Introduction

Even though I have, written my name on the cover of this book, it is mainly what I have rewritten and simplified in translating NOBLEZA DE LA ESPADA, by Francisco Rada. This 1712 work, devoted to the Verdadera Destreza, is probably the most complete treaty of fencing ever written.

The Destreza
The Destreza or Verdadera Destreza is a model of fencing created in Spain in the 16th century, which will quickly became opposed to common fencing or vulgar fencing. It was born in 1569 with La Philosophia de las Armas, by Jeronimo Sanchez de Carranza. Doubtless, he was partly inspired by the works of Camillo Agripa. Nonetheless, contrary to masters and fencers before him, he was a humanist, relying on reason and knowledge. As such, he wanted fencing to be less empiric and more based on geometry and mathematics. All the masters after him will have the same objective; the Destreza was thus qualified as ‘Euclidean’ fencing. This logic is translated in the way it is taught and conceived. The Destreza is an analytical type of fencing: in combat reason must prevail over passion, and defence over attack. As a self-defense art, the Destreza enables the fencer to remain alive. The death of the opponent is not an end in itself; it may be necessary but it is not what the fencer wants or seeks in combat. The counter-attack is measured and proportional to the aggression. That is how Destreza finds its accomplishment in the ‘movement of conclusion’: a disarming technique to overpower ones opponent without killing them. Thus, the Diestro, a fencer practicing Destreza, not only proves his physical superiority, but also his moral superiority, by letting his attacker live.



During the 17th and 18th centuries, the use of the Destreza spread in the Iberian Peninsula and the Spanish Empire under the influence of Juan Pacheco de Narvaez, Carranza’s disciple. Nonetheless, it remained relatively restricted to a minority of people for at least two reasons. First, because it is based on mathematics and requires the knowledge of geometrical principles; Euclid and Pythagoras, which was not accessible to common people at the time. Second, the main masters and authors of the Destreza were either amateurs not living on fencing, or settled masters not looking for clients. Carranza was governor of Honduras from 1589 to 1594, Francisco Lorenz de Rada was a Spanish grandee, viceroy of New Spain and life governor of Mexico, Narvaez was the fencing master of King Philippe IV, and Ettenhard was the fencing master for Charles the II. That is why the Destreza finds itself reserved to a caste of Hidalgos, the Spanish noblemen.
Destreza is a theoretical model for which masters have defined rules, techniques, movements, medios (a distance and an angle), angles, lines, plans, positions, distances that the Diestro forces himself to respect in the combat. Thus in using them, he builds around himself a fortress of steel and mathematics, to defend him as he attacks his opponent’s fortress. In some aspects, the Destreza is close to chess. It can be simple to understand its main concepts, indeed one can learn in one day how to move the chess pieces, but a lifetime is necessary to master this incredibly complex system. Its theoretical nature gives the Destreza the ability to adapt to any type of sword, even if we will only study here the use of the rapier; many rules used for the Destreza can be applied to all martial arts. The control of the first vertical plan, the fighting line, applies to the rapier, the long sword, to boxing or karate…
The understanding of the theoretical nature of the Destreza is essential in avoiding error. For example, the right angle position is not a guard position; it is the position in which the vertical first plan is best controlled. This is why it is unnecessary to hold this posture during the entire combat. In the same way, the circular logic of the Destreza was not created for opponents to move around each other. A fencing system can be modeled from the line or from the circle. The Italian and the French have chosen the line; the Spanish have chosen the circle. The circle means that, in the course of the combat, the Diestro walks out of the line with a circular step and opens a new line where he has an attack opportunity. But these are only two of the most visible aspects of this theoretical nature. Indeed, all that is written in that book work on the assumption that the fencers are of equal height, equal strength, use the same sword, and start with the same right angle position; these elements never really happen together in a combat. In the chapter about atajos, I describe the four atajos in the high position and the four atajos in the low position. I also describe the way to apply them, whatever the position of the opponent, in one of the 24 lines of the three main pyramids. However, in a duel, the opponent is always positioning himself differently. This work contains theory which you cannot apply directly to a combat but, because the Diestro knows this theory, because he has assimilated it, he will be able to adapt it to the real, to the duel.

