Monday, December 7, 2009

Chinese swordsmanship?

In my never-ending quest to look at what practitioners from other fencing schools are doing - be they in the European tradition or not - I stumbled across some interesting videos on Chinese swordsmanship, or more specifically jianshu, the use of the straight blade. I know very little about Chinese martial arts, but I've always wondered why Chinese fencing never really took root: the Japanese have been doing kendo since the end of the 19th century, the Europeans have been doing modern fencing since the beginning of the 19th century, and this is not to mention the numerous styles to be found in Southeast Asia, but I have never heard of fencing with Chinese weapons.

The World Jianshu League, which is comprised of only a few schools in North America (from what I've learned on the website, is busy reconstructing traditional Chinese swordsmanship as a modern sport, and what I've seen is pretty interesting. Interesting in that the techniques they've gleaned from a number of sword sets look almost identical to what Europeans were doing with an arming or sidesword in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.

This actions shown in this video, for example, bear a striking resemblance to the Dall'Agocchie's (1572) solo form, which will - I swear! - be posted up here in the coming weeks. Take a look.

I'll put some more commentary up here in the next couple of days; my first impression leads me to say that they should forget the sporting aspect and focus on the controlled application of the techniques they've gleaned from the various forms. It's too beautiful to be turned into a gunslinging match, like, say, the following video:

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Class review: 5th of December

What a class! Over the past couple of weeks, we have begun digging deeper into the system, and I know that I have been discovering some very interesting things as a result. The focus of this month is cutting with the rapier, both as agente and paziente, and has really brought some of Capoferro's more difficult to interpret passages to light; yes, they actually make sense to me now.

The one thing that had always bothered me since I first read his treatise in 2006 was the section on guadagnare in the second part of the book; what is the smart thing to do if you're in a weak position? First, "you don't do this, and you never do this, but you will do this." So what exactly does that mean? In the course of today's class, we were able to show these three responses in action, and...they work very well. I also realized today that they're all enshrined in some of the drills we've already been doing, heh heh.

1) "You must never disengage in order to throw a full blow." Like we were taught in grammar class, let's make that a positive statement: perform a cavazione to throw a half blow, i.e. a mezzo mandritto or a mezzo riverso, and then follow with an action that hinges on the opponent's reaction to it.
a) if the opponent attempts to clear your sword with the false edge, perform a cavazione and strike in the opposition hand position. For example, if you threw a mandritto to his sword, perform a cavazione as he comes back with the cut and thrust in seconda, and vice-versa.
b) if the opponent attempts to cover the threatened part of his body - i.e. guadagnare - exchange guards and thrust. For example, if you threw a mandritto to his sword, exchange guards and attack in seconda as he comes back with the cavazione, and vice-versa.
c) if the opponent's sword is excellently cleared by your cut, throw a false edge cut to the face, followed by a thrust if necessary. For example, if you throw a mandritto to his sword, cut to the face on the same line with a falso dritto. It is important that the hand stays low during the cut to prevent being struck by a flailing opponent.

2) "Never parry and then strike." Again as a positive statement, always parry and strike in the same tempo, not two. Although I've never explicitly mentioned this in class - probably because I never really made the connection - this is the cavazione di tempo. As my opponent comes to misura larga via a cavazione, rather than simply closing the line via a cavazione-guadagnare, I thrust via the cavazione, all in one motion.

3) Huge paraphrase here: "Perform a half-cavazione, and thrust to either side of the sword as the opponent approaches." The final option we as the defender have at our disposal can best be classified as a defensive feint, though it could be used by the aggressor as well. In this case, rather than take an offensive action as we did above, we will perform a half-cavazione (coming to terza) with a ceding of the vita (this is key); we thereby give the illusion of making distance, when in reality we are still at misura larga. If the opponent decides to step again, we strike on either side of his sword without having to do a cavazione, because our sword is right in the middle.

And another thing: the attacker and the defender's roles constantly blend together, so at any point, we could be doing these things back and forth to each other.