Thursday, October 15, 2020

S2/3 Siebenhaar's Sabre Inventory of Attacks

The following is an inventory of the bladework attacks for sabre used in the 3 sections in Christiaan Siebenhaar's Dutch Method sabre curriculum, incoporating 24 lessons (Reinier van Nort's translation).  To make the wording easier to understand in the translation, the word "cut" has been substituted for Siebenhaar's translated term "strike" and other simplifications have been made to the wording.  The actions in the lessons have been grouped and categorized first by simple or compound attack, second among the compound attacks by number of tempos in their execution, and finally grouped within these categories by the commonality of the order of the actions starting with the first action, and finally by the direction of the first action.  These attacks are delivered on the lunge or from the guard position.

Simple attacks:

  • Head cut.
  • Cut to the left cheek.
  • Cut to the right cheek.
  • Cut to the right thigh.
  • Belly cut.
  • Cut to the right foot.

Compound attacks in two tempos:

  • Feint head cut, head cut.
  • Feint head cut, cut to the right thigh.
  • Feint cut to the left cheek, cut to the right cheek.
  • Feint cut to the left cheek, cut to the right side.
  • Feint cut to the left cheek, cut to the right thigh.
  • Feint cut to the right cheek, belly cut.
  • Feint cut under the arm, head cut.
  • Feint cut to the left thigh, cut to the right thigh.
  • Feint cut to the right thigh, head cut.
  • Feint belly cut, cut to the right side.
  • Feint thrust to the belly, head cut.

Compound attacks in three tempos:

  • Feint head cut, feint cut to the right side, belly cut.
  • Feint cut to the right cheek, feint cut to the left cheek, cut to the right thigh.
  • Feint cut to the right cheek, feint cut to the left cheek, cut to the arm.
  • Feint cut to the right cheek, feint cut to the right thigh, head cut.
  • Feint cut to the left cheek, feint cut to the right cheek, belly cut.
  • Feint cut to the left cheek, feint cut to the side, head cut.
  • Feint cut under the arm, feint head cut, cut to the right thigh.
  • Feint cut to the belly, feint cut to the right side, head cut.
  • Feint thrust to the belly, feint head cut, thrust to the belly.
  • Feint thruist to the left, feint thrust to the right, thrust to the left.

Compound attacks in four tempos:

  • Feint cut to the right cheek, feint cut to the left cheek, feint cut to the side, head cut.
  • Feint belly cut, feint cut to the right side, feint head cut, cut to the right thigh.
These are all offensive actions for the attack itself.  The curriculum does not include exercises with actions that are identifiable as counterattacks.  This may be a result of actions being conducted in turns and the requirement that the opponent's attack must be parried before a riposte would be allowed.

These are attacks used in exercises in a formal curriculum for fencers.  In tournaments attacks appear to have been executed from what we would term today lunge distance, the rules requiring the fencers to maintain a static position, moving neither forward or backward, relieved only by the lunge.  At that distance one and two tempo actions are practical.  The extensive range of three tempo actions (n=10 as compared to n=11 for two tempo actions), and the distance they travelled,  must have required a quick hand.  The very small numer of four tempo actions suggests these may have been training exercises only.

Note the common use of cuts to the thigh and the occasional cut to the foot.  At various times in the earlier years of the classical period history of sabre fencing as a sport, the thigh of the forward leg has been an accepted target, and this is the case with the Dutch Method. As late as the 1908 French Reglement d'Escrmie, for example, the entire body was target.  However, the foot as a target in sabre is, as far as can be determined from available sources, unique to the Dutch Method.  The Dutch Method was an active School of fencing in the time period 1858 to 1888. 

Sources:

France.  Ministre de la Guerre; Reglement d'Escrime (Fleuret - Epee - Sabre); [fencing manual]; Librairie Militaire Berger-Levrault & Cie., Paris, France; 1909.

