Category Archives: Flower of Battle

Understanding the Florius Manuscript

Part One: A Beautiful Mess; the Florius as a Martial Arts Treatise

The Flower of Battle (Flos Duellatorum in Latin or Fior di Battaglia in Italian) of Fiore dei Liberi (c. 1350—before 1425) comes down to us in four manuscripts:

  • Getty MS Ludwig XV 13;1
  • Morgan Library M.383;
  • a copy privately held by the Pisani-Dossi family;
  • Bibliothèque National de France MS Latin 11269.2

Another Fiore manuscript attested in the Estense library, MS CX, is currently unknown and presumed lost.

Three of the manuscripts internally date themselves to 1409 (1410 modern calendar), and two – Getty and PD – are dedicated to Niccolo d’Este III, Marquis of Ferrara, Parma and Reggio. Discovered earlier this century by Ken Mondschein, the Paris manuscript is newer, likely between 1425 – 1430, and currently lacks a prologue, and thus a dedication. Further, the Paris ends “This is the book of Fiore the Furlan, May God Have Mercy on Him” which tells us that at the time of its creation, Fiore was deceased.

Dating and Authorship

The Paris manuscript is not a copy, but rather should be considered a “posthumous collaboration” between Fiore dei Liberi and the unknown scribe who created it. A number of things point to this:

  • Verses are rewritten, more than “translated” into elegant, Humanist Latin, well-beyond the Latin used by Fiore himself in the Pisani-Dossi prologue;
  • The source material is sometimes changed so considerably (for good and ill), and in a manner so consistent with it originating in the court of Leonello d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, that we must consider it almost a separate work. By recasting knightly martial arts in refined Latin, it shows the humanistic interrelation of the academic and the practical

BnF MS Lat 11269 is not only a unique and beautiful work of art, but a witness to the birth of an aristocratic humanist idea, a piece of official Estense propaganda, and a direct predecessor to Baldesar Castiglione’s famous statement that “the principal and true profession of the courtier ought to be that of arms.” 

The artistic style, dating and the manuscript’s Humanistic language and flourishes all suggest that it was likely created by and for Leonello d’Este (21 September 1407 – 1 October 1450), third illegitimate son of Niccolo III and Stella de’Tolome and Marquis of Ferrara and Duke of Modena and Reggio Emilia from 1441 to 1450. Contrary to other prior d’Este family leaders, such as Azzo VII, Niccolo II or Niccolò III, who had a drive for power and control, Leonello is recognized principally for his sponsorship of the arts, literature, and culture.

Leonello surrounded himself with humanist thinkers and writers, including the poets Basinio Basini and Francesco Ariosti; rhetoritician Angelo Decembrio; and Leon Battista Alberti, who wrote a seminal work on architecture. He also commissioned many minor scholars to translate books in the university and castle library into humanist Latin As a martial arts treatise couched in humanist Latin and illustrated with somewhat classical figures, the Paris manuscript fits well into this milieu.

Perhaps even more convincing, Leonello used a leopard as his personal impressa, or emblem. Niccolò III had a taste for giving his offspring non-traditional names drawn from romances, and Leonello, of course, means “little lion,” so the leopard becomes a play on both his name and his illegitimacy: the leopard was itself a “bastard,” believed to be the illegitimate offspring of a lion and the mythical pard. Playing off of this, in the Paris manuscript, the guard “Bastard Cross” becomes True Cross, and True Cross becomes Guard of the Leopard.

So, we have the right dates, the right artistic style, a humanistic literary reworking of a manuscript in the ducal library, the removal of a “bastard” guard and replacement with Leonello’s own badge, and finally, small page adornments of leopards at the end of the manuscript. While not a smoking gun, it makes Leonello the likely patron, or at least recipient, of the project.

A Rough Road Through the Centuries

Whatever loving care was taken to produce this work in the 15th century, the following centuries were not kind. The manuscript was rebound in the 17th century, likely after water-damage destroyed the opening pages, and unfortunately, it was rebound in a haphazard order that was clearly not its original format. Just a few of the many organizational problems that clearly arise from nothing more than haphazard rebinding:

  • The sword instruction is interrupted by a third of the dagger, then begins again.
  • Some of the Third Remedy pages are shoved in before the Third Remedy itself
  • The sword in armour guards appear after the sword in armour plays.

