Tutta Coperta

We are small practice group for historical swordsmanship in Seattle and online.

Operating as usual

Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier (Johann Georg Pascha) — Fallen Rook Publishing 06/24/2021

Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier (Johann Georg Pascha) — Fallen Rook Publishing

Want to join our reading group? We're about to start reading the Mscr.Dresd.C.13 manuscript, a book on swordsmanship in the tradition of Salvator Fabris. We'll work through it cover to cover, discussing it remotely on Sunday evenings, starting mid-July.

The C.13 manuscript is the latest in our series following the development of 17th-century Italian swordsmanship. In the past year, we have successfully tackled Fabris, Capoferro, Giganti (books one and two), Alfieri, Agrippa, Palladini, the Pallas Armata, the Vienna Anonymous, Monesi, Köppe, and Bruchius. Apparently we're good at this.

For more info on the Mscr.Dresd.C.13, see the link below or ask!


Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier (Johann Georg Pascha) — Fallen Rook Publishing Johann Georg Pascha was a German fencing master who published a book called Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier in 1671.

Destreza Lecture Series: Episode 32 - The 2nd Heveran Lecture 06/22/2021

Destreza Lecture Series: Episode 32 - The 2nd Heveran Lecture

Interested in Thibault? We're hosting a Thibault reading group starting this July. We'll read a chapter each week with a remote multimedia discussion over Zoom on Fridays. Also, it's free. Send a private message if you want in!

To get a sample of our format, check out this lecture in the Sacramento Sword School's Destreza lecture series: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CYQJUZ1RSg

Destreza Lecture Series: Episode 32 - The 2nd Heveran Lecture Michael Heveran has been a student of swordsmanship for twenty years, training primarily in pre-modern Italian, Spanish, and Japanese traditions. For the pas...

[06/22/21]   We're doing some light reorganization around here, and that involves a name change. We're still practicing and still based in Seattle, but we've ditched the syllable-rich "Seattle Historical Rapier Practice" and gone with the inscrutable Italian name "Tutta Coperta" instead. More info is coming soon about free remote practice opportunities.

[03/13/20]   Our practice sessions are suspended until April due to the coronavirus pandemic. Go do some solo practice!

drive.google.com 03/11/2020

The Voids of Seventeenth-Century Italian Swordsmanship v2.pdf

Our guide to voiding has been updated. Please feel free to use and share this however you like.



[01/22/20]   If you're looking to join us this Winter or Spring, our next two beginner days are planned for Wednesday, February 12 and (tentatively) Wednesday, April 8, both from 5:00-7:00. Absolute beginners are very welcome on those days!


Milanese Rapier - 3D model by The Oakeshott Institute [b6a8732] - Sketchfab

1560-1580 Northern Italian Private Collection A rapier with Norman Type 72 hilt composed of a mushroom shaped pommel chased with vertical ribs and grooves. The grip is finely wound in twisted wire over an oval base with two groves in the face aligned with the flat of the blade. The thick ricasso is....


WMAW 2019 Demonstration Bouts

At WMAW last weekend, there were quite a few impressive demonstrations on display!

[08/29/19]   Reminder: We will have several cancellations this month, beginning with Sunday 9/1 and Sunday 9/8. Please let us know if you'd like to drop by in September.


Recently we've been discussing some technical reasons why invitations can be either dangerous or useless. Now let's talk about a different way of looking at vulnerability.

Although some historical authors like F.A. Marcelli dismiss invitations out of hand, I can't get on board with that idea. My personal, cross-disciplinary view is that invitations represent an integral part of a broader concept.

Any mistake made intentionally can act as an invitation. That doesn't mean my mistakes are good invitations; it just means that my mistakes have the "side effect" of helping to control the opponent's actions. In other words, my real vulnerabilities have positive effects. When those effects are intentional, I have performed an invitation.

I can't protect everything at once, so every guard is a static invitation: when I protect my inside, I expose my outside. Which is the side effect? If I have no choice but to make this useful "mistake," why not produce both effects intentionally?

I can't threaten without exposing myself, so every attack (or feint) is a dynamic invitation: when I threaten high, I expose myself low. Which is the side effect? Why not both? Fabris tells us that an invitation is a type of feint, i.e. deception. That's certainly true, but isn't it also true that a feint is a type of invitation? I can feint to scare my opponent (forcing his parry) or I can use the same feint to embolden him (inviting his counterattack). The same action produces both threat and vulnerability.

I can't invite without baiting an attack, but my opponent's attack exposes him, so every vulnerability is some form of threat. When I drop my guard, my opponent immediately becomes suspicious. Is he wrong to feel threatened, or am I genuinely creating threat? I believe the latter. Threat and vulnerability do not cancel each other out; they create each other.

I would go so far as to say that threat and vulnerability are two sides of the same coin. Similarly, protection and vulnerability draw from the same limited set of resources, so in practical terms, they have the same relationship.

I have no choice but to expose myself in a sword fight. So why not control it? Why not produce my "side effects" with intention? In my view, intentional vulnerability is a powerful concept that extends well beyond the special case of guard mutations. Whatever you think of guard mutations, the broader concept is not optional.


