The Demystification of the Spanish School - Part II

Diagram I: Diestros A and B stand at opposite ends of the diameter. To insure a safe position Diestro B responds by moving and maintaining the diameter. Red line is the new diameter.
Diagram II: Diestro A stops at point C while Diestro B continues moving, thus creatingthe opening for Diestro A to attack at an angle. Diestro A steps in at an acute angle along chord CD. Red lines indicate the acute angle.
Diagram III: Diestro A's rapier travels at an even more acute angle toward Diestro B. A’s rapier controls B’s blade by opposition as it travels forward to B's face.
Diagram IV: Diestro B raises his guard (hilt) and deviates the point of Diestro A's rapier (desvio). At the same instant B steps slightly to his right and lowers his point toward Diestro A's face. Diestro A impales himself by the force of his own attack.

One of the most important aspects of La Destreza is the concept of "angular attack and defence." As was presented in the first article, the two swordsmen assume their stance (Afirmarse) at opposite ends of the diameter of an imaginary circle, each with their sword arm extended and the point of the weapon continually threatening their adversary. The problem that each diestro now faces is how to penetrate that line of defense without being wounded himself. Any attack or defense executed straight at the adversary would, for all intents and purposes, be suicidal. This problem is solved by the use of "angular attack and defense."

In order to accomplish this end, the diestro must move off the diameter of the circle and place himself at an angle to his adversary. In so doing, he simultaneously creates a threat to his adversary and removes himself to a position where he is relatively safe. The other diestro now finds himself at a disadvantage because, no longer presenting a counter-threat, he is open to attack. However, since both swordsmen are seeking the advantage, he will not remain passive, but rather, as soon as he observes his adversary move to a threatening position, will seek to counter his intention. In this lies the paradox: How does one move to create an angle of attack without being thwarted?

This question is not a simple one to answer. If both adversaries remain still and passive, there will, naturally, be no advantage and no disadvantage. The solution to the problem is generalship. Generalship is command of timing, distance, space, and movement. It is one of the most important aspects of La Destreza, and, for that matter, of any martial art.

One of the central concepts to the understanding of La Destreza is the concept of Movimientos (Movements). These are classifications of specific, isolated actions of the body or weapon. Carranza divided the actions of swordsmen engaged in combat into the individual components that comprise a technique (Treta). These movimientos, once learned and mastered, can be performed in innumerable combinations.

Some of the movimientos are:

Violento: A sudden upward movement of the sword.

Natural: A deliberate downward movement of the sword.

Remisso: A retraction of the sword to either side which precedes another action.

Mixto: A combination of movimientos done to either side taking and maintaining control of the adversary's sword with one's own sword.

Along with movimientos, the diestro learns specific footwork. Compases is the general term for the walking steps that diestros execute as they walk about the circumference of the imaginary circle. These steps are also classified.

Some examples are:

Passo: A step covering the distance from the center of the heels when one foot is moved and not the other.

Passo en su simplicidad: A step done by either of the feet.

Passos en genero: Steps that are done alternately walking.

Passos mas perfectos: A term for those steps in which the body is considered to be solid, strong and graceful.

Footwork must be performed in a fluid manner, varying according to the intention of the diestro. It is important for the swordsman not to be double-weighted; The only time that there is equal weight distribution is in the beginning stance before the compases are begun. This is where the art of generalship comes into play. While manipulating timing, distance, space and movement, both diestros must be able to instantly size up a situation and act in accordance.

As the two swordsmen begin to move about each other, each observes how the other responds. For instance, if diestro A, moving around diestro B, sees that his adversary is not strong in maintaining the diameter (which is the safest location), he may position himself at an angle suitable for launching the most efficient attack. However, is B really weak, or is he attempting to deceive A, setting up a trap by giving false responses? If so, then how does A find out his true intentions?

One way in which A, may determine the truth is by subtle, varied adjustments in his stepping. He may, for instance, walk very slowly, or pick up the pace. He might stop abruptly, and observe if B continues. He might take long or short passos or cross the circle on a chord. Or, he might advance at an acute angle towards B, and then suddenly veer of at a wider angle, to either side of his adversary's blade. Meanwhile, B might not necessarily have been giving true responses, but rather may have a second, or even a third, intention in his combat strategy.

At the same time that all positioning and repositioning is occurring, blade actions are also being performed. Possible actions include taking the blade (Atajo), blade pressures (Tacto), redirection of attacks (Desvios), cuts, and thrusts. The diestro must consider the possibility of each of these when setting up an angular attack.

Each combination of movimientos and passos previously stated comprise a technique (Treta). The following is an example of a treta and an angular attack, though it is only one instance of the innumerable possibilities that can occur:

Diestro A performs two passos en genero counterclockwise, to diestro B's left, along the circumference of the circle. Upon arriving at point C, diestro A abruptly halts momentarily and then does a passo across chord CD of the circle, traveling at an angle towards diestro B. His adversary, not perceiving that diestro A had suddenly stopped at point C, continues to move, thus opening the angle for diestro A to engage (atajo) his blade and proceed along chord CD. As he does so, he thrusts, striking diestro B in the face. The angular attack has been successful.

A proper response on the part of diestro B might have been the following:

In order to prevent the attack from landing, B must use his sense of Tacto. He must press back with his blade against A's Atajo by opposing with the strong part of his blade, while simultaneously raising his guard (hilt) and slightly lowering the point of the rapier. It is of vital importance that his opposition be executed edge to edge, and never with the flat of the blade. While performing this opposition, B will also take a small step to his right, thus displacing himself away from the threatening point of A's rapier at a very acute angle. Diestro A would then be hit in the face as a consequence of the forward momentum of his own attack.

In addition to the aforementioned considerations, proper body positioning and alignment are crucial to the correct execution of these procedures. The diestro's bodies must be held in a semi-profiled manner, and they must strive to maintain the diameter of the circle until they execute an offensive, defensive, or counter offensive action. If they were to hold their bodies in an excessively profiled manner, they would not be able to execute the movimientos, footwork, or any other action in an articulated, fluid fashion. Rather, all actions would be stiff and off time.

Likewise, if the diestro is excessively profiled, his options to shift from one place to another will be more limited, since he would not be able to do so without first readjusting his stance. Conversely, if the diestro holds his body in an excessively squared off stance, he will present a large target that will be difficult to defend. Even worse, he would have to shift to a semi-profiled position in order to attack, which could produce excessively large actions and effect the timing.

With regards to footwork in La Destreza, it has been mentioned by certain fencing historians that stepping is performed in a "shuffling" manner. This is an absolutely incorrect perception, and is, in fact, contrary to the deliberate and precise methods of the Spanish School. All steps, compases and passos, of any combination or variety, are executed by the deliberate, accurate placement of the feet. All stepping as was said earlier, is done in fluid motion.

Likewise, contrary to the misapprehensions of fencing historians, thrusts were not delivered in stabbing or jabbing action. In a thrust, the arm is extended and the point is pushed "through" the intended target by the forward momentum of the swordsman's advancing body. The timing of the attack, assisted by the weight of the attackers body behind the weapon, creates the concentrated force that allows the point to penetrate with ease. The swordarm is straight but not locked allowing the force to go out to the point. To hold the rapier with the wrist, elbow, and shoulder locked, like a battering ram is incorrect, and would produce a recoil effect.