Marcelli’s Annervated Lunge Revisited

Direct thrust, sword alone, Part I, Bk. II, Ch. VI

On occasion someone will share a video or the like with me and I’m reminded just how difficult it is interpreting historical fencing treatises. In the last few days I’ve had a chance to chat with a few other instructors about a popular interpretation of Saviolo’s system as well as a new video purportedly covering Marcelli. [1] There were many threads in our discussion, but the thing that kept sticking in mind was the Marcelli video. I spend a good part of my week on that master’s text, Rules of Fencing (1686), and despite the qualifications of the instructor sharing that video I saw several things that stood out to me as features of more recent fencing versus what Marcelli taught.

As a caveat, I have a lot of respect for Maestro and Maestra Coblentz, and the student in the video, Justin, clearly has solid training, but I take a different view on Marcelli and think it’s important enough to share. Naturally, if there is something I’ve missed or concluded incorrectly, I invite them to chat and demonstrate how I’ve erred. It’s never my intention with posts like this to attack anyone personally—that sort of thing is nonsensical, unnecessary, and unhelpful. However, as someone who focuses closely on Neapolitan rapier and teaches it, I feel obligated to point out a few things in the video that don’t seem to match what Marcelli taught.

To be clear: what I am evaluating are aspects of their interpretation based on a close reading of the text, both as a fencer and someone trained to read historical texts. Anyone who shares an interpretation is opening the field to evaluation, but there is also a condition on the critic (in this case me) too—they should be fair, back up any criticism, and stay on topic. In what follows I will cover only a few things that stood out to me, because they are critical to understanding Marcelli’s system, and attempt to demonstrate these conclusions with textual support.

Lunge vs. Annervated Lunge

Some months ago I had a post on this stoccata annervata as it’s foreign to most people and difficult to adopt if one is used to the better known lunge. [2] It is not a lunge the way we normally conceive of it. This annervated lunge is used only with rapier and dagger—one doesn’t use it when fencing with rapier alone. The genius of it is that it allows one to extend the point while still maintaining defense, something the longer lunge does not do as well with the pairing of rapier and dagger. The annervated lunge is less a lunge than it is an unwinding—the weapon and arm are propelled by unwinding the torso, not by pushing off the back leg (something Maestro Coblentz makes clear in the video). This is how Chris Holzman and Patrick Bratton explained it to me too when I first started working on the Neapolitan school a few years ago.

If one has fought with rapier and dagger, and importantly with the mindset that one cannot be hit, then the value of that pairing should be not only be obvious, but also attractive. It layers defense and makes an attack all the more dangerous. It is, as my fellow rapier enthusiast Ken Jay remarks frequently, a game-changer. In order for the pair to work one cannot stand in guard as one does sword alone: a dagger, buckler, cloak, etc. does little good if it’s behind us. Thus, the body is more square to the front—we can face someone head on because the dagger is there to aid defense. To lunge out with the trunk still squared would be both short and easy to see, so the solution, a brilliant one, is to twist the body back toward profile and shoot the blade and arm out to target. One can thus reach a little farther but with minimal exposure.

Key to this is the front leg: it remains straight. Unlike the lunge most people know, where the knee is over the heel, calf perpendicular to the ground upon completion, the annervated lunge makes a short step and lands leg straight. Proper use of measure is what determines when to make the lunge, and it is a different measure than when lunging in profile. It’s not an annervated lunge if one is landing as one does today.

In the video, the offhand and dagger are swung dramatically back as the Maestro Coblentz and his student, Julian, lunge. On the surface this appears very much like the image in Bk I, Part II, Ch. V, p. 15, figure 4:

However, what Marcelli explains about this image reveals important information for the feet:

All the movements that I have proposed to be made in performing the thrust are seen marked with the numbers in the present illustration. The number 1 signifies that the aforesaid Cavaliere has started the sword hand first. The number 2, marked near the left knee, denotes that after having brought the hand forward he has violently extended that knee, which was bent. The number 3 that stands at the right foot indicates that it was the third movement of the body, and that after having advanced the hand and extended the knee he has advanced the foot, which is the last movement, because it has to do the least travel of all.

Tutti i moti, che hò proposto da farsi nel tirar la Stoccata, si veggono segnati co’i numeri nella presente figura; dove il nu. 1 significa, che il sopradetto Caval. hà partito prima la mano della spada. Il num. 2., segnato vicino il ginocchio sinistro, dinota, che doppo haver anticipate la mano, hà disteso con violenza quel ginocchio, che stave piegato. Il num. 3., che stà nel pie destro, signitica, che quello e stato il terzo moto del corpo; e doppo haver caminato la mano, & annervato il ginocchio, ha caminato il piede, il quale e l’ultimo moto, perche hà da far camino meno di tutti. [3]

Note that number 3 in the image does not pertain to the dagger, but to the right leg:

number 3 that stands at the right foot indicates that it was the third movement of the body, and that after having advanced the hand and extended the knee he has advanced the foot, which is the last movement, because it has to do the least travel of all.

