Terms of Italian Swordplay
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This article provides a general overview of terms used in Italian Swordplay. It should generally link to other articles that give a more in-depth view of each given term. This document is organized using the Italian terms with translation to the English terms provided. It is important to note that throughout history there is some ambiguity and mixed usage of any given term. So no single definition can be seen as universal.
The following articles provide the names of the various parts of the sword:
Guardia is the Italian term for ***guard*** and is used synonymously with the term posta, meaning ***position***. The guardie or poste (plural forms of the respective words) are configurations of the body and sword made to facilitate attack and defense, invitation and constraint.
Guards of the Longsword
Guards of the Rapier
The Rapier generally uses four guardie that are similar at least in hand position in all the late period Italian manuscripts. They are:
- Prima (First) - The hand position with the knuckles towards the ceiling. The sword is positioned above the right shoulder, with the blade straight towards the opponent or at a slight downward angle. This is a forward guardia.
- Seconda (Second) – The hand position with the knuckles towards the outside (the right, if you are right handed). The sword is positioned in front of the right shoulder, with the blade angled to the left. This is a forward guardia.
- Terza (Third) – The hand position with the knuckles towards the floor. The sword is positioned with the guard in front of the flank, the elbow and hand at the same height. Tereza is a reverse position guardia and is the most defensive of the Guardia.
- Quarta (Fourth) – The hand position with the knuckles towards the inside. The sword is positioned in front of the left shoulder, with the blade angled towards the right. This is a forward guardia.
Terms of the Misura
Misura (Measure) – The distance between you and your opponent. Measured from the tip of your sword to your opponent’s body.
Misura Largissima (Widest Measure) - The distance where one can strike their opponent with a passing lunge to the body or a stepping lunge to the arm.
Misura Larga (Wide Measure) – The distance at which you can strike your opponent with a lunge.
Misura Stretta (Narrow Measure) – The distance at which you can strike your opponent with an extension of the body and/or a lean of the body.
Misura Strettisima (Narrowest Measure) – The distance at which can strike your opponent’s lead arm with an extension.
Out of Measure – To be far enough away from your opponent that you cannot strike in less than 2 steps.
Safety Measure – A measure used in acting, where the combatants throw blows from out of distance (typically 5 to 10 inches out of range) to ensure that no accidents occur.
Lunge – A movement made typically with an attack, where the combatant takes a large step with their front foot, propelling themselves forward by pushing with their rear leg and extending it fully.
Passing Lunge – A lunge made by passing with the rear leg, crossing ahead of the lead leg. The orientation of the feet can be maintained, or the body can be rotated to bring the offhand into play.
Passo Giusto (Small Step) – The most common form of movement in rapier play
Accressere (Increase / Advancing Step) – A small step in the advance.
Descressere (Decrease / Decreasing Step) – A small step in the retreat.
Passado (Passing Step) – A step made towards or away from your opponent by crossing the lead leg behind the rear, or crossing the rear ahead of the lead. The orientation of the feet is maintained through this step.
Terms of Blade Interplay
Line of Attack – The path that a sword travels along to strike one’s opponent.
Inside Line – A line of attack to the right of your opponent’s sword (the body side)
Outside Line – A line of the attack to the left of your opponent’s sword (the space outside their body)
High Line – A line above the opponent’s sword guard.
Low Line – A line below the opponent’s sword guard.
Stringere (To Constrain) – Placing your sword in a position of advantage over your opponent’s thus forcing them to change their sword position and give up a tempo. This is done, with or without contact, following three techniques: • Edge Orientation – Turning your true edge towards the opponent’s blade. • Crossing the Line – Orienting your sword so that it crosses over the top of your opponent’s. • Leverage – Crossing your opponent’s blade so that their debole (weak) is closer to your forte (strong). For Stringere, only a palmo (palmsbreadth) of difference is required.
Guadagnare (To Gain / To Earn) – Consolidating your advantage by pushing your opponents blade out of line while you proceed to strike. This is done using two techniques: • Striking According to the Point – Strike your opponent’s body at the same height as their point or higher. • Forte on Debole – Firmly placing your opponent’s sword on your forte or guard of your sword.