The overall result creates a seemingly haphazard authorship that clearly was not true when the Paris manuscript was created. Sadly, this is not the only problem the work presents to modern readers…

A Broken Pedagogy

As a piece of Humanistic art, meant to elevate the “knightly art” and honor a powerful patron, Florius de Arte Luctandi is a magnificent work; a prime example of the interest of the educated aristocracy to see the arts and sciences of their class — hawking, hunting, riding, fencing and ordering of battle — elevated and enriched to stand beside rhetoric, poetry, music, jurisprudence and so forth. But what about as a practical martial arts work? Do the many, Humanistic flourishes and fine Latin paraphrasing enrich and refine Fiore dei Liberi’s older works?

Sadly, no.

In fact, the manuscript is filled with so many breakdowns in the careful pedagogical paradigm established by dei Liberi, not to mention the actual errors and misunderstandings by the scribe and artists involved in its composition, that one of the only things we can say with almost certainty about is composition is that it almost certainly was not created with oversight by an actual practitioner of the art it represents, nor was it likely ever intended to be used as a practical manual of arms!  As modern practitioners, when we  evaluate  the  work,  we  need  to  keep that second phrase in mind: it likely was never intended to be used.

While that may astound us today, we need to recall that the role of illuminated manuscripts was one part as a “book” and one part an object d’art, something that glorified the patron be its beauty and rarity, not necessarily its contents. It is quite likely that Leonello d’Este received the Florius, paged through it, and gave it to his librarian, never to look at it again.

So how do we know the manuscript is flawed?

Let’s start at the beginning.

Fiore teaches in the other three copies of his book via Four Masters, represented by crowns:


Each Master has students, who wear a gold garter on their knee, whereas Counter and Counter-Counter Masters wear a crown and garter. So to know who wins a given play, just look for the gold garter!

In the Paris manuscript, however, the system is haphazard. Lacking any prologue to explain the intent, we still have crowned Masters, and students in garters — sometimes. Often, the Scholar/student is represented by wearing armour, even when the technique is for unarmoured combat. This would be a perfectly good alternate system, if the artists adhered to it.
Which, of course, they don’t.

Both men in Armour: Who’s the Scholar?

Garters, not armour.

No Armour, No Garter,

No Crown – No Nuthin’

On the other hand, why be limited — crowns and armour!

Hey, I want a crown and armour too!


Errors (Not “Variations,” not “Insights”) in Transmission

Alright, so the pedagogical system of visual cues is broken, and the pages have been rebound wrong, but if we have the other three manuscripts, we can sort that all out, right?

Well, sure, but…remember: it was almost certainly was not created with oversight by an actual practitioner of the art it represents. As much as I would love to say that the only evidence of this is the misunderstanding of when to use crowns, when garters, unfortunately, in reality there are consistent mistakes in the illustrations and text that cannot be reasonably construed as “variant plays” or “insights” by the unknown author (as, for example, can be said about the differing plays in Filippo Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatoria Dimianci.) There are well more than a dozen of these transmission errors found throughout the manuscript3 as well as some minor ones, but we will look at just a small sampling here.

First Master of the Sword in Two-Hands at Wide Play (Zogho Largo)

Students familiar with the Getty or Pisani-Dossi manuscripts should have looked at the last image I showed above and immediately recognized it as the Master of Close Play (Zogho Stretto). Indeed, it even shares the crowns worn on each Master’s head (a reminder that in close play, what man can do, so too, can the other).

Unfortunately, the creators of the Florius manuscript have intended this image to be that of the First Master of Zogho LARGO, as evidenced by both the text, its appearance as the first longsword Remedy, AND the play that follows, which, indeed, is the conclusion of the first Master.

Here is the First Remedy as he appears in the Getty MS4. Note the following points:

1. Only one man wears a crown.
2. The Master is crossed left-foot forward, creating an asymmetrical crossing.
3. The figures are crossed in the last third of the blade.

