1) Your most recent publication with us was Johann Georg Pascha’s Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier that we published in 2018. Can you tell us a little about this book, and how you came to write it?
This work is centred around a very interesting manuscript, Mscr. Dresd. C13. It came to my attention when my co-author, Jan Schäfer, approached me, and suggested having it digitalized (sharing the costs) and then transcribing and translating it. It seemed like an interesting project to me, so we did it.
As we were working on it, we found out there was another manuscript with a strong connection to this work, the BL MS 17533, so a comparison between these two manuscripts was pulled into the scope.
One of the most fascinating things about C13 is that it is a text written by a direct student of Fabris (we have a theory about this student’s identity), that then came into the possession of Pascha, who figured it was great, but incomplete, and decided to add some of his own ideas. Through comparison with MS 17533, which does not have these additions, we can directly track the changes made by Pascha.
More to the point, C13 describes fencing with the single rapier, both firm-footed and by proceeding. The book is split into three sections; one section on theory, followed by a big section with firm-footed lessons, and then a third section on proceeding. In addition, there is a short description of Thibault’s fencing circle. Through its comprehensive theoretical section, and the sheer volume of lessons contained, this work presents a really great expansion on Fabris’s original work.
As an interesting sidenote, we originally hoped to keep the digitalization secret for a bit, so we could work on it in peace, but I think it was on the same day as the library put the scans online, that Michael Chidester sent me a private message about it, and then shared the link through his Wiktenauer Facebook page!
2) Can you tell us a little about how it fits with Pascha’s other works?
It doesn’t really. In a short dedication, Pascha tells us that he came to learn about Fabris’s thrust-fencing through a friend, and that he thought it was really good. His earlier fencing and Fabris’s fencing obviously have a lot in common, but Pascha himself seemed to consider this a separate system.
3) There are lots of different rapier systems available for people to study. What makes this book and system interesting and unique?
Often, when talking about rapier fencing, people only consider Giganti, Capoferro, and Fabris, even though there are many more authors and systems that are worth looking into. It is no great secret that out of these three, I favour Fabris because of the thoroughness of his book. He doesn’t leave many gaps, and if you had to work with only one treatise, his would be one of the best choices because of that.
C13 expands on Fabris, and is more explicit about certain technical details that are too easily glossed over when reading Fabris, such as the idea of advancing into the narrow measure with the front foot, and then thrusting from that position. In addition, there are interesting notions, such as performing certain actions (in particular feints) with one foot in the air, that may seem strange at first, but can have a very interesting effect.
Besides this, the work contains literally hundreds of lessons, divided into helpful chapters. Together, there is more than enough material here to keep any fencer going for a long, long time.
4) What sort of rapiers would people have been using when training this system?
This is hard to say. I don’t think the type of rapier matters that much. That said, the system is very heavily thrust oriented, suggesting a lighter, nimbler blade might be better. Lengthwise, the blade might have been of such length that, standing up straight with the tip on the floor between your feet, the crossguard reaches up to your navel. But even this is not that hard a requirement.
5) Which part of this book do you think has most improved your understanding of 17th century rapier fencing?
When I translate a book, I read it in a different way, from when I study it as a source for fencing. Therefore, I am only now beginning to really study the work, and in the last few months I have started experimenting with the ideas it presents. I want to start teaching and fencing more according to C13, and less according to Bruchius after our Summer break.
In the initial experimenting that I have been doing, the front-foot first attack that C13 presents has been very interesting, and more intuitive than expected. The same can be said for the feint performed with the front foot raised. This seems weird at first, and takes a bit more practice, but then starts to feel more nimble and effective, at least in training. I hope to keep exploring the work more thoroughly, and I will present some of my thoughts at the International Rapier Seminar in Copenhagen in July.
Proper Description of Thrust-Fencing with the Single Rapier is now available with a 10% discount for the rest of this week:
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.