Tag Archives: longsword

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.]


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!


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?


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.

Western Martial Arts Workshop 2013 – After Action Review


Mark your calendars for September 2014!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild and the DeKoven Foundation – the same team that have brought you WMAW for over a decade – are please to present an event for students in the Noble Art and Science of Defense: The DeKoven School of Arms. After years of attendees decrying a two-year wait between WMAW’s, in 2009 we hosted The 600: Prepare for Fiore – a celebration of the 600th anniversary of the Flower of Battle. This was followed by last year’s Armizare Academy.

In 2014, we turn to the Mediterranean Renaissance and the art of the duel! This full, three day event will feature:

  • A roster of leading instructors and experts in Renaissance Swordplay, including Devon Boorman, Puck Curtis, Tom Leoni, John O’Meara and Tim Rivera
  • Introductory and in-depth classes in early 16th century swordplay, including Iberian “Esgrima Comun” and Bolognese swordsmanship;
  • Expert instruction in the jewel in the crown of Renaissance Italian swordplay: the elegant rapier;
  • A chance for extensive training in the mysteries of LaVerdadera Destreza;
  • Lectures and demonstrations;
  • A Contest of Arms with sword, rapier and their trusted companions, the buckler and dagger.

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 entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.

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 spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!


Dates: September 19 – 21, 2014


The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

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


On campus; all rooms have two single beds. 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.


$300.00 inclusive before March 1st; $375 thereafter. (Almost a 25% savings for early registration!) No cancellation refunds after July 1st, 2014

Registration Contact Info:


The Dulelists at Dawn. A few were surprised to find out that we really meant dawn....
The Dulelists at Dawn. A few were surprised to find out that we really meant dawn….

Whew! As is a decade-old tradition, eight days after it began, Sean Hayes was the last to board the plane, officially turning out the lights and locking the door on the Western Martial Arts Workshop.

WMAW 2013 was our most packed event ever, not just in terms of classes, but with an armoured Deed of Arms (actually, a Deed within a Deed – more on that later), an on-going Challenge Tournament, an early-morning Duel at Dawn and more lectures than we have ever had before. Based on early feedback, I think it all worked, or mostly worked, but the downside was that many of the special events required special planning meetings on site, so as part of the event staff, I saw less of the actual classes than I normally do.



Roger Norling teaching Meyer's longsword. (c) Ed Toton
Roger Norling teaching Meyer’s longsword. (c) Ed Toton

We try to change out about 1/5 of the instructor roster each WMAW, bringing in new folks from both the US and abroad. This year our new faces included Tim Rivera (Esgrima Comun, USA), Roger Norling (All-Meyer-All-the-Time, Sweden), Mishael Lopes Cordoza (German longsword, Holland) and Roberto Laura (Traditional Italian Stick and Knife, Germany).

Despite by best efforts, it proved impossible for me to get to Tim’s Spada e Rodella (sword and round shield) class, although it received rave reviews from my students, as did Lopes’ Dutch dagger fighting class, which one my students dubbed: just like Fiore, only meaner and more vindictive. Fortunately, I *was* able to take most of Lopes’ longsword cutting patterns class and to audit Roger’s short staff class.  Neither disappointed. “Techno-Viking” moniker aside, Lopes is an articulate instructor with fantastic body-mechanics who was able to relate why the patterns he was teaching were not just mechanically efficient, but tactically preferable in terms of tempo and line. It was a great class, even if I got pulled out to go deal with some administrative issues about 2/3 of the way through.

Roger Norling and I share a love of polearms, so when I invited him to come, I of course insisted he teach a class on Meyer’s staff. This three hour workshop was a real highlight, not just because I think Meyer has left us a brilliant, elegant and powerful system of staff-fighting, but because Roger’s pedagogy was equally brilliant. Ably assisted by new friend, fellow Illinoisan and brother-at-arms Chris Vanslambrouk of the Meyer Freifechter, from the moment he began his warm-up, everything Roger taught was designed to initiate students in the body mechanics and broad motions of the art. The Gothenburg Historical Fencing Society is known for its physicality and conditioning, and Roger brought this to his teaching: the first hour of the class would have been a fantastic stand-alone class in relating warm-ups and conditioning to your martial arts practice. Fortunately, there was two more hours of solo and paired work and people got a great work out, exposure to an art most of them had never seen before and I suspect an eye-opener as to the power of the humble staff….

