The single largest section in three of the four known copies of The Flower of Battle is dagger defense1, and within that section, the First Remedy is by far the largest. The first part of this series looked at the Remedy pedagogically: how the master uses its lessons to structure his system of Remedies and Counters, an introduction the three measures/crossings (wrist, arm and body) that occur in the sub-system of close quarter combat, and so forth. The second part of the series introduced the First Remedy cover itself, and how the IAS interprets the use of footwork and distance management to execute it effectively.
We will now look at the off-hand, and note that the manuscripts depict the Scholar with his right hand drawn back and lifted, palm turned out to the right. Although the text itself is silent as to why, the hand is raised like this, the implied threat of a strike is evident, and strikes (ferrire) are one of Fiore’s “Five Actions” against the dagger. As discussed in part one of the article, these Five Actions are: strike, disarm, bind, break and throw. The second through fifth actions are later reiterated by Fiore in his dagger master’s diagram (see right), and the progressively older and better-dressed masters are generally accepted as showing the order of operations.
Strikes, however, are unique in that they are meant to cause pain and distraction, and as such weave in and out of the other actions. A strike may be used to facilitate a disarm, to distract the opponent so he can be put into a ligadura, or to break his structure so he can be thrown, etc. With this in mind, let’s again look at this in the context of the First Dagger Remedy.
Ferrire (“To Wound”): The Role of the Right Hand
There have been a variety of interpretations of what this hand position does or does not show . but here we do take a very literal interpretation of the art, because:((For a rather different take on the right hand position from our own, see this recent video by Mauro Carapacchi))
- It physically corresponds with the position of Posta Longa — profiled body, rear shoulder withdrawn, which creates a smaller target and projects the body’s energy forward, through the forward arm.
- It provides much greater coiling of the right shoulder for delivering powerful blows of one’s own — hammer fists, palm-strikes, even an upper-cut.
- A simple reversal of the hand, palm in, gives the position for using a dagger of one’s own, as shown by Achille Marozzo (See sidebar illustration, below.)
It is important not to ignore training the raised hand, since ferrire (“to wound” aka, strikes) are one of Fiore’s five tasks to perform against knife attacks, and anyone who has studied modern grappling, or even just watched an MMA fight, is well aware that joint-locks and arm-bars are extremely difficult to pull off against non-compliant opponents, without “distracting” them first through the use of strikes. While Fiore shows several ferrire in his abrazare section, such as a knee to the groin, eye-gouge or thumb behind the ear, he never discusses striking per se, nor does he usually call out when or how the Scholar should strike in his dagger plays. Our argument is that this is likely for several reasons:
- Much like basic wrestling skills, basic fisticuffs, or the simple mechanics of how to throw a cut, these fundamental skills would already have been possessed by his audience.
- The dagger lessons, with their targets and trajectories, already tell the student how to strike with a fist.
- Body mechanics in armizare are already encoded in the posta transitions, and just like striking with a weapon, an empty hand strike is just a series of guard transitions.
- Finally, abrazare is a grappling art, not a boxing art. Strikes are gross-motor, “high-percentage” actions, designed to set-up other actions or be chained together quickly and brutally.
In application, this means that even the Remedy itself can be a strike: a percussive transition into Posta Longa to create the cover. If the opponent is completely unbalanced, the Scholar can right to a play. If not, then a second, even third strike might be used to “soften” him up. This idea of striking into the opponent’s attack as they are breaking measure — transforming the cover into a counterattack, is again a part of the sword lessons, seen in the First Master of Zogho Largo and the Scambiar di Punta. Catching the opponent in motion allows the defender to move in before the attack is in full force, what is sometimes called “zero pressure” in modern martial arts.
Here is a short video of how to execute a percussive cover, and the possibilities contained therein, by IAS provost, Jesse Kulla (Chicago Swordplay Guild).
Note, that in the above video, Jesse’s entry moves deeper than seen in the video by Sean Hayes in part two. This is a factor of turning his cover into a strike. The advantage is that his opponent is disordered and already “wounded” as he begins to apply his follow-on play. The disadvantage is that he if moves in too deeply, he cannot execute some of the plays (16, 18 20) that Fiore provides, and he may find himself entering immediately into the elbow measure plays, such as the Ligadura Mezzana (play 3) or Soprana (play 12), etc.