None of these differences are insignificant, and all are necessary to actually be the crossing of the First Remedy. Taking them in reverse order, the First Remedy is *specifically* called out as the crossing at the punta — so it simply cannot occur at the half-sword. Secondly, although Fiore does not in his text demand a left foot forward crossing, he always shows the largo crossings with the left foot forward, and Vadi is explicit on this: when you parry the riverso, keep forward the right foot and parry as said/when parrying the dirrito, then you will let the left foot be forward. ((Vadi, Cap. XI)) Finally, because of this asymmetrical crossing, the combatants do not have parity in the bind. They are not both “Masters,” because only one of them can execute the play that follows.

Taken together these three points show that either the Florius artists misunderstood the important elements of the artwork they were copying, or they were working from an unknown text that was itself in error!

Exchange of Thrusts and Follow-On Grapple (Scambiar di Punta e Prese)

Arguably, the Exchange of Thrusts (Scambiar di Punta) is one of the most important core plays, if not the most important, in the entire art of arms. A powerful counterattack with opposition, it is delivered with the entire body on the step, and is described rather meticulously in the Getty Manuscript.

Fiore further clarifies the play later:

As I have said in the Exchange of Thrusts (the second play before me), you need to perform an accrescimento and a pass off the line. Do the same in this play, except that in the Exchange of Thrusts the arms are low and the point high, as I said before.

Which is what the Getty and Pisani-Dossi manuscripts show. Here is how it appears in the Florius:

Scambiar di Punta in the Florius Ms. Note that the hands are not low, as advised by Fiore, and indeed, the sword isn’t actually binding, nor is the point even on target!

The most cursory look at the artwork reveals three clear problems:

1. The hands are not low and supported by the body, as shown and described in the other texts:

2. Look at the Scholar’s hilt — the blade’s aren’t bound, which is the very definition of a thrust in opposition!

3. The thrust is missing!

It is tempting to want to argue that this just an alternate play or a variation of the Scambiar di Punta, but as that play is a cornerstone of the art, nothing in the text suggests an alternate play, and the follow-on play is precisely the same as follows the Scambiar in the other sources, there is simply no supporting data for such a theory. The more likely theory is that the artist simply drew what he felt he saw — one combatant thrusting another — with no real knowledge of what the core technical points were.

This is even more likely when we see how badly the Florius garbles the follow-on presa, which is also the first play of Zogho Stretto. As shown in the Getty:

This play derives from the Exchange of Thrusts we just saw. Let’s say the student in the play before me didn’t immediately thrust to the opponent’s face, hesitating instead with his point without directing it to the opponent’s face or chest because the latter was in armour. In this case, the student should pass forward with his left foot and perform this grab. Next, he should use his sword to strike, since the opponent’s weapon has been grabbed and cannot be freed.

In the Florius, the caption is so vague as to meaningless, but when the play is repeated in the Zogho Stretto section, all becomes clear — or rather, the author’s confusion becomes clear:

I hold your handle thus, just as we spar,
With my sword’s point I’ll give your face a scar.

I will strike and without anything stopping me, hold your sword hostage, so badly do you handle it. Look, you grab mine, but I keep it, transfixed by which you now die.

Unclear at what he was looking at, the artist has drawn

1. the Scholar’s sword on the wrong side of the opponent’s weapon;
2. the Player grabbing his own blade with his right hand.

And the scribe has the Player (despite the other figure wearing the garter) winning the technique!

While it is tempting to argue that the Florius has shown us a hitherto unknown Counter-Master, that interpretation only works if the Scholar has completely garbled the initial grab (making it a lousy counter, and in between plays the “Counter-Master” has become a lefty! Not sure what the artist is portraying, the scribe has simply created some text. Considering that the play is depicted wrong both times, there is simply no conclusion other than the transmission is garbled.5

Miscellaneous Examples

While the above are some of the most egregious errors and can send new students down blind allies, there are a number of other errors that are more easily spotted:

Sixth Remedy of Dagger

Getty Ms: A direct cover with the edge of blade into the attacker’s wrist, so that his blade is hooked over the top of the Master’s, causing a bind.

