Fencing, Old and New. *
As Typified by Angelo and Prévost.

Journal of Western Martial Art
April 2003

by H. A. Colmore Dunn

Originally published in Outing magazine, October, 1894, No. 25, p. 29-34.

The better opinion, however, seems to be that expressed by M. Camille Prévost, that one should always offer to the adversary a three-quarters view, as the speed of the lunge is impaired. And certainly the farther one screws the body to the left, impelled no doubt by the laudable motive of lessening the target, in order that the adversary’s glory may be enhanced if he succeeds in scoring a hit, the more tortuous and crab-like will any backward or forward movement become.

As to the line in which one should cover in coming on guard, Angelo’s words are emphatic, "La garde en quarte est la plus avantageuse et la plus brillante des armes." This is still the received view, though on looking at the plate in which the position of the guard in quarte is illustrated it will be seen that there are points of difference between it and the modern position. In the first place the body is thrown too far back from its work, and, again, the hand is kept too high and the arm extended too far in front of the body, placing thereby the faible of the blade too much at the disposal of the forte of the blade of the adversary. Moreover, there are now-a-days many more reasons to justify the preference for taking guard in quarte than there were in the time of Angelo. As at present constituted, with the arm more drawn in and the hand carried at the height of the breast, guard in quarte very effectually closes its own line, is far the best starting point for easily forming other parries, has the widest field open to it for riposting, and, lastly, the hand is there already placed for the formation of "contre de quarte," which is the strongest and most serviceable of all the parries. In Angelo’s day the counter parries, which he alludes to as parries of "contre-dégagement," were not elaborated and worked out, as the few simple feints which were then employed did not imperatively require the use of the circular parries to countervail them.

Having placed his pupil on guard in the most advantageous position, Angelo turns his attention to the problem of how to move him about and is fully alive to the necessity of maintaining the same relative position in breaking and closing the measure as that assumed while standing on the defensive, so as in his own words "ne pas perdre l’aplomb de sa garde." Nevertheless, in spite of having this vital condition before his eyes, after mentioning the usual ways,

he retains and goes on to describe the old-fashioned action of passing, which it seems strange to find in conjunction with the lunge, except for the purpose of contrasting the simplicity and vigor of the latter with the awkward, risky character of the former. Taking the pass in its commoner use in advancing to attack, he describes it as performed "en passant le pied gauche à côté du pied droit;" and this movement is well shown in Fig. 4, where the right-hand man, on the pass of his opponent, avoids his point by the dangerous expedient of a back lunge "par l’échappement du pied gauche." Both faces betray lively emotion, and if they had been drawn by a later artist might have been thought to convey the pain and disgust of the one at being hit, and the surprise of the other at hitting, with such an evolution,

It must be borne in mind that these illustrations have been selected partly with an eye to the picturesque, and also with the view of bringing out the most striking differences between the art of fencing in the days of Angelo and at the present time. Obviously, therefore, such a plan of choice does very scant justice to the soberer qualities exhibited by the author, and it would be unfair to draw too strong inferences from the peculiarities here set forth as to the general tone of the work. It is particularly necessary to bear this warning in mind in looking at Fig. 3, which shows the avoidance of a hit by the pronounced movement of the full volte. Viewing such a picture as exhibiting a practical action which a man of sense could contemplate adopting at a crisis, it is difficult to decide whether to admire most the complete control of the limbs necessary to carry out such a maneuver, or the courage which would not hesitate to adventure all on so hazardous a chance.

Look again at Fig. 5, and ask yourself if you would lightly venture on such an enterprise. It is worth noting, too, that by way of bringing matters to a head the hero of this illustration does not shrink from making the parry of prime his starting point. Angelo, however, in a mighty unconcerned manner, offers a few suggestions on the safest way of going about to disarm one’s adversary. you are by no means to take hold of the arm of your opponent, else he may pass his sword into the left hand and spit you so; still less are you to try and grasp the blade, lest haply he should

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Journal of Western Martial Art
April 2003