see it all sorted. The ball is still in Berkeley’s court, and appears to have been left to lie. Because Brexit. Or Trump. Or the wrong sort of rain. Or something.

It is now 280 days since we first lodged a formal report of these units being dead, and I know they were dead for at least 6 months prior to that. That is 9 months and 6 days. Had the date of our first formal contact been the date of an imagined conception, then mother and child would now be safely at home and posting cute pictures to Facebook. I do hope that these units can be repaired before this imagined child is taking it’s first steps, or indeed entering school.

I am left with the inescapable and pervasive sense that Berkeley group would prefer to appear to be taking action on community facilities and environmentally sound improvements rather than actually taking action.

Thibault – Chapter Four

On The Posture Of The Straight Line

This is a somewhat clunky chapter, needing to be partly read with Chapter 3, and suggesting that a good editor would have helped with the structure at this point. There are three distinct sections in this chapter that are not entirely related but also not quite separate enough to warrant their own chapters.

The first section explains what is going on with Alexander in Chapter 3, explaining and finishing the partially complete actions that are carried forward to meet Zachary at first instance. First there is a movement forward that brings the sword up from beneath to meet Zachary in the straight line at first instance, reaching the hilt, with the sword finishing parallel and below. Next are two examples where Zachary is in the oblique angle, meeting him both inside and outside the arm. Finally there is an example where Alexander moves forward without leading with the blade to meet the straight line, which is ill-advised.

This is the first example, by the way, of Thibault showing something in some detail, and then saying “don’t do this”. While it’s a generally accepted best practice in teaching to not show students the wrong way, Thibault’s practice is to explain why an action is wrong, and I suspect that this was a practical exercise in his teaching.

He discusses briefly why the obtuse angle is powerful, using standard Destreza theory of it providing for a strong natural angle, and emphasises that if Zachary is in the obtuse, Alexander must meet him in the obtuse so as not to give away an advantage.

The second part of this chapter is a discourse on the value of the straight line, and is a very important statement of the key parts of his method. There is an explicit exhortation to understand what is going on with the straight line because it is the key to everything else he discusses, and he does admit that the student will initially find it tiring and uncomfortable, because we seldom stand with our arm extended that way carrying a weight.

Thibault also is adamant that it is important to understand that while the book’s exercises are performed with Alexander waiting in the straight line, this is for the purposes of learning, not for fighting:

…when one’s life is at stake, there is no guard, high or low, long or short, no posture of the body and no way of holding the sword, which is qualified by all possible advantages, and in which one ought to stop to await the attack. It is true that this book is full of postures of the straight line, but this is only for the sake of instruction. When it comes to practice, I would have our student abandon all this…let him continue always to move, using a free and natural pace, toward one or the other of the two sides, avoiding above all the line of the diameter where the body of the enemy is drawn up…as soon as he comes into measure, let him assure himself of his opponent’s sword, by attacking it to subject it, or by binding it, or by covering it, or by carrying out an estocade of first intention along it, if this is convenient…

I strongly recommend reading this section of the chapter, if nothing else, as he makes a very reasoned argument about the mechanics and geometry of the straight line posture being a very sound defensive posture. My own poor experience compels me to agree with his arguments: I have found that if I consistently present the straight line posture along the diameter to my opponents, it is difficult for them to overcome without either throwing themselves onto the point of my sword, or opening themselves up considerably. (Of course, generally I fail to prevent a double hit, or take advantage of the opening, which is why younger, fitter and more skilled fencers regularly take me apart). Again, my experience has been that if my opponent is able to close distance while leaving the diameter, then it is game over for me, as the straight line becomes quite vulnerable under those circumstances. In this chapter Thibault answers to this somewhat, suggesting that Alexander needs to be dextrous and athletic to meet the threat. It’s encouraging that he’s thought a lot about the problem, but slightly less encouraging that part of the answer is “be faster”.

His discussion of the straight line posture emphasises that the foot position is quite different to what is common in “Italian” styles, and somewhat uncommon in Destreza practice, in that the right foot is not pointing toward the opponent along the diameter, but instead is more or less aligned with the curve of the notional circle on which it rests. In other words, there is a sense of standing side-on to your opponent, as though preparing to stroll clockwise around the shared circle. It is important for Thibault’s practice that this positioning of the feet and structure of the body is a simple, natural, standing posture.

This cannot be stressed enough: if you are not working your practice from the straight line with a strongly profiled posture, with your weight simply and naturally evenly distributed, and the sword held with the cross-guard horizontal, it is not Thibault.

