In my post titled Manciolino’s Sword and Buckler: Sotto il Braccio Part 1, I discussed the basic attacks from Sotto il Braccio/First Ward/Underarm. My premise was that you wouldn’t use horizontal or rising true edge cuts from Underarm because they are too easy to parry. This theory is supported by the lack of explicit rising cuts from the text and experimental research.
Turning to MS I.33, we find this passage,
The first ward has two oppositions,
the first opposition is halpschilt, the second langort.
If halpschilt is conducted, fall under sword and shield.
And the accompanying illustration:
Note: The fencer on the left is referred to as the priest and is agent or first mover in this passage. On the right we see the scholar, noted by his raised hood.
As I’ve said before, where you bind matters. The goal is to place your point such that you are presenting a direct threat to the opponent’s face. Binding higher on his sword, or lower on yours, removes that threat and makes it easy for him to disengage over the top. Binding higher on your sword allows him to dominate your blade with his hilt.
But how to do you get there. We are told to “fall under”, which implies a downward movement. If it were a rising cut, he would have written something to the effect of “rise beneath”.
This is consistent with our Sotto il Braccio theory. And as mentioned above, any other true edge cut would be ridiculously easy to parry. (Try it; its quite amusing to stand without posture or structure and still fend off rising cuts delivered with power by barely moving ones arm.)
An interesting feature of this “falling under” is that it opens your opponent’s sword by striking the flat as it comes in. This isn’t intentional like a beat, but rather just a side-effect of throwing a descending cut that lands just before the face.
Basic Response: Attack the Head
The text continues,
If he is common, he will seize the head, then you stichslach [thrust],
if he rebinds and steps against you, then you schiltslac [shield-strike].
If patient responds with a cut to the head or thrust to the face (my club favors the thrust), the agent should simply counter-thrust. With his point already so close to the face, this is easy.
Basic Response: Counter-Bind
The counter-binds seem to be very important to MS I.33 style fencing. Essentially you step forward while driving your opponent’s sword down with your own. A step is frequently, but no always, necessary to fully dominate the opponent’s sword.
When faced with a counter-bind, punch his sword hand with your shield. If he is properly covering his hand with his buckler, you’ll pin them both to his body. This action will free your sword to use as you see fit.
Underarm vs. Underarm: Who Counter-binds?
When both fencers are in underarm, either can counter-bind; it is just a matter of who is more alert when the blades meet.
If one fencer started in Guardia di Testa/Halpschilt, he can more easily counter-bind even without a step. His opponent who just left under-arm probably shouldn’t try unless his opponent sets aside his thrust.
Thoughts on Context
If we accept the general premise that I.33 favors the fencers performing the obsessio from Halpschilt, etc., over the fencer in a ward, then why spend so much time showing how underarm can win?
- To illustrate what the fencer in Halpschilt needs to be expecting.
- Because sometimes you need to cut, and that can place you in a ward.
- Because winning with Halpschilt is easy, while underarm requires specific techniques.