Tag Archives: longsword

L’Arte delle Armi: A Weekend of Bolognese Swordsmanship After Action Review

This past weekend (9/17 – 9/23/2018) was the latest “off-year” or “WMAW lite event” – the theme-focused event we hold with attendance no larger than those we can sleep at the Dekoven Foundation, the beautiful neo-gothic retreat center that has been home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop since 2005.

This year’s event was L’Arte delle Armi, or a Night at the Opera Nova, an event entirely dedicated to the Bolognese tradition of the 16th century, and featured an international staff of instructors — Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada), Christian Cameron, Hoplologia (Canada), Ken Harding, St. Louis School of Arms (USA), Greg Mele and Rob Rutherfoord, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA), and Jacopo Penso and Moreno dei Ricci, Opera Nova (Italy) – with lessons derived from all of the major Bolognese masters-at-arms. Classes also covered the entire breadth of the tradition, from spada solo to two-handed sword, dagger vs. dagger to partisan and rotella.

The Classes

Christian Cameron addressing the troops in “Spear of Heroes, Part II: Partisan and Rotella,” which looked first at the classical Greek use of spear and shield and how that was re-imagined by Renaissance Italians.

Of the various ‘schools’ of European martial arts, none has a curriculum as diverse as the Bolognese. Often, modern practitioners just focus on sword and sword and buckler, treating the tradition as the antecedent of rapier fencing (it was) and the first “civilian, dueling  tradition” (it isn’t), but in reality, the masters of this tradition taught the full complement of knightly weapons: one and two-handed sword, spear, poleaxe, dagger, along with every martial and civilian companion arm that can be included with the sword — bucklers, cloaks, daggers, gauntlets — and a variety of polearms associated with infantry soldiers, such as halberds and bills. It is a deep, rich tradition, and I am happy to say that it was represented as such during the event.

CSG’s Rob Rutherfoord showed the technical precision of the art in his Imbroccata class, and its “quirky” side in his final class on sword and gauntlet.  Ken Harding, taught Marozzo’s spada solo, which is far more dynamic and aggressive than the more conservative “narrow play” of Manciolino and Dall’Aggochie.

The Imbroccata, or Punta Sopramano — Rob RutherfoordThere is a longer segment of the class here, but the sound volume is poor:
Marozzo was also particularly well represented in over six hours of instruction on the spada a dui mani (“two handed sword”). Originally, Maestro Roberto Gotti, who is the world’s foremost authority on Marozzo and his use of this weapon, was going to attend the event, but work intervened, so two of his senior students — Jacopo Penso and Moreno  dei Ricci — attended in his place. I do not think anyone felt cheated as the guys presented two amazing workshops that really brought the power and elegance of this weapon to life.

The Two-Handed Sword of Achille Marozzo — Jacopo Penso and Moreno dei Ricci
Devon Boorman is a regular at our events, and taught a diverse array of classes, from tactical decision making in sword and buckler to that tour-de-force of Bolognese swordsmanship: wielding a sword in each hand. Here’s a peak of what it looks like when two men swing four swords at each other:

Two-Sword Demonstration — Devon Boorman (with Matheus Olmedo).

I taught a class on two-handed use of partisan, which was great fun, and for my money, is the most elegant polearm of all. But perhaps one of the most unusual, and well-received, classes, was Christian Cameron’s partisan and rotella class. This weapon combination was taught by Marozzo and Manciolino, and is recorded in 15th c judicial duels. It seems to have been a conscious effort by Italian fencers, influenced by the Humanist fascination with antiquity, to fight in a fashion they imagined would have been used by Achilles and Hector. In essence, it is a reconstructed martial art — 16th century style! Christian, who is a renowned researcher in Ancient Greek fighting arts made a point of showing how Marozzo’s play corresponds to their own reconstruction from vase art. It was a fascinating demonstration, and many people loved playing hoplite — so many that we now have some interesting ideas about an “Oplomachia” track (a “School of the Soldier”) for WMAW. I won’t say more now, besides, anyone know where we can get a few dozen pikes?

The full event schedule is here.

Evening Free-Play

Hey, who let the rapierists in?

Each night after dinner, we opened the gym to two hours of free-fighting that saw probably thirty or so people trying their hand at what they had learned that day. While most fighters wielded sword alone, sword and buckler or two-handed sword, a surprising number of folks decided to try their hand at partisan, and partisan and rotella…and to our horror, a few rapiers wandered onto the floor.

The Tournament

We don’t hold tournaments at WMAW, but we usually do some sort of low-key, friendly competition at the off-year event, and this year no exception: a three round tournament that included both judged and self-judged components, with a rule-set derived from the hints provided in Manciolino (1531) and the Anonimo Bolognese (c.1550).

This is informal combat at arms, was fought in three rounds:

  • A self-judged Challenge Round with spada solo;
  • A self-judged, Challenge Round with sword and any companion weapon or longsword;
  • A judged Final Round
Challenge Rounds
Rounds One & Two were a martial meet-and-greet: find a partner, call your hits and report to the Recorder of Deeds. The cleaner you fight, the more you fight; the more you fight, the better your chance to advance!

We have used this format at two previous “off year” events: You challenge someone to combat, each with your agreed upon weapons, and report your score to the Recorder of Deeds. Each round is 45 minutes long, so the more fights you get, the better your chances to advance!

What was different this year is that each bout was fought to a total of 5 points scored against one person, using the following scoring system, adapted from Antonio Manciolino and the Anonimo Bolognese:

  • The entire body is a target;
  • Cuts or Thrusts to the Head counts for three points;
  • Cuts or Thrusts to the Sword Arm or Leg counts for two points;
  • All other blows, including pommel strikes to the face, count for one point;
  • A throw that leaves the thrower standing is a victory. (“If you lift your opponent from the ground, you will be considered victorious.”);
  • After being hit, you have the time of one pass to strike back one blow at your opponent in order to redeem your honor.
Scoring

When the bout was over, the Marshal scored the fight, using the following metrics:

  • Overall Victor receives 2 pts;
  • If the Victor was not struck, he or she receives 1 pt additional;
  • The person who scored the first blow receives 1 pt;
  • If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lose 1 pt.
  • Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 4 and -1 points.

These rules are not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding being hit and, most especially double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt is lost. However, additional double hits are not refought, so if you rack up too many double-hits, the victory in that match is going to go with who scored the first blow, and your overall score is going to go down!

Advancement
The eyes of the marshal are upon you…

There were two ways to advance to the final round of six combatants — by Score or by Accolade.

By Score
After the Challenge Round ends, total scores for each will be totaled, and the two combatants with the highest score and the two combatants with the highest number of first blood scores will move to the finals. (If one person wins both categories, then the person with the next highest total score will advance. Ties are broken by who received the least amount of double-hits.)

By Accolade
Two combatants shall advance to the finals by acclaim, one chosen by one’s fellows, and the other chosen by the Instructors.

Accolade of Peers
All participants in the tournament are given one vote that they may cast for any other combatant other than themselves or an Instructor. The combatant who receives the most votes shall advance to the finals.

This was close, as there were three fighters all tied in votes, Adam Franti of the Lansing Swordplay Guild edged the competition out to advance.

Accolade of Instructors
The Instructors shall choose one combatant whom they thought best represented their art and the spirit of the tournament, and this shall make the fourth challenger in the finals.

Again, this was close, but the instructors chose Brandon “Ted” Pool of the CSG because of his efforts to maintain a Bolognese form throughout his fencing, his use of correct technique to enter *and* exit the fight, and his low incidence of double-hits.

Elimination Round and Finals

Once the six second round combatants were assembled, they were split into two pools of three, fighting round-robin style under the previous conventions.

The winner of each pool was Ben Mendelkern from Madison, WI, and Matheus Olmedo of Academie Duello in Vancouver. The bout was fought sword and buckler (Ben) vs. sword and cloak (Matheus), with Matheus the overall victor. You can see a video of the final bout here:

Preliminary Conclusion on the Rules
So what did we think of the Bolognese rules?

Honestly? Meh.

The concept makes sense: points are weighted to one of the principle targets (the head) and the hardest to hit safely and not be hit (the leg). Thrusts to the body, while lethal, score less well because they aren’t fight ending. Of course, Manciolino himself says that swordsmen should target the dominant hand and make striking it a priority, yet this is not reflected in his rules (we know why — safety — or at least he alludes to this), and the Bolognese after-blow led to just as messy a set of resolutions as any other after-blow.

I addressed the first problem by making sword arm attacks score just as well as leg blows, but overall, with the rules making it less desirable to thrust to torso, and the after-blow increasing the number of double-hits, I am not sure the rules added anything new or interesting.

Assalti Demonstration

At our closing remarks on Sunday, I asked Devon, Matheus, Jacopo and Moreno to demonstrate several of the traditional assalti of the tradition. The assalti are one of the distinguishing traits of Bolognese swordsmanship — elegant solo-forms which can also be transformed into paired exercises. Arguably, if you don’t study the assalti you are skipping the heart and soul of the tradition. On the other hand, if you do them as some sort of elegant dance without understanding their application, you have nothing more than just that — an elegant dance.

Here are the assalti, as filmed by Jess Johnson and Shanee Nisry. I believe they speak for themselves.

Assalto One: Sword and Buckler — Devon Boorman

Assalto Two: Two-Handed Sword — Jacopo Penso and Moreno dei Ricci

Assalto Three: Sword & Cloak — Matheus Olmedo

Conclusion

Hey guys, the event is over…go home.

Three years ago, this event could not have happened. There just weren’t enough people involved in Bolognese swordsmanship to fill the hall. When I announced it last year, I still wasn’t sure we could get enough bodies to fill a “Bolognese only” event. As it turned out, with a maximum allowed attendance of 85, we had 79 people — our best off-year showing since we began the event in 2009!

A lot of things have led to this change. In 2010 Tom Leoni published a translation of Manciolino’s Opera Nova, making one of the best, and certainly most concise, works of the Bolognese masters available to an Anglophone audience. To this is added Jherek Swanger’s translations of Viggiani, Dall’Aggochie, and most importantly, his new translation on Achille Marozzo. Finally, Stephen Fratus has made his work-in-progress translation of the Anonimo freely available, which means that every text in the tradition is now available in English. The Giovanni Dall’Aggochie Facebook group has become a centerpiece for discussing Bolognese fencing and is unusual for both the high level of signal-to-noise and the cordiality of posters. In short, there is now a small, but thriving community dedicated to his incredible tradition, and I hope this event has only added to its growth.

L’Arte delle Armi or a Night at the Opera Nova would not have been possible without the hard work of not only our instructor roster but our staff: John O’Meara, Nicole Allen, Tasha Mele and Marcie Vereline, to whom I am deeply grateful.

We Have Two New Armizare Free Scholars!

The Guild’s newest Free Scholars: Nicole Allen and Jacques Marcotte.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow (lots and lots and lots of snow) could stop this past weekend’s Free Scholar Prize Play!

As discussed elsewhere, the Guild uses a ranking system traceable to the fencing schools of the late 15th and 16th centuries. In the English tradition the grade of free scholar denoted a senior student who had grasped enough of the basics to move on to more advanced training. An analogy can be found in the modern academic system, with a scholar being equivalent to an undergraduate, and a free scholar similar to a graduate student. (Those familiar with modern Asian arts might it similar to a 1st degree black-belt: a recognition of embodying the fundamentals of the art, being able to apply it across the system, and therefore having the tools to take a truly deep dive onto the path to mastery.)

Nicole Allen and Jacques Marcotte are two long-time Guild members. Nicole joined the CSG only a few months after its founding in January 1999, played her Armizare Scholar’s Prize in 2001 and is part of the first group of students to become double scholars (Armizare and Renaissance Swordplay). Jacques joined several years later, and has been an assistant instructor for many years, teaching the Saturday morning Taste of the Knightly Arts class since time immemorial (or 2009). Consequently, they are vibrant, integral parts of the CSG family, and this made their at testing for Free Scholar all the more a cause of celebration.

PREPARATION, or, IT’S MORE THAN JUST FIGHTING

By Guild custom, students must spend at least three years at the Scholar rank before progressing to Free Scholar, although in practice it has taken twice that time or longer. In part, this is because, prior to opening of Forteza Fitness, and with it, the implementation of multiple training days, it was impossible for students to get in enough training time “on the mat”. Additionally, the Scholar curriculum is extensive, comprised of the entirety of Fiore dei Liberi’s dagger curriculum for use out of armour, longsword at wide play, elements of longsword and close play, arming sword and spear. Each of these components has its own written, skills and sparring exams, and students must pass all of them, a number of reading assignments, and complete a scholar project before being allowed to take their comprehensive written and skills exams.

Nicole’s project involves an annotated copy of the Getty Manuscript, designed to show visual interconnectedness of the sword and dagger, interwoven with student’s training notes. Whereas her project involves assisting the student, Jacques turned his attention to the teacher, creating a teaching guide of tips, traps and suggestions for new instructors teaching the introductory longsword course, as a companion to the  curriculum outline. (Both projects are in final revision, after which they will be made available to Guild members.)

THE PRIZE, or, NOW WE FIGHT!

One of the most important steps in the progression from the grade of scholar to master is the concept of prize playing.  Having passed all internal examinations,  the student to submit a challenge for a public prize playing (free fencing exhibition), for the grade being tested for. The Prize is fought in two parts:

  1. Three, four-minute rounds with each of three weapons: longsword, arming sword and spear.
  2. The Ordeal, in which the prizor holds the field against all Guild Scholars who wish to challenge them to three blows with the sword.

At the CSG we have always invited one or more outside challengers to help test the prizors’ skill at arms. This past weekend, we were joined by Mr James Reilly, chief instructor of the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association’s Kenosha branch, and Mr. Christian Cameron of Hoplologia in Toronto, Ontario. Joining CSG Free Scholars Davis Vader and Erin Fitzgerald, together they provided the timed rounds of the Prize.