It is here that he admits that this posture can be tiring and confronting if you are not used to it, which I agree with completely: particularly in the modern world we are not used to just standing upright and carrying a weight in the extended arm. I am still struggling with a way to visualise this, and to strengthen the posture, with limited success so far. I have two thoughts that seem to work for me, but your experience may be different. First I think that the arm and head posture are essentially what you get if you stand upright and simply point at something directly to your right with an extended arm – anyone can do that! The trouble is that we don’t do that for any length of time, and the body structure we use for it is generally wrong: the thing that I observe when people try to do this (and I do it myself as I tire) is that their shoulder rises up around their right ear, and then the wrist cocks downward, leaving the sword point lower than the hilt.

I don’t know enough physiology to understand why this happens, although it feels like we are using the wrong muscles to lift the arm. One suggestion that I’ve had from people who do a lot of archery is to use the muscles in the back to support and position the arm, rather than the muscles of the shoulder. That sounds a bit cryptic, but if you could imagine tearing your shirt off, Hulk style, with a manly roar to expose your manly chest, then you should feel the muscles of your back engaging to lift the arm, rather than the shoulder.

The chapter finishes with a brief discussion on the First Instance, and one of the only descriptions of how to deal with swords of different lengths. There is a simple recipe: if their sword is longer than yours, first instance is where they can just reach the cross of your sword. If their sword is shorter than yours, first instance is where you can just reach their cross.

I will leave you with Thibault’s own closing words:

I know well that we have several times repeated some points, but the utility of the subject will be our excuse, considering that a matter of such great importance deserves to be treated exactly; it being expedient to arrest to contemplation of the reader, on order to imitate in this way the avaricious, who lend their money for long terms, in order to receive it back with double interest.

Thibault – Chapter Three

On The Correct Way of Drawing The Sword and Entering Into Measure

This is the first chapter where Thibault has the student doing something with the sword, and falls neatly into the natural progression of learning. Interestingly this is one of the few places where he talks about making it work on the street – his justification for learning how to draw the sword is so that the student becomes comfortable with the action so that it comes naturally when required.

In addition to explaining the draw, this is the first time where he works through the action as distinct steps linked to particular images, using four images or steps for drawing while moving forward, and for drawing while moving backward.

Working through this, I found it to be quite a comfortable action moving forward (and somewhat less so moving back although this should improve with practice), that naturally leaves the fencer able to freely move up to measure in the straight line. It is important to note that this action is not intended to leave the fencer at measure initially, but is performed out of measure.

One tricky thing about the draw is the initial grip:

…take your sword with the (right) hand, wrapping the index finger around the outside arm of the hilt, inside the guard.

The problem being to identify the ‘outside’ arm if the sword is in it’s hanger with the cross vertical – as this is the arm that ultimately winds up on the outside of the fencer, it is necessarily the arm that is at upward while in the hanger. This makes his succeeding step of closing the hand while drawing make more sense as well – the initial grip needs to be quite loose, as the palm is down at this time.

Thibault moves on to discuss how to step up to measure and into the straight line, although he leaves off detailed discussion of the straight line until the next chapter. This section initially describes the action purely from the point of view of Zachary, giving a comfortable and relaxed two steps up to measure leaving the sword to be presented naturally and smartly in the straight line. He also gives a way for the student to verify the final posture:

… if one wishes to examine the posture to see if a mistake has been made, all that is necessary is to extend the left arm similarly in a straight line to the rear at the same height. For if the posture is correct, the two arms and the sword will form a single line, and all the parts of the body will be so much at their ease that not one resents the position …

I found the descriptions of the corresponding actions from Alexander to be much more opaque, partly because he is calling forward to the next chapter, and partly because he is essentially asking the reader to imagine Zachary’s actions to which Alexander is responding.

My understanding of this is that Alexander’s action in Circle 1 corresponds to the stage of motion that Zachary has in Circle 3. In Circle 2 he is preparing to meet Zachary when he is an obtuse angle at measure. Circle 3 has Alexander responding to Zachary’s obtuse angle by presenting an acute angle with the left side forward. Finally in Circle 4 he is preparing to meet Zachary when he is in the straight line, in an action very similar to Circle 2.

It is important to note that the actions of Alexander are all happening out of measure, or in the moments before reaching measure, and Thibault says that the next part of the action (to be discussed in Chapter Three), is to come into the straight line at measure in the next action.

Thibault – Chapter 2

On Proportions

Having apparently dealt with the circle and proportions of the body completely in Chapter 1, Thibault returns to it in Chapter 2, in what feels to me l like a somewhat defensive inclusion outside his main thrust of teaching.

The chapter starts by restating the argument that the measuring stick for all fencing is the human body, but he then feels the need to defend it:

… seeing that this correspondence is so extremely great … perhaps someone will take occasion to suspect that we have accommodated the aforesaid figure to our fantasy, in order to get the desired proportions, rather than simply following the natural truth …

Next he takes up Albrecht Dürer’s Book of Human Proportions and attempts to overlay it on his diagram. Unsurprisingly, it is not a perfect match, and he criticises Dürer for being wrong where there is a mismatch.

