August 15, 2011

Illuminations: The Parry & The Thrust


Le Duel by Achilles Emperaire.

With the release of The Duel x5, Melville House is launching a new digital innovation, HybridBooks, which combines the concept of a digitally enhanced eBook with the printed book. For more information on HybridBooks please click here.

Throughout August we will be posting samples from the Illuminations — additional material that will appear exclusively in the first releases in our Hybrid Books series. So sharpen your sword, keep your powder dry and get ready for a month of dueling history, lore and technique. That’s right. Dueling technique…

As promised in yesterday’s sampling from the Illuminations to The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist, we’re going to cover some of the basics of the sword fight. And where better to start than with the parry and the thrust. Especially the parry. The last thing we want to do is generalize about this sober subject, but duelists tend to agree that the thrust is much more difficult to execute when you have a sword stuck in your side.

The Parry

A parry is a movement that turns away an opponent’s foil point from the spot it is intended to hit and which may be merged into an attack. The reader may be of the opinion that the principles of attack should be given first consideration, but as parries are simpler we award them priority to attack in this instance. In relation to parries, study carefully the photos referred to later.

The arm is subordinate in the making of parries, which to a greater extent are executed with the fingers and wrist. It may well be added that the edge of the foil, as opposed to the flat side, is used in all parries, which are made by tapping an opponent’s blade lightly and quickly. The forte of the parrying blade strikes the adversary’s weapon. In this manner the forte, the point of your blade that gives you the advantage of the maximum of leverage, comes in contact with the opposing foil at the point— the foible—where its force is least capable of offering resistance.

The Parry of Quarte: The most important parry is the parry of quarte. In this maneuver the blade is carried quickly across the body from right to left. Use the fingers and wrist as much as possible. The elbow should be kept on a line with the hip bone and far enough from the body—just far enough and no more—to prevent cramping. Now, with a light tap on the foible of your opponent’s foil his point is turned away from its line of attack, leaving your foil pointing slightly upward. Your right forearm should slant across your body to guard your left breast.

The Parry of Sixte: In making a parry of sixte, proceed as follows: Move your foil quickly across your body from left to right—from inside to outside—protecting the right breast. With practice you will be able to instill enough strength into the stroke to sweep your opponent’s blade out of its intended course and free of the line of your body. The wrist, however, will strengthen gradually. Do not rely on arm parries. They are clumsy and ineffective against a trained fencer.

The Parry of Septime: In parrying an attack in septime maintain the hand in the same position as in the parry of quarte. Drop the point with a semicircular outward movement below the hand, taking care not to lower the hand or to drop the point below the waist line. Use power enough to carry the opposing foil clear of your body. The name “half circle” is frequently applied to this maneuver. The parry of septime is generally used when, engaged in quarts, the low line on the same side is threatened.

The Parry of Octave: Should your opponent threaten the low line on the same side when you are covered in sixte, you resort to the parry of octave. The parry is made by an outward half circle maneuver similar to that in the parry of septime.

“Low Quarte,” or The Parry of Quinte: The parry of quinte guards the section between septime and quarte. Execute it by lowering the hand from quarte toward the hip, keeping the point directed slightly upward, and force the attacking point away from your body.

The Parry of Tierce: In making a parry of tierce hold the foil in pronation. The parry covers the same ground as sixte, but in the latter, the foil is held in supination.

The Parry of Prime: The parry of prime covers the same ground as septime. It is then termed “low prime.” It may also be used in covering the high inside lines, when it is called “high prime.” In no other parry but this, does it become necessary to change the grip of the foil. The parry of prime is made from guard in quarte by moving the hand toward the left shoulder, dropping the point down sharply and turning the back of the hand upward and outward as far as possible.

The Parry of Seconde: In the parry of seconde the foil is also held in pronation. The movement differs from the parry of octave, just as tierce differs from sixte.

The student of fencing should remember that while the movements involved in the various attacks, parries, etc., are described in detail, they should be executed so quickly and so smoothly that they appear to be but one. Jerkiness and slowness are at all times to be avoided. The successful fencer must be as supple as a snake and as agile as a wildcat.


Let’s reiterate: Supple as a snake. Agile as a wildcat. Got it? Good. That means you’re ready to move on to the the thrust.


The Thrust

The thrust is the fundamental element of attack in the fencer’s repertoire. Its importance is paramount, and is in striking contrast with its comparative ease of execution.

To perform the ordinary thrust, merely lower the point of the foil to the point you wish to hit and straighten the arm snappily. Manipulate only the fingers and wrist in dropping the point. The principal requirements are accuracy and quickness. You must practice the thrust incessantly. Do not be led into careless ways through over-estimation of the simplicity of the movement.

The thrust is termed a “riposte” when your opponent can be reached by it alone; that is, without the forward movement of any other part of the body. You will be aided in thrusting properly by remembering two inviolate regulations. First, the arm must be straightened at the moment the foil strikes home and the point should be dropped lower than the hand. Many an otherwise capable fencer has ruined the technique of his art by failing to develop the thrust.

We would be remiss if we failed to note that the lunge, albeit a more desperate if yet powerful attack, is included in the full version of the Illuminations. Not to mention the proper manner of recovering your position after a thrust or lunge, which is probably something essential. I guess you will just have to go get The Duel by Heinrich von Kleist and download the Illuminations (which are also included in the eBook) to make sure you’ll be able to execute these other important facets of the fencing game.

Tomorrow we’ll sample some of the finer points of trial by combat, which plays an essential role in Heinrich von Kleist’s The Duel.