Come to think of it, swordfighting fans, this is an excellent opportunity to share some nerdery I picked up in the last week or so.

Buckle up, because these past two weeks I *have* studied my Agrippa! [BIG ASS THREAD]
In the story, a spectacular duel is fought atop the Cliffs of Insanity between a man in black (we will later know him as the Dread Pirate Roberts, and still later as Buttercup's beloved farm boy, Wesley) and Inigo Montoya, the Spaniard (and only known living Wizard of the sword).
During the duel, delightfully, the two masters (two Wizards, presumably, since Wesley proves Montoya's equal) actually *talk shop*, cheerfully discussing techniques, gambits and schools as they to and fro across the cliffs. It's one of the most quotable exchanges in film history.
But did you know the terms are grounded in real fencing history? That the terms are, in fact, used correctly and contextually? WELL, I'M ABOUT TO LEARN YA.

"I see you are using Bonetti's Defence against me," says Montoya, grinning fiercely.
"I thought it fitting," rejoins the man in black, "given the rocky terrain."
Rocco Bonetti (d. 1587) was an Italian instructor who moved to London sometime in the 1580s to open a "School of English Arms."* Little is known about his origins (genealogical records put him as anywhere between 20 and 90 at his death!), save that he claimed to be a gentleman.
*SHAKESPEARE FACT: The school, in Blackfriars, was later repurposed as the Blackfriars Theatre. Bonetti was married to Eleanor Burbage, whose family owned the building; Richard Burbage, the actor who brought so many of Shakespeare's leads to life, was likely her grandnephew.
At the time, the English gentry were absolutely mad for Italian swordsmanship. Not because it was especially superior to English "defence," but because it was Italian, and in fighting as in music, poetry, science and food, we were looking to Mediterranean fashions.
Now, we had English masters (or "maisters," in the writings of the time), instructors who'd travelled to Italy and Spain to learn from the source and returned to open up their own schools and teach the sons of gentlemen, but they were without exception themselves commoners.
Aristocrats who learned in Italy would return and publish, of course, but they didn't teach, as it would have been working for a living, and beneath them.

Now here's an actual, bona fide Italian gentleman willing to teach. Bonetti commanded fees up to FIFTY times his peers.
And his peers... did not think well of him. George Silver wrote a scathing attack on him in his Paradoxes of Defence, he was challenged to several duels (which he usually refused), and there were popular (possibly apocryphal) stories of him being beaten by peasants in the street.
Now, we don't actually know anything about Bonetti's style; he never published and there are no contemporary accounts of his techniques. But scholars have speculated about his most notorious fight, the "Waterman's Duel," in which he was thrashed by a boatman wielding an oar.
To keep out of reach of the boatman's longer weapon, it's thought, Bonetti would have had to slip (backstep) often; but since he was fighting on the uncertain ground of a riverbank he would have kept his steps small. "Bonetti's Defence," then, is repeated small backsteps.
Fitting, as the man in black observes, given the rocky terrain.

"Of course, you must expect me to attack with Capoferro, huh?"
Ridolfo Capoferro - that's "Rudolph Ironhead" to you and me - was a late-sixteenth-century master who wrote what's considered the definitive rapier manual. He represents, to many scholars, the culmination of the transition from "swordplay" to "fencing."
15th-century swordplay, with the sidesword, used a wide stance, with a buckler or dagger in the offhand and the sword hand held out from the body. It made much use of cuts, and of sidestepping to dodge and counterattack. Duels thus described a slow circle as fighters manoeuvred.
By contrast, 17th-century fencing, with the longer rapier, used a much narrower stance, with the sword hand straight out in front, sometimes not using the offhand at all. It kept largely to thrusts, and saw sidestepping as extremely vulnerable. Duels were more to-and-fro.
Capoferro, in his book Gran Simulacro dell'Arte e dell'Uso della Scherma, cemented this trend, eschewing sidestep techniques for an extremely linear approach. He paid particular attention to the lunge, a deep, heavily-committed thrust; one of the first writers to do so.
A lunge, of course, would be an extremely effective tactic for dealing with an opponent who was shuffling backwards all the time.

"Naturally, although I find Thibault cancels out Capoferro, don't you?"
Gérard Thibault d'Anvers was a Dutch fencing master schooled in the Spanish style, Verdadera Destreza ("the true Art"). Verdadera emphasized a rounded, humanist education: a student was expected to study Classical authors, mathematics and philosophy alongside the blade.
Thibault was himself a mathematician, and his own system, "the mysterious circle," was based on geometries and proportions. He wrote on the length of the weapon, the exact positioning of the fingers, the angle the weapon should describe with his body.
His signature move, "subjection," was a mathematically-inspired defence against a thrust in which the defender's blade, angled properly, pushes the attacker's blade to one side, setting up the counterattack. Thibault didn't teach the lunge, which he thought too easy to counter.
Hence, Thibault's subjection cancels out Capoferro's great lunge.

"Unless the enemy has studied his Agrippa. Which I have!"
Camillo Agrippa is by a tidy margin the earliest of the four masters referred to in this exchange. An architect and engineer living in Rome in the mid-sixteenth century, Agrippa was one of the first instructors to apply geometric principles to the challenges of swordplay.
His work set out largely to respond to Achille Marozzo, whose earlier work on swordplay was probably the most influential work of the 16th century. Agrippa saw Marozzo as too ornate and inefficient; famously, he whittled Marozzo's eleven guards down to a "necessary four."
Like Thibault, he used mathematics to work out his techniques, considering angles, posture and leverage. Like Thibault, his defences and counterattacks were extremely efficient.
Crucially, Jerónimo de Carranza, the Spanish master who established Verdadera Destreza, was most likely working from Agrippa's work (a contemporary letter by one of Carranza's students makes the claim), so Thibault was essentially Agrippa's heir.
Thus, if there's any way to get around Thibault's brutal subjection, it's probably in Agrippa's equally brutal counters.
So there you go. Something to remember next time you watch that scene. 🙂

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