Florius: The dagger is on the wrong side of the attacking blade! Besides making the follow-on plays impossible (perhaps why Florius doesn’t show them?) it is also an excellent way to get one’s self killed.

Tor di Spada la Soprana

Getty Ms: This is the high disarm. I push forward with the handle, while squeezing his arms with the left hand until he abandons his weapon. Then, I can give him a good dose of strikes. The student after me shows the opponent’s sword on the ground.

Florius: This may be the biggest “blooper” in the entire manuscript — the Scholar’s sword hilt and left arm are both on the wrong side of the Player’s weapon, making the play mechanically impossible. Ironically, the left foot, which is on the Player’s outside, gives an advantage of leverage for the disarm, albeit not enough to make up for the other problems.

These errors in transmission, as well as a number of others woven through the manuscript, combined with the fact that this is a posthumous work that emphasizes formal, academic Humanistic qualities at the expense of the plain-spoken clarity characterizing its siblings, whether Leonello d’Este was its patron or not, the intention of Florius de Arte Luctandi  might have been
 a ‘memorial’ to the ars martialis, but it was never intended as a practical, instructional treatise. The work is a new artistic work, derived from an older, more practical template. But what was that source?

We will examine possible answers and clear connections, both to the surviving Flowers of Battle texts by Fiore dei Liberi, and at least one, surviving, German “Blumes des Kampfs” manuscript, in part two.

  1. a complete translation and edition is available as Tom Leoni and Gregory Mele, Flowers of Battle: The Complete Martial Works of Fiore dei Liberi — Volume One: The Getty Manuscript and Historical Context, Freelance Academy Press (2018). 

  2. a complete translation and edition is available as Ken Mondschein and Gregory Mele, Flowers of Battle: The Complete Martial Works of Fiore dei Liberi, Volume III — The Florius Manuscript, Freelance Academy Press (2018). 

  3. all of which are detailed in Flowers of Battle Volume III: Florius de Arte Luctandi 

  4. The Morgan and PD manuscripts show both figures crowned, as is shown in the Florius — which remains an error in transmission. 

  5. For the determined: yes, we tried, in the name of science, to make this play work. Even if the opponent’s sword is as shown, and you quickly let go with the right and slide your left hand up the hilt, it doesn’t work against a non-compliant opponent. And if his blade is in the correct position shown in the other manuscripts, you will run right on to his point. 

Spada Instructional Video: First Master of Zhogo Largo

Instructional video showing the execution of the First Remedy of Largo and the binary choice that results from this particular crossing.

Here begins the play of two-handed sword, in wide play. This Master has crossed his sword at the point with this opponent, and says: when I am crossed at the points, I quickly turn my sword and strike the opponent on the other side with a fendente to the head and arms; or I thrust to his face, as you will see next.

I have given you a thrust to the face, as the Master before me had said. I could have also performed the other action he mentioned: attack right after crossing swords to the right, i.e. turn a fendente to the left side, to the head and arms of the opponent, as my master before me said. – MS Ludwig XV 13, translation © Tom Leoni

The first play deals with a critical situation: the crossing of the swords near the points, and the immediate tactical choice that presents itself depending on the quality of the incrosada – the pressure placed on the Remedy Master’s sword but the Player’s sword.  For additional context, please refer to:


If the Remedy Master crosses – i.e. parries – and finds the line open, he will make a direct point thrust to the Player.  If he finds the line closed – i.e. the Player’s cut has pushed his sword to the right – he will quickly cut over to the other side of the sword, striking head or arms with a fendente.

