Tag Archives: Capo Ferro


Although in this case I am defining armed combat as any hand-to-hand martial art that includes weapons (i.e; sticks, swords, knives), the same advice would also be applicable to unarmed fighting as well. Nonetheless, I am aiming these guidelines more at the fencer than the boxer.

Rule 1; You train in order to fight, so you will fight the way you train. If you train with low intensity, or pause after each technique, then you will wind up fighting the same way. True, beginners need to take the time to learn basic skills and correct their form, but once the basic movements are under their belt, it is imperative to include drills that are fluid and dynamic. After you memorize the sequence you are trying to learn you should begin practising it as though you were fighting. Circle and move in and out as you work with your partner, and when you go to execute the technique you should be sure that you are moving arrhythmically.

Movement in and out of measure;

Outside measure (both combatants are outside the distance in which they can strike each other)

-Don’t be static. Even when you are safely out of range you should not stand still. To use rapier and dagger as an example; a fencer in this style could stand in a scientifically perfect guard, with their sword covering one line and their dagger the other. However, if their opponent is clever, standing in such a perfect guard will tell them far too much. By standing still you may be covering yourself perfectly, but you are also doing very little to disguise your intent. Your opponent can see exactly how your weight is distributed, and therefore can deduce the most likely ways that you will move. Deception is paramount, especially when dealing with edged weapons.

-Move slowly, staying relaxed and calm. Rock slightly on the balls of your feet, circle and angle around your opponent while keeping measure. Don’t let your posture reveal your intentions.

Wide measure (Combatants can strike each other with a single, committed attack.)

-This measure is the one that demands the most deception. It important not to give anything away to your opponent, since an error on your part could result in immediate defeat.

-Move a little more, bounce or shift your weight just enough to keep yourself loose and disguise your intent

-Circle in both directions, and don’t let your opponent corner you into just circling one way

-Cover yourself with a guard but be loose and relaxed

Narrow measure (Combatants can strike each other without a lunge, by leaning, stepping, or reaching.)

-Never stop moving

-Gain entry with an angled approach, never step directly in to the centre line as your first attack

-If your opponent strikes first, defend while stepping to the side, not backwards,

-Try to set up rhythms and them immediately break them

-Keep the flow of the fight going until you are outside of measure again

-Don’t pause after an attack, even if it is successful, but recover out with a side step or in with an angled step

Narrowest measure (Combatants are close enough to grapple.)

-Don’t ‘arm wrestle’, move tactically and positionally

-Roll around the pressure from your opponent, don’t try to fight it with brute strength

-Attack and defend constantly without any pause or unnecessary pushing and shoving, if something doesn’t work, immediately move to plan B.


Picture Perfect

In working with Western Martial arts there is no denying that half of the interpretations of the old manuals come from studying the plates and illustrations. (The other half being deciphering the arcane grammar…) I feel that there is something that many people overlook in regards to the pictures and their co-relation to the attached description – they are hand drawn. That means that the artist had to sketch the subject while the fencer did his best to hold still. This is why it is important to ‘filter’, as it were, the images through the descriptions in the text. The person drawing the plate is, unless I am mistaken, rarely a fencing master himself. So while the image may be a static and technically correct demonstration of a technique, it is most probably not how the manoeuvre would look when executed during combat. One has to imagine the moment AFTER the plate. The fencer would not pause as he finished his attack, he would recover immediately to guard without any pause.

Take modern boxing as an example. If I were to take still photos of a champion boxer demonstrating a perfect jab and cross then I would indeed have an illustration of a perfectly sound technique.  However, the dynamic and athletic way in which the fighter transitions between those positions cannot be captured in posed illustrations. The pictures of the techniques would come nowhere near doing justice to the graceful way the person actually moved when fighting freely.

Therefore it seems like folly to try and PERFECTLY replicate the plates in renaissance fencing manuals, since they are intended as a scientific demonstration of artful techniques as opposed to a captured moment of elegant combat. You have to take into account that the illustration displays someone who is doing their best to hold still, as opposed to someone who is actually moving quickly and lightly on their feet. For instance, I have sometimes seen interpretations of such masters as Marozzo (depicted above) that seem to step statically from one guard to the other, rather that throwing cuts that facilitate a smooth transition between guards. It is quite possible to throw two dynamic cuts that pass perfectly through four guards without pausing in between each motion. When I look at the illustrations of Marozzo I notice his wide stance, and that his body weight is held over the lead leg. To me, that bespeaks of someone who is moving quickly and prepared to angle and sidestep without having to pause and shift his balance. Fencing is like all martial arts; when it is done at full speed it should be dynamic, fast and efficient. It should be a constant flow as opposed to the steps of a clockwork soldier.

So by all means, study the academic side of these historic fighting styles. However, do remember in your studies that they ARE fighting styles. Like any skill; the academic side isn’t everything, you need experience making it actually work in your own way.

The Trouble with WMA

Oh Western Martial Arts…

It has been mentioned elsewhere that us guys at Scatha Combat Guild have distanced ourself from the distinction as a Western Martial Arts school. That is because we are, first and foremost, a plain old fashioned Martial Arts school. It is true that our curriculum includes techniques and theories that were originally derived from the study of aged manuals, but following in the footsteps of the ancient masters isn’t our intent. The WMA label no longer suits what we are. We no longer teach Marozzo, or Capo Ferro, or Fiorre. Everyone is different, and no one style derived any one master will work for every student we have. Martial arts is about adaptability, finding what works best for each of us. The dogmatic recreation of specific individuals simply doesn’t allow for that.

And, frankly, I could do without ever having another debate about the interpretations of oft-cryptic texts. Fencing manual arguments, and the ego that goes with them, just bore the hell out of me these days. So, that is that. No historical labels for us, we focus on the training not the research. There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in WMA’s philosophy.

That said, our derivative sword work is second to none, but our approach of contemporary. Historical weapons and techniques tempered with modern, in-depth physical training. Has anything ever resembled being a superhero more than this? I like to think not.