We've been criticizing invitations this week! So why invite attacks at all?

Earlier, we heard a common criticism of invitations articulated by F. A. Marcelli (1686), among others. To paraphrase: If I invite within measure, a skilled opponent will hit me. If I invite from out of measure, a skilled opponent will ignore me. What's the point?

Marcelli's criticism of invitations makes sense. If an invitation is suicidal in measure and useless out of measure, why use them at all? That's fair. Still, Fabris, Alfieri, and various others like to invite from out of measure. They recognize the danger of an invitation in measure, but they also believe that it's possible to fool an imperfect opponent who misjudges the distance, especially if he is overeager to attack a particular target.

I would add: if you fail out of measure, your action is useless but not suicidal. If you succeed, you'll succeed all the same. The price of failure is relatively low. In addition, if Fabris is too tolerant of "useless" actions, perhaps that tells us how important he thought it was to force the opponent into obedience.

This particular tool is not something you have to use. However, if you train your opponents to respect your invitations, they may hesitate before pouncing on your mistakes.


More on invitations!

This week we've been talking about why it's dangerous to invite in measure. Yesterday we talked about how inviting within measure is very dangerous, giving the opponent an opportunity to thrust in mezzo tempo. That leads us to the problem of feints.

When I invite within measure, my opponent might fight fire with fire: even a moderately-skilled opponent is likely to feint at my invitation. It's also exactly what Fabris would recommend. This is another big reason why it's dangerous to invite within measure.

Here are three reasons why this is the easiest feint in the world:
1) the opponent has a tempo in which to feint;
2) I don't have control (or else I would not be inviting a thrust), so the feint can be direct;
3) I'm already expecting an attack and therefore primed to take the bait.

It may help to remember the principles of a good feint: Your feint should look like a real attack. Your feint should be made within measure and to an exposed target so that it can turn into a real attack if need be. You must always feint with control (for a direct thrust) or in tempo (for an indirect thrust) or both. Ordinarily, you need to fight for these conditions, but my invitation within measure checks every single box. I've handed you the safest feint you'll ever do.

If the feint is likely, doesn't that mean I can anticipate it? Yes, but I still have to react to it. I can't afford to ignore a feint in measure. A real feint can and should turn into a real attack if ignored. That's only possible if a feint is performed in measure and against an open target. Such a feint must be respected or else it will push too far forward, at which point it's too late to parry (since the forte is advanced so far).

Unfortunately, when I invite in measure, I have to react regardless of whether my opponent's attack is real or simulated. I've therefore put myself into obedience.


It's still deception month and we're still talking about invitations!

Yesterday we talked about why it's dangerous to invite an attack within measure. Check out yesterday's post if you're curious. Now let's talk why it's suicidal.

You may be thinking: Is it really so dangerous when I know when and where the opponent will attack? Yes! (To be fair, that does help.) My foreknowledge doesn't change the fact that I'm in motion when the attack comes. Also, my opening needs to be substantial or else my opponent won't even take the bait. So no matter what, I have a positional disadvantage.

The immediate danger is that the opponent might attack very early, i.e. in mezzo tempo. This would require my opponent to be really on the ball -- the sort of opponent who can thrust in mezzo tempo against a cut in measure. But remember, that's exactly what we're training to do.

Look at it this way: What's the difference between a large invitation and a cut preparation? There really isn't one, and you can solve them the same way (see image). If I raise my sword to cut in measure, I am "inviting" the thrust to my head in mezzo tempo. Unfortunately, as my sword rises, it's in no position to do anything about that thrust, so I'd better void fast or hope that the opponent is sleeping on the job.

My opponent might be flawed, but I might also be flawed, and the theory is on his side. Thrusts in mezzo tempo are a real threat.

More tomorrow!


Invitations depend on distance! Want to know why?

First, let's recall the distinction between dynamic and static invitations. A static invitation is a guard with one clear opening (see image). A dynamic invitation is a change from one guard to another. The latter type, what Fabris calls a "chiamata," is what we'll discuss here.

I can't afford to perform a (dynamic) invitation is measure. Measure matters because an invitation isn't a false opportunity to attack. It's very real -- if the opponent attacks, I can very much still be hit. I'm actually open and my sword is actually moving, which means I'm less free to act as I invite.

You might be able to guess the most common criticism of the invitation: If I invite in measure, I necessarily create a tempo, and a skilled opponent will just hit me. If I invite from out of measure, a skilled opponent will do nothing, and my action will be useless.

F. A. Marcelli (1686) argues that this is why invitations are always either useless or dangerous and should therefore never be used. Fabris disagrees that they are useless, but everyone agrees on one thing: An invitation in measure is dangerous.


We're working on deception this month, so over here we're talking about invitations! Let's start with a basic question: What is an invitation?

There are two versions of the idea, one dynamic and one static.

For Fabris, among others, an invitation (chiamata) is a movement from one guard to another with the hope that my opponent will attack as I move. Whenever I move in measure, I create a tempo -- i.e. an opportunity to attack. An invitation just means creating a tempo with the intent of provoking my opponent into attacking (thereby creating another tempo). This is the dynamic concept of an invitation.

