Gérard Thibault’s Academie de l’Espée is divided into two books. Book one is devoted to the core of his fencing system—basic techniques and strategy, focusing on single rapier combat. Book two delves into asymmetrical matchups, providing an in-depth guide for how a single rapier can defeat other weapon combinations, including:
Thibault firmly maintains that one needs only the single sword to defeat any other type of weapon. Pairing a rapier with another piece of equipment in the offhand, he claims, dilutes your skill by dividing your attention.
Against a Sword & Dagger
When facing an opponent who wields a rapier and dagger, the core strategy is to pay attention to which shoulder they lead with, and advance to that side. The breadth of their own shoulders will prevent the opponent from bringing both weapons to bear at once.
If the opponent stands with their sword arm forward, engage their blade and advance toward their sword-arm side. The breadth of their shoulders, combined with the shortness of their dagger, means the dagger will be useless; it’s no different than facing a single sword!
If the opponent stands with their dagger arm forward, it’s a little more complicated. You must not let the opponent touch your blade with their dagger, as that will allow them to constrain you and attack. Avoid this scenario with a combination of disengages and imbrocade-like movements around their dagger as you advance toward their dagger side. You also have to worry about their sword, since the rapier’s longer blade means it can potentially reach you; avoid getting stabbed by volting away from their point and deeper toward their dagger side. This may sometimes put you almost behind the opponent.
Against a Sword & Shield
When facing an opponent armed with a sword and shield, the principles are very much the same as when fighting a sword and dagger. If the opponent extends their sword side forward too much, their shield will be of no use, so you can treat it as a single-sword duel. If they advance their shield for defense, deceive the shield with disengages and imbrocades. As when fighting a sword and dagger, avoid the opponent’s rapier by volting toward their shield side.
In his examples, Thibault seems to greatly prefer working on the shield side. This may be partly because the shield is not a lethal weapon, and therefore safer to work against than a sharpened blade. Additionally, Thibault says that the shield may be as much of a hindrance to its wielder as to their opponent. Certainly, a broad shield can impede vision, and when extended it can also be cumbersome to attack around.
Working to the shield side also opens up a new tactical opportunity: attacks to the leg. A shield is great for protecting the upper body, but it cannot reach down far enough to defend the lower leg. While low attacks are often discouraged, the shortened reach of the opponent’s sword when advancing their shield allows you to close the required distance safely.
Against a Two-Handed Sword
The chief difficulty in defending against a two-handed sword is its momentum. A slender rapier blade simply cannot withstand a full-powered cut from a heavier weapon swung in two hands.
The solution to this difficulty is to parry the cut just as it begins, before it has gained any momentum. The method for doing this is the same as Thibault recommends for parrying any kind of cut from any kind of weapon:
- Just as the cut begins, place your point above their hilt
- As the cut descends, guide it away from you with a slicing motion; this will draw the cut down your blade and into your hilt
- End in a position of subjection, from which you can safely launch a counterattack
Alternatively, you can exploit the two-handed sword’s momentum, turning its greatest strength into its greatest weakness. Firstly, because a heavier sword is harder to accelerate, you can often land a thrust before the opponent can cut you. Secondly, because it is harder to alter a two-handed sword’s path, you can simply evade the heavier sword and strike after the cut has passed you by.
Thibault’s strategy for dealing with a two-handed sword can be summaried thus:
- If the opponent withdraws their blade to prepare a powerful attack, you can hit them with a thrust before their attack begins
- If the opponent cuts from First Instance, lean your body back and lower your sword to evade the cut, then counter-thrust after their blade has passed
- If the opponent cuts from Second Instance, redirect and subject the cut at the very beginning of the action, before it gains momentum
- When subjecting a heavier sword, switching to a cutting grip will give you more leverage—but be careful not to needlessly augment your sentiment
Against a Musket
Thibault’s advice against a musket is perhaps the most straightforward in the entire book. Simply zig-zag your way to the opponent until you are close enough to strike. The muskets of Thibault’s day were cumbersome and imprecise compared to modern firearms. An erratic approach would have made a lone combatant quite difficult to hit.