Siebenhaar, Christiaan; Manual for the Instruction in the Art of Fencing; Third Improved Printing; translation by Reinier van Nort; [fencing manual]; The Heirs Doorman, The Hague, Netherlands; translated and reprinted by Reiner van Nort, Hagan, Norway; 1861 reprinted 2017.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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Tuesday, October 13, 2020

S10.a. Deladrier's Sabre Parries

Maitre d'Armes Clovis Deladrier was a Belgian Army Fencing Master trained at the Belgian Normal School of Physical Education.  From 1927 until his death in 1947 he served as the Fencing Master at the United State Naval Academy.  His book, Modern Fencing, published in 1948, is a predominantly a representation of the French School at the very end of the classical period, although Deladrier notes that he incorporated certain elements from other schools that he found useful.  Perhaps because he was training fencers who engaged in intercollegiate fencing, he is notable for his belief that fencers could be trained from the start in any weapon, not just foil.

Deladrier included a wider range of specific parries than found in the evolution of sabre fencing at this date:

  • Head parry (see discussion in another post in this blog)
  • Left flank parry (prime)
  • Right flank parry (although he does not number this parry, it appears to be essentially the second parry executed with the arm at shoulder height)
  • Tierce parry
  • Low tierce parry
  • Quarte parry
  • Low quarte parry
  • Seconde parry (a low outside parry executed with the hand at waist height)
  • Quinte parry (an inside low line parry similar to the foil fifth parry)
  • High right cheek parry (outside line)
  • High left cheek parry (inside line)

With the exception of the two cheek parries, Deladrier identified the movement patterns for the counterparry (circular parry) for all of these parries.

Deladrier divided the parries into two parrying systems, a point down system and a point up system. The point up system, operating from a guard of tierce, consisted of the following parries:

  • Tierce
  • Quarte
  • Low tierce
  • Low quarte

The point down system, based on the high guard (Deladrier did not identify which guard was the high guard, but it seems likely to have been the right flank parry), consisted of the following parries:

  • Head
  • Prime (left flank parry)
  • Right flank  
  • High tierce 
  • High Quarte

Deladrier believed that the point down system was superior because it allowed parries to better exploit the strength of the forte of the blade, to take the parry closer to the body increasing the distance travelled by the attack, and to better protect the head.  In contrast the point up system was viewed as allowing foil fencers to learn about sabre fencing without having to change their style of fencing.  However, the parries were weaker and, especially in the low tierce and low quarte, were vulnerable to hits that simply overpowered the parry.      

Source:

Deladrier, Clovis; Modern Fencing; [fencing manual]; United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, United States of America; 1948.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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Wednesday, October 07, 2020

S10.1.5.1. Deladrier's Head Parry in Sabre

There is some difference between the varieties of head parries used in sabre in the classical period.  Maitre d'Armes Clovis Deladrier in his 1948 text Modern Fencing not only describes a variant, but also provides a detailed explanation of its use and advantages.  Maitre Deladrier served as the Fencing Master of the United States Naval Academy, and his book was issued in multiple new printings through at least 1973, making it a long lived and influential book. 

The basic position:

  • Weapon hand above the weapon arm shoulder at the height of the forehead with the arm extended forward for three-quarters of its length.
  • Hand in pronation (described as thumb down and nails forward in relation to the downward slope of the blade).
  • Forearm is protected behind the guard.
  • Blade slants diagonally across the body with the cutting edge up.
  • Tip of the blade is slightly below the weapon hand and just within the inside limit of the body.

In taking the parry, the fencer bends backward slightly to force the opponent to commit to a deeper lunge and, therefore a slower recovery.  The force of the opponent's attack is met either with a beat or an opposition parry, preferably with the forte of the blade.  The riposte is slightly slower than if the body is held erect, but, if the attacker attempts to deceive the parry, the lower point allows a shorter arc of movement to deflect the actual attack.    In contrast, the parry executed with the point raised and no backwards bend of the body has a faster riposte, but is more easily deceived.

