The Mysterious Circle

Thibault called his footwork diagram The Mysterious Circle, and spends the first chapter of his book describing it and how to draw it on the floor of your salle with nothing but chalk, string, and a sword. This rather mathematical introduction may be the reason Thibault has developed a reputation for complexity. And it’s certainly the reason he’s developed a much-undeserved mystic reputation. But beyond being sized appropriately to a human being and their natural gait, Thibault’s exhaustive justification of the circle in terms of natural law is Renaissance marketing equivalent to a modern fencing book starting with a preface about analyzing thousands of hours of motion capture footage. This doesn’t invalidate the Circle’s utility, but the descriptions of it should be taken in context.

In reality, the Circle is dense and maybe a little cluttered, but not mysterious. It serves as a set of landmarks, a pretty grid, nothing more. It demystifies footwork in Thibault’s illustrations, providing exact reference points for positions, and reference lines to determine angles between fencers.

With modern computer drafting tools, the Circle is easily drawn by tracing a scan of the original.

The key thing to understand about the Circle is that it’s just a teaching aid. It is descriptive, providing a convenient shorthand to precisely describe movements of the feet in a fencing style that depends heavily on careful footwork. It is not prescriptive, in that it does not constrain one’s movement; one does not move rigidly from label to label, or strictly along solid lines. But describing footwork in the basis of the circle is undeniably more precise and much shorter than attempting to describe movements without any reference points.

To say “put the right foot across the line between C and E” is much clearer than saying “from the starting position, move the right foot forward toward one’s opponent by one natural step while simultaneously rotating the body such that the foot comes down a little bit ahead and to the left of where it started, putting one’s body in profile”. Descriptions like this immediately raise questions like “how far to the left?” and “what about the left foot?” Questions which are answered trivially and unambiguously by referring to the Circles in Thibault’s illustrations.

Floor Mat

Below is a link to a (zipped) vector graphic version of the Circle, suitable for printing as a full-size, 8ft. square floor mat. Your best bet to have this printed is a local banner/sign printer, as they’re likely the only ones with equipment to print something that big. Compared to the above version, the Circle has been rotated 45° and the lines have been broadened for legibility–they look thick on a monitor, but they should print at 1-inch wide. In addition, the labels on the edge have been moved inward, obscuring the outside lines somewhat, but reducing the total dimensions and lowering printing costs substantially.

The font I used was the open-source Source Code Pro, and it is included in the zipfile.

Creative Commons License
This work is copyright Aubrey Jones, 2019, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.