COMPREHENSION OF DESTREZA
Alvaro Guerra de la Vega (1681)
English Translation by Miguel Gomez
NOTE: This translation is only as reliable as is so far known and ARMA makes no claim as to its accuracy.  

Translator's Note: This is a small and brief book. It has 38 pages and my translation takes from page 15 to page 38 (the whole third chapter). The first and second chapters are acknowledgements and memories of people the author knew. BTW, there should be two other illustrations (perhaps showing Italian and Spanish stances), in addition to that showing the footwork, but they had been pulled out of my copy by an illiterate!

If everything is studied because of necessity, utility or the pleasure that provides, ‘Destreza’ in weapons joins together those three reasons: it is necessary for the man to defend from the tyranny and so from one single person to armies, ‘Destreza’ in weapons was a necessity; lots of men have practised and written rules about this art, this proves its utility; and a pleasure are the speeches and exhibitions of Masters at arms especially those who show spanish ‘Destreza’ with the sword. It is difficult for ordinary people to under stand or discover hidden things because only the well trained and long time practicioner will profit from these learnings. As Aristole stated, De Natura Universi: ‘Alia quidem certis inditiis signisque a natura discentes, alia etiam oppinatione rationis auxilio id quod probabile est intellectu duccente a sequentes`; some animals learn from signs and traces (animal instinct) and others reason to acquire the knowledge, what is more real?

The biggest problem in this job is to lose the approval of the masses, as they usually judge without a deep knowledge of the matter; anyway the Master must not discourage because his good or bad observations depend upon the good or bad performance, and so Seneca said: `Quod populus non probat scio quod probat nescio¨.

Nowadays ‘Destreza’ is constrained to exhibitions and it must be taken back to its roots; it must be a Science again, learning from Nature, allowing Masters to show and share their opinions… Plutarco stated: ‘ Postquores secundae ad magnam altitudinem pervenerunt, et ascedarunt ad invidiae verticem comprimitur, et cohercetur illa, et submovetur ab splendore rerum ilustrata ‘.

Fame can not be denied to Masters, and you can not refute this reasoning: Truth must include every useful thing.

Masters achieved their fame due to the knowledge and comprehension of this Science; everyone against that sentence will not be a Master but an ordinary person, who can not hold a right opinion because of his lack of understanding.

It is necessary to distinguish between bravados and Masters: bravados show their knowledge as a mere exhibition, and they receive the clap of the masses; on the other side, Masters teach fencing and lots of tips, but they always hide their best. There is a third category: theoretical Masters; these ones do not teach by doing but by speech. A real Master must join together both categories: theoretical and practical.

You may wonder: who is this man to write about all these matters?. I will tell you that all my background comes from experience: I was for a long time with King Felipe IV and my Masters were Juan Caro and Mr. Juan de Casteneida; my mathematics professor was Mr. Juan de la Rocha; my latin professor was Mr. Juan Ibasso. To all these Masters I can not but to extol them to heaven, because they instructed me in theoretical and practical points of every subject.

We have faced Spanish ‘Destreza’ to Italian one (the latter is considered to be of high standing). And have discovered the one and single feint italian fencers perform and wich has provided them with such a success; so we tried to create an universal stance, useful to defend of both, spanish and italian fencers.

Those who practice this fighting art in Italy are proud of their italian stance, and certainly do have reasons to be, because it is a good stance: it is difficult to fight against and is widely-known and absolute (no defence against it could be found yet). The fencer who is able to defend against a foe in italian stance, will be very skilful because from that stance all kind of attacks are born; my purpose is to find another stance which allows me to fight and defeat the others, even the italian one; if I find this stance I will say it is an universal one and should it be good to fight against the italian then will be to do against every kind of attack I can imagine: slashes from outside, quarter of circle, thrusts with outside fist, slashes from the inside, elbow smashes, kicks with the shin and tricks and vulgarities such as: slashes being the sword hidden under the cloak,….To finish my speech I must say my purpose is to show that in the spanish stance I suggest, the whole ‘Destreza’ is included (even italian feint); with my stance your self-confidence will rise , and you will not run the risk of being stabbed when entering to kill.

