This paper will present an analysis of Johann Georg Paschen’s (1628-1678) Kurtze iedoch Deutliche Beschreibung handlend von Fechten auff den Stosz und Hieb (Short though clear description treating of fencing on the thrust and cut) published in 1661 in Sachsen. Paschen was a prolific author: in addition to treatises on fencing, he also published books on wrestling, spears, flags, gymnastics, military fortifications, and cooking (Conan 1). Despite his wide-ranging interests, his fencing text gives little direct information about him and his pedagogical background. In what follows, I will explore how Paschen converges with and diverges with the Italian rapier tradition and how he can provide crucial perspective on period fencing. I will then analyze four of Paschen’s lessons and provide commentary to help fencers recreate the lessons as drills.
The text begins with a short introduction and is followed by eight lessons on fencing with the thrust and eight lessons on fencing with cuts. Each lesson consists of a series of individual techniques loosely tied around a unifying theme. Each lesson builds on the previous one and progresses from beginning to advanced techniques. The format of this text makes it important to anyone interested in studying rapier, regardless of whether their focus is on earlier or later texts. The majority of fencing texts from the sixteenth and seventeenth century tend to focus on the underlying principles of fencing, and the examples of technique they include are chosen to illustrate those concepts. While they give us a wealth of information about fencing during the time period, they are much more sparse when it comes to describing how the material should be transmitted to a student. This gap is evident in many modern reconstructions of Italian rapier, which while in agreement on nearly all of the core principles, employ varying methodologies of teaching and produce very different styles of fencing.
While Paschen’s text does not have anything explicit to say about how a lesson should be taught, it gives us a curriculum with sixteen lessons that are suitable for training a brand new student all of the way up to an advanced lesson. Paschen uses a consistent notation to present each technique, and, because he does not spend much time explaining the execution or tactics involved, is able to cover a lot of ground. There are 143 individual techniques presented in the lessons on fencing with the thrust and 175 in the lessons on fencing with cuts. With his compact notations, Paschen is able to describe the many possible permutations of techniques that are typically left as an exercise for a reader to extrapolate in earlier texts. The terse nature of the lessons would make it very difficult for a modern practitioner to learn to fence solely by reading this book – instead, this is useful supplementary material to someone who is already familiar with other rapier texts such as Capoferro, Fabris or Giganti.
This paper’s focus will be on the first four lessons on fencing with the thrust. Other lessons will be left for exploration in a future paper. Paschen’s first lesson covers some introductory material and then introduces the straight thrust and each of the different lines that it can be made in. The second lesson introduces binds, disengagements and counterdisengagement. Lesson three introduces circular movements and focuses primarily on the parry. Lesson four introduces the feint and some of its many iterations. In addition to looking at the actions describes in these lessons, this paper will include pedagogical observations about how these lessons can work as a template for a modern lesson and some of the ways that a teacher might build on these lessons to demonstrate concepts to a student. The paper will break each lesson into segments and provide the translated text followed by analysis.
The sword is divided into four parts, the strong, the half strong, the half weak and the full weak
Actions 1-10 present the bare minimum for what a student needs to know before they can begin a lesson with the sword in hand. Although earlier rapier texts rarely make mention of the salute, Paschen shows us that it is the first thing a student needs to know. In later fencing traditions, the salute is used to mark the beginning and end of every lesson and bout. Next Paschen introduces the hand positions for rapier – note that these are defined not by the position of the arm (which is how Agrippa defined the numbered guards), but by the rotation of the hand (which is how Fabris defined them). The division of the sword is generally consistent with other authors of the time period, who tend to use three or four divisions. Next, he introduces the concepts of measure, tempo, and resolution. The explanations for measure and tempo are consistent with other works in the Italian tradition, especially the association of tempo with the recognition of an opportunity to attack. The term resolution is not common earlier Italian texts but refers to the ability to recognize and act on the correct tempo. Paschen also makes a distinction between dominance (engaging) of the opponent’s blade versus mere contact (binding). This differentiation is also uncommon in the Italian tradition, which to this day emphasizes engagements, which dominate the opponent’s weapon, while modern French fencing uses the term engagement to describe any time there is contact between the two weapons.
