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Giganti’s Feints: A Revelation

You know those times you grapple with a problem for months and then someone just drops the answer in your lap and everything is suddenly illuminated?  Well let me walk you through my past two days of sword research.

This weekend I came back from Pennsic with a few things I know I wanted to work on.  While I was overall happy with how I performed, the fights I had showed me what I want to work on next to improve my game because what fun would it be if I just stayed put?  The top thing I came into practice this week knowing I wanted to hone even further was feints.  A bit ago I published an article on how to teach feints, so I’d say I have a fairly decent grasp on the subject.   That said, there’s always room for improvement.

After I wrote that article, the follow up project I had planned for that was to make a giant spreadsheet of every feint in Giganti’s first book (and possibly his second), in order to ascertain some greater pattern.  This was fairly daunting and as such it remained not even half finished for months.  Then, Tuesday night one of my teachers offhandedly handed me the answer I was looking for.

So as a quick recap, there’s essentially two kinds of feints in rapier.  The first is a feint-direct where you throw the feint on the line you’re already on and if they respond you switch to a different line.  If they don’t respond, as Giganti points on every single feint, just stab them on that line.  The other option is the feint-disengage where you throw your feint by disengaging to another line and then threatening.  If they respond you just go back to your original line (or do a half disengage and strike under).  If they don’t?  Just stab them.

My previous advice was to work through both of these both as the person initiating the play who’s finding and moving forward to start and to do both as the person responding to being found. The new thing I was just given, though, makes that whole decision tree way easier and makes the pattern of Giganti’s plates way easier to comprehend.

Previously I was able to see how Giganti wrote his first seven plays as a direct line, but things got muddier after that.  I could tell that he would show a play starting on one line and then often have the next play switch to starting on the other line, but it was difficult to see the forest for the trees.  Plate 1 is how to lunge, plate’s 2 & 3 are how to gain your opponent’s blade on the inside and then outside lines, 4 & 5 are how to respond to a disengage and then strike, and finally 6 & 7 are how to counter-disengage.  I saw how he would teach us the response to a more advanced technique before having us do it ourselves as now how to survive anything that comes your way is more important than being able to throw a variety of attacks.  From there I could ascertain that plate 8 is where he moved us away from winning purely via mechanical advantage and into the realm of feints, but after that I lost the trail.

So the piece of advice I just got, like almost all of upper level coaching, is just two general principles put together in a way I (the student) hadn’t thought of before.  If you are the one finding and you want to feint, feint-direct.  If you are being found and want to feint, feint-disengage.  If you already have a line, there’s no good reason to leave it.  You might want to test the waters before committing further down that line, but don’t leave if it’s already yours.

Something that’s both incredibly important while drilling this which will also pay off dividends by reducing your cognitive load during your fight is to decisively only offer one line or the other.  If you’re setting up and want your opponent to attack to the inside, make the outside completely unavailable.  As I’ve written about previously, we often end up drifting into a guardia mista, which not only makes drilling this more difficult as your partner won’t be certain as to which line to proceed on, but also makes you more vulnerable in a fight by making it so that you can’t predict where your opponent is going to go.  This all applies to attacking as well as defending, but to a lesser degree as over committing and crossing your blade too far over your opponent’s makes you vulnerable to a disengage in a way that a solid, static guard with only one line available doesn’t.

Okay, back to the text.  With this new piece of information in front of me, reading Giganti’s feints feels like walking out with a new glasses prescription after years of not knowing you needed an update.  Plate 8 is just you being found to the inside, and then doing a feint-disengage to the outside.  While this time we are the one doing the more advanced technique first, you are still the one responding to an initial threat because getting out alive is more important than coming in and steamrolling your opponent.  Plate 9 has us being found to the outside line and doing a feint-disengage from there.  There’s a few more complicated bits that follow from that, but the opening to each play is still following a clear order.  Plate 10 starts with us coming in with a feint-direct, but doesn’t take the time to go through both the inside and outside lines.  He then ends this plate with responding to a find with a feint-disengage over the top instead of underneath, but the first part still follows the pattern.  Plate 11 is another one of coming in with a feint-direct, but brings in the addendum from plate 10 and has us disengage over the top.

Plates 12 through 19 are about voids and attacks that aren’t just taking the line and firing straight down the center, but figuring out a schema for those is a project for another day.  As well, Giganti teaches us how to feint against a dagger on plates 33 through 35, but by that point he assumes that we already know how to feint against a sword and is just circling back to show us dagger-specific feints after having spent a good long while on teaching us how to win with the dagger via mechanical advantage as well as via invitations.

Hopefully you find this helpful in your own study of the art of the rapier, or at the very least found my journey of discovering amusing and found that it lightened up your afternoon.

Published by Arik Mendelevitz

A martial artist since the age of 8, I picked up a rapier for the first time in March of 2008 and have never looked back since.

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