Using the pommel as a dagger

Just because something is in one chapter of Fior di Battaglia doesn’t mean that is has no relevance in all the others. Pommel strikes are fun close range attacks that share a lot of common ground with dagger strikes. Do you ever get to use these in your sparring?

When is a stick a weapon?

Here’s a selection of bits of wood that I like to use as weapons. I have my old bokken, what I am using as wasters these days, a short staff and a rondel dagger. We will have a quick look at each of them in succession.

This is my bokken. I started off with a piece of wood, which is an inch by two inches and then I cut the curve into it. I trimmed a long shallow v out of the middle and trimmed triangles off each end and then set to it with a heavy rasp and a file and ultimately sand paper, leaving the handle with an inch by an inch and a half cross section. I have been through a few of these. This one is made from Australian red gum. It’s a heavy, solid timber. I’ve abused this bokken fairly substantially over the years, and it’s held up really nicely.

I used to own one which was made out of Japanese Oak and broke it within a fortnight. I was pretty disappointed with that given how much I had heard about the quality of the wood. But this one has held up quite well. Its very solid and reliable.

I also used to own a bokken I made out of yellow box. It was not so well shaped, and I eventually cut it up for firewood, but the yellow box was an excellent material for making training weapons. I tried to test it to destruction one day, but outside of a few savage nicks, it came out unharmed.

This is what I am using for wasters these days. I used to put cross guards on them, which do make them handle better, but I kept on breaking them. So now, I just use a single piece of wood, which is just based off the idea of a bokken. Again, it is an inch by an inch and a half. That rectangular cross section gives you a sense of edge alignment far better than a round piece of wood. I carve a simple pommel on the end and shape the handle a little to feel where the handle stops and the blade begins. For the blade I just smooth the corners off. They are simple and light. If you want to play around with the balance, you can start with a heavier piece of wood, make the tip a lot thinner, and leave more weight in the handle. This becomes more important if you are making a heavier waster. If they are only fairly light, it is not such an issue.

This is made from a piece of decking plank which I cut down. It costs around two dollars for each waster, plus the time I spend shaping it. Although technically a hardwood, these are fairly light, and I treat them as disposable. I don’t care if they get broken. That’s basically what they’re designed to do. I used to have a couple of nice ones made out of some heavy hardwood, but they kept breaking. So now I don’t bother putting that much effort into them. I just use a simple stick like this, and that’s good enough to do the job.

Next is one of my favourite weapons and its about a simple as they can get. It’s just 120 cm of hickory with a diameter of 32 mm. Because of the density of the wood, it is surprisingly heavy and weighs around 1400 g. This started life as a shovel handle, which I bought at the hardware shop somewhere in the mid nineties and trimmed down to shape. Again, I just used very simple tools – a rasp, a file, and some sandpaper. This staff is damn near indestructible. I’ve had it for 25 years, done some seriously abusive things with it, and the most damage its ever picked up is just a few small dings. The kids have taken this and put it through all its paces, but it stands up to anything.

I was practicing spinning this one day when I accidentally clipped my elbow with it. The pain was so much that I couldn’t speak or move. At first I thought I had shattered the joint, and it was four days before I got full mobility back. Hickory is an excellent wood to use. Tight grained, dense, heavy and strong, although harder to get hold of now than it used to be.

Rondel daggers are dead simple to make. This is literally a piece of firewood that I dug off the scrap heap. Again, it is very roughly shaped with a handle carved into it. This one has a bit of a crack in the wood, although that is not as exciting as it looks. It’s more discoloration than anything else.

You want to keep a nice square point on the dagger especially because obviously the only thing you can do with these is stab someone and they’ve got absolutely zero flex in them. So you want to leave a nice square point so that you can do the least amount of damage to your friend as possible.

So that’s a quick run over some wooden training weapons. They’re really good. I like them. The advantage of using these sorts of things is that they are cheap, effective, and historically accurate. If you spend a bit of time on them, you can get them reasonably well balanced. They are excellent for practicing drill sets because they’re not sharp. You can go as fast and hard as you like with complete safety. Every now and then, give them a light sand and rub some oil or wax into them. I typically use olive oil.

You’re far more likely to hurt your training partner than anybody else, so be aware of that if you are using them for any kind of sparring or partner work. The real big thing about them in that context is stabbing someone with them because they have no flex, so tend to hurt if you are not careful.

