Tag Archives: dagger

Break, Capture & Dominate the Center: Understanding Il Primo Remedio Di Daga In Context, Part Three: Using the Right Hand, Piu Forteza & Training

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.

The Four Masters of Dagger Combat: Disarms, Breaks/Dislocations, Locks, Throws.

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))

  1. It physically corresponds with the position of Posta Longa — profiled body, rear shoulder withdrawn, which creates a smaller target and projects the body’s energy forward, through the forward arm.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.)
Marozzo’s depiction of the First Remedy; note how the withdrawn right hand facilitates a strong, reverse-grip blow with the dagger.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. The dagger lessons, with their targets and trajectories, already tell the student how to strike with a fist.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

  1. Begin by learning the basic cover we outlined in Sean’s two videos, above;
  2. 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.
  3. 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”.)
  4. 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!

Bibliography

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. 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 

  2. 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. 

  3. The savvy student will compare this action with the Sixth Remedy. 

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.

Bibliography

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. 

Break, Capture and Dominate the Center: Understanding Il Primo Remedio di Daga in Context, Part One — Organization

Dagger defense — both with and without a blade of one’s own — is the largest and most detailed section of the various copies of The Flower of Battle. It is here that the lessons of abrazare are applied to actions at arm’s length — striking range and arm-wrestling — and so it is here that the use of throws and neck-breaks are accompanied by the ligadure (joint locks), arm-bars and strikes that comprise Fiore’s “five things” to do against an attack:

  1. Disarm;
  2. Strike;
  3. Bind;
  4. Break;
  5. Throw

The Nine Remedies themselves are also organized in a (mostly) logical fashion beginning with highline attacks (Masters 1 – 4), a “bridging” attack, made when the attacker uses his offhand to grab the defender (Master 5), a reapplication of the earlier lessons when the defender also has a dagger (Masters 6 – 7), and then defenses against a lowline attack (Masters 8 – 9). However, this section of the manuscript also provides us a tactical framework that we will see repeated again and again throughout the art. These principles include:

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

All of these elements can be found in the First Dagger Remedy (Primo Remedio), which is taught against  the most natural attack: a forehand blow, against which the master defends with an application of the abrazare guard, Posta Longa, executed with the left hand. Just as dagger defenses are the largest section of the manuscript, the First Remedy is by far the largest subsection; nearly one-third of the entire discussion on the dagger are covered in its teachings. Beyond the commonality of the attack, there are also a number of clear, pedagogical reasons involved in this decision.1

  1. The first seven plays (Getty 10v-a to 11-c) address a progressively greater depth of entry, with the student covering first at the wrist (Getty 10v-a), then the elbow (10v-c) both directly and from the wrist cover (11-a) and finally at the body (11-c), the last of which does not admit a counter.
  2. In between each of these plays occurs a specific counter: at the wrist and counter (10v b),  at the counter (10v-c and d), at the elbow  (11-b), from the wrist cover and attack at the body (11-c)
  3. The eighth play (Getty 11d)is a passing cover with the left hand, which can be used if the student is unprepared to enter inside the attack. This moves the Player’s actions to a riverso, which are the lesson of the Third Remedy.
  4. Beginning with the ninth play (Folio 12) we see three Counter Masters that can be used to thwart the Remedy at the moment of its inception, thereby preventing any of the plays that have come heretofore.2

Taken together, these first eleven plays create a micro-system of basic defenses and counters against a mandritto, but the master then adds ten plays more, addressing more specialized situations. These include the ligadura soprana, or “high bind” (11v-d), a reinforced cover called piu forteza, or “more strength” (12-b), which can be used in place of the Posta Longa cover introduced in the first play, an arm-break (12-d), blade-strip (12v-b), and throw (12v-d). As with the initial plays, these each of these techniques is immediately followed by a counter, creating five, paired sets of actions.

Bob Charrette masterfully graphs all of these plays and their relationship in his Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia. (See illustration, above)

Viewed holistically, the twenty-one plays of the First Remedy reveals a robust and coherent curriculum of eight paired defenses and counters against a simple knife-attack, an uncounterable throw, a way for the student to pass the knife it gets inside his guard, and three general counters against the cover itself. The ordering of these plays further demonstrates the pedagogical system Fiore dei Liberi articulates in his prologue, and which will follow throughout the rest of the work.

Part Two: Execution of the Remedy’s Cover
Part Three: Using the Other Hand, Piu Forteza and Training the First Remedy

Bibliography

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. The schema is generally consistent in the manuscripts, but the notation here follows the ordering in the Getty Ms., although some of the linked images are from the other Ms — all hosted by the Wiktenauer.  

  2. The Pisani-Dossi also includes a Counter-Counter master in the sequence 

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:

Introduction 
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
IV.Principles
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!

 

The IAS Core Curriculum: How it Works

The International Armizare Society is a confraternal association concerned with the restoration, preservation and transmission of canonical Armizare as  a complete, traditional, but living and functional martial art.

