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This brief work on Destreza, or the Art and Science of Spanish rapier, is not to be considered a complete system. I've pieced it together by taking ideas from Puck Curtis, Raymond Martinez and my own studies in order to create a simple overview of the system. I strongy reccomend that once you have the basics down to do your own research and look at the written works of the above Maestros. To my knowledge there is no easy-to-access example of Caranza and Navarez's work in English.
Destreza is a very thorough and complete system. Additionally, it is very clear and uses mathematical principles to explain itself. However, the end product is hefty because every movement is named and mathematically explained be it a movement of the foot, the sword, or a combination of both.
This small work below will skip many of the mathematical principles to give just a general idea of Destreza. This should be used as a starting place not an ending when learning about Spanish rapier.
The rapier in the Spanish system is adept at both the thrust and the cut. Unlike the Italian methods which focus heavily on the thrust, the Spanish method, known as Destreza, utilized both forms of attack.
The rapier has parts and for a basic understanding the most important are.
A – Foible, Debole, Tip = The sharp end of the sword. The most dangerous, but also the easiest to move aside due to leverage.
B – Forte, Strong = The portion of the sword nearest the guard. The least dangerous, but the strongest in parrying due to leverage.
C – Guard = It contains many parts, but its primary purpose is to protect the hand and allow safe parries with the forte. In the Spanish system the guard is a vital reference point.
Historically rapiers ranged in size and weight from the 1550’s throughout the 1600’s. Because the Spanish system freely utilizes the cut, a blade that is too long will be bias towards thrusting. In my own experiences I reccomend something in the 36''-37'' range. Also, the Spanish stance requires an extended arm so a blade that is too long, or too heavy, may prove to be difficult to handle.
How to Hold the Rapier
The rapier is a precision weapon and so the thumb and index finger (the ones you use to write with) are needed to control the weapon while the other fingers support it. The thumb will rest on the ricasso (unedged portion of the blade inside the guard) and the index finger will loop around it, so that the blade can be held with just those two fingers. The other fingers then grip to provide stability.
The blade will be held primarily with the knuckles down. When engaging another blade the the knuckles will turn to face the opponent's blade so as to provide superior strength and angles. If the blade is held over the opponent's blade, then the knuckles will remain down.
The arm is fully extended with little to no bend. This creates the maximum distance attainable with the rapier. Any movement up or down, left or right, reduces the range of the rapier and also creates unsafe openings.
The stance in Destreza is upright and when combined with the extended sword-arm creates a 90 degree angle with the blade representing one line and the body the other. When facing an opponent anytime you are in a 90 degree angle you are as safe as possible while having the longest reach as possible. Much of Destreza revolves around how to bring this 'perfect' angle to bear against an opponent. We will call this the 90 degree stance. Remember it is foot and sword position!
The actual placement of the feet keeps the entire body behind the extended sword. While in this stance you create a narrow profile giving your opponent very little to to attack.
Simple footwork is used to move the body and change its direction, but always the footworks ends with this basic stance with the lead toe (and thus the extended sword-arm) pointed directly at the opponent.
Eduardo demonstrates the 90 degree stance.
There are a variety of movements that can be used. Most of these are based on the idea of the circle. The circle is an imaginary reference point for footwork. You have a circle. Your opponent has a circle as well.
Advance - An advance is a movement taken towards the opponent. You will begin in the 90 degree stance and end in the 90 degree stance by moving the right foot, then the left.
The advance does not need to be directly forward and can drift to the left or right as needed. In fact it is almost ALWAYS better to angle a little to the left or right to help void your body as you close the distance.
However, the 90 degree stance must be attained at the end of the movement.
Retreat - A retreat moves you away from your opponent. It is best to retreat at an angle and not directly back in the face of an attack. To retreat, the rear foot (left) moves first at a slight angle away from your opponent. The right foot follows so the 90 degree stance can be attained.
