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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Blade Length in La Verdadera Destreza (Part 2 of 2)

Hello again,

This is part 2 of this post.  The first part dealt with the historical context of blade length and how I personally selected the blade size I use. That post is located here: Blade Length in La Verdadera Destreza Part 1

Part 2 of the post focuses on my insights around how blade length and distance in La Verdadera Destreza (LVD) affect the major techniques and concepts used in this Spanish style of fencing.  

Some of this post will require previous a knowledge of the concept of Atajo as well as the 4 general techniques.  If you need more information on the 4 generals, I made a post on them here: Simplicity and Complexity in the 4 Generals

If you want a tutorial in them or more information on what an atajo is, I always suggest people begin with Puck and Mary Curtis' work "From the Page to the Practice".  It is contained in the anthology "In the Service of Mars, Vol. 2" .  That book can be purchased here: In Service of Mars, Vol. II 

How Blade Length Influences LVD Techniques:

In my first post I described how I use a relatively larger blade (45 inches), but due to my being 6 feet 5 inches tall it is in fact proportional to my body in regards to period measurement techniques.  In this post I will be discussing the length of the blade and its affects on LVD fencing techniques regardless of the size of the fencer using it.

I will say that I agree with Pacheco in some ways about how a longer blade does have a number of weaknesses.  I do not agree with him when he seems to say that there is nothing but weakness and vanity in the larger blade, although due to my size I have never fought with one that would be disproportionately long. I fall much more strongly into the Thibault philosophy that each length has its strengths and there are situations where each is appropriate.   I firmly believe it is the Diestro's job to understand those and shape his utilization of the techniques around his weapon and his own strengths, all while being aware of the weaknesses and trying to minimize them.

My conversation with my friend Lupold started around the 4 generals and distance, but my thoughts on it after practice went a bit further.  You can find an awesome post that Lupold made regarding this and other material here: "Relating Italian Tempo and Spanish Distance".

The insights I gained in relation to blade length can be broken down into 3 major areas of technique. They are the 4 generals, atajos, and footwork / measure.  I had some difficulty deciding on which to place first since they tie in together and interweave within the style.  I took a stab at what I felt should be an appropriate arrangement, but in theory you can read or review them in any order you wish.

1. The 4 General Techniques

I started talking to Lupold about how I have been having a hard time pulling off 2 of the 4 generals while fighting (Narrowing and Line in the Cross), but the other 2 (weak under strong and weak over strong) have turned into my "go to" techniques.  This was a bit of a surprise to me as those were initially the ones I had difficulty learning slowly while drilling.

While all of the generals begin with an atajo, both the weak under and the weak over generals require the diestro to "liberate the blade", as Puck and Mary Curtis write in their manual, before executing the thrust.  This motion essentially throws the opponent's blade away for a moment to allow you an attack.  It should be noted that both are traditionally attacks to the inside line and also can be done with cuts or thrusts, but I almost exclusively thrust.  Narrowing as well as Line in Cross both require the diestro to try and maintain contact as they close, in order to control the opponent's blade from the strength of their own blade and prevent the opponent from disengaging.

Through our conversation I determined that since I have such a comparatively long blade (45 inches) I have been playing to that strength.  I use the distance and make my opponent take a risk to cross that field of battle to get to me.  This can lead to problems as I typically like playing in second intention and if I have a timid opponent or patient one, I have had to learn to use my aggression strategically or get stabbed.  I also find truth in Pacheco's warning about difficulty if the opponent comes in fast and binds you, but I have attempted to counter that through better footwork and disengages when possible. 

Where the distance intersects with the weak under and weak over is that I do not need to close or have as much control over my opponents blade as in the other 2 generals. I can circle their blade farther out, staying at a safe medio de propocion (measure of proportion), and liberate my blade or throw theirs, even if my blade has less strength.  I can honestly see why these 2 techniques are called weak above and weak below, as it is the weak part of your blade in each of these positions against the opponent's strong. Simply put, it can be a very quick and effective attack from a safe distance.

We continued the discussion to include how I can better execute the other 2 generals by maintaining my distance and instead of using thrusts at the end, turning them into cuts.  Those are much harder for me to describe at this time since I need to practice and drill them first, but I will try and remember to come back and write more about them here when I do.

Distance and personal awareness are essential to any technique.  I imagine a shorter diestro or someone with a shorter sword might have better success with a Narrowing or a Line in cross, due to a stronger starting position.   While they might be stronger when closer and controlling my blade, my job is to keep them from getting there.  I look forward to working on ways to implement the other 2 generals in a more effective manner with my weapon and distance.

2. Atajos

I also mentioned to Lupold how I was having difficulty applying my atajos effectively during combat and that I found myself  using disengages, feints, or virtual atajos to control the fight more often.  What came of this was a brief demonstration by him on how, with the shorter blade, it is easier to gain strength on the opponent's sword once they get a bit closer, while my longer blade has a great deal more weak to go through before I get to my strength.

