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A glossary of Italian rapier terminology.

Italian rapier terminology is some of the most precise and exotic sounding in historic swordplay. This glossary was posted by Tomasso Leoni on the Sword Forum's Historic Swordsmanship discussion list. It's simple yet concise and informative writing style appealed to me immensely, and with Tomasso's permission I reproduce it here.

"For the benefit of all the neophytes, here are the terms that I consider good to know in Italian rapier. (All definitions assume fencer is right-handed - sorry all you lefties!)."

1 - Parts of the sword:

FORTE: the section of the blade going from mid-sword to the hilt. This is the part of the sword with which parries should be executed.

DEBOLE: the section of the blade going from mid-sword to the tip. This is the part of the sword with which attacks should be performed.

TEMPERATO: the part of the blade between forte and debole (roughly a 6-inch span).

TRUE EDGE (or "Filo dritto"): the edge of the sword to the same side of the knuckles.

FALSE EDGE (or "Filo falso"): the edge of the sword opposite the true edge.


2 - Cuts:

MANDRITTO: a cut proceeding right to left ("forehand").

RIVERSO: a cut proceeding left to right ("back-hand").

SQUALEMBRATO: a cut proceeding diagonally up or down. It can be mandritto or riverso (e.g. a riverso squalembrato would proceed down from high left to low right).

TONDO: a perfectly horizontal cut landing at 3 o'clock of the target (= mandritto tondo) or at 9 o'clock (= riverso tondo).

FENDENTE: a cut coming down vertically at 12 o'clock of the target.

MONTANTE: a cut coming up vertically at 6 o'clock of the target.

FALSO: if you execute any of these cuts with the false edge instead of the true edge, you would make the cut a falso. E.g.: mandritto falso: a cut to the right side of the target executed with the false edge. A SOTTOMANO may be a montante executed with the false edge.


3 - The four positions of the hand and the two perspectives:

PRIMA: First. Knuckles at 12 o'clock.

SECONDA: Second. Knuckles at 3 o'clock.

TERZA: Third. Knuckles at 5 or 6 o'clock.

QUARTA: Fourth. Knuckles at 9 o'clock.

INSIDE: the part to the left of your sword. "Being inside", or "Attacking to the inside"= facing the opponent with your sword to the right of his, or attacking him with your sword to the right of his.

OUTSIDE: the part to the right of your sword.


4 - The measures or distances:

MISURA LARGA: the distance from your opponent where you can reach him with the tip of your sword by lunging (see definition) at him with the right foot.

MISURA STRETTA: the distance from your opponent where you can reach him with the tip of your sword by just bending the body and extending the arm (without any motion of the feet).

OUT OF MEASURE (or "fuori misura"): the distance from your opponent where you cannot reach him with the tip of your sword in a single motion or without a passata (see definition).

WITHIN THE MEASURE (or within the distance): being either in the misura larga or stretta.

GAINING THE MEASURE (or finding the measure): proceeding from out of measure to the misura larga, or from the misura larga to the stretta.

BREAK THE MEASURE (or "rompere di misura"): retreating from within the measure to out of measure.


5 - The essentials of footwork:

LUNGE (or "allungo" or "distesa"): an extension (typically in the course of a thrusting attack) executed by stepping forward with the right foot and leaving the left foot anchored.

PASSATA: a series of resolute steps towards the opponent during an attack. A typical passata starts by bringing forward the left foot, thereby reducing the distance from the opponent considerably.

GIRATA: the act of stepping out of line by either moving your leading right foot to the right or by crossing the left foot behind the right one.


6 - The timing of the art:

TEMPO: A) A motion of the opponent within the measures that creates a momentary opening at which to strike. A tempo [Italian="time"] is finite and must therefore be longer in duration than the time required for the attack.
B) The act of performing a single movement (e.g. 1-tempo parry-counterattack=the act of parrying and delivering a counterattacking blow in the same movement).

CONTRATEMPO: The art of beating the opponent as he tries to take advantage of a tempo you created. E.g.: you make a movement creating an opening (=a tempo); he attacks it (attack of tempo), but by doing so he himself creates an opening; you are able to strike at his opening (contratempo) and save yourself.

ATTACK OF TEMPO: an attack performed when your opponent makes a motion creating a momentary opening (=he "makes a tempo").


7 - Trades:

CAVAZIONE (or "trade"): the act of trading sides with the opponent's sword. Example: if your sword is to the inside (=to the right of your opponent's), you can trade to the outside by bringing your sword around either under or over the opponent's, ending up on the left of his (=outside). It is different from a disengage in the fact that it does not involve any sort of contact between blades.

CONTROCAVAZIONE (or "countertrade"): the act of beating a trade with an opposite trade, thus ending up to the side where your swords were to begin with.

RICAVAZIONE: the act of beating a countertrade with an additional trade.

MEZZA CAVAZIONE ( or "half-trade"): the act of interrupting a trade in the middle, ending up underneath your opponent's sword.

COMMETTERE DI SPADA: performing a trade and then trading back to the original spot.

CAVAZIONE DI TEMPO: a trade executed in order to take advantage of an opening your opponent created: in this case, the trade and thrust would be performed in one motion.


8 - Finding the sword, advantage of the sword:

TROVAR DI SPADA (or "occupare la spada"): the art of placing your sword against the opponent's (without touching his blade) so that yours would have the advantage of the lever (=advantage of the sword) at the moment they met. He who has more of his sword into the opponent's (no matter how little) will have the advantage of the sword (Fabris, chapter 9). It is different from the Spanish "engagement" in the fact that there is no contact between blades until the attack.

KEEPING YOUR SWORD FREE (or "spada libera"): placing your sword in such a way that the opponent does not have the advantage of the sword. This is accomplished by either gaining the advantage yourself or by keeping your sword away from the opponent's.

CONTRAPOSTURA: a way to stand in guard so that your forte always defends the line between your body and the opponent's tip. It is an adjustment of any of the basic guards.


I chose to omit the different names for thrusts, as Masters do not seem to agree on them. For example, Fabris tends to call all thrusts by the position of the hand at the time of the attack (e.g. thrust of first, second, third or fourth), or he simply uses the generic term "Stoccata". Others assign different names to the thrusts (e.g. Imbroccata, punta riversa, etc.).

Tomasso Leoni

Comments and suggestions to: P.Harding