We are still processing and uploading video, but we have pulled a few sample fights to share right away:

Spear: Nicole vs. Erin

Spear: Jacques vs. Davis

Spear: Nicole vs. James

Sword in One Hand: Jacques and Davis

Longsword: Jacques and James

Longsword: Nicole and Erin

Longsword: Jacques and Christian

SWEARING THE OATH

Swearing the Free Scholar’s Oath after receiving the Gold Garter, the grade’s symbol of rank.

Ceremony and ritual was a large part of medieval and Renaissance life, and although our Guild is a modern one, we seek to connect to the spirit of those who have gone before through both the Prize and the ceremony by which our Scholars, Free Scholars and Provost are invested in their rank. The investiture ceremony involves a lesson on the symbolism of Fiore’s four animals, a charge with new responsibilities and duties, the bestowing of gold garters, and finally, a swearing of the Free Scholar’s Oath, adapted for modern use from those of the old London Company of Maisters.

Much of the modern world has lost the sense of ritual and its purpose: to initiate. At its heart, the Prize is an ordeal: both in preparing for the exams, and then facing your peers (or those whom you wished to be acknowledged as a peer) and your fears in front of friends and loved ones. It’s an ordeal that also brings student and teacher, prizor and challenger, together in a unique bond that is revealed to be both ordeal and celebration; a symbolic reflection of how we travel the road to mastery of both the art and ourselves alone, yet succeed through the presence and support of our community.

Speaking of that community we are all extremely proud of Jacques and Nicole both for the hard work training, testing and fighting, but also for the long years of service and support they have shown their Guild family, marrying the chivalric virtue of prowess with that of largesse. A hearty and heart-felt congratulations to them both!

MidWinter Armizare 2018 After Action Review

CSG’s Ben Horwitz (Black) and Keith Stratten (Blue) trade blows at last weekend’s MidWinter Armizare Open – Photo courtesy Kevin Thomas

MidWinter Armizare II — This Time with Daggers, our annual contribution to the Midwest Historic Fencing League’s competition circuit is over, and I have to thank everyone involved.

Last year’s event was fun, but a bit chaotic with some snafus. Our principle goals this year were to: 1) streamline the process and 2) Improve judging. I am confident we achieved both of those, although as we all know, improving judging is a perpetual process.

Rationale

There can be only one! CSG’s Robert Salud (Green) delivers a passata sotto to Guildbrother Thayne Alexander in the One-Handed Sword Tournament.

Tournaments are not a big part of what we do at the CSG, far less than many HEMA schools, but I *do* think that developing martial artists need a chance to test themselves against people from outside their school, outside their art. I *don’t* think tournament fighting is any more “real” or reflective of “combat” than any other fencing, in fact some ways less so. (People wear a lot of safety gear and their adrenal reflex is to be more *aggressive*, rather than more *cautious* as you immediately become when faced with sharp weapons.) But it provides a way to learn to manage adrenaline, resist temptation to play the rules, face other styles, and to learn how to use art to defeat “il uomo bestiale” the so-called “untutored fencer” of whom many fencing masters warn.

Put another way, martial artists love to complain about bad sports fighting, and for good reason — combat sports really do often encourage certain gimmicks or actions that are best suited for a ring.

Here’s an example. CSG’s Ben Horwitz fought his first tournament this past weekend, and was able to win his pool fairly easily against some very good combatants. I am SUPER PROUD of him. But although he wins the below fight fairly definitively in score, it wasn’t his  best match martially.

Note the move that Ben pulls off at time-stamp 1:55. He manages to duck under Keith’s defense and take a lowline cut. But Keith’s sword is hovering over his head. Sword’s aren’t disintegration rays: unless the man’s arms or head fall off, there is no guarrantee that ANY blow is immediately disabling. Here, the hit scores, and the fight stops. In a real fight, there’s a very good chance that Keith gets his legs slashed and spends time learning to walk with a limp (if infection doesn’t kill him), but first cuts Ben’s head clean off.)

Different groups take these issues into account in different ways. In developing the MidWinter rules (based on those we have used at various events in the past, such as Viva L’Italia and the Western Martial Arts Workshop) I chose to use the following assumptions:

  1. Real combat is ugly;
  2. You can’t legislate pretty fencing, but you can design rules the courage good tactics;
  3. Good tactics will lead to prettier fencing anyway;
  4. Six hundred years of European fencing masters say the goal is to hit without being hit, so any rule-set should reward never losing a pass, and punish double-hits ruthlessly.
  5. If the rules take more than one sheet of paper to write out, there are too many of them!

The Rules

Combatants will be divided into  pools, fought under the below conditions, with an award to the overall victor.

Tournament One: Single-Handed Sword
Due to the diversity of single-handed sword styles (and scarcity of focused exponents of the same) , this will be a mixed-weapon tournament with the following, permissible weapons:

  • Medieval arming-sword;
  • Messer;
  • Side-sword;
  • Rapier (max blade length 45″);

Note: Sabers, backswords, broadswords, smallswords, etc are not permitted. (We love them, too, but we’re keeping this to fencing styles c. 1600 and earlier.)

Tournament Two: Longsword
Longsword’s have a maximum length of 130 cm, minimum weight of 1450 g.

The Winter King
As a culmination of the event, the victors of the two tournaments shall fight a mixed-weapons bout using the previously denoted scoring conventions, with the victor to be declared the winner of the overall tournament

Nic Cabrera lands a decisive thrust, although the Judges look oddly unimpressed…. – Photo courtesy Kevin Thomas

 CONVENTIONS OF COMBAT
With the Sword

  • Each bout is fought to a total of five landed blows;
  • The entire body is a target;
  • For our purposes a “blow” constitutes any “fight-ending action”:
    • a solid cut with the edge, thrust, disarm or throw;
    • a pommel strike to the center of the face;
    • a thrust to the center-of-mass with the dagger.
  • Incidental blows, light touches, flicks or hits rather than cuts, punches and open-handed strikes that do not end in a throw or lock, etc will not be scored.

With the Dagger
Combatant may carry a dagger on their belt in the longsword tournament, and switch to its use as they see fit.

  • Daggers may only strike with the point.
  • If a dagger hit is scored, combatants may, after the halt, switch back to their sword.

Grappling

Jesse Kulla takes his hapless victim for the “big ride”. Photo courtesy Kevin Thomas
  • Grapples that end in a throw with party dominant will score a point.
  • Grapples lasting more than 5 seconds or deemed to be dangerous will be halted by the judges;
  • Grapples that go to the ground with no one dominant will be halted.

SCORING
Once a fight is concluded, the combatants will report their scores to the list-table. Fights are scored as follows:

  • Overall Victor receives 2 pts;
  • If the Victor was not struck he or she receives 1 pt additional;
  • The person who scored the first blow receives 1 pt;
  • If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lose 1 pt.
  • Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 4 and -1 points.

These rules are not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding being hit and, most especially double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt is lost. However, additional double hits are not refought, so if you rack up too many double-hits, the victory in that match is going to go with who scored the first blow, and your overall score is going to go down!

ADVANCEMENT
There are two ways to advance to the final round of four combatants – by Score or by Accolade.

Score
After the Pool Round ends, total scores for each will be totaled, and the combatant with the highest score from each pool will move to the finals. (If two or person tie, then the person with the highest total of first blood scores will advance. If there is still a tie, the combatant with the most “never hit” scores will advance.)

Accolade
The list will be “balanced” to an even number by adding a combatant chosen by the other combatants. If the list is already balanced, the Advancement by Acclaim will not be needed.  (This wasn’t needed this year)

FINAL ROUND
Once the Finalist are assembled, they shall fight with the prior scoring conventions in a simple single elimination tree. (NB: In the event of a small final list (four or less), the finals may be fought as a pool at the judge’s discretion.

The Results

Photo courtesy Kevin Thomas

The tournament victors were:

Thomas Niebor — MidWinter King and 1 H Sword

Jesse Kulla — Longsword

Video of the final can be seen here:

https://www.facebook.com/msgellar/videos/10156148388732392/

Although there is no formal prize for second or third place at this event (the guy who comes in #2 in a swordfight is usually called “a corpse” not a silver medalist), the top three competitors in the tournaments were all excellent, and the #2’s could easily have been 1st place. So I would like to congratulate:

Longsword
2nd Place – Adam Franti (with some of the cleanest fencing of the day in both events)
3rd Place – Cameron Metcalf (with the second highest average score of the entire tournament)

One-Handed Sword
2nd Place – Scott Scooter Jeffers (with the HIGHEST average score of the tournament)
3rd Place – Robert Salud

After Sam Street of the Wisconsin Historical Fencing Association pitched a shut-out, winning all three events last year, this year’s tournament was dominated by Guild members and swordsmen from the Michigan diaspora, holding seven of the final eight spots between them in 1H sword and six in longsword. (Sam had to go and mess up the clean sweep!) The pool victors were:

One-Handed Sword Final 8

  1. Lars Olesen (Minnesota)
  2. Scott Jeffers (CSG)
  3. Robbie Salud (CSG)
  4. Nic Cabrera (CSG)
  5. Thayne Alexander (CSG)
  6. Zeke Talmage (Tri-Blade Fencing Academy)
  7. Sam Brian (??? — I just realized I know Sam, but not where he is from!)
  8. Thomas Niebor (Michigan)

Longsword Final 8

  1. Jesse Kulla (CSG)
  2. Ben Horowitz (CSG)
  3. Adam Franti (Lansing Longsword Guild)
  4. Cameron Metcalf (LLG)
  5. Thayne Alexander (CSG)
  6. Sam Street (WHFA)
  7. Thomas Niebor (Michigan)
  8. Lars Oleson (Minnesota)

Analysis

The fencing on a whole was like all fencing: some amazingly good, some…er….and a lot of bouts that combined moments of brilliance with moments of adrenal reflexes or choking under pressure. That’s how these things go, so let’s focus on the good!

1. Fencers all had a good spirit of friendship and conviviality combined with good sportsmanship. People routinely declined points or called hits when the judges missed something, or if they just felt their hit was ugly or sloppy. This even happened twice in the longsword *finals.* In a perfect world, a judge would never miss anything, but we live in the real world, and I think the one good thing about any errors was that it gave the combatants to show their own character. The following, IMO, shows this in an exemplary fashion:

CSG’s Jesse Kulla and Adam Franti of Lansing Longsword Guild fought a real nice bout for the longsword final. Although their being tired after 6 hrs of fighting meant that there were several double hits, it wasn’t because of stupid choices, it was because of either slowed reflexes, or failing to close a line sufficiently to prevent a counterattack. The best part, however, is that these two gentlemen showed why, IMO, a combatant should always get to call a blow to his own detriment. Our judges blow an early call that would give Jesse the victory. I was pretty sure it was a double hit, but my judges were all in agreement, so I was reticent to second guess them.  But Jesse and Adam thought it was a double hit too, and Jesse declined the victory. Next pass, similar issue but reversed roles and before I could make the call, Adam declined the point, and we tried it a third time.  Yes, each man gave up his chance to end the fight there and claim victory — those are the character tests competition can give, far more than they test “if you can bring the heat” (whatever the hell that even means in a pretend fight).


(Video courtesy Zeke Talmage)

Here is the fight from a second angle, which also shows what an “adventure” judging can be:

https://www.facebook.com/msgellar/videos/10156148178347392/

2. Although Scott Jeffers and Robert Salud are both CSG members, I think I can say with (minimal) bias that their sidesword bout was one of the most dynamic, prettiest and historically correct of the day. But you be the judge:

(Video Courtesy Zeke Talmage)

3. I always enjoy seeing my friends Adam Franti, Keith Stratten, Josias Arcadia and Zeke Talmage fence. I was super happy to be directing their pools, and in longsword to have almost all of them all in the same pool, with my student Benjamin Horwitz, who did some of his best fencing (after I informed him I had registered him for the tournament, whether he liked it or not). I really enjoyed their pool and the fencing they displayed.

4. Additional kudos to Adam and Keith, who brought proper steel dussacks (Keith’s was barely bigger than a bowie knife) to the 1 H tournament and used them to great affect and with great form, despite knowing they were giving themselves a huge disadvantage against some of the very long, very thin bladed rapiers a few combatants were carrying.

(Video Courtesy Lansing Longsword Guild)

5. Lars Olson was a fantastic in the 1 H sword list, and it was great finding out their is an armizare practitioner, not affiliated with the CSG/Milwaukee in the Midwest.

Of course, as I directed just over a third of the fights, I also missed seeing a bunch of them. I really wanted to see the Sam Street (who won all three events last year), Jesse Kulla rematch, but it was not to be. In fact, I never got to see any of Sam’s fights, and only saw Jesse fight in the finals. Ah well, it’s not about me.

Acknowledgments

Finally, I would like to call out and thank our team:

Kaethe Doherty who wrangled the pools, created the trees and basically did all of the ugly back-end stuff before the event, and then made changes on the fly at the speed of light as we added and dropped people. Their work made the day run far more smoothly than last year. You are a rock-star.

James Reilly, John O’Meara and Rob Rotherfoord directed, and James is functionally my chief lieutenant for the day of the event.

Alex Moe and Joseph Doherty were score-keepers, and were fantastic at it, Alex not least because we drafted him on Saturday morning.

Libby Beyreis, Robine Asamar, Heather Hilchey, Nic James Cabrera, Victor Allen Bayona, Rebecca Smith Cruz, Summer Sparacin, Alexander Shekleton, Andrew Morris, Robert Salud, Ben Horwitz and Jesse Kulla who all judged, a couple of them after being pressed into service.

Alisha Workman, Jess Johnson and Dante Guinazzo who were the event “gophers”. That might not sound like an illustrious job, but GOD it helped having them!

Thanks to Nicole Allen who donated one of her products from SwordGeek Boutique (which launches as an Indiegogo Thursday, but you can get a sneak peak now) as a tournament prize.