You only have to choose this stance and forget any other feint (they will not be necessary). It is usually said that left-handed fighters have some advantage; this is true, but not because of the feints they might know or their ‘Destreza’, but due to our lack of practice with them. The same applies to italians: if you know the way they fight the advantage is yours.

From now and on I will continue my speech with questions and answers; this is a more pedagogical way. Finally the conclusion will be : the spanish stance is universal for the defence against every other, and is the best to attack from and hurt your foe.

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QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

D. What is the meaning of ‘Destreza’ or Philosophy of the Weapons?

M. It is a Science that teaches us to defend against a foe, handling a sword.

D. Does this Science show us how to hurt our foe?

M. Yes, if he wants to be hurt.

D. But nobody wants to be hurt.

M. By ‘wanting to be hurt’ I mean he has made a mistake or an opening of his guard and as we have the knowledge to see those failures then we can attack and stab him.

D. Will he be able to find a totally safe stance ?, and what happens if his weapon is longer than ours and is out of range?

M. Our Science show us how to choose the right distance and to place our body and sword in the best way (this is known as to be placed in the ‘medio proporcional'; pay attention to this term, it is the key of our fighting style), and to fight with short and fast movements.

D. Then our foe has no chance to defeat us.

M. If everybody fought in the same way, you would be right; like the faces (every person has a different one), the same happens to every subject: it is almost impossible to find two persons equally skilled, and although they both have equal theoretical knowledges, their performings will be different because of subjective factors ( attention, rage, confidence, patience,…).

D. Why do you say ‘Destreza’ is a Science?

M. Science because we learn through mathematical examples : circles, angles, movements, stances, and so we gain knowledge of our foe (the strongness or weakness of his guard, his angles of attack or defence,…); this is similar to military strategy: to conquer a fortress we will not attack in straight line towards its strongest point, but will feint to open its defences and confuse the enemy.

D. Which is the best stance?

M. The one that offers the best protection and the easiest and fastest way to attack from.

D. But, which one is it?

M. The universal one.

D. Is there an universal stance?

M. Yes, there is.

D. Then if you master that stance, you master Destreza .

M. That is right. In addition you need to know the small details to master and be able to perform with full Destreza. There are some people who learn Grammar starting with the fifth book and with Virgilio, gaisaying the state: ‘A facilioribus incipiendum’ and so we can take a look at the italians, they start and finish their job with just a single stance, I mean they strictly learn what is useful for the fight.

D. Then the best thing I can do is to master those both universal stances (italian and spanish) and not to waste my time with any other thing.

M. You are right, but you need a good Master to instruct you. There is only one universal stance, and to know it properly it is necessary to fight assuming it (trying to find its weak points) against the italian one.

D. How does the Italian Master fight?

M. He says his stance is the universal one because it provides the best cover and the easiest way to arrest every other, and so most of the fighters use the famous italian feint or a similar one; these feints are very good when our foe has his left foot static and his sword contracted, because we will only need one movenent to stab him, and if we handle sword and dagger this italian feint is not good but the best if we have a good ‘timing’.

D. Then both stances (spanish and italian) are universal and we can not a find the complete stance (one offering complete protection).

M. You would be right should we did not have the ‘ medio proporcional ‘, but we do have it, and that is the superiority of our spanish stance and Destreza.

D. Then, is the italian better attacking than defending?

M. That is right; his defence is weak because it is based upon the dagger, and this one is not as dangerous as the sword because it is shorter.

D. What is the meaning of ‘including the sword’?

M. It is the main point of the spanish stance: you absorb your foe’s sword. We will see it later when I explain what the ‘medio proporcional’ is about.

D. Should I know both stances?

M. If you master them both, much better, but it is not necessary, because the spanish one is good enough by itself.

D. What is the difference between universal feint and universal stance?

M. They are different things. A feint can not be universal because it depends on your foe; on the other side, your stance is up to you and if you choose the best one then no matter what your enemy does (that is the reason we say it is universal).

D. What does ‘short cut’ means?

M. It is a slash or thrust properly done. By properly I mean it has been done from the ‘medio proporcional’ position.

D. How do I ‘ short cut’ with the sword?

M. The right way to do it is with shorter movements than your enemy; if his movements are longer he will need more time and will always be stabbed before than you.