Actions 11-20 introduce the various lines that the straight thrust can be made in. The straight thrust can be made to the inside high line with opposition in fourth, and to the outside high line with opposition in third (tertie), second (seconde), or first (prime). Thrusts to the low line can be made in second, first and fourth. Throughout the book, Paschen shows attacks to the low line with and without opposition. He tends to use thrusts in second and thrusts in first interchangeably and, when lunging in these lines, his plates tend to show the back foot rotated so that it points forward with the heel raised, allowing the rear shoulder to come forward and for the head to be tucked in behind the sword arm.
Paschen also makes use of some unorthodox angles for delivering attacks. He teaches a thrust to the inside high line with the hand in second and a thrust to the outside high line with the hand in fourth. These attacks use the reverse of the hand position that would normally used so that the false edge it turned towards the opponent’s weapon rather than the true edge. These attacks are made in opposition to the opponent’s engagements, and are developed more fully in later lessons.
He also introduces the fourth revers, which is a thrust traveling over the opponent’s weapon, but under the arm and hitting in the flank. This thrust is the same as the flanconnade in fourth that is common in later Italian fencing. His advice that it can be used as a riposte is also consistent with the way it is commonly taught in modern fencing.
After introducing the thrusts, Paschen tells us that each of them can be made with a retreat and with an advance based on the opponent’s movements. These actions could be interpreted in a couple of different ways, each of which is useful from a modern training perspective. One way to view this would be to simply have a student make an advance with a thrust rather than a lunge. Another would be to string together multiple thrusts so that a student retreats with a thrust, recovers, and then retreats against while making the same thrust. Yet another variation would be to alternate thrusts as the student advances or retreats. Performing each thrust with an advance or a retreat helps to teach the student that blade-work can be performed independently from footwork, and that the correct footwork should be derived from the tactical situation. Performing multiple hits within a single drill is a major part of modern fencing pedagogy – a second hit teaches a student to make a good recovery and be prepared for the next action while maintaining good form. Varying the attacks develops dexterity on the part of the student and helps develop muscle memory for each attack. Randomizing the attacks also helps a student understand tempo and resolution. For these drills to be effective, the student’s partner, or teacher, must play an active, rather than passive rule during the lesson. The teacher must be able to make the appropriate cue to prompt the student to attack in each line while advancing or retreating at the appropriate times.
Paschen finishes the first lesson by introducing the engagements and disengagements. It’s unclear whether he would expect each engagement or disengagement to be followed with an attack, or if this is simply meant as a cool down exercise after a lengthy lesson. Engagements and disengagements will also be featured in the next lesson.
The triple and quadruple binds that Paschen begins the second lesson are unlikely to be the sort of technique that would be used in a bout. However, the sequence provides a valuable opportunity for a teacher to work on some key concepts with a beginning student. Simply performing the action straight through is good practice, but adding an element of choice on the part of the instructor can further emphasize the fundamentals of measure, tempo, and resolution that were briefly introduced in the first lesson. In this sequence, each action that relies on a response from the instructor can be replaced with a choice – either the instructor performs that action, prompting the student to make the appropriate counter action, or the instructor does nothing. For instance, in #2, the student would engage with a hanging second. If the instructor does nothing, the student would make the thrust in third over the arm as described in #1. If the instructor frees his or her blade from the engagement, the student would engage in tertie and attack with a glide. As movement is introduced to the action, the instructor can choose to retreat while freeing the blade, prompting the student to make a new engagement while stepping forward with an advance. Continuing this pattern for three or four actions gives an instructor the opportunity to demonstrate to the student that each action must be made based in relation to the teacher’s movement. Many students, when doing this drill will anticipate, or guess the instructor’s movements and will find themselves unprepared if the instructor chooses to advance or remain still unexpectedly. This leads to either attempts to lunge from out of distance, or a significant delay in delivering the final attack. Instead, the student must make each step quickly, but deliberately, and maintain correct distance throughout the drill. To properly cue the student, the instructor must make sure to use consistent timing with his or her actions. Freeing the blade in order to prompt the next action should be made just as the student finishes his or her engagement – waiting too long should prompt the student to complete the attack. Likewise, taking a retreat to prompt the student’s advance should be made just as they are finishing their advance into measure. Retreating too early will prevent the student from making a proper engagement, while retreating too late will prompt the student’s final attack.