If a thrust is executed under the head parry position, the fencer may use a counter head parry.  This is executed with the fingers and wrist as a very small clockwise circular movement.

Further coverage of Deladrier's sabre parries will appear in subsequent posts.

Source

Deladrier, Clovis; Modern Fencing; [fencing manual]; United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, United States of America; 1948.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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Monday, October 05, 2020

10.1.10 Siebenhaar's Dutch Method Parries

Christian Siebenhaar, Sergeant Fencing master of the Grenadiers and Rifles Guards Regiment of the Dutch Army was the father of a unique, and quite different, system of fencing, first published in 1858 and surviving until after his death in 1885.  This was an attempt to create a distinctly Dutch method of fencing that had Dutch language terminology and reinforced Dutch nationalism in a turbulent period in European history.  

Siebenhaar's system included seven parries in the sword (illustrated in his text with what appears to be foils).  

The Parry Left - in the normal guard (with the weight on the back leg, the point forward at eye height, hand slightly below the shoulder, the grip held in the full hand with the thumb on top) - the attack is parried down from above on the inside line, the hand turning to bring the nails a little up.

The Parry Right - the attack is parried down from above on the outside line, the hand turning to bring the nails a little down.

The Parry Low Left - the attack is parried by lowering the point, and collecting the opponent's blade to the inside with the hand is turned into supination. 

The Parry Low Right - the attack is parried by lowering the point, and collecting the opponent's blade to the outside with the nails turned a little down. 

The Parry Low Right with the Hand Inverted - the attack is parried by lowering the point, and collecting the opponent's blade to the outside with the hand inverted with the thumb down.  The illustration in Siebenhaar's book appears to be similar to the Italian first hand position with the pommel to the outside. 

The Parry High Left - the arm is extended upward above the level of the head to displace the attack to the inside, the hand inverted with the thumb down.  The illustration in Siebenhaar's book appears to be similar to the Italian first hand position with the pommel to the outside.  

The Parry High Right - the arm is extended upward at approximately the level of the head to displace the attack to the outside, the hand inverted with the thumb down.  The illustration in Siebenhaar's book appears to be similar to the Italian first hand position with the pommel to the outside.  

From the illustrations the little up and little down appear to be roughly equivalent to Italian third in fourth and second in third hand positions.

The Parries Left and Right and Low Left and Low Right are also performed as circular parries.

During the parry the point of the blade is aimed:

  • at the chest in the Parry Left and the Parry Right.
  • approximately the width of the palm lower than in the Parries Left and Right in the Parry Low Left and Parry Low Right.
  • at the lower body in the Parry Low Right with the Hand Inverted, the Parry High Left, and the Parry High Right.

This maintains a threat for the direct riposte.

It is important to note that these parries were performed in a static position from what was essentially inside lunge distance.  In tournaments the rules forbade a fencer to retreat, and the only forward movement allowed was a lunge (a subsequent post will address movement in the Dutch Method).   

Source

Siebenhaar, Christiaan; Manual for the Instruction in the Art of Fencing; Third Improved Printing; translation by Reinier van Nort; [fencing manual]; The Heirs Doorman, The Hague, Netherlands; translated and reprinted by Reiner van Nort, Hagan, Norway; 1861 reprinted 2017.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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Siebenhaar's Dutch Method Parries by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

0.2.1.b. The Hand Positions in French Foil Guards and Parries to the End of the Classical Period

This blog post follows up on our discussion of French hand positions prior to World war I (see 0.2.1.a. The Hand Position in French Foil Guards and Parries Prior to World War I),  It should be noted that this study draws from English language texts written by individuals trained in the French school.

