Category Archives: Interpretation

Articles pertaining to interpretive aspects of the Art of Armizare.

Sette Colpi: Understanding the Seven Blows of the Sword in Armizare

Fig 1: What’s old is new. The Segno della Spada of FIore dei Lbieri, and the 8 lines of attack taught in modern military combatives. (Image composition by Roger Norling at www.HROARR.com

In the Getty, Pisani-Dossi and Florius manuscripts is a schematic diagram called il Segno della Spada — the Sign of the Sword — a full-page illustration of a man, intersected by seven swords, and surrounded at the cardinal points by four creatures wearing four golden collars. The segno is a visual memory device meant to summarize and encode core material for the reader. The style of the segno is not unique to Fiore dei Liberi , but is organized along very similar lines to a common memory device of the period known as “the Heavens”: which places a human figure or “universal man” at the center, surrounded by four figures at the cardinal compass points that represent one of the four classical elements of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and incorporating the numbers seven (for divinity) and twelve (the cosmos). Indeed, even the idea of a human figure pierced by seven swords is a common medieval theme. 1

Fig 1: The Getty Segno
Fig 2: The Pisani-Dossi Segno. Although it lacks a few symbolic elements, such as the crown over the Master’s head, it overlays the guards onto the body.
Fig 3: The Florius Segno. In many ways this reconciles the two previous diagrams, restoring the central figure to a Master of the Art, while including the names of the guards.

The numerological, elemental and bestiary symbolism is outside the scope of this article, which focuses on the segno’s central teaching purpose, and which continued over the next five centuries: understanding the blows of the sword. Fiore classifies these as being seven in numbers: two descending or “cleaving” (fendente) cuts, two rising or “from below” (sottano) cuts, two “middle” (mezzano) cuts, and a thrust (punta).  Each of these blows is then shown in isolation in the Getty and PD manuscripts, with a description of its trajectory and targeting.

While this seems fairly straightforward, for at least the last dozen years there has been an on-going argument as to why the fendente is shown at a very steep angle, and what exactly is a “middle cut”: does it mean a horizontal cut, as the illustration shows, or does it mean literally anything that is neither a fendente nor a sottani, but anything in between? I will argue that, by looking at the clues within Fiore’s own works, and then by comparing them to over 500 years of later cutting diagrams, the answer to both of these questions is clear.

Punte

Fig 4: Le Punte — the Thrusts

We are the thrusts, cruel and lethal. Our path is
through the center of the body, starting from the
crotch all the way up to the forehead. We thrusts are
divided into five types: Two high thrusts (one on each
side), two low thrusts (also one on each side), and a
middle one delivered from the Mezza Porta di Ferro,
Posta Longa or Posta Breve.

The description of the thrust advises that this single blow has five variations: “two high, one from each side, two from below; likewise, one from one side, one from the other, and one from the middle, that is to say from Porta di Ferro mezana or else from Posta Longa or breve.” This harkens back to the dagger segno on 9v, however, here dei Liberi takes care to state that the three centerline guards that best make the straight thrust. Otherwise, there is little here to confound interpretation directly.

However, since this section does relate to the dagger thrusts, it is worth noting that in that section Fiore names the blows, and these names overlap with those of the sword:

With the fendente, I can strike the head and the
body, from the elbow to the top of the head. Below the
elbow, however, I do not have sure freedom without
incurring much danger. This is why I am reluctant to
use this strike there.

From the riverso side, I can strike from the elbow
to the temple. These strikes are called mezzani.
These riversi strikes cannot be delivered when you
are poised to execute a parry against your opponent.

A dagger going in the middle towards your head
can strike as high as under the chest, but no higher;
the left hand can always be used to defend.

We’ll address this nomenclature and its relationship to similarly named cuts in due course.