Speaking of sticks and staves, I have already talked at length about my teacher Roberto Laura’s dedication and mastery of the traditional staff and knife arts of Italy, but I was eager to share his knowledge with the larger HEMA community. For those who do not know Roberto Laura, after many years in traditional Asian arts, he has spent the last twelve years traveling back and forth from Germany to Italy to research, document and train in traditional Italian arts. At WMAW, he presented a class on the shepherd’s staff from the Scuola Fiorata of Sicily, and a 3 hr workshop on the dueling knife both the Fiorata and Calvieri d’Umilita schools. These were some of the first classes to fill up in registration, and I don’t think anyone was disappointed. I think they also learned what I mean when I say that Roberto demonstrates what “sprezzatura” looks like in action. I suspect these old folk arts may gain some new students here, thousands of miles from their home…

As a side note, I will add that my good friend Jorg Bellinghausen has told me to invite three people to WMAW over the years: Roland Warzecha, Christian Eckert and Roberto Laura, and his recommendations have always become event favorites. Moral of the story – listen to Jorg. Well, maybe not after hours, after a few beers and smokes, but otherwise…



CSG's John O'Meara teaching Italian rapier in the style of Salvatore Fabris
CSG’s John O’Meara teaching Italian rapier in the style of Salvatore Fabris

Speaking of Jorg, he also taught a brilliant class toward the end of the weekend (what the instructors named “the Graveyard Shift”) called “The Sword Comes from the Messer”, that demonstrated adaptations of messer play to longsword, rather than the other way around. This became was one of tidiest, most concise lessons I have seen, equally useful for experienced practitioners as well as a short immersion course for newcomers to the German tradition.

Dr. Les Moore has become synonymous at WMAW with American Catch Wrestling (the colonial inheritor of English Catch-as-Catch Can), and he did not disappoint this year. But he also told me early on that he wanted to focus on beautifully illustrated, but slender self-defense work by Nicholas Petter. I confess I was a bit skeptical – not in Dr. Les, but in whether or not there was enough there for the class he was proposing, but since I hadn’t looked at the text either seriously or in over a decade, I said OK. Apparently, that was a good move! I could. I could tell you my thoughts on the class, but I’ll instead quote Jesscia Finley, herself no stranger to grappling: “I think I am in love with Dr. Les. Holy Crap that was good!” There you have it.

Jessica herself taught both a class on how to “spar” with historical wrestling and a 3-hour workshop on the work of Ott and Von Auserwald which also included a significant component on how to actually enter into wrestling: an area that many HEMA folks without prior knowledge of grappling, judo, etc are usually fairly weak. I only got to audit about half of the class, but I loved what I saw and my selfish solution will be to have her here for a private workshop.

Roland Warzecha has long been an advocate of slow-motion, free-form training, and this year he refrained from participating in coached fencing to instead teach an evening mini-class in his methods and principles. I cannot express how much the attendees loved this: I was cornered by almost every attendee and told “why can’t we have him do an entire 3-hr workshop on this?” OK, OK, I get it – I’ll talk to Roland… or at least, his alter-ego, The Dimicator.

"I'm not Tom Leoni, but I can still stick you in the head with a spear!" (c) Ed Toton
“I’m not Tom Leoni, but I can still stick you in the head with a spear!” (c) Ed Toton

Unfortunately, my dear friend Tom Leoni took ill and had to drop out of the event, and combined with Devon Boorman’s induction into the Dolorous Order of the Dislocated Digit (see below), I suddenly found myself picking up an extra 4.5 hours of teaching duty. I certainly didn’t mind – it meant an excuse to play with polearms! – but it did sadly happen to coincide with exactly the remaining class slots I had left myself the freedom to attend. Damn! It also means that I was suddenly teaching first period Sunday morning – double damn! But I went to bed early(ish) like a good boy, and I hope that everyone enjoyed the workshop, which built off a pair of classes on Italian spear, and sword vs spear that I had co-taught with Devon One-Arm the day before. (How does a one-armed man teach spear? Through a body-double, of course, in this case Roland Cooper.)

I know there were other classes, and I know a lot of them were great: “Wow, Sons of Hauptgames was even better than the first! That was a really great rapier mechanics class! The Sneaky Stuff class really was…sneaky.” But I didn’t get to see them. (How *does* one get to be a guest at his own event?) I *did*get to see some of the lectures, from Elizabethan Sea Dogs to Spada da Popolo (the history of the Italian knife arts) and an intriguing lecture by Ben Roberts on the English longsword tradition. Mark Lancaster began the event with a lecture on A Hidden Tradition – a rumination of the “common art” of the Middle Ages which the various masters were improving upon or countering; essentially “what did most combatants know”? It was well-received and Mark is still working on the topic, so hopefully I’ll see version 2.0 someday.



That's gotta hurt! A near-miss by Roland Cooper ends in his beheading by Mishael Lopes Cordoza during the longsword finals.
That’s gotta hurt! A near-miss by Roland Cooper ends in his beheading by Mishael Lopes Cordoza during the longsword finals.

