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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!

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