Curved Step - A curved step moves you to the left or right along the circle. As always, you will begin in the 90 degree stance and end in the 90 degree stance.
To move left, your right foot moves first in a straight line angled left. The foot turns slightly to the right to attain a new angle. Your rear foot (the left) follows with a curved movement that should feel quite natual to place you in the 90 degree stance.
To move right, your right foot moves first in a straight line angled right. The foot turns slightly to the left to attain a new angle. Your rear foor (the right) follows with a curved movement that should feel quite natural to place you in the 90 degree stance.
Lateral Step - To move laterally the right foot moves directly left or right followed by the left foot moving to regain the 90 degree stance.
To move left, your right foot moves left on a straight line. Your rear foot (the left) follows on a straight line as well to regain the 90 degree stance. Overall, angle does not change, nor does range, so this manuever will usually be defensive or leading up to another movement.
To move right your right foot moves right on a straight line. Your rear foot (the left) follows on a straight line as well to regain the 90 degree stance. Overall, angle does not change, nor does range, so this manuever will usually be defensive or leading up to another movement.
It is possible to have the left foot move first then the right. This movement is slower to move the body out of the way, but can be used deceptively. Make sure to make the move quickly because your legs will be slightly crossed soon as the left foot moves.
Mixed Step - A mixed step is actualy three movements. One that uses the right foot to close distance at an angle. Another that swings the left foot in a deep pass that turns your body. And finally, a curved movement to bring the right foot behind the left and attain the 90 degree stance.
The mixed step can be performed only to the left and is used to bring the left hand into play for a sword/guard/wrist seizure while the sword performs a cut.
First, move the right foot forward and left along a straight line.
Second, swing the left foot all the way around your body so your left toe is pointed towards your opponent. The first and second movement will get you very close to your opponent and probably allow for a wrist seizure at this point. Ideally you want your left foot to be parallel with your opponent's guard.
Third, swing the right foot behind the left to attain the 90 degree stance. At this point, with the wrist grabbed, you will perfom a cut.
The mixed movement needs to be practiced to get it as fast and seemless as possible.
Eduardo faces Richard.
Eduardo takes a single curved step.
Eduardo swings his left foot around. Notice the toe is pointed at Richard. Eduardo is past Richard's point so he reaches out for a seizure while he prepares a cut.
Eduardo's right foot moves him into the 90 degree stance, left leg leading. He has siezed Richard's arm and will deliver an arrebatar cut.
From the other side. Eduardo takes his curved step. Richard leans back in response.
Eduardo swings his left foot around. He is well past Richard's point and reaches out for a seizure while his arm prepares a cut.
Eduardo moves his feet back into the 90 degree stance with the left leg leading while striking with an arrabatar cut. Richard's wrist is siezed.
Measure of Prorportion (Medio de Proporcion)
When facing an opponent range becomes important. In the Spanish system the rule is to ensure the tip of your opponent's blade reaches, but does not go past, your guard.
Using movment, try to maintain the Measure of Prorportion. There are key reasons for this.
1. When the Measure of Prorportion is maintained then your attacks, including the use of the Mixed Step for a left-hand seizure will be possible.
2. If your opponent's tip is past your guard then you do not have the time to defend yourself from attack.
3. If your opponent's tip is too far away from your guard then you will be too far away to safely execute attacks and too far away to use a Mixed Step.
Eduardo and Richard are facing one another. Richard is in the proper Measure of Proportion. Eduardo's tip does not go past his guard. Eduardo has allowed Richard too close. Notice how Richard's point is past Eduardo's guard.
Eudardo and Richard are facing one another. Both of them are too far away for offensive or defensive counters to work. Both must try to get the opponent's point closer, but not past, their guard.
Eduardo and Richard are facing one another. Eduardo has found his measure of porportion. His tip is as close to Richard as he can safely get, while Richard's tip has not gone past Eduardo's guard.