Fendente and Sottani  

Fig 5: Colpi Fendente

Getty MS:
We are the cuts named fendenti (cleaving blows). In this art, our trade is to part the opponent’s teeth and to reach all the way down to the knee. We can easily transition from a guard to another, through a low guard. We also craftily break the opponent’s guards, while our strikes leave a trail of blood. Fendenti are not slow to strike, and recover in guard with each step. (Translation – Tom Leoni)

Pisani-Dossi:
We are fendenti and our manner is
To cleave through the teeth in a straight line
We are not slow in the wounding
And come back on guard from step to step. (Translation: The Exiles)

Notably, something that Fiore does not cover, which all later Italian masters of the Renaissance have is the stramazzone,  a small, rotational cut from the wrist. Our first source for the cut is Filippo Vadi, who says:

If you do any stramazzone,
do it with little turn in front of the face.
Don’t make your moves too wide
because any long time is lost.

The stramazzone can be made as any descending blow in the works of the Bolognese tradition of the 16th century, and its use is to either execute a beat against a sword, a cut to the hand, or one to the head. By the era of the rapier, this is usually  a vertical cut.

But here, at the start of the documented Italian tradition, the stramazzone isn’t to be found.  Nor is any vertical cut. Why not?

Context matters. What is the context of Fiore’s art? Well as he tells us: in arnis et sine arnis — “in armour and without.” Even the most lightly armoured foot soldier c. 1400 wears a helmet, and in Italy this make a vertical descending blow, or really any cut to the skull, useless.  And this is without even dealing with the skull’s uncanny ability to turn sword blows.2

But this is an era where they don’t wear plate gorgets, only mail collars. Fiore’s fendente neatly avoid the helmet but it also avoids the hard bones of the skull. Much as Silver advised almost 200 years later, a downright blow is designed to kill, but it can be turned on a hard head. The German tradition, like the later Italian ones, has a technique for creating a bloody head-wound — the Scheitelhau (“scalp-cut”) — but Fiore doesn’t.  In this, he differs from contemporary German and later Italian masters, but has much in common with military saber and broadsword masters of the early modern era, who often deleted the vertical cut from their repertoire. The reason is likely similar: these later masters were teaching soldiers to fight in the field, and were not interested in blows that gained an advantage in a duel, only those that could instantly render an opponent dead or helpless. While helmets were all but extinct on the Napoleonic battlefield, the soldier’s tall, stiff shako can’t be cut through. It was functionally a helmet as much as a hat. If your art is meant to serve in all contexts, and is aimed at a professional warrior class, why waste time teaching a specialized blow they will rarely use?

So now we know why the fendente is not the vertical cut of later Italian traditions. But why isn’t it made at a wider, more natural angle? Clearly, the segno shows the blows at 45-degrees…

But does it?

Remember, the Segno is itself a metaphorical diagram, showing the blows of the sword, the virtues of the swordsman, elemental symbolism, etc.  It is not necessarily a representational schematic, which is likely why, shortly after presenting the full diagram, Fiore shows each of the blows in isolation. Look again at the above image and see how the fendente are depicted, when shown in isolation.

Fig 6: The Largo Crossing at the Mezza

Rather than a 45-degree cut on the one-hand, or a 90-degree  blow on the other, it is something somewhere between, likely about 70-degrees, although, rather than apply a protractor to the cut, the important thing is to follow the path Fiore describes: under the jawline on one side, to the knee on the other.  As noted above, this neatly avoids both rigid armour used in war, and the body’s own natural defenses, instead targeting the blow to the neck, which, with its arteries, spinal cord and trachea, is one of the few parts of the body in which a traumatic blade wound is instantly debilitating.

Experimentation also shows that when this angle is used to cut,  both offensively, in defensive counterattacks, or when simply using the fendente to parry, the resulting bind closely resembles that which is shown in the Flower of Battle (see Fig 6), whereas blows to the temple do not — causing the blades to bind too high for a number of his advised actions to be affected properly.

So this is a case where the text and the illustration accord, as do the illustrations showing us what happens when two such blows meet.

Enter the Sottani
Fig 7: Copli Sottani — Rising Cuts

Getty MS:
We are the cuts called sottani (rising/low blows), who travel the same path as the fendenti, only going from the knee to the middle of the forehead. Then, we can either return through the same path or remain in Posta Longa. (Translation – Tom Leoni)

Pisani-Dossi:
We are blows that are made sotani
That always try to wound the hands
And through the knees is our manner
And coming back with a fendenti we are king. (Translation: The Exiles)

Paired with the fendente is the sottano, or rising cut, which we are told follows the path of the fendente in reverse, likely for the same reason. Nothing in these verses contradicts our conclusions thus far, and this trajectory makes the rising blow strike quite effectively into the vulnerable throat.