However, they are really simple to make, they are cheap, and if they break or catch fire, it really doesn’t matter. For materials, I prefer a solid hardwood such as hickory or yellow box or a red box.

Using a curriculum

In this video, we look at using a curriculum and outline how you can develop a structured training program to help. If you want to learn about how the components of sparring fit together, and most importantly, what goes into building a successful training program, then this is the video for you.

Universal defence

In this video, we’ll be applying a simple generic defence and seeing how it applies to all weapon systems. To improve your defensive capabilities and apply this simple principle to whatever circumstances you’re in, you need to look at Fiore’s universal defence. In part one we took a look at one of the introductory components of the curriculum, which is footwork. Here, we build on that and look at how to develop a strong defensive capability, across any weapons system.

Learn armizare online

I am thinking about starting an online community which will help people to replicate armizare as described in Fior di Battaglia. There are 267 individual plays and posta shown in the Getty manuscript. 155 of these involve grabbing, pulling, pushing, kicking, binding, throwing or otherwise physically manipulating the opponent or their weapon. It very clearly demonstrates a far more close-range brawling style than is commonly represented. The repetition of applied simple principles across all weapon systems is what has always drawn me to Fiore, and this is what I would like to explore in this community.

To help improve my own skills and serve others to improve theirs, I have developed a curriculum which provides structured progress through increasing levels of coordination and speed. This curriculum provides a framework for students with different streams of skillsets building on previous work, and gradually tying together in a comprehensive fighting style.

Not only that, but it provides a clarity and focus for people to identify where they are, where they are going, and what they need to do next to get there. It also allows people to track their progress and more readily recognise their own efforts.

Like Fior di Battaglia, the curriculum covers locks, throws, kicks, dagger work, longsword and spear, as well as a small component of pollaxe. It is built around basic concepts of movement being constantly refined and applied to different contexts.

I would like to invite you to join this community as a founding member.

It is important to recognise that this community is not established yet. The tech side of things is not completely sorted yet, and the members area still needs to be built out. Although the content will be growing over time, it is still pretty thin on the ground at the moment. This is truly a founding member launch and there are going to be a few rough edges.

That is why I am offering such a low price to join me as a founding member, so that we can work together to figure out how I can best serve you here and help you get the results you want. If you join me as a founding member, you will be forever locked in at the lowest price. When this community is complete and officially launched to the public, I will raise the price. However, your price will stay the same. 

You get the founding member benefits of having a low price from having been able to get in early. Being a part of the community gives us a chance to connect and collaborate with each other on how I can best refine what I will be teaching, sharing and most importantly, helping you progress your armizare.

The registration period will be closing on July 15. I do this to cater to all the new members coming through. Similar to a college class, once the registration period is complete, everyone begins class together and I make myself available to support you. If it was open all the time, it would get confusing and complicated trying to support people who were going through different parts of the program.

So the deadline is midnight Australian eastern standard time on Thursday 15th July. If you are interested, click the button below or use the contact page to let me know and get started. I cant wait to help you fight like Fiore.

Using basic moves

When I am teaching basic movements, what I like to do is really exaggerate those moves and make them in quite a large generic sort of form. Although you can see this to a certain extent in all weapon systems, this tends to show up more in dagger work than in anything else.

A common criticism to using this type of training is that it is not how you spar or that these are not effective techniques. This is true to a point, but it also completely misunderstands the purpose of what is happening. When practicing a large movement like this, what you are doing is learning the base move that the technique is built on.

One of my early instructors worked as a somewhat overly enthusiastic bouncer. It was interesting to watch him fight because he had a very plain, yet highly effective fighting style. He never did anything particularly fancy or elaborate, or even especially unexpected. It was largely just a fairly limited range of basic techniques. He had an unbreakable structure, which was one of the reasons why he was so good at what he did, and he would constantly make the point that all fighting is just the application of basic technique. As a consequence, we used to spend endless hours of constant repetition of basics. It didn’t make for a particularly exciting class, but it was fantastic grounding work and it paid off. His point that all fighting is the application of basic techniques is a valuable one and well worth paying attention to when training with these large basic moves.

