These are the plays where the guards are tested. Each guard can do them, and thinks it has the right. Whoever can beat the pollaxe of the player to the ground, as shown in these plays that I do, will do all of them if the counter does not give him trouble.
Although the Getty MS shows the combatant on the left as a scholar, the Florius clearly shows them as a Master. Furthermore, all the pollaxe plays flow on from this one. This is functionally a master play despite the lack of a crown.
This can be done from any of the posta. Step off the line with your front foot, and then cut with the pollaxe through your opponents attack while stepping through with the back foot. This will beat the opposing weapon to the side. Use the considerable momentum generated by the pollaxes head to drive your opponents pollaxe to the ground.
Breaking the thrust like this will gain you the initiative, allowing you to continue in the following plays.
The scholar trips the player with his pollaxe between the legs, and with his left hand he covers his eyes. And when the player cannot see and wants to turn, he quickly falls to the ground without fail.
As a section to translate, this is an awkward opening sentance. The text reads ‘Lo scholaro chazza alo zugadore…‘ ‘Chazza‘ means to mark or stain. A literal translation would be ‘The scholar marks the player with his pollaxe...’ implying that it wil bruise the player. It reads a little strangely and is not clear in its meaning, so I have translated it instead as ‘trips.’
Translations aside, the play itself is a very interesting one. Having beaten your opponents pollaxe to the ground in the master play, shoot the head of your own pollaxe between your opponents feet. As you do so, step with your left foot over their weapon, and as far behind them as you comfortably can. Make sure that your pollaxe clears your knee as you step through. The shaft should end up resting comfortably on your thigh.
Use the hip turn which drives the step to reach out with your left hand. Open your hand wide, place it over your opponents face and shove them backwards. With their legs completely tangled, they will trip and fall, either directly from the push, or in the attempt to adjust their footing.
Also the scholar who is before me can do this play when he is in the narrow, as you can see. The right foot steps on the players pollaxe, and drawing his own back, he then thrusts it into the players face.
This play is an application of the 11th scholar and the 12th scholar of the 2nd master of sword in two hands adapted for pollaxe. You have broken the thrust in the master play with a step and a pass. As you pass with your right foot, place it on the head of your opponents pollaxe. The leverage may be enough to pull it out of their hands or damage the head of the weapon.
Be aware that if your opponent slides the pollaxe as your foot comes down on it, this may also cause your foot to slide. Take care to avoid this happening. If they twist it, either the beak or the hammer may also catch on your foot, sweeping it and causing you to lose your balance. This will disrupt your attack and leave your opponent with the advantage.
As a translation note, the text actually says to pin the weapon with your left foot. This is neither consistent with the drawing nor the other examples of this play being used. I am treating this as a transcription error on Fiores part and have translated the text to match the picture.
Since you won the break, your pollaxe is free to move. Lift it to Posta Breve la Serpentina and thrust the point into your opponents face.
The scholar who is before me saw that he cannot do anything to the face of the player with the point of the pollaxe because the visor is too strong. So he advances the left foot and lifts the visor and then thrusts the point in his face with all the strength that he can give to the pollaxe. This play can follow those that come before as well as all those that come after.
Although the different weapons will cause you to move slightly differently, this play is conceptually identical to the 2nd scholar of sword in armour. Your opponent is open to be stabbed in the face, but their visor prevents you from doing so. The response lies in understanding armour development at the turn of the 15th century. The strong visor on your opponents helmet wil not be latched closed. If you have a free hand, you can lift it, exposing the face.
All the scholars of pollaxe make their plays having first broken the thrust of the opponent in the master play. Having done this, step through with your left foot. You will need to get in quite close to your opponent. Keep both hands on your pollaxe until the last moment to maintain control of the point. Be sure to keep your opponents weapon out of the way for as long as possible. If you can step on the head of their pollaxe as shown by the 2nd scholar of pollaxe, then do so.
Keeping the pollaxe head aligned to your opponents face, reach your left hand forward. With your palm out and your thumb down, slap them in the face and grab the visor, then lift it up as shown.