There has long been a great deal of discussion, interest and debate in the virtues and methods of competition in refining and testing martial arts skill, and a strong divide between traditional martial arts and combat sports. In recent years, this same interest, debate and specialization has become a part of  the Historical European Martial Arts community, with various sub-communities ascribing different levels of importance, emphasis and virtue to formalized competition.

My own views on the subject are similar to those eloquently expressed by new WMAW instructor Roger Norling in “The Wreath or the Cash” at his HROARR website: http://www.hroarr.com/the-wreath-or-the-cash-on-tournament-fighting/  and the WMAW Challenge Tournament, derived from a proposal by Maryland KdF member Ben Michels, was an attempt to put some of these ideas in practice. The tournament has  been developed with the following precepts in mind:

  1. Competition should be a good test of physical skill as well as character; If combatants don’t have a chance to fail both physically and personally in a match, you do not have a martial arts competition, you have a sports competition.
  2. Judged combat can lead to awarding technically better fencing, but it also reduces the character test on combatants, as they are absolved from calling hits and learn to “sell” points. Fencing is the Art of Defense, and we see far too many double-hits in sparring;
  3. The current emphasis on the After Blow in all fights, rather than the original “king of the hill format” has actually encouraged double-hits as people game the After Blow to negate an attack.
  4. No one likes to be eliminated in “sudden death”, one-hit fits, but that is the reality of a lethal fight with sharp swords. As Fiore dei Liberi wrote: “in one missed parry lies death”.
  5. Most fencing tends to be like vs like weapons, whereas the various masters all assert that their art works in all manners of combat, against all weapons.
  6. No set of rules can accurately reflect real combat, only reward realistic tactics and deemphasize unrealistic ones.

With these rules in mind, Ben and I conceived the WMAW Challenge Tournament.  Here is how it worked.

The tournament was fought in two rounds – an open Challenge and invitational Finals. The Challenge Round was open to all attendees with the requisite equipment, began during Thursday night free-fencing and ran all through Friday classes, concluding with Friday night free fencing. Fights were conducted privately and judged on the honor system, based on the stated Scoring Conventions (see below).

  • Overall Victor received 2 pts;
  • The person who scored the first blow received 1 pt;
  • If there were any double hits during the match, both parties lost 1 pt.
  • Therefore, in any match a combatant could score between 3  and -1 points.

These rules were not meant to be “realistic”, simply to prioritize drawing first blood and avoiding double-hits. No matter how many double hits, for the sake of simplicity, only 1 pt was lost.

Finally, Combatants could choose to fight in any of the following categories (and could participate in as many as they like): Longsword, Cut and Thrust Sword (inclusive of sword alone, sword and buckler, or sword and dagger), Thrusting Sword (Inclusive of rapier, rapier and dagger, rapier and cloak or smallsword). What defined which category you were fighting in is what you are armed with, not your opponent. Thus, if two combatants wish to meet in the field with longsword vs. rapier and dagger, they are welcome to do so – with one person receiving a score in the Longsword category and the other in the Thrusting Sword category.

After the Challenge Round ended, total scores for each combatant in each Weapon Category were totaled, and the top two combatants for each round moved to the finals, to be fought as an exhibition during Sunday’ s lunch period. The Finals were a formally judged match, based on the rules designed by Sean Hayes for VISS. You can find those rules at http://chivalricfighting.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/tournament-rules/

The finalists in each round were:

  • Longsword: Mishael Lopes Cordosa and Roland Cooper (victory to Lopes)
  • Cut & Thrust: Bill Grandy and Doug Bahnick  (victory to Bill)
  • Thrusting Sword: Kathleen Gormanshaw and Nat Ward (victory to Kathleen)

So Did it Work?
Good question! The answer is: parts did and parts didn’t.

The scoring conventions and open format of the Challenge round worked very well, not least of which because combatants were sometimes annoyed or frustrated by the results. “What do you mean I got zero points? I WON!” Yes, but you got hit first and double-hit. Look at it this way, your opponent got nothing, too! What was interesting was that in some cases, he who fought most and won most clearly dominated – Lopes had more points in longsword than the second and third place finish combined – at other times the two finalists had not fought that many bouts, but had managed to win, score first blood and avoid double-hits, as happened in the Cut & Thrust round.

The honor system worked just fine, but in part because we put in a caveat: if you couldn’t agree on the results of the bout you went to the recorder and were forced to play Rock, Paper, Scissors. The victor in the Rock, Paper, Scissors was to be announced at Saturday’s dinner. Act like a child, get treated like one. The RPS Solution was never invoked.