How does one reconcile this information with the image? One option, and presumably what Maestro Coblentz has concluded, is that since the dagger is shown to the rear in the image, one should do the same upon the lunge. For reasons I have shared ad nauseum on this site I am cautious with images—they can be helpful, but must always be read against the text. Nothing in this passage suggests one should remove the dagger to a position where it can do little good, and if one lunges along more modern lines that is what happens—the dagger is too far back to be of any real use. In the annervated version, however, because it’s shorter, the dagger is easier to bring back into play should it be needed. [4] As shown in the video, the dagger arm is doing the right thing, but the feet are not.

Mezzaluna & Dagger Placement

In similar vein, Marcelli was clear on his expectations for the dagger while on guard. He writes

In all these methods of standing on guard it must be advised to keep the dagger strongly closed in the hand…the dagger arm must stand strong, extended, and annervated, because it must use force and not lightness in defending from all blows that are violently performed by the opponent.

In tutti cotesti Modi di stare in Guardia si deve avvertire à tenere fortemente stretto il pugnale in mano…mà il braccio del pugnale deve start forte, disteso, & annervato, perche deve usar forza, e non leggierezza, nel difendersi da tutti i colpi, che violentemente li sono tirarti dal nemico. [5]

We see this with all four guards, but especially the one I believe they are trying to use in the video, mezzaluna.

Marcelli says that the guard of mezzaluna (fig. 1 in the image below) has one

Extending the foot forward along the straight line meeting the rear foot, and bending the left knee, with the torso counterweighted on this foot, keeping the right knee extended, the right foot metting the opponent, and the rear foot oblique… the sword arm is withdrawn to the rear, with the hand near the pocket. He carries his dagger forward covering all the upper parts in such a way that the opponent only sees the chest below the dagger as target to strike. He cannot wound him in another part than this, and therefore it is called the guard below the weapons.

cioè, stendendo il piede avanti per linea retta incontro al piè di dietro, e piegando il ginocchio sinistro con la vita contrapesata sù questo piede, mantiene il ginocchio destroy disteso, il piè dritto incontro al nemico, e’l pie di dietro per traverso; e ritirando il braccio della Spada a dietro, con la mano vicino la saccoccia, hà portato il Pugnale avanti, coprendosi tutte le parti superiori, di modo che il nemico vedesolo per bersaglio da colpire il petto per le parti do sotto il Pugnale, nè può ferire in altra parte che in questa, e percio si chima Guardia sotto l’armi. [6]

Here, as with the image before, we have a discrepancy between the image and what Marcelli says of it:

Fig 1 is in First Guard/Mezzaluna

In the image, Figure 1 has a clear gap between the weapons in direct contradiction of what Marcelli describes in the passage explaining it. Recall that

He carries his dagger forward covering all the upper parts in such a way that the opponent only sees the chest below the dagger as target to strike. He cannot wound him in another part than this.

Marcelli makes it clear that there is no middle passage to the chest. One can only attack in the low line.

For corroborating evidence we have the testimony of another Neapolitan master, Nicola Terracusa e Ventura, who in True Neapolitan Fencing (1725) claims that this guard is called “half moon” because the tips of the weapons form that shape, that is, are in contact. [7] If both masters are adamant that one can only attack below it, then there cannot be a gap between the sword and dagger. That would open a line in addition to the low line.

Closing the Line: Lesson and Reality

In one portion of the lesson (1:32), Maestro Coblentz has Justin hit him, again with a normal lunge, and then extends to hit him indicating that the student had left the line open. As set up, it’s true that Justin is open because he’s still in the lunge, however nothing, so far I can tell, cued Justin to know that an after-blow was likely. So far as I can tell the master has instructed the student to strike without the expectation that the instructor will parry or counter.

It’s important to note that there are many times, most even, when the instructor allows the student to hit them; in most ways the instructor is a willing target. But throwing a counter or after-blow into the mix is not normally something one does without some cue that it could happen. Ostensibly the maestro is reminding the student to close the line, but in this instance the student is slightly out of measure—they’re not wearing masks—and was told to lunge to target. It’s an occasion for potential confusion—is the student working an aspect of the lunge, doing so but with additional attention to the line, or both? This is to say that when teaching a student a new action, especially something as unusual as the annervated lunge, we tend to break it down into parts to make it easier to learn. Justin’s lunge (though not annervated) was solid and he struck target with his arm in the right place, so punishing him for that again can confuse things.

The solution they devise is to have the student drop the hand upon extending. Not only does this slow the thrust, but it opens the student up to a counter-attack to the arm. This addition would also be unnecessary if the lunge was properly annervated. Focus in most rapier and smallsword texts is on the torso as target, but the arm is a perfectly good target, often easier to hit, and a true liability if disabled. Lowering his arm in this fashion is dangerous. Again, this solution only works if one is using the modern lunge—annervated, one is not in as deep, and with the dagger more easily brought into play (since this lunge is shorter), it’s there to intercept any counter to the inside line by recovery into guard, the rapier there to defend the outside line.