Finally, every combatant I didn’t mention — everyone who attends and does so with a good spirit and gives their utmost makes the event.

We’ll do some after action review, continue spending time each CSG FightNight training judges, and hopefully be better in 2019!

Viva Italia! Celebrating 600 years of Italian Martial Arts (Sept 16 – 18, 2016)

 

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Mark your calendars for September 2016, because REGISTRATION IS OPEN!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation present an event celebrating the ancient & living traditions of the land that brought you Fiore, Fabris, Marozzo, Galileo, DaVinci, Casanova and … spaghetti!

Located at the picturesque DeKoven Center, home to the Western Martial Arts Workshop, the conference is a retreat with attendance limited to the 60 students that DeKoven can host. Your registration fee  includes ALL classes, meals and lodging onsite at the beautiful DeKoeven campus.

This is a unique event and a unique opportunity to train in a private environment with some of the finest modern teachers of the Art of Defense. Act now, because ttendance is limited to the 70 folks we can house on site!paces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!

DETAILS:

Dates: September 16 – 18, 2016
Instructors:

We are pleased to bring an international cast of renowned instructors including:

  • Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada)
  • Bob Charrette, Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild (USA)
  • Roberto Gotti, Guardia di Croce (Italy)
  • Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy (USA)
  • Greg Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
  • John O’Meara, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
  • Marco Quarta, Nova Scrimia (Italy/USA)
  • Robert Rutherfoord, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
Class Roster:

This year we have organized classes two ways: stand alone classes on a wide variety of topics, and several themes, meant to allow either in-depth study of one topic or to show commonality throughout the breadth of Italian fighting traditions. Stick with your favorite arts or dive into a pool 600 years deep!

Series One: Control the Center
These 3 hr classes allow an in-depth exploration of both the how and why of Italian martial arts.

  • The Tactics of Bolognese Sword and Buckler Combat (Devon Boorman)
  • The Tactics of Empty-Handed Combat (Marco Quarta)
  • The  Tactics of Armizare (Greg Mele)

Series Two: So You Got Yourself Into a Duel…
As much as we imagine skilled swordsman meeting at dawn, most duelists had often never fought before, and might not even be trained combatants. In these 2hr classes, students are taught what the historical masters themselves considered the “bare bones” basics of their art, in order to fight and survive. A perfect way to try something new!

  • Dall’Aggochie’s 30 Day Recipe for Success (Robert Rutherfoord)
  • You Got into Another Duel? A Survival Guide to Italian Rapier (Devon Boorman)
  • Dueling Fin de Ceicle Style: A Short and Concise Guide to the Dueling Saber (Sean Hayes)

Series Three: In Arnis — The Art of Armoured Combat
Every year folks who participate in the armoured deed of arms talk about how much fun it was…but also who they wish they had more time to use all of that  gear they lugged across the country. Well, we listened! This third series, taught “on the green” (weather permitting) combines daily classes, coached fencing and lectures — and of course, the invitational Armoured Deed!

  • Commonalities of Spada, Lanza and Azza en Arme: Making the Cross in Armoured Combat (Bob Charrette, Forteza Historic Swordwork Guild)
  • Armour as Worn: Understanding the Practical Ramifications of Harness Choice in Modern Deeds of Arms (Bob Charrette, Sean Hayes and Greg Mele)
  • Now We Wrestle: Moments of Transition in Armoured Combat (Sean Hayes, Northwest Fencing Academy)
  • The return of Uncle Bob’s Armour Schmooze
Stand-Alone Classes

Two and three hour classes on a wide variety of topics covering the 14th – 19th centuries!

Armizare

  • Integrated Body Mechanics and Movement in the Art of Arms (Sean Hayes)
  • The “New Footwork” of Filippo Vadi: Variations on a theme in Italian Longsword (Greg Mele)

Bolognese Fencing

  • Bolognese Fencing without Tears (Robert Rutherfoord)
  • Spadone: the King of Swords (Roberto Gotti)
  • Marozzo’s Defense Against the Dagger (Roberto Gotti)

Rapier Fencing

  • Getting from Dui Tempi to Stesso Tempo in Six Easy Lessons (John O’Meara)
  • Tutta Coperta I: The Dagger Has the Rapier’s Back (John O’Meara)
  • Tutta Coperta II: The Dagger Frees the Rapier (John O’Meara)
  • Infighting and Disarms with the Rapier (Devon Boorman)

18th – 19th c Martial Arts

  • Stick-Fencing: From Gentleman’s Cane to Modern Self-Defense (Marco Quarta)
Contests-at-Arms
  • An unarmoured Accolade Tournament with Sword, Spear & Dagger
  • An invitational Armoured Deed-of-Arms;
  • A Contest-of-Arms with Sword, Rapier and their trusted companions: the Buckler and Dagger.

More details forthcoming!

Accommodations:

(Details for getting to Racine can be found on the WMAW website)

Location:
The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

On campus; double and triple rooms. You will be able to request the roommate of your choice when you register, and we will make every effort to accommodate you. Lodging is from Thurs to Sat.

Nine hot meals.

Costs:

All-Inclusive price: $ 450.00

No cancellation refunds after August 1st, 2016

Registration Form:

Viva Italia Registration Form (fillable)

Viva Italia waiver

Contact Info:

Longpoint and Missing the Point

It has been a strange week in HEMA-land; at least from my little corner of the world. On the one hand, it has been a great week for getting the word out into the mainstream that there is something called Historical European Martial Arts; on the other, what should have been a fascinating attempt at a deed of arms bridging practitioners of two different martial traditions turned into an unnecessarily violent attempt at a “smackdown” and much of our community has responded to this by showing a profound ignorance of what the event was about,  combined with putting the blame almost squarely on the injured party; largely, I suspect, because he’s the outsider.

ANY PRESS IS GOOD PRESS, BUT GOOD PRESS IS BETTER

Folks in the HEMA-Sport world are rightly a-glow with the positive New York Times Article on the popular Longpoint event, and justly so: it was a well-done article that nicely portrayed the international efforts to create a modern combat sport focused on unarmoured longsword fencing — only in modern safety gear — deriving from late medieval German martial arts; in essence, European kendo, complete with a standardized look, rigorous and complex judging, resets after every blow (but not fought to a single blow, as a real match with sharp steel would likely transpire) and a set number of points to win the match. Indeed, much like kendo, points are even conveyed by the judges using colored flags  or batons in semaphore-like actions. Unlike post-WWII kendo, but much like its predecessor, limited degrees of grappling and unarmed striking are also allowed. The article did a nice job of covering this, and showing that this is a serious attempt at creating a new sport by normal folks, not a bunch of Highlander-meets-Game of Thrones rejects. (Well, the original article did; MTV and some of the other less “newsy” outlets had to work GoT in there somehow.)

I haven’t been to Longpoint, but colleagues have, and I have had a lot of talks with Ben Michels, one of the organizers, and think that they have tried  very, very hard to take their sport and keep it reasonably well-tied to the source art by creating an event where the specialists can compete in their thing (forms, cutting, sparring), just like in most martial arts tournaments, while there is also a more pentathalon approach. Basically, it combines what in Asian martial arts would be completely separate combat sports (kendo, batto, judo, etc) and goes them one better, combining them into an omnibus event that is something like an Olympic pentathlon. In a nod to the diversity of HEMA, Longpoint even featured demo bouts of areas outside tournament interest, such as armoured combat and Polish saber.

So the story is getting a lot of play which is great news and I cheerily shared it; to the perplexity of some of my more traditional-minded friends (those who know myself or the Guild will know that I’m a fan of competition but not formal combat sports, for reasons I’ve articulated elsewhere at length). It’s been a weird conversation, that can be summarized like this:

THEM:  “Why would you think this is a good thing? Doesn’t the article just point to the idea that there is this modern tournament sport?”

ME: “Yes, that was definitely the point of the piece: to cover a tournament that is promoting a new sword sport.”

THEM: “But what about the more holistic look at the art? Not just besides longsword, but actually training in techniques that don’t show up in tournaments?” (By which they mean things like the German *schnitt* or *Abschneiden*, polearms, dagger combat, armoured combat — all the stuff that makes the “knightly art” a composite art.)

ME: “That wasn’t the point of the story, nor is it the point of Longpoint or the HEMA Tournament folks — it is to have a competition derived from historical material with mostly longswords and some dabbling in other swords and wrestling.  The article makes that clear, and I am not sure how many times Jake, et al had to use the word “sport”, “competition” or “tournament”, or refer to “clubs” (vs. schools) or “coaches” (vs. instructors) to get that across.”

THEM: “Well, yeah, but that isn’t what we do.”

ME: “Nope”

THEM: “So what makes that good for us?”

ME: “Truth? Not much, except that people want to learn to “swordfight”; whatever that means to them. So if you see this story and type in “medieval swordfighting Chicago” you get the CSG. If you show up and find out that some of our folks go to tournaments, but we don’t all dress in black Absolute Force gear, use feders and focus on judged tournament fighting and that is a turn-off, no harm done.”

THEM: “Yeah, but….”

ME: “Look, two of my friends [Jake Norwood and Ben Michels] have worked their asses off for several years to build this thing and their community. Can’t I give them an attaboy?”

THEM: “I guess….”

And so on. Stupid, right? If this were some kendo buddies or sport fencers whose event got notice and I plugged it, no one would care. But this is “HEMA” (whatever that means to each reader) and we have to pretend that:

a) it is a singular, monolithic “thing”;

b) we are all training for or trying to do the same singular, monolithic thing,

c) if you don’t do it my way you are either a lily-livered wimp OR just a sport fencer who wouldn’t know a medieval manuscript from a piece of old toilet paper.

The truth, of course, is rather different:

a) as an activity that covers the research, reconstruction and on-going interpretation of martial arts from Europe and her colonies over a 600 year time period, even if we all had the exact same methods and goals, “HEMA” would hardly be a singular thing;

b) when you train to compete in a sport, you learn how to train to maximize your performance, which leads to some very effective competition techniques [see Axel Peterson’s victory described in the NYT video slow mo at 3:19] that simply do not show up in historical sources, or are even directly advised against, but make perfectly good sense in a bout where as soon as the hit is made a judge throws a flag and the fight either halts (no need to worry if your fight killed him), or an “after blow” scores and potentially negates the low hit. Thus it is no surprise that this same strategy is common in modern kendo and has a specific name: nuki do, often done dropping to one knee.

c) the truth is that some folks both compete and study the holistic art, but we all have to choose where our focus is. If it is competition, then you are going to need to pare down what you do to the weapons and rules that will work best in that environment — you *must* if you wish to be competitive — and if it is the latter, you train broadly and try to adapt what you know to the given ruleset and equipment you are presented with.  The problem only comes when you start believing that a tournament is a measure of real combat effectiveness anymore than is doing partnered drills or politely fencing with your mates in the salle. This is as true of is HEMA as it is to mistake boxing or MMA for Combatives and urban defense.

So congrats to Jake, Ben and all of the other xKDF folks for landing their 15 min of fame: while we have different focus and interests in the larger HEMA-umbrella, you worked hard, it’s paying off and more people know that there even were historical arts to learn in the first place. Good on you!

MISSING THE POINT

Sadly, what one hand giveth, the other taketh away. Remember that last point of mistaking what you do for being “real” or indicative of “the way?”  Because combat sports are by nature meant to be large, unifying endeavors, they are particularly bad at this, and many practitioners, immersed in their sport’s culture, quickly forget that not all similar activities are meant to be a new take on their sport, and are not done for “competitive” reasons.

This takes us to the second part of this weird week, which was the video, reports and discussions on my friend Dr. Manoucher Khorasani’s 100 Man Fight in Prague this past weekend. Firstly, Manoucher is not a HEMA person at all, but rather has taken a parallel path in reviving Persian martial arts, which he has written upon extensively and maintains a large Youtube library of videos of his work. What’s this have to do with modern HEMA? Read on…

As Dr. Khorasani writes:

Persian sources talk about the legendary hero of one thousand man “Hezarmard” a hero who survived one thousand fights.  In the same spirit japanese kendo has tachikiri/tachigiri no seigan as a test of courage, endurance and stamina.  As a former Kyokushinkai and an admirer of Soke Mas Oyama I have been admiring the one-hundred man fight kyokushin test. Only few blackbelts worldwide have passed the test. Many tried but failed.  Everyone who knows fullcontact knows how hard the Kyokushin as a bare knuckle fight is.  Although one hundred man fight is very hard and fullcontact its goal is not to destroy the candidate and to knock him out as it is done in the Kyokushinkai world championships or selection tournaments.  Moreover one wants to test the courage, stamina, determination and willingness of the candidate.  

As a researcher I wanted to see how a person can handle that type of fighting with unsharpened training swords and weapons.  My team and I trusted Mr. Herbert Heissler, the head of the Czech Stuntsfighter association with choosing the opponents and weapons.  

It Probably Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

This should also hardly be a new concept to people who have been in the martial arts world for any appreciable time. As Dr. Khorasani mentions, this contest exists in the Kyokushinkai and is quite famous. It also exists in kendo, in the form of tachigiri and in more contemporary martial arts in the “Beastings” of the famous Dog Brothers. This latter is described as:

The “Beasting” is an initiation tradition taken from the UK Training Groups. If a Dog Brother Tribe member wishes to become a DBMA Group Leader he/she has the choice to undertake a “Beasting”.  The initiate has to fight continuously for 8-12 mins, every minute facing a different (and fresh) Dog Brother (aka ‘a Beast’).  The Beasting is totally voluntary, and is not required to become a GL, but is done by those who want the Kudos…

You don’t go into a Beasting to win, but to survive. The ‘Beast line’ should be composed of fighter who are your peers or better. Any one of them has the capacity to end your day. The purpose is to push rather than break, after 3 or 4 minutes the initiate is usually exhausted and battered. At this point it’s all about balls and determination.