Now, a few people gamed round one – both parties scored poorly and decided not to report their results – and that’s probably no better or worse than any other problem in tournaments, from poor or biased judging to gaming the After Blow. In this case it really didn’t matter, because there was no prize to be won – as we made clear at the start, this was just an experiment to try various scoring and judging conventions with a heterogeneous audience.

The finals, IMO, and even within my own school it seems I was a minority, were a mixed bag. I appreciate what both the Longpoint rules and Sean Hayes’ modifications to them seek to achieve, and I think they work well to train fighters, but within a tournament I think they take too long to score, make the action too staccato and make it hard for the audience to understand what they are seeing. I think that the idea of the system, including priority, which worked well, is good and can be refined and perhaps slimmed down for actual competition. In any event, you can see the system at work here, in the well-fought messer finals:

The major flaw with the tournament was that participation was lighter than anticipated and as I asked people why they weren’t trying their luck, I heard a common refrain, even from those who like to compete: it was hard to move back and forth from a competitive mindset to a free-play mindset, from focusing on trying new things or being highly-technical to relying on “what worked”. I hadn’t really considered that, but in retrospect it makes good sense. I *was* happy to see that a number of folks did try mixed weapons, and that added some diversity and variety to the fighting.

At its core, WMAW is a teaching, research and networking event, not a tournament event, of which there are a growing number. I don’t know that we’ll do much with refining the model at WMAW itself, but those lessons will plug in to what we do with our off-year events. I will say that if I were to carry the experiment further forward, I would make phase one of the tournament focused on a single, three-hour evening block, probably advance the top four to the second phase, and perhaps have the two highest-scoring finalists of whatever weapon bout for the overall victory. But it was fun to try and it did reinforce my feeling that if your goal is to use competition as an adjunct to training, rather as a focus for a particular event, the rules can be quite minimalistic, and a lot is gained by not placing all responsibility in the hands of the judges. I look forward to chatting more with Ben, Jake and Sean about refinements in the days to come.



Our numbers grow...the 2013 combatants in the Armoured Deed of Arms
Our numbers grow…the 2013 combatants in the Armoured Deed of Arms

In the last few years a reconstruction of an Armoured Deed of Arms has become one part martial exercise, one part extended exhibition match. It is not meant to be a “reenactment” (although I certainly caught a few snickers about that), but rather an homage: if you are going to go the trouble of wearing $3 – 10K of armour and reconstruct armoured combat the best way to pressure test that is the same way as the people who did so originally. My model for this has been the modern jousting movement, where the competitors are in historical kit, using a modernized set of historical rules (generally for safety), with a ground crew in historical kit, but with no pretensions by the competitors or announcers that it is an historical event, anymore than dressage, fox hunt or rodeo riders pretend it is the 19th century, despite wearing a traditional ‘costume’.

We must be doing something right, because from a meager handful of guys at the first Deed, there were nearly combatants this year, most in full, homogenous harness! Among the new faces were Christian Cameron, Marc Auger and Dr. Ken Mondschein.

Nicole Allen has long been the sole representative of the “armoured ladies who kick ass” contingent in these Deeds, but this year she was joined by Jessica Finley of the Old Dominion Fechtschule.  In fact, Jessica was chosen First Among Equals and invited to join the Companions of the Seven Swords. You can watch Jessica hand me my ass here:

Although I was disappointed with some of this year’s Free Fencing (including the handful of pick-up bouts I managed to get in myself), I think we saw some of our best armoured combat matches, with everything from dagger to poleaxe. Judging of a good kit was a bit uneven – I generally required a more solid blow than Devon did – but we’ll work that out, and I believe that all of the combatants felt “well-satisfied”.

The Deed also had a second Deed with in! Last year, Bob Charrette, a founding member of the Seven Swords and a participant in all of the Deed we have hosted, asked if there might be a time and place to allow him to do a feat of arms in honor of his 60th birthday: to fight in harness for one minute for each year of his life. How could we possibly say no to that?

So in between each bout, Bob met a challenger with their their choice of dagger, sword, axe, short spear and long spear. Bob fulfilled his Deed and could have stood a few challenges more (although I suspect he was content not to have to do so) – an inspiring model for all of us to emulate! At the end of the Deed, he awarded each person he fought with a token: a figurine of the Master of the Segno, carved by his own hand. In turn, and to his great embarrassment, the Companions of the Seven Swords awarded him with a token of our own: a tournament sword in the style of Rene d’Anjou, made by Companion Scott Wilson of Darkwood Armoury, and inscribed with both Fiore’s four virtues and a crowned 60. A fine end, to a fine deed!