Even if we wanted to doubt these conclusions, we have to ask why else would Fiore describe the trajectory of the blow? He clearly is not discussing targets, per se in Getty 23r, because the fendente and sottani also are used to target the arms and hands.3 However, the Master may be hinting at these other targets: note that the two figures are shown with their arms folded, so that the rising and descending cuts are shown passing through them as well!

As with the 600 years of fencing masters that followed him, Fiore clearly expects his six angles of cut to be applied to any and all targets found in the four quarters (High, Low, Left, Right) of  the opponent’s body.

Our take away lesson is that context matters. The fendenti and sottani have a particular, described path because of tactical assumptions in the art — the opponent may be unarmoured, lightly armoured or fully armoured,  and if a cut is even possible, the master wishes it targeted at a place with the least defense and the most likelihood of causing an instantly debilitating wound.

In addition, these paired blows can be used to  target the limbs, to counterattack or to parry, but in all cases, the crossing created provides a bind that allows for immediate strikes behind the opponent’s blade, again to the face or arms, or to thrust in from below to the face or throat in a way that wide or more vertical cut does not.

The angles are the angles because they avoid the body’s natural armour, avoid light armour, and provides maximum damage when the cut lands.

Mezzani

Fig 8: Colpi Mezzani — Middle Cuts

Getty MS:
We are the mezzani (middle) cuts, so named because our path is between the fendenti and the sottani. From the mandritto side, we use the true edge and from the riverso side the false edge. Our path can be anywhere between the knee and the head. (Translation – Tom Leoni)

Pisani Dossi:
We are the Mezzani blows we go across
From the knees upwards we damage
And we beat the thrust out of the way
And we redouble the wounding blow easily
And we are of the middle blow between the Fendente
Also with such blows we execute hundreds. (Translation: The Exiles)

Early twentieth century fencing historians and fencing masters, such as Francesco Novati and Aldo Nadi, saw Fiore’s segno and quickly recognized it as the same diagram used in their own day, teaching two descending cuts, two rising cuts, and two horizontal blows. For about a century this became “accepted wisdom”, and then sometime around 2006 an alternative theory was offered: the mezzani are any blow that does not follow the path of a fendente or a sottano.

As far as I can tell, this idea began when a researcher read an equestrian passage  in the Getty Ms and saw that Fiore used the word tondo in the horseback section. As “tondo” is the name of  the horizontal cut in the Bolognese and rapier traditions, they  concluded the mezzano must not be a horizontal blow. Since then, plenty of non-Italian speakers have come to the same conclusion, often further relying upon the following passage from the description of the dagger mezzano thrusts, quoted above.

This is unfortunate because it is simply not the sort of mistake that a native speaker would make, nor someone who has looked outside of the Flowers of Battle to see how the horizontal blow has been defined since Fiore dei Liberi’s time. Let’s take the arguments one at a time:

“Then What’s a Tondo?”

Tondo might be used as jargon by later fencing masters to describe the horizontal cut, but the word itself doesn’t mean “horizontal fencing cut”; it means “around”. Ho viaggiato tondo il mondo, means  “I went around the world.” Likewise, mezzano simply means “middle”. (As a cut, it is the cognate to mittelhau in German.) So Fiore uses mezzano as jargon, the Bolognese use tondo as jargon; but that doesn’t preclude either from also using the words in their general sense.

The passage in question in the Getty Ms reads:

Questo si e lo ottavo zogho ch’e’ contrario di tutti
gli zoghi che mi sono denançi · e maximamente delli
zoghi de spada a cavallov e delli lor magistri che
sono in guardia di coda longa · Che quando li magistri
· o · scolari stano in la ditta guardia · e io gli tro
una punta o altro colpo · e subito elli me rebatteno
o taglo o punta che faza · Quando elli me rebateno ·
subito e io do volta a la mia spada · e cum lo pomo
mio · io gli fiero in lo volto · E poy passo cum la mia
coverta presta e cum lo riverso tondo gli fiero dredo
la testa ·

This is the eighth play, which counters all the plays
before this—especially those of mounted sword and
their Masters in Coda Lunga. When the Masters or
students are in this guard, I attack them with a thrust
or other blow, and they will try to parry these attacks.
So, upon their parry, I quickly turn my sword and
strike them in the face with the pommel. Then, I pass
with my quick cover and with a riverso tondo
strike the back of their head.

