Why a Seventeenth Century Guard is Muddling Your Decision Tree and Losing You Fights
As a preface, this article is intended more as a practical lesson on how to avoid a common mistake while fencing than it is a scholar piece deciphering what the original authors meant. The topic of this is one of the most common mistakes I see fencers make across the board. Hopefully this piece will help alleviate that issue just a bit. Now, on to the show.
How do I win fights?
This is the question of the art as a whole. While I have no desire to try and fit an entire tradition into a single article, there is one key part I would like for us to focus on today. In order to win any given fight, it helps immensely if you already know where your opponent is going to go. Without access to a magic crystal ball, the way we do this is to limit our opponent’s choices by only having one line open at a time. While they might be able to throw more than one kind of attack down that same trajectory (thrusts, cuts, pommels, etc.), we will at least what general trajectory they will be taking. Having more than one line open at a time means we will have to waste precious time figuring out which one our opponent is going to be taking at any given moment, time they will more than likely use to their advantage.
So what’s guardia mista?
Guardia mista (mixed guard) is a guard presented to us by Francesco Alfieri in his 1640 book La Scherma (on fencing). He describes this as a “centered” guard between terza (third) and quarta (fourth). As a note, Alfieri tends to advocate for moderation in all things throughout his text, so it isn’t that surprising that he goes on to advocate for a guard that doesn’t take sides by sitting perfectly in the middle. While he doesn’t give a ton more details on the matter, his description here is incredibly reminiscent of something we get out of Capoferro. In the first part of his book, he describes terza as, “not with the hilt to the outside of the knee, but situated so as to divide the torso in two halves; not high, not low, but right in the middle of the parts of the body that are necessarily open, so as to be equidistant to them and equally ready for all the attacks and defenses.”
For some more general context, Renaissance authors were OBSESSED with geometric ideals. We see this in Neoplatonist-inspired art, revivals in discussions surrounding Euclid, trigonometry diagrams being drawn on top of fencing wood cuts, etc. Capoferro’s whole first section is an exercise in exploring the idealized version of the art of swordplay. Where he departs from Alfieri, though, is when he discusses the practicality of getting into a fight, he suggests for us a terza where our hilt is held to the outside of the knee, thus closing off the outside line.
Those sure are some cool books you spent a lot of time reading, but how do I stop losing so many fights?
Short version: Set up such that where you to drop your hand, you hilt would swing by the outside of your knee.
Long version: By situating your sword directly in the center of your body, you leave both the inside and outside lines open. This means that your opponent can choose to feint to either one, and the disengage to the other side all before you’ve figured out what they were doing. This same line of thought applies to most every starting, extended guards. If your point is low, or, retracted, at least not in presence, it doesn’t particularly matter whether it’s perfectly bisecting your body. This also doesn’t especially matter in guards that take place with our point inside our opponent’s body. So the Bolognese guardia di faccia or Fiore’s posta longa can have the point out without the guard being held to one side or the other, because they aren’t starting guards, they’re ending positions. Now, those positions might end up being used to collect an opponent’s blade or do some other non-lethal action, but they aren’t places you start the fight in.
The only centered point forward starting guards we see in the Italian tradition are done with the arms retracted, such as Fiore’s posta breve and posta bicorno.
Alfieri does follow this line of thinking by showing us a retracted permutation of guardia mista in his sword and dagger section. The reason it works here, though, is that he has the dagger blocking out the inside line and the crossing of the sword and dagger together closing off the center line. He in fact tells us specifically that this guard has its opening on the outside line.
At the end of the day, if you seem to be falling for a lot of feints or getting tagged in the arm a lot, take a step out of measure and check to see if you’re forming guardia mista or a good and practical terza. You’d be surprised by how much of a difference moving from one to the other will make.
If you’re looking for more scholarship in regards to Alfieri’s guardia mista, please check out my good friend Justin Aucoin’s article on the subject here: https://thetavernknight.wordpress.com/2020/07/14/alfieri-1640-what-is-the-deal-with-guardia-mista/
 Alfieri Book II, Chapter IV; translated by Tom Leoni
 Capoferro, page 16; translated by Tom Leoni.
 Capoferro, page 24; translated by Tom Leoni
 Alfieri, Book II, Chapter XXII; translated by Tom Leoni