An ongoing problem I’ve been seeing in I.33 interpretations is a disregard for measure, the distance between a fencer and his opponent’s weapon. Consider this illustration:
The red lines on the bottom are of equal length, suggesting that the front feet of the fencers are roughly one stance length apart. Furthermore, both fencers are in the same wide stance. The sword is clearly aimed at the face and is quite close, offering a rather significant threat.
Now look at this photograph from the article Fall Under the Sword and Shield.
Compared to the illustration, the opponents are much too far apart for this technique. The fencer on the left stepped wide instead of forward. This places the point of his sword on his opponent’s hilt rather than near his face where it can be a threat.
Also note the upright stance the left fencer adopts. This differs significantly from the half-bowed stance you see his companion and the fencers the in the illustration adopt. Because he stepped so far offline, attempting the bow in order to better present his point would just result in him falling over.
This next photograph is taken from a video titled Falling Under the Sword and Shield.
Again, we see the sword isn’t in a good position to threaten the opponent. This time they are standing too close, which may be why the point is far too high. Or perhaps the problem is, again, the wide off-line step and the lack of a bow.
For the next photograph, from Part 2, Sword & Buckler Interpretation, I.33 Clerus Lutegerus p 3, we see another example of fencers that are too far apart.
Rather than one stance length apart, they are three apart. (The right fencer has a fairly narrow stance, so perhaps it is more accurate to say they are two stance lengths apart.) There is a bow, but because of the really wide distance the point is again on the hilt instead rather than threatening the face. And for the third time in a row we see that the left foot is out wide rather than forward as per the illustration.
For the final photograph we turn to MS I.33 First Play Drill 25 Mar 2013.
The fencers are close together, but they are also adopting narrow stances so we are keeping the same one stance length distance. More importantly, the point is at face while still being under the opponent’s sword.
The Four of Five Guideline
A lot of people argue that the illustrations are wrong and not worth paying attention to. But my theory is that they are making too mistakes that compound each other.
Consider these five features:
- stance length
- distance between front feet
- body lean
- point height
- hilt height
If you get four out of the five correct but can’t quite make the last one fit, then you can argue the illustrations are unreliable. But if you can barely make one of the five correct then you don’t have the right to make that claim.
Exaggerated for Importance
Note here that I didn’t say “exactly like the illustration”. It isn’t a photograph; they intentionally exaggerate things so that you’ll pay attention to them. In case it is a huge elbow to remind you to turn it upwards. In several others we see giant bucklers to tell you that you are more protected with your arm extended.
So if you are thinking “those stances are absurdly long” don’t leap to the conclusion that its ok to ignore the illustration and square up to your opponent. Take it so mean “they want me to take a long, narrow stance”. Maybe not as long as the illustration, but longer than you would otherwise prefer.