Today could be about the volte (evasion from opponents blade by moving the back foot to the right (for righty) or left (for lefty) displacing the body away from the line of attack and creating a new attack line for yourself)… but it’s not. Voltes are cool. But so is Varvarinski.
Nikolai Varvarinski is a fencing master in my book, Open Wounds. Here’s how he describes his philosophy of fencing to the protagonist, Cid Wymann:
“In war I lose count. It is what happen in war.”
“How many in duels?”
“In first duel I place my point in other boy’s chest”— he pointed to the center of his chest—“here. Into heart, I think. Blade go into body—go into body far. I let go of blade—stare at boy. He stare back at me but does not die. I think, why does boy not die? While I think, he put blade in my side and almost kill me.” He lifted up his shirt and showed me a thick puckered scar above his hip.
“You don’t remember?”
“There are many things I not remember.”
“What happened to your fencing school?”
He did not answer for a while, then his hand trembled a moment and he clenched it into a fist. “Enough talk. Now back to work!”
If your opponent knows you like to stop thrust and they expect you to counter in the high line (for their head or wrist) you under stop-thrust (really a reverse lunge or pasata soto) and go for the low line or hip or under his arm which if they’re parrying or attacking high goes under their defense. You’ve got to have good flexibility in your groin (okay just think about it – a reverse lunge that is deeper than your regular lunge and supported by your left hand on the ground – I’m thinking groin pull) or it’s gonna hurt. I’ve had a number of friends do this in a stage fight and get up very slowly afterwards. Just saying.
Can you use this in competition? Sure. Is it used often? No. Could it be effective in a real fight? You betcha, but it’s a move you use only once and it either works or you’re probably dead.
Now for a special treat watch this video – The Speed of Fencing. Look for the attacks to the toes, the duck and stop-thrust, the slow motion hits on the wrist and chest, and the graceful beautty of the dance. This is épée.
…is a defensive (mostly) move to the side. It’s an evasion of the blade by displacing your body left or right. In an advance you move forward. In a retreat you move back. In a traverse you move your front foot to the side while you parry. Then you keep going sideways and get the hell out-of-the-way.
Traverse left, parry two.
Traverse right, parry seven.
Attacks with the point tend to be direct, giving fencing a linear feel. The feet are lined up one behind the other and most movement is forward or back. Side-movements like traverses and voltes give transitional rapier and small-sword fighting more dimensions.
Broadsword and rapier fighting can be more circular. The stance is more squared off because it makes it easier to cut and move with a heavier weapon when your feet are both facing forward and your hips are squared to your opponent. Both feet advance.
is one of my favorite fencing terms.
It means to attack and attack again. If your first attack misses or is blocked you do not retreat or recover. You attack again without pause. That is a remise.
It requires great confidence and nerve, sometimes leg strength for a double or triple lunge. If you pause after missing the first time and hesitate, even for a second, you lose the initiative. The remise is finished. So don’t pause. Keep going forward and attacking until you touch your point to his chest (or wrist, or arm, or head, or, or, or…). It is thrilling to do and a bit frightening to have done to you.
To defend against the remise you retreat, parry, stop thrust, or some combination of these three in order to stop the juggernaut. Cut into his attack. Get out of distance. Make him pause and hesitate, so that you can take the initiative from him.
My books original title was Remise. My publisher said it had to be changed. “It is a French word,” she said. “Nobody will know what it means.”
Open Wounds is more brutal but Remise is elegant violence.
Here’s my main character, Cid Wymann learning about the remise from his old Russian fencing master, Nikolai Varvarinksi.
Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz, Chapter 17
“Aldo Nadi says—”
“I am not Nadi,” Varvarinksi shouted and threw his glove onto the ground. “You want to take lesson from Nadi you find Nadi!”
“I didn’t mean—”
“Kónchit’! No more questions. You learn. I teach! Remise is attack, then attack.”
“What do you mean?” We had been working on parry-riposté drills, Nikolai pushing me to parry later and later, and to riposté faster and faster.
Nikolai picked up his glove and épée. He cinched his leather wrist strap tight and secured the grip against his palm. “With foil you extend arm before attack. Da?”
I nodded and rolled my eyes, having heard his explanation of foil what seemed like a thousand times before.
“Good,” he said, ignoring me. “You know difference between foil and épée?”
“Yes, yes,” I said, nodding and mouthing the words with him.
“If you parry, I withdraw arm, extend again before I attack in redoublement,” he said, showing me with his blade in quick, sharply etched movements.
“That sounds French,” I said.
“Quiet!” he shouted and launched an attack at my chest so quickly I barely had time to parry. Only instead of relaxing his arm back into en garde he kept his arm extended and attacked again to my hip. I stumbled back just in time to parry his strike in seconde and retreated again, now off balance, parrying another attack to my shoulder in sixte, only the third time I was too slow and his point touched my upper arm. Nikolai didn’t stop. His momentum threw him forward and pushed his point into my flesh. I tripped over my feet and fell to the ground. My arm felt as though it had been pierced.
“Remise!” he said, looking down at me, anger seething out of his lips.
“Remise,” I repeated, my own anger building in return. I touched the bruised skin of my arm. There was some blood where the point had hit. It was sore and would be black and blue in the morning. “Remise,” I said again, quietly. The world slowed down and my senses expanded. I heard the rasping sound of gravel shifting beneath Nikolai’s front foot and the dull thudding of my heart. His breath was ragged. A high-pitched buzzing floated by one of my ears and passed around to the other.
It seemed impossible for such a large and out-of-shape man to move that fast. In drills he pushed me with his own attacks, but they were timed and rhythmic, beautiful in their own way and mesmerizing in their patterns, but never blinding in speed. I’d thought he was fast enough to touch me only if I made a mistake. Now, watching him walk awkwardly away from me, his shoulders slumping forward, his belly hanging again over his pants, my anger grew. “Why don’t you try that again?” I said, the words seeming to elongate out in front of me as if in a dream.
Nikolai stopped in his tracks, then turned to face me. “You want to fight me?” His words were crisp, dangerous.
“Yes,” I said.
->— Open Wounds, by Joseph Lunievicz
The guard that protects the high inside line. Each of the guards – or ways you stand when you’re in on guard position leaves open some areas and closes off others. Terza is the most common guard and protects the high and low outside but as long as you stand sideways with your left shoulder back leaves little open. Quarta protects the torso strongest. It also looks cool. In the image to the left imaging his palm is up and swung a little to the left…
According to Camillo Agrippa’s Trattato Di Scienzia d’ Armes’ (Milanese fencing master from 1550s also a mathematician) the ward/guard is most useful against adversaries who prefer cutting attacks to your left side. The guard position is more defensive in nature although it is also used to engage your opponent’s blade and set up for gliding type attacks (glissades).