A lot of questions are sent in to ARMA about many topics of the ARMA Approach to training and study, none more so it seems than requests for information about learning to parry with cutting swords. 1998.

How to Teach an Understanding of Parrying - Part II

In practice recently, a discussion was brought up about how some enthusiasts often misunderstand the whole idea of parrying with a sword because a thrusting sword (whether rapier, small sword, epee, or foil) makes its parry by a deflecting opposition to redirect a linear attack. It does this by using its more rigid and mechanically stronger edge in a line of resistance. Whereas in contrast a dedicated cutting blade must either avoid a strike or if not, stifle it by again deflecting. Otherwise, it must strike at the oncoming blade to knock it away. Either is definitely not the cliché, solid, direct blocking of either stage combat or saber fencing. Confusion then comes about when swordfighters think that with a Medieval cutting blade using the "edge" to "parry" means the same as using the "edge to parry" with a rapier/thrusting sword. This is why correctly using the flat to parry is difficult for some to grasp.

The idea of defence (while preferably to avoid and counter) with a dedicated cutting blade is to cut at the oncoming sword –which results properly in an edge on flat strike. Indeed, this is precisely what is described in early Renaissance sword manuals that refer to using the edge to "parry". "Parrying with the edge" for those slender blades refers not to "edge on edge", cutting-blade on cutting-blade, but rather deflecting edge on flat. They are not instructing at all to make solid resisting "blocks". They are describing neither "stage combat style" blocks nor later saber techniques (military or sport), but rather deflecting counter blows that leaves you instantly ready to attack as a result of the action. You smack aside, beat away, push down, whether against a diagonal, vertical, or horizontal cut descending or rising.
If at sometime a strong cut must be directly resisted, it is done so by receiving the blow on the flat of the blade (which typically would be "edge on flat"). You would never just hold your weapon out "edge on" to be bashed (in the process depriving yourself of a smooth counter and opening you up to another attack).
With sharp cutting swords, fighting is not about the constant "parry-riposte, parry-riposte" of sport fencing and Hollywood action. The concept of defense and of parrying is not the same with every type of sword and the Medieval sword masters themselves do not ever advise any sort of "direct blocking". They refer only to various defensive methods of evading, deflecting, and smacking –all intended as countering actions. As has been described many times before, flat parry with a cutting sword not only preserves the weapon’s sharpness, but relies on the physical property of flexibility in a cutting sword to withstand traumatic impact, plus keeps the edge properly aligned to make a more efficient and effective return cut. Given all this, there can simply be no question for flat parries being correct and ideal, and no question for edge parries meaning one thing for thrusting blades and quite another for cutting ones. ntitled-6.jpg (16554 bytes)

The notion that the parrying method of sport fencing or even the true rapier is applicable to Medieval swords or any wide cutting blade is totally unfounded. How their method became so popularly associated with such dissimilar swords is a mystery. Before it’s been said that with Medieval swords perhaps 1 in 5 parries can inadvertently end up being taken on the edge. True, but having to make five parries in a fight is a lot! If you are making that many direct parries, perhaps you should instead be concentrating more on evasion and countering by deflection --in order to better utilize the principles of timing and distance to strike the vulnerable openings caused by your opponents own attacks. Make sense?

In ARMA practice, the bottom line rule for any technique, action, or move that appears viable with a Medieval sword is this: can you also do it effectively with a sharp sword? Meaning, if you can’t reproduce it in test-cutting outside of sparring, then don’t use it. In other words, to appreciate this martial art, to understand it, always train as if you intend to fight for real.

Go to Part I, Go to Part II, Go to Part III

See Also: The Myth of Edge Parrying and Edges of Knowledge


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