Destreza: A little more on the sword and cape in Oplosophia

Today I’m writing with one fewer teeth in my mouth. I mean, I can’t complain; I had something that in technical terms is called a congenitally missing tooth. In other words, I had a baby tooth that never had a grown-up tooth to take its place. So this poor tooth that should have retired when I was like 11 or something totally stepped up to the plate and did its job for another thirty years.

I’m thinking of giving it a Viking funeral.

Anyway, now that the numbness has subsided and the re-emerging pain is back under control, I wanted to bring you just a wee bit more on the sword and cape. When I completed the translations, I had a few important points that stood out in my mind, and perhaps as a form of study I wrote them down in a fairly modern and faintly impertinent variety of modern English. And then I remembered that in the latter parts of Oplosophia*, there’s a section on aphorisms – basically, principles boiled down to single simple sentences. My stuff wasn’t as boiled down as the aphorisms De Figueireido wrote, but I was pretty pleased to see that I’d come reasonably close to what he chose to highlight. Those things that I mentioned that he didn’t are, to me, the sorts of things that would have been obvious in his contemporary context (namely, qualities of a Spanish capa that to us are less than obvious without having a bit of a think).

First I present the Spanish and English translations of the aphorisms (pages 310-11). Then I offer you my take on things. Let me know if you find them useful! Or if you find problems or points of contention! Nothing ever improved without challenge.

Aphorisms – Capa

La capa y espada son las armas con que más de ordinario se encuentra un hombre.
The sword and cape are the arms a man will most frequently encounter.

La capa toma por si los desvíos y deja la espada con los reparos y heridas.
The cape can take desvíos but parries and attacks should be left to the sword.

La capa se hace dando solo en el brazo una vuelta.
The cape is set by giving it just one turn around the arm.

La capa se debe preparar fuera de los medios.
The cape should be readied out of measure.

La mano de la capa ha de quedar descubierta para poder agarrar.
The cape-hand should be left uncovered in order to be able to take hold of the opponent.

Los golpes que se dan con la capa han de ser por encima de ella.
Sword blows should be given over the cape.

Con la capa es muy arriesgado el reparar.
It is very risky to parry with the cape.

Solamente después de sujetar la espada contraria se puede aplicar la capa.
Only once the opponent’s sword is subjected or controlled can one apply the cape directly.

And now, my Oplosophia sword and cape quick-start guide.

  1. Leave the cape on the shoulders. (It’s possible that the cape may come off the right shoulder, and that this is okay.)
  2. Wrap/loop/sweep the cape over the left arm ONLY ONCE.
    1. Make sure you don’t get your elbow tangled up in the cape
    2. Make sure you hold the cape firmly with your thumb
    3. Make sure you don’t let the cape cover the whole of your hand, or you’ll get tangled up in it
  3. Seriously, only turn the cape ONCE. That leaves a longer “tail” which then has a better chance of interfering with the opponent’s sword, and forces the opponent to make larger circles (both with the sword and with footwork).
  4. Prepare the cape OUT OF MEASURE.
  5. Seriously, prepare the cape out of measure. Do not do things with anger or vehemence, ‘cause that stuff gets you KILLED.
  6. Any attack should be made over the cape (the left arm), and during attacks, the cape should stay gathered near the chest. Do it any other way and you risk getting tangled up in your own cape. At best, this causes embarrassment; at worst, DEATH.
  7. DO NOT PARRY with the cape. At best, you can parry an opponent’s sword after it has reached full extension, or possibly execute a deflection.
  8. Seriously, DO NOT PARRY with the cape, because you can get badly hurt if you do. Listen. All those folds in the cape will not stop a dedicated thrust, tajo, or revés. Your arm, all caught up in a cape, is also no match for the speed of an unburdened hand wielding a sword (especially if it’s a skilled hand).

NOTE that numbers 7 & 8 do NOT refer to last-ditch efforts. We all know that sometimes we get into circumstances that demand a dangerous or risky response, one where potential damage to the arm is far better than the alternative with no defensive maneuver at all. Just remember that the cape, in la Verdadera Destreza, cannot parry against significant attacks, since it’s nothing more than an impediment to the sight lines of the opponent, and to the motions of his sword, a deflection against actions that are done with light intent, and a way to implement an atajo for AFTER the subjection of the opponent’s sword by other means.

* De Figuereido, Diogo Gomes. Oplosophia e verdadeira destreza das armas. 2013 critical edition by Manuel Valle Ortiz and Francisco Castro Nieto, 210-212. Compostela, Spain: AGEA Editora.
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