Our earliest English language source from the period is Manrique's 1920 Fencing Foil Class Work Illustrated.  Manrique appears to have been a Cuban, probably trained as a Master at the Cercle d'Esgrime de l'Havana, active in Cuban fencing circles from 1888 to 1899, and then active in clubs in New York and New Jersey at least through 1907.  He described and pictured four hand positions which are very close to identical to contemporary Italian hand positions:

  • First - thumb down, nails to the outside line.
  • Second - thumb to the inside, nails down.
  • Third - thumb up, nails to the inside line.
  • Fourth - thumb to the outside, nails up.

Manrique states that the positions of First, Second, Third, and Fourth may be used in parries, but only First Second, and Fourth in attacks.  However, he does not indicated which hand position should be used in which guard or parry.  From his illustrations, based on the position of the lunette guard that:

  • The center line guard - hand is in Third position.
  • Fourth engagement - hand is Third position,
  • Sixth engagement - hand is in Fourth position.
Eleanor Baldwin Cass was not a fencing master, but she appears to have either known or known of a wide range of people of the sport.  Her 1930 The Book of Fencing is a delightful collection of fencing knowledge.  She provides the essentially modern categorization of hand positions by guard or parry:
  • First - hand in pronation.
  • Second - hand in pronation.
  • Third - hand in pronation.
  • Fourth - hand partly supinated.
  • Fifth - hand nearly pronated
  • Sixth - hand in supination.
  • Seventh - hand partly in supination.
  • Eighth - hand in supination.
Cass makes an interesting note that pronation and supination are extreme positions.  She points out that there are 180 degrees in the half circle between those positions, with the implication that hand position can vary within that range.

Maitre de l'Academie d'Armes de Paris Felix Grave in his 1934 Fencing Comprehensive also embraces the emerging distribution of supination and pronation.  His significant differences lies in the hand positions for Fourth and Fifth:

  • First - hand in pronation.
  • Second - hand in pronation.
  • Third - hand in pronation.
  • Fourth - hand in medium position with the thumb up.
  • Fifth - hand in medium position with the thumb up (based on a photograph in the book)
  • Sixth - hand in supination.
  • Seventh - hand in supination.
  • Eighth - hand in supination.

Maestro de Armas Julio Martinez Castello, a graduate of the Sala de Armas Carbonel of Madrid in 1906 (note that Spanish fencing was largely divided into two camps, French and Italian), poses a challenge in his 1937 The Theory and Practice of Fencing.  He does not describe the hand positions for those guards which he considers to be impractical or ineffective.  However, based on his clear illustrations it is possible to make assignments of hand positions to all common French School guards:
  • First - used seldom, based on illustration a pronated position.
  • Second - fingers down.
  • Third - fingers down.
  • Fourth - based on illustration fingers up.
  • Fifth - not recommended, based on illustration a pronated position.
  • Sixth - fingers up.
  • Seventh - fingers up.
  • Eighth - fingers up.
Joseph Vince, a prior coach of the United States Olympic Fencing Team, writing in 1940 in his Fencing, admits to using the best of the French, Italian, and other schools.  However, his foil guards are clearly French in origin:

  • First - turned thumb down (in other sources the same position is identified as pronated).
  • Second - hand in pronation.
  • Third - hand in pronation..
  • Fourth - normal position with thumb up.
  • Fifth - hand in pronation.
  • Sixth - hand in supination.
  • Seventh - hand in supination.
  • Eighth - hand in supination.
In 1939 G. V. Hett, an experienced British international competitor, authored Fencing (Fencing is a common title for books about fencing, show a certain lack of imagination).  Hett describes guard positions primarily by finger position:
  • First - nails turned downward and nearly outward.
  • Second - finger nails downward and a little outward.
  • Third - finger nails downward and a little outward.
  • Fourth - finger nails up (in parentheses Hett says that the hand should actually be held thumb upward and finger nails outward).
  • Fifth - finger nails downward
  • Sixth - finger nails upward.
  • Seventh - finger nails upward.
  • Eighth - finger nails upward. 

