Giacomo di Grassi – Strength Training Exercises

According to di Grassi, the two pillars of fencing are strength and judgment. He repeatedly warns his readers that without strength, one cannot correctly execute the techniques ones judgment tells them should work.

As for the means of gaining strength, he notes that there are different kinds of strength. A peasant or porter can lift more than a gentleman or a knight, but lacks their ability to run or ride. Knowing that there are different kinds of strength, he lays out some drills for the type needed by the swordsman.

Equipment

To begin, he recommends driving a piece of wood or similar object into the ground. Basically the same wooded pell used by countless fencers in the various reenactment clubs.

For the weapon, begin with a light sword rather than a heavy one. He says the goal is not to gain the ability to lift heavy objects, but rather to move quickly. Once you are fast with the lightweight sword you can replace it with a heavier one. Repeat in such manner until you can quickly attack with even the heaviest of swords.

Cutting Exercises

For cutting exercises, start with simple cuts from the shoulder, the elbow, and just the wrist with “as much speed as possible”. Once the joints are loosened up and strengthened, you can eliminate the shoulder cuts and focus on just the other two. As you get stronger you can eventually shift to training almost exclusively with just the wrist.

For your cutting patterns, variety is important. Don’t get into the habit of always throwing a riverso (off-side attack) after every pair of mandritti (on-side attack). He recommends these patterns to start:

  • Two or three mandritti
  • Two or three riversi
  • A mandritto and a riverso
  • Two riversi and a mandritto
  • Two mandritti and a riverso

Do these exercises with “always standing firm in a moderate stance” using a mixture of high, low, and middle cuts.

Thrusting

Thrusts must also be practiced so that you lengthen the arm and get used to the forms. The primary focus of the thrusting exercises is to get the arms, feet, and body to move at the same time in harmony. Attacks should be made in a straight line in order to get the longest possible reach.

For the low guards there isn’t much more to say. If you pay close attention to how the thrusts and lunges described in the tradition that you study you’ll meet his criteria for training.

He does have special instructions for the thrust from the high guard, known as an imbrocatta to us, as it is the most difficult for it is tiring and few people know how to use it correctly.

  • Keep the arm as straight and high as possible so you don’t have to withdraw it before thrusting.
  • To make it less fatiguing, keep the feet together.
  • When you thrust, step into a moderate stance and lower the hand into the low guard.
  • Once the thrust is complete, return to the narrow high guard by either stepping forward with the rear foot or by withdrawing the front foot.

If you still find the high guard to be tiring, lengthen your arm by touching a peg as high as you can reach with the hand inverted as if you were holding a sword. (Basically, a stretching exercise.)

Combinations

Once you feel confident with the aforementioned exercises you can start working on combinations, stringing together cuts and thrusts. Some notes:

  • If you throw a wrist cut after a thrust, turn your back foot to lengthen your blow.
  • If throwing a riverso after a mandritto, do so with advance with an oblique (off-line) step. This will allow you to follow with a thrust using a straight step.
  • As you put together more and more blows, “always coordinate them with the motion of the feet and body with as much quickness and in as little time as is possible”.
  • Always hold to the precept that when moving the arms and feet that you “must always keep the body firm so that it doesn’t foolishly go forward”, especially the head
  • Lean back rather than forward
  • Don’t turn, unless rotating in order to evade an attack

Withstanding Blows

Have someone use a staff or other heavy object to throw cuts and thrusts at you. With sword in hand you will

  • Meet them with your sword so that you learn to withstand the blows
  • Parry the thrusts “while evading with the body and advancing forward”
  • Against cuts, attack before they fall. That is to say, when they pull back in preparation.
  • Or meet the cut with the first part of the sword (near the hilt) while advancing forward to thrust

For more information consult The Way to Employ Arms with Certainty Both for Offense and Defense, translated by W. Jherek Swanger

A vigorously so that you can learn to withstand cuts and

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