The meaning is clear, as the swordsman rides past he cuts around his head to throw a backhand blow at his opponent. No special cut, no specific trajectory.  Just simple instruction. Trying to use this single passage to tell us anything about the intended meaning of the seven blows is like learning that the world “volta” in Italian also means “time” (in the sense of repetition), and thereby thinking the three volte are a specific discussion of tempo. Yes, in English, we say “time” for both frequency and movement on a lock, but in Italian they don’t. Jargon is a slippery thing: imagine someone from prior generations finding out the alternate meaning of “mouse”! Here is how you avoid falling into the trap: remember Fiore wrote in Italian, at a time when modern English didn’t even exist,  so our job is to understand how an Italian would understand the Italian text, not what possible alternate readings our English translation could provide. 

So the tondo argument is most likely spurious, at best vague. What about the description from the dagger, arguing that the mezzano thrust is any line from armpit to temple?

Absolutely true. Of course, thrusts move on straight lines, while cuts travel on arcs, so I am not sure what this does or doesn’t prove. Rather, consider this: the fendente thrust also covers vertical blows, which we have  already established doesn’t happen with cuts. The jargon used for cuts vs thrusts does not perfectly match 1:14, but we do have a general pattern: fendente are generally descending actions, mezzani are generally lateral.

However, we don’t really need to reconcile contradictory data. Instead, look again at the segno. The mezzano is shown as a horizontal cut drawn at the waist, but Fiore says its path is between the head and the neck. Now, let’s look at the picture of the individual cut: the target is at the neck. Why?

The first segno after Fiore’s is in Vadi (c.1480s)  who, although he renames the horizontal cut volante, adds one notable term in his description of the middle blow:

Semo volanti sempre atraversando
è dal gienochio in su nostro ferire
fendente e punte spesso ne dà bando

We are volanti and we always go crosswise,
from the knee upwards we wound;
we are often banished by fendente and punte.

Note the term atraversando:  “crosswise” or “crossing”, just as in footwork, a traversimento is a lateral or crossing step. Vadi draws the crosswise blows aimed at the neck in his segno.

Fig 9: Signo della Spada from Filippo Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatoria (c.1482 – 1487). Note the “cross-cutting volante” are shown pointed at the neck.

Beyond this, Vadi provides no alternative instruction, nor any additional techniques that would provide clarification or even obfuscation to our argument here.  Therefore, our next stop is Bologna, to the famous diagram of Achille Marozzo in Opera Nova (1536).

Fig 10: The Segno of Achille Marozzo, 1536 (Colorized version (c) Heidi Zimmerman, 2016) Note that Marozzo takes Fiore’s six cuts and adds a rising and descending vertical cut, the latter divided between if it strikes from the right or left of the swordsman’s head. His “tondo” is illustrated at the waist, yet in practice is almost never thrown at any target other than the head or legs. 

Like Fiore and Vadi, Marozzo also shows the segno with 45-degree diagonals, and a horizontal cut at the waist. And yet…you will find that the tondo is used in the Bolognese school to do the following:

  1. Cut the face/neck
  2. Cut the legs
  3. Parry
  4. Avoid cutting to the body.((A discussion of targeting in Bolognese swordsmanship, and how it differs between cuts — head and limbs– and thrusts — face and torso — is covered by Steven Reich in “Bolognese Swordsmanship: An Introduction to Renaissance Sword and Buckler” in In the Service of Mars: Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop, Volume Two (2015) Freelance Academy Press.))

