I’ve been meaning to talk about rebattas for a while. Like years. Still, you’ve survived without them. And that’s the thing—rebattas aren’t necessary in swordsmanship, but they’re certainly lots of fun, and they’re something everyone should learn.
What is a rebatta? What is it to rebat another’s blade? Essentially, it’s a form of counter cut that doesn’t meet the front edge of an attacking opponent’s blade, but the back edge. What you do in a normal counter cut is mirror the cut they made so the cuts meet in the middle and with approximately equal force pushing against each other, creating a bind. What happens when you hit the back edge of their sword with a rebatta is you’re adding your force to theirs but using it to redirect the blow away from you instead.
Now a rebatta won’t always strike the back of their blade, and sometimes you might not be exactly aiming for it. But it’s a good rule of thumb. You’re certainly never going to make a successful rebatta by mirroring their attack. So that’s the first rough rule of thumb: if you mirror their attack, you have a good chance of putting your sword in between you and the blow and protecting yourself from it. With a rebatta, because you aren’t putting the sword directly in the path of the oncoming blow, if you miss-time it, you’re more likely to get hit.
So why do it? Why do a rebatta? It’s because it’s a very effective way of gaining tempo on your opponent, and being in an excellent situation to exploit it. What happens when you successfully rebat someone’s sword is you knock it offline and you stay on the inside of their guard—meaning they aren’t a threat to you and there’s nothing keeping them safe from your followup attack. It takes them a tempo to recover and if they don’t spend that tempo moving back and guarding, you’re likely to hit them. Worst case against someone who isn’t suicidal is you get a bind—that’s the best case basically from just doing a basic counter cut, so better stakes in your favour.
But what happens if you miss-time it? You said you’re not covering your line so you’re not as safe? Yeah, that’s true. But you can effectively travel through the same line in a rebatta that you do when you cover it with a normal counter cut. Here me out. Say someone’s cutting at you from their right shoulder. You could mirror the cut from your right shoulder and you’ll meet in the middle. But, if you have an iron gate on the left side (think, you did a diagonal cut from your right shoulder and it finished at the ground near your hip, stepping through of course) then you are set up, in a sense, to travel back through the same motion, just in reverse. The strength of the iron gates is not that they can secretly stab quicker than you think, or cut as an attack from their angle—though both of which you can do—it’s that they are insanely good at protecting you, and they can cut up quickly in defence (gate opens—the rebatta) and then snap down just as fast (gate closes—make a cut), this time on their opponent.
The secret to a rebatta, is to know which lines the guard can cut through. A high vom tag could feasibly cut straight down or to the left or right, but a posta di donna over a shoulder is much more likely to cut on that side, and it if cuts on the other side, it will take a small amount of time to redirect. The same goes with a rebatta. Cuts from an iron gate transition through the centre just like an oberhau in reverse—and they’re the most obvious and perhaps the most useful rebattas. Start with them or a middle iron gate, if you’re so inclined. Still, I’ve been creative over the years and found you can do very interesting things with an ox guard that’s slightly offline further to the outside than normal. I’ve found for people who feint high, strike low, if you have that slightly offline ox and then follow them as they come down, you’ll catch them on their true strike and be able to push it across the inside, away from you, and set you up for a nice followup cut. Rebattas are a simple concept, with close to a single use, but a thousand different varieties of guards you can do them from.
So they you go. I hope you’re keen to experiment more with rebattas. Remember, if you’re not sure how to use them, think of it like this: you can generally form a rebatta by doing the mirror guard to what you expect, but completing the cut. That puts you in the position to rebat—now just do the reverse motion once they attack. (And remember, rebattas will generally be done from on the same side as your opponent, not the mirrored side—so rather than countering their right-handed diagonal shoulder strike with one from your right side, be in a left-sided guard like a left iron gate to make the rebatta from). I hope that’s been useful, if somewhat technical. Get sparring.
Questa e meza porta di ferro … e rebatte per forza le spade in erto, e torna cum lo fendent per la testa o per gli brazi, e pure torna in sua guardia…
(Image and quote of middle iron gate from Wiktenauer)