A good analogy I like to think of is teaching kids how to write. Every five-year-old writes in much the same way. It is all large circles and straight lines. Those are the basic moves that every five-year-old learns. It does not matter what country they’re from or what language they’re writing in. If they are using Arabic script, it’s circles and straight lines, and they all do it the same. Nobody ever gives them a hard time, saying “You’ll never get your thesis written if you’re writing like that.” It’s just understood that that is the framework that everything else is built upon later on. That is how you should treat base moves. They are a framework upon which everything else is built. They are not the finished product in and of themselves.

Part of teaching these base movements is to use the techniques in their fullest range. They are big, massive movements. You are not ever going to use this kind of thing when you’re sparring, but you can always make them shorter. That is the advantage of training like this. If you are making large movements you understand all the drive and power and momentum that you can get into it. So that if while sparring, you find yourself somewhere unexpected, you can realign your movements to deliver as much power and drive as if you were winding it up as a large movement.

Although it is very easy to make movements smaller, it is very difficult to make them larger. If you are constantly training to strike with short techniques, it is much harder to develop a sense of strength and structure and power as opposed to when you are making an exaggerated basic form. Basic form provides a capacity for reflexive adaptation. When you start large, you can always adapt it to the situation that you find yourself in. So regardless of what level you are at, it is well-worth performing and practicing these base moves before you start making an actual application of the technique you are practicing.

Another advantage to practicing with these large base movements is that when you are working with a partner, it’s a good deal easier on your partner to act in a defensive capability against something which they can see coming a long way off. That gives your partner the time and opportunity to develop their own defence. Again, you can always make these faster as you both improve, but to start with large base moves, gives everyone an introductory warm up into the exercise or that section of their learning. By improving your partner’s defensive sparring, you are also improving your own attack capabilities as you try to get through them.

All sparring is an interpretation of a base move. One of the things which really draws me to Fiore’s work is that he applies a small number of concepts to a wide range of contexts. Throughout For di Battaglia, you constantly see repetitions of the same base move happening in different weapons systems and in different contexts. But he is still using just essentially the same basic technique reinterpreted in a slightly different manner to suit the new set of circumstances. When practicing a specific play, understand what base move that play is built from, and practice that basic move. Whether you are just learning it, or you’ve been doing for years, the constant improvement of these base movements by practicing them continually at the full range will give you a far greater capacity to adapt during sparring and provide much greater strength and structure behind what you’re doing.

You are practicing, not so much individual plays, but a series of basic movements. By doing so, you will learn the power and structure behind them as well as get a feel for how to lock your entire body behind a single move. It is very easy to make them shorter and still maintain that structure. It is extremely difficult to start small and make them larger. Practicing large basic movements will also assist your partner and that will improve everybody’s training. Sparring is simply an interpretation of your basic moves.

You fight with your hips

When you are training, you often spend a lot of time checking things such as your lines of attack, your cover, making sure you know where your weapon is at all times, and ensuring you move with appropriate distancing. These are all important things to be in control of, and certainly should not be underestimated. Underlying all of them, however, as a foundation to all your movements is understanding what your hips are doing. To a very large extent, you move and fight with your hips. Everything else is just delivering a message.

The best fighters always look completely relaxed. They seem to move much faster, and with much less effort than anyone else. They always seem to be right where they need to be, having used very little effort to get there. To a large extent, this is due to good clean hip movement. It reduces all extraneous movement, and provides clear direction and intent. This is what gives these people fast and powerful techniques.

Your hips control your core, and this in turn, determines where your bodies energy is moving. Every action needs to be driven by the hips first. It is this hip motion which provides power through the shoulders and arms to the weapon. Beginning a technique with your shoulders or arms disassociates your bodies actions from its core. The top and bottom halves of your body will be moving in different directions and in an uncoordinated manner. The end result is a weak and slow technique. In contrast, by using the hips to initiate the movement, the body structure is aligned. This gives speed, power, and intent to any technique.  

When initiating movements with the hips, the arms stay fairly still relative to the body. They will obviously move enough to give shape to whatever technique is being delivered, but essentially, they are always in front of the body, and reasonably still. This reduces the amount of movement required, making everything that much faster. It also reduces physical stress on the shoulders and wrists, leaving you with better control and extra energy to expend elsewhere.

Driving techniques with the hips anchors the body to the ground. This anchoring provides a huge amount of force and power to drive your techniques home. Whether you are striking aside an incoming attack, or trying to break through a potentially weak defence, the extra power you gain from a well grounded structure is a huge advantage. Its gives you strength which you don’t normally have.