The day could not have come to completion with the Dawn Stiers and her “squire team” who where indispensable in the running of the deed. Dawn is a master of organization who stepped in last year with my student Cooper Braun-Enos to whip the flow of the event into shape. This year, she and her crew made things move so smoothly that we finished half an hour early! A huge thanks to all of the team, especially Erin Fitzgerald, who was always on hand to help me with my armour, hand me water and make sure I knew where I was going and what I was doing.



Welcome to the Party! A rogues gallery, courtesy of Ed Toton.
Welcome to the Party! A rogues gallery, courtesy of Ed Toton.

Saturday night’s feast – an old-school pig roast – has become a tradition at WMAW. Every year we’ve had a different theme. One year was a costume party “celebrating 600 years of Western martial arts”, another year was medieval, and last year was Victorian, in keeping with the entertainment: a reconstruction of a 19th c Assault of Arms, such as might have been seen at the Bartitsu Club. This year was modern formal.  Every year, Dr. Bill Ernoehazy, as master of ceremonies, takes on the persona of the theme and weaves that into his presentation style. But what do you do with modern formal?

Why, you do a 1940s-style Night at the Fights, of course! There might not have been quite enough sweat or cigarette smoke, but we did have a bell! (Some remarked that it looked suspiciously like the dinner bell Dekoven rings. I can only say that while it did have a certain resemblance, all I know is that I told Spark that “we need a bell” and a) a bell appeared and b) the dinner bell was in place at breakfast the next morning. What happened in between is a mystery.) We also had what was, beyond a doubt, some of the best demo bouts we have ever hosted, of which the one that must take special note was the messer bout, wearing only mensur-style googles and gloves, fought by Roland Warzecha and Jake Norwood:

This was one of the cleanest and finest martial displays I have *ever* had the privilege to watch. It also revealed Roland and Jake’s alter-egos, as can also be seen from the photo at the bottom of this article…..

Standing in for both an injured Devon Boorman and John O’Meara, CSG’s Rob Rutherfoord met Bill Grandy in an Italian rapier bout that was, bar none, the most technically clean we’ve ever had, while also being quite athletic. I don’t think Rob needs to ever worry about being the “stand in” again!

Finally, the Demo Bouts have always featured swords, but this year we also had knives. Roberto Laura opened the demonstration with one of the elegant solo forms of the Italian knife schools, and there was a bout with American Bowie knives; a spirited display by Keith Jennings (CSG) and Thayne Alexander (RMSG). I think next time we need to chalk their blades….

All-in-all it was a great night of food, fencing and merriment, and a great capstone to the event.


Every event has its flaws. Although there were notable, and inspired exceptions (Jake Norwood and Keith Jennings, I am thinking of part two of your bout!), the freeplay quality was lower this year than at last WMAW. But the decided downside was an increased number of injuries, particularly to thumbs and fingers.  The two worst injuries were Sean Hayes’s little fingers, broken by a pollaxe during the armoured Deed of Arms, and Mishael Lopes Cordoza’s thumb, which we thought suffered a bad jam during the Challenge Tournament, but which in reality has a complex fracture (damn, damn and triple damn).

We’ve tried to look at the injuries that were recorded, what the combatants were fighting with and what, if anything could have been done to prevent the injury. Here’s a little after action review:

Sean’s finger was broken in a pollaxe bout with a new pollaxe  design. The weapon behaves really nicely – indeed, just like a pollaxe, which was the problem. The axe head was likely too narrow to distribute force, particularly against someone wearing finger gauntlets.

The solution is two-fold: 1) the weapons need to be redesigned and 2)combatants can consider wearing mitten gauntlets or additional finger bucklers when fighting  with the axe. Other than this, there isn’t much to be done – the weapon is a mass weapon and the hands will always be vulnerable; just as was discussed historically;

Devon Boorman shoulder was injured during a throw, also during the Deed of Arms, which rendered him out of combat for the weekend and a lefty for teaching purposes for the next two days. At first I thought he might have dislocated the shoulder, but it proved to be just deep tissue bruising.

There really isn’t one.  Grappling is inherently dangerous, and in harness the higher center-of gravity and lack of sensitivity often takes both people to the ground. In reviewing video, no one really did anything wrong, nor was the throw particularly dangerous – one combatant simply landed hard on the other. This injury probably falls into the realm of “things will happen in full-contact sports”.

Lopes’s thumb was broken at the middle joint during the first round of the Challenge Tournament. Of course, Lopes being Lopes, this in no way stopped him from fighting and winning the longsword finals, so I doubt most people realized how complete the fracture was until he got home and posted x-rays to Facebook.