So far so good, and really this should not be considered “weird” to a HEMA person: after all, Playing the Prize; which was how the historical guilds in many countries bestowed rank, and has been used by many modern HEMA schools was just such an event. Although 100 men exceeds the numbers recorded by 16th century Guilds such as the London Masters of Defence, those prizes were also played without any real safety gear besides blunted weapons, and some basic safety rules: no pommel strikes or grapples, no hits below the belt, no thrusts to the face (sometimes no thrusts, period).  Likewise, staking out a location for a set time to fight all comers did not originate with the Guilds — it was an aping of a tradition already established by knightly combatants in the 14th century — nor did it end with them; such activities continued with English “stage gladiators” until well into the 18th century was the origin of modern prize fighting.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go very well.  As Dr. Khorasani reports, from the moment he arrived the rules changed, making him underequipped and his opponents with a very vague notion of what “full contact” meant:

He assured us that all weapons were aluminum besides Fechtfeders which were made of steel.  We were assured that they were light Feders as used in longsword championships.  My main instructor Mr. Heiko Grosse pointed out to me that I should make sure that they should be flexible enough as our armor was light for steel weapons. I have always admired longsword fighters as they are very technical.  We figured my light armor which was meant to absorb the shock of fullcontact aluminium sparring weapons could also do the same with very flexible steel feders.  We agreed that the fights would be fullcontact and contnuous.  In spite of the fullcontact nature of the bouts, the event was to test my stamina and willingness to fight.  We asked couple of times to change the date from Thursday September 11 to a weekend so that both my staff members could accompany me at least and even some other team members from Razmafzar.  However we were reassured by Mr. Heissler couple of times that was the only day where all participants including fighters, doctors and organizers could come…. I was relaxed and not nervous but to my surprise I realized that some of the participants were nervous and were speaking loudly to Herbert in Czech.  I  did not understand anything but I figured they were discussing the rules.  I did not care about the rules as my intention was not to score neither count points.  My biggest challenge and enemy there were not my opponents as I looked at them as my helpers.  My biggest challenge and enemy were my stamina and dehydration.

He was clearly wrong about that, since:

There were a professional surgeon and a medic there who advised that after ten rounds the fights should be stopped as they had to check me and my possible injuries and I had to drink due to the danger of dehydration in armor.  That meant stoppage after twenty minutes of continuous fighting. I agreed with them.  At this stage I would like to thank both gentlemen for their professionalism and their help during the entire event. 

Although Dr. Khorasani was polite in his analysis of the fight, he makes it clear that the feders were not the lighter flexible feders he was familiar with, nor where his opponents really trying to “press him”, they were trying to break him. Which they did, with four broken ribs, two cracked ones and several broken fingers, one requiring surgery.

Now, as you can see in the report of the event from one group of challengers, they feel they did nothing wrong and “were fighting as they always do”. Indeed, they state expressly:

Members of Digladior did not fight brutally. Conversely they tried not to attack stronger than was necessary in acute situation. The aim was not to knockout dr. Khorasani but to fight him for 3 hours and 20 minutes. (Most illustrative is video of the 8th fight – dr. Khorasani and Vladimír Nerandži? of Digladior. Dr. Khorasani has already no energy to defend himself and V. N. is attacking and hitting him but without speed and power.)

Maybe so, and from the video, I would agree about the 8th fight. But it didn’t start that way. I don’t know a single member of Digladior, but I can at least compare the video of the challenge fight with the videos they post of them fighting amongst themselves. As a good example, look at the end of the second fight and the transition into the third. I understand that the rules were “full contact”, by which I would assume that it was meant with sufficient force to deal with an unarmoured foe with sharp blades — no playing tag. Those hits, while fairly typical of many tournament hits for sure, were far harder than necessary to the task. More so, the mad rush to attack Dr. Khorasani by the sword and dagger man, without so much as a salute or even a pause for him to catch his breath, was just coarse and set the tone for the entire fight which was wild and brutal. To be blunt, those weren’t sword cuts, they were stick fighting strikes with a blunt, steel stick. The sixth and seventh fights weren’t much prettier than the third, but at least most opponents offered a salute and moment to catch your breath.

I can’t comment on the idea of letting a guy with an axe and shield fight, and I won’t dignify a number of the non-Digladior fights with the term “HEMA”, other than the gentleman with the dussack and buckler, who seemed to the only guy actually trying to use technique and fence, rather than “beat down the foreigner”. Since it happened in Europe, and it was martial (that is what you call it when someone is trying to beat your head in), so maybe we can just call it EM.

HEMA-tic Naval-Gazing (Or, Not All Feats of Arms are Sporting Events)

Of course, folks on the Internet will never miss a chance to pass judgment, even when they continue to miss the point. So, we have a group of HEMA folks, mostly European, who are quite content to lambast Dr. Khorasani. Here are a few:

1) This is what happens when a Battle of the Nations guy decides he is going to play in light gear with HEMA people.

2) This is such an embarrassment for our sport, and misses the entire point of why we do this.

3) This is why you have referees calling hits!

4) The event itself was a chest thumping exercise coupled to an ego trip the result of which is something akin to a pissing contest. I have little or no respect for that kind of event or the self serving nature that really underpins it … it reflects poorly on the wider community and is nothing I would ever want any part of. My two sous …

Unfortunately, these comments are myopic. Perhaps, just perhaps, this entire martial challenge had nothing to do with a) HEMA or b) a sporting event? Just taking these four comments, look at the logical rebuttals:

1) Dr. Khorasani recently taught some Persian wrestling to a BotN team; he is not a Battle of the Nations fighter. (For those not in the know, Battle of the Nations is another type of “medieval combat sport” — essentially submission fighting with steel weapons in full armour. It is very rough fighting, although as the rules expressly ban thrusting, it negates the principle historical method of combating armour, and consequently most BotN fighters have little interest in the historical arts themselves.) He *does* own a full suit of Persian armour, just as I own two suits of European harness. However, most HEMA folks — especially those focused on tournaments — have no interest in armour or armoured combat and consider it “dress up” or “reenactment”. An odd position for folks studying ‘the knightly art’ perhaps, and not true — there was even an armoured demo at Longpoint — but the larger point here is that the poster clearly didn’t read either the challengers or challenged description of what the event was, and just assumed that Dr. Khorasani must be engaged in “that other sport”, one that has no love lost with the HEMA tournament scene.

2) It can’t be good or bad for “our sport” because a) “HEMA” does not unilaterally equal “tournament fighting”, b) Dr. Khorasani does not study HEMA, and not all of the participants were “HEMA” people, c) wait for it….this was not a sporting event, but a martial arts test, as was made clear from the get-go. Why a man studying Persian martial arts is now responsible for the reputation of HEMA tournament combat is beyond me.

3) Referees defeat the entire purpose of a test of character and endurance. Indeed, part of the reason for referees in competition is an inherent suspicion that the fighters will not be honest in calling blows. Further, many forms of HEMA competition today do indeed have people call their own hits, or at least refuse points for blows they think they improperly landed. This is simply purged from the competitive tournament circuit because it “puts too much pressure on the combatants”. That right there is the difference between a martial art as a test of character and a combat sport as a way to win some sort of trophy. Both are correct in their own place and time, but the post shows a complete ignorance as what this event was.

4) If any chance to hold the field is just arrogant chest-beating, I would presume that this poster would frown on things like this:

Willyam Pascall shalle stand againste all Maisters with the following weapons, vis Axe, Pyke, Long Sword, Backesworde, Two Hande sworde and Rapyr & Dagger

or this:

Robert Grene and William Browne shall play against all alyens and strangers beinge borne Without the king’s Dominions in Axe, Pike, Rapyr, Dagger and Rapier and Targait.

Which are only two of the many challenge matches fought by members of the London Masters purely as a public test of arms, and have clear analogs throughout the 14th and 16th centuries, throughout Europe. Likewise, I am sure that modern challenges such as Guy Windsor’s two-hour holding of the field at WMAW 2009, or Bob Charrette’s celebration of his 60th birthday by fighting 60 minutes in full harness at WMAW 2013 are just marks of hubris, rather than a personal test?

I don’t know that last poster even by name, so I confess that it is a bit unfair to make him a strawman in an argument, but it speaks to what discussion on social medial regarding the 100 Man Fight has really left me feeling appalled by: the length to which the self-referential nature of HEMA Sport fighting has made it impossible for so many students of western sword arts to even “get it” when confronted by something that doesn’t involve referees, flags and points — items that our ancestors would themselves have been largely bewildered by.

Take this comment, by one of my colleagues and a respected, “up and coming” teacher of European swordsmanship, who has a very detailed and active blog:

There is very little in this event for the HEMA tournament organizers to learn from in my opinion, but it does enforce what is already common knowledge. As a singular event there may be something to learn from this — mostly what not to do — and the main point I wish to emphasize is that for a swordsman, or a fencer, it is a requirement to be brave and tough, but doing something like this is not necessary nor is it beneficial for anyone. This should be true to those who were part of it too, as it seems that no one had intended for the event to finish this way.

That would be reasonable if only a) this sort of thing had *anything to do with tournament fighting in the first place* — as Dr. Khorasani had stated repeatedly, and as the Digladior report makes clear they also understood, at least in theory, b) what the test was meant to be and what happened are not the same thing — again as made clear, c) these sorts of tests of character already occur in many martial arts, and indeed in HEMA groups — almost any that use Prize Playing.

Again, from the same poster:

there is no glory in getting bruised by a sword. There is some, but very little being tough. Each one of those bruises probably stands for a lost limb and a fatal injury. Also there already exists decades of testing of protective equipment, and riot vests and hockey gloves have been seen as inadequate years ago. It saddens me too someone walk the path of broken fingers just because of ignorance.

While I agree with the statement in general, I would point out this is comment is somewhat disingenuous as the specialty HEMA gloves worn by tournament fighters did not stop not one, not two, not three, but four broken fingers at WMAW, one of our own members from getting a broken hand in the tournament at CombatCon, and on-going complaints after every tournament about broken fingers or hands. Further, as Dr. Khorasani states, he went there expecting to use aluminum swords and light feders, and that is not what he was greeted with. Events like the Dog Brother Beastings demonstrate quite clearly that one can fight in very, very little gear very hard and not get overly injured if everyone understands what they are trying to do.

I would really like to write the challengers a pass and say that they didn’t understand, their own words state that they knew why they were there.

This same poster goes on to post:

These things have been discussed before, but the notion of full-contact swordfighting is strange. Due to the paradoxically impotent but dangerous nature of the blunt weapons leads to an emphasis in effectiveness of unarmed close quarters techniques and at times overly hard hits with the weapon. The latter is due to the need to get physical effect on the opponent with the weapon that is essentially deprived of its capability of causing this effect: the sharp bits. In the video the fights were not stopped on hits, which is exactly the things that leads to escalation unless the fighters have a proper mutual understanding and good communication during the fight. Again something that has been established during the years in various tournaments, hence leading to rules where maximally one “after-blow” or follow-up strike after initial hit is allowed.

Again, what seems reasonable at first, makes sweeping assumptions about how fencing occurs throughout the HEMA-verse and assumes that tournaments have been designed to address this “problem”. They have not. Not least of which being the one-hit and stop, reset, nature of HEMA tournaments is highly artificial. As a great deal of forensics data, not to mention historical accounts of swordfights and the advice of the masters themselves, unless the head or hands come off, very little in a swordfight is guaranteed to be an instant fight-ender. Having a judge call HALT does not simulate this in any way — nor was it thought to do so historically; the “afterblow” as used in modern tournaments is entirely anachronistic from its use in the 16th century fencing Guilds and is at best based on a very liberal read of a very short passage on fencing competitions by the Bolognese swordsman Antonio Manciolino. Indeed, German Fechtshule seemed to have been much more like knightly deeds, consisting of counted blows, where the fight just continued until the set number of blows had been thrown.

While some folks complained  that there was “too much grappling” (again, assuming that any one hit is guaranteed instant incapacitation) on Khorasani’s part, they ignore that the hard blows were being delivered by the guys in the HEMA gear. Which, of course, is another myth: that HEMA tournament fighting is “unarmoured combat”. Sure, the same way kendo is — fought in modern armour. When the tournament circuit was first beginning, mostly with nylon swords, many of us were criticized for being overly armoured by wearing helmets, gambesons, gauntlets and forearm guards. But now that steel is in play, the average tournament fighter now wears a functionally heavier set of equipment:

  • A heavily padded jacket, a gambeson by another name, which is designed to incorporate plastic armour plates on the inside should the wearer choose;
  • Heavy plastic/foam gauntlets or lacrosse gloves of varying design;
  • Hard joint protection for the elbows
  • Forearm guards
  • hard knee and shin guards
  • throat protection
  • And a number of them wear additional protection under their jacket or trouser.

The end result of heavy kit is that people aren’t terribly afraid of getting hit and throw themselves into fights. Anyone who wants to say that HEMA tournaments avoid “full contact hitting” because it really isn’t necessary to hit that hard with a sharp weapon (a point on which I agree), or that allowing takedowns on a hard surface is unusual just need watch the messer finals from Longpoint to see that clubbing-masquerading-as-swordsmanship is hardly something that was invented for the 100 Man Fight.

The idea of calling a halt at each hit ignores that continuous, flowing fights is common in many schools, particularly during Prize Playing, and yet injuries, escalation and other problems are rare. Why? Because the challengers aren’t there to win, only to give a good, clean fight. But as this sort of engagement is not a part of his own sparring culture, nor does he have any background in martial arts that have these sorts of initiatic challenges, he assumes it cannot be done and that a style of combat sport that has been invented over the last decade must provide the one, true, working model for testing oneself with swords.

This post ends with the sage advice that seems to run through many of the discussions on social media:

Likewise, if a full contact armored fighter wants to study – or compete in – a historical sword art simulating unarmored duel with sharp swords, he has to somewhat adjust his mentality and equipment.

