We now turn to a more in-depth analysis of the technical curriculum Maestro Fiore has left us for how to remedy, or defend, against blows launched from the various guards in either wide (largo) or close (stretto) play. As seen previously, we can define wide play, or zogho largo, as encompassing any action that begins with one of the combatants bridging distance (analogous to the Wide Distance/misura larga/Zufechten of other traditions) and ending with the swords crossed in the middle third (mezza spada).
Dei Liberi divides his instruction into two main groupings: a crossing of the sword in the first third, or punta, and a crossing at the mezza spada, with the majority of the plays falling in the latter category. There has long been a tendency for students to treat these plays in isolation — not just from the larger system, but from each other — and this is understandable, given how the master presents the material: Sometimes providing specific advice for variations to a play, illustrating a follow-on technique in zogho stretto for what to do when a play fails or is countered, discussing in some cases how to come to the half-sword, rather than beginning at the half-sword, etc. However, by carefully studying how the scholar is controlling the Player, both tactically and mechanically, a clear reason for each play and their overall ordering can be deduced.
he Akademia Szermierzy is a Polish HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) academy in Warsaw. While I knew of the Akademia and its members via Facebook, I wasn’t really aware of the focus or quality of their work, other than they were interested in Armizare. So imagine my delight (and the entire Society’s!) when they released a short film presenting their interpretations of Fiore dei Liberi’s swordsmanship, not as a how-to or demo-reel, but as a dramatization of one of the old master’s five duels against rival fencing masters. Since it was released (Aug 13, 2016), the video has garnered 56,000 views and enthusiastic applause from HEMA students across the globe. Certainly, IAS feels it is one of the most dynamic snapshots of our art currently online. (See for yourself, then come back and read the rest of this article!)
[Nota Bene: IAS is pleased to present our first article from a Society Affiliate — Mr. Mauro Carapacchi of of Rieti, Italy. A founder of the group Mos Ferri, Mr. Carapacchi first encountered Fiore dei Liberi through the realm of historical reenactment. Today he works to understand the martial art of Armizare, with a particular interest in armoured combat. He maintains his own blog, where he has provided a free translation of the Gladiatoria Manuscript into Italian. — ed.]
Under the name “Gladiatoria” we can identify a group of early XV century manuscripts covering the art of fighting in armour, joined by stylistic form of pictures and some technical peculiarities.
Today’s researchers into the martial arts of Europe come upon a strange paradox: our first known source, Ms. I.33, now found in the Royal Armouries in Leeds, UK, is dated to approximately 1300, yet clearly not only possess a systematic, full-developed pedagogical system, but is seemingly designed to counter an even older, “common method,” now lost to us. We then run into a gap of nine decades before our next source, Ms. 3227a (c.1389), found in Nuremburg, Germany. This is our first source in the “Liechtenauer Tradition”, and which opens with the following bold claim:
At first, you should note and know that there is only one art of the sword, and this art may have been developed some hundred years ago. And this art is the foundation and the core of any fencing art and Master Liechtenauer understood and practiced it in its completeness. It is not the case that he invented this art – as mentioned before – but he has traveled many lands, willing to learn and experience the same real and true art.1
Fiore dei Liberi’s homeland of Friuli was not spared the constant military engagements that plagued Italy in the last decades of the 14th century, and the civil war that tore the region apart during the 1390s also provides us with some of the more interesting data-points we have regarding the Furlan master-at-arms life and career.
Friuli is a unique region, originally founded by Celtic tribes, during progressive invasions of Romans and Lombards. It grew into a unique culture, whose people speak a unique language to this day, which is related to, but distinct from, Italian. The region was first centered around the ancient Celtic-Roman city of Aquileia, and later Cividale, a city that traced its founding to Julius Caesar himself. By the 14th century, the Patriarchate of Aquileia had become a duchy that included Trieste, Istria, Carinthia, Styria and Cadore, making it one of the largest Italian states of its time, and placing it at the center of the Patriarchate of Aquileia, essentially an area of religious and political administration that became the largest diocese in the middle ages.
The Patriarchate was an ancient bishopric, founded by St. Mark, which had a perpetually uneasy relationship with Rome, and the Patriarchs had played Pope and Emperor against each-other for centuries, with the latter granting them ducal authority in the 1077. However, the power of the Patriarchs began to wane in the 12th century and repeated earthquakes and disasters reduced Aquileia to a few hundred residents by the early 14th century. The bishop’s seat was relocated to Udine, and found itself under increasing attempts to be “brought to heel” by the Papacy.