As with so many things in any martial art, these things are better felt than described. By way of demonstration, choose a posta and a technique. Delivering a thrust and lunge from Dente de Zenghiaro is one of many examples you might use. Throw a few techniques initiating them with the shoulders first, then try the same technique powered by the hips instead. You should be able to feel a qualitative difference between the two. Techniques driven by the hips first should feel faster, smoother and more powerful.

Your hips provide your core movement. Everything beyond that is an extension of your core. If you control your hips and use them to initiate your movements, all your techniques will be faster and stronger, and you will be more relaxed. Your arms will be allowed to remain reasonably still, adding speed to your techniques and locking them to your core. Your actions will be solidly grounded adding power and strength to everything that you do. Whenever you are practicing your drill sets, keep in mind to initiate your techniques with your hips. Carry this habit into your sparring. For very little extra effort, this will dramatically raise the standard of everything you do.

Endpiece – Master

Folio 46 v. a

Translation

This master has tied a strong rope to the saddle of his horse and the other end is tied to the foot of his lance. First he strikes the player, and then he throws the bound lance over the left shoulder of his enemy, to be able to drag him from the horse.

Interpretation

This is a very interesting play which takes a degree of planning and coordination, although it is very simple in its concept. In contrast to the lessons of the first eight masters of horseback combat, this play is not concerned with how, or even if, you hit your opponent. It is something of a backup plan for if they are still mounted after your best effort.

Take about three metres of strong rope. If your rope is too short, the play will not work, but if it is too long, you will tangle yourself up. Tie one end firmly to the butt of your lance. Using a quick release knot, anchor the other end to your saddle. Exactly where you tie this is dependent on the saddle design. Directly behind you in the saddle centre, as the picture shows, is the safest and mechanically best place. Next best would be to attach it to the pommel, although if you do this, the rope will cut across you as the rope pulls taut.

After the contact of the initial tilt, if your opponent is still on their horse, then you use this play. Throw your lance, or its broken stump if that is all you have left, straight out to your side and fairly high up. There is very little time, and the sudden change from the driving forward momentum to a sideways toss is a little strange, but it does not need any power, or even much accuracy. As long as the line crosses your opponents chest or neck, momentum will take care of everything else.

As they charge through, the rope will wrap around your opponent. Although it is impossible to say exactly what the lance will catch on, it is an awkward shape, and will surely catch on something. With a sudden and violent reef on your saddle, the rope will pull tight behind you. This is why you want it tied to the back of the saddle. Your opponent will be pulled backwards as their horse gallops out from underneath them.

If you are jousting for sport, the play ends here. If you are fighting to the bitter end, then take advantage of your quick release knot. Untie the rope and let it fall to the ground before closing in on your opponent. You do not want to tangle your own horse.

Sword in armour – Master

Foilo 33 r. c

Translation

I come from Posta di Vera Croce with this cover, passing off the line by stepping diagonally. And of this cover, you will see what I can do, for my scholars will show it. They will compliment my play with a fight to the bitter end. Their art will show without doubt.

Interpretation

The Sword in Armour Master uses Fiore’s common theme of stepping offline with a beat and entering narrow play. Passing offline while beating your opponents weapon is also shared by the following.

From Posta Vera Crose, slide your right foot offline to the left. Step through with your left foot and sweep the blade across the body. Keep your right hand low and your left hand high so as to cover your whole body and make the action a smooth roll over. The step will provide plenty of hip motion to give this power.  Bring your right forearm back to your so as to chamber your own weapon for a strike. This will leave you safely on your opponents outside line ready for narrow play.

Dagger – 2nd Master

Folio 13 r. b

Translation

I play with the arms crossed to make those remedies that have come before. And if we were both armoured, I could not make a better cover. A stronger remedy than me does not bear a crown, for I can make plays to the right and left. Also I can cross both below and above.

Explanation

The 2nd Master of Dagger fights from Posta Tutta Posta di Ferro, Incrosada e Dopia. This is a posta which notes the value of armour and its inability to make long covers. The mechanics of crossing the arms means you simply cannot reach out very far, making for extremly close play with very small margins of error. It is the close proximity to a dagger point which leads to the advice of only doing this with proper protective equipment.

