La Destreza

The Mysterious Circle

For many years the Spanish system of fence, La Destreza, has been misunderstood and misrepresented by scholars of fence. The father of this system was Don Jeronimo de Carranza. His pupil Don Luis Pacheco de narvaez named Carranza "El Premer Inventor de la Sciecia de las Armas", which he truly was.

Carranza wrote his book "De La Filosophia de Las Armas..." in Seville in 1569. Narvaez wrote his own book "Libros de Las Grandezas de la Espada..." in Madrid in 1600. These two masters laid the foundation of the Spanish system which lasted for centuries.

In 1628 Gerard Thibault d'Anvers continued in this style but in France not Spain. Today we are lucky enough to have a translation of part of his work. Thibault's work is quite extensive and contains some of the most elaborate illustrations of fencing from this period. It is from this work and Maestro Ramon martinez's writings that I will primarily be distilling my introductory synopsis. This short synopsis is simply an introduction to this system of fence. Years of study and writing would be required to fully do it justice.

La Destreza (interpreted as high level art and skill) is a complex system that cannot be fully mastered without an understanding of geometry and philosophy. To quote from Martinez:

"It was the belief that both Carranza and narvaez, as well as all subsequent masters of the Spanish School, that science, which is irrefutable, can and must be applied to swordsmanship. Their aim was to use science to improve the art of the sword, thus providing the validity, effectiveness, and perfection of their system... The science of geometry is the best manner in which "La Destreza" can be set forth because it is incontestable, being demonstrated to be exact by proofs."

I will not delve much into geometry in this synopsis. This is the purview of the advanced student who wishes to fully internalize this system.

One of the first things that one must do when entering into the study of the Spanish style is to select a proper sword. The hilt of the weapon should be a proper style based on the period that your study falls into. For later period work (post 1625), a cup hilted rapier will be appropriate. The length of the blade will be determined by your height. With the tip of your weapon on the floor, the quillons should be at your navel. With a proper sword in hand you may begin your exploiration of the Mysterious Circle.

The Mysterious or magic Circle has been the most misunderstood aspect of the Spanish system. Each individual combatant (called the Diestro in the system) maintains a circle that will be used to judge distance and movement. The diamter of the circle is the distnace from the bottom of the foot to the tip of the index finger when the sword arm is raised straight above the head. With a proper length sword your engarde distance will be close to your diameter. Movement in the Spanish system is stressed more than technique. It is not sufficient to simply know a set of techniques as in the Italian schools. One must know the geometric aspects of fence to truly understand combat. It is the use of movment and angles that will allow success in combat.

Your initial stance will be made on the circumference of your circle. Your sword arm should be held out straight, the point menacing your opponent. Your body should be upright with your feet close together. The toe of the front foot should be pointed ahead and your back foot pointed out to the side. provide more of a profile to your opponent than a frontal target.

Movement will be made with sure steps, not with shuffling of the feet. To quote martinez again:

"With regards to footwork in La Destreza, it has been mentioned by certain fencing historians that stepping is performed in a "shuffling" manner. This is an absolutely incorrect perception, and is, in fact, contrary to the deliberate and precise methods of the Spanish School. All steps, compasses and passos, of any combination or variety, are executed by the deliberate, accurate placement of the feet. All stepping as was said earlier, is done in a fluid motion."

Movement is used to take you away from danger and to take your attack to your opponent. Attacks are not made by jabbing but by using the body to take the point into the target (when thrusting). Your defense will start with body movement and will also include use of your sword to redirect an opponent's attack. This is where understanding of geometry will come into play. As attacks come in on certain angles you will move and redirect the attack so as to have it miss you and to place yourself in a good position to execute a counter.

Study of this system and understanding of its precepts will enhance the effectiveness of your fight. For those studying Spanish history, this martial philosophy is of great import.

Some time in the near future I will continue this work and will place the document at:


Greer, John Michael -- Translator

Academuy of the Sword: A Renaissance manual of Hermetic Swordsmanship by Gerard Thibault d'Anvers. Part One: Philosophy and Practice. 1998. Fir Mountain Press.

Martinez, Ramon -- Maestro

The Demystification of the Spanish School. Parts I-III. 1998. Academy of Arms Online.

Gomez, Micahel -- Translator

Comprehension of Destreza by Alvaro Guerra de la Vega (1681).