Cappoferro says some pretty confusing things about feints in his manual. At the beginning of the manual he talks about how you shouldn’t use them very much, but by the time you get to the plates, it’s clear that feints are a fundamental part of the system. So what’s the deal with that? Is he inconsistent? One solution to the problem that I’ve heard is that the first half of the book describes his picture of what the ideals of fencing are, and the second half is about what really goes on in a fight. While there may be some validity in that, it still seems odd that he would include feints in at least 5 of the plates on single rapier, if he doesn’t even like them to begin with.
Or maybe he knows what he’s talking about, and is actually fairly consistent with how he handles feints.
To start with, let’s look at how Capoferro defines feints:
“‘Feints’ we call those deceitful gestures of the sword that are made as much of the cut as the thrust, outside and inside of the sword, up and down, forward and back, and circularly as well as in a straight or oblique line, with the one and the other weapon, and these feints strike directly at the opposite of that at which they gesture”
So, a feint is a simulated attack that so closely resembles a real attack that the opponent is forced react, and in doing so, exposes another target area which can then be hit. The feint striking in the opposite of the original line implies that the opponent has made some kind defensive movement. Now, for why he has issues with this:
“The feints are not good, because they lose tempo and measure; in addition it is so that the feint will be done either in measure or out of measure; if it will be done out of measure, I do not happen to move myself, but if it will be done to me in measure, while he feints, I will strike.”
So, one reason feints are bad is because they are vulnerable to the counterattack. And this makes sense if you go back and look at the feints that are used in the plates for single Rapier. In all but one of them, the fencer makes a feint, waits for the opponent to attack into it, and then responds, either with a parry and riposte, or with an inquartata. So now, he’s not really using the feints the same way that he was before. Where before, the feint is done to provoke some kind of defensive reaction, now the feint is done to provoke an counteroffensive action, which is exactly what he recommends that you do against someone who feints within range.
The way in which Capoferro uses feints is extremely similar to how countertime is used in Italian foil. In Science of Fencing, Gaugler defines countertime as:
“Simulated attacks designed to provoke the opponent’s counterthrusts, thus exposing him to the parry and riposte, or the counterattack into the counterattack.”
In plate 7, Capoferro gives an example of using a parry and riposte following a feint:
“But yet I say that if C had been a shrewd person, when he disengaged he would have disengaged by way of a feint, with his body somewhat held back, and D approaching confidently in order to attack C, C would have parried the enemy’s sword to the outside with the false or the true edge, giving him a mandritto to the face or an imbroccata to the chest”
In plate 9, he descibes using an inquartata in a simliar manner:
…if C had been a shrewd person, he would have disengaged the sword as a feint with his body held back somewhat to the rear, and D approaching confidently to pass, C falsing underneath the enemy’s sword and turning an inquartata with a void of the body, passing his leg crossed behind, would strike him in the chest”
But what about the plate where he does use a feint to provoke a defensive response from the opponent? In plate 11, he writes:
“if your adversary had you stringered on the outside, disengage a feinted thrust in quarta to the face, and he wishing to parry, turning your hand [to seconda] with the same bending, you will strike him under the sword, as above. [with a bending and lowering of your body, will strike him in contra tempo in the body under his sword]“
It’s pretty clear here that the feint is being used to provoke a parry. What’s interesting about it is that he doesn’t finish it with a lunge, but with a passing step. He says a similiar thing earlier in the manual about facing someone who keeps their left foot forward in their guard using rapier and dagger. So far, I don’t see any evidence that he would use a lunge to finish a feint like this, though I can only speculate as to why that is. Perhaps finishing with a passing step helps to void some of the target area, protecting the fencer from the counterattack? I don’t really know. However, I do think that Capoferro has a pretty interesting take on feints, which is a lot more consistent and useful than it would seem to be at first glance.