The lack of horizontal body cuts should not be a surprise to anyone who knows anything about 15th- and 16th-century clothing. In Fiore’s era, a swordsman could be wearing a lined, wool gown over a lined or padded doublet over a linen shirt. In Marozzo’s era, the belly of the man’s doublet was often stuffed with a few inches of padding to create a “peacecod” (pot-bellied) shape. Of course, gambesons and jacks of the period are far more  densely padded yet.5

A swordsman can try and cut through all of that fabric, just to make a wound that is often lethal but rarely immediately disabling, or he can cut through the opponent’s neck or quadriceps, which likely is. Remember, Fiore isn’t interested in a judge raising a flag to score a point (and fencing competitions for the class of people he trained were overwhelmingly fought in armour, anyway), so self-defense, duel and war are the only contexts his instructions are focused upon.

The Bolognese diagram becomes the basis for defining cuts during the era of the rapier, the rapier grandmaster importing Marozzo’s segno whole cloth, other than making the figure just as naked as everyone else in his magnum opus:

Figure 11: Salvatore Fabris, 1606. Fabris’ segno is nearly identical to Marozzo’s, and in 200+ techniques, although he has horizontal cuts, he never makes one to the body.
Fig 12: Joachim Meyers segno of 1570. Note that the horizontal blow is called a Mittelhau (“middle cut”) the German cognate of “colpo mezzano”.)

So far, we’ve seen a virtually perfect congruence in early Italian texts as to how the blows of the sword and their targets are conceptualized: the names may change, but the way they are presented does not. Now, let’s look at how the segno develops over the centuries. The Fiore/Marozzo style of diagram never went way – at the top of this article I show it (courtesy of HROARR) in the context of the modern military, and it was the mainstay of broadsword and saber fencing manuals throughout the Early Modern period: sometimes with the vertical cuts Marozzo adds to Fiore dei Liberi’s schematic, sometimes not. Here are a few examples:

Figure 13: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Angelo’s 1845 cutting diagram, following a model, following the basic 6-cut diagrams ubiquitously found in Anglo-French systems during the 18th century. Note that Angelo super imposes the parries over the cuts, much as the Pisani-Dossi manuscript overlays the poste.
Figure 14: Le Marchant’s saber manual, 19th c., which proved influential to American fencing manuals. Back to six cuts, nicely superimposed on a disembodied head — itself a good reminder that the segno is conceptual, both showing angles of attacks and the adaptability of targeting blows.

But meanwhile, look at how other masters tried to explain the horizontal blow – often showing three lines of cut, high, middle, low.

Fig 15: Polish saber cutting diagram from Michal Starzewski, 1830. The Poles referred to their style as the “cross-cutting” art, so one would think they would understand where a horizontal cut or could not be made. Note the targets are from the groin up to the head.
Fig 16: The New Sword Exercise for Infantry by Richard F. Burton, 1876. Note that there are three lines of horizontal attack — head, torso, legs — which Burton feels is in and of itself necessary to improve upon the misleading instructions that the horizontal blow is made in a single line, as with descending cuts.
Fig 17: Taken to a logical conclusion, or ad absurdum? Cutting diagram from Sir Richard Burton’s new method of fencing, in which a series of descending moulinets, or horizontal “semi moulinets”are used in sequence to cut any target from head to knees, as a preparatory exercise to loosen the arm and make the recruit more capable of striking the three horizontal blows as needed.

Why this move to showing multiple horizontal lines (head, body, legs) from the older model? Because descending and ascending cuts can be plotted across the body but horizontal ones can occur on multiple ones. Our way is from the head to the knee…

Interestingly, no matter which diagram, from which era, note what the horizontal cuts are not said to do: cut below the knee. Tactics aside, mechanically, to reach that low, the cut becomes a descending blow.

Exception Proving the Rule: the Universal Parry

Fig 18: Posta Coda Longa, origin of the rising, “universal parry”. Is that blow a mezzano, sottano or something else?

This position of the sword is called Coda Longa; it is very good against the lance and any other handheld weapon, as you ride to the right side of the opponent. Bear in mind that thrusts and riversi must be beaten out to the side, and not upward; fendenti should similarly be beaten out to the side, lifting slightly the opponent’s weapon. From this guard, you can perform the plays illustrated. (Getty Ms.)

