Reading Circles

Structure of the Illustrations

Each of Thibault’s engraved instructional plates is called a “table”, and most of them are made up of multiple individual diagrams called “circles”. The sequence is not necessarily obvious from the layout of the table, but each circle is labeled with a number and are read in order. Since everything is numbered, we can refer to specific figures by referring to table and circle number: “table 5, circle 3”. Chapter and verse, as it were.

Each circle shows two figures, named Zachary (Zach) and Alexander (Alex), arranged on The Mysterious Circle. A single move in Thibault’s system may consist of a single circle, or may be made up of a sequence of circles showing different snapshots in time.

Alex starts on the right at letter A. He is the teacher or more sophisticated fencer in most circles. He demonstrates each new and proper technique from Thibault’s system in response to Zach’s setup or response to the previous circle.

Zach always starts on the left side, at letter Z. He is usually the student or the less sophisticated of the fencers in each circle. He starts with attacks similar to some basics found in the Italian school of rapier fencing. As the manual progresses, Zach learns from Alex and improves his technique with the lessons taught in the previous chapter. In this way, the curriculum of the system moves forward.

Interpreting Circles

The illustrations on their own only tell part of the story, and it’s absolutely vital to refer to the text in trying to understand them. This is especially true on multi-circle sequences, where some circles may be a different variation of attack or defense in response to one of Zach’s responses, and not all an individual step in a very long movement.

While the text is usually pretty specific about what moment in time the circle captures, you can figure out the exact instant by looking at Alex and Zach’s feet on the floor. Thibault consistently refers to beginning and ending points for the footwork.

Numbering the Blade

Thibault numbers the blade from 1 to 12, starting at the tip. These numbers allow the text to describe precisely where Alex and Zach make contact on one another’s swords.