To be fair the audio is not great in the video—it’s hard to hear Maestro Coblentz and there is at least one additional pair talking. It is entirely possible I missed something that would explain this. If the master didn’t provide some cue, then it makes little sense to punish the student when in fact they’ve performed the task they were asked to do correctly. If the student extends first, and their arm is in the right place, their measure good, then more than likely they have control of the line; adding an after blow introduces another layer of complexity that this drill didn’t seem to require.

We spend considerable time on the direct lunge. Marcelli himself says that there is no more important, or difficult, attack that the stoccata dritta. Moreover, he says

I certainly know that the parries are none other than direct thrusts performed either in the same tempo that it is parried, or ripostes to the opponent with it after having parried the blow. [8]

In other words, if the student knows how to attack properly, then they are already working on closing the line. Sure, they must defend against an after-blow, but this is a separate issue. Assuming the student made a good attack, from good measure, then they should be able to recover in such a way to avoid an after-blow. This is all the more true, and easier to do, with rapier and dagger. Regardless, it’s critical to set expectations and then stick within the parameters of them.


We all of us apply what we know to help us make sense of things we do not know. Knowledge and experience of the modern lunge aids us in understanding different versions, even older versions of the same action, but we must be cautious and pay careful attention to the differences. We must approach illustrations with the same diligence—taken alone they mislead us. It is often safer to go with what a master said over what the artist depicted (unless they were one in the same person). The artist may not have been a fencer, may not have been particularly skilled (just inexpensive), or may have been lazy, tired, or distracted. In the examples above, what Marcelli says and what his plates show do not match up 100%, so we have to make our best guess. That guess is going to be far better when we step back and compare what we know against what a text is actually saying.

Context is everything. Marcelli’s environment was very different from our own. We never fence in earnest, and so we are not conditioned to think the way one must when fighting with sharp swords. Even in a program as venerable as that which Sonoma represents, there is a mindset more akin to the sport than the dueling field. The longer, modern lunge puts one in far more danger against rapier and dagger than does the annervated version; this is why Marcelli advocated it. One can lunge as one normally does with rapier alone, but this too makes sense—we have no offhand weapon; we’re more in profile, and lunging this way keeps more of us behind the point and guard.

As a fan of the Neapolitan school, a tradition less popular than the earlier masters like Capo Ferro or those popular in “HEMA” and the SCA, such as Giganti, I’m thrilled to see others working on Marcelli. To have well-trained maestri working on it is a plus too–the Masters Coblentz, Maestro Francesco Loda, not to mention other well-respected researchers, help us bring what we read to life. We may not always agree on how to interpret something, but all of us are best guided by the text, however odd it may seem to us, and opportunities like the video discussed here help us push our collective understanding and with luck to better interpretations. [9]


[1] I’ve not seen the book, but a friend has a copy and we discussed the nomenclature, source, and other influences in the 1595 curriculum.

For the Marcelli video, see Maestro David Coblentz’ post The maestros Coblentz, David and Dori, are well-respected graduates of the Sonoma program and part of the team behind RASP (Rapier and Sabre Pedagogy), held in Georgia, USA.

[2] Cf.

[3] Francesco Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, Trans. by Christopher A. Holzman (Wichita, KS: Lulu Press, 2019); for this passage, Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, Part II, Bk I, Ch. V, p. 15, fig. 4; Holzman, 288. See also Francesco Loda, Historical Fencing Manual: Rapier-Fencing in the 17th and 18th Centuries (Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2019).

[4] Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, Part II, Bk. I, Ch. V, 14; Holzman, 287:

The body, turned well in profile, must keep the dagger arm to the rear and the sword, advanced with lightness, must be squeezed in termination, and stopped in the right angle in the opponent’s chest.

Il corpo, voltato bene in profile, deve mantenere il braccio del pugnale à dietro; e la spada, caminata con leggierezza, si deve stringer nella termination fermata in angolo retto in petto al bersaglio.

[5] Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, Part II, Bk. I, Ch. IV, 10; Holzman, 281.

[6] Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, Part II, Bk I, Ch. III, p. 4, fig a.; Holzman, 273.

[7] Ibid, n. 113. See also Nicola Terracuse e Ventura, True Neapolitan Fencing, 1725, Trans. by Christopher A. Holzman, Wichita, KS: Lulu Press, 2017, 70.

[8] Marcelli, Rules of Fencing, Part I, Bk II, Ch. VI, p. 75; Holzman, 104.

[9] The annervated lunge is weird. It’s taken me a long time to warm up to it, and, only after a lot of awkward drilling. To someone well-versed in the modern lunge, that odd step onto the straight front leg seems like it will be jarring and unsteady. It was for me, initially, until wiser heads reminded me that the movement is driven by the torso, by unwinding, and that the step is short.

Author: jemmons0611

Vis enim vincitur Arte.

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