At first glance, it seems as though you are blocking the attack in the cross of your forearms, but there are a number of subtleties happening here. As the dagger approaches, you are actually attacking the players wrist with your forearm. You will need to extend your arms far enough to keep the dagger clear, but not so far as to weaken your own structure.

Drive your attack with the left hip, and initially lead with the thumbs up. Immediately on contact, roll your hands inward so that you strike the players wrist with the ulnar edge of your left forearm. This roll will serve to protect your own arm and increase the force of impact. Your attack will stop the dagger while simltaneously jarring and hurting the players arm.

This is easier to do if you can catch the incoming attack before it has built up too much momentum. Get in close to your opponent using your left foot to close the distance.

From this position, you can also perform all the plays of the 1st Master.

Endpiece – Allegory

Folio 46 v. c

Translation

This bold man fled from me to a keep. I rode so hard I reached him at the keep, always riding at full speed. And with my sword I struck him under the armpit, which is a difficult place to protect with armour. Out of fear of his friends I want to turn back.

Interpretation

This play does not fit any pattern previously found in the book. Reasons for its inclusion are speculative.

The scholar in the picture does not either have a master, or fit into any context of the book. Following the pattern of the book, this should be the scholar of the master who appears in the picture above, with the lance tied to his saddle. This makes no sense though, in terms of play continuity. Outside of the fact that they are both on horseback, the two plays have no connection to each other.

The position of the horses is also quite strange. They are both rearing up and facing more or less in opposite directions. Given that the scholar has just ridden down his opponent at full gallop, it seems kind of odd that they would then find themselves at a complete stop facing each other.

While it is superficially easy to understand this play (stab your opponent where they have no protection), it raises a lot more questions than it answers. Three possible explanations are that it is an allegory, a memorial, or a sketch.

The allegory.

According to this idea, the play represents the principles of armizare. The player is ‘always riding at full speed’, strikes at a target ‘which is a difficult place to protect’, and then wants ‘to turn back.’ This can be seen to represent the need to break suddenly through your opponents defensive shield, make a critical hit, and then move back out of range under cover.

In the introduction, Fiore tells us that ‘few plays pass the third master in the art. And if they do more, it becomes dangerous,’ so the idea of a fast entry, a short engagement, and a quick withdrawal is not without its merits.  The theory of the allegory starts to fall apart, however, because in the dagger section, Fiore also tells us to ‘always do these five things. Take the dagger, strike, break the arms, bind them, and put him on the ground.’ If this play truly represented the principles of armizare, the scholar would follow the strike by catching the players arm in a lock, flinging his sword aside, breaking the arm while throwing the player to the ground, and then riding over the top of him, before looking around to see if he has any back up.

The memorial.

This play could well recall an actual event known to both Fiore and his sponsor, the Marquis d’Este. The scholar might represent either of those characters personally, or a favourite of the Marquis. Given the effort Fiore goes to in the introduction to name his own scholars, highlight his personal prowess, and heap praise upon the Marquis, however, it seems inconsistent not to name the main character in a picture which celebrates their achievements.

The sketch.

To produce a book of such high quality illustrations as this requires a lot of practice. What started off as a drawing exercise may well have taken on a life of its own. The inclusion of the tower looks like something of an afterthought. He may have just enjoyed the picture, realised it was on the back of a near complete folio, and figured that since it was the end of the book, it was easier to leave it in than start the whole page again, so he wrote a few lines to justify its inclusion. It seems a little odd, but no more so than either of the other theories.

Pollaxe – Master

Folio 36 v. a

Translation

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.

Explanation

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.

It begins with a breaking of the thrust. This is a common technique used thoughout armizare, most notably in the Sword in One Hand section, and the Wide Play of Sword in Two Hands. It is first explained in detail by the 8th scholar of the 2nd Master of Sword in Two Hands.

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.

Sword in armour – 1st scholar

Folio 33 r. d

Translation

I am the first scholar of the master who is before me. I do this thrust because of its cover. Also the Posta di Vera Croce and Posta di Croce Bastardo can do this thrust. I say that immediately the player delivers a thrust to the master or scholar that was in one of these guards, then the master or scholar should keep their body low and pass off the line, crossing their opponents sword and keeping the point directed at the face or chest, and the sword low as shown here.

Interpretation

The first scholar exchanges the thrust and immediately enters into narrow play. This is a natural consequence of following the cover of the Master of Sword in armour.