Sword Movements (Movimentos)
Your rapier can move up, down, left and right. These movements can be on purpose, such as chambering a cut, or by accident such as recieving a beat to your weapon, or it might be done in order to parry, or to perform a thrust at a new (usually higher) angle.
Violent - When moving your sword up it is called a violent movement. Violent movements are harder because you are fighting gravity. If your entire sword-arm moves a 90 degree stance can be maintained. If your tip moves, but your arm does not, such as in the case of a cut, then the 90 degree angle is lost and range and safety is reduced. It is not safe to be outisde of the 90 degree angle for long.
Natural - When moving your sword down it is called a natural movement. Natural movements are easier because you are working with gravity. If your entire sword-arm moves a 90 degree stance can be maintained. If your tip moves, but your arm does not, such as in the case of a cut, then the 90 degree angle is lost and range and safety is reduced. It is not safe to be outside of the 90 degree angle for long.
Left - When your sword moves left you lose range because you are no longer in a perfect 90 degree stance. It is not safe to have your sword to the left of you for very long.
Right - When your sword moves right you lose range because you are no longer in a perfect 90 degree stance. It is not safe to have your sword to the right of you for very long.
Cuts require usually a violent movement as well as a movement to the right are left. These are done simultaneously when chambering a cut, or can be done for you when your opponent moves your blade. After a cut is chambered it will have a natural movement and this can be straight down or to the right or left. There are three types of cuts.
1. Mandoble - A wrist cut. The movements for this cut is small but lacks power. A good cut to iniate with.
2. Medio Tajo - An elbow cut. This cut requires a greater movment but has more power. A good cut to respond with when your blade is moved aside.
3. Arrebatar - A shoulder cut. The strongest of cuts, but it also requires a lot of movement. A good cut to use when using a Mixed Step to seize an opponent's wrist.
Eduardo performs a mandoble with a curved step (His lead foot should be pointed at Richard). Because the movement is small and the cut is weak it is best to aim for the opponent's hand, throat or face.
Eduardo's sword is beat down by Richard. Eduardo uses this to his advantage and passes to perform a medio tajo. This cut has more power and is safe to use when the opponent provides half the motion in the form of a beat!
Eduardo perfoms an arrebatar. This cut is safe to perform after a mixed step with a seizure. It is slow, but has the most power.
Cuts are not as safe to perform as thrusts because they require sword movements that will take you out of the 90 degree stance. This means cuts are best performed quickly, or after your opponent's sword/guard/wrist has been siezed.
A thrust is the quickest and most deadly of attacks. To thrust, use the footwork to get past your opponent's blade and deliver the strike. In the Spanish system there is no lunge which is dedicated to thrusting only and never used to just move. Instead, use your movements without over-extending. This keeps you safe. One of the drawbacks to a typical Italian lunge is that if it fails, you are momentarily in danger as you recover. In Destreza this isn't the case since every foot-movement is designed to get you back into the safe 90 degree stance.
Eduardo is in his 90 degree stance facing Richard.
Eduardo takes a curved step to the right. This brings his point closer to Richard.
Eduardo returns to his 90 degree stance. This pushes his tip into Richard's chest. Eduardo's blade and body is held in such a way as to protect himself as he delivers the thrust.
Inside, Outside, High Line, Low Line
The lines are areas of the body, both yours and that of your opponent.
They are the outside, which is everying left of the sword. The inside, which is everything to the right of the blade. The high, which is everything above the sword. The low, which is everything below the sword.
The picture on the left is of John in an Italian stance.
From Destreza's perspective on fencing the high line is the one to be focused on either on the inside or out.
Attacking the high line leads to atajo which is the Spanish version of mechanical advantage and blade control.
Atajo, Tacto, Oblique Movement, Beat, Feint
Atajo is Destreza's concept of mechanical advantage. This means gaining leverage over an opponent's sword. To gain atajo your blade must be over your opponent's sword. Atajo is the only safe place to initate attacks from. When you do not have atajo you are in danger!
