The Good, the Bad and the other one…

Home/Articles/The Good, the Bad and the other one…
The Good, the Bad and the other one… 2015-06-04T13:38:09+00:00

Or, how to lose a swordfight with style…

When formally practising or demonstrating any set technique (as opposed to freeplay), there has to be a winner, who does the technique correctly and a loser, who gives the correct opening for the technique or who launches the unsuccessful attack that is parried (and possible hit during a counter).

In most fencing treatises, these roles have set names or means of identification. In Thibault, the winner is Alexander, who always beats Zachary; In Fabris, “our fencer” defeats “his enemy”; In Alfieri, the fighters are simple referred to by number; In Marozzo, you win, your enemy loses. In addition, we can refer to the agent, who makes the first action and the patient, who waits for his opponent to move first. In the rest of this text, I will use Alfieri’s convention, gentleman I and gentleman II. Of course, gentleman I, won!

Each technique only works in a certain context, so the role of the gentleman II is very important to allow the other person to practise. Gentleman II must provide enough challenge that his partner has to perform the techniques correctly, but cannot take advantage of the fact the he knows what is coming to defend himself. The imagined situation must be real enough that there is a clear reason why gentleman I gains the advantage and not just that gentleman II is letting himself be hit.

These roles are especially important in Marozzo, where the techniques are put together in a sequence to form a play. The role of gentleman I is usually well defined, as they are the actual techniques being taught. However, gentleman II’s actions are less clear. The key attacks are given, but not what to do when gentleman I attacks back.

Therefore, the question is “how can we create a realistic set of actions for gentleman II, that keep the flow of the play but ultimately lead to gentleman I winning?”

To do this, I want to examine the motivations of our two fighters and look at the play as a whole fight. Indeed, I want to think of the play as exactly that – a play – with scenes and characters telling a dramatic tale of a vicious fight, leading to one eventual victor.

So let us examine the characters for our play.

Watch any sword-movie and you will notice that the combatants can be described using just two characteristics: level of skill and desire to fight. You can also often define the “good guys” and the “bad guys”.

Our first character is a Rookie. He has huge energy and desire to fight, but limited skill. Examples for the good guys might be a young D’Artangnan, a young Obi-Wan, or Luke Skywalker in ‘Empire’. Examples for the bad guys might include your average cardinal’s guard. Rookies on the bad guys’ side might be termed henchmen.

Our second character is the opposite of a rookie and he is the veteran. The veteran has a high level of skill, gained through years of experience, but has lost the desire to fight. For the good guys: old Obi-Wan, Athos. For the bad guys… well, none! The bad guys are all dead before they make veteran. (Vader is possibly one of the most ‘veteran’ bad guys.)

Our final character is the hero or the villain. He has skills and is keen to use them. Examples would include mature D’Artangnan, Luke in ‘Jedi’, Obi-Wan in episode II/III, Batman, Zorro, Darth Maul, Ricardo Montero (Zorro’s nemesis), Cpt Rochefort etc.

So let us see how these characters fit into our play.

Gentleman I is almost always a hero. He should be skilled, can be agent or patient, and ultimately, will win the fight. Occasionally, if gentleman I is patient, he can be a veteran, waiting for the right moment to dispatch his young adversary with the perfectly timed blow.

Gentleman II is more interesting, as he can take on any of the roles and even a mix of several. Which role he is playing will determine how he fills in the gaps between the set techniques and what ultimately leads to his downfall.

The most likely role for gentleman II is the henchman – keen to fight, but not as skilled as gentleman I (hence why he loses). He may well be agent, attacking a lot, falling for every invitation or feint and not really parrying the counter attacks.

To try to put this in to context, I will describe Marozzo’s first form for sword and buckler using several different combinations of characters. Hopefully you will see how this changes the fight and how it leads to different forms of training from the same few moves. (Note: in this draft I am assuming some familiarity with the form and so I have abbreviated the names of the techniques.)

Fight 1: Master (hero) vs Student (rookie) (Master showing the student the error in certain techniques and how to cover with the buckler)

GI in g. alta, GII in g. alta, both still and elegant

GI cuts m. sq. to buckler, and slips back to g. alta

GII takes the opportunity to launch a r. sq. to GI’s head

GI parries with a r. sq. and immediately follows up with a stoc.

GII, having thrown the r. sq. is lying spent – he may try to withdraw his front foot but does not parry. The stoc. Should be fast enough that he cannot parry and GI controls GII’s weapon with his buckler.

GI advances two steps with tram.

AT THE SAME TIME GII retreats and tries to cut r. which GI parries with buckler.

GII tries to void left and throw another r. at GI’s head.

GI parries g. d. t. and counters with the traverse/low m. and r. sq.

GII may try to cut r. again, which GI controls with his buckler.

Finish.

The whole form is quite slow, with several pauses to show the technique. GII keeps trying to attack, but does not cover himself correctly. GI covers with the buckler while countering and thus is successful.

Fight 2: Student (hero) vs Master (veteran) (Master forcing the student to riposte quickly and find the openings.)

GI in g. alta, GII in g. alta, both still and elegant

GI cuts m. sq. to buckler, and slips back to g. alta

GII takes the opportunity to launch a r. sq. to GI’s head

GI parries with a r. sq. and immediately follows up with a stoc.

GII, having thrown the r. sq. tries to withdraw and parry with buckler.

If stoc. misses, GI pursues two steps with tram.

AT THE SAME TIME GII retreats and tries to parry (true edge or false edge). GI must aim for the openings and use his pace to close down the space.

GII steps left and throws another r. at GI’s head.

GI parries g. d. t. and counters with the traverse/low m. and r. sq.

GII may try to parry again, which GI avoids.

Finish.

In this version, GII makes GI work for each hit, varying his response to meet the student’s level.

Fight 3: (Slightly smug) Hero vs Henchman

Alexander smirked as Zachary, the disposable red-shirted henchman, edged forwards. Our hero shifted his weight and smiled again as Zachary flinched away. He threw a half-hearted cut to Zachary’s buckler.  Nothing special, just enough to draw him out. Perfect. Zachary responded with an over-committed roverso that Alexander easily parried. He could barely contain his contempt as he casually thrust Zachary through the shoulder. Zachary staggered back, desperately trying to parry the blows that were raining down on him. But, with his sword arm still recovering from the thrust, he could only swat at the cuts with his buckler. Alexander checked his pursuit to parry the wild blow aimed at his head, the last defiant act of a doomed man, and quickly cut Zachary’s leg from under him. With a swift step and one final cut, this fight was over. One down, three to go…

Fight 3 uses the same techniques and same basic characters as fight 1, but has a very different feel as gentleman I and gentleman II play out their roles.

I could give several more examples of the interplay between characters in the form. However, I think, for now, I will leave you to create your own stories.

The key is that, in any set play, there should be no lazy techniques. Every move must have a context and a purpose – you can do a technique that is not ‘perfect’ if it is done for a valid reason and fits the character of the play. Gentleman II’s role is to push gentleman I to perform the techniques correctly, but he should also take the opportunity to practice as much as possible. Understanding your character and role in the play will help you to fill in the gaps in an appropriate manner.