Friday, 29 November 2013

Fencing Parries : Umbrella Fighting Part 1

            Many years ago someone tried to mug a friend of mine. My friend stabbed at the mugger’s throat with his umbrella and with his other hand attempted to “drive his nose up into his brain”. Those of you with some knowledge of anatomy or martial arts, such as those who have read my book will know that you cannot drive the nose into the brain. It is, however, a very good defensive strike and my friend’s spirit and tenacity was correct even if he did learn his fighting moves from novels.
            The umbrella can be a viable weapon. In Robert Sheckley’s  “Hunter/Victim” there is a diverting passage where the protagonist is trained to use an umbrella. I don’t have an electronic version so I will have to find time to type that in for a later blog. Two ways immediately suggest themselves to use an umbrella defensively. One is to use it two-handed like a swagger stick as described by Fairbairn and also in my book. The other is to use it like a fencing sword.
            An umbrella and a fencing sword have several things in common. Both primarily use the point and both are of little use for swung strikes. The umbrella is padded and the foil or epee us unsharpened. Even “sharp” fencing swords such as the rapier and smallsword were only sharp enough to deter the blade being grabbed and lacked the weight and bevel to produce a deep cut. With a cane or umbrella your opponent will be more aware that the weapon may be grabbed. The umbrella lacks a guard, so your hand is more vulnerable.It may be more prudent to make your opening moves with the umbrella not presented forwards. Shown below are a rear-guard and a hanging guard position used with a walking cane.

            When looking at fencing swords as an inspiration for real word defensive moves a few caveats must be kept in mind. The first is that rapiers, smallswords and their derived fencing weapons were used a little differently to other swords. For most swords a parry is taken on the flat or sometimes the back of the blade. With the rapier and smallsword the parry is more commonly taken on the main edge or the outside of the blade. Modern fencing is a sport, and the weapons used are much lighter than their real weapon equivalents. Moves that can be executed with finger and wrist movements will be slower and require more strength with heavier or bulkier weapons. Sport fencing involves limited target areas. For the foil hits can only be made on the torso. For the sabre only above the waist. The defensive moves taught for these weapons concentrate on defending these targets. Epee uses the whole body as a legitimate target but the fencer will have little experience against heavier or longer weapons.
            Fencing is, of course, a broad topic so today’s blog will just consider some of the parries possible with a fencing sword or an object such as an umbrella. In my book I describe how defensive techniques can be considered to involve four quadrants:- High Outside, Low Outside, High Inside and Low Inside. This can be seen to hold true for fencing. The characteristic feature is that since the fencing weapon (or brolly!) attacks with the point all of these defensive moves are made “in-line”, with the point directed towards the attacker for a quick counter attack.
            The different parries are numbered in French and at first glance this seems to have no logic or order. The four most useful parries are

Sixte/Tierce : High Outside

Quarte/ Carte : High Inside

Septime : Low Inside

Octave : Low Outside

            Just to confuse things further, the positions are in some instances different for Foil/Epee and Sabre, depending on the target areas to be defended and the differing characteristics of the weapons.

            The numbering system becomes a little more logical if you consider the whole sequence in order.

            The first parry is Prime (below) and it is sometimes described as the parry you would be most likely to adopt if in the act of drawing your sword. Prime can defend the head on the inside line and uses the hand in pronation (palm down, knuckles up). It is sometimes called “looking at your watch” parry which is helpful in remembering it.

            Seconde is a low outside parry with the hand in pronation. The point is directed downwards, relative to the guard but still points towards your foe. If you imagine that the act of drawing your sword was continued you can imagine that your sword that passed through Prime might end up down and to your outside.
            If you raise your point, you move into Tierce and can defend your high outside. Your hand is still in Pronation. Tierce is one of the primary sabre parries and is used for all weapons that parry with the flat of the blade. It is the recommended high outside parry for umbrellas since it is strong and the hand in pronation with the weight of the handle pushing up on it is less fatiguing.
            If you bring your sword from Tierce across your body to parry on the high inside you will have moved into Quarte. This is the first of the parries that uses the hand supinated. (palm up, knuckles down).
            Now you must imagine your foe tries to strike at your head on the outside and you raise your sword up to parry and defend your head. This is the St.George’s parry or Quinte. Strictly speaking the point is a little higher than the guard. If slightly lower it becomes a hanging guard parry. Ideally the point should still be directed towards your foe when parrying. This parry is so called because St.George is so often shown in paintings with his sword raised above his head. The actual parry of Quinte varies considerably between foil/epee and sabre. For our purposes its variation as a head defence is most useful to us.
            Sixte resembles Tierce but has the hand in supination. Like Tierce it is a high outside defence. Sixte was one of the last fencing parries to be formally named and it reflects that a different part of the blade is used to parry with a rapier/smallsword/foil/epee than with other swords. Switching from Sixte to Quarte or the reverse is probably a fraction quicker since the hand does not change position.
            Septine is the low inside parry and can be thought of as Quarte with the point dropped. The hand is in supination.
            Move your hand across from Septine to the low outside and you have the parry of Octave. This is a supinated version of Seconde.
            There is also a parry of Neuvieme, which resembles a high Septine. Neuvieme also gets described as a variant of Octive with the blade behind the back. Other fencers describe the “ninth parry” as distance, which is a useful reminder that evasion and avoidance are often the best defence.
            While the above list seems extensive it is worth remembering that in his proposed manual for the battlefield use of the broadsword Sir Richard Burton concentrated on just the Tierce and Quarte (“Carte”) parries for this weapon. Low attacks were met by a low Tierce or Quarte, attacks to the head by a high version of Tierce or Quarte. If practicing to defend yourself with an umbrella I would build your technique around these two parries first.
             With a sword, umbrella or any similar one-handed weapon it should be remembered that the section nearest the hand is the strongest and this is where attacks should be parried with.
            Unlike sport fencing, the free hand should be positioned over the chest to defend it. This can be seen being done by Harvey Keitel (the moustached cavalryman) in the clip below.

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