There is one final piece of the puzzle that demands explanation: the rising, true edge parry that serves as a universal defense when fighting with the sword in one hand. At its root, the play Fiore describes seems to be a horizontal cut — riversi  and thrusts are specifically “beaten to the side.” Yet in the next phrase we are told that fendente are not only beaten to the side but “slightly lift the opponent’s weapon”.

This needn’t concern us over-much. Firstly, the cut is not called either a mezzano or a sottano, just a “cover” made in a specific fashion;  in the end it is its role as a universal parry that matters most. Secondly, the overall blow is still described as moving cross-wise, even when parrying the fendente. Thirdly, the play of the sword in one hand is itself an outlier: a true-edge cut on the mezzano line, whereas the segno advises that riverso mezzani are made with the false edge. 6 Finally, the same parry is taught by Angelo Viggiani in the mid-16th century, who has the same challenge with his own nomenclature and fudges, calling the parry a “riverso ascendente-almost-tondo.” 7

Conclusion

Context always matters, and Occam is rarely wrong.  Fiore dei Liberi’s cutting diagram is preserved for 600 years, with the same basic six cuts and a thrust (some masters adding vertical blows, some not), some masters describing the same horizontal cut, the same way, sometimes trying to expand their illustration to clarify the blow falling on differing lines, sometimes not. It is nothing more than trying to explain how to make a horizontal blow against what is inherently a vertical target (a human being).

While I realize that this position is not that of all armizare researchers I can only say that it is, in my opinion, sloppy scholarship to look at Fiore and only Fiore and conclude that the mezzano is the “everything not above” cut, especially if using the word “tondo” or looking at how he describes mezzani thrusts in the dagger material is your soul source of evidence. This not only is simply not good historiography, but it ignores the brilliance of the master’s work: by 1409 he was already presenting concepts and pedagogical principles that would be used for the next five hundred years, throughout Europe.

So what is a descending blow that isn’t on the angle of a fendente? Fiore would probably say: poorly thrown.

An Interesting Cross-Cultural Note: Sicilian Stick-Fighting

I have been privileged to train in in traditional Italian stick-fighting with IAS Advisor, Maestro Roberto Laura, and there are some striking parallels between the shepherd’s stick and the longsword, both weapons of which are approximately the same length. In single combat with the stick, preference is given to descending and rising blows, made with both “edges”, and they use the same targets Fiore advises (as well as the top of the head when trying not to kill — because it can make a bloody wound). This is an oral tradition, at least a couple of centuries old, that was being used with an armpit long stick to defend against bandits in real combat as recently as the first half of the 20th c. This isn’t “research”, it is an oral tradition, passed on by people who wouldn’t know Fiore dei Liberi from Pistachio Gelato. But their oral teaching is still the same. Realistically, that counts for more than some dudes in a gym kitted up in 20 lbs of plastic and padding with flexible, blunt swords.8

A Second Interesting Cross-Cultural Note: Not Just Europe

Fig 19: The Happo Giri (Eight Cuts) of Toyama Ryu Nakamura-ha. The densho scroll of the Nakamura Ryu begins with a diagram of the kanji for shin – mind/heart contained in a circle divided by 4 lines. These lines designate eight directions – the 4 cardinal directions and the 4 diagonals.

Nakamura Sensei explained how this idea came to him. “While teaching kenjutsu in northern China I was inspired with the thought that eiji happo, the eight rules of calligraphy, could be applied to swordsmanship. As I practiced the ei character (this is to calligraphy what do-re-me is to music) I saw in my mind that these eight strokes of the brush traced the trajectories of the sword when cutting. The first brush stroke, soku, is the thrust of the sword tip; the second stroke, roku, is the left and right horizontal cut; the third stroke, do, is the vertical cut; and so on. When I gazed at the finished ei calligraphy, I could actually see the eight cuts of the sword. Through my years of learning and teaching fencing I had sensed that there were few cuts in swordsmanship. When I contemplated the ei character, I was made to realise that there are only eight distinct cuts possible; any other technique, whatever artistic name it may have, is only a variation of the theme.” Maybe, or he may have seen that this diagram appeared in earlier Japanese military manuals — adapted from the French. Regardless, however, this final bit of wisdom is worth noting. “This realisation was the beginning of my deeper understanding of swordsmanship. … Therefore, the eight ways of cutting are myriad and eternal.”

