What is the objective of a particular fighting style? Many would give the somewhat flippant answer that the objective is to win a fight. While this answer has a core of truth to it, it is also an answer which is lazy and ill conceived. A Mongolian wrestler, an Olympic fencer and a boxer will all consider themselves martial artists, they will all be fighting to win, and they will all have completely different objectives.
Many fighting styles have techniques and principles in common, but what defines one particular style from another is which techniques they emphasise. This emphasis is determined by the objectives of the people using it, which in turn is often determined by the context they are fighting in.
A couple of years ago, I was going down various rabbit holes on the internet looking into a Fairbairn Sykes dagger when I came across a copy of Captain Fairbairn’s book ‘Get Tough’. This small but excellent book describes a fighting style (Defendu) drawn from different eastern styles, honed on the waterfronts of Shanghai in the 1930s and and then taught to British commandos in the Second World War.
It is a minimalist style, stripped down to its essential elements and designed to be taught to large groups of people to get the most results with the minimum of training time. The commonality between armizare and defendu are that they are both close range fighting styles characterised by an excessively brutal finish. Both authors explicitly state that this is what their objectives are.
In the introduction to his book, Fairbairn writes ‘you cannot afford the luxury of squeamishness. Either you kill or capture, or you will be captured or killed. We’ve got to be tough to win, and we’ve got to be ruthless – tougher and more ruthless than our enemies. … once closed with your enemy, give every ounce of effort you can muster, and victory will be yours.’
In a similar vein, Fiore writes in his introduction that his students should be ‘fighting for your life with every deception and falsehood and cruelty that can be done. … aim to hurt them in the most painful and most dangerous areas. In the eyes, in the nose, in the soft part under the chin, and in the flanks.’
It is interesting to compare these two style which have absolutely no cultural commonality at all, but share identical objectives. It is not surprising that the two styles share so much common ground in the techniques that they teach, given that their objectives are identical. Here are ten examples of commonality between the two.
One of the advantages of living where I do is that we have lots of banana trees growing here. Banana trees make excellent cutting targets. They are heavy and wet and dense, but also slightly spongy. They are about as close as you can get to getting a body without actually using a body. They have a fairly short life span and need to be cut out and trimmed. That gives us a good opportunity to practice cutting.
In this video, I am taking a look at the penetrating power of a spear. Spears not only have an advantage over most weapons in terms of reach, but also mass. This one weighs just under two kilos as compared to my longsword which weighs 1.4 kg.
Stepping off the line comes up quite a lot throughout armizare. There are plenty of examples throughout the book. If you go hunting, it comes up again and again and again.
When you’re stepping offline, the typical pattern is to step offline, make a beat and then step through with a counterstrike. But one of the questions that comes up every now and then is, is which way do you step. Do you step left or right when stepping off the line? The answer that you give has quite different ramifications.
Whether you step to the inside or outside, neither is wrong exactly, but they have very different tactical attributes. It makes an interesting concept to play around with and explore what difference it makes.
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?
How is it that some people are able to move with grace and ease across the floor while others are always stumbling over themselves? Why is it that some people are always at exactly the right range while others are never in quite the right spot to deliver an effective technique. And how is it that some people are always exactly where they need to be while others are constantly struggling from position? It all comes down to footwork.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here begins the plays of sword in two hands in narrow play in which it will be of all manner of covers, and strikes, and binds, and breaks, and grips, and sword disarms, and throws to the ground in different ways. And they will be the remedies and counters for every reason that you need for offence and defence.
We stand here crossed and from this crossing we will make all the plays which follow. We can do the same as each other. And all the plays will follow one another as I said before.
As with the 1st and 2nd Masters of sword in two hands, the 3rd Master also is crossed in a state of equalibrium with the player. Crossed at the base of the swords, both combatants have a strong bind. Either can take the role of master as stated ‘we can do the same as each other.’ The roles are decided by who moves first.
It is noteworthy that where the masters of wide play crossed swords with their left foot forward, the master of narrow play leads with the right. This closes the distance between the masters dominanat hand and the opponent, altering the lines of attack. Combat now occurs at the range of grappling and dagger techniques.
Here begins the plays of sword in two hands in wide play. This master who is here crossing this player at the point of the sword says: “When I am crossed at the point of the sword, I immediately switch my sword to the other side and fiercely strike a downward cut to the head or arms. Also I can put a thrust in his face, as you see in the next picture.
The 1st Master of Sword in Two Hands defends against an attack with Posta Frontale at such a distance that both swords are crossing at the tip of the blade, as shown in the picture. In this position, we can see the major defining characteristics of wide play.
As a fairly broad definition of wide play, although each combatant can grab the weapon or possibly arm of their opponent, they are unable to effectively deliver a strike without making a step.
To more tightly define what is happening here, both swords lack any real leverage in this crossing, making both the Master and the player weak in the bind. Also, due to the distance of the combatants and the angles of the blades, neither directly threaten each other with the point.
It is interesting to note that in all other manuscripts of Fior di Battaglia, both combatants in this play are Masters. The equality of their structures means that the play goes to whoever has the presence of mind to take advantage of the circumstances first.
As the Master, due to the lack of pressure in the bind, you are free to disengage, quickly lifting your sword over the tip of your opponents sword. This leaves an open line to the outside, along which you can strike down onto your opponents right forearm.
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.
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.