During the particular bout where the injury happened, Lopes had complained about his opponent hacking needlessly hard. This may have been a matter of too much blow force (it is a sword, not a mace, people), and in a judged tournament the judges might have been there to step in, but in addition to this, I think this sort of injury is in turn a combination of training and culture issues and combatants being willing to say “Dude, quit hitting so damn hard.”

We had three other notable hand injuries that I know about: a thumb that had its nail pulled back, a severely jammed thumb, a dislocated finger and a broken thumb. In talking to the combatants about how they happened, when, what they were fighting with, etc, here is what we were able to determine:

  • All of the injuries happened in longsword bouting;
  • All of the injuries noted above happened to practitioners of German longsword;
  • None of the combatants were wearing plate gauntlets, but what they *were* wearing varied from the custom gloves at Sparringglove.com, the cheap Absolute Force knock-offs and lacrosse gloves.
  • There was no consistency in the swords used in the injuries, but they included an Atrim I-beam sword, a Regenyei  feder, and an Albion Meyer.

We discussed this a lot with the instructors who stayed afterwards at the event, and I don’t        really have one, in part because I don’t think the injuries were because of a singular issue, but         rather a “perfect storm” of a variety of issues.

  • Swords – I can’t say anything for certain, but I will note that each of our last three events someone has gotten a part of their hand mashed by the Atrim I-beam swords. I love Gus, but I really think he’s recreated a crowbar, not a sword, with these weapons, and I think the use of this weapon in inter-group fencing and competition needs to be evaluated.
  • Blow force – I will say that I saw people hitting harder and relying on far more safety gear than in previous years. This was particularly true of those who come from a tournament-focus. More gear, more force, and while higher level combatants were good at modulating their power, lower level fighters emulating them clearly were relying on the armour to get the job done. The end result was that I saw a lot of what was familiar from my SCA days – a reliance on safety gear over control, and a lot of *hitting* with swords, as opposed to cutting – with the same sorts of injuries.
  • Safety-Gear: the problem clearly went beyond safety gear, but I do think that in some cases that exacerbated the problem. As I said in my review when the Absolute Force gloves came out, they do not have the shaping, dexterity or strength of the Fechtschule Gdansk gloves they knocked off. I particularly noted that the thumbs were flimsy, particularly at the joint, and the way they fold over the glove, instead of to tucking in (as seen in historical mitten gauntlets) made thumb injuries likely. I was told by the manufacturer “oh, everyone loves them”.  Maybe so (although I think what they love is the price-point), but between WMAW and Armizare Academy I have now seen five significant thumb injuries to people wearing these gloves, and as blow force goes up, I suspect more will follow. If you have $120 hands, by all means wear $120 gloves, I guess.
  • Style: All of the thumb injuries happened to people who practice German arts. I don’t think that is a critique of the style, but I do think that since it uses slipping in and out of the thumb grip, it is worth investigating how people are using that grip under adrenaline pressure, and with different sorts of hand protection, to determine if they are over extending or hyper-flexing their thumbs, making them more susceptible to being hit.

Shameless Personal Editorial: When the debates over historical gear vs. non-historical gear went through the community, one complaint was that the gambeson, gauntlets and helmets that some of us favored were “too bulky and too heavy” for unarmoured combat.  Indeed, that was the rationale behind many of the nylon swords, such as the Rawlings line. That argument may or may not be true, but the overall amount of kit that I saw the modernists wearing – full shin, knee and instep guards,  full arm guards over an Axel Petterson jacket (a gambeson by any other name), reinforcing gear *under* the jacket, sometimes black, plastic reinforcing gear (shaped, I might add, like medieval armour) the arms of the jacket, compression pants with protective plates, and so forth, was astounding. It also actually weighs notably more (and in the case of the hand protection, clearly protects less) then what I was told was too heavy to simulate “unarmoured combat”. I think the virtue is it’s modern and black. In any case, I think too much armour + blunt swords comes to less fear of closing and more percussive use of the weapon, making it more like stick-fighting than swordfighting. YMMV.


This was our most ambitious WMAW and I think our most successful; not just because the event was sold-out, but because attendees had a vast choice of activities, there was plenty of friendly blade-crossing, and I think the overall spirit and nature of the event was the most upbeat, warm and positive I have seen. WMAW was designed as a way to showcase research, try new things and build bridges, and I hope that was achieved with some of this year’s new faces.

Of course the event only happens because of the tireless work of the WMAW event staff: Nicole Allen, John O’Meara, Jacques  Marcotte and Christina Bailey, and the hair-pulling efforts at ride coordination and equipment transportation by Davis Vader, whose job I would not do at gun-point.  Our staff’s efforts only get us to the day of the event; after that it is the legion of Blue Shirt volunteers and drivers who make us pull the event off. Thank you, each and every one. And thanks to all of the students who make this worth doing time and again.