And it should not require anyone getting beaten half-dead to realize the above.

Again, the only terms I can use are myopic, because the assumptions on this post, and others, is that they are in a position to sit in judgment on the “outsider” who was messing with their sport, and thus any problems must have been almost entirely Dr. Khorasani’s. Over and over the discussion since last week has circled around the following:

  1. There is an assumption that Dr. Khorasani was a BotN fighter, when a simple read of his webpage and watching his videos (also at least one of the posters was just at a seminar with the man), would make it clear that what he meant by full-contact, and that the gear he stated he would fight with is what he does most of his bouting in. You don’t have to know the man at all, you just need to go to Youtube. Persian Martial Arts are just like their European counterparts of the period — meant to be used in and out of armour, and originally developed for warfare. The fact that so many modern HEMA people want to study a 15th c art while ignoring a major part of the context, does not mean those who do differently are engaged in “crash and bash” fighting.
  2. There is a hypocritical contradiction here, where Dr. Khorasani must be a BotN guy looking to duke it out in heavy gear, but then he is held to task for being the guy too lightly armed and armoured. Now, whether or not he should have trusted the organizer to communicate this is another matter, but then again so is the question of why his opponents felt a need to come after him with kicks thrown while wearing plate armour, an axe or throwing blows that frankly were way harder than necessary for a friendly challenge, particularly one where there was nothing to win.
  3. No one was “beaten half-dead” — although the injuries are far more than they should have been, broken fingers and hands are quite common in HEMA circles, and broken ribs, etc not terribly uncommon in many other martial arts. The fact that one poster feels “the reason we fight with swords is because we don’t particularly like black eyes” may be true for him, but has little to do with martial arts in general.
  4. Nor was the intention to try and prevent being “beaten half dead”. As stated clearly:  In the same spirit japanese kendo has tachikiri/tachigiri no seigan as a test of courage, endurance and stamina. What he got was a group of more heavily geared guys who, whatever their claims, were quite clearly batting for the fences.
  5. This was not a tournament, it was not meant to inspire tournaments. Dr. Khorasani wished to test himself in a type of deed of arms that is part and parcel of both our historical, European tradition, and his Persian one, and which has been part and parcel of a number of armed and unarmed combat arts, as already stated. This was a personal test, and the challengers are meant to push and test, not try to crush — which is far too easy to do as they are fresh and the challenged grows progressively wearier.
  6. Nor was it a HEMA event. If one of us wished to do this — as has been done in a variety of ways — it would be quite simple; there are now HEMA events all over the world. Dr. Khorasani and his small team represent the sum total of Persian swordplay researchers. So, rightly or wrongly, he  trusted someone he knew to help him arrange such a test vis a vis the help of swordsmen he felt shared a similar interest in reconstructing their traditional martial arts. I would assume he came that conclusion based on the HEMA events in Italy, Malta and Germany he had participated in. He was clearly wrong.

I want to be very clear. I think Dr. Khorasani was ill-advised to do this. The reason is that all of these other challenges, from Guild Prize Playings to Dog Brother beat-downs, occur “in house” — within one’s tradition, with fellows on the same path. Because he does not have other folks in his tradition to do this, he of necessity had to go outside his tradition. But in that case, he would have been better-served working more closely with a group of HEMA folks he knew well, perhaps at one of their events, where he could have had more control over the events. When the organizer would not move the date, and it was clear that the standards of weapons and gear were wildly different, it was late in the game to back out.

I also look at the recommendations made by both Khorasani and Digladior for moving forward and agree that the matches should have been shorter (a set number of blows, IMO), the exact specific gear noted and required and mass weapons banned on less the fighting was to be done in armour. Those things were poor choices on everyone’s part.

But having said that, as HEMA person, what I find depressing is not the “effect on HEMA” of this event, but the sure inability of people to understand that fights like this can and should be conducted in a tough, but friendly manner, and that while a safety marshal is necessary, fighting shouldn’t need a referee to constantly call hits: the ability to fight with control and to acknowledge hits ought to be well-within the means of anyone who calls himself a “martial artist”. The constant discussion about sports conventions, refereeing, a need to stop after every hit and so forth points to the largest problem when combat sports and martial arts collide: one finds worth in collecting points, trophies and medals, one through challenging oneself. One relies on external factors and people for control, one is about controlling oneself. One is concerned with knowing the rules and playing to those rules; one is concerned with understanding the spirit of the rules and what they are meant to challenge. Neither is “right”; they exist in a context, and both differ dramatically from combat, which is about, as Fiore dei Liberi said, “fighting without rules to the bitter end.”

I fully expect and accept that as HEMA has grown, specialization has occurred, not just by art, by what aspects of that art to practice and in what environment. We can agree or disagree on various points as to the virtues and flaws of our particular approaches, we can even agree to disagree. What we cannot do as serious researchers, teachers and students of HISTORICAL EUROPEAN MARTIAL ARTS is to ignore these differences, or insist that it is impossible or undesirable to move from one modality to another. Doing so already destroyed the diversity of fencing, and exterminated the first HEMA Renaissance in the early 20th century, in the push for standardized rules and focusing on referred competition as the “measure of the man” comes the real problem of dismissing any who are interested in something different as aberrant; it also rapidly removes us from the martial ethos of our ancestors, and makes this the pursuit of creating just another contact sport like rugby or football.

I wish Dr. Khorasani the very best in his recovery and hope the 100 Man quest will someday see light again, just more carefully planned, with folks who get its purpose and in an environment that will be respective of what all deeds of arms in chivalric cultures were meant to do — to assert one’s willingness to put themselves out on the line and test themselves in public to their utmost.

 

Wide and Close Play in Armizare, the Martial Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi  

Gregory D. Mele,  ©2014

[N.B: This article greatly expands and upon an earlier one “Understanding Wide and Close Play in the Martial Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi”,  first presented in 2008 and later published with photo interpretations in In the Service of Mars, Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999 – 2009), Vol. I. In addition to a new introduction that is about a third of its entire length, substantial revisions and citations extend throughout the article, so those familiar with the earlier work will still want to read this in its entirety.]

INTRODUCTION

I first discovered the works of Fiore dei Liberi in 1995, with a poorly photocopied, badly-translated edition of the Pisani-Dossi manuscript. I soon found a copy of Novati’s original facsimile, and over time learned that a wide variety of Italian authors, from Giacopo Gelli to the famed fencing master, Luigi Barbasetti, had written on the man and his work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Further a new generation of Italian researchers, most notably Massimo Malipiero and Giovanni Rapisardi, were also working with this “father of Italian fencing”, building on the work established by Novati almost 100 years earlier.[1]

What all of these authors agreed upon was that control of distance was critical to how Fiore dei Liberi conceptualized his techniques, or “plays”, which he divided into two categories, one meant to maximize range, and one meant to collapse it. These two distinctions were:

Zogho Largo (wide play) only appears when discussing long weapons, such as the sword, spear or axe. At this measure, combatants may use the weapon’s edge and point, bind or grab the weapon’s head and, depending on the weapon’s length, make long-range unarmed attacks, such as kicks. Grabs will not reach any deeper than the opponent’s elbow; body-to-body contact is not possible.

Zogho Stretto (close or narrow play) is the measure at which dei Liberi describes abrazare (grappling) and dagger combat occurring. When fighting with longer weapons, it is the range at which one uses those same techniques: hilt/shaft strikes, grabs of the opponent’s sword arm, body, or head and includes body-to-body contact such as throws.

We second-generation researchers blissfully accepted this notion of wide and close play, picked up our swords and daggers and set to work. However, as we struggled to make sense of dei Liberi’s text, discovered the much larger and better explained Getty Manuscript, and wrestled with mastering a slightly archaic form of a new language, it became clear that sometimes, the more you learn, the less you are sure what you know.

Consequently, an ever-present bugaboo in the historical reconstruction (HEMA) segment of Western Martial arts is the need to interpret old texts, written in slightly (or very) archaic forms of modern languages, often by non-native speakers. While this is the daily trade of historiographers, and has been for centuries, very few “HEMAtists” are necessarily even truly fluent in those languages, let alone academics trained to analyze a text paleographically, linguistically and contextually.  Some seek to educate themselves accordingly, while others embrace a sort of textual isolationism (“I study Master Z and I don’t need to know what Master Y said or how that relates to  Thomas Aquinas” ) in a manner that is probably best reserved for the reading of sacred scripture by those comfortable with geocentrism or Young Earth Creationism.

But whatever the methods – or intentions – the end result is that we make mistakes, over-analyze or try to force-fit one language into another, blissfully unaware that neither modern Germans and Italians, nor academics trained in the medieval forms of their languages, need amateur scholars armed with dictionaries, Google Translate and good intentions to explain to them how these languages work!

CLOSE OR NARROW? CRAMPED OR CONSTRAINED? YES!

The Italian word stretto is precisely one of those words that infuriates English-speakers new to la bella lingua, because it can translate as several related, but distinct, words in the English language: “close”, “narrow”, “cramped” or “constrained”. In the context of fencing, all convey a sense that the distance between the opponents is “tight”, but the  devil is in the details, as they say. That is where we run into a perpetual host of problems:

Fiore dei Liberi has plays of largo and stretto, as do the Bolognese masters, but then the latter also tell us that guards can be larga or stretta, defined by whether the point is off-line (larga) or in-presence (stretta). The matter becomes even more confusing as we look at the rapier, wherein the old distinction of zogho/gioco largo and stretto is replaced by misura (measure). Here the fencer either needs to move his foot to strike (misura larga) or he is close enough to strike without stepping (misura stretta). Likewise, rapier fencers are told to put the opponent’s sword into the stretta (and from which we get another  Italian word, lovingly mangled by modern swordsmen: the verb stringere).  Then, in a linguistic equivalent to a photo-bomb, we have Bondi di Mazzo in the late 17th century mentioning that as all rapier play occurs in the gioco stretto it is useful only to discuss the misura! Huh? Does it add clarity if I tell you that a century earlier, Giovanni Dall’Aggochie sharply criticizes masters who only teach gioco stretto and avoid gioco largo? No, I didn’t think so.

Although these definitions and codifications of the terms largo and stretto have merited a fair bit of reinterpretation, debate and careful reconsideration over the years — the current author having engaged in all three of those propositions at various points over the years — in truth the most  perplexing thing is who is perplexed by all of this and who is not. For while this vagary of language drives swordsmen from North America, Australia, the UK, Germany or Finland mad, it seems to trouble Italians not at all.  There’s a lesson to be learned here and it is a simple one:

Don’t try to force-fit a word or concept from one language into a single word in your own.

It can’t be that simple can it? For the purpose of understanding how to classify the nature of largo and stretto within Armizare — the school of Fiore dei Liberi –it actually can. Distance can be “close” and a guard held with its point “narrow”, the enemy’s blade can be “constrained”, and a small area “cramped” — because while the term has become jargon to non-native speakers, it really is just a common vocabulary term that cannot, and should not be unilaterally translated with a single English term.

What’s more, when we look at the broad concept of largo, stretto and mezza spada, it turns out that dei Liberi might be among our first surviving sources, but his use of the terms is almost pedantically mainstream, not just in Italy, but in Germany and England as well! By looking afield, can we comfortably define what Fiore dei Liberi meant?

THE MAESTRI OF TECHNICAL JARGON: THE BOLOGNESE TRADITION

Obviously, our first stop should be Italy, where a second great fencing tradition was born in the city of Bologna — little more than two day’s journey by horse down the road from Ferrara —  shortly after our master penned The Flower of Battle. The Bolognese masters use a very specific technical vocabulary that heavily overlaps with Fiore dei Liberi’s, but is more directly based on the sort of academic jargo one would expect of a tradition from a University city, ostensibly founded by a professor of mathematics. It includes Aristotelian concepts of mechanics, time and motion, including actions described as “true” and “false”, an Agent (initiator of action), Patient (receiver of action),  and a classification of motions as “full” or “half”.

This last concept is the most relevant to us here, since  the mid-point of a full-cut is a half-cut, and two combatants both in measure that strike at one another will have their sword cross with a half-cut, at the half-sword (mezza spada) position. The half-sword is further defined as being achieved true-edge to true-edge or false-edge to false-edge, two of the principle outcomes for the parries or deflections shown by dei Liberi.

Although Bolognese plays (giochi)[2] also refer to largo and stretto they seem to emphasize the idea that the mezza spada marks the transition to a new form of fight, so that half-sword plays are  normally called strette di mezza spada. A specific definition is given for neither term; however, by analyzing their plays and pieces of advice that weave throughout the various texts in the tradition we can draw the following broad definitions:

Gioco Largo is the kind of play that involves wider distances, full cuts and whole tempi, and is performed with the sword-arm extended.[3]  Because it starts well out of measure, and admits the use of wide (largo) and high (alta) guards. Most sequences begin with provocations and feints to unsettle the opponent, since starting at a wider distance also means that a stationary opponent has a better chance to react successfully, and there are few prese (grapples) described out of wide play.

Gioco Stretto, or Strette di Mezza Spada begins[4] after you and the opponent arrive at a crossing of the swords with neither of you having an advantage — meaning that either of you may initiate it.[5] It occurs at shorter distances and involves half cuts and half tempi. Bolognese authors make it clear that this is a distinct type of play, often taught separately from the Gioco Largo.[6] Because it starts in a closer measure and it involves shorter tempi, it favors the use of guards that close the line or are held narrowly (Guardie Strette) by keeping the point in-line. Stretto plays rarely use provocations, but instead initiate simple attacks by cut or thrust, compound attacks starting with a feint, or a close into grips, disarms,  strikes with the buckler or hilt, and so on.[7]

Manciolino offers the following advice on largo and stretto:

As you play with the two-handed sword in the gioco largo, you should keep your eye on the part of the opponent’s sword from half-blade to the tip.  However, once you are at the half-sword, you should look at your opponent’s left hand, since it is with it that he may come to grapples. The art of the half-sword is necessary to the curriculum of anyone who wishes to become a good player.  If you were only skilled in the gioco largo, and found yourself in the stretto, you would be compelled with shame and danger to pull back, thus often relinquishing victory to your opponent – or at least betraying your lack of half-swording skills to those who watch. [Translation by Tom Leoni]

We will revisit this advice again when we return to dei Liberi’s own use of wide and close play. In the meantime, while there is a great deal more than can be said on the nature of close play in the Bolognese tradition,[8]  as our purpose here is to look at what other traditions may tell us about largo and stretto play in Armizare, these general definitions should suffice.

