In an earlier post concerning hand positions in Meyer’s rappier while thrusting I briefly mentioned a comparison to roughly contemporary Italian sidesword styles. While I’m certainly not the first to do this, it seems that the comparison is most often made with Marozzo of the Bolognese method. In this post we’ll veer slightly away from Marozzo to the Lo Schermo text of Viggiani, also of the Bolognese fashion, though somewhat after Marozzo in the 16th century.
One of the things we know about Meyer is that he describes his rappier section as being a foreign art that is relatively recent to Germany. Considering Meyer’s earlier text on the rappier was published in 1560 (or perhaps 1568) this means that any style of rappier (and to call a spade a spade, we’re talking about a sidesword here) should be placed somewhat before 1560 and indeed early enough that Meyer could learn the system, then experiment with it sufficiently to map his Germanic style to it, before teaching it to others and putting it in his treatises.
This is one of the things which first suggests a pseudo-Viggiani system as a candidate. Angelo Viggiani’s treatise Lo Schermo (“On Defense”) was published in 1575, which at first would place it too late for Meyer, however the publication itself was made well after Viggiani’s death in 1552 (being published by Viggiani’s brother), and the text itself was completed in 1551.
This places the style perfectly in the timer period that we would be looking for. Obviously Meyer wouldn’t have studied from Viggiani himself (expecting two masters with extant treatises to be thus linked would stretch credibility) – after all, Meyer’ was born in 1537 and would have been 15 when Viggiani died. We can assume that Viggiani’s students didn’t suddenly abandon the art, though, and it is reasonable to suggest that a Viggiani-like style could have been the origin point of Meyer’s rappier.
One of the easiest points of comparison between the styles is the guard positions they offer.
Meyer’s Ochs/Viggiani’s Alta Offensiva Perfetta
This comparison was made in our previous post on Meyer’s straight thrust, and the similarities here are readily apparent. It is the subtle differences which are interesting; the positioning of the feet closer together in Viggiani, and the hand which appears to be drawn further back than in the image from Meyer. The difference in hand position is also worth noting – whereas the Italian style has the hand in front of the body, the German method brings it around onto the hip. The combination of these gives Viggiani’s high guard a more upright and “square on” to the opponent based on these images, though not enough to significantly differentiate it in application.
Meyer’s High-Guard/Viggiani’s Alta Offensiva Imperfetta
While no plate exists depicting this guard we are told that it is the same as the ochs, but with the blade pointing backward ready to cut, and this is exactly what Viggiani depicts in his alta offensiva imperfetta (high offensive imperfect) guard. The same differences here are apparent as in the ochs position, with the hand in front of the body and the posture somewhat more upright through the legs.
Meyer’s Low Left Guard/Viggiani’s Larga Difensiva Imperfetta
Viggiani’s low-defensive-imperfect stance bears considerable similarity to Meyer’s low guard on the left; the point is well offline and toward the ground, the body is turned through the hips somwhat, and the arm is held well to the left of the body. The differences here include an extended rear hand and a somewhat more forward blade position in Viggiani than Meyer. Viggiani is somewhat back-weighted in the body position, whereas Meyer is leaned well forward. Viggiani uses this as the end point for a thrust from above, while Meyer uses it as the terminal point for the cut from above, but the position is sufficiently similar in shape and purpose that a correlation can be drawn.
Meyer’s Left Pflug/Viggiani’s Stretta Difensiva Perfetta/Viggiani’s Stretta Offensiva Perfetta
The low left and right on-point positions (somewhat like quarte & tierce in more recent fencing) as similar for both styles. The blade is held in low and to the side somewhat, with the point being online. I’ve used the image of eisenport for Meyer here as he doesn’t directly show pflug in the plates. The point in pflug would be more on line with the opponent than the image shows, but the posture is close enough for our purposes. Again we see a similar overall position, with the differences being the extended rear hand and the less leaned forward body position/weighting.
Meyer’s Low-Guard (right)/Viggiania Larga Offensiva Imperfetta
Interestingly both Meyer and Viggiani describe this as a transitional location for the blade and not especially useful for attacking. Notice also the left hand position in both is similar in this case.
Unaccounted for Guards & Positions
A handful of guards remain unaccounted for from Meyer’s system in Viggiani’s method:
- Straight High Guard
- Left High Guard
- Left Ochs
- Long Point
Of these we can cover Eisenport quite easily in either of the stretta guards or, in fact, as the transitional movement between the two of them.