From either Posta Vera Crose or Posta di Crose Bastardo, step the front foot offline. If you move it to the right, you will dominate the centreline. If you slide to the left, you will change the angle of attack. Sweep your sword across your body from left to right, redirecting your opponents attack to the side. You do not need to move it very far. As soon as it clears your right arm, you are safe.

Step through with your left foot. Because both you and your opponent are using a half sword grip, you need to fight from the narrow play. When your left foot lands, the point of your sword should be nearly touching your opponent without needing to extend your arms at all.

Lock your right forearm onto your hip. Use your left hand to direc the point to a gap in your opponents armour. Push forward with your right hip, driving the point in.

You will also see the exchange of thrusts in the following plays.

Sword in two hands – 1st scholar of the 3rd Master – Narrow play

Folio 28 r. b

Translation

From the crossing which is done by my master with the right foot forward, I complete the first play. That is, that I pass with the left foot and put my left hand over my right arm and grab and hold his sword between his hands, in the middle of the hilt. And with cuts and thrusts I can hurt him. And this grip can be done with the sword in one or two hands. The crossing can be done above or below the hands to make such a grip.

Explanation

As the 3rd Master, both combatants had their swords crossed in the middle with the right foot forward.

Ensure that the crossing has given you a space to move into by keeping the pressure on the bind. Step through with your left foot directly down the centerline. Simultaneously advance your left hand in a straight line from your own sword, over your right arm to between your opponents  hands.

You can grab their sword with your thumb down, as drawn. Alternatively, you can have your thumb up and grab from underneath. Both will work. Thumb down will provide better torque to twist the blade offline.

Pull your left elbow back to lock into your hip and twist or push your forearm to the outside. The details of what to do here is determined by the grip you have taken. Regardless, the objective is to disable the weapon and move it to the side. You will not have the leverage to strip it from your opponents hand, but you will put it out of action long enough to give you at least one good strike.

Clear your own sword by pulling it in a straight line down and to the right. Pivot on your left foot if needed to give yourself the appropriate angle and distance. A range of targets will present themselves for you to strike at.

Sword in two hands – 1st scholar of 1st master – Wide play

Folio 25 r. d

Translation

I placed a thrust in your face like the master who is before me described. Also, I could have done this, drawn back my sword immediately when I was crossed on the right, switched the sword to the left side and delivered a downward cut for the head or arms, as the master who is before me said.

Explanation

Having made the cover of the 1st Master, you will find youself in Posta Frontale with both swords crossed at the tip.

At the point of the 1st Master, both combatants are weak in the bind. As the 1st scholar, you can take the initiative by simply dropping the point of your sword and extending into Posta Longa. This should drive it cleanly into your opponents face.

Alternatively, as previously described, you can quickly lift your sword over the tip of your opponents sword and strike down onto your opponents right forearm.

Endpiece – Here ends the book

Text from Folio 46 v. d. Illustration from Folio 47 r, a and b

Translation

Here ends the book that was made by the scholar Fiore, who placed all he knows about the art of armed combat in this book and named it ‘The Flower of Battle’. The one for whom it is made always possesses both nobility and virtue, which are difficult to find. Fiore the Friulian, a poor old man, is at your service.

Interpretation

As an instructor, Fiore faced an interesting problem in trying simultaneously to both promote his style, and keep his knowledge contained to a select audience. If his style spread too far, he would lose control of the ownership, and someone else would take credit for his efforts. If it didn’t spread far enough, his talents would be wasted.

Fiore went to a great deal of effort to maintain control of this information. In the introduction, he tells us ‘this art I have always taught secretly so that none are present at the lesson except the scholar and discreet relatives. And even if anyone else was there by grace or courtesy, with sacred vows I have them promise on their faith not to disclose any of the plays taught by me.’ Given that the combatants were preparing to quite literally stake their life and limb on the outcome of the fights, there was a real incentive to keep the knowledge restricted. He took this idea so seriously that it was the cause of five duels with other instructors.

A secret technique does not have to be in the style of Kill Bills five point palm exploding heart technique. It is just a subtle or counter intuitive move which exists in an environment with restricted knowledge transfer. Armizare was full of these. It is, in part, this limited transfer of knowledge which caused both Fiore and his scholars to so consistently win. They had access to a training program which others did not.