The next two actions go back to the decision point of what happens after the student’s initial engagement in second. If the instructor raises the blade, the student can thrust in second under the blade, and if the student does nothing, the student can wind and thrust in second in second below, but along the blade. These can be appended to the previous drill in one of two ways. The instructor can choose which action the student should make an adjust his or her movement so that only one action will be successful, or the instructor can allow the student to choose which action to make. For instance, after the engagement in second, that instructor could free the blade and place the tip to the outside of the opponent’s weapon, while keeping the arm and hand a little low. This would make action #5 difficult for the student, who would need to make an engagement in third as described in action #2. If the instructor raises his or her arm to shoulder height, the student should choose action #5 since the low line is now exposed. Likewise, if the instructor wants the student to perform action #1 he or she can leave the tip of the weapon relatively low when the student engages in second, making the wind in second from action #6 difficult to perform. Placing the tip near the student’s hilt makes action #6 much easier, while placing the tip near the middle of the student’s blade would allow the student to choose between actions #1 and #6. Finally, the actions could easily be practiced with footwork and appended to the drills from the previous section.
The next few actions introduce the student to the beat, and how it can be countered. He teaches the beats in the high lines followed by direct attacks. Beats can be countered with a disengagement in the tempo of the beat. He also introduces a parry in second. The parries are more fully explored in the next lesson.
The re-disengagements taught here are precursors to the feints that are taught in lesson four. Actions #14 and #15 introduce the straight thrust in tempo. As written, the teacher’s cue for these could be either a disengagement with no attack, or a disengagement with an attack. Paschen, has similar examples of straight thrusts made as counter attacks in lesson three, and given his pattern of introducing a technique and iterating on it in the next lesson, it makes sense that the simpler option with the instructor merely freeing the blade without an attack would be used here. This cue would prompt a straight thrust with a lunge from the student.
Actions 16-18 continue to develop the attacks with reverse opposition that were introduced in the first lesson. #16 demonstrates an important concept about attacks made along the blade (glides) – since blade contact is maintained throughout the action, the opponent’s response can be detected sooner, giving enough time for a change of line. Against an attempted parry of fourth, Paschen uses the thrust in second around the parry, while he uses a vertical disengagement to the outside low line to defeat the attempted parry in third. These actions are taught in two distinct movements, and are referred to again in lesson three when he teaches the student to perform the entire action in a single tempo. Actions #17 and #18 show the reverse opposition attacks in a slightly more realistic context than the first action. These are to be initiated in the moment that you perceive your opponent is about to attack, but before he or she commits to the attack. One way to demonstrate this in a lesson would be to have the instructor make a strong engagement with a step forward into measure and having the student initiate the attack just as the instructor is finishing the step forward.
Paschen ends the second lesson with the counter-disengagements in third and fourth. Like the first lesson, these can be combined with advances, ending the lesson with a relatively simple action that develops the student’s technical skills.
Paschen finished lesson two with the counter-disengagement, and he begins the lesson with the same theme of circular movements. Actions #1 and #2 appear to be describing, what is known in modern fencing as an envelopment. Starting from an engagement, the tip of the weapon travels in a circle around the opponent’s weapon until it ends with an engagement in the original line and is followed with a thrust. Actions #5 and #6 seem to be revisiting the same movement, but now with the circular movement and thrust made in the same tempo. Actions #3 and #4 show how to position your body in order to make an effective counter-parry. Paschen recommends that the student remain with his or feet in the lunge after the instructor’s parry while shifting the body backwards to gain enough time to make the parry.
Next, the student is introduced more formally to the simple parries of fourth, third, hanging second and hanging fourth. With the parry of fourth protecting the inside line, third protecting the outside line, and hanging second or hanging fourth protecting against low line attacks. The position of the parry seems, in part, to be dependent on the opponent’s attack – an attack to the head might be parried with a high parry of fourth, while an attack to the body might be parried with the hand in a lower position. The default ripostes appear to be attacks along the blade (glides), though Paschen recognizes that the ideal riposte will vary based on the situation. This section of the lesson could be finished with an exercise where the student practices each parry and the most common ripostes based on the opportunity presented. For this to work, the instructor must be able to offer appropriate cues – for instance, to have the student parry fourth and riposte below the blade, the instructor could make an attack to the face and keep his or her arm at shoulder level or higher.
Paschen finishes lesson three by introducing a few new actions as well as building on some of what was introduced earlier. He teaches the circular parries of third and fourth and explores some new options with the thrusts with reverse opposition. Action #16 from the previous lesson is repeated, but now practiced in a single tempo, making it a more realistic action to use during a bout. The reverse opposition thrusts could also be used against an opponent’s attempted circular parries of fourth or third. The thrust in tempo introduced in the previous lesson is also revisited, but practiced as a counterattack in opposition to the instructor’s attack.
