In the Italian fencing system, fighting is broken up into pieces of time called “tempi” or “fencing times” in English. For example, a fencing action might take place in a single tempo (one unit of fencing time), mezzo tempo (a half tempo), or due tempi (two times). It is a useful tool for teaching timing to a student and an action with less tempi is generally considered more desirable.
The Spanish fencing science takes the idea of tempi even farther by using a vector-based system of notating actions through movements.
Aristotle states in his book Physics “Time is the numeration of continuous movement.”
By this definition, we can reexamine tempi as the summation of different motions. In the Spanish science all fencing actions are described as “movements.” There are movements of the blade and footwork to move the body. By using the two together, we can not only understand fencing time, we can also create a shorthand notation for describing complex actions and their counters.
The Spanish fencing authors describe blade actions as a series of varying length vectors through space. To be more clear a vector is a line with magnitude and direction.
A vector that indicates motion to the right of the reader. (This vector has an undetermined magnitude.)
This allows the Spanish notation to be extremely precise when describing the motions of the blade associated with specific actions like cuts, the Atajo, or even Italian actions described by Spanish authors.
To better illustrate this, observe this map of three dimensional space with a sword pointed along the Diameter (or Line of Direction) towards the adversary.
Map of 3D space
(En español – Movimiento Natural )
A Natural motion is one in which the blade falls to the earth. More specifically, the blade is lowered. One example would be a vertical cut downwards.
In a Natural Movement the blade is lowered.
(En español– Movimiento Violento)
A Violent motion is one in which the blade rises. One example might be the chambering of a vertical cut.
In a Violent Movement the blade is lifted.
(En español – Movimiento Accidental)
A Forward motion is when the blade travels toward the adversary along the Diameter (Line of Direction). One example would be a thrust.
In a Forward Movement the blade travels towards the adversary.
(En español – Movimiento Extraño)
A Backward motion is when the sword is withdrawn away from the adversary along the Diameter (Line of Direction). One example might be pumping the arm back to execute a jabbing attack. (This is not a recommended action, and Don Luis Pacheco de Narváez describes how to defeat this pumping of the weapon arm in an adversary.)
In a Backward Movement the blade travels directly away from the adversary.
Offline Lateral Movement
(En español -Movimiento Remiso)
An Offline Lateral motion is when the point of the weapon is carried away from the Diameter (Line of Direction) either to the left or right. Notice that the Spanish create a special case for movements that bring the point away from the target. It might be tempting to merely use lateral movements as descriptors but the Spanish notation relates specifically to removing the threat from the adversary. This might be a parry or the chambering of a horizontal cut.
In an Offline Lateral Movement the blade travels either right or left away from the adversary. (The act of removing the point from presence to one side or the other.)
Aligning Lateral Movement
(En español – Movimiento de Reducción)
An Aligning Lateral motion is when the blade is returned from either the left or right back to the Diameter (Line of Direction). It is interesting to note that bringing the weapon across the Diameter is counted as two distinct movements. If the point is offline, bringing it towards the Diameter is an Aligning Lateral Movement, but when it crosses the Diameter and continues traveling in the lateral plane without stopping this becomes an Offline Lateral Movement. This is very useful for indicating the different tactical situations that are possible when a blade is leaving or entering presence. An Aligning Lateral Movement might be the delivery of a horizontal cut or bring the weapon back into line after the adversary has executed a beat.
In an Aligning Lateral Movement the blade travels either right or left towards the Diameter and towards the adversary. (The act of returning the point into presence from one side or the other.)
(En español – Movimiento Mixto )
A Mixed Movement is a single motion that is a combination of two blade movements that don’t conflict. For example an Offline Lateral Movement can be mixed with a Violent Movement in a single motion to form a Mixed Movement.
In this image we see a mixed Movement consisting of a Violent Movement and an Offline Lateral Movement in a single Mixed Movement.
Counting Time Through Motion
Like the Italian system we can count time using the Spanish notation. An action with fewer movements is more desirable than an action with a greater number of movements.
Let’s compare two actions:
Diagonal Reverse (Riverso Squalembrato in Italian)
- Mixed Movement combining an Offline Lateral Movement to the left and a Violent Movement in order to chamber the cut over the left shoulder
- Mixed Movement combining an Aligning Lateral Movement and a Natural Movement to deliver the cut
- Forward Movement along the Diameter to deliver the thrust
Description of Defense or Counteroffense
Because the Thrust requires fewer movements than the Diagonal Reverse it can defeat the cutting attack in the first movement. In addition, we can use the counted movements of the adversary’s action to give the reader a guide to the timing of defense or counteroffense.
Countering the Diagonal Reverse
In the adversary’s first movement as the cut is chambered the fencer may strike with a thrust.
During the adversary’s second movement, the fencer may defend by placing the Atajo.
The Spanish notation is system agnostic so it can be applied to any weapon or tradition of fencing. In historical Spain, authors used this notated system of Movements to describe the actions of the single-handed sword and the two-handed sword called the Montante. The AEEA fencers in Spain today also use Destreza’s science and notation to analyze and teach the swordplay of other non-Spanish authors as well like Fiore.