Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Discussion of historical combat techniques and their application.

Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Keith P. Myers » Sun May 06, 2012 4:05 am

Hi Guys!

I think there are likely a fair amount of people that are confused about the footwork used with Meyer's Sidesword. They scratch their heads and wonder why there seems to be no passing footwork. Why would Meyer leave out passing footwork when it seems to work so well? Why would Meyer have no left side forward stances? Here's what I've come to believe.

If you have a single-hand weapon with some length to it like a Sidesword, and you take a left foot forward stance or do a passing step that places your left foot forward, then you are at a disadvantage when facing someone with their right foot forward with the weapon held in the right hand. You have put yourself in a bad spot. They have their weapon between you and them, but you do not. Therefore you are not prepared to defend as well as if you had your right foot forward.

One school of thought might say that this is no big deal. Just pass back with your left foot as you bring your weapon to bear, or pass forward with the right foot and go on the attack. Paulus Hector Mair seems to think this way, because he features both passing footwork and left side forward stances with his Sidesword method.

But another school of thought might say that passing back as you defend is just too slow when dealing with a lighter single-hand weapon, and that passing forward increases the chance of a double kill. So the prudent fighter would avoid this situation. I think Joachim Meyer thought this way. Within the Sidesword section of his book he has descriptions of types of fighters. One type of fighter he talks about is the cautious fighter. He also notes that this is typically his own tactical approach. So this fits.

So we find that when describing the Sidesword alone, Meyer has no left foot forward stances and almost no passing footwork. However, this changes when you have a companion weapon in the left hand like the Dagger or Cloak (and I would add Buckler), because now the companion weapon can be used in defense and therefore mitigates some of the risk of having the left side forward. When doing grappling with the single Sidesword passing footwork will be necessary. This makes sense because you have to put your left side up front to use the empty left hand. You are also at a closer distance and are looking to tie the opponent up with your left hand. This makes it harder for him to use his sword. But again, this is NOT a good idea if your distance is a little further out so that you cannot reach him with your left hand. This is what typically happens when doing a passing step, and is certainly what happens when standing in a left foot forward stance to face the opponent.

Its a little different with the Dussack because it is a shorter weapon, so Meyer does show more passing footwork and left side forward stances. The Dussack is less of a "thrusty" weapon, so you are less likely to run onto his point. When doing the typical passing footwork with a shorter weapon you are a bit closer than you would be with the Sidesword and therefore have a higher potential using your empty left hand to tie him up. You see a fair amount of "checking" with the left hand when doing Dussack, a lot like the Filipino Martial Arts. But you don't really see this with the Sidesword because it is a longer weapon and you typically aren't close enough.

I think Meyer essentially left passing footwork out of his single Sidesword for good reason. I've often seen the argument that since Meyer states that anything he has shown with the Longsword and Dussack can be applied to Sidesword, this includes passing footwork. He doesn't bother to mention it because he assumes we have already learned it with the Dussack. But I don't think this argument is valid. In several places Meyer mentions a technique or concept and says something to the effect of "but I have shown you this already with the Longsword." He never mentions passing footwork in this way. He actually never really covers footwork at all. He tells us that we will figure this out by going through the various devices. And in those devices, no passing foot work is described until we get to Sword & Dagger or Sword & Cloak. So I don't think its fair to say that Meyer intended us to do passing footwork with the Sidesword because we do passing footwork with the Dussack, but then ignore the fact that passing footwork is never described in the single Sidesword devices. Except maybe once, which seems to be an exception and not the rule.

So there you have it! As always, feedback is welcome! ;)
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Olek F. » Sun May 06, 2012 6:24 am

But another school of thought might say that passing back as you defend is just too slow when dealing with a lighter single-hand weapon

That's exactly what we figured out in my group while experimenting with Polish sabre.
However I know at least 2 drawings from 17th century showing sabre and single stick duels with defending fencer standing with left foot forward. Go figure.
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Robert R. » Sun May 06, 2012 7:55 am

Thank you for this post. I've made it a personal mission to learn as much as I can about Meyer's rapier. I've come to the same conclusion about passing footwork. The only exception I've found to the pass with the sword alone, is when he intends to grapple (which makes sense). Also, I've found one exception to the right foot always forward with sword alone, which would be when facing off against a polearm. He advocates a left foot forward Side Guard (low right) stance, then passing forward into a hanging parry.

