Capoferro talks a fair amount about different guards in his manual, but uses the term in a couple of different ways. He refers to the four basic guards, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, and defines them as being a certain orientation of the hilt and sword. Earlier though he says that 1st and 2nd aren’t realy guards because they expose too much target. He also refers to counterguards, which are positions used to gain the opponent’s swords.
What I’m interested in looking at now though, is what is the position that someone should take when they first come “on guard” and what is the purpose of that position anyway.
First, lets look at Capoferro’s explanation of what a guard actually is:
The guard is a position of the arm and of the sword extended in a straight line in the
middle of the offendable parts, with the body well accommodated in its ordinary pace
in order to hold the enemy at a distance, from any offense, and in order to offend him
in case he approaches to endanger you. – Capoferro
According to Capoferro, the only position that really fits this definition is the guard of third – however, rather than a guard of third with the hilt to the outside of the knee, which he describes later, he says the hand should be more central, so that the sword can be quickly moved to defend against any attack.
Here’s my interpretation of what the guard should look like, and how a fencer should come on guard according to Capoferro:
The guard is assumed in two movements.
1. Starting with your feet together, and a right angles, step back with your left foot approximately two and a half shoe lengths, shifting your weight to your back foot, and keeping your right leg extended. At the same time, “draw” your sword and raise it until it is high over your shoulder, hand in first position, and point directed toward the adversary’s face.
2. From there, relax the right arm slightly, and lower it so that the right hand is in line with the right knee, hand in third position, and level with your chest. At the same time, raise your left hand to just below your chin, palm down, with the elbow tucked back behind you at about chest height.
In the completed guard, the head should be leaned slightly to the rear, over the left shoulder. The body should be profiled, and inclined back, so that the left shoulder is directly above the left foot, and the right shoulder is midway between the two feet. The left leg should be bent, with the left knee lined up with the instep of the foot. The right leg should be nearly straight. Both heels should be in line, and the feet should be at right angles to each other, with the right foot pointed directly forward. The left hand should be just below the chin, palm facing the opponent, fingers together, thumb to the inside, with the left elbow pulled behind you at chest height. The right arm should be well extended, but not completely straight, hand in third position and at chest height, and placed in line with the right knee. The blade of the weapon should be parallel to the ground and be directed to the opponent’s midsection. The forearm and the weapon should form a straight line.