The Thrust of Botte Coupée

In their 17th-and 18th-century texts, the old French masters used to discuss a thrust known as the botte coupée. This was not another way of referring to the coupé, that is, the simple attack better known as the cut-over. Instead, the botte coupée was a distinct thrust, made under the blade of an opponent in the quarte guard. (Hence, a botte, which generally indicated a thrust, and coupée, here indicating “cutting under.”)

In The True Principles of the Single Sword (1676), Philibert de la Touche described the botte coupée as “a final thrust by which, after having feinted to the head in the inside line of quarte, and after the enemy has parried quarte, a person hits the enemy under the blade in quarte.”

Similarly, this is how P.J.F. Girard described the botte quarte coupée in A New Treatise on the Perfection in the Practice of Arms (1756):

To properly thrust a botte quarte coupée: After coming on guard and within measure, if the enemy has his wrist a little high, your hand must start first while turning to quarte and, lifting the wrist a little, fully extend the arm. Then, in order to lengthen yourself, bend the right knee and extend the left thigh, flattening the left foot. Lower your head and body a little with your head along the length of the arm, throwing the left arm rearwards while fully extending it.

La Touche was skeptical of the botte coupée, describing it as “useless” because a fencer who uses it has no opposition to protect him.

[T]he enemy only has to extend his sword to hit you in the same tempo, especially as the final blow in quarte requires you to hold the body upright, does not deviate the enemy’s sword at all, and has no wrist movement to the outside or inside.

Other French authors also wrote about the botte coupée.  In particular, Danet recommended the quarte coupée hors les armes (outside quarte coupée) as one of the nine thrusts in his L’Art des Armes (1766). Danet seems to solve the problem of opposition by suggesting that the attacker essentially trap the sword arm in place with the flat of the blade.

To thrust the outside quarte coupée, when you are on guard in tierce over my arm, lower your point, moving it by an outside demi-circle and aiming the horizontal blade under the armpit. Keep the strong precisely under my elbow and the wrist in middle position, using the same opposition as low quarte and always ensuring the hand moves before the right foot, as it alone touches. This botte is parried in four ways, specifically, demi-circle, seconde, quinte, and octave.

Danet botte coupee

By the 19th century, the botte coupée seems to have all but disappeared. Writing in the mid-1800s, Gomard allowed for a version of the botte coupée but, consistent with his numbering system, called it the disengagement to inverted septime:

We thus name the disengagement from the inside-high line to the inside-low, thrust with a hand lowered in medium pronation and carried as far left as possible, in leading the point towards the adversary’s right flank. In this thrust’s lunge, the body should lean forward in order to facilitate the lowering of the hand and the distinct, leftward opposition.

Due to its forced opposition, this thrust is considerably difficult to parry. If you use a septime parry, you meet a resistance that renders an effective parry nearly impossible; if you use the demi-circle of seconde with an arm half-extended, the blade escapes the parry, so to speak, by its exaggerated angulation. To be effective, the demi-circle of seconde should be executed very close to the body in order to seize the blade as closely as possible to the point.

. . . .

Past masters called this thrust the outside-low quarte coupée, without explaining the starting point. If this botte could be made by disengaging from outside high to outside low, it would effectively be, according to the bottes’ former denomination, a low-quarte outside, which we moderns have named octave. But, because this botte can only occur by disengaging from inside high to inside low and because it is impossible to pass from high to low while passing from inside to outside (as we saw in the section on the disengagement), this botte, given its starting point, can only belong to the inside line and can only be considered as septime. Not having very precise notions of the lines and judging bottes by where the point hits rather than the line, the past masters regarded this botte as being outside, because it was directed to that part of the body.

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