In the early years of modern fencing
, c. 1500, Italian fencers largely favored the rapier
. While the rapier had the advantage of speed and agility over heavier swords like the broadsword
, it originally lacked an effective parry. Therefore, the left hand was brought into use to parry, either with a small shield called a buckler
, or with a long dagger (with a 10-20 inch blade). The dagger took on the name "Main Gauche" (pronounced "man gosh") from the French for "left hand."
This two-handed fencing style became the de facto standard among noblemen everywhere for nearly 150 years; the main gauche was often as carefully engineered and as ornately designed as the rapier itself. The main gauche was usually fitted with a much more stiff blade than the rapier, to facilitate more effective parries, but toward the end of its use, stranger varieties were created. Some were fitted with saw-toothed blades designed to catch the opponent's blade during a parry, and even spring-loaded double or triple-bladed daggers saw occasional use.
Two-weapon fencing, however, had a major drawback. In employing two hands, the fencer's body faces squarely towards the opponent, exposing more vital targets and generally bringing both fencers closer together. This style was vastly different from the stance used in modern foil fencing, in which the sword arm is extended toward the opponent for greater reach and the body is turned sideways to the opponent, with the right foot forward. In this style, the left hand serves only as a counter-balance for longer, faster lunges.
The modern style was created largely due to the advent of larger and larger basket or cup hilts, (c. 1620) which placed metal cups or baskets in front of and around the fencer's offensive hand. This was often coupled with quillions (cross-bars) and proved highly effective for parrying, rendering the main gauche obsolete. With this new hilt, the rapier became effective both offensively and defensively, as proven by Giacomo de Grassi, who developed the "single sword" technique, and Vigiani, who invented the lunge.