It’s important to remember that the text and image shown for any given play is not a prescriptive injunction that this play can only happen exactly as shown, but rather a descriptive example of principles to be applied in any similar situation.  Therefore the same crossing – weak to weak – is also demonstrated from actions in Posta Longa and Posta di Finestra. As Fiore says:

These plays are all linked, and have remedies and counters both from the mandritto and riverso side, counter-thrusts and counter-cuts to each action, with breaks, parries, strikes and binds—all things that can be understood very, very easily. – MS Ludwig XV 13, translation © Tom Leoni

For additional information on the variable nature of applying Fiore’s martial principles, please refer to

Stable, Striking and Mutable: Fighting from the Guards of L’Arte dell’Armizare

In the demonstrations I perform the actions of the Remedy Master from a “refused” or back stance position, using a volta stabile di corpo (stable turn of the body) to add strength and structure to the defensive cut.   This mechanic is covered in further detail here:

Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

Additionally, several of the demonstrations use sharps, because the qualities of the bind with sharps are much more noticeable than with blunts – sharps “stick” momentarily, blunts don’t.  PLEASE NOTE: the blades we are using are sharp on the edges but dull at the points, that we are wearing safety gear, and that we are both well-trained.  Don’t try this at home.

The plays could also be performed from a forward stance with a step of the left foot off the line to the left.  The volta and the step could also be combined.   Though not demonstrated here, these variations are taught at Northwest Fencing Academy and in the IAS.


We now turn to a more in-depth analysis of the technical curriculum Maestro Fiore has left us for how to remedy, or defend, against blows launched from the various guards in either wide (largo) or close (stretto) play. As seen previously, we can define wide play, or zogho largo, as encompassing any action that begins with one of the combatants bridging distance (analogous to the Wide Distance/misura larga/Zufechten of other traditions) and ending with the swords  crossed in the middle third (mezza spada).

Dei Liberi divides his instruction into two main groupings: a crossing of the sword in the first third, or punta, and a crossing at the mezza spada, with the majority of the plays falling in the latter category. There has long been a tendency for students to treat these plays in isolation — not just from the larger system, but from each other — and this is understandable, given how the master presents the material: Sometimes providing specific advice for variations to a play, illustrating a follow-on technique in zogho stretto for what to do when a play fails or is countered, discussing in some cases how to come to the half-sword, rather than beginning at the half-sword, etc. However, by carefully studying how the scholar is controlling the Player, both tactically and mechanically, a clear reason for each play and their overall ordering can be deduced.


An Interview with Fiore dei Liberi’s stunt double….

Alphabet - The Akademia Szermierzy is a Polish HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) academy in Warsaw. While I knew of the Akademia and its members via Facebook, I wasn’t really aware of the focus or quality of their work, other than they were interested in Armizare.  So imagine my delight (and the entire Society’s!) when they released a short film presenting their interpretations of Fiore dei Liberi’s swordsmanship, not as a how-to or demo-reel, but as a dramatization of one of the old master’s five duels against rival fencing masters. Since it was released (Aug 13, 2016), the video has garnered 56,000 views and enthusiastic applause from HEMA students across the globe.  Certainly, IAS feels it is one of the most dynamic snapshots of our art currently online.  (See for yourself, then come back and read the rest of this article!)

Continue reading An Interview with Fiore dei Liberi’s stunt double….


[NB: Part Four of this series is a revision and clarification of an early article, which can be found on the Chivalric Fighting Arts blog.]



Alphabet - Fiore’s art is a holistic one, adaptable to a variety of situations and circumstances (in armis, sine armis…). Why then, is so little said of the mechanics of cuts and the tactical framework for initiating an attack?  Popular wisdom says Fiore’s art was not intended for use by newcomers to the art, but rather by experienced men-at-arms. This is easily backed up by even a cursory read through the introductory material, where Fiore lists his accomplishments in preparing men for feats of arms – a veritable who’s who of well-known medieval fighters.

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART TWO: The Seven Blows of the Sword


Alphabet - The lessons on the two-handed sword begin with two variations of the guard Posta di Donna opposing one another, followed by six unnamed masters. These masters are not so much poste – though many of them do correspond to specific poste, as they  do different ways that the sword can be used in combat: in armour and without, in one hand or two, thrown, and so forth. As explains its nature, they reveal the interrelation between the various forms of sword use, the close-quarters methods of the dagger, and specific “mixed weapons” techniques taught at various points throughout the manuscript.

