In the first part of this series, we looked briefly at the overall organization of the dagger material, as well as the larger, tactical and pedagogical framework it presents, specifically:
- Work the three crossings (measure): weak, middle, strong, which at the dagger is wrist, elbow and body;
- Step into an attack before it is in full force to capture the center with an attack of one’s own;
- Break and return on the same line;
- When losing the bind, pass and go to the outside.
Since the dagger introduces fighting at range (meaning someone must step into measure to attack), the ligadure, arm-bars and disarms that will recur throughout the art, etc., and is itself a defense against a “natural” attack (a descending mandritto), the defense must be fairly straightforward, right?
Interpretive Challenges: Footwork
The key element of understanding how to perform the First Dagger Remedy (il Primo Remedio di Daga) is understanding how to receive the attack itself. This is an area where simply looking at a two-dimensional illustration from an era centuries before photo realism can convey a false, or incomplete, sense of understanding.1 For example, when we look at the illustration of the First Remedy, this is what what we see:
As noted in Part One, we are being shown the “wrist measure” cover of a mandritto attack, the most “natural” when drawing a knife in a reverse grip. Because the parrying position is that of Posta Longa, made to the wrist, this can be a relatively long-range defense:
This is where trying to look ‘just like the photo” can immediately cause problems, especially as we try and reconcile with the text. For example, in the Florius image shown here, something should be noted: the Player can’t actually reach the Scholar with his attack! Further, since motion is not conveyed in the artwork, it is hard to tell, is the figure stepping in with his left foot (thus the straight leg is “floating”), or has he stepped backwards, increasing distance and settling his weight onto his right?
Such a play indeed makes the disarm quite possible, as it pulls the Player into an over-extended position, similar to “unbalancing” martial arts that grapple at the arms, such as aikido. The problem with this interpretation is that slipping back against an attack only appears once in the entire manuscript — against a low-line attack with a sword — and it either makes the plays that follow at the elbow and body measures require an entirely different tactical choice of how to move, without the Master ever saying so, or it add an entire tempo to the plays that follow at the other measures, in which the Scholar steps back and then steps in while the opponent either stand still doing nothing, or simply straightens up. (See plays three, five and seven in the flow chart to the right.)
Further, we can see that although the straight arm and body position is generally the same in all of the manuscripts, even the potentially related Gladiatoria, the depicted measure can be subtly different.(See above) Further, the degree of bend in the right knee and turn of the right hip (all indicative of a forward or rear weight distribution), can have small, but significant differences. This needs to remind us that all of these manuscripts are hand-drawn, and it is currently unclear which were drawn from life, and which were copies from other illustrated works.
Normally, this is where one reconciles the art with the text, but this is a case, as if often the case, where Fiore is silent on specifics. The most detailed explanation of the First Remedy comes from the Getty Ms., where the master writes:
I am the First Master, called Remedy. A remedy is an antidote against your opponent’s attacks, together with the ability to strike him. Here is the absolute best thing I can do: Making you drop your dagger by turning my hand to the left.
Not terribly helpful, is it? Since nothing is specified, and the Remedy occurs at wrist measure, another way the play can be interpreted is that either: a) footwork isn’t important or b) the Remedy itself doesn’t call for any footwork.
The first premise is problematic, because all martial arts are built on recurring tactical, mechanical and aesthetic themes. Jujutsu, aikido and Catch-as-Catch-Can wrestling all use wrist locks, arm-bars and throws — often the same locks and throws — yet how they manipulate distance and organize the body to set them up can sometimes be radically different from each other, yet highly internally consistent; so much so that you can often identify the practitioner of one discipline from the others, just by how they move. Why would armizare be different?
The second premise is even more problematic, since it argues for no movement at all. Instead, having been attacked, the Scholar simply receives the attack while it is in full-force, pitting the strength of his braced arm, against that of a moving body in a committed attack. There is a reason why serious, modern combatives/personal-protection instructors specifically advise against this: physics is a harsh-mistress. Put another way: physics doesn’t care about your 15th century illustration or vague text; it simple cares about the forces involved.2
The following classroom video explains about “depth of entry”, and why movement is key to a) staying alive, and b) actually being able to perform a follow-on technique. We’ve already noted that to try and look “just like the picture” would mean the Player was striking short or the Scholar was retreating. However, note that when you look at photography, which better simulates three dimensions, you can see how driving the arm out of line to the Player’s right creates the illusion of greater distance than there really is.
The video also addresses another point: under pressure, the defender may fail to move very much, or may drive in much more deeply. For the First Remedy to be tactically sound, it must be able to address all of those possibilities.
So far, we’ve discussed all of the pitfalls and possible missteps in creating a sound interpretation of the First Remedy. Now let’s talk about how to execute it!
Consistency of Movement: The IAS Answer3
Fortunately, Fiore does provide us a clear pattern of movement in armizare: into the line of attack, before it enters full-force, usually, beginning with a slip of the left foot to the left. This move to capture the outside line can be seen as early as the Remedy of Abrazare at the start of the Getty and PD manuscripts.