Atajo is indicated with the red arrow. Having your blade above your opponent's is important.
Tacto is using blade contact to continually feel for the opponent's response. This is very different from the Italian Rapier method which uses deceptive movement and then blade contact to attack or counter attack.
An example of using tacto would be to gain atajo with your blade over your opponent's sword. Then apply a small amount of natural movement. If the opponent tries to use a violent movement (up) to oppose you, you can then respond accordingly with an oblique movement and thrust. If your opponent responds with a natural movment (down) you can attack with a thrust.
Tacto is also important in terms of safety. The best way to be aware of where the opponent's blade is, is to be in contact with it. This opposition is vital in Destreza, whereas in the Italian method voiding the blade rather than opposing it is acceptable.
The image above compares tacto (blades touching) and no tacto. Tacto is used to determine what an opponent will do next bases off pressure or lack-there-of on your weapon.
Oblique Movement An oblique movement is using a natural movement to shift your sword from the inside of your opponent's blade to the outside, or from the outside to the inside. During this movement you wil combine it with a violent movment (up) so as to gain atajo. This is what the Italians call a cavazione. An oblique movement takes time and so must be done quickly as possible. Because gaining atajo is so critcial in Destreza, oblique movements will be routinely neccessary. On the other hand if you have atajo and someone attempts an oblique movement, you can counter with one of your own while you attack, maintaining, tacto, atajo and opposition!
A Beat is a technique in which you perform a mandoble cut to an opponent's sword to move it. This movement must be done quickly and followed up with an attack. Done too slowly, a beat, like an oblique movement, can be countered.
A Feint is when one uses a fake attack and then proceeds to strike elsewhere. A common example is to chamber a cut to the left, then swing the blade to the right instead when the opponent covers. A 'good' feint can be carried on to be a real strike. This prevents making an attack (real or otherwise) that would never hit and thus open you up to attack.
Low-Line Hanging Guard
A hanging guard is seen in George Silver's English broadsword system. It consists of the guard being at the chest, or above the head, while the blade's tip is pointed to the ground and slightly angled. In the Spanish system a variation of the hanging guard is used.
The low-line hanging guard has the guard of the rapier at chest level in line with the extened arm. The tip is pointed towards the ground. While this may seem like an unsafe position, it is excellent for cutting with a medio tajo or arrebatar. Often the low-line hanging guard is used to parry an attack then followed up with a cut.
Richard performs a beat on Eduardo's sword.
Eduardo's sword is knocked off line. Rather than fight the movement, Eduardo moves with it bringing his point even further off line.
Eduardo takes a deep step to the left. He turns his wrist and readies to complete a mixed step.
Eduardo completes his mixed step. As his left foot takes the lead he siezes Richard's arm. His right foot moves back itno his 90 degree stance (it's not there yet) and he thrusts Richard in the chest.
The Spanish Decision Tree
In Destreza the core mechanics allow for a solution to every problem. Spanish solutions start off as the fastest and work their way down to the slowest. It is best to use the faster solutions, but being surprised or physically slower will cause you to use the slower methods.
Your opponent takes a step towards you. He then performs a beat against your blade. He then attempts to move forward and thrust.
Solutions from fastest to slowest.
1. As your opponent moves towards you, take an advance towards him at an angle and deliver a thrust. Maintain atajo and your 90 degree stance throughout.
2. As your opponent attempts a beat he will need to make a violent motion and will move out of a 90 degree angle shortening his sword. He then will make a natural movement to perform the beat.
During your opponent's violent motion take a compass step to the left and deliver a thrust. Your blade will be on the inside of your opponent's. You will gain atajo by lifting the hilt of your blade up as you thrust. If you don't do this your opponent can still strike you because he'll have more sword over yours.
3. After your opponent has beat your sword you are in danger because you are no longer in the 90 degree stance.
First, do not fight the beat of the blade but go with it so your sword's tip is pointed to the ground in a low-line hanging guard. This will rotate your guard into any oncomming thrust.