Because the pollaxe head is a heavy weight at the end of a long pole, you will get better power and point control if you initially push with your right hip. Once the head is safely lodged in your opponent, continue by extending the arm and pushing them over backwards. As you do so, drop your left arm to control your opponents weapon. This will prevent them making a thrust against you as they collapse with a terrible and probably mortal wound.
Because of this grip that I keep you in, I will strike you in the head with my pollaxe, and with my arm I will put you in the strong lower bind, which more than the others is mortally dangerous.
To make this play, you need to begin by breaking your opponents attack to the right. This gives you the opening you need to move to the outside line.
Holding the head of both weapons down and to the right, lunge in with your left foot. As you do so, scoop under your opponents right arm with your left arm. Make sure you are very close to your opponent. You will need to be able to reach the back of their shoulder with your hand. As you move, you can release the cover and raise your pollaxe for a strike, as the picture shows.
Pivot on your left foot, arcing your right foot behind you in a clockwise direction. Push into your opponenrts hips as you do so. Lock your left elbow into your body and lever down on the back of your opponent shoulder. They will bend forward at the hips, trapped in a lower bind.
You will now have the time and space to slide your hand to a more balanced single handed grip on your weaopn. There is a clear opening to strike to the back of the head, stab into the neck, or simply hold your opponent in submission. Other examples of the lower bind or variations of it, can be seen in the following plays.
With a half turn I will take this pollaxe from your hands. And having taken it away from you, in that very turn, I will wound you in your head as does this scholar that comes after me. You will fall down dead, I believe.
This play is driven by the concept of expansion and contraction. After you have beaten your opponents weapon to the ground in the master play, they are going to have to recover it, and this provides your window of opportunity.
As you opponent raises their pollax, drop your own weapon. Grab your opponents pollax near the head with your right hand. Do this with an upward sweeping motion. You are not forcing the weapon anywhere, but capturing its movement and redirecting the head straight up. Timing is critical.
As your right hand stretches up, reach out with your left to catch the shaft below your opponents hands. Lean your weight onto your front leg. The whole movement up to this point is done softly and with as little disruption to your opponent as possible. You should be extended, yet still balanced and well grounded with a straight back. This is the point shown in the picture.
Once you have a firm grip, suddenly drop your weight down and back into a rear weighted stance. Turn your hips slightly to the right into a solid stance. If the situation allows, you can even shuffle back slightly to increase the body weight going into this drop. As you do so, reef your arms in, pulling your elbows strongly into your core.
You will have gone from a soft point of expansion to a sudden contracted point, taking your opponents weapon with you. Adjust your grip, and you will be in posta coda longa.
For a split second, your opponent will be left standing unarmed and motionless trying to work out what happened. This provides you with the ideal opportunity to continue on as the 6th scholar.
This play is from the scholar who is before me. I do as he said, and you will fall to the ground dead from the blow to the head which I gave you. And if this blow is not enough for you, I can give you another and can pull you to the ground by the visor. As it is drawn after me, I will do that to you without regret.
As the 5th scholar, you dropped your own weapon and snatched the pollaxe away from your opponent. This has left you standing chambered in posta coda longa, while your opponent stands uncomfortably in front of you looking like a target. You now have the pleasure of finishing them off with the most powerful strike in the entire book.
With no chance of running onto your opponents weapon, you can safely move in false time – that is, step through, grounding your front foot and then striking. This is generally a very unsafe method of attack in armed combat, due to the risk of impaling yourself on your opponents weapon. It is quite safe against an unarmed opponent. It will make your attack slightly faster, and more importantly, you will strike with a tremendous amount more power.
Step forward with your right foot. As the toes land, drive your right hip forward. From posta coda longa, your left elbow will be resting on your hip. Keep it there throughout the strike, pivoting the weapon around that point. Your weight sinks fully onto the front foot at the moment of impact, as shown.
Fiore tells us that your opponent will ‘fall to the ground dead.’ Unusually, this is something of an understatement. If your attack is delivered through an open face plate as depicted, the head will explode like a melon into so much pulp, with the hammer being buried in it. Even through a heavy helmet, such a massive strike will cause catastrophic damage, cracking open the skull and shattering the neck bones. If your opponent tries to block with their arms, you will smash straight through them. This blow is absolutely devastating.