One question for you Keith:

When he talks about footwork in the longsword section, he says the Broken/Stolen step is primarily reserved for his rapier, and it's something like a half-gather/triangle step (as far as I can tell). He never refers to this step in the rapier section by this name, but I believe he uses it when preping for an attack with a gather step, but then turns the attack into a setting-off or slicing-off with a triangle step. What do you think?
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Richard Marsden » Sun May 06, 2012 9:29 am

So far what we've come upon. What Meyer does can be linked to what later rapier masters suggested. The weapons are not identical, but related and I think it bears looking at.

Meyer shows passing footwork to grapple. I get that, and it is reminiscent of later Italian plays. You pass in so close you can't be stabbed, and your hand arrests the opponent.
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And to slip the leg he doesn't pass back, but does this
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTndSrNFqtY

Which also shows up in later Italian plays. By not passing back, it will take less time to return to a guard. (Others show the pass back though)
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As for a left-foot forward stance while still threatened by the point? Later rapier masters advised against it. Giganti, for example, gives reasons why the fencer on the left is making a mistake with his left-foot forward stance. His pass is too obvious, and the measure is to great to do it quickly.
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When we spar using Meyer's system, using sideswords we find it hard not to perform the occasional pass as an attack at closer range. This technique shows up in later rapier manuals. It works because you void the opponent's tip, and they are less worried about the cut. Rapiers are not light-sabers. That and you can switch to certain guards to get coverage on the way in.
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Meyer doesn't say to use such an attack, so we try not to. (At least, I've not run across it yet. Still new at Meyer rappier). I imagine he thought it unsafe unless you can grab the opponent's wrist/arm etc. to prevent a counter of some sort, especially a cut. With our simulator weapons, I can see that an incidental dropping of a rapier on my head as I pass and run a man through would be annoying, but hardly something to fret over. The simulator we are using for Meyer is a side-sword, I don't want that dropping on my head. It's a heavier blade!
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Francesco Lanza » Sun May 06, 2012 11:11 am

The passing step seems to come in and out of vogue of it in Italian swordplay. The Bolognese Meyer probably learned from employed it without a problem with the same exact weapon AFAIK, but Altoni, who is Florentine, doesn't seem to. I'm citing from memory, so if somebody like Steven Reich chimes in, he'll probably be more useful.

Then weapons get longer, ideas get different. Capoferro and Fabris employ passing steps, no questions on that. Then decades pass... And Marcelli stops using passing steps. He recommends them only when grappling. I don't think passing steps are actually bad or stupid with a one handed weapon, I just think it falls on how you use them, so the question is just if Meyer liked them or not, and I think it is very possible that he did not as Keith thinks.
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Steven Reich » Sun May 06, 2012 2:33 pm

Francesco Lanza wrote:The passing step seems to come in and out of vogue of it in Italian swordplay. The Bolognese Meyer probably learned from employed it without a problem with the same exact weapon AFAIK, but Altoni, who is Florentine, doesn't seem to. I'm citing from memory, so if somebody like Steven Reich chimes in, he'll probably be more useful.

I guess that was my cue. ;) Altoni's primary guards are right foot forward and were often used with something like a lunge or a chasing step. He does have left foot forward guards which he actually calls assalti (as they are considered aggressive positions to be used to 'assault' your opponent). The left foot forward stuff in Altoni is far more common with an off-hand weapon.

Francesco Lanza wrote:Then weapons get longer, ideas get different. Capoferro and Fabris employ passing steps, no questions on that. Then decades pass... And Marcelli stops using passing steps. He recommends them only when grappling. I don't think passing steps are actually bad or stupid with a one handed weapon, I just think it falls on how you use them, so the question is just if Meyer liked them or not, and I think it is very possible that he did not as Keith thinks.

Yes, I also think that it is very possible that Meyer tended to think of the sword-alone as a right-foot-forward weapon (that is, his guards would tend to be right foot forward). Owing to the amount of cutting he did, I suspect that his primary step was probably a chasing step (as opposed to the "lunging" step), owing to the greater reach of the former. I suspect that his footwork would have had more in common with Altoni and Docciolini than it would have had in common with Capoferro and Fabris. That is, unlike the later masters, if a thrust or cut was parried, Meyer would prefer that you pass and redouble the attack rather than recovering back out of measure the way Capoferro and Fabris preferred (although if you passed, Fabris also advocated that you continued forward).