The rarity and expense of books in that period is a further barrier to knowledge transfer. Fiore makes the point that ‘there is so much to this art, that there is no man in the world with so great a memory who could keep in their mind without books a fourth part of this art.’ He also tells us that of all his scholars, only one, Galeazzo da Mantova, owned a martial arts manual.

With no martial arts schools containing structured curriculums as we understand them today, a book like this, which logically laid out a complete fighting system was an invaluable source of information and sign of respect.

He clearly states that few in the world will themselves become a master. And wishing that I be remembered as such, I will make a book of all the art.’ By presenting his book to the Marquis d’Este, Fiore not only gave full access of his knowledge to his sponsor, but also clearly demonstrated his mastery to an influential inner circle. His position as chief instructor to the nobility was assured.

What the Marquis got out of his newly acquired book is unknown. In terms of being remembered as a master, however, Fiore surely exceeded his wildest expectations. By committing his teaching to writing, Fiores lessons are presented to us first hand, six hundred years after his death. Fiore the Friulan has indeed been of immense service.

Sword in two hands – 2nd scholar of the 3rd master – Narrow play

Folio 28 r. c

Translation

This is another play that comes from the crossing of my master. And from that crossing I can make this play and the others which follow me here. That is, I can take the player in this way and strike him in the face with the pommel of my sword. Also, I can strike him with a downward cut to the head before he can cover himself.

Explanation

In the play of the 3rd master, both swords were crossed at the mid point of the blade.

Drop your weight down low and step through with the left foot. As you do so, raise your hands to head height. Duck under you opponents blade while turning your own sword so that the handle faces your opponent and the blade extends over your shoulder. Keep the point of the bind stationary, and be sure that everything rotates around that point. This will allow you to safely roll under your opponents blade to the other side.

Keeping your elbow in close to your body, sweep your left hand across to grab your opponents right wrist. You do not need to push their hand. Just ensure that it stays out of the way.

Align your sword to your target. Use the handle of your sword as a heavy dagger, and make a fendente strike straight forward at the base of their nose. If you allow the sword to move off its alignment and swing in an arc, it will dramatically lose speed and power. Take care in all the excitement not to slide the blade of your sword across your own shoulder.

Your opponent will be left either with a savagely broken nose, spitting out a number of teeth, or both. Cut them down at your leisure.

Dagger – Counter to 2nd Master

Folio 13 r. c

Translation

I am the counter to the remedy master that is crossed before me, so that with his crossing, he will not make me any trouble. I will give such a push to his elbow, that I will turn and wound him immediately.

Explanation

You are delivering a fendente attack which your opponent, making the cover of the 2nd Master, goes to intercept using Posta Tutta Porta di Ferro, Incrosada e Dopia. Counter their defence using one of the most abundant techniques in armizare – the elbow push.

Reach out with your left hand, using it to catch your opponents elbow. Good timing is the key to making this work effectively. Rather than pushing against a stationary target, this is more redirecting your opponents incoming momentum.

As your opponent closes in against you, they extend themselves from a position of relative structural strength to relative weakness. Conversely, you are moving from an extended position of relative weakness to a more compact structure of relative strength. It is analogous to manipulating the balance point of the bind.

Push directly across your body. The harder you push, the further they turn. A gentle brush means they will skim past your head. A firm shove will leave you standing behind them.

Be aware also, that the harder you push, the more you are exposed to the unwritten contra counter. If your opponent lifts their elbows even higher at the very last moment, your push will go under them, through empty space. Your opponent can then leave their right hand to cover your dagger, and drop their left hand down to catch your left elbow from above. From there, they can build on your momentum, spinning you clockwise and ending up behind you.

The elbow push is also used in the following plays.

  • Dagger – Counter to the 6th scholar of the 1st master
  • Dagger – Counter to 6th Master
  • Dagger – Counter to 7th Master
  • Dagger – Counter to 8th Master
  • Sword vs Dagger – Counter to 1st scholar of the 1st Master
  • Sword vs Dagger – 2nd scholar of the 1st Master
  • Sword in one hand – 6th scholar
  • Sword in one hand – 8th scholar
  • Sword in two hands – 14th scholar of the 2nd Master
  • Sword in armour – 3rd scholar
  • Sword in armour – Counter to Master

Sword in two hands – 3rd scholar of the 3rd master – Narrow play

Folio 28 r. d

Translation

This is another pommel strike. And if you are quick, you will doubtless find the face uncovered. This can be done armoured and unarmoured. I have proven that four teeth will be knocked out of the mouth with such a play. And the sword can be wrapped around his neck if you want, as you will be shown in the play after this by the next scholar.