Scott D. Breckinridge and Scott D. Breckinridge, Jr. were students of Maitre d'Armes Francois Darrieulat, a native of France who twice coached the United States Olympic Fencing Team, as well as coaching at Cornell University and the United States Naval Academy.  In their 1941 book Sword Play: Based upon the French School of the Foil, they describe three hand positions:

  • Of attack - thumb is up and the nails are to the inside line.
  • Supination - fingers of the sword hand are up.
  • Pronation - fingers of the sword hand are down.

The individual guards are divided into two categories, supination and pronation:

  • First - pronated.
  • Second - pronated.
  • Third - pronated.
  • Fourth - supinated.
  • Fifth - pronated.
  • Sixth - supinated.
  • Seventh - supinated.
  • Eighth - supinated.  

Immediately after World War II, Belgian trained Maitre d'Armes Clovis Deladrier's 1948 Modern Fencing provides a final view of the classical period:

  • First - pronated.
  • Second - pronated.
  • Third - pronated.
  • Fourth - supinated.
  • Fifth - pronated.
  • Sixth - supinated.
  • Seventh (described as Low Fourth) - supinated.
  • Eighth (described as Low Sixth)- supinated.  

DISCUSSION

There is general agreement, with some variances as to use of the middle, normal, or thumb up position in the supinated parries, that the positions, guards, and parries first, second, third, and fifth are executed in pronation, and parries fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth are executed in supination.  Cass and Grave make significant contributions to our understanding of this range of French School parries.  Cass points out that supination and pronation are extreme positions with a range of possible hand positions in between them as required by the situation.

Grave, however, provides a theoretical insight that helps us understand the relationships between the parries.  He notes that there are parries that differ only in their hand position - third and sixth, second and eighth are his examples.  He also notes that seventh can substitute effectively for fifth.  

That sets the stage for a significant understanding of the French position-guard-parry system. There are actually two French sets of positions, guards, and parries, each of which forms a system based on hand position.  The supinated system is fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth.  The pronated system is first, second, third, and fifth.  These two systems each provide a complete coverage of the target area.  This relationship is not generally discussed in the available English language fencing manuals, and it would seem to be worth further historical and theoretical study.

Sources

Breckinridge, Scott D., and  Breckinridge, Scott D. Jr. Sword Play: Based upon the French School of the Foil; [book], A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, New York, United States of America; 1941.

Cass, Eleanor Baldwin; The Book of Fencing; [book]; Lothrop, Lee and Shepard Company, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; 1930.

Castello, Julio Martinez; The Theory and Practice of Fencing; [book]; Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, New York, United States of America; 1937.

Deladrier, Clovis; Modern Fencing: A Comprehensive Manual for the Foil - the Epee - the Sabre; [book]; United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, United States of America; 1948.

Grave, Felix; Fencing Comprehensive; [book]; Hutchinson and Company, LTD, London, United Kingdom; 1934.

Hett, G. V.; Fencing; [book], Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, LTD, London, United Kingdom; 1939.

Manrique, Ricardo Enrique; Fencing Foil Class Work Illustrated; [book], American Sports Publishing Company, New York, New York, United States of America; 1920.

Vince, Joseph; Fencing; [book]; A. S. Barnes and Company, New York, New York, United States of America, 1940.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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The Hand Positions in French Foil Guards and Parries to the End of the Classical Period by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Friday, April 17, 2020

0.2.1.a. The Hand Position in French Foil Guards and Parries Prior to World War I

Over the years since the classical period there have been a number of descriptions of how a French Foil is held and a number of doctrinaire statements about what is and is not the correct orientation of the fingers in classical French Fencing.  For example, when I learned to fence in the 1960s, I was taught that the hand was always held in full supination for parries 4, 6, 7, and 8, and that was what French fencing was all about.  In reality, if you examine the classical hand positions in contemporary texts, there is considerable variation over the period, not as clearly defined as the Italian system but there nonetheless.  In this post, we will look at the French School up to World War I (and follow it in a second blog post).