WAR, GERMAN STYLE

Figure 1: "War Work" from Hans Talhoffer, Wurtemburg Ms. (1467). The "war" (Krieg) phase in German swordsmanship was analogous to the crossing at the mezza spada in the Italian tradition.
Figure 1: “War Work” from Hans Talhoffer, Wurttemburg Ms. (1467). The “war” (Krieg) phase in German swordsmanship is analogous to the crossing at the mezza spada in the Italian tradition.

The same place that Italian masters define as mezza spada or “the half-sword”, the German masters call either Krieg (“war”) or Handarbeit (“handwork”). The concept is largely identical: the blades meet in a bind, crossed in the middle, and ensuing actions can occur instantly, often without so much as a step of the foot — a principle that makes techniques such as the Winden on the same side of the sword, Duplieren or Mutieren so swift and deadly.

Like their Italian counterparts, how to safely come to this place and what to do from it forms the vast majority of the technical repertoire of the German art.  Ironically, it is the last master of the tradition, Joachim Meyer, who gives the best tactical descriptions of Handarbeit at the beginning of his 1570 manual:

This (fencing) can primarily and justifiably be divided in three parts, that is the beginning, the middle and the end. / The middle (is) the secondary or handwork, when someone remains in the bind or longer in his work against his adversary and presses him with all his speed.[9]

Meyer further clarifies that any and all actions occur in the hand-work, and it is the sum of all fencing knowledge. This is the only phase in which Meyer says the entire catalog of actions are possible.

The secondary or handwork encompasses the greatest art and skill and all the speed that can occur in fencing….Den sie zeigt nit allein an / wie man das Schwerd anbinden / Winden / Wechseln / Verfüren / Nachreisen /Schneiden / Doplieren / Ablauffen sol lassen / oder wölcher gestalt man umbschlagen / Schlaudern /Vorschieben / Absetzen / Zucken und Rucken /Verstellen / Ringen / Einlauffen / Werffen und nachtringen soll.[10]

Interestingly, as the German masters almost always come to the bind with both combatants’ right feet forward, the moment they reach the half-sword they have achieved what we will see as Fiore dei Liberi’s crossing of Zogho Stretto, and their actions, including the principle objective of threatening with the point to force a wide parry by the defender, closely follow the sensibilities of the Bolognese Masters and their strette ala mezza spada. Not surprisingly, as there are so many ways for primates with sharp lever-arms to harm one another, when they use closing techniques, such as those favored by dei Liberi, they use nearly identical plays with identical footwork.

WHY DOES IT ALWAYS COME BACK TO THAT ENGLISHMAN?

Back in the dark ages of the 1990s, when the term “HEMA” was not a twinkle in Western Martial Artists’ eyes, it was a common trope to use the two works by the 16th century Englishman George Silver to elucidate and explain other systems, particularly as the then Anglophone community had limited understanding of how German and Italian masters conceptualized their arts. With the sudden growth of the community in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, Silver fell out of fashion, and in many circles is considered “idiosyncratic”, an “outlier” or somehow “not relevant” to compare to other systems for developing greater context of how Renaissance fencers thought about their arts.

This is unfortunate for a variety of reasons, but not least of which is that in the process, very few note that Silver uses the exact same technical jargon as the Bolognese Masters and for the same reasons: he was educated in Renaissance Europe and thus hard a working knowledge of the Quadrivium and Trivium and knew his Aristotle. So he also has an Agent and Patient performing his Plays, guards can also be True and False, and sure enough he uses Wide and Close…except when he uses Narrow. And that distinction is crucial to our discussion here.

Silver builds his entire conceptual paradigm around the management of distance (Brief Instructions, Cap.1):

The four grounds or principals of that true fight at all manner of weapons are these four, viz. 1. judgement, 2. distance, 3. time, 4. place.

The reason whereof these 4 grounds or principals be the first and chief, are the following, because through judgement, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary, the place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his place, the reason that he has lost his true place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is out of necessity driven to that will be agent.

Everything for Silver is about managing distance and finding how to win a safe place to strike. Not surprisingly, pressing in or receiving an attack in the seeking of the Place, often brings us to a position he expressly calls the Half-Sword:

Yf ij fyght & that both lye vpon the true gardant fyght & that one of them will neede seek to wyn the half sword by pressinge in, that may you saflye do, for vpon that fyght the half sworde may safflye be woon. [11]

And the Half-Sword itself relates directly to a position known as Close Fight:

Close fyght is when yõ Cros at ye half sword eyther aboue at forehand wardyt is wt poynt hye, & hande & hylt lowe, or at true or bastard gardant ward wt both yor poynts doun. 

Close is all mannr of fyghts wherin yõ have made a true Cros at the half sword wt yor space very narrow & not Crost, is also close fyght.[12]

In other words, at the half-sword, you are crossed from a pair of half-blows or a parry of a blow. This is Close (stretto) Fight, which is described in part as the space between your weapons being narrow (stretto). Although Silver states that the half sword “may safflye be woon”, he goes on immediately to warn of the dangers of winning it, writing:

but he that first cometh in, Must fyrst go out, & that presently, otherwise his gard wilbe to wyde aboue to defend his hed, or yf fyt for that defence, then wil it be to wyde vnderneath to defend that thrust from his body which things the patient Agent may do, & fly out saf[13]

At the half-sword you may still cut and thrust freely, but any attempt at pressing inwards results in an immediate grip. Thus, the half-sword is the position at which both ends of the sword, and grips (prese), may be used:

yf yõ are both ?o cro?t at ye ba?tard gardant ward, & yf he then pre?s in, then take the grype of him as is shewed in ye chapter of ye grype, Or wt yor left hand or arme, ?trike his ?word blade ?trongly & ?odainly towarde yor left ?yde by wch meanes yõ are uncro?t, & he is di?coured,, then may yõ thru?t him in the body wt yor?word & fly out in?tantly, wch thinge he cannot avoyd, nether can he offend yõ. Or being ?o cro?t, yõ may ?odainly vncro?e & ?trike him vpõ the hed & fly out in?tantly wch thinge yõ may ?afly do & go out free[14]

There is one unifying qualifier in the entire chapter on grips (Cap 6) – you have come to the half-sword. If he does not press in, you may still uncross and hit him with the pointy end of your sword (Ground 6), and you can use your free hand to press his blade or wrist (Grounds 2 – 5).[15] Alternatively, you may pass in to the outside with the left foot and envelope his arm in a wrap (ground one). As with grips, hilt strikes can only occur after achieving the half-sword, just like his grips:

yf he com to the clo?e fight wt yõ & yt yõ are both crost aloft at ye half ?word wt both yor points vpwards, then yf he com in wt all in his Cro??ing bere ?trongly yor hand & hylt ourhis wri?t, clo?e by his hylt putting it ouer at yeback?yde of his hand & hylt pr??inge doune his hand & hylt ?trongly & ?odainly, in yor entring in, & ?o thru?t yor hylt in his face, of ?trike him vpõ ye hed ?word, & ?trike vp his heeles, & fly out.[16]

In Silver’s “workaday” swordsmanship we have a style of play quite different from the flowing sprezzatura of the Bolognese school, yet both couch their art in the same technical jargon, not because it is fencing jargon, but because it is the language of the educated. And whereas the Italian language provides one word – stretto – to mean multiple things, Silver, writing in English, is able to use two words to distinguish what he means. When one crosses distance, they are moving into a Close-Fight, which begins at the position of the Half-Sword. When a guard has the points in presence then it is Narrow-Spaced, when the sword is carried low, aloft or otherwise is not closing the line, it is Wide Spaced.

A great deal of digital and real ink has been spilled over the last seven years by non-native speakers of Italian trying to parse a singular translation for largo and stretto into English, when a 16th century English swordsman had already demonstrated how it was to be done. But where’s the fun in that?

FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION, OR TECHNIQUE FOLLOWS MEASURE: LARGO AND STRETTO IN ARMIZARE

The irony is that all of those 19th and 20th century authors were correct all along: Zogho Largo and Zogho Stretto are distinctions of how measure affects technique, not a definition of how or when you first come into distance, and not a definition of line. For example, all dagger combat is part of Zogho Stretto, since even the longest range knife attack occurs in grappling range, regardless of whether the opponent steps in to strike.

Prior to the ascendance of rapier fencing, European masters-at-arms conceptualized combat into a series of phases. The first began with breaking measure from out of distance and ended when the swords crossed mid-blade, such as when two combatants struck at one another, or one struck and the other parried. At this distance, both long distance and close quarter combat was possible, whereas if one pressed in closer, the combat progressively shifted to in-fighting or wrestling. This transitional place was extremely dangerous, since each combatant could threaten the other with the same techniques. Finally, some masters further elaborate how, having come to the half-sword, a combatant might wish to remain in wide-play, using a variety of strategies to drop back and retreat.  How each tradition of 15th and 16th swordsmanship applied these principles is in large part what defines their particular art, and this level of analysis is beyond the scope of this essay. Instead, having a working model of  the concepts of Zogho LargoZogho Stretto and Mezza Spada, we can analyze how it relates to a specific discipline, l’arte dell’armizare of Fiore dei Liberi.

COMING TO THE CROSS

The best way to understand when you are in Largo and when you are in Stretto is to understand what happens in the bind. Fiore dei Liberi defines three types of parry, based on a crossing at one of the three parts of the blade the tutta (forte), mezza (middle third) and the punta (debole):

These two masters are here crossed at full-sword. And each can do what the other does, that is, that one can make all plays of the sword with the crossing. But the crossing is of three types which are full-sword (tutta spada) and point-of-sword (punta della spada). And the one who is crossed at full-sword cannot stay long. And the one who is crossed at mid-sword (mezza spada) can stay less. And the one who is at point-of-sword cannot stay at all. [Morgan Ms – translation mine]

The play of Zogho Largo is taught by three magistri (masters), the first two of whom are related to the three crossings: the first shows the crossing at the punta, the second shows the crossing at the mezza spada, and the third master is a contrario (counter), showing how to transition into close-quarters. Zogho Stretto is taught by only one master, who crosses at the half sword in the Getty Ms and at the tutta in the Pissani-Dossi. The crossings at Zogho Largo are shown with the left foot forward. Although Fiore is silent on the matter, Vadi specifically addresses this foot placement, when discussing how to parry a strike:

When you parry the backhand, keep forward / the right foot and parry as said / when parrying the forehand / then you will have the left foot forward.[17]

The most likely reason for the left foot crossing throughout wide play is not best described by Fiore or Vadi, but by the Bolognese master, Antonio Manciolino, whose description of the relationship between largo, stretto and the mezza spada is worth revisiting:

As you play with the two-handed sword in the Gioco Largo, you should keep your eye on the part of the opponent’s sword from half-blade to the tip.  However, once you are at the half-sword, you should look at your opponent’s left hand, since it is with it that he may come to grapples. The art of the half-sword is necessary to the curriculum of anyone who wishes to become a good Player.  If you were only skilled in the Gioco Largo, and found yourself in the Stretto, you would be compelled with shame and danger to pull back, thus often relinquishing victory to your opponent – or at least betraying your lack of half-swording skills to those who watch.[18]

By crossing with the opposite foot forward, the Scholar completely closes the opponent out of his inside line, can freely use his sword’s point and edges, and keeps his dominant hand further from his opponent’s left hand, forcing him to pass in if he wishes to grapple. Conversely, having the left leg forward allows the Scholar to quickly make his own grabs to the opponent’s sword or sword arm without having to step at all. Finally, the Scholar can still pass in with his right foot as he makes a follow-on attack and only if that fails has he moved into close play.

Conversely, the crossings at Zogho Stretto are shown with the right foot forward, and this is confirmed by Fiore dei Liberi in the first play:

The first play I execute derives from my Master’s crossing with his right foot forward. [Getty Ms. 28r]

Although the master does not overtly discuss this, the reversed stance changes the relative measure between the combatants’ dominant sides, and affects which line is open.

ZOGHO LARGO

There are twenty techniques of Zogho Largo, arranged as follows:  a lesson on how to counterattack by striking so that the swords engage in the last third, or punta. 

Figure 1: The First Crossing of the Sword in Wide Play: The Cross at the Point
Figure 2: The First Crossing of the Sword in Wide Play: The Cross at the Point

The bind is very weak in the crossing of the punta (‘the one who is at the point cannot stay at all”) and as such there are only two possibilities, based on who is more forceful in the bind. If the Scholar (defender) wins the bind, he presses through the opponent’s strike, striking him in the head or “stands the point to his face”.  However, if he loses the bind he simply lets the opponent’s blow push through his guard and strikes him with a backhand to the side of the head. Essentially, the “bind” is nothing of the sort – the sword’s meet and if the Scholar has done his work he either kills the opponent on the inside line in one tempo, or on the outside in a second, almost instantaneous one.

Figure 2: The Second Crossing of the Sword in Wide Play: The cross at the Half-Sword
Figure 3: The Second Crossing of the Sword in Wide Play: The cross at the Half-Sword.