Fol 22

We are two guards and we are alike but contrary to one another. As with all other guards in this art, alike guards are contrary to one another, with the exception of the point guards (Posta Longa, Breve and Mezza Porta di Ferro); with point guard against point guard, the most extended guard can reach the opponent first. Anyway, what one guard can do, its opposite also can. These guards can perform a volta stabile and a mezza volta.[1] A volta stabile lets you play forward or backward (from one side only), without moving your feet. A mezza volta is when you pass forward or backward, so you can play on the opposite side forward or backward. A tutta volta is when you use one foot to describe a circle around the other foot; in other words, one foot stays in place, the other circles around it. The sword also has three movements: volta stabile, mezza volta and tutta volta. These two guards are both called Posta di Donna. There are four more concepts in this art: passing forward, passing backward, an advancing (accrescimento) of the front foot, and pulling back the front foot (decrescimento).



 am the sword and I am lethal against any weapon; Alphabet - Ilances, axes and dagger are worthless against me. I can become extended or withdrawn; when I get near the opponent I can enter into close play, perform disarms and abrazare. My art is to turn and to bind; I am expert in defense and offense, and always strive to finish in those. Come against me and feel the pain. I am Royal, enforce justice, propagate goodness and destroy evil. Look at me as a cross, and I will give you fame and a name in the art of arms.

Il Fior di Battaglia, folio 25r, Fiore dei Liberi, 1410 (tr. Tom Leoni)[1]


At first glance, swordplay seems to take  relatively minor role in armizare, at least compared to its German contemporaries. Whereas there are nine tactical situations, or Remedii (“Remedies”) containing 78 discreet dagger plays, Fiore dei Liberi summarizes his sword teachings in three Remedies with just over forty plays, more than half of which concern grapples and disarms with the weapon. The twenty plays reserved for Zogho Largo (“wide distance”) are not even a fifth of the vast corpus of techniques found in the Liechtenauer compendia.


Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

From time to time IAS will release Member’s Area content (normally only available to affiliates) to the general public, in the interests of promoting L’Arte dell’Armizare and the Academy’s approach to it.  This post is an in-depth lesson and video detailing the execution of a fundamental action: the fendente, and is part of a series of in-depth Fundamentals videos.

The video details the specifics of the fendente itself; the lesson refers to partnered body mechanics exercises that are reviewed before the fendente lesson is begun.  Those videos are not shown here (but are in the Member’s Area).

Lesson 1: Fundamental Body & Sword Mechanics

Level: Fundamental/Beginning

Description: Students will learn to execute both mandritto and riverso fendenti from Posta di Donna diritta (mandritto side) and Posta di Donna sinistra (on the riverso side) using correct body mechanics.

Prerequisites: None.

Goals: To properly engage arms, shoulders, hips and legs to power the blow in a true time (hand before body and feet) into a tactically sound and physically stable ending position.

Continue reading Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

The Mystery of Ioannes Suuenus and Nicholai de Toblem

(c) Gregory Mele, 2014

Today’s researchers into the martial arts of Europe come upon a strange paradox: our first known source, Ms. I.33, now found in the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK, is dated to approximately 1300, yet clearly not only possess a systematic, full-developed pedagogical system, but is seemingly designed to counter an even older, “common method,” now lost to us. We then run into a gap of nine decades before our next source, Ms. 3227a (c.1389), found in Nuremburg, Germany. This is our first source in the “Liechtenauer Tradition”, and which opens with the following bold claim:

At first, you should note and know that there is only one art of the sword, and this art may have been developed some hundred years ago. And this art is the foundation and the core of any fencing art and Master Liechtenauer understood and practiced it in its completeness. It is not the case that he invented this art – as mentioned before – but he has traveled many lands, willing to learn and experience the same real and true art.1

Continue reading The Mystery of Ioannes Suuenus and Nicholai de Toblem

  1. Ms. 3227a, 13v. Translation by Thomas Stoeppler. 

Filippo Vadi’s Role in the Dei Liberi Tradition, Part II

(c) 2010 – 2014 Greg Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild

While Filippo Vadi’s De arte gladiatoria dimicandi differs in the main very little from the work of Fiore dei Liberi in terms of technique, the assertion that Vadi’s work does not differ in method of communication is simply incorrect. The true originality of the De arte gladiatoria dimicandi stands in the sixteen introductory chapters that come before the illustrated leaves. These elegantly written verse chapters constitute the center of Vadi’s work and detail the main principles of swordmanship. They also mark a notable difference in the pedagogical method of the manuscript itself from all three of the dei Liberi texts.

Dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia are experiential manuscripts. In the Getty and Pierpoint Morgan manuscripts, the author clearly describes the various guards, attacks and mechanics of the individual techniques. Each illustration follows in a logical sequence, so that a technique is followed by its counter, and then the counter to that counter follows. Dei Liberi also goes to great length to show the repetition of key mechanical concepts, so that an armbar learned in the wrestling section is often pointed out in the dagger plays, and again in the use of the sword.

Continue reading Filippo Vadi’s Role in the Dei Liberi Tradition, Part II

Filippo Vadi’s Role in the dei Liberi Tradition, Pt. I

(c) 2010 – 2014 Gregory Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild

When I teach at workshops and seminars, I am often told something along the lines of this:

I’m surprised that the man who co-authored the reproduction on De arte gladiatoria dimicandi doesn’t work more with the hallmarks of Vadi.

It’s a fair question, and suggests that in 2001, when I was working on my edition of Vadi, I did not yet have enough understanding of the larger dei Liberi tradition to separate Vadi’s brilliance from the marketing hype aimed at securing him a position at the court of Urbino. While Filippo Vadi defines his art as “newly made”, and specifically draws attention to several supposedly unique features, a study of his work against Fiore dei Liberi’s shows that this is a bit of clever marketing on Vadi’s part. As such, Vadi’s value is not in the tweaks he provides to the mainline of the art, but rather in his often detailed explanations of the art’s fundamentals and theory.

A recent email from one of my students asked about Filippo Vadi’s innovations and his role in the dei Liberi tradition, and how they influence what we teach at the CSG. These were such excellent questions that I thought I would share them, polish up my replies and post them here.


As long as I’ve known it, the CSG offers two main initial courses of study: the Renaissance rapier masters of the early 17th century and the medieval dei Liberi tradition.  In each class session weall practice abraçare, dagger, and longsword as learned from Fiore dei Liberi’s treatises.  To attain the rank of Scholar one must have a certain knowledge about Fiore.  Translated quotes from Fiore are often cited in class.  Even rapier students are required to learn the abraçare and dagger sections of Fiore, in order to play their prize. In short order, the CSG “teaches Fiore.”

Continue reading Filippo Vadi’s Role in the dei Liberi Tradition, Pt. I

Memory and Performance: Visual and Rhetorical Strategies of Il Fior di Battaglia

(First presented at the Renaissance Society of America’s Venice conference in 2010. Presented also as part of an academic session followed by an armoured combat demonstration, organized by Dr. Regina Pskai, at the American Association for Italian Studies conference at University of Oregon, 2013)

This paper is part of a larger study on medieval and Renaissance martial arts manuscripts, their art historical context, their relationship to medieval arts of memory, and the practical interpretation of the arts they represent. I will address the work of Mary Carruthers and Kathryn Starkey on medieval techniques of reading to show how a medieval martial arts manuscript makes use of visual rhetorical devices to address the problems inherent in notating fencing actions. MS Ludwig XV 13, dated to 1410 and commonly known by its title Il Fior di Battaglia or Flower of Battle, is a Northern Italian manuscript by a military captain named Fiore dei Liberi. The manuscript, currently held by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a complex performance document which employs specific notational techniques to record for later use the elements of a physical performance.

The difficulties of understanding and interpreting historical martial arts texts lie partly with their semiotic remoteness from the present day. It is not simply that the teachers of those traditions are now long dead, or that the manuscripts themselves invariably seem to assume some prior knowledge of the arts they record, but also that they employ a literary, academic, and artistic vocabulary that is different from our own. To arrive at reasonable interpretations of the physical performance and use of these arts requires study of the complete cultural context in which these arts were performed. Only with this type of study can we begin to assign degrees of confidence to our interpretations of these arts.
Continue reading Memory and Performance: Visual and Rhetorical Strategies of Il Fior di Battaglia