First, an opening comment on the hand position.  The variants of a description that suggests the thumb is turned partly to the right could describe a turn to the right from virtually anywhere.  A partial turn to the right from supination twists rotates the arm to a position possibly 60-70 degrees from the vertical, is very uncomfortable, and does not appear to make technical sense.  A turn of the thumb to the right from pronation results in a hand position roughly equivalent to the Italian hand position of second in third - it works, but it is not consistent with the illustrations in any of the three texts consulted for this post.  The interpretation that makes the most sense is that the turn of the thumb to the right occurs from the middle (thumb up) position.

The quest for the actual French technique starts with the 1877 fencing manual published by the French Ministry of War (Slee's translation).  This document's descriptions of the parries were supplemented by diagrams that make interpretation easier.
  • Prime - the hand position was not described but the diagram showed what appears to be a grip with the fingers nails down and oriented toward the opponent, essentially pronation.
  • Seconde - the fingers were turned downward into pronation.
  • Tierce - the fingers were below in pronation.
  • Quarte - the thumb was turned slightly to the right.  
  • Quinte- the hand was turned so that the fingers are upward; the diagram quality is such that it is difficult to tell, but when used this appears to be most efficient in partial supination.  
  • Sixte - the thumb was to the outside with the fingers turned slightly upward.
  • Half-circle - the fingers were upward in supination.
  • Octave - the fingers were turned slightly upward.
There are issues of interpretation in the use of this manual, specifically what is slightly?  It appears that this criteria was partway between supination and the middle position with the thumb up, a position very similar to the Italian hand position Third in Fourth.  If that is the case, this system consisted of:
  • 3 positions in pronation - Prime, Seconde, and Tierce.
  • 4 positions in partial supination with the thumb rotated partially to the right  - Quarte, Quinte, Sixte, and Octave.
  • 1 position in supination - Half-Circle.
Camile Prevost, a noted French Maitre d'Armes wrote a section in a British sports encyclopedia published in 1889.  His descriptions of the hand positions were similar to those of the 1877 manual with several important deviations. 
  • Prime is clearly classified as a pronated parry.
  • Quarte is described as in neither supination nor pronation, but with the thumb uppermost (likely the middle position).
  • Quinte - the hand in pronation.
  • Sixte - the hand in supination.
  • Septime or Half-Circle - the hand in supination.
  • Octave - the hand in supination.
This results in:
  • 4 positions in pronation - Prime, Seconde, Tierce, Quinte - forming a complete pronated system for the first time..
  • 1 position thumb uppermost (middle guard) - Quarte. 
  • 3 positions in supination - Sixte, Septime, Octave.
Prevost also suggests paring down the French hand positions to four in number, discarding 
  • 1 as being large, slow, and easily avoided - Prime.
  • 1 as leaving the point well outside the line with a difficult riposte - Quinte.
  • 2 as being weak - Sixte and Octave.
This leaves a defensive box of Seconde -> Tierce -> Quarte -> Septime, with two hand positions in pronation, one in middle position, and one in supination.

Louis Rondelle, a French Master trained at Jonville-le-Pont, conformed to some degree with the descriptions of the 1877 Manual in his 1892 text..  The exceptions were:
  • Quinte - the fingers were nails downward in pronation.
  • Sixte - the thumb was upward.  Because Rondelle described the motion of the wrist and forearm was pronounced, this may indicate that this was a thumb vertical position.  There is a picture of the execution of sixte in Rondelle's text, and that appears to confirm a vertical thumb and hand in the middle position.
  • Septime - the thumb was turned a little toward the right.
  • Octave - the thumb was turned slightly to the right.
The result is:
  • 4 positions in pronation - Prime, Seconde, Tierce, Quinte
  • 3 positions in partial supination with the thumb rotated partially to the right - Quarte,  Septime, Octave
  • 1 position with the thumb upright (probably middle position) - Sixte
The 1908 French Ministry of War manual (Amateur Fencers League of America) introduced for the first time a clear classification of hand positions.  Two extreme positions (what we now call pronation and supination) were supplemented by a number of other positions.  This resulted in:
  • Prime - the hand position with the nails turned toward the right and thumb below.
  • Seconde - nails down.
  • Tierce - nails down.
  • Quarte - nails slightly turned up.
  • Quinte - nails slightly turned up. 
  • Sixte - nails slightly turned up.
  • Septime - nails up
  • Octave - nails up
So what the four texts tell us is that the French School at the start of World War One appears to have consisted of various combinations of hand positions in pronation, supination, middle, and a partly supinated position with the position with the thumb raised bringing the hand up perhaps as much as 45% above supination.  There is  variation between the four sources, and that variation reflects that Fencing Master were experimenting with a system of hand positions that was not rigid in its execution.