Most of the techniques of wide play are taught by the second master, whose measure relates to a crossing at the mezza spada. His initial plays are based on the same lessons of blade pressure in the bind taught by the first master, only from a different, stronger crossing on the blade. The first play is the Master himself. In the second play, the Scholar wins the bind, opening the inside line to a risposta. The third and fourth plays are a continuum: in play three the blades bind with the points in presence, so the Scholar grips the opponent’s punta  and rispostas with a cut. The fourth play gives us a variation of what to do should the attacker try to cover his head when his blade is grabbed: kick him in the shin and then cut him!  The fifth and sixth plays deal with being weak in the bind and are the first time the Scholar moves to the outside; this a is called the Colpo di Villano (villain’s blow).

It is worth noting that while the plays of the Second Master are at the measure of the half-sword, not all involve a direct crossing, anymore than do all of the Bolognese largo plays, the German Zufechten (approach) or Silver’s three other fights besides Close Fight.  In fact, this is a defining trait of “wide play”! In dei Liberi’s case we see two such actions. The first is the defense against a cut to the leg (See Fig 4). Against this attack, the master tells us:

When the opponent attacks your leg, withdraw the foot you have forward or pass back, and deliver a fendente to his head as shown here. However, with the two-handed sword you should never attack below the knee, because it would place you in too much danger, since it leaves you wholly uncovered. If you had fallen on the ground, striking the opponent’s leg would be fine, but not in any other circumstance, when you are fighting with a sword against a sword. [Getty 26r]

Figure 4: Leg Slip against a low-line attack.
Figure 4: Leg Slip against a low-line attack.

Generally called a “slip” in English, this is a staple of European swordsmanship[19] and simply uses geometry to defend by distance – since our arms attach at the shoulders, not the hips, which means that the swordsman is able to overreach the attacker with a cut to the head, by counterattacking while pulling back his leg.[20] While the play is straightforward, what is it doing in a section on crossing at the mezza spada?

The key is understanding its position in the section. Thus far, the master has shown us a direct counterattack against a fendente (First Master of Zogho Largo), and then a series of plays that determine what happens when two attacks to the high-line bind (plays one through six of the Second Master). The next logical step is to show what happens if the attack is made to a low target instead. Sure enough, we only have one further technique versus a cut, a kick to the testicles (play 8). This is the logical counterpart to the leg cut, as it demonstrates how to use a low line in defense to counter an attack to the high line. Having addressed cuts, the master is ready to move on to thrusts (plays 9 – 14)before moving on to using a prese at wide-distance (plays 15 and 16) and finally a feint to break distance and its counter (plays 17 and 18). We will look these plays, and what they tell us of moving from Zogho Largo to Zogho Stretto, a little later.

Note not only what techniques in the Largo section focus upon — cuts and thrusts with the last third of the blade — but what they do not — hilt strikes, throws or body to body contact. They do contain two kicks and an elbow-push. This reflects an issue of measure, rather than line, because the two stomp kicks are long-range unarmed techniques — almost equivalent in reach to a sword cut from the bind.

Finally, note that the Zogho Largo plays principally occur on the inside line, with the Scholar only stepping to the outside in five instances. As we shall soon see, by understanding when and why four of these five plays move to the outside, we can get a clear understanding of the relationship between wide and close play in the dei Liberi School.

ZOGHO STRETTO

Figure 3: The Mezza Crossing of Zogho Stretto
Figure 5: The Mezza Crossing of Zogho Stretto

The second division of combat is Zogho Stretto, which is best defined by Fiore dei Liberi himself at the end of the Zogho Largo section:

We will now start the close play of the sword in two hands, and look at how to break every manner of cut and thrust.We will see every kind of parry, strike, bind, dislocation, grapple, disarm and throw. We will also see the remedies and the counters to each action needed to attack and defend. [Morgan Ms; compare to the less complete Getty 27v, caption four]

The master demonstrates twenty-five plays of Zogho Stretto, all of which come from a crossing with the right foot forward. (Fig 5) While this crossing seems more “natural”, as it often arises from two simultaneous blows, it does not close the Scholar’s inside line as strongly, making him susceptible to follow-on attacks in the same line. It also brings his sword arm closer to his opponent’s grappling hand. Dei Liberi has already introduced this concept earlier in his manuscript, while teaching how to use the sword one-handed”

I’ve found you completely open and hit you in the head with no trouble. And if I pass forward with my rear foot, I can perform some zoghi strette against you–like binds, breaks and abrazare.[Getty 20v]

Remember, the principle importance of the half-sword is tactical.  Note that in the above passage, the master himself is specific as to what defines plays of zoghi stretti: at the half-sword, if he passes forward he will perform “binds, disarms and grapples”. This is reiterated in the final play of Getty Ms. 28v:

When I am crossed, I enter into close play.

The other known master of the Armizare tradition, Filippo Vadi, introduces this idea in chapter three of his treatise, where, after discussing how to “hammer him with blows”, the master demonstrates that the half-sword is the range in which we move from wide to close play:

When he comes to the half sword / close towards him, as reason requires/ leave the wide distance and assail him.

Finally, if he wishes to pass in with the rear foot the swordsman must pass to the opponent’s  outside, thereby winding to his (the opponent’s) strong side, and collapsing measure. While the Scholar can now grapple, he is also vulnerable to being counter-grappled, as we are warned at the beginning of the section:

We have crossed our swords: this is the crossing from which we can make all the plays that follow. Both of us could perform each of them. These plays will follow one another, as I have explained above. [Getty 28r]

Thus, as we’ve seen previously with the definition of Krieg and Close Fight, the half-sword is our moment of transition – we can make any action at this position and should we press in, we make close (note I am not calling it “narrow”!) plays that involve grappling man or weapon.

COMPARING TECHNIQUES OF WIDE AND CLOSE PLAY

It is a gross simplification to say that Zogho Largo involves cuts and thrusts, whereas Zogho Stretto involves grips or disarms, as these are found in both types of play. The difference is where and how these plays occur. This is best explained by comparing a few specific examples of techniques that appear in both types of play.

GRABBING THE OPPONENT’S SWORD

Figure 4: Grabbing the sword in Zogho Largo. From the cross at mezza spada, the Scholar grips the sword’s punta and cuts the Player in the head. Should the Player try to cover by turning to left posta di finestra, the Scholar may also execute a shin stomp as a distraction.
Figure 6: Grabbing the sword in Zogho Largo. From the cross at mezza spada, the Scholar grips the sword’s punta and cuts the Player in the head. Should the Player try to cover by turning to left posta di finestra, the Scholar may also execute a shin stomp as a distraction.

One of the first plays of the second Master of Zogho Largo involves grabbing the opponent’s sword when the weapons bind. As the blades cross, the pressure is more or less even in the bind, and the opponent’s point threatens the Scholar; he cannot safely leave the bind without being hit. Therefore, the Scholar releases his sword’s hilt with his left hand and grasps the Player’s blade by the punta. He then immediately uncrosses and makes a one-handed cut to the Player’s face. (See Figure 6.) By keeping the right leg refused, the Scholar’s sword hand remains completely out of reach of the Player, and he can freely uncross and cut the Player in the head or the left hand, should he attempt a grapple. Conversely, in the corresponding play of Zogho Stretto the Scholar comes to the half-sword with his right foot forward.

Figure 5: Grabbing the sword in Zogho Stretto. From the cross at mezza spada, the Scholar passes in, gripping the Player’s wrist, trapping his weapon and threatening with a thrust.
Figure 7: Grabbing the sword in Zogho Stretto. From the cross at mezza spada, the Scholar passes in, gripping the Player’s wrist, trapping his weapon and threatening with a thrust.

He then passes in with his left foot, as he reaches between the opponent’s hands with his left hand, in the position of 12 o’clock (little finger up). He grasps the wrist of the Player’s sword arm and makes a short, counter-clockwise rotation of his hand, as he draws his sword back into posta di finestra. (See Figure 7).  Note that when the combatants cross with both of their right feet forward at the mezza spada, i.e.: the Master of Zogho Stretto, that the forward pass of the left foot will bring the Scholar much closer to the Player. Consequently, he must retract his sword in order to threaten him with a thrust, as he is too close to execute an extended blow.

ELBOW PUSH

Another recurring technique throughout dei Liberi’s treatise is the elbow push, which occurs both in the crossing of Zogho Largo and Stretto.[21] By comparing them, we can again see how the subtle difference of which leg is forward during the crossing at the half-sword affects the final measure of the play. In the Largo version of the elbow push, the Scholar and Player again come to the bind. The Scholar immediately releases his hilt with his left hand, and does an elbow push to the Player’s sword arm, spinning him away and to his own left. From here, he pursues with a pass forward of the rear (right) foot, and cuts him across the back of the head. (See Figure 8.)

Figure 6:  An elbow push from the crossing of Zogho Largo drives the Player away from the Scholar, requiring him to pass in and make a fully-extended cut.
Figure 8:  An elbow push from the crossing of Zogho Largo drives the Player away from the Scholar, requiring him to pass in and make a fully-extended cut.
Figure 7: An elbow push from the crossing of Zogho Stretto. Although the Player is still turned about, he is in virtual, body-to-body contact with the Scholar.
Figure 9: An elbow push from the crossing of Zogho Stretto. Although the Player is still turned about, he is in virtual, body-to-body contact with the Scholar.

Conversely, in the Stretto version, the Scholar and Player come to the cross, with their right feet forward. As the Scholar parries, he passes forward with his rear (left foot) and makes the elbow push, spinning the Player away and to his own left. From here, the Scholar throws his sword about the Player’s neck and cuts his throat. (See Figure 9.) Despite both being the same basic technique, performed from the crossing at the mezza spada, the relative positions of the body in the cross changes the nature and measure of the play. Whereas the first play required him to pursue his opponent to even reach him with a fully extended cut, the second play immediately puts the combatants in body-to-body contact.

TRANSITIONING FROM WIDE TO CLOSE PLAY

Although grapples in wide play focus on long-distance actions such as grabbing the sword or kicking the knee or groin with a straight leg, there are two grappling techniques that do appear in this section, where they occur as follow-on techniques. In both, the technique that precedes them has the Scholar pass forward with his right foot, putting him in the position of the master of Zogho Stretto!

The first of these techniques is called the scambiar di punta (the exchange of thrusts). The Scholar assumes tutta porta di ferro, posta di finestra or posta di donna. The opponent enters into measure with a thrust to the Scholar’s face. The Scholar strikes with the true-edge of his sword as he steps forward left with his left foot, stepping into the line of the attack, and parries the blow with his arms well-extended from his body and his hands low, at about the height of his groin. Passing forward with the right foot, he thrusts the Player in the throat. However, should the thrust miss the target, glance off of any armour, etc., the Scholar is now in a bind on the tutta of the sword, with his right foot forward. This is the position of the master of Zogho Stretto. Applying this master’s lesson, the Scholar immediately passes to the outside with his rear (left) foot and grips the Player’s hilt between his hands. Locking down the opponent’s sword, he thrusts under his arm to his face. (Fig. 10)

Figure 8: The Scambiar di Punta and the prese of Zogho Stretto made as an immediate follow-on technique, should the exchange of thrusts fail.
Figure 10: The Scambiar di Punta and the prese of Zogho Stretto made as an immediate follow-on technique, should the exchange of thrusts fail.

The second play that leads to a transition from wide to close play is another thrust counter, the rompere di punta (breaking the thrust). The Scholar begins in tutta porta di ferro, posta di finestra, or posta di donna. As the opponent passes in with a thrust to his chest or face, the Scholar makes a small traverse with his left foot to his forward left while striking up with his sword into the attack. Making a mezza volta (a passing step that rotates the Scholar’s body to face the other side of the centerline) with his right foot, he presses down with his sword, driving the opponent’s weapon into the ground. He then immediately cuts up with his false edge to the opponent’s throat. He finishes with a descending backhand to the opponent’s head as he passes back with his right foot, and then withdraws from measure.

However, if the opponent is prepared when his sword is driven into the ground, he can parry the false-edge cut by pulling his hands up into a left posta di finestra. As before, the Scholar now finds himself in an incrossada with his right foot forward.

As the opponent parries the false edge blow, the Scholar releases his left hand from his hilt and hooks it over his opponent’s wrist. Passing to the outside with his left foot, he grabs his blade in his left hand and presses it forward into the enemy’s neck, as he wrenches back with the hilt. The pressure of this bind is then used to bear him to the ground. (Fig 11)

Figure 9: The Rompere di Punta and a follow on technique of Zogho Stretto, should the opponent defend against the rompere di punta.
Figure 11: The Rompere di Punta and a follow on technique of Zogho Stretto, should the opponent defend against the rompere di punta.

Throughout the Getty Manuscript, dei Liberi uses a bridging technique that leads from the end of one section into the next. For example, abrazare ends with the use of a small stick in a way that relates to dagger combat, while the dagger section ends with plays of the dagger vs. the sword, leading into the instruction on swordsmanship.

In the same way, the final play in the section of Zogho Largo is the punta corta (shortened point) and its counter. This time the Scholar is the attacker, and he closes measure with a pass of the right foot as he makes a horizontal blow to the left side of his opponent’s head. The opponent passes in with his right foot and attempts to parry. But as he does so the Scholar’s blow falls short, just touching his blade. The Scholar instantly cuts around to the other side and passes in with his left foot. He grasps his blade in his left hand and thrusts the opponent in the face.[22]

To counter this technique, the opponent waits until the Scholar begins to pass to the outside. He simply turns his hand to his right side, letting the Scholar run onto his point. Passing in with his left foot, the opponent grabs his own sword by the blade and completes the thrust. Considering the use of bridging techniques and repetition used throughout the manuscript, it is likely no coincidence that the punta corta is the link between wide and close play, nor that the follow-on to the exchange of thrusts is also the first play that dei Liberi teaches in his section on Zogho Stretto!

Figure 10: The Transition from Wide to Narrow Play:  The Punta Corta and its Contrario. As the attacker closes measure from the crossing of Zogho Stretto with the punta corta, the defender responds by using a play of Zogho Stretto himself.
Figure 12: The Transition from Wide to Narrow Play:  The Punta Corta and its Contrario. As the attacker closes measure from the crossing of Zogho Stretto with the punta corta, the defender responds by using a play of Zogho Stretto himself.