And though I cannot say that our sums and Dürer’s are always in agreement, I nonetheless dare to affirm that where there is a disagreement, it is our circle which will settle the question, and correct the mistakes, which are hardly to be avoided by any spirit, however noble, or any judgement of proportions, however exact.

He also returns in more detail to discussions of the dimensions of his ideal sword, and includes detailed notes on how long the sword hanger and cincture need to be as well.

His concluding words in this chapter exemplify Rule Three:

…our way of carrying the sword is not only more convenient than the common one, but also wins the prize with regard to grace and beauty of proportion…beauty consists and reveals itself ordinarily in usefullness itself.

Thibault – Chapter 1

The Proportions of the Human Body, Related to the Figure of our Circle and to the Proper Length of the Sword

Chapter 1 is very dense, both with theory and the way that the theory is discussed, but has a number of key statements that need to be observed. It’s a pretty good illustration of his habit of stating something once, and expecting the student to remember it.

This chapter begins with a lengthy discussion about the ratios and proportions of the human body, calling back to Pythagoras, Plato, Vitruvius, Pliny, Hippocrates and the Bible as examples of previous proofs. This is a fairly typical way of constructing an argument at his time, where first the prior knowledge is laid out, and then the author’s own assertion posited as though another layer on top of the previous arguments. The truth of the argument can be tested because it has some logical connection to the previous arguments that have been accepted as true.

This is an interesting point to bear in mind. At the time that Thibault was writing, the philosophy and technique of Science was just being created, and his mode of argument is a melange of ancient and modern thinking: some of his argument is just an appeal to authority, and other parts of his argument are the presentation of a testable thesis. In this chapter he rather exhaustively discusses how to draw out his circle and squares, which is related to and derived from the proportions of the body, but he mentions that he shows the working out so that the reader can repeat his experiment and satisfy themselves of the truth, rather than relying purely on his authority.

The statement at the very end of the chapter exactly explains why he has demonstrated the geometries exhaustively, and excuses the student from having to understand all the maths:

It is true that we have gone into some detail… rather for the contentment of those who wish to examine our theory closely, than because these things are themselves necessary in the exercise. Beyond this, we have tried to put the whole so well in order that everyone will easily be able to distinguish the things necessary from practice from those which are only for theorists….

However this chapter does contain key assertions around the posture and gait that are crucial to his system. These include the rather obvious observation that the structure of the body is such that the legs are good for moving it around and making large movements, the arms and hands are good for small movements, and the hand is good for holding a weapon. I remain unsure whether in this he is merely restating “ancient wisdom” to support his other propositions, or whether he felt a need to emphasise this as a key underpinning of his style.

He does proceed from here to make a reasoned argument that the most efficient way to move is with a natural upright posture – and criticises other authors and fencers for using other postures – so his justification could be read either way. Another key assertion which he derives from the ratios of the body is that a natural walking pace both fits the geometry of the circle, and is sufficient for moving around it and traversing the diameters.

It is this chapter where he describes the First, Second and Third Instances, and works through the mathematics around them. Actions at these instances are dealt with exhaustively in subsequent chapters, and they are a particularly significant element of his style and theory:

  • First instance is at measure, where if standing upright in the straight line, the tips of your sword just reaches the hilt of the opponent’s, and a small inclination of the upper body allows you to touch their wrist;
  • Second instance is where you can just touch their elbow;
  • Third instance is where you can just touch their body.

He has a bit of a rant about the proper length and proportions of a sword, and includes the rather lovely observation that a sword of his proper length allows you to lean comfortably on the hilt. Within this rant is a restatement of the demonstration that the straight line gives the greatest reach (or distance from the opponent, if you wish to think of it that way) by pretty well cribbing the diagrams and explanation from La Destreza authors. Interestingly he does digress to briefly mention that shortening the line is not inherently bad, and is useful under certain circumstances.

In a somewhat Pythonesque manner (“not 2 numbers, not 3, nor 4 shalt thou divide the sword, but 12 numbers…”) he introduces the idea of dividing the blade into 12 parts along it, and gives a somewhat offhand discussion of graduation/degraduation and the forces on the blade. He returns to this at various times later, but this is one of the places that feels like he is assuming a pretty high level of previous knowledge on the part of the reader.

Finally, he makes a brief statement of one of the most distinctive features of his system, the grip, which has the cross held horizontally, thumb resting on the flat of the ricasso – in essence taking the standard grip and rotating it by 90 degrees along the axis of the blade.

It is absolutely necessary that all those who would make any study of our practice should hold the sword in this manner alone, and not in any other way; the more so, as on this alone depends the certainty of a good part of all the operations, and on it are founded the most noble feats of thrusting, drawing and defending. In all these, assurance is principally founded on the position of the cross, and on the force of the blade, held in the manner just described.