Abrazare (Grappling)

Alphabet - Abrazare is of two kinds. One is done for pleasure or entertainment.The other is done in anger, or for one’s life, employing every trick, deception and cruelty imaginable. I want to talk about the second kind and show, in good order, how to come to grappling successfully in the most common situation of life-and-death combat.

When you engage in abrazare, you must assess whether your opponent is stronger or bigger than you, and whether he is much younger or older. You also need to take note of whether he places himself in any of the guards of abrazare. Be sure to pay attention to all these things. And whether you are stronger or weaker, use the grapples that arise from the binds and be sure to know how to defend against those which the opponent uses against you.

Fiore dei Liberi, Fior di Battaglia

Two of the four surviving copies of Il Fior di Battaglia begin with grappling, which in armizare is known as abrazare, literally: “embracing” or “playing at the arms”. As is seen in the quote above, the Founder distinguishes abrazare from “wrestling” (lotta), by describing one as  being for sport or exercise, the other for combat and self-defense. He further expands what he means by listing eight requirements as the foundation of abrazare, the first two of which are physical characteristics and the rest of which are categories of techniques. These include:

  • 4594698349_f619aa501c_bStrength (Forteza)
  • Speed (Presteza)
  • Grips and Grapples (Prese)
  • Joint and Bone Breaks (Rompere)
  • “Binds”; ie: joint locks (Ligadure)
  • Strikes (Ferrire)
  • Throws (Mettere in Terra)
  • Dislocations (Dislogadure)

As can been seen, although grabs, joint locks and throws are components of abrazare, so are bone-breaking and striking; areas associated more with combative grappling than wrestling, per se. In contrast, notably absent in abrazare are elements commonly associated with submission wrestling, such as ground-fighting and chokes.

Part of the tactical choices — or limitations — in abrazare are related to both intention (self-defense) and adaptability to both civilian and military contexts, in this case reflected by being usable in armour and without:

The guards of abrazare, the Second Master (i.e., the Remedy) and his students, the Third Master (Counter to the Second and his students) and the Fourth Master (Contra-counter) act as the pillars of the art of abrazare, both in and out of armor. Similarly, they support the art of the lance, with their weapon, guards, Masters and students; the same they do for the axe, the sword in one and two hands, and the dagger. Overall, these Masters and students support the whole art of arms, on horseback and on foot, armored and unarmored–through the principles they follow in abrazare.

In this way, the 16 abrazare techniques that Fiore shows in the Flower of Battle both teach unarmed wrestling and form a foundation for all of the body mechanics and grappling that occurs throughout the rest of the art; so much so that in a  very real sense, zogho stretto, or “close play”, in armizare can be thought of as “grappling with weapons”. It is impossible to understand armizare, as Fiore intended it to b used, without understanding the lessons of abrazare, and it is impossible to understand abrazare without understanding the implications in fighting in armour, perhaps more so than in any other tradition from the Middle Ages or early Renaissance.