Palmo (palms breadth) – A unit of Italian measurement approximately the span of your palm from the tip of your extended thumb to the tip of your extended pinky.
Braccio (arms length) – A unit of Italian measurement taken from the distance between the point of your shoulder to the end of your fist.
Cavare (To Disengage / To Extract) – To move your sword from one side of your opponent’s to the other, with the intention of moving into an opening or away from a Stringere or Guadagnare.
Cavare Sotto (Disengage Under) – Performing a cavare by drawing a small U with the tip of your blade underneath your opponent’s.
Cavare Sopra (Disengage Over) – Preforming a cavare by drawing an upside down V over the top of your opponent’s balde.
Cavatione – The noun form of Cavare. A “disengage”.
Cavare di Tempo (Disengage in Time) – To perform a cavare at the same time as your opponent’s advance and stringere. This is typically followed with an immediate strike.
Rabbatta (Beat) – To strike your opponent’s blade and send it offline. This is typically done to create an opening or draw a predictable response from your opponent.
Finta (Feint) – To make a less committed attack to trick your opponent into responding, thus leaving them open in another area.
Gioco Stretto (Narrow Play) – Actions that take place when the swords are firmly in contact with one another are said to be of the Giocco Stretto. In this case the narrowness refers to the lack of space between the blades and the constriction of options because of this state.
Gioco Largo (Wide Play) – Actions that take place when the swords are apart or that are designed to create situations where the weapons are apart to act when you are forced into this space. For example a hard parry to your opponent's sword that knocks it aside is a play of giocco largo, as is the following action on the part of either fighter.
Punta (Thrust) – To strike your opponent with the tip of your sword.
Imbrocatta (Through the Arm) – To strike your opponent over their arm with a descending strike, typically delivered from prima.
Stocatta (Strike) – A swift thrusting attack, typically delivered from terza, rising from below.
Punta Reversi (Reverse Thrust) – A thrust delivered from quarta, often done on the outside line.
The 8 Cuts (Italian: Taglio) • Fendente – A descending vertical cut. • Montante – A rising vertical cut. • Squalembretto – A descending angular cut entering at the shoulder, exiting at the hip. • Tondo – A horizontal cut, typically delivered at waist height. • Sotano – A rising angular cut, entering at the hip, exiting at the shoulder.
Mandritto (Right) – Typically meaning to cut from your right to your left. A mandritto Squalembretto would enter at your opponent’s left shoulder and exit at their right hip.
Riverso (Reverse) – Typically meaning to cut from your left to your right. A Riverso Tondo would enter your opponent’s waist on their right side, and exit on their left.
Falso – A cut delivered with the false edge of the blade. The term Falso can refer to any cut delivered with the false edge (typically a rising cut) or can be combined with the name of a cut to specificy direction, for example: Riverso Squalembretto Falso.
Manco (Left / Backhand) – An alternate name for a Riverso Sotano.
Ridoppio (Redouble) – An alternate name for a Drita Sotano Falso. Thought to be named such because it was a common second attack that immediately followed a Riverso Squalembretto, thus ‘redoubling’ the attack.
Terms of the Tempo
Tempo (Time / Rhythm) – 1. The measure of time in a fight. 2. The length of time required to perform a simple action. 3. The measurement of the length of time while you are moving and your opponent is still, or while you are still and your opponent is moving. Tempo is only measured when the fighters enter into Misura Larga.
Prima Tempo (First Time) – To strike as your opponent steps into range or ***breaks the measure***. Prima tempo is also the opportunity to strike your opponent when at measure your opponent fixes themselves and allows you a free tempo to strike where they do not act.
Contra Tempo (Counter-Time) – To strike as your opponent attacks you.
Dui Tempi (Double Time) – To strike your opponent as they recover their sword. This typically takes two tempos. For example in the first tempo you beat your opponent's sowrd, sending it aside, in the second tempo you strike your opponent as they recover their weapon and attempt to bring it back on line.
Mezzo Tempo (Half Time / Middle Time) – To perform an action that ends in half the time of an opponent’s action.
Stesso Tempo (Same Time) – To take an action at the same time and of the same length as your opponent.