The True and False Art

"I am constrained to divide this Art into two Arts or Sciences, calling the one the True, the other, the False art" - Giacomo di Grassi

The difference between the False Art and the True Art is interesting. It's quite important to Di Grassi and Silver so it's worth a few notes. It's amusing for me because it reads a lot like an early example of the "real martial arts" v's "sporting martial art" spat that rumbles on to this day.

It's worth noting that it's not as simple as good and bad technique. Certainly I've had it explained to me in the past that they authors when saying "True" this just means "good" technique and conversely that "false" was simply saying "bad" technique. Certainly authors such as di Grassi and Silver think that the "True Art" is superior however much like the modern Sport V's Martial argument it's all about correct context. 

Di Grassi is especially interesting concerning the True and False Art as he talks about it clearly and extensively. To summarise:
  • The True Art is technique to be used when your life is on the line in a real fight or duel. You do not know how skill your opponent is so you must assume the worst case that your opponent is very fast and observant. It is about dealing a half or single tempo blow behind secure opposition in the fastest times. 
  • The False Art is impressive technique to be used in the salle to show off your skill and to impress your peers. You have the opportunity to sound out your opponent and determine their level of ability without serious negative outcomes. This give you room to trust more of your defense to agility (slips, twists, leans, height) and misdirection (feints) in the hopes of landing showy blows on your opponent.
It's important to note that he is not against the "False Art" in of itself:

"It shall be good that I entreat of Deceit or Falsing, aswell to perform my promise, as also to satisfy those who are greatly delighted to skirmish, not with the pretense to hurt or overcome, but rather for their exercise and pastime: In which it is a brave and gallant thing and worthy of commendations to be skillful in the apt managing of the body, feet and hands, in moving nimbly sometimes with the hand, sometimes with the elbow, and sometimes with the shoulder, in retiring, in increasing, in lifting the body high, in bearing it low in one instant: in brief, delivering swiftly blows as well of the edge as of the point, both right and reversed, nothing regarding either time, advantage or measure, bestowing them at random every way." 

But rather it is about context:

"For avoiding of this abuse, the best remedy is, that they exercise themselves in delivering these falses only in sport, and (as I have before said) for their practice and pastime: 

With the True Art to be used:

"when they are to deal with any enemy, & when it is upon danger of their lives, they must then suppose the enemy to be equal to themselves as well in knowledge as in strength, & accustom themselves to strike in as little time as is possible, and that always being well warded." 

To tangent from this point about Sport and Martial context, one interesting question of the "True Art" is how do you hit your opponent without "falsing" or feinting? The problem is, to jump forward in time somewhat, well expressed by Colonel Monstery in his concept of Certain and Uncertain time:
  • Certain time: strikes executed "when your antagonist expects it"
  • Uncertain time: strikes executed "after feints when the antagonist does not expect it" 
To fight the "True Art" behind your solid guard is to be fighting in Certain Time. You are throwing blows or thrusts from positions that have solid opposition but will also strongly communicate your intention, i.e. are easily parried. An obvious solution to this problem is feinting: showing one blow but giving an unexpected blow.

However the problem with Feints are well summarised by Capo Ferro:

"Feints are not good, for they cause loss of time and distance; in fact, feints must either be made within distance or out of it. If made out of distance, they are useless, as you need not answer them. If, on the other hand, the adversary feints within distance; as he feints, strike"

Given that feints rely upon fooling your opponent and can spectacularly backfire the "True Art", which is about surviving fights against opponents of unknown perception and quality, discounts them and instead is about seizing those certain "secure" times and measures to strike that don't rely upon misdirection to set them up.

For example Dal'aggochie:

"Gio. Since you give me an occasion to speak of tempo, I’ll tell you. There are five ways of recognizing this tempo of attacking. The first one is that once you’ve parried your enemy’s blow, then it’s a tempo to attack. The second, when his blow has passed outside your body, that’s a tempo to follow it with the most convenient response. The third, when he raises his sword to harm you: while he raises his hand, that’s the tempo to attack. The fourth, as he injudiciously moves from one guard to go into another, before he’s fixed in that one, then it’s a tempo to harm him. The fifth and last, when the enemy is fixed in guard, and he raises or moves his forward foot in order to change pace or approach you, while he raises his foot, that’s a tempo for attacking him, because he can’t harm you as a result of being unsettled."


"Some hold that there are four times, other five, and some six, and for mine own part, I think there are many times not requisite to be spoken of, therefore when you find your enemy in the time and measure before taught, then offer the stoccata, for that is the time when your enemie will charge you in advancing his foot, and when he offer a direct stoccata, in lifting or moving his hand, then is the time: but if he will make a imbroccata unto you, answer him with a stoccata to the face, turning a little your bodye toward the right side, accompanied with your point, making a half incartata: if he strike or thrust at your leg, carry the same a little aside in circular-wise, and thrust a stoccata to his face, and that is your just time"


"3 actions by which you may endanger him & go free yourself:

1. The first is to strike or thrust at him, the instant when he has gained you the place by his coming in.
2. The second is to ward, & after to strike him or thrust from it, remembering your governors
3. The third is to slip a little back & to strike or thrust after him."

Also by Silver from his Paradoxes of Defense:

"for he that has the short sword has four times or motions against the long rapier, namely bent, spent, lying spent, and drawing back, in all manner of fights these are to be observed both by the patient and agent. Now note, he that has the long rapier must of necessity play upon one of these four motions, or be patient, which soever he shall do, he is still in great danger of the cross of the short sword, because if he is agent, his number is too great, he falls into one of the four motions, the patient with his short sword, having but the time of his hand, or hand & foot, safely upon these actions or times takes his cross with the short sword. That being done, he presently uncrosses and strikes or thrusts at his pleasure him that has the long rapier, in the head, face, or body."


"The time is understood in this way: if the enemy is in guard, it is best you set yourself outside the measure and go with your guard secure to the enemy's sword with yours and understanding what you want to do. He will have to circle it, in that circling you are able to would him. This is one time, the changing of his guard, while he is changing it is a time. If he circles, it is a time. If he comes to bind in measure, while he steps forward to arrive in measure, this is one time to wound him in the instance in which he is throwing with you warding and wounding in one time. All of this is a time. If the enemy is standing waiting firmly in guard, you go to bind him and as you are in measure you throw where he is uncovered, this is one time to wound him. This is because any motion of Dagger, Sword, Feet and Body, as changing of guards, this is a time to wound."

Finally, showing that this wasn't just a 16th century concern, Hope has the following to say on the subject:

"Although it be not taught with so good a grace as abroad, yet, I say, if a man should be force to make use of Sharps, our Scots-play is far before any I ever say abroad, as for security; and the reason why I think so is, because all French play runs upon Falsifying and taking of time, which appears to the eyes of the spectators to be a far neater and gentler way of playing than ours; but no man that understands what secure fencing is will ever call this kind of play sure play, because when a man makes use of such kind of play, he can never so secure himself but that his adversary may contre-temps him with every thrust." 


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