Break, Capture and Dominate the Center: Understanding Il Primo Remedio di Daga in Context, Part One — Organization

Dagger defense — both with and without a blade of one’s own — is the largest and most detailed section of the various copies of The Flower of Battle. It is here that the lessons of abrazare are applied to actions at arm’s length — striking range and arm-wrestling — and so it is here that the use of throws and neck-breaks are accompanied by the ligadure (joint locks), arm-bars and strikes that comprise Fiore’s “five things” to do against an attack:

  1. Disarm;
  2. Strike;
  3. Bind;
  4. Break;
  5. Throw

The Nine Remedies themselves are also organized in a (mostly) logical fashion beginning with highline attacks (Masters 1 – 4), a “bridging” attack, made when the attacker uses his offhand to grab the defender (Master 5), a reapplication of the earlier lessons when the defender also has a dagger (Masters 6 – 7), and then defenses against a lowline attack (Masters 8 – 9). However, this section of the manuscript also provides us a tactical framework that we will see repeated again and again throughout the art. These principles include:

  1. Work the three crossings (measure): weak, middle, strong, which at the dagger is wrist, elbow and body;
  2. Step into an attack before it is in full force to capture the center with an attack of one’s own;
  3. Break and return on the same line;
  4. When losing the bind, pass and go to the outside.
The Plays of the First Remedy: Overview
Schema of the First Master of Dagger, from “Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia”

All of these elements can be found in the First Dagger Remedy (Primo Remedio), which is taught against  the most natural attack: a forehand blow, against which the master defends with an application of the abrazare guard, Posta Longa, executed with the left hand. Just as dagger defenses are the largest section of the manuscript, the First Remedy is by far the largest subsection; nearly one-third of the entire discussion on the dagger are covered in its teachings. Beyond the commonality of the attack, there are also a number of clear, pedagogical reasons involved in this decision.1

  1. The first seven plays (Getty 10v-a to 11-c) address a progressively greater depth of entry, with the student covering first at the wrist (Getty 10v-a), then the elbow (10v-c) both directly and from the wrist cover (11-a) and finally at the body (11-c), the last of which does not admit a counter.
  2. In between each of these plays occurs a specific counter: at the wrist and counter (10v b),  at the counter (10v-c and d), at the elbow  (11-b), from the wrist cover and attack at the body (11-c)
  3. The eighth play (Getty 11d)is a passing cover with the left hand, which can be used if the student is unprepared to enter inside the attack. This moves the Player’s actions to a riverso, which are the lesson of the Third Remedy.
  4. Beginning with the ninth play (Folio 12) we see three Counter Masters that can be used to thwart the Remedy at the moment of its inception, thereby preventing any of the plays that have come heretofore.2

Taken together, these first eleven plays create a micro-system of basic defenses and counters against a mandritto, but the master then adds ten plays more, addressing more specialized situations. These include the ligadura soprana, or “high bind” (11v-d), a reinforced cover called piu forteza, or “more strength” (12-b), which can be used in place of the Posta Longa cover introduced in the first play, an arm-break (12-d), blade-strip (12v-b), and throw (12v-d). As with the initial plays, these each of these techniques is immediately followed by a counter, creating five, paired sets of actions.

Bob Charrette masterfully graphs all of these plays and their relationship in his Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia. (See illustration, above)

Viewed holistically, the twenty-one plays of the First Remedy reveals a robust and coherent curriculum of eight paired defenses and counters against a simple knife-attack, an uncounterable throw, a way for the student to pass the knife it gets inside his guard, and three general counters against the cover itself. The ordering of these plays further demonstrates the pedagogical system Fiore dei Liberi articulates in his prologue, and which will follow throughout the rest of the work.

Part Two: Execution of the Remedy’s Cover
Part Three: Using the Other Hand, Piu Forteza and Training the First Remedy

Bibliography

MS. Ludwig 13 — J. Paul Getty Museum, Santa Monica, CA

MS M.383 — Pierpoint-Morgan Library, New York, NY

MS Latin 11269 — Bibliotheque National, Paris

Charrette, Robert, Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia, Freelance Academy Press (2012)

Charrette, Robert N, “Patterns of Remedy in Il Fior di Battaglia” in Mondschein, Ken and Cramer, Michael (ed.), Can These Bones Come to Life? Insights from Re-construction, Re-enactment & Re-creation, Vol. I: Historical European Martial Arts. Papers Sponsored by the Higgins Armory Museum and Oakshott Institute at the International Medievalist Conference (2005 – 2011)Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL (2014).

Leoni, Tom and Mele, Gregory, Flowers of Battle: The Complete Martial Works of Fiore dei Liberi — Volume One: The Getty Manuscript and Historical Context, Freelance Academy Press (2018).

Mondschein, Ken and Mele, Gregory, Flowers of Battle: The Complete Martial Works of Fiore dei Liberi, Volume III — The Florius Manuscript, Freelance Academy Press (2018).


  1. The schema is generally consistent in the manuscripts, but the notation here follows the ordering in the Getty Ms., although some of the linked images are from the other Ms — all hosted by the Wiktenauer.  

  2. The Pisani-Dossi also includes a Counter-Counter master in the sequence