Quoted from Guy Powers translation of ‘Essential Principles of Nakamura Ryu Iaido’. This article was first published in Cutting Edge magazine issue 2))

Notes


  1. For a full description of the segno, its symbology and relationship to similar astrological and alchemical figures see ” ‘The Four Animals Represent Four Virtues’ —
    Number and Symbol in the Flower of Battle” in Leoni, Tom and Mele, Gregory, Flowers of Battle, the Complete Martial Works of Fiore dei Liberi, Volume One — The Getty Manuscript and Historical Context (2018), Freelance Academy Press. 

  2. see, for example the grave finds at the Battles of Wisby and Towton, in Thordeman, Bengt; Nörlund, Poul; Ingelmark, Bo E. (2001). Armour from the Battle of Wisby, 1361. [Union City, Calif.]: Chivalry Bookshelf, and Fiorato, Veronica, Boylston, Anthea and Knusel, Christopher, Blood Red Roses: The Archaeology of a Mass Grave from the Battle of Towton AD 1461, Revised Edition (2007) , Oxbow Books. 

  3. See, for example, the description of Porta di Ferro and Dente di Zenghiaro (24r),  Posta Frontale and Dente di Zenghiaro lo Mezzano (24v) or the second play of the second master of Zogho Largo (25v).  

  4. I won’t even talk about trying to figure out a thrust is a “cleaving” action; which is the literal definition of fendente, but it serves as a good reminder that each language has an idiom that can only be imperfectly rendered in another via literal translation. 

  5. see, for example, the detailed analysis of the surviving, late 14th c padded armour of the young Charles VI by Tasha Dandelion Kelly in  Waffen- und Kostümkunde (July, 2013). A direct link is available here

  6. I interpret this to mean when fighting two-handed, as it avoids crossing the wrists. 

  7. Lo Schermo, 1570. The ascendente is what Fiore would call a true-edge sottano. 

  8. Although beyond the scope of this article, it is fascinating to see a system that uses the same forward and rear stances, the volta stabile, and positions analogous to Posta di Donna, Posta di Donna la Soprana, Posta di Finestra, Porta di Ferro Mezzana and Coda Longa, with oral teachings that often directly mirror Fiore’s own. Hopefully, Maestro Laura and I will be able to analyse the similarities and differences between the sword and stick traditions of Italy in a future publication. 

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:

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART 6: ORDERING THE PLAYS OF ZOGHO LARGO

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.

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART 6: ORDERING THE PLAYS OF ZOGHO LARGO

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.

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART 6: ORDERING THE PLAYS OF ZOGHO LARGO

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART FOUR: STABLE, STRIKING AND MUTABLE, REVISITED. THE TWELVE GUARDS OF THE SWORD

[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.]

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART FOUR: STABLE, STRIKING AND MUTABLE, REVISITED. THE TWELVE GUARDS OF THE SWORD

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART THREE: SWORD IN ONE HAND

Alphabet - Having looked at Fiore dei Liber’s pedagogical system, system of blows, and six methods of using the sword, we now turn to those individual sub-systems itself. Swordsmanship proper first appears in the Pisani-Dossi and Getty manuscript (ff. 20r – 21v) after the dagger teachings, and is almost an extended interlude in its own right. A single Remedy is presented, a master standing in a low guard, comparable to a position of the sword in the scabbard. Although he is wielding the sword in one hand, as one might an arming sword, the weapon itself clearly has a long, two-handed hilt.

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART THREE: SWORD IN ONE HAND

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

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

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART ONE: THE SIX MASTERS OF SWORD COMBAT

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).

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART ONE: THE SIX MASTERS OF SWORD COMBAT

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS: INTRODUCTION

 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]

Introduction

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.

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS: INTRODUCTION

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 9th Master

Video 9 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.

The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area. This series covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays.

The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 8th Master

Video 8 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.

The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area. This series covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays.