Another variant of the idea is described by Giganti (see image). He described three guards with the sword and dagger which he calls artful/deceitful ("guardia artificiosa"). Giganti's guards are static positions, each with one clear opening (see photo). This is the static concept of an invitation.

Dynamic and static invitations are quite different on a technical level, but they share one key trait: They both exploit vulnerability to bait the opponent into a predictable attack.


How do I approach a swordsman who won't move his feet? This has been our central question of the last few months. Before we start our new content block, let's take a moment to think about what it means to look for a tempo.

You may have heard of the first-mover advantage -- whoever moves first is more likely to succeed. If not, here's how it works: When you attack me, you force me to solve a very specific puzzle in real time. If I freeze up, I die. If I overreact, I probably die later. If I panic, I die embarrassingly. When your attack begins, my brain is still struggling to resolve all of the dangerous shapes and colors in front of me into coherent, actionable information. It's one of several reasons why attacking people is considered rude.

That's a very real advantage, but so too is the second-mover advantage which stands in opposition. Whoever commits to an attack first is vulnerable to a counterattack. Why does that matter? Try playing rock-paper-scissors as a turn-based game and you'll soon realize why it is not always useful to go first.

Like most opposing forces, the first-mover and second-mover advantages don't cancel each other out. The world doesn't work that way. They're both in effect, but sometimes one matters more than the other. Broadly speaking, the first-mover advantage is more important at closer ranges and against opponents who struggle to execute under pressure. The second-mover advantage is more important at longer-ranges and against opponents who can perform quickly and reliably.

That leaves us with a refreshingly clear problem: How do I deal with the second-mover advantage at long range? Alternately, how do I attack from long range without begging for the opponent to counterattack?

This is where we talk about tempo. I need time. Ideally, I find time by attacking when the opponent is already moving (hence the appeal of counterattacks). Whenever my opponent moves, I have a window of opportunity proportional to the size of his movement. If I had it my way, my opponent would always run himself onto my blade, not because it saves me the effort, but because it meant he was too busy moving to change course.

That's the ideal, but my opponents are annoyingly unaccommodating. If my opponent isn't moving, I want him to be out of position. I want to control the center space between us. That way, my offense takes less time and his defense takes more time. With a superior position, I need a smaller opening. Just as importantly, it is likely to make my opponent move, which provides a more concrete tempo.

Movement and positioning are great, but we need a backup plan. Some opponents are preternaturally opposed to being murdered. They refuse to move significantly, yet they never quite give up enough position to allow a long-range attack. That's when I take control and carefully close distance. The closer I get, the less time I need. So instead of looking for a large tempo, I ensure that I won't need one.

Eventually, I get close enough that the second-mover advantage is completely eclipsed by the first-mover advantage, and I strike.

[07/13/19]   We'll be holding our next introductory seminar on Wednesday, July 17. If you're thinking about joining us this summer, that's the best time to drop by. We'll be starting a block on feints and invitations.

The following beginner seminar will be on or around September 25.

[06/10/19]   We'll be holding a beginner seminar this Wednesday, June 12. Our next beginner seminar will be in mid/late July. If you're thinking about joining us this month, June 12 is the ideal time.


Today we practiced the imbroccata on Fabris's plate 25 (pictured):

0. Agent and Patient are on the outside in terza at misura larga
1. Agent and Patient push their swords together forcefully; no one wins
2. Agent suddenly turns to prima, wins the line, and steps forward with an inward-angled lunge and strikes by direct thrust to the chest

Fabris neglects to mention that this action does not begin from an advantageous (or even intentional) position. My opponent is equally capable of performing the same thrust in the same tempo. This play does not present a desirable strategy; it illustrates the dangers of locking your swords together forcefully (contendere di spada).

I chose plate 25 to present another simple option related to parrying. We've been working with parries recently, or more precisely, we've been working against them. The contendere di spada of plate 25 is a form of lateral pressure, like a failed parry or attempt to regain the line directly.

To deal with parries, we've been performing a series of simple tactical drills: Agent finds Patient's blade from out of measure, advances to misura larga, then misura stretta, then strikes. Patient's job is to mess with Agent's plan with a simple action, like a parry. We started with improperly-formed parries, then good parries, then various other forms of lateral force (like the contendere di spada of plate 25). Over time, we vary the distance: what if I parry at misura larga? What if I wait to parry at misura stretta? What if I sometimes don't parry at all? Together, we have about half a dozen combinations which we can vary randomly in order to build up our operant conditioning against lateral pressure.

Decision drills such as these present a common problem. Suppose you're advancing on me and I present you with one of two cues, like a weak parry or a strong parry. If my parry is extremely strong, you'll have no trouble recognizing it. Likewise, an extremely weak parry is easily recognizable. The middle ground is the challenging part. If my action is moderate, right on the border between two recognizable cues, then you stand a very strong chance of making the wrong decision (or the right decision, but performed at a disproportionate scale). Naturally, your opponent may specifically seek to force you into this sort of situation to bait out the wrong response. So whenever you are in a reactive position, beware the middle ground. If your opponent won't make a strong decision, force him into one.



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