In the final part of our discussion of the umbrella as a defensive weapon it is time to consider the counter offensive capabilities of the device.
The use of the umbrella in the two-handed “swagger stick” grip has already been covered in an earlier blog, as have the defensive moves, so today we will concentrate on the one-handed “rapier style” offensive techniques. Some of the techniques we will discuss will appear familiar from sport fencing but in certain details there will be differences, as will become apparent.
To make learning the basic principles easier we’ll start off with a ready stance. If used for self-defence you will probably need to go straight into an attack when threatened. The sword stance below is a training aid. Against an actual enemy you are better advised to use the rear overhead stance shown immediately below or the low guard positions shown in the pair of photos after. Note position of the free arm. All of these positions reduce the chances of the umbrella being grabbed. From this you can step back into a two-handed or sword-style stance as the enemy advances.
To learn the thrust adopt a posture with your strong side advanced. Your feet will be between 18” and 24” apart. In his book on Broadsword Sir Richard Burton defines the width of the stance as “two foot-lengths”, which gives us a convenient measure by which to proportion this to smaller or larger individuals. Your knees should be slightly bent and your weight evenly distributed. You will be higher and more erect in posture than a sporting fencer. Your strong hand, holding the brolly, should adopt the position of Tierce. The point will be about level with your weak-side eye and your strong hand level with the chest on the strong-side. Your elbow should be down and in-line with your hip rather than sticking out. It should be comfortably bent and about a fist width from your torso. Your weak-hand will be positioned over your chest ready to defend as Harvey Keitel is kind enough to demonstrate for us.
Next we learn the lunge. Step your lead/strong-side foot forward so there is four foot-lengths distance between your feet and your rear leg is straightened. At the same time extend and straighten your lead arm to thrust. This action may raise your hand a fraction higher than the point and rotate your palm outward if made from Tierce. (For a thrust from Quarte the palm may become turned outward.)
In sport fencing combat stops when one player lands a lunge. In self-defence this will not happen so regardless of if you hit your target or not a lunge must be followed by an immediate withdrawal. This is why the lunge we are learning is shorter ranged than that of the sporting fencer. If you are adept at fencing moves such as the lunge or fleche use them, but be wary of overreaching yourself or compromising your ability to withdraw quickly. The withdrawal is made by bending your rear knee and springing back off your lead foot. Your weapon should move back into a guard position. It is recommended that you gain proficiency by practicing the lunge and other footwork without the arm actions.
As well as lunging you also need to be able to move about. The basic movement is the sliding step. Move the foot closest to the direction you want to go, place it down and then adjust the other foot. Longer ranged movements are made with the passing step. Step forward or outward with the rear leg then bring the other leg forward to resume the lead. These actions are detailed in my book so I will not cover them further here. Sporting fencing is linear and performed on a narrow strip of floor. Self-defence will involve more lateral movement so utilize the Pa Kua and Ginga footwork detailed in my book to circle a foe or avoid attacks. The Inquartata, Volte, Demi-Volte or Passata Sotto moves described in my book in the knife-fighting section are also applicable to umbrella fencing.
The tip of a typical umbrella is not sharp. Usually it is a narrow but blunt-ended tip and this is quite interesting from a martial point of view. In modern sporting foil the torso is the only legitimate target area. When rapiers and smallswords were used as weapons the chest area was actually a target area to be avoided if possible. There was too great a possibility of a penetrating blade becoming stuck. This is not a problem with the tip of an umbrella, however. It can apply considerable force with little danger of deep penetration, making it highly effective against the ribs, sternum or the intercostal muscles. The tip also has a considerable effect against softer areas, but is best applied at the more sensitive areas.
Our illustration above shows just some of the potential target areas. The points marked on the legs are the femoral nerves and arteries. Psychologically a hit to this area has a similar effect to one directed at the genitals but it is easier to inflict a solid hit here. If you can get behind the attacker the kidney region is a good target but a similar effect can be achieved by hitting the side of the torso as marked. The targets on the neck and head are more dangerous and should be attacked only if your life is in danger.
So far in this article we have considered the point of the umbrella. The handle in your hand can be used to strike should your attacker get within the range of your point. Switching to the two handed moves detailed in a previous blog is another option if range decreases.
A number of other techniques can be used with an umbrella.
The umbrella can be used as a single handed club, striking with the handle. This may be done if the umbrella is being gripped near its middle and there is insufficient time to adopt the fencing or two-handed holds. How effective this will be will depend on the weight, shape and construction of the handle.
Many umbrellas have a hooked or crook handle and this can possibly be used to hook a neck or ankle and pull an attacker off balance. A one-handed grip provides reach but a two handed grip gives more power and permits a quicker follow-up move.
Another move that can get a foe off-balance is to thrust the length of the brolly between their legs and move it to trip them.
Umbrellas can also be opened, providing a screen or shield. In 1838, the Baron Charles de Berenger advocated opening an umbrella to distract and hinder an attacker while a handgun was brought into play. We also find references to umbrellas being carried by the bodyguards of the presidents of France and the Philippines. A company even offers examples made with Kevlar fabric. While these will not stop bullets they can defend against lesser missiles such as bricks, acid and eggs. An opened umbrella may also deter an aggressive animal such as a dog.