D. I can see Spanish Destreza is a true Science; it shows us how to handle different kinds of weapons because the movements are universal, and by your explanations I see you master what you are talking about: angles, planes of reference, movements, choice of distances and many other important things. I would like to be skilful in practice and not a theoretical practicioner, so I would like you to give me one or several rules to be a good fighter, to stab my foe without being stabbed.

D. It is difficult to give general rules, because every rule has its exception; anyway I will state some useful rules to be applied after you know the basics.


GENERAL RULES

Every stance you master, must be good to ‘short cut’ your opponent’s.

Every stab inflicted without a ‘short cut’ is false (not the best).

Every stance can be ‘short cut’.

The right angle is good to avoid incoming attacks.

The obtuse angle is useful to stop our foe’s sword.

Three planes of reference are to be considered.

First plane: from head to shoulders.

Second plane: from shoulders to waist.

Third plane: from waist to feet.

Ther first plane is to be defended with the guard.

The second one with the force of the sword.

The third one with the frailty, including your enemy’s sword.

High guard, low point.

Low guard, high point.

If our foe is showing us his profile, we must look for the ‘medio proporcional’.

If he is squared, we must always attack him from the ‘medio proporcional’.

The ‘medio proporcional’ has to be considered by the positioning of the opponent’s sword.

No matter the side you choose for the ‘medio proporcional’, you must always be front towards your enemy.

When attacking, be very careful, never show your body to your enemy’s weapon.

Never attack if you are not sure it will be a perfect movement.

Never stand on both feet at the same time; one of them must be ready, touching just slightly the floor.

You sword will always be on movement.

Sparring with different kinds of people is the most important thing.


ITALIAN STANCE

It is a very good stance (with sword and dagger) to avoid ‘short cuts’; if it is properly done it provides a good positioning for feints.

The fencer who masters this stance will be able to avoid every feint from his opponent, because the only weak point is the left shoulder (it is defended by the dagger) and it will be very risky for the enemy to pass our sword and dagger. From this stance we can stab with just forward or backward movements (along the diameter line).

The stance: The line of the diameter is three feet long (from left to right foot).

The right foot is ready to go forward when thrusting (big step, the right thigh parallel to the floor) or the enter can be done without bending the knee (this position is called to be ‘nervado’), so that we can quickly move away from him after launching the attack.

The sword must be with the hilt next to our right thigh; the point towards our foe’s waist, in a straight line with our heels.

From waist to feet we will show the profile, and the upper body will face the front.

The lower the stance, the better it is.

The left hand holds the dagger: left arm in a right angle with both its side and chest, and the dagger in obtuse angle covering its side.

Assuming this, the enemy will not find and entry, because he will not be able to reach us with slashes and his dagger is easily defended with our sword. If he makes feints or tricky movements, let him do because he is out of distance and should he is in that means he has already been stabbed.

The idea is to parry our foe’s sword with our dagger and then he will not be able to assume the right stance again (he will be out of balance).


SPANISH STANCE

We have seen how hard it is to fight against the italian stance; the fencer who knows how to pass that guard will know how to fight for real because it is the most widely utilised in street challenges.

Though every fencer knows how to attack from the italian stance, only a few know how to defend against it and this is what I am going to explain (it is a difficult task):

The point of our sword as low as possible in acute angle; hilt and arm in straight line and in such a way that the hilt is at the height of our right eye, covering the outer side an offering the inner one.

The dagger with his hilt over the hilt of the sword, in a right angle and acting as a buckler, but being very careful because it must not touch his sword.

From the italian stance the sword is at least three and a half feet far from the foe’s body so I verify that from the spanish stance with the sword just moving four fingers and the same proportion the arm, we will be able to deflect his short cut; and if he does not retract his arm we can stab him from that position.

We see the spanish Master has a good defence with movements of four fingers long, and the italian needs three and a half feet to reach the objective; that is why the skilful spanish has advantage over the skilful italian.

This what the universal stance teaches us, in addition to the ‘medio proporcional’.

 
 

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