The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS: SERIES INTRODUCTION

I am the sword and I am lethal against any weapon; lances, 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

Introduction

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.

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS: SERIES INTRODUCTION

The Nine Dagger Remedy Masters: 7th Master

Video 7 of 9 in a short series.

In-Class Review Session for Iniziato, Compagno and Scholar candidates at Northwest Fencing Academy.  Produced by Northwest Fencing Academy for use by affiliates of  the International Armizare Society.

The remedies will be made public and the scholar’s plays put in the Member’s Area. This series covers the basic mechanics of the Nine Dagger Remedy Masters from Fiore dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia, which details L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms).  The instructional emphasis is on developing proficiency in mechanics and timing, so that there’s a solid foundation for the actual scholar’s plays.

The video is fairly self-explanatory, but I’ll be happy to take questions over on the forums.  Note that this just covers basic execution of the Remedy.  We’ll cover various plays in later videos.

Candidates for all ranks are expected to be able to analyze mechanics as well as perform them, with execution skills increasing per level.

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

Applied Armizare – Fiore’s Five Throws

Introduction

Fiore dei Liberi is known as the founder of a fully-functional, holistic system of combat, used with and without weapons, that he named l’arte dell’armizare — the Art of Arms. Grappling without weapons forms the introductory section of at least two manuscripts, and is known by practitioners as abrazare, or “the art of embracing.”

Dei Liberi is often referred to by modern practitioners (erroneously, but that is a subject for a separate article) as a“wrestling master” when comparisons are made with his Germanic contemporaries . In point of fact, there is precious little in the way of wrestling instruction in the corpus of works attributed to Maestro dei Liberi, and what is present is predominantly a repetition of techniques across a variety of weapons. A portion of this is undoubtedly due to his focus on a holistic style of combat. For this reason, not only is much of the underlying structure for a wrestling system found integrated into the dagger remedies, but also throughout dei Liberi’s self-referential work.

Continue reading Applied Armizare – Fiore’s Five Throws

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

“I am the sword and I am lethal against any weapon; lances, 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]

Introduction

Fiore dei Liberi’s il Fior di Battaglia, a medieval martial arts manuscript dated to 1410 in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum and catalogued as MS Ludwig XV 13, uses an innovative instructional design to teach the techniques and principles of L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms). Among the features of this system is the organization of longsword guards (positions from which the fighter attacks, defends or counterattacks) into three classifications: StabilePulsativa, and Instabile, or stable, striking, and mutable. Knowing the play of these three classifications of guards is an essential part of understanding Fiore’s strategy and tactics in the fight – in other words, the actual application of martial technique against an antagonistic opponent.

In order to better describe how the three types of guards are used strategically and tactically, I’ll first outline the pedagogical model of the manuscript, and then briefly outline the core elements of longsword play as taught by Fiore’s 24 First Masters on folios 22r through 24v. These masters teach lessons both specific to the sword and general to all weapons. For example, the four masters who teach the cuts and thrusts teach them for sword, axe and spear, but not for dagger, which are taught separately. Conversely, the First Masters of the armoured and mounted combat sections have lessons applicable to the sword, whether used single-handed or with both hands.   The focus of this article is on the play of the longsword, but since the manuscript teaches an interconnected system, I will draw from its entirety.

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

SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART FIVE: Wide and Close Play in Armizare

Gregory D. Mele, ©2014

[N.B: This article greatly expands and upon an earlier one “Understanding Wide and Close Play in the Martial Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi”, first presented in 2008 and later published with photo interpretations in In the Service of Mars, Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999 – 2009), Vol. I. In addition to a new introduction that is about a third of its entire length, substantial revisions and citations extend throughout the article, so those familiar with the earlier work will still want to read this in its entirety.]

INTRODUCTION

A wide variety of Italian authors, from Giacopo Gelli to the famed fencing master, Luigi Barbasetti, had written on the man and his work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Further a new generation of Italian researchers, most notably Massimo Malipiero and Giovanni Rapisardi, were also working with this “father of Italian fencing”, building on the work established by Novati almost 100 years earlier.[1]

Continue reading SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART FIVE: Wide and Close Play in Armizare