And its use becomes quite clear with the sword where a left foot crossing to control the inside line becomes central to the lessons of zogho largo.4 In this section of the manuscript, dei Liberi is much clearer in detailing his foortwork, particularly the step “fora della strada” (“across the line”) of the lead (left) foot. For example, in the Colpo di Villano (“Peasant’s Blow”) he writes:
This action is called “the Peasant’s Strike” and it is performed as follows. Wait for the peasant to launch his cut with his sword. As you wait, stand in a narrow stance with your left foot forward. When he attacks, perform an off-line accrescimento with your left foot to the opponent’s right, followed by a cross-line pass with your right foot, catching his cut with the middle of your sword. (Getty 26r)
The offline step is used to slip outside, passing a strong blow, much as happens with the left foot pass in the Eighth Play of the First Dagger Remedy. More importantly, however, the use of this step to dominate and control the center-line becomes central to plays such as the Scambiar di Punta (Exchange of Thrusts) and Rompere di Punta (Breaking the Thrust), which themselves form the core instruction for the spear and poleaxe respectively:
This play, called “Exchange of Thrusts,” is done this way. As the opponent attacks you with a thrust, perform an accrescimento off the line with your front foot, then execute a cross-line pass, crossing his sword with your arms while thrusting to his face or chest, your point high, as shown.
This is another way to defend against a thrust. 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. In this play, which is called “Breaking the Thrust,” the student has his arms high, makes a fendente while performing an accrescimento and a pass off the line. He throws the opponent’s thrust sideways, almost at mid-blade, to beat it to the ground; then, he immediately goes to the close play. (Getty 26v)
Functionally, the First Dagger Remedy and the Largo Crossing of the Longsword present the same scenario: a crossing on the inside line, left foot forward, against a mandritto, with a simple play at the weak (punta/wrist) then a series of actions at the middle (elbow/mezza), which can transform into close grapples at the body.5 More importantly, the First Dagger Remedy, with its drawn back fist and series of attacks on the inside line, really presents a series of two-tempi lessons which will, with long-weapons transform into the elegant, counterattack-with-opposition that is Scambiar di Punta.
Once we realize this, not only does the brilliance of the system begin to unfold, but so does the elegance of its efficiency: we can assume that the same solution found in sword, spear and axe, and suggested in abrazare, applies to dagger: slip the lead foot offline and into the attack, to intercept before it is in full force.
Here is a detailed, isolated look at how to perform the initial cover and disarm, including a few movement variations from the IAS Core Curriculum video series6 :
Drilling down further, here is a detailed look at securing the grip itself, from the same series.
So now we have a pattern of movement, how to make the disarm, and an understanding of how deeply to move when making the cover, as well as how to adapt when our movement is either more or less shallow. In the third part of the series, we look at what to do with the right arm, which Fiore shows raised in a hammer first.
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).
it is hard to seek to create photo-realism when you do not know what a photograph is! More importantly, all of the notions of “realism” we associate with art, in terms of proportion, portrayal of icon vs. object, and so forth, are really products of artistic developments of the early modern era. While we look at paintings or sculptures of Michelangelo and declare them more “realistic” than what came two centuries before, in reality they are not — as evidenced in the massively over-sized left hand of the “David” or the hulking torsos depicted in the the Sistine Chapel are meant to convey meaning that goes beyond simple “realism”, precisely the same way that a 12th century artist depicting a bishop or king as tall as the walls of Paris is not suggesting that the societal elite were literal giants. The lesson here is that when we look at imagery such as that in the various copies of the “Flower of Battle” we must balance the artist’s intent to convey literal, physical instruction, with a) an incomplete sense of three-point perspective, and b) the conventions of the time to exaggerate figures, move proportion, etc when needed to focus attention on a particular part of an image and c) the limitations of the design of the manuscripts to generally depict a play across one, sometimes two, images. For more on this, as reflected in the work of Fiore di Liberi, see: MEMORY AND PERFORMANCE: VISUAL AND RHETORICAL STRATEGIES OF IL FIOR DI BATTAGLIA ↩
The internet-savvy will note that a number of armizare-specific, medieval dagger-in-general and even modern “self-defense” videos depict exactly what we are decrying here — a firm-footed defense against a knife attack — with seemingly no problems. I will note that in those videos the attacks are usually made a) slowly, b) slightly out of distance and c) when the instructor is not wearing any sort of face protection. No one wants to stab a partner in the face; students already have a hard time actually trying to hit their instructor, imagine how much truer that is when the instructor is not wearing facing protection and is talking to a camera. Don’t let others’ bad martial arts demonstrations inform your practice! ↩
For more on the organization of the sword plays in dei Liberi’s work, see ↩
Note that such plays only occur in the largo sword crossing after an initial play has failed; the sword has the additional possibility of a stretto crossing, where there is parity in the bind. This is a function of using a long weapon, which can play in largo and stretto, vs. a short weapon, which, as Fiore explains, is all in the stretto, even if we can define three different measures. Regardless, the analogy, while thus imperfect, serves for our purposes: when capturing an attack on the inside line, put the left foot forward, moving offline into the attack. ↩
Note the video does not discuss the positioning of the right hand, nor it’s application, as that is not the intent or focus of the video. We will discuss the left hand further in Part Three of this series. ↩