To this end, we have established both a four-grade ranking system derived from the historical fencing guilds and a modern certification process for creating Armizare instructors. This process is meant to be open and transparent, and is discussed at length elsewhere on this website.

As a body of inter-connected schools, when developing this system, the founding members felt it important to allow and encourage member bodies to maintain their own sense of creativity, innovation and expression in how they developed their internal curriculum and approach to training. For this reason, you will note that the lower grades of Scholar and Free Scholar have only broad-based requirements and are awarded internally by the member school. This has worked well for older, more-established schools.

However, our first and foremost task is to educate and since the Society “went live” we have had a number of small study-groups and “at-large” members join specifically because they are looking for a structured way to train, let alone teach.  For these folks, we have the IAS Core Curriculum, which is derived from that developed and used in Member academies and provides a lingua franca for the Society.

CURRICULUM COMPONENTS

The IAS Core Curriculum is built around a pedagogical method that embeds Fiore dei Liberi’s own within a structure derived from the creators’ experiences in traditional martial arts, modern fencing, and best-practices in contemporary education theory. The evaluation process is already discussed at length elsewhere, what concerns us here are the physical components of the curriculum, which include Solo Drills, Set-Plays and Training Sequences.

Solo Drills
Solo drills are used to teach the fundamental skills of Armizare —balance, body-mechanics, footwork, cutting, and thrusting. Examples include: air-cutting, pell-work, and slow motion and full speed footwork drills. The solo drills instill in the student the “alphabet” of historical swordsmanship.

Solo drills in the sword curriculum are comprised of two types: Cutting Drills and Assalti.

  • The Cutting Drills are designed to teach students the underlying body mechanics behind executing fendente, sottani, thrusts and how to apply them as defensive covers; each of the drills forms the basis for a set of two-person Set-Plays (see below). There are three, four-step cutting drills in the Core Curriculum. When turned into paired drills, they create the 12 longsword set-plays used in the curriculum.
  • Assalti are solo “forms” that are meant to give a student a routine for memorizing a variety of actions. The two forms used at this level include a Posta Progression for learning the various guards of the sword, and a Scholar Assalto or Universal Form which is a summary of all of the basic defenses used with the spada a dui mani. (The Scholar Assalto is adaptable to any long weapon used in the art, creating a “jumping off point” for students to take up a new arm, as will be seen at later levels in the curriculum.)

Set-Plays
Set-plays are pre-planned sequences of attack and defense, derived directly from the historical source material. They are used to teach fundamental techniques in a way that will encode them in the student’s muscle memory. Once the set play has been memorized, students can then vary the distance, timing and rhythm to further explore how the techniques can be applied. Set-plays essentially use the “alphabet” of the solo drills to create “sentences”.

Set Plays in the Core Curriculum are taken from the various copies of the Flower of Battle, and correspond to the three primary areas of training: abrazare, dagger and sword. The rationale behind each section is as follows:

  • Abrazare Set-Plays are taken directly from the single Remedy and follow-on plays left by Fiore dei Liberi. When looked at en suite, the first six plays provide a fundamental lesson of how to use and apply the Remedy, responding to pressure in the bind, adapting to changes in measure if the Companion presses in or flies-out, and a basic Counter.
  • Likewise, Dagger Set-Plays are comprised of the basic cover and response taught by Fiore dei Liberi for each of his Nine Remedies, giving students a broad knowledge of how the master conceptualized dagger combat.
  • Finally, the Longsword Set-Plays focus on actions in zogho largo, particularly how to defend in tempo from the core poste as an attacker breaks measure. As such, they derive from two sources: the detailed instructions the Master provides for each posta (the First Master of Battle), and the instructions for coming to the bind and countering thrusts found in the plays of zogho largo.

Training Sequences
This term is used to mean extended set-plays comprised of linking a series of basic set-plays using Fiore dei Liberi’s pedagogical model of Posta > Remedio > Contrario > Contra-Contrario.  There are training sequences in the curriculum for abrazare (one), dagger (two) and longsword (four).

USING THE CORE CURRICULUM

Society members have access to an extensive library of hand-outs, essays, articles and videos instructing the various components of this curriculum, at no cost beyond their annual membership fee.

You can see an example video of one of the three core cutting drills here:

As well as one of the “detail videos”, expanding upon the drill:

All IAS Affiliates are welcome to either use the Core Curriculum as “plug and play” in their classrooms, or as a foundation for developing their own. However, as the drills form a pedagogical, technical, tactical and interpretive foundations for later levels, the Society recommends that all Affiliates interested in rank-testing are at least familiar with the specific drills and essays contained therein.

Each member school remains free to grant the rank of Scolaro to its students internally, provided candidates meet the base required criteria. (Each school is free to define other requirements as they see fit.) At-large or study-group members seeking to be ranked by the Society may apply to be tested in the Core Curriculum by any certified IAS instructor, or at an official, IAS conference, and should make arrangements by either contacting their nearest instructor or by emailing the secretary.