In our next post on this topic we will examine the French School hand positions in the 1930s to the end of the period.

Sources:

France.  Ministry of War; Fencing Manual; translation by Chris Slee; [fencing manual]; reprint by Long Edge Press, no place; 1877 reprinted 2017.

France.  Ministry of War; Fencing: Foil, Epee, Sabre, Theory, Method, Regulations; translation by the Amateur Fencers League of America; [fencing manual]; Alex Taylor and Company, New York, New York, reprinted by Rose City Books, Portland Oregon, United States of America; 1908 reprinted 1908, Rose City Book reprint no date.

Pollock, Walter H., F. C. Grove, and Camille Prevost; Fencing; 2nd edition; in the Badminton Library of Sports and Pastimes; [fencing manual]; Longman’s, Green, and Company, London, United Kingdom; 1890.

Rondelle, Louis; Foil and Sabre: A Grammar of Fencing in Detailed Lessons for Professor and Pupil; [fencing manual]; Estes and Lauriat, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America; 1892.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III 
   
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Monday, March 16, 2020

21.1.3. The Half Lunge

The Half-Lunge appears in a small number of sources during the classical period. The name suggests that it is half of a lunge … but which half?  Is it half the distance of a normal lunge, does it only use half of the parts of the normal lunge, or does it use most of the parts but only to half of their normal range of motion?  And what is the purpose?

A convenience sample of available English language texts or texts translated into English reveals three examples and one interesting parallel.

The first example is found in Sergeant Fencing Master Christiaan Siebenhaar's Hollandsche Methode, perhaps as early as 1858, but certainly by 1861.  The Dutch Method was an attempt to create a different and nationalistic school of fencing.  To modern eyes the Dutch Methode is a strange, even bizarre, approach to fencing.  However, it is an interesting example in the European nationalistic development of fencing and of a branch of the evolution of modern fencing.  The Method did not long survive Siebenhaar's death in 1885.  Siebenhaar described a half-lunge as bringing the body forward with:

(1)  an extension of the rear leg,

(2)  a full extension of the weapon arm with the point of the foil lowered a little, and

(3)  the rear arm dropped with the palm facing outward.

In Siebenhaar's syllabus (assuming that the succession of sections represents the relative order in which the techniques are to be taught) the half-lunge preceded the lunge.

The second is provided by T. Griffiths, Professor of Fencing and Gymnastics.  Professor Griffiths appears to have taught in the manner of the French School of his day. Writing in 1868 he described the "Half-Longe" as occurring with three specific movements:

(1) a full extension of the foil and weapon arm, the hand as high as the face, point aimed at the opponent's chest, all without any movement of the body.

(2) the rear arm thrown backward ending with the palm of the hand to the front approximately 4 inches from the thigh; the rear shoulder pressed well back.

(3)  the knee of the rear leg is straightend and the body inclined forward on the forward leg, all with both feet remaining in place.

Griffith's syllabus is similar to Siebenhaar's with the half-lunge preceding the lunge.

The interesting example is not a half-lunge, but rather a description of the sequence of the development of the lunge taught by the Portugese Mestre d'armas Antonio Domingos Pinto Martins.  Martins described his work as based on the French School but described in greater detail to meet the need for complete instructions in his country.  His 1895 text described the lunge as a four step sequential process.  In this process:

(1)  in the first step the torso the weapon arm is extended.