On the other-hand, we began this series talking about how slipping back to execute the Remedy can make the disarm very powerful (and look “just like the picture”), but makes all of the follow-on plays more difficult. When we move beyond simple interpretation of “the basics” these different movements become conscious tactical variations of the Remedy itself. In the video above, Jesse is making a conscious choice to enter percussively, seeking to dominate the attacker. A slip back against an attack might be made because the attack came in too quickly, or because, against a large, strong opponent, the Scholar decides they have a reasonable chance of disarming them through unbalancing, but far less chance of being successful in follow-on grapples.
Piu Forteza (“More Strength”)
In the 14th play of the First Remedy, Fiore introduces an action that is specifically designed to give a hard, powerful entry, which he names Piu Forteza (“more strength”). By gripping our left wrist with our right. as taught in the dagger guard Porta di Ferro Doppio (Doubled Iron Gate) we creating a strong shield, uniting both arms to the strength of our core, and opposing that to a single arm attack.2 It helps us wedge off the space more strongly, breaking the attacker’s structure and getting us in a position to go after either the weapon or the wielder himself. From this cover, you enter into any play of the First Remedy, however, as noted above, by making a strong entry, you may limit which plays can practically be applied. It also lets us break the strikes of foe far stronger than we may be, and because it brings the right shoulder forward and thus reduces the measure, it is idea for when you have to play close — which is why it makes another appearance in the eighth play of the Fifth Master, where it is applied while grasped by the collar.3
It is, however, easily countered. So, if you use this tactic, don’t over play your hand, as your foes may counter it with the simplest and most commonly recurring counter: the elbow push.A discussion of the counter to Piu Forteza (“More Strength”) taught as the fifteenth play of the First Dagger Remedy. Classroom footage shows how the counter is made, and some possible, free-form follow-up actions.
As we show in this second video clip, the movement for the counter is just an application of Posta Dente di Zenghiaro: an upward projection of energy. You do not want to come down onto the opponent’s elbow, as that is “grounding” his energy, and while a lateral push can be effective, it can be resisted by a stronger opponent. Think of Superman — “up, up and away” as you make the counter.
Training the First Remedy
There is a reason why Fiore writes: “All hands fear the perilous knife”. Knife-fighting is perhaps the most dangerous form of personal combat, and fighting unarmed against a bladed-weapon, particularly one with the killing power of a rondel dagger, must have been terrifying, with a low chance of success. To really be able to apply these lessons combatively, you have to be able to execute the Remedies’ principles dynamically. Here’s some simple training advice:
- Begin by learning the basic cover we outlined in Sean’s two videos, above;
- Start layering in strikes, using the suggestions in Jesse’s video, both to set-up the canonical plays and to thwart grabs or strikes of the opponent’s left hand.
- Once you have that working, practice using slips back, passes forward or back when you have the right foot forward, see what happens if you have to step to your right, instead of your left, etc. (They won’t all work equally well, and in the process you’ll see why Fiore’s preference is left foot slipping to the left, but as the song says “you can’t always get what you want/but if you try sometimes/you just might find/you get what you need”.)
- Make sure you are wearing headgear and are using a dagger trainer you can actually be struck with — your partner needs to be able to strike you, with progressively greater speed and force.
A final word on training with “intent”. To some extent this includes using speed and force, but it is easy to “pop” or “pick” at your training partner very quickly, even though these sorts of attacks would have been useless against the heavy clothing and armour used in the late Middle Ages. Start with good form, as seen in the below video, and then use that to amp up your power and speed.
Putting it All Together:
In this series we’ve looked at the First Dagger Remedy, and all of the little subtleties required to execute it properly: footwork, distance management, the position of the offhand to execute a strike, ligadura or throw. Most of all, we’ve also looked at the need for adaptability: how to apply the lessons when you can’t get off-line, have to slip back, or move in more deeply than expected. If it seems like a lot to keep straight, this short, classroom video provides a nice summary and capstone of these articles, and a reminder that the principles can all be taught in six minutes of video; it’s just training it all into muscle memory and reflex that’s challenging!
Good luck and good training!
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).
Dagger defense and wrestling do not appear in the Morgan Ms., which is incomplete. Whether those leaves are lost or the manuscript was not completed, its prologue makes it clear that Fiore intended their inclusion ↩
This differs from the crossed wrists of the Second Remedy — itself the application of Porta di Ferro Doppio Incrossada (Doubled and Crossed Iron Gate) by maintaining a hand’s breadth more measure, which in dagger combat is enough to make the difference between being safe to play without armour. ↩
The savvy student will compare this action with the Sixth Remedy. ↩