There was no simple answer to this one for me, as the use of the atajo is essential to LVD.  I have learned to adapt with very fast disengages or if I want to enter I frequently yield my blade and attempt to move into a Spanish movement of conclusion.  Where I go once I get in there is a whole other mess, but it still allows me to play with a variety of movements.

I can also try and play with my opponent's blade as I gain distance, slowly attempting to get the atajo, or I can just move fast and pray it works.  Neither has been extremely effective and I have been left in some vulnerable positions.  I have found some success with Rada's hanging guard and I am starting to explore his use of atajo from the bottom, which goes against many of the earlier masters who dictated that the atajo be placed from above.  I am looking forward to exploring his methods of spiraling and moving to another atajo when the first attempt fails.

3. Footwork / Measure

Like in real estate, I have found that in fencing with LVD, it is all about location, location, location.  Since there is a great deal of movement in LVD with circling, you can easily substitute the word Measure for Location.  Knowing where you are and how far you are from your opponent is a necessity.

Since I have a longer blade my strategy has been to stay farther out until I decide to enter. I try to  maintain that measure until I make the decision to act and implement one of the previously discussed techniques.  I and my opponent are constantly playing a chess game of minor and major adjustments with our blades and bodies.

Where my study of LVD and distance has taken me recently has been in how I enter and how far I extend myself with my footwork as I make my entry.  Much of what I have read indicates that the end goal in LVD is to not only win, but to do so by placing yourself at the least amount of risk possible. Since almost all of the attacks and distance gaining in LVD are done on the circle, the 2 types of steps used to do that are the Traversal step (compas traversal) and the Curved step (compas curvo).

To illustrate the traverse step, below is a picture of Pacheco's circle (feet and circle are not in scale with each other).  The traverse would be a step along one of the lines of the square contained within the circle.

Don Louis Pacheco de Navarez
Libro de las grandezas de la espada (Book of the Greatness of the Sword), 1600

I have typically been using this traverse step on most of my attacks and using the curved step around the circle as a more gentle way to gain distance before I attack 

If you read Viedma's work, translated by Tim Rivera here: Spanish Swordsmanship Society of St. Louis , you will notice that he has a different take on where the step needs to be made.

Luis Diaz de Viedma
Metodo de Ensenanza de Maestros (Method of Teaching of Masters), 1639

In his manual, Viedma describes a Traverse step to be from A to B or from A to D and he also describes the curved steps along the same points, but those are made around the circumference. You can also find more information and details on the measurements of this circle in the manual and also in Lupold's post.  Viedma also has you making your attacks or entries on those letters.

"As a demonstration of the general of line in cross, the master leaves to wound the chest, giving a step from point A to point B..."
-Luis Dias de Viedma, Method of Teaching of Masters (1639)

Viedma is writing his manual to teach someone how to teach others, so there is a great deal of assumed knowledge in his writing, but it is pretty clear where he is saying you should step on these movements. This movement is not necessarily an A to C step as it might first appear in a Pacheco drawing.  The traverse is not a lunge, but instead a controlled off line angular step inside the circle and not around it.

How this realization has helped me in relation to distance and my blade length is that Viedma pretty much gave me permission to stay farther away from my opponent as I enter into the danger zone with my attack. Perhaps this is obvious to others, but I had previously been taking deeper steps to accomplish something that could possibly be achieved at a longer range and in greater safety.

Would a shorter bladed opponent need a deeper step?  Most likely or perhaps they would need to gain distance in a different way before launching one of Viedma's more shallow attack angles.  Either way this further serves to reinforce the need to understand yourself in relation to your weapon and the opponent you are fencing.

In just about a month I will be teaching a class at Pennsic on Spanish footwork and the use of the conceptual circle when fencing.  I need to organize those thoughts better and maybe I will put a post together on that, but I guarantee that what I have addressed here will be included in that class.


To over simplify this entire 2 part post it comes down to being aware of your own range and the distance needed to execute any technique.  That distance is a combination of your body, the blade you are using, as well as the location you stand in relation to your opponent.  You also have to factor in your stance and how you hold your sword when fencing.  All of this is also variable and changing constantly within the bout you are fighting.

What I enjoy and I am also frustrated by on occasion, is that LVD lays out a set of concepts to help you navigate the style and personalize it to your own body.  Many masters are pretty clear and tell you that each diestro is unique and should apply each technique slightly differently based on their own body type.  For more on that you can read Ettenhard and his interpretation of appropriate distance or Thibault and how he instructs you to make your circle.  A discussion of sword length in relation to these techniques is pretty much just the tip of the iceberg in the process of tailoring this art.

As Thibault mentions, there are things in favor of both the long and the short blade.  In the end you need a weapon you can wield effectively and one you understand in relation to yourself, your opponent, and the style of fencing that you practice.

Thanks for reading.

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