CONCLUSION: WALK DANGEROUSLY

In analyzing the organization of the plays we find that our original definition still holds:

Zogho Largo (wide play) only appears when discussing long weapons, such as the sword, spear or axe. At this measure, combatants may use the weapon’s edge and point, bind or grab the weapon’s head and, depending on the weapon’s length, make long-range unarmed attacks, such as kicks. Grabs will not reach any deeper than the opponent’s elbow; body-to-body contact is not possible.

Zogho Stretto (close or narrow play) is the measure at which dei Liberi describes all abrazare (grappling) and dagger combat occurring. When fighting with longer weapons, it is the range at which one uses those same techniques: hilt/shaft strikes, grabs of the opponent’s sword arm, body, or head and includes body-to-body contact such as throws.

Further, the crossing of mezza spada assumes prominence, for it is both the divider and unifier of the two types of play. Based on the three crossings of the blade and how he orders them, Fiore dei Liberi shows us that at the crossing of the punta, the swordsman can only play in Largo; while at the tutta he can only play in Stretto. But at the mezza spada, the swordsman can use both types of play.

When these plays are taken as a complete set, and we analyze how to flow from one to the next, we find a simple pattern: Left – Right-Left. Defend by crossing with the left foot forward (Zogho Largo) and win with either a counterattack (First Remedy Master) or a parrata-risposta (Second Remedy Master). If this technique fails and you are still in the bind, your right foot is forward. Since this is the crossing of Zogho Stretto, use a play of Zogho Stretto, by passing to the outside with your left foot.  From the moment you draw your sword and enter into a measure, you are simply walking forward until the opponent is dead![23]

Although line appears to have a role in these techniques, with Largo techniques favoring the inside line, and Stretto techniques favoring the outside line, it is actually a secondary concern to the issue of measure.  Instead, as with the German, Bolognese and English sources of the 15th and 16th centuries, it is the crossing at the half-sword (mezza spada) that assumes prominence in Armizare, for it is both the divider and unifier of the two types of play, wherein all of the technical diversity of medieval swordsmanship – cuts, thrusts, grips, kicks, disarms, pommel strikes and throws –  becomes possible. By using its particular leg position in coming to the cross, the dei Liberi School sought to maintain maximum distance in wide play, and allow the strongest, fastest closing of distance in the narrow.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Over the last decade I’ve had the chance to discuss, debate and analyze this topic with a number of excellent colleagues, all of whom, whether we agreed then (or now!) or not, have made my analysis a) necessary, b) possible and c) forced me to delve much more deeply into the structure and organization of Fiore dei Liberi’s sword plays to ferret out what he was trying to convey and how he was doing it. This list includes Devon Boorman, Bob Charrette, Bob Charron, Matt Easton, Matt Galas, Ilkka Haritkainen, Sean Hayes, Steve Hick, Mark Lancaster, Tom Leoni, Rob Lovett, Steve Reich, Jason Smith, Christian Tobler, Guy Windsor, Gianluca Zanini and Nicholas Zeman. My thanks to them all.

BILIOGRAPHY

PRIMARY SOURCES

Anonymous: MSS Ravenna M-345 & 346; reprinted by Rubboli, Marco; Cesari, Luca in  L’Arte della Spada: Trattato di scherma dell’inizio del XVI secolo. Rome: Il Cerchio Iniziative Editoriali, 2005.

Dei Liberi, Fiore: Fior di Battaglia; Italy, 1410; J. Paul Getty Museum (Ms. Ludwig XV 13) 83.MR.183

____________: Fior di Battaglia; Italy, c.1400; Pierpoint Morgan Library (MS M.383)

____________: Flos Duellatorum; Italy, 1410; reprinted by Novati, Francesco,  Flos Duellatorum, Il Fior di Battaglia di Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco;Bergamo: Instituto Italiano d’Arte Grafiche, 1902.

Manciolino, Antonio: Opera Nova; 1531, translated by Tom Leoni in The Complete Renaissance Swordsman; Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.

Marozzo, Achille: Opera Nova; Venice, 1536.

Meyer, Joachim: Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens; Strasbourg, 1570

Silver, George: Brief Instructions on My Paradoxes of Defense; London, c.1602,  unpublished until Cyril Mathey, The Works of George Silver; London, 1896

Vadi, Fillipo: De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi; c.1482 – 87; translated by Luca Porzio and Gregory Mele in Arte Gladiatoria: 15th Century Swordsmanship of the Italian Master Filippo Vadi; Chivalry Bookshelf, Union City, CA 2002.

SECONDARY SOURCES

Anglo, Sydney, The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.

Charrette, Robert N., Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.

Malipiero, Massimo, Il Fior di battaglia di Fiore dei Liberi da Cividale: Il Codice Ludwing XV 13 del J. Paul Getty Museum. Udine: Ribis, 2006.

Leoni, Tom, Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris’ Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.

Mele, Gregory, “Understanding Wide and Close Play in the Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi” in Mele, Gregory (ed), In the Service of Mars, Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999 – 2009), Vol. I, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.

Tobler, Christian Henry, Secrets of Medieval German Swordsmanship, Chivalry Bookshelf, Union City, CA 2002.

Tobler, Christian Henry, In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.

Rubboli, Marco; Cesari, Luca, Flos Duellatorum. Manuale di Arte del Combattimento del XV secolo. Rome: Il Cerchio Iniziative Editoriali, 2002.

Zanutto, D. Luigi,  Fiore di Premariacco ed I Ludi e Le Feste Marziali e Civili in Friuli. Udine: D. Del Bianco, 1907.

Windsor, Guy, “Crossing Swords: an analysis of the crossings of the sword in Fior di Battaglia”, digitally self-published, 2009. Available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/104773013/Crossing-Swords (sourced 10-4-2014)

Windsor, Guy, Mastering the Art of Arms, Vol 2: The Longsword, digitally self-published, 2014.


[1] See, for example Francesco Novai,  Flos Duellatorum, Il Fior di Battaglia di Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco;Bergamo: Instituto Italiano d’Arte Grafiche, 1902; Jacopo Gelli, Scherma italiana, Milano, Hoepli, 1901 and L’ arte delle armi in Italia, Bergamo, Istituto italiano d’arti grafiche, 1906; Carlo Bascetta, Sport e giuochi: Trattati e scritti dal XV al XVIII secolo (Classici italiani di scienze techniche e arti), Il Polifolio, 1978; and Giovanni Rapisardi, Fiore de’ Liberi Flos Duellatorum – in armis, sine armis equester et pedesta, Gladiatoria Press, 1998. 

[2] A conceit of the modern Western Martial Arts community is the belief that using an antique or dialectical/regional spelling of a word makes it more “pure” to the art. Thus, we students of Italian fencing find ourselves cheerfully referring to dei Liberi’s Zogho Largo and Zogho Stretto, and the  Bolognese Gioco Largo and Stretto, blissfully ignoring that the former’s spelling is nothing more than consonantal drift wherein “g+i” or “c+i” becomes a “z”. This gioco becomes zogho,  embracciare becomes abrazare and cengiaro becomes zengiaro. On the other hand, since our Italian colleagues also seem content to maintain these various ligatures and “Lomardisms” when referring to dei Liberi’s art, who am I to break with tradition?

[3] See Anonymous Bolognese, p. 17V.

[4] If, after a crossing, you do not wish to enter the gioco stretto, you may simply retreat one step and continue playing in the gioco largo.

[5] The emphasis on parity is as crucial component of defining the stretto in Bolognese fencing as is its beginning at the half-sword, as we are constantly reminded throughout the writings of the Anonymous Bolognese, Manciolino and Giovanni Dall’Aggochie.

[6]  Achille Marozzo speaks to this directly in chapter 162 of his Opera Nova. “Let’s say there are two fencers, one of whom has learned both the wide and narrow play, while the other only knows the wide. The latter will be retreating his way through the salle, with the fencer who knows both plays chasing him around. This is why you should tell your students to learn both types of play, as long as they do not mind the payment. For the wide play with the two-handed sword (used against a similar weapon as well as against polearms) I charge seven Bolognese pounds; for the narrow play (also used against a similar weapon as well as against polearms) I charge another seven, making it fourteen Bolognese pounds total.” Translation by Tom Leoni.

[7] There are notably fewer of these actions in Bolognese fencing than there are in Armizare, but this likely reflects the nature of sword and buckler or sword and dagger fencing; those masters who include the two-handed sword, such as Marozzo and the Anonymous Bolognese, have a variety of grapples, hilt strikes and throws, many of which are directly analogous to those taught by Fiore dei Liberi.

[8] An excellent, short summation and musings as to how the Bolognese notions of gioco stretto does or does not relate to Armizare can be found at Ilkka Hartikainen’s blog: http://marozzo.com/tag/gioco-stretto/

[9] Meyer, Iv. Translation by Jorg Bellinghausen.

[10] Ibid., IIv.

[11] George Silver, Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defense, Cap. 4.13

In modernized transcription (by Steve Hick):

If 2 fight & both lie upon the true guardant fight & that one of them will need seek to win the half sword by pressing in, that may you safely do, for upon that fight the half sword may safely be won, but he that first comes in must first go out, & that presently, otherwise his guard will be too wide above to defend his head, or if fit for that defence, then will it be too wide underneath to defend that thrust from his body which things the patient agent may do, & fly out safe, & that agent cannot avoid it, because the moving of his feet makes his ward unequal to defend both parts in due time, but the one or the other will be deceived & in danger, for he being agent upon his first entrance his time (by reason of the number of his feet) will be too long, so that the patient agent may first enter into his action, & the agent must be of force an after doer, & therefore cannot avoid this offense aforesaid.

[12] Ibid., Cap.3.3 – 4.

In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:

3. Close fight is when you cross at the half sword either above at the forehand ward that is with the point high, & hand & hilt low, or at the true or bastard guardant ward with both your points down.In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:

4. Close is all manner of fights wherein you have made a true cross at the half sword with your space very narrow & not crossed, is also close fight.

[13] Ibid., Cap.4.13

In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:

but he that first comes in must first go out, & that presently, otherwise his guard will be too wide above to defend his head, or if fit for that defence, then will it be too wide underneath to defend that thrust from his body which things the patient agent may do, & fly out safe, 

[14] Silver, Cap. 4. 24

In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:

If you are both so crossed at the bastard guardant ward, & if he then presses in, then take the grip of him as is shown in the chapter of the grip. Or with your left hand or arm, strike his sword blade strongly & suddenly toward your left side by which means you are uncrossed, & he is discovered, then may you thrust him in the body with your sword & fly out instantly, which thing he cannot avoid, neither can he offend you.Or being so crossed, you may suddenly uncross & strike him upon the head & fly out instantly which thing you may safely do & go out free.

[15] Compare these grips with dei Liberi’s plays of zogho largo — such as the hilt grab at 26v (Getty Ms) and the elbow push on 27r (Getty Ms); the latter of which we will look at later.

[16] Ibid.. Cap 4. 23

In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:

23. If he comes to the close fight with you & that you are both crossed aloft at the half sword with both your points upward, then if he comes in withal in his crossing bear strongly your hand & hilt over his wrist, close by his hilt, putting in over at the backside of his hand & hilt pressing down his hand & hilt strongly, in your entering in, & so thrust your hilt in his face, or strike him upon the head with your sword, & strike up his heels, & fly out.

[17] Filippo Vadi de Pisa, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Chapter 11. Translation mine.

[18] Antonio Manciolino, Opera Nova (1531), Book I, Chapter I. Translation by Tom Leoni in The Complete Renaissance Swordsman, Freelance Academy Press (2010), p.77.

[19] See, for example, the German technique Überlaufen in Ringeck (1460s), 39v and von Danzig (1452), 30r;Silver Cap Cap.4.22 ; the Bolognese technique levare di piedi (for example, Manciolino, Book 1, Cap. 6, 10 and 12); Nicoletto Giganti (1606), plate 14, etc, through to the 19th century.

[20] [20] My colleagues Guy Windsor and Bob Charrette argue for a more literal interpretation, that this blow must come after a crossing is made. While we often accord, in this case I cannot agree for two reasons. The first is the commonality of the technique, and the second iz expressed in fencing theory. From a bind at the half-sword, a cut to the leg is an action in the time of the hand. SO is a cut to the head. I can just hit him without slipping the leg. However, Fiore is express on the slip. While the defender can easily strike his opponent in the head in the same tempo, trying to slip the leg is an action in time of the hand, body and foot. If the reader is familiar with the notions of true and false times the issue here is that it takes longer on a stop watch to move three parts of your body the length of a passing step then it does one. Relative to the speed of moving a meter to a meter and a half long sword, that is too long. Structurally, I understand why they hold their view, and thus have tried to explain why I believe the plays are ordered as they are and thus a bind is not implied in the action.

[21] In this case, the stretto play is found in the section on the sword in one hand.

[22] This play is another recurring technique, particularly in the Italian tradition, appearing in Marozzo’s spadone (Third Assalto), and sword and buckler (Second Assalto) with the sword and gauntlet (Anonymous Bolognese, ) and even the rapier (see Salvatore Fabris, plate)! Within the German tradition, it usually appears in the teachings on the Vier Versetzen (Ringeck, 36v). Although each master clearly has his preferred variation — for example, the rapier relies on two thrusts, not a cut — the principle remains the same: a feinted attack on the inside line to collapse measure and close on the outside line.

[23] If this seems simplistic, consider that this was considered by the rapier Grandmaster Salvator Fabris to be the absolute highest expression of the art of fencing, to which he dedicated the entire second half of his monumental  Lo Schermo, overo Scienza d’Arme (“On Fencing, or the Science of Arms”). See Tommas Leoni, Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris’ Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.