Duel fencing
Duel fencing, different from sports or artistic fencings, began in France in the years 2000. By studying ancient sources, we rediscover what may have constituted historical martial arts in Europe. This work fits into this logic.
In spite of their common points, sports fencing and duel fencing are completely different in their philosophy. In sports fencing, the winner is the first one to reach 15 points. All the hits have the same value (hits to the foot, the hand, or the face). If the opponents hit themselves simultaneously, each one scores (sword fighting). For foil or saber combat, the referee indicates which hit is valid, according to priority. In duel fencing, you have to make your opponent unable to harm you. That is why a thrust to the throat doesn’t harm as much as a gash to the left wrist. The simultaneous hit, also known as “the two widows hit”, ends with the death of both fighters. Sports fencing is a fencing of opportunity: you have to hit, whatever the risks may be. Duel fencing is a fencing of control: your first objective is to avoid being hit. The opponents must constantly keep in mind during the whole combat the goal of survival and the logic of defense. As we are not dying for real, beginners tend to forget this philosophy too often, and they throw themselves head first toward the opponent, hoping to hit him, and ignoring their own safety. In a duel, it is better not to hit and not to be hit, rather than harm your opponent and be harmed as well.

The rules of dueling
In the duels we practice, as we do not die for real, rules are necessary to systematize the combat. Here are some of the rules I think are important to be the closest possible to the real duel. Feel free to accept them or not.
A fencer, receiving a wound which would be fatal or too disabling to go on fighting, surrenders. The following hits are considered fatal or too disabling: thrusts above the belt or to the shoulders, cuts and to the throat, the head, inside the elbow, the wrist, the knee, or inside the thigh (femoral artery). In the absence of a ‘fatal wound’, the other three wounds are enough to win the duel.
Grappling is prohibited for three reasons: it symbolizes the failure of Destreza, it is difficult to deal with them and they are dangerous. If the opponents are lead to a situation of hand-to-hand fights, they walk away, and resume the combat. With experience, you will learn how to avoid these situations, even with an opponent throwing himself at you.
The use of the left hand is permitted in duel fencing. With your left hand, you are allowed to hold a dagger, a shield, a cloak, or you are allowed to use it naked, for parry or disarming. It is possible to push away the opponent’s blade with your unarmed hand but holding is only permitted in very specific conditions. I can quite understand, as some masters advise I, that you can accept to be hit to the left hand to kill your opponent. But there is a large difference between a gash to the hand and sacrificing one’s hand by firmly holding the point or the sharpest part of the opponent’s blade. That is why the holding of the blade is only permitted on the fifteen or twenty strongest centimeters of the blade or on the hilt. The rest is up to the fencers.

Equipment
Duel fencing can only be safely practiced with adapted equipment. When it comes to swords, do not choose the rapiers made for theatrical fencing. They are more fragile, break easily, and place fighters in danger as they are not adapted to dueling. Publicity for my friend David: buy your dueling equipment on www.sport7.fr.

Book layout
The book is organized in two parts. Chapters 1 to 9 gather all the concepts on which the Destreza is based: lines, circles, angles, plans, movements, distances and vocabulary. It is complex, especially for beginners, but nonetheless contains everything necessary to understanding the logic of Destreza. Chapters 10 to 19 explain the steps, the atajos, the techniques and all the exercises necessary to mastering the rapier.
Even though this book contains numerous photographs and prints from Nobleza de la Espada by Rada, it is the text which is the most important and the pictures are simply here to illustrate. I consider the text offers more accurate descriptions and is better to clarify some important details. Moreover, the text entails a deeper thought process than the pictures. This is why I place emphasis on the text.
Enjoy your reading.

This text is an excerpt of the book Destreza Historical Fencing. All right reserved - Sébastien Romagnan.