One of the major drivers of syllabus development is the difficulties the senior students have either with the drills themselves, or with making sense of them. Recently the stretto form of second drill has been causing problems. Most critically this comes from the (perfectly reasonable) perception that step four of the drill is the counter to step three. In other words that the entry to wrap counters the left-hand pommel grab (11th play of the zogho stretto). But of course, it doesn’t. The issue here is that one of the defining features of the crossing at the zogho stretto is that either player can make the plays that follow. So, what we have in the stretto forms of first drill and second drill is, at step three, how the attacker should respond to the crossing, and at step four, how the defender should respond to the crossing. But because they are set drills, the attacker knows what the crossing will be in advance, and so is busily executing his response to the crossing in the tempo in which the defender is trying to act. This is a fault of the design of the drills, not of the way they are being trained.

Let me note here that unless otherwise stated, play numbers refer to the Getty MS: there are 23 stretto plays in the Getty, but the PD is quite different, having 12 plays of the first master, crossed mandritto v mandritto, and 9 of the second, who is crossed roverso v roverso. You can see him and his scholar here:

To address this problem I have, with the assistance of the members of the intermediate class on Monday nights, come up with new versions of these drills. Unlike all the other drills in the syllabus, they branch: so the stretto forms of first drill and second drill come in two parts. In part one, the attacker enters at the crossing, to which the defender has a counter; in part two as the crossing is made the defender enters, to which the attacker has a counter.

The Pisani-Dossi second stretto master

The Pisani-Dossi second stretto master

So the stretto form of first drill, part one, goes like this:

  1. The attacker initiates, with a mandritto fendente.
  2. The defender counter-attacks, also with a mandritto fendente, sending his point into the attacker’s face.
  3. The attacker parries the counter-attack, keeping his point close to the defenders face, and grabs the defenders hilt (as in the second play of the zogho stretto).
  4. As the attacker parries, the defender grabs the attacker’s point and smashes it sword into his face (the 12th play of the zogho stretto).

This has the added benefit of including one of my favourite plays, the 12th play of the zogho stretto. Why blunt your sword on his face when you can use his? The text reads:

If someone parries from the mandritto side, grasp his sword with your left hand as shown and strike him with a thrust or cut. If you want, you can cut his face or neck with his own sword as you see in the picture. After I’m done striking you, I can leave my sword and grab yours, as the student after me will do. (trans Tom Leoni)

Grab his sword and hit him with it!

Grab his sword and hit him with it!

The stretto form of first drill, part two:

  1. The attacker initiates, with a mandritto fendente.
  2. The defender counter-attacks, also with a mandritto fendente, sending his point into the attacker’s face.
  3. The attacker parries the counter-attack, and the defender enters with a pommel strike (3rd play of the zogho stretto).
  4. The attacker counters the pommel strike with the ligadura mezana.

The stretto form of second drill, part one:

  1. The attacker initiates, with a mandritto fendente.
  2. The defender parries with a roverso sottano and strikes with a mandritto fendente.
  3. As the defender parries the attacker binds the parry, and grabs the defender’s pommel with his left hand and throws it over the defender’s left shoulder (the 11th play of the zogho stretto).
  4. As the attacker binds, and will try to enter, the defender kicks him in the nuts (stomach, amongst friends), and strikes with the sword.

The 11th play is important to know as it has a similarly general application as the 12th:

If someone parries on the riverso side, grasp his left hand and his whole pommel with your left hand and push him backward; then you may strike him with thrusts or cuts. (trans Tom Leoni)

grab his pommel and throw it over his left shoulder.

grab his pommel and throw it over his left shoulder.

I like having both these plays in the basic syllabus, as their context is so clearly defined.

The stretto form of second drill, part two:

  1. The attacker initiates, with a mandritto fendente.
  2. The defender parries with a roverso sottano and strikes with a mandritto fendente.
  3. As the attacker binds the parry, the defender enters to wrap, as we see for example in the Pisani Dossi MS, first and second plays of the second master of the zogho stretto.
  4. The defender counters the ligadura mezana with the 16th play of the zogho stretto (Getty MS). Note we already have the 15th play as a counter to the ligadura in the base form of second drill, so here is the alternative.

Many people find this counter to the ligadura mezana easier than the 15th play (which ends in a ligadura sottana, the most commonly used counter to the ligadura mezana, seen before in the 3rd and 4th plays of the 1st master of the dagger, and elsewhere).

throw your sword to his neck.

throw your sword to his neck.

The text reads:

I am the Counter of the student who tried dagger-plays against me–i.e. I act against the student in the second play before me. Slitting his throat would be going easy on him. And I can also throw him to the ground as quickly as I want to. (trans Tom Leoni)

Having these additional forms of the drills should clarify what is supposed to counter what: the main problem with the old versions was that “step four” was really “alternative step three if the defender had had the initiative at the moment of the crossing”. Breaking it down like this and adding the counters should solve the problem. This is one of the best bits about being the head of the school: if there is a problem with the syllabus I can just try to fix it, without committee meetings or appeal to a higher authority. I look forward to hearing from branch leaders whether these new drills have actually solved the problem, or whether they need more work. Bear in mind that they have not been tested yet in their proper environment: class. After teaching them for a few months we should have our answer.

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