You can find additional WMAW reviews from Jake Norwood on the HEMA Alliance forum and a variety of instructors and attendees at the WMAW Facebook page.

Here is a rare collector's post card from the early days of HEMA superhero geekdom, showing the Dimicator and Captain America. At the time, critics were still undecided if the Dimicator was to become a superhero or supervillain.
Here is a rare collector’s post card from the early days of HEMA superhero geekdom, showing the Dimicator and Captain America. At the time, critics were still holding out hope that the Dimicator would become a superhero.

CSG at C2E2

This past weekend the Guild was an invited performer at the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo or C2E2. During a one-hour demo we demonstrated longsword, dagger, armoured combat and sword and buckler, followed by Q&A and then a 45 minute lesson for interested attendees.

I don’t think we expecting the size of the crowd – several hundred people, or that we would be in one of McCormick Place’s main halls – a vast, cavernous space. It gave us plenty of room to demonstrate and teach, but the last minute failure to get a microphone made for an interesting challenge! The solution was probably best handled by adhering to the Guild’s motto, Ferrum non Verbum, and getting to the sword play, as seen in this film clip we call “Erin kills everyone”:

A clip of armoured combat featuring Jesse and Nicole, including Jesse’s tumbling in harness routine!


Or this clip of Jesse and Trey doing a little sword and buckler fencing:

Guess which one is the sword and buckler fan and which one just plays one at demos! (Our thanks to FireFighter214 for the video.)

All in all it was a fantastic experience and we are looking forward to next year!


Armizare Academy Updates!

The Chicago Swordplay Guild is pleased to host this invitational, three day event in honor of Maestro Fiore dei Liberi and his Art.

In 1410,  Fiore dei Liberi, an aging condottiero and master-at-arms to some of Italy’s most renowned warriors, presented a book to the bellicose Niccolò III d’Este, Marchese of Ferrara (1383-1441) containing the sum of four decades of knowledge won in the training hall, siege, battle and  five duels with rival masters. He named this work Il Fior di Battaglia, the Flower of Battle, composed so that the “art might not be forgotten”.

Six hundred years later, a small circle of martial artists gathered from around the world to prove him right! This event, affectionately called “The 600: Prepare for Fiore!”, was such a success with attendees, that we decided to make it a recurring workshop! Since “The 602” seemed to be missing some flair, the event has been renamed Armizare Academy. Each Academy session will have a central theme, but will also include a renowned instructor from a similar, outside tradition, to help put our art in context. This year’s outside focus will compare Arimzare to the German Kunst des Fechtens of the Liechtenauer tradition.

The schedule of events includes:

Classes taught by an international slate of instructors:

  • Devon Boorman, Academie Duello (Canada)
  • Bob Charrette, Forteza Historical Swordwork Guild(USA)
  • Sean Hayes, Northwest Academy of Arms (USA)
  • Gregory Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild (USA)
  • Jason Smith, Les Maitres des Armes (Canada)
  • Scott Wilson, Southern Academy of Swordsmanship (USA)

Guest Instructor: Christian Henry Tobler, Selohaar Fechtschule (USA)

The schedule and class descriptions are included in this PDF:

AA – Class Descriptions

Armizare Academy Schedule

In addition to formal classes there will be two feats of arms:

  • A Friday “Vespers Tournament” – an unarmoured tournament of sword, dagger and lance, open to all attendees.
  • A Saturday, Armoured Pas d’Armes, sponsored by the Chivalric Fighting Arts Association (http://www.chivalricfighting.org/mission.htm – an invitational tournament, celebrating the knightly art, to be fought with sword, lance, axe and dagger.

(Full details of the tournaments will be forwarded to attendees.)

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 entry, lodging and all nine, hot meals.

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 Armizare. Act now, because spaces will go fast. We look forward to crossing swords with you!



September 14 – 16, 2012


The DeKoven Center
600 21st Street
Racine, WI 53403

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


On campus; all rooms have two single beds. 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.


$300.00 inclusive before May 31st; $360 thereafter.

To Register:

  1. Download the class schedule and the following registration form:
    AA Reg form
  2. Fill out and email the completed contact form to:
  3. The Registrar will confirm your registration and send you a PayPal bill.
  4. Come and have a good time!

Remember, submit all of your registrations and registration questions to csgregistrar@comcast.net

Space is still available for this exciting retreat, dedicated to the fighting art of Fiore dei Liberi.

We have revised the schedule, which now includes a coached fencing class, a keynote address by Tom Leoni, translator of the Getty and Morgan Ms and a great deal more!