Meyer is interesting, because if Keith's hypothesis about his footwork is correct, then he had more in common with Altoni, Di Grassi, and Docciolini, (et al.) than he did the earlier Bolognese masters. This is actually one of the reasons why I think that it just as likely that the Italian system from which Meyer's sidesword was derived was another Italian tradition rather than the Bolognese school. I know that one or more of the Victorian bibliographers said that he might have been a student of Marozzo or that his system was possibly derived from the Bolognese, but I don't know how many of the other 16th century Italian systems they looked at (especially since some of them were only represented by single manuscripts: Antoni, the Anonimo Riccardiano, etc.)

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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Keith P. Myers » Sun May 06, 2012 5:25 pm

Hi Robert!

I've made it a personal mission to learn as much as I can about Meyer's rapier.


Then I'm glad to find another person passionate about Meyer's work. ;) Keep watching here. I have submitted part 1 of a "Meyer Sidesword study guide" that I have been working on to post up on the MFFG website. We'll announce it when it happens.

I've come to the same conclusion about passing footwork.


Good to know!

I've found one exception to the right foot always forward with sword alone, which would be when facing off against a polearm. He advocates a left foot forward Side Guard (low right) stance, then passing forward into a hanging parry.


That's right! I forgot to mention that! Its another exception to the rule. I think this is because you really need that big passing step to get quickly past the point of the weapon. Once you're past the point, you're home free!


When he talks about footwork in the longsword section, he says the Broken/Stolen step is primarily reserved for his rapier, and it's something like a half-gather/triangle step (as far as I can tell).


It seems more like a "fake" or "provoker" to me. Meyer says " act as if you intend to step forward with the one foot, and before you set it down, step backwards with it behind the other foot." So its more of a "gathering back" step after faking a step out.

He never refers to this step in the rapier section by this name, but I believe he uses it when preping for an attack with a gather step, but then turns the attack into a setting-off or slicing-off with a triangle step. What do you think?


You'd have to give me a specific place where you see this. I don't recall that "faking step" or "stolen step" in the Sidesword section at all, but I may have missed it. The frustrating thing about Meyer (and most of the historical manuals) is that he doesn't describe his footwork very well and doesn't give it very consistent names. There are also several places when he makes an enigmatic reference to something he supposedly said elsewhere in his book, but when you look for it....its not in the book! The triangle/side step is the primary stepping method with the Sidesword. But when you read the descriptions of the devices, it is consistently described a bit differently than in his brief comments in the Longsword section.
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Keith P. Myers » Sun May 06, 2012 5:28 pm

Hey Richard!

So far what we've come upon. What Meyer does can be linked to what later rapier masters suggested. The weapons are not identical, but related and I think it bears looking at.


Good observation! I don't know much about the "true" rapier methods, but I suspect that you are right. I think that even though Meyer's Sidesword is as much about cutting as thrusting, he was already foreshadowing the "thrust-centric" methods that would come later. Maybe he was a man ahead of his time. ;)
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Keith P. Myers » Sun May 06, 2012 5:36 pm

Hey Steve!

Meyer is interesting, because if Keith's hypothesis about his footwork is correct, then he had more in common with Altoni, Di Grassi, and Docciolini, (et al.) than he did the earlier Bolognese masters. This is actually one of the reasons why I think that it just as likely that the Italian system from which Meyer's sidesword was derived was another Italian tradition rather than the Bolognese school.


Thanks for that feedback! This is the kind of comparison and research we need. I've come to wonder about the Meyer/Bolognese connection myself simply because the Buckler seems to have been a big component of the Bolognese method and Meyer never mentions it at all. You'd think that if a Bolognese teacher influenced him, he'd have used the Buckler!

I know that one or more of the Victorian bibliographers said that he might have been a student of Marozzo or that his system was possibly derived from the Bolognese, but I don't know how many of the other 16th century Italian systems they looked at (especially since some of them were only represented by single manuscripts: Antoni, the Anonimo Riccardiano, etc.)


That's a good point. And I think we've already concluded that from a generational standpoint there's no way he could have been one of Marozzo's students. Didn't we decide that Viggiani would have been more likely? Meyer was born somewhere around 1535, way too late to be Marozzo's student. So you have to question the conclusions of those Victorian researchers.
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Re: Passing Footwork in Meyer Sidesword/Rappier

Postby Richard Marsden » Sun May 06, 2012 6:34 pm

Can someone categorize the 'side sword' systems? Who goes where?
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