The following are some suggestions for using the cloak with the rapier. Please note, the techniques will vary from those which can be used with a sidesword, so this should not be taken as a definitive form for all sword types. The notes are not exhaustive and are best used as an aide memoire to a workshop, rather than a complete introduction.

Size and make of the cloak

The cloak should be wide enough to be grip in the fist at one corner and still cover the forearm and half of the upper arm. It should be long enough that, when in guard, it will drop to the shin, having been wrapped around the arm once or twice. However, it should not be so low that it can be stepped on. It should be of rough linen or similar cloth; nothing synthetic. Warning: the cloak will be heavy! For exchanging, a thick glove (like a hockey glove) and forearm armour is advised.

Holding the cloak

Grip the cloak at the top corner and hang the rest along your out-stretched arm. Only a little of the cloak should hang to the inside of your arm, the rest should hand to the floor. Wrap the cap once or twice around the arm by swinging the arm around in large circles. This will take practice and space! The cloak should now be secured along the arm and drop down to the shin when in guard. It should cover almost all the left side underneath the arm, when the arm is extended.

Alfieri Cloak

This is Alfieri’s guard for the Cloak (1640). Note that the drop of the cloak for 61 is above the knee; I would recommend positioning it just below the knee or a little further, as in 60.

Di grassi Cloak

Di Grassi’s sword and cloak (1594 English translation of the 1570 treatise). Perhaps anachronistic for this article, it does however show the drop in the right-hand figure.

The Guards with the cloak

The guards are similar to those for the sword and dagger: when the sword is extended the cloak should rest near the hilt, when the sword is withdrawn the cloak arm should be extended at shoulder height and the fencer should look along the arm. Having the cloak extended is safer, but it is tiring. If holding the cloak by the hilt, take care not to tangle the two weapons!

Fabris Cloak 1

Fabris (1606) guard, with the cloak by the hilt. Note that it is not resting on the hilt.

When extended, the fist and the top of the arm are open to attack if not covered by the sword. The fist in particular may be hit with a thrust.

Capo Ferro (1610) showing extended and retired guards. The figure on the right perhaps has cloak too withdrawn as the sword forearm is exposed.

Capo Ferro (1610) showing extended and retired guards. The figure on the right perhaps has cloak too withdrawn as the sword forearm is exposed.

Parries

It is very easy to try and parry everything with the cloak alone; however, this is slow and an experienced opponent will use feints. It is better to use the sword supported with the cloak and void with the body. When parrying, folds of the cloak under the arm should be used in preference to that part wrapped around the arm. The fist should be pointed toward the opponent, thumb up; the arm should not angle across the body when in guard. With any parry, the folds of the cloak will give a little.

Thrusts and Lunges

Never hold the cloak across the body like a vampire! A thrust will go straight though and hit the body. Always keep the edge of the cloak towards the sword when parrying. Against a thrust to the body, simply divert the attack to one side using the drop of the cloak under the arm. The enemy’s sword will either entangle in the edge or a fold or be pushed to one side. It is best to void with the body at the same time, or push the cloak forward along the blade. Use subtle movements: do not make large sweeps. If the thrust is to the head, and the arm is extended, lift the arm to c. 45 degrees from the elbow and parry as above. If the thrust is to the head and the hand is by the sword hilt, bend the arm at the elbow and push the enemy’s sword away with the hand. Never push the cloak hand in front of the face as it will blind! Bend at the elbow and void Remember the cloak is best used in support of the sword.

Cuts

Never block the debole of a cut with the forearm alone as this will lead to injury. However, to parry cuts to the head / shoulders with the cloak, move toward the enemy and push the hand or forearm against the forte or hilt. Take care against small cuts from the wrist: these are best parried with the sword. Also, beware the dagger if pushing forward! Against a cut to the legs, either step back and let the cut go past, or simply lower the cloak to entangle the enemy’s sword. A good cloak will stop a hard cut to the body or legs, but step away to be sure. You may find parrying on the outside with the sword to be easier. If an enemy throws a large cut to the head, use tutta coperta. When the attack comes in, turn your sword to prima and support it with the cloak hand. Catch the enemy’s sword at the join and disarm them or strike them with the sword. This is very effective against a riverso, as the enemy will block their own dagger.

Thoughts on the use of the cloak

A useful way to fight with the cloak is defensively: let the enemy attack; parry or bind them with the cloak and counter attack. Keep the cloak forward and look down the line of the arm and cover the fist with a retired guard (prima or seconda), but with a forward posture. Use a terza with the point just slanting over the front of the cloak fist; this is useful for fast attacks, but is more vulnerable to head shots. When fighting left foot forward, the whole of the body under the cloak is protected.

Fabris Cloak 2

Fabris (1606) left foot forward.

When tired, rest the cloak hand by the hilt and lean the body back. Always be aware of measure.

Rob Runacres