Check it out:


A Video Look into a Scholar’s Prize

This past weekend (April 22)  the Chicago Swordplay Guild held its first Prize at Forteza Fitness, Physical Culture and Martial Arts

Although this was the first Prize to be fought at Forteza, Playing the Prize has been part of rank advancement in the Chicago Swordplay Guild since 2001, and we proudly embrace the traditions of our ancestors.  Family and friends of the candidates, Guild members past and present, and guests from other martial arts schools, are all invited to attend this public exhibition of arms. Much like the original Prize, ours are a combination of formality and raucous celebration. Refreshments and music entertain the audience before the Prize begins and during breaks between challenges. Rather like watching a tournament, spectators are encouraged to cheer good blows, and to boo wild, uncontrolled blows.

A Brisk Longsword Match Between Erin Fitzgerald and Shannon Winslow

This cheerfully irreverent atmosphere offsets the formality of the Prize itself. The list (cordoned off combat ring) is decorated with heraldic banners representing the Guild and the virtues ascribed to the medieval warrior (if you’ve been paying attention to our website, you already know that these are strength – speed – knowledge and courage!).  The Prize begins with a formal opening ceremony, taken from their Renaissance precursor, and then each candidate is called forward one at a time, their challengers are announced, and combat begins.

The fighting is serious, the fighters are not: Trey Ptak challenges Rob Rutherfoord’s right to not only call himself a Scholar, but to bear the title of Mr Fancy Pants. (Don’t worry, the pants have since been burned.)

Armizare students fight their Prize with the longsword, while Renaissance Swordsmanship students fight with the single rapier. Challenges at the Scholar level are fought under a set of rules somewhat more “permissive” than those of the 16th century, in large part because of access to additional safety gear:

  • Each match is 3 minutes in length;
  • The entire body is a target;
  • Strikes may be made with the point, edge or pommel of the sword;
  • Disarms, grapples, leg sweeps and throws are permitted, but combat will stop once both parties are unarmed, or one is thrown to the ground.
  • Combatants acknowledge their own blows, and the Judge intervenes only to part combatants with his baton for safety reasons or because a throw or disarm has occurred.

As this is not a tournament, but an examination, each Challenger is given a specific task for their match with the Prizor, based on the observations of the instructors. For example, if the candidate has trouble initiating attacks, one Challenger might be told to hang back, forcing the Prizor to pursue and open with attacks. Conversely, a Prizor who starts strong but tends to “stop and look” might find their opponent continuously presses in with an unrelenting barrage of blows.The purpose is to push the Prizor physically and mentally, under the added stress of the watching eyes of friends and family.

One place where we have decidedly improved upon the past is that Guild Prizes are distinctly co-ed. Weapons are a great equalizer in terms of strength and size, and female students face men and women Challengers equally. Guild membership has traditionally been about 1/3 female, but this past Saturday saw three ladies take the field as Prizors, out of six competitors in total!

Shannon Winslow gives Prizor Nate Wisniewski the “What For”, Before Getting Taken for a Ride

The candidates await their judgement by the instructors and challengers.

Once all the bouts were over, if the Prizor was judged victorious by the four Masters, he would be declared “a well-tryd and sufficient man with divers weapons”. He would then (after collecting the change littering the stage)  swear his oath of obligation, and be escorted by his new peers back to the school and from there off to do much drinking.  Our modern Guild’s Scholar’s oath is adapted directly from the Elizabethan one, requiring the student to treat those above and below him or her with respect, to train diligently and with pride, but not vanity, to be sure that their actions and deeds in the list or the classroom bring renown, not shame, to their fellows and teachers, and to be a good citizen. Students kneel and swear this oath on the hilt of a sword, receive their license and are gifted with a green garter tied under the left knee – a symbol of their rank. Finally, they sign their names in the Guildbook – a custom-made, leather-bound volume containing the history, rules and doings of the Chicago Swordplay Guild. (One such guildbook is in Ghent, home of the oldest surviving fencing school in the world. While the modern guild is a sport-fencing club, the records and entries in its book go back to its founding in 1614!)

And then, it was time for a celebratory Guinness….

Or course, it would be quite foolish to preserve all of these Renaissance customs without including the celebratory drinking at an inn! And so, with all due diligence, the tired, and bruised newly-minted Scholars were escorted by their colleagues to O’Shuaghnessy’s Public House for a pint or four. Slainte!

Our hearty congratulations go out to Christina, Erin, Heather, Jake, Robert and Nathan and our thanks to Shannon, Dan, Davis, Jacques, John, Phil and Trey for serving as Challengers!

You can find more videos of the Prize on YouTube.