Second, take a deep compass step to the right. This will close range and at the same time move you past the opponent's tip. Your blade will remain in opposition in a low-line hanging guard.
Third, as you are taking your compass step shoot your left hand forward under your low-line hanging guard. Use your left hand to sieze your opponent's sword/guard/wrist.
Fourth, soon as you sieze your opponent's arm you can deliver an arrebatar cut as you complete the compass step with a swinging of the left foot. Because you moved your left hand under your low-line hanging guard it won't be in the way as you make the cut.
Your opponent is content to not move. (Awesome!)
Solutions from fastest to slowest.
1. Move forward with a small angle to the left, gain atajo and thrust as quickly as possible.
2. Take a compass step left to get past your opponent's point, then move forward, gain atajo and thrust as quickly as possibke.
3. Take a mixed step to the left. This longer step will move you close to your opponent, then swing you about so your left hand can make a seizure. As your right foot moves behind your left, and places you in a left foot leading 90 degree stance, you will perform a cut.
Your opponent circles to your right and the tip of their blade tracks you.
Solutions from fastest to slowest.
1. The key here is your opponet's blade is moving to track you and so they are not in a perfect 90 degree stance. This means their range is reduced. So, move forward with a small angle to the right closing the distance, gain atajo on the outside and thrust quickly as possible. If you remain in the 90 degree stance you will hit them and he will not hit you. Continue to do this and no other responses will be needed.
Your opponent feints to the outside, performs an oblique movement to your inside and attempts a thrust.
Solutions from fastest to slowest.
1. If the feint is recognized, then take a forward movement, gain atajo and thrust as he commits the feint. Remember to lift your hilt high or you may be struck as you strike your opponent.
2. If the feint succeeds in drawing your blade to the outside, take a lateral step to the right. Maintain atajo and change your feet's angle so as to maintain a 90 degree stance and your opponent will be in danger of running onto your blade.
3. If the feint suceeds in drawing your blade to the outside and your opponent begins to initate their attack on the inside then take a mixed step to the left. As your right foot moves you will void your body from the attack. Drop your blade into the low-line hanging guard to parry the incoming attack to your outside.
As your left foot swings you close to your opponent raise your blade for a cut while seeking a left hand sword/guard/wrist seizure. This has to be done simultaneously or your left arm will get in the way of your cut.
As your right foot complete the mixed step, bringing you to a left foot leading 90 degree stance, perform the cut.
Generic Rules on the Decision Tree
In all of the above cases smaller, and thus faster, steps were taken before larger ones. So, there are some general rules to follow in regards to the Spanish decision tree.
1. When initating an attack an advance (usually at an angle to be safe) is the quickest method.
2. When countering, the responses from quickest to slowest are, an advance, a lateral step, a compass step, and a mixed step.
3. When countering, moving towards your opponent allows you to strike them, you to get past their tip, and you to be able to sieze their sword/guard/wrist. This is more advantageous than moving away from your opponent which will keep you safe, but give you no opportunities to attack.
4. The Spanish decision tree doesn't work unless you have the measure of porportion. Your movements will either take too much time to work, or you'll be struck before you can safely move. You can disregard the measure of porportion only AS you attack.
5. The Spanish decision tree doesn't work without atajo. Without blade control you cannot safely attack. Bringing your hilt high and using oblique movements will help win atajo. Remember, the key is to have more sword over theirs.
6. The Spanish decision tree (usually) doesn't work without tacto. If you do not oppose your opponent's blade then you can't safely attain atajo. While it is possible to predict the movement's of an opponent's blade and ignore tacto, it isn't as safe.
This is a very pared down renditon on Destreza and I can't emphasize that enough. There are lots of terms and thing to learn like: What is a line of infinity? How are retreats used? How are rear leg first movements used? And so on. However, before we walk we have to crawl! Good luck!
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