The first twelve actions in lesson four introduce the most common simple feints. A parry of third is typically defeated with a disengagement to the inside line and a parry of fourth is defeated with a disengagement to the outside lines. Directing the feints to a higher target opens the low line for attacks under the blade in either second of first and likewise, directing feints to the legs open the high line for attacks. Paschen also includes beats in third and fourth followed by direct feints and disengagements to the high line. In Paschen’s introduction, he offers some tactical advice for feinting: when making a feint, the fencer should not wait to see whether the opponent will parry or not, but decide ahead of time which thrust to make and finish it with resolution (van Noort 6). An instructor can work on work on this with a student during a lesson by having the student practice making small disengagements and occasionally choosing not to parry the feint. If done correctly, the student will still make the movement of the disengagement, but it will be small enough that it doesn’t actually move around the opponent’s sword and the student will finish the attack in the initial line of the feint. If the disengagement is too large, the student will end up changing lines unintentionally and attacking into the instructor’s closed line. This method of feinting – as opposed to waiting to see the opponent begin to parry, allows a fencer to remain ahead of their opponent’s parry. It works best when a fencer already has a good idea of what the opponent’s parry is likely to be, and may not be as effective against an opponent who alternates between simple, circular parries, or counterattacks.
Next, Paschen introduces double feints. Paschen is one of the earlier fencing masters to discuss double feints. His inclusion should not necessarily be taken as evidence that he would recommend these in a bout with sharps – many later texts use double and even triple feints as an exercise while recommending that they be avoided outside of a lesson due to their vulnerability to counterattacks.
Finally, Paschen finishes lesson four with the appropriate counterattack to feints. Once a fencer has realized that an opponent is likely to feint, a swift thrust delivered in the tempo of the feint can hit the opponent while simultaneously closing off the opponent’s line of attack. In modern fencing, this counterattack is called an arrest. For the arrest to be successful, it must me made with decisiveness and speed the instant the opponent’s blade is presented. In a lesson, the instructor should extend with a feint, and then make the movement of a disengagement as soon as he or she perceives movement from the student.
Paschen’s first four lessons give us valuable insight into what a fencer’s lessons should look like as they progress from a beginning to an intermediate level. The order of teaching thrusts, engagements, disengagements, beats, counter-disengagements, parries, time thrusts, feints and arrests is a good place to start for any teacher building a rapier curriculum. Drills with advances or retreats or that require multiple hits are also additions to a curriculum. Instructors primarily interested in earlier periods of Italian rapier fencing should be aware of how some of the technical aspects of Paschen’s text are influenced by shifts in mid-seventeenth century fencing theory and practice, but should still find the text useful and relevant to their own studies.
Conan, Benjamin. “XVII Century Historical European Martial Arts: A Commented Bibliography of Johann Georg Paschen.” 15 August 2012 <https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/18927715/pasch_bibli_en.pdf>.
Van Noort, Renier. Fencing on the thrust and cut: A translation of Johann Georg Paschen’s “Short though clear description treating of fencing on the thrust and cut” (1661). Bruchius.com, 3 August 2014. <http://www.bruchius.com/docs/Paschen%201661%20translation%20by%20RvN.pdf>.
 Marozzo is one of a few which describes what should be taught to a student, but even his text leaves out much of the detail that would be required to reconstruct a lesson.
 For instance, Capoferro tells us that the feint can be made with a cut or a thrust, on the outside, the inside, up or down, forward and back, with a straight or a oblique line, and he gives one or two examples of feints in his book. Paschen’s book includes 74 different actions involving feints, which cover all of the categories Capoferro mentions and more.
 Of these three earlier Italian authors, Giganti’s book comes the closest to presenting a simple curriculum that could be directly taught to a beginning student. Giganti’s text still leaves a lot left for the reader to extrapolate.
 The numbers refer to numbered illustrations in the text
 Unlike Fabris though, Paschen does not include the intermediate hand positions, first and second, second and third or third and fourth.
 The thrust on the outside line with the hand in fourth shows up regularly in earlier Italian rapier texts (Capoferro, Alfieri, Pallas Armata, etc…) It is often used together with an off-hand or dagger parry and followed with a disarmament.This entry was posted in Articles, German Rapier, Lessons, Video and tagged fencing, Johann Georg Paschen, Lessons, rapier by admin