Chapter 7: On Positions of the Sword Arm

Comment/Interpretation:

Chapter VII is where Don Manuel describes the positions you can adopt in the Spanish School and these are taken from destreza. They are positions of the feet, body, arms and sword. They can be seen as positions to be en garde. The positions can be seen in plate no. 3. It is useful to note, that in all three stances, the sword arm is held straight out, with the sword pointing at the opponent. The sword arm forms a ninety degree angle from the body. Don Manuel does not describe when these positions are to be adopted. The main differences between them are that the second and third position is on which leg his weight is placed. Perhaps one can deduce that if the fencer anticipates attacking, he will adopt the second position, where his weight is on his rear leg. If he anticipates having to defend, then he could adopt the third position, where his weight is on his front leg. If he is unsure, then the first position has the weight balanced across both feet.

This chapter is also notable for one of Don Manuel’s attacks on other fencing masters, who, he says add in superfluous and confusing additional French, Italian and mixed positions.

Plate 3

Translation:

En Garde Positions

There are three useful and universal en garde positions that a fencer can use both for attacking and defending. There is no need for any other position. Although some writers have tried to introduce two French, two Italian, two Spanish and one mixed position, I believe that this is superfluous and confusing and this is why I do not mention them and they should be completely excluded.

First position: The fencer is standing with his feet in the first position and one foot apart from each other, with his body upright and side on to this opponent. The only difference is that the feet are slightly further apart as can be seen in figure 1 of plate 3.

Second position : The feet are about two and half feet apart with body lowered and knees bent slightly. The left foot is turned outwards with end of the toes in line with the knee. The right leg does not have to be as bent as the left. There just needs to be a slight outwards curve. The body and the right foot in to be in a straight line with the weight of the body on the left leg. The fencer should stand as sideways on as possible so as not to expose anything other than his ribs. This can be seen in figure 2. This position can be made in two ways. Firstly, by advancing the right foot or secondly by moving the left foot backwards.

Third position: Think of the fencer as standing with his feet three and half feet apart. This refers to the gap from heel to heel. The body is lowered and the right knee is bent so that it directly above the buckle of the fencer’s shoe. The left leg is strong and straight and forms a diagonal as can be seen in figure 3 of plate 3.

These stances should be favoured above all else and without them it is not possible to achieve anything in the True Art. There is no fixed measurement for the positions as people come in different shapes and sizes.

Original Text:

De Las Plantas

Las planta, utiles y universa\es con las que el dies­ tro puede hacer todas sus funciones Iasi para la defensa propia I como para la ofensa de su contrario , son tres, y no se necesita de mas. Pues aunque hay algunos que han querido introducir dos francesas , dos italianas , dos espa­nolas  y una  mixta ; a mf  me  parece  que esto  es superfluo, y aun de suma confusion I por lo que no hag() mcncion de ellas I antes hien se deben excluir enteramente.

Primera pianta util. Sup6ngase al diestro en la pri­ mera posicion de pies con el cuerpo derecho y perfilado, con solo la diferencia de tenerlos desviados uno del otro la cantidad de un pie, como lo manifiesta la  figura  Ide la estampa nurn. 3.

Segunda. Sup6ngasele apartado un pie del otro la cantidad de dos pies y medio, baxando el cuerpo, doblan­ do las rodillas , vuelta la punta del pie izquicrdo hacia afuera ; de manera q_ue si de su rodilla cayese una Unea perpendicular , habia de tocar en la punta del pie ; la de recha no se ha de doblar tanto , solo ha de formar en la corva angulo obtuso : el cuerpo y pies ocupando la linea recra , y sobrecargado sobre la pierna izquierda , y todo lo que se pueda  perfilado  para  no  descubrir  mas  punto  que el costado, segun lo demuestra la figura n. 2 . Esta pla11ta se forrna de dos maneras ; la una aumentando con el pie derecho, y la otra sacando 6 retirando hacia atras el i:i quierdo.

Tercera.  Considerese  al diestro apartado  un  pie  del<>tro la cantidad de tres pies y medio del formador ; esto es , de hueco entre uno y otro talon , poco mas 6 menos (asi en esta como en las dos anteriores), baxando el cuerpo Y doblando la rodilla derecha , de manera que cayga una linea perpendicular encima de la hebilla ila pierna iz­ quierda estirada y firme , formando  con  el  todo  linea  rec­  ta , que por estar el cuerpo baxo sera diagonal , como lo declara  la  figura  sefialada  con  el num. 3. Estas plantas tienen la preferencia en todo,  y sin ellas nada se puede hacer en verdadera destreza. No se  les  da niedida fixa ,pues por lo regular no lo son sus form.adores.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter 7: On Positions of the Sword Arm

  1. It is interesting that de Brea does not make clear which should be the preferred or basic position (at least to my understanding). From the entire book one could assume that the first position is the preferred one when doing general movements, the second position is only used to get the advantage or defend (together with the steps) and the third one is basically a thrust.

    However, when seeing Destreza rapier, quite often the two fencers are standing in the second position and very rarely use the first one. Could this be because rapiers are heavier (the second position is better) while for smallswords, where the weight is not a problem, the first position is preferred?

    Any thoughts or suggestions?

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    • I think this is a really god point, Enrique. I think it would be hard to keep a rapier in first position for long. Even if you could, you would not have the strength to be able to exercise force or pressure as De Brea describes. My feeling is that the system is dynamic and that positions are adjusted and used together with movement. The more I read, the more I think that this combination of fluid movement backwards, forwards, around the circle and diagonally, combined with the different positions is key to the system. This is what creates openings that the fencer can take advantage of. What do you think?

      Like

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