(2)  in the second step the fencer's torso is leaned forward and towards the outside line.

(3)  in the third step the fencer extends the rear leg fully moving the torso forward over the front foot.  The rear arm remains raised, as in the guard position.

The fourth step is to complete the lunge.  The important point is that Martins's steps (1) through (3) are virtually the same as the steps described by Siebenhaar and Griffiths in their half-lunges.  Did Martins use the half-lunge as the basis for his full lunge?  Today, absent other sources, it is probably impossible to answer this question.  It is important to note that the 1877 French Ministry of War fencing manual described the mechanics of the lunge in a way significantly different from Martins.  

The final example is found at the end of the classical period in R. A. Lidstone's 1952 study.  At this point the half-lunge was no longer a unique technique, but rather a method of shortening the lunge.  When the distance no longer admitted of shortening the lunge by holding the torso upright (as opposed to leaning forward) the fencer could half-lunge using the regular technique of the lunge but only moving forward by half the length of the front foot.  

DISCUSSION

Neither Siebenharr nor Griffiths provided a rationale for the tactical employment of the rear leg driven half-lunge in their texts.  The drills described in detail by Siebenhaar were command based drills, ending in approximately half the cases with the command "Lunge."  The command "Half-Lunge" does not appear.  A modern interpretation of the intent of the technique becomes that it could have been employed to either (1) hit targets slightly outside short distance or to (2) increase the speed of the attack at short distance.

Martins did not describe a half-lunge, but his lunge technique appears to incorporate the same sequence of steps as Siebenhaar or Griffiths (except for when the rear arm was lowered).  At the least this is an interesting coincidence and may suggest that his description of the lunge was based on the half-lunge. 

This leads to the interesting question; from whence did the half-lunge come and why was it so infrequently described?  We do not know, but we can surmise.  It is interesting that all of the Masters who describe the half lunge or employ it as part of the lunge had a French connection.  Based on his illustrations, Griffiths clearly taught in the tradition of the French School.  Siebenhaar was probably trained in the French School (and fencing in the Netherlands returned to the French School after his death).  Martins incorporates the movement pattern in the lunge suggesting that he may have learned it at some point in the period 1870 to 1890.  This suggests that this is an early French School technique which survived into the early years of the classical period. 

The obvious problem with the half-lunge is the weight shift to the front foot.  As long as the opponent stays in place this is not an issue.  However as fencing became more mobile, weight on the front foot resulted in a slower conversion to a full lunge if the opponent started to retreat.  This may be why it was effectively abandoned or converted to a shortened lunge executed mechanically in the same way as the regular lunge.       

Sources:

France.  Ministry of War; Fencing Manual; translation by Chris Slee; [fencing manual]; reprint by Long Edge Press, no place; 1877 reprinted 2017.

Griffiths, T.; The Modern Fencer with the Most Recent Means of Attack and Defence when Engaged with an Adversary; [fencing manual]; Frederick Warne and Company, London United Kingdom; 1868.

Lidstone, R. A.; Fencing: A Practical Treatise on Foil, Epee, Sabre; [fencing manual]; H. F. and G. Witherby, Ltd., London, United Kingdom; 1952.

Martins, Antonio Domingos Pinto Martins; Manual of Fencing for Use of the Army; translation by Rui Carlos Pinto Ferreira; [fencing manual]; Livraria de Antonio Maria Pereira, Lisbon, Portugal; 1895.

Siebenhaar, Christiaan; Manual for the Instruction in the Art of Fencing; Third Improved Printing; translation by Reinier van Nort; [fencing manual]; The Heirs Doorman, The Hague, Netherlands; translated and reprinted by Reiner van Nort, Hagan, Norway; 1861 reprinted 2017. 

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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The Half-Lunge by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.