Explanation

In the master play, both combatants have their right foot forward with the blades crossed in the middle. Similar to the 2nd scholar, lunge through with your left foot. At the same time, roll the handle of your sword in an arc under your opponents blade. Use the crossing point of the blades as the centre of the arc. This will provide you with cover as you cross to your opponents outside and enter the narrow play.

When the axis of your sword lines up with your opponents face, drive it forward, aiming just under the base of the nose. This strike works best if you visualise the sword handle as a dagger blade, and strike much as you would with a dagger. The power comes from the right hand, and your left only provides direction.

Fiores comment that four teeth will be knocked out is a very interesting detail. It is a very specific number, especially when coupled with the claim that he has proven this. We know from the books introduction that Fiore fought and won five formal duels. His statement here might imply that this was the play which finished one of them.

With both hands in position, and your momentum already moving to the outside of your opponent, wrapping your sword around their neck is a nice smooth way to continue from here.

Horseback – 1st scholar of grappling

Folio 45 r. b

Translation

This is a grappling play. That is, a play of unarmed combat, and it is done in this way. When someone flees from you and his left side is near, with the right hand you grab him by the cheekplate of the helmet, or if he is disarmed by the neck, or by the right arm behind his shoulders. In that way you will make him fall to the ground.

Explanation

In this play you are moving in behind someone and pulling them backwards off their horse. They may have disengaged from a bout and you have managed to come around behind them. They may be fleeing the field and you are running them down.

The basic idea is to grab the upper right quadrant of their body and pull down to the lower left, causing them to twist away from you and fall off their horse.

There is more movement and speed here than the picture suggests. Lean forward and reach out for your opponent. Your forward motion will impel your horse to pick up speed, allowing you to catch them.

Fiore gives a number of different suggestions as to what to grab. It really comes down to anything you can get a good grip on. Bear in mind that the twist is the crux of the technique, which is why the cheek plate of the helmet is the best available option. Reaching around behind your opponent and grabbing the front of the helmet will cause them to turn their head and body fully to the right, so their back is towards you. This will disengage their hips from their horse, and start to roll their left hip up and out of the saddle. It will also cause their horse to veer off to the right.

Having taken hold of your opponent, sink your weight back into the saddle and pull your right arm back in close to your body. This will cause your own horse to slow down or possibly stop altogether. Your opponents sudden instability will cause their horse to speed up, running off at an angle. You are less pulling your opponent from their horse, as you are holding them still and directing their horse out from under them. They will roll backwards, falling onto their head or shoulders.

Throughout this whole process, use your left hand to hold firmly but gently onto your own saddles pommel. If your opponents horse kicks out, it might hit either you or your horse. As your opponent falls, your horse will either trample on or jump over them. The moment after the grab will not be the smoothest of rides, and you need to be sure you do not lose your own seat in all the excitement.

Sword in armour – 2nd scholar

Folio 33v. a

Translation

When I see my thrust cannot enter either in the chest or face, because of the visor, I remove the visor and put the point in his face. And if this is not enough for me, I will use other, stronger plays.

Interpretation

This play is a variant on the exchange of the thrust. From the master play, you pass your front foot offline. Step through with your left foot and use the resulting hip movement to beat your opponents attack to the right. Keeping your hands low and your point high, lunge forward, stabbing your opponent.

What makes this play stand out is that it is a response to a very specific point in armour development. Helmets had evolved to a stage where visors were strong enough and common enough to be recognised as making certain previously legitimate techniques redundant. Fiore is writing at just the moment after visors require a workaround, but before they are being latched closed as part of a typical build.

Having made the beat, you will be in the range of narrow play. Just as your hips finish their rotation to the right, position your sword to its line of attack, then reach out with your left hand and push the visor up. Your right forearm should be locked to your right hip. Push the right hip forward and use that motion to drive the sword point into your opponents face.

You will also see the exchange of thrusts in the following plays.

The 3rd scholar of pollaxe also resolves the problem of visors in much the same way.

This play ends with the delightfully pragmatic piece of advice that if it doesnt work, then try something else.