Although Fiore never mentions it anywhere in Fior di Battaglia, there is actually a counter to such a situation, and it is worth being aware of. It is used in a highly asymmetric situation, which is possibly why it is not documented in his book. This counter works where an unarmed defender is being attacked with a fendente style cut.
The defender wants to close in, sliding their right foot across to the attackers. As the cut swings in, they need to reach out, grabbing the weapon just under the attackers hands, matching their grip. Without disrupting the cut at all, they then pivot on the right foot, arcing the left behind them to touch up against the attackers left foot. The aim is for the defender to meld into the attacker as much as possible with their hands, feet and hips.
At the end of the cut, the weapon will naturally move through posta dente di zenghiaro. This position locks firmly to your core on the inside line, and the inside line is now occupied by the defender. The movement will naturally strip the weapon from the attackers hands. The defender can now shift their feet to an appropriate angle and distance to deliver a counter attack with their newly acquired weapon.
In all the excitement of delivering the brutal finishing strike of the 6th scholar, be aware that a quick witted opponent may yet turn this situation against you.
I demonstrate what the scholar before me explained. I pull you onto the ground by the visor. And if I wanted to do that with grappling, this technique is better than the others that I know well.
In this play, you are making a solid effort to tear your opponents head off. The use of the visor to add leverage means this play had to be drawn in one of the armoured sections, either pollaxe or sword in armour. However, as Fiore points out, it also works well as a regular grappling technique.
In the narrow play, grab your opponents visor. You will maximise the leverage if you start with the thumbs down. As you lift the visor, curl your wrists and elbows in as close to the centreline as you can get them.
If your opponent has no visor, then find any leverage point you can, and grab with the thumbs up. This will vary somewhat depending on helmet design. On a bare head, put the two small fingers from each hand in the hollow at the base of the skull, and lever your thumbs off the cheekbones or eye sockets. Just be sure to get a good grip on something.
Keeping the weight on your front foot, drop your weight down. Stretch either leg out behind you as you do so. The picture shows the right, but it really makes no difference. As your weight drops, pull your elbows down to your hips, rolling your hands forward as you do so.
With great force, move your weight straight back, shifting all your weight from the front to the back foot. At the same time, slide your elbows and forearms past your ribs. Keep rolling your hands over so that they end up right in front of your belt buckle with the thumbs on top. This pulls your opponents head directly into your core, bending it back along the spine.
At the last moment, pivot 180 degrees on the balls of your feet. This adds a lateral twist to the break, multiplying the damage. You will also have more room to roll the hands over still further, bending the head back even more, if possible. There is no question that their neck will shatter completely.
Drop the lifeless body of your opponent at your feet.
This play is easily understood and you can well see that I pull him to the ground. And when I have him on the ground, I will want to drag him after me. And when the tail no longer pulls him along, then I will injure him.
Fiore tells us that this play is easily understood, and on a conceptual level, this is true. You throw a weighted chain around your opponent legs and pull. Even if you only catch one leg, it will be enough to sweep your opponent off their feet. You can then rush in to finish them off, probably using a secondary weapon.
Having said that, this play poses a lot more questions than it answers. The weapon is so strange that it doesn’t even have a name. Its nearest equivalent would probably be the Japanese kusari-fudo, although the similarity is only superficial. Fiores version seems remarkably unwieldy.
A close look at the masters weapon shows that the chain extends along the handle, through a collar at the head of the handle, then on to a length of rope which holds the weighted head. The chain down the handle and through the collar suggests that the weight is retractable.
The players weapon appears to be the same weapon with the weight retracted back to fit against the handle. If this was the case, you would expect to see them holding loops of chain in their left hand, which they very clearly are not.
A weight on the end of a chain like this is a ferociously difficult thing to control. Without a lot of training in its use, that style of weapon is often more dangerous for the person wielding it than anyone else. The idea may have been to use it for one good swing, and then drop it for a more conventional weapon, regardless of whether you hit or missed. Without any real context, it is difficult to know.
