The first parry that L’Ange formally teaches is on the inside. It begins when your opponent constrains you in Quarta with the intention of thrusting in the same. Your response is to parry in your own Quarta and, at the same time, thrust.
Note the phrase “at the same time”. L’Ange isn’t telling us to use a separate parry and riposte. He wants this to be what the Italians would call a stesso tempo or single time action that simultaneously defends and offends.
The illustration below shows what you should look like when performing this parry and riposte. The fencer on the left’s final posture will vary depending several factors including the quality of his original attack, the strength of the parry, the height of the blades, etc. So focus more on performing the counter-thrust correctly than what he is doing.
Note: I find that the height of the counter-attack is generally going to match the height of the original attack.
First Drill – The Parry and Riposte
When you are first learning this technique, it is helpful if the agent (attacking fencer) doesn’t have too strong of a constraint. A little constraint is ok, but too much will make it hard for the patient (defending fencer) to learn the proper reaction.
As you perform this parry and riposte, take care to focus on the proper riposte (counter-thrust). If you “chase his sword” by trying to beat his blade with your strong or hilt prior to thrusting, both you parry and your riposte will be ineffectual.
As the patient fencer’s skill improves, the agent should use increasingly better constraints. Eventually the patient may have to somewhat preempt the agent as he strengthens his constraint, but for the sake of the exercise try to not overdo it.
Second Drill – The Disengage
The second drill relies on the patient fencer making a mistake. Rather than counter-thrusting, he should push his hilt far to the side in an aggressive parry before his riposte.
This will give the agent a chance to refine his disengage. Key points…
- Break measure slightly by drawing back the front foot. This is essential for giving you the time needed to complete the disengage.
- Stay in Quarta while you disengage. This will be much faster than a disengagement in Tertia.
- As soon as the disengage is complete, turn the hand into Tertia as you thrust.
- Aim your thrust over the arm, as this will constrain him more than an attack to the belly or right side.
Italian sidebar: I am presenting this disengage with the assumption that you are holding the sword in the German manner. If you are using an Italian grip with a finger over the quillon, then you should turn your hand into Tertia at the beginning of the disengage.
Tying this back to Chapter 7
The observant reader will not that this parry, and its counter, are directly from the main drill in chapter 7. We are merely seeing it from the other fencer’s perspective. So take this time to revisit that drill.
Third Drill – The Reckless Opponent and the Hand Parry
There are two parts to this drill. The first assumes that the agent is desperate to kill his opponent and will do so even at risk to himself.
Begin the drill as before, with the agent constraining in Quarta and then thrusting in the same. As before, the patient will counter this with his own thrust in Quarta.
The agent, being reckless, shall turn his hand into Secunda and thrust downwards into the chest. He will mostly likely be struck in the armpit at the same time as his blow lands. A “double kill” in modern parlance. Practice this until both fencers are familiar with this situation, then add the counter below.
To prevent this from happening, L’Ange tells us to use the left hand to parry his blow from Secunda. No details are given, but having the hand anywhere near the left side of the face is enough to easily ward off the reckless thrust from above.
Extra Credit – Countering the Disengage
Turning back to the second drill, let us have the agent make a mistake as well. The patient will, as before, parry to strongly such that the agent is inclined to disengage. However, the agent should disengage without breaking measure.
The patient, seeing this disengage, should thrust over the patients sword during the disengage before the agent’s sword comes back online.
This teaches the agent the importance of breaking measure, and allows him to learn how far back he really needs to go. Meanwhile the patient hones his observational skills and reflexes.
Alternate Interpretation: Separate Parry and Riposte
While I’ll need to experiment with it for a while, there is an argument for the parry and riposte being separate actions. It does fit the text and illustration. Not perfectly, but neither does the stesso-tempo interpretation.
Reinier van Noort
In these works, I read “at the same time” as “in the same tempo” – so still within the tempo of the opponent’s thrust.
My understanding of a single-tempo parry-riposte is that this is achieved (and best learned) by streamlining the motion from parry to riposte until it becomes one movement.
How high the point goes in the parry is mainly influenced by the strength given by the opponent in their thrust, at least in my current grasp on the mechanics.