The Fencing Floor (floor of the dojo)

In 2008, we bought a large house in Rockbottom Village (modernly known as Gleasondale) in the town of Stow, MA.  The house was built in 1886 for one of the Gleason brothers, who ran his family’s mill, which is across the street and across the river.  The house has a grand Carriage House as part of it, which per Brokk’s retelling, became my “vision”, of a fencing salle / rehearsal space, and workshop.  A place to teach both youth and adults and also keep up my own skill right in our backyard!  It took us 4 years to draw plans, get permits and most importantly acquire funding to complete the grand vision, but finally we are nearing the end of the renovation of the first floor.  (The second floor, in which we have successfully hosted youth fencing practice, will one day become a studio apartment).

Although we hired electricians, a general contractor, and plumber, we saved The Floor for our own work.  I had seen a lovely raised plywood floor at the Plaza de Anaya in Phoenix AZ ( and wanted to recreate something like that in our salle.  Of course, fancy lotus flower designs are more appropriate for a middle eastern dance studio than our fencing salle, so the search began for what design(s) to paint into the floor.  (Note that the verb “paint” is used to describe part of the action here, and not any materials.  More on that later.)

To honor the house and its original designer, the first, and central, design became a compass rose.  The design itself would be at home in either a 16th century palace or a 19th century home.  The space, however, is long (nearly 45′, perfect for a salle) and narrow (about 18′), and so two more designs were called for.  Thibault’s circle (and I use that term loosely) was a bit of an obvious choice, as it is arguably the most famous floor design for swordfighting footwork.  I decided that the other design would be Carranza’s circle.  Although they were conceived of in that order, Carranza’s was painted first, so I shall describe it first.


Carranza’s circle

Carranza has been described, in various treatises on the subject, as “the father of modern Spanish fencing” or, on the other end of the scale, dismissed as someone who just repackaged earlier teachings and added his own “fanciful” constructs.  I can’t speak for the former accolade, but I do see their point about the repackaging charge.  However, I do not agree that it is a negative.  I find it true that Carranza has foundations in earlier teachings, but keeping what works from earlier teachings, and distilling it into a simple teaching tool is not a bad thing.  There are also several important distinctions to his “circle” which I appreciate greatly.  I found I came to the same conclusions as he had before I learned about his methods, and his circle frames a convenient way to summarize these teachings.  Most noteworthy to me is that his circle includes the “cone of defense”, which although described by other masters is not shown explicitly on the floor like it is in Carranza’s circle.  Also, by anchoring the edge of the circle of attack on the opponent, rather than its center, Carranza’s circle neatly shows how you can move about your opponent smoothly, getting closer with each step with a good chance your opponent doesn’t notice.  Pretty clever.

I used 5′ circles for our Carranza’s circle, giving a total length of 10′.  This requires a stance of 30” from rear foot to toe of the front foot.  This is larger than Carranza’s original, but as with Renaissance fencing in the Spanish style, he espoused a more upright position than my preferred style (which leans more towards Italian, at least statically).  Although 30” is a little large for our younger students, this circle is intended for use for intermediate students both young and old.

Carranza’s circle was drawn with lines in the original.  I used solid areas alternated with clear areas to give it a more interesting (although admittedly more art deco) look, since it is meant not only as a teaching tool but also as an artistic design.

  Carranza complete unfinished


Thibault’s Circle

Thibault’s circle is perhaps the most widely known historic rapier constructs.  The circle has a lot of detail that teach pose, stance, and motion, both in attack and defense (although the latter is somewhat more abstract).  The circle appears in many forms in Thibault’s book.  Stylistically, I chose the simplest one, as it packs the most information.  Indeed, I further eliminated the central cross since the floor provided those lines between different boards, in order to reduce the “clutter” in the image.  The interesting thing was that, for all Thibault’s detail, once I started laying out the lines with the accuracy required, I realized that not all of his math works out.  He could get away with this in the woodcuts, as they end up not being as accurate as the blown-up version I created.  I chose to keep to what I believe is his intended geometry in the circle proper, and allowed the errors to propagate to the outside of the circle (i.e. the corners of the square).  To make it work out, I eliminated some of the minor lines in the corners, keeping the intersections within the circle as I believe Thibault intended.

Thibault provides specific detail about how large the circle should be.  For someone of my medium height (though long arms and legs), a diameter of 6’6” is adequate.  However, I personally prefer a wider stance than Thibault’s teaching, and so our circle has a diameter of 8’.  This is much more natural for my style.  The footprints in the circle are 9” long, which is smaller than my foot (nearly 12” in shoes) but which will give us some flexibility in foot placement (i.e. some students will place their feet with heels on the heel marks, or alternating heel and toe), and so the circle should be able to accommodate both my young students (comfortably, starting when they’re about 12, although I plan on working with my 7-yr-old on it too) and adults.

Thibault complete unfinished

Methods, and the complete floor

The methods we used are definitely a “poor man’s inlay”, in that we needed something that wouldn’t break the bank, that we could do ourselves, and could be done in a reasonable amount of time.  No modern tools were used in the making of this floor.  The design is laid in using stain, so that it will not be chipped off or worn off with use.  However, laying in a design in stain is not like using paint, as the stain wants to run along the wood’s grain.  Therefore each edge was cut in (three times) before any stain could be laid in between.  Tiring and time consuming, but hopefully worthwhile for the end result!  Below are pictures of the final floor, Thibault’s circle with the tools of the work (although my converted furniture cart, which I used to roll around on the floor with, isn’t shown) and a picture of the compass rose.

Whole floor finished

 Thibault incomplete

Compass rose complete unfinished

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