Also this Posta Coda Longa (Long Tail Guard) is good when one comes to meet him with his sword held on the left, as this enemy does. Know that this guard works against all blows from right and left, and against anyone who is either right or left handed. Here begin the plays of Posta Coda Longa that always beat aside in the way that is previously described in the first Posta Coda Longa.
With your right arm held across your body, and your right shoulder turned slightly to the front, you are positioned here to beat any attack across to your right.
As you make the beat, be aware that if you perform this with the same diagonal cut you are used to making on foot, you are likely to strike your own horse in the head. To avoid this, your cut must first lift up and then beat across the top of the horse. It moves in more of an arc than a straight line.
Not surprisingly, the scholars of the 8th master are not new techniques exactly, but previously described plays in the context of mounted combat.
There are several different examples both on foot and horseback of posta coda longa being used throughout Fior di Battaglia. You will see it in
We are three masters in guards with our spears, and they are based on those of the sword. And I am the first in Tutta Porta di Ferro (Full Iron Gate). I am placed to quickly beat the spear of the player, that is, I pass with the right foot and traverse off the line and in doing so, his spear will be beaten to the left. If I pass and beat in a single step, I will wound. This is something I cannot fail to do.
Holding the spear vertically with the point up, the First Master waits in Posta Tutta Porta di Ferro to sweep and counter any incoming attack. The length of the spear means the sweep will cover the entire body in a single move, something like a sliding door, and can then smoothly rotate into a counter thrust, either high or low depending on circumstances.
Alternatively, the master can rotate the spear into Posta Vera Crose and make a relatively close range attack with a butt strike.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I am the First Master and called the remedy. Because it is a remedy to so much, I say that in understanding this remedy, you cannot hurt me and that I can strike and hurt you. And for this, I cannot do better. I will send your dagger to the ground by turning my hand to the left side.
Because the rondel dagger used in armizare is essentially an extension out the base of the fist, it is by necessity a very close range weapon. The further away the attacker is, the easier the role of First Master becomes. Not only will there be less power in the attack, but the extra distance will give you more time to react, and it will increase the angle between the atttackers forearm and their dagger blade, providing easier access to your target.
As the First Master, drive your forearm up, with the line of your forearm being at 45 degrees to the floor. You are aiming for your own wrist to contact the wrist of the player at the apex of their strike. By putting a steep angle on you forearm, even if you miss the grab, you will still deflect the attack.
Lead with an open hand. Be aware that your main danger is driving your own hand onto the tip of the players dagger. Keep your fingers together with the thumb held closely to the hand. Open fingers catch on things and are easily damaged. Your palm faces towards you. The shape of your hand at the base of your thumb will make a hook for the players wrist to slot into.
As soon as contact is made, roll your hand over and grab on as shown. Doing the block in this manner will not only make for a much smoother motion than simply punching your hand out, but it also generates a degree of torque. You can build on the momentum begun by rotating your forearm in an anticlockwise direction. Keep your palm now facing down, and bring your elbow close to your hip. This will lever the dagger out of the players hand, and also leave them wide open for your own counterstrike.
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.
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.
Here are three players that want to kill this Master. One to stab him, the other to cut, the other wants to throw his sword against the said master. It will be a great deed that he is not killed, for God has made him very skillful.
Translation – Master
‘You are cowardly wretches and of this art you know little. Do the deeds that you can only talk of. Come one by one, if you dare, and if you were a hundred I would ruin you all, this guard is so good and strong.’ I advance my front foot a little off the line and with the left, I cross sideways. And in that step across, beating your sword aside I find you uncovered, and make sure I hurt you. And if a spear or sword is thrown I will beat them all as I described by passing off the line, as you see in my plays that come after. Please watch for them. And even with a single-handed sword I will do my art as it is said in these papers.
The master of sword in one hand makes a universal defence which is common to Fiores weapon systems. Whether the master advances their front foot to the left or right is something Fiore never elaborates on throughout the many plays that use this basic concept of defence. Either side works, but the different steps give different qualities to your actions.
Defence begins with rear weighted Posta Coda Longa. Note that the right elbow is anchored to the hip. As the masters hip revolves clockwise, the sword will sweep across the body, providing either attack or defence as circumstances require.
Regardless of which of the players attacks, the Master uses the same defence. Cut upwards with a roverso sottano, beating the attack to your right. As you do so, step through with your left foot, so closing in on your opponent. This leaves you a clear line of attack to proceed with the plays which follow.
Sliding your front foot to the right is not only an instinctive way to move, but is also implied by the way different plays following on from both this master and others who use the universal defence. You will almost always be sliding your right foot to the right. Doing so puts you directly in the line of your opponents attack. You must be greatly assertive when beating the attack aside as it leaves no room for error. To your advantage, however, is that widening your stance will open your hips right up, and allow you to put a great deal of power into your beat. In doing so, you will dominate the centerline. The directness and mechanical ease of opening your stance will also make this method slightly faster.
Sliding your front foot to the left closes your hips off quite substantially and robs you of a lot of power, however, it also moves you off the line of attack. There is no need to beat your opponents attack wide, as you will no longer be standing where the attack is directed. You are more defining your right edge and will need to step past it. This changes your angle of attack and so opens up previously unavailable targets. The need to move further makes this a slightly slower method. Although a viable option, sliding offline like this is an unusual exception, usually done for tactical reasons rather than making a direct assault.
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.
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