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Break, Capture and Dominate The Center: Understanding Il Primo Remedio Di Daga in Context, Part Two: Execution of the Cover

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:

  1. Work the three crossings (measure): weak, middle, strong, which at the dagger is wrist, elbow and body;
  2. Step into an attack before it is in full force to capture the center with an attack of one’s own;
  3. Break and return on the same line;
  4. When losing the bind, pass and go to the outside.

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?

Schema of the First Master of Dagger, from “Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia”

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.)

Gladiatoria’s first dagger technique, corresponding to Fiore’s Primo Remedio di Daga (First Dagger Remedy)

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:

The Exchange of Thrusts intercepts an attack before it is in full force by slipping the left foot in and to the left, and then attacking the center-line with a pass of the rear foot. These are the same tactical considerations of the First Master of Dagger, which becomes obvious when looking at the seventh play (a collar throw), itself even more obvious when we look at the variations shown by Marozzo — with a straight strike to grab the collar, or with a drawn dagger, literally “exchanging thrusts”.

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.


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

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

MS Latin 11269 — Bibliotheque National, Paris

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

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

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

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


  1. 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 

  2. 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! 

  3. To be clear, there are other Armizare practitioners with very similar answers, see for example, the recent video by The Exiles: Company of Medieval Martial Artists 

  4. For more on the organization of the sword plays in dei Liberi’s work, see      

  5. 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. 

  6. 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. 

New IAS Dagger Training Manual!

The International Armizare Society’s mission is to maintain and pass down canonical Armizare as recorded and left to posterity by the Founder, Fiore dei Liberi,  as a complete, traditional, but living and functional martial art”. In furtherance of these goals, our task as a society is to both provide guidance through articles, video and personal instruction, as well as work to develop new instructors and researchers into the medieval Italian “Art of Arms”.

To that end, we are particularly excited to share with our members a new, 135 page training guide on dagger use in the Dei Liberi Tradition, written by Chicago Swordplay Guild alumnus and California Armizare instructor, Oscar Erkenswick. Current IAS members can find it on the Curriculum page.

Dagger combat, both unarmed against a dagger and with a weapon of one’s own, builds directly upon the lessons of abrazare,  forming the single largest section in each of the various copies of il Fior di Battaglia. The nearly 80 “plays”, or techniques, that encompass the dagger section are organized into nine Remedies — specific defenses against a particular type of attack.

All dagger instruction is built around five principles, applied in order:

  1. Disarm (Disarmato)
  2. Strike (Ferrire)
  3. Lock (Ligadura)
  4. Break (Rompere)
  5. Throw (Mettere in Terra)

The combination of these five actions allows him to introduce a complete curriculum of not only knife-fighting, but unarmed combat at striking range, joint-locks and arm-bars, entering techniques from out of distance to create throws and a series of disarms that will be used not just in close-quarter combat, but with longer weapons, such as the sword or pollaxe.

This new course guide grew out of Oscar’s 40  page  “Crash Course to Medieval Dagger Fighting,” which was written and submitted as part of his requirements to pass from Scholar to Free Scholar within the Chicago Swordplay Guild. Although three times the size of that earlier work, like it, this training guide seeks to put the system of dagger combat and unarmed defenses contained in Armizare into a wider historical and cultural context. Rather than just a catalog of the techniques (or plays) found in the various editions of the Flowers of Battle, the reader will find extensive notes on the form, wearing and deployment of the dagger, all illustrated from historical artwork, an explanation on body mechanics and footwork, before moving to the actual curriculum left to us by Fiore dei Liberi himself.

Contents Include:

Part One: Western Dagger Traditions
I. Form of the Knife
II. La Daga
III.Wearing the Dagger
IV.Common Dagger Grips
V. Defense Against a Bearhug
VI.Defense Against Long Weapons

Part Two: Understanding La Daga in Armizare
I. Fundamentals Mechanics
II. Path of the Dagger (Strikes)
III.Drawing the Dagger
V. Poste
VI.The Four Masters of Dagger Combat
VII. Zoghi di Daga (Dagger Plays)
VIII. Training Sequences

Undeniably, Fiore has left us the single largest and most thoroughly organized corpus of dagger material, but no one text can answer every question posed by modern students to the long-dead master. Consequently, rather than simply providing an illustration and synopsis of each dagger play, the author has sought to provide additional clarity from other 15th and 16th century sources, both for the canonical plays themselves, and where those other sources have provided variations or conclusions to the play not found in the teachings of Fiore himself. Sources ranging from the Anonymous Gladiatoria and Hans Talhoffer in the 15th century, to Joachim Meyer and Achille Marozzo in the 16th, as well as iconography and illustration from non-technical works are referenced to show how to use the plays in a dynamic, combative function, as the old master intended, not as a random grab-bag of techniques.

While certainly not the final word on medieval dagger combat, the hope is that the Guide will provide useful context and memorial aid for students working with an IAS instructor.  Although the Guide is a perk of IAS membership, and available only to members, some of its contents and ideas will be made publicly available through future blog posts and articles. Of course, our greatest hope is that it will inspire other Society members to undertake similar projects themselves!


Announcement: Declaration of Fraternity with the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts!

The International Armizare Society is extremely pleased to announce a Declaration of Fraternity with the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts, which can be seen IAS-AEMMA-Smith-Hayes-Mele-Signature_signed_mar18_2016.

With chapters throughout eastern Canadam AEMMA is one of the first North American HEMA schools, and the group whose presence made the first Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999) in Chicago an “international” event, and long-time promoters of armizare taught in its fullness: from grappling to polearms, in armour and without. In particular, they have placed a strong emphasis on the importance of armoured combat, hosting the first HEMA-inspired armoured tournament (2000) in Toronto. Greg was an early collaborator on AEMMA’s efforts to create a viable system of historically-inspired armoured tournaments, and a decade later, the AEMMA system served as a model for a system developed  by Greg, Sean and IAS advisor Bob Charrette, which is now known as the DeKoven Conventions.  Furthermore, in 2008, AEMMA provosts Brian McIlmoyle and David Murphy stood as challengers at the first Chicago Swordplay Guild Free Scholar prize, where they and the CSG declared mutual recognition of each other’s ranks. “Your Scholars are our Scholars,” Brian said. This new Declaration is a natural outgrowth of that long-standing recognition. Continue reading Announcement: Declaration of Fraternity with the Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts!

Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part I

This article is the first in a series of three articles that will cover curriculum building and its importance in the continued advancement and improvement of your students. I will use this as a foundation for the articles that follow, touching on ranking systems and finally, pedagogy and structuring and running a successful class and how to address different types of students by varying pedagogical approaches.fight training Continue reading Ranks, curricula, and pedagogy, Part I