It could potentially have been intended to capture an opponent for ransom rather than rather than fighting with them in the typical sense. Given that the whole book is structured around fighting duels using knightly virtues, this is an unusual intended outcome that doesn’t seem to fit the model. It is such a strange weapon, that not much can confidently be said about it, other than it is not as weird as the weapon used by the 3rd master of pollaxe.
This pollaxe of mine is full of powder and the said pollaxe has holes around and around it. And this powder is very strongly corrosive, that immediately it touches the eyes, there is no way the man can open them and perhaps he may be blinded.
Pollaxe are heavy, cruel and deadly, making better blows than any other hand held weapon. And if I fail the first blow I come to do, the pollaxe is damaged and of no more worth. And if I strike with the first blow then I hinder any manual weapon. And if I am well armed to complement my defence, I take the pulsing guards of the sword. Very noble Lord, my Marquis, there are things in this book that you would not do. But to further your knowledge, I show them here.
This is the powder that goes into the pollaxe drawn above. Take the milk of the spurge, and dry it in the sun or a hot oven to make a powder. Take two ounces of this powder and one ounce of the powder of the flower of preda, and mix together. Put this powder in the pollaxe shown above. Although you can do this with any caustic powder, you will find the best recipe in this book.
There is a lot to unpack in this wildly unusual play. This highly specialised pollaxe has for its head a hollow cylinder drilled full of holes and packed with caustic powder. There is a tremendous amount of effort involved in preparing the weapon. It is good for one thrust, which is intended to envelop your opponent in a cloud of blinding powder. The helmet the master wears is unlike any other in the book. It appears to have a mesh mask of some kind to protect their own eyes from the powders effects.
The second paragraph is a little ambiguous. That ‘pollaxe are heavy, cruel and deadly, making better blows than any other hand held weapon’ is true of pollaxes in general. The second sentence appears to refer to this pollaxe specifically. The head of the pollaxe is damaged on the first strike, after which, you presumably drop it and continue with the sword. Any further attempts to use the pollaxe would be to shower caustic blinding powder all over yourself.
Fiore tells us that ‘if I were well armed to complement my defence, I would use the pulsing guards of the sword.’ The design of the pollaxe and the emphasis on landing the first blow show us that this weapon is in no way concerned with defensive actions. If your initial attack fails, you will be relying on your sword which you brought to complement your defence.
As described in the sword in two hands section, the pulsing (pulsativa) guards are postas tutta porta di ferro, donna destra and donna sinistra. Rather frustratingly, Fiore never elaborates on what this term means. The commonality of all these guards, however, is that they are good defensive guards. They have a pulsing motion in that from a point of stillness, they can strongly beat aside incoming attacks.
In the six guards of the sword in two hands section, where the master carries a sword like a pollaxe, Fiore tells us that ‘heavy weights cause light weights much trouble.’ Given the weight disparity between pollaxe and sword this becomes critical. It is the capacity to beat massive attacks aside which explains why specifically the pulsing guards are best used with a sword against a pollaxe.
In the text accompanying the play, Fiore also gives us the recipe for his powder. He recommends using dried and powdered sap from a type of spurge and the ‘flower of preda.’ Anyone who has studied the history of herbalism will be well acquainted with the problems of identifying plants by their common name.
Spurge is the common name for a large genus of plants called Euphorbia which has over 2000 species. It is unknown which one he is referring to. Quite a number of species naturally occur in Italy. Although there is variance between the different species, Euphorbia all contain milky sap which is highly inflammatory to mucous membranes. The congealed latex is insoluble in water, and must be washed off with an emulsifier such as milk or soap. The caustic effects were traditionally used to burn off warts and corns.
It is unknown what the flower of preda is. It may not even be an actual flower at all, but a poetically named mineral.
Dehydrating and powdering the latex, although technically simple, would be a process involving a high degree of caution and danger, especially given the amount required to pack a weapon head. There are certainly examples of caustic powder, usually lime, being thrown at enemy combatants during defence of walls in a siege situation. This, however, is the only example I am aware of where it is used as a personal weapon.
Despite the many interesting details and tangents this play gives us, Fiore himself provides the clearest summary. ‘There are things in this book that you would not do.’