Straight high guard and left high guard are similar to alta offensiva perfetta, and in fact a name could even be formulated as alta defensiva imperfetta for the left high guard. Their absence in Viggiani is implicitly in their relative difficulty of use and/or that they are easily replaced with the right high guard in most all circumstances.
The same can be said of left ochs; a difficult guard at best. Viggiani does parry in this position on occasion, so it is an implicit movement in his system, however it is not a guard position that is held. Again this makes sense; it is quite awkward as a static guard position. If we were to name it in bastardised Viggiani it would be called alta defensiva perfetta.
Lastly long point – again not a named guard in Viggiani as it is not a position you stand in as a guard, and so not described as a guard, but rather as a position held while giving the point to the opponent.
The differences here are easily accounted for by either:
- The guard is a transitional position for Viggiani, whereas his guards are positions that are “held”. As such these Meyer guards are unnamed.
- The guard is an attempt to “Meyerify” the system – Meyer likes to name transitional points as guards, and to nicely balance things on the left, right, and in this middle. This reflects the Germanic system of cutting weapons such as the messer – the resultant additional guards falling into the same kinds of guard seen in messer (or in Meyer, Dussack) combat. Forgeng notes such a relationship with earlier messer systems (Leckuchner specifically) in his own comments on his translation of Meyer 1570.
Between these two rationales we can easily explain the additional guards Meyer uses.
The differences in hand position and weighting are more easily accounted for – Meyer’s 1570 plates show many hand positions including the in front of the body position shown in some of Viggiani’s guards, and the extended rear hand position.
While the footwork in both systems can be opaque at times, it seems that both share a predominantly right forward footwork with passing steps reserved for very specific circumstances. Initially the Viggiani system might seem more back-foot weighted than Meyer, but on reading Meyer’s footwork we see a large number of movements that weight us on the back foot so that we can move lightly on the front (right) foot.
Many of the cuts and thrusts in Meyer map quite well to Viggiani. However, it is in the overall approach to attacks that Meyer differs at times. Meyer makes extensive use of the cuts even, at times, preferring them over thrusts. Viggiani, however, has a strict hierarchy in mind for attacks.
- Thrusts are always preferred
- Then cuts rovescio (from the left cutting at the opponent’s right)
- Then cuts mandritto (from the right cutting at the opponent’s left)
The cutting direction is particularly interesting – Viggiani suggests that while cuts from the right come more naturally, they result in poorer fencing outcomes than cuts made from the left side. While Meyer does generally favour the thrust there are many occasions in which he mutates to a cut instead, or cuts from the parrying. When he cuts, however, there are quite a few techniques from the left side, so there may be some echo of Viggiani even here.
Many of the attacking movements given in Viggiani are echoed in Meyer – his “Punta Sopramano” thrust is strangely familiar:
“Reset yourself in guardia alta offensiva, perfetta, and fix all of your weight firmly on your left foot, body elevated, so that the right one may be more agile, and likewise all your right leg, in order to be able to pass forward, and come toward me…and take the big step, and make your right shoulder drive your arm as far forward as you can, and with your sword hand direct the aim of your point at my breast without making any turn of your hand, until it comes forward as far as it can come.”
This is virtually identical to Meyer’s high thrust movement. In fact in many of the thrusting movements Viggiani and Meyer are closely aligned.
Meyer’s additional cutting movements are very similar to his longsword and dussack systems with a large number of vorschlag deceptions flowing on to secondary cuts. In this he is often quite different to Viggiani, particularly in that he has a propensity for vertical cuts down from above, which is in direct contradiction to Viggiani’s preference for rovescio cuts.
[EDIT] – This video recently appeared in discussion on reddit in /r/wma/ and is well worth watching – it’s a Viggiani technique, but is almost identical to what which we seen in meyer:
It’s apparent that while Meyer’s system is similar in a large number of movements to Viggiani, he has clearly tried to Meyerify it with inspiration drawn from other German weapon styles, notably dussack and some longsword.
While everything mentioned here is purely speculative, it is a compelling idea that a system somewhat like Viggiani’s could have provided the inspiration for Meyer’s rappier system. The timelines are sufficiently matched, and the movements within the system share a certain similarity, and while there has clearly been an effort by Meyer to templatise the style with a more German flavour, there is no reason to object out of hand to a link between Meyer and a system somehow related to Viggiani’s.
If such a link does exist then it may in fact be extremely useful to consult Viggiani when questions arise as to Meyer’s rappier system and specific details of it. While any conclusions so reached would be somewhat tenuous the text for Meyer’s system is opaque enough that any assistance in interpreting it can be useful in some way.