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True or False: Vadi’s First Play of the Sword

I recently posted this video as part of the ongoing Vadi interpretation work I am doing. As should be clear from the context, this is not syllabus-ready material, it is just my first proper take on the subject. In other words, the interpretations in the video are not the gospel according to Guy, but an indication of my current thoughts on the subject. Bear that in mind when putting it into practice!

This play is tricky to interpret as the image seems to show something that directly contradicts an earlier statement in the text. I don’t know of anyone who has a definitive interpretation with no such inconsistencies. So this may be a good place to look at the assumptions I am making, as they shed light on the process of interpretation that I tend to follow. And a deeper look into the text that may support my current view.

Here is the image in question:

Vadi first LS Play

And the text that goes with it:

E reverso fendente ho tratto sul pe stanco 

Senza scanbiar pe voltando el galone 

Traro el dritto senza moverme anco.

I have made a roverso fendente on the left foot,
Without changing the foot turning the hips

I strike a dritto without further movement.

(Translation mine, from Veni Vadi Vici, p 126)

The first question then is can we trust the image? It is possible to argue that given medieval artistic conventions and the like that the the play done in real life may not look much like the image. I reject these arguments out of hand on the grounds that there is no end then to what the image may represent- it becomes essentially useless. I make exceptions only for images that are anatomically impossible to replicate, such as this one from the Getty MS:

The famous Alien defence, where an extra arm explodes out of your chest at the critical moment.
The famous Alien defence, where an extra arm explodes out of your chest at the critical moment.

To claim that an interpretation looks nothing like the image because the image is wrong demands a hefty burden of proof. So we might ask, are the other images in this MS reliable? And with the exception of sudden hand changes (eg the 12th play, p 134), and the 14th play (p135) where it appears that they would both be injured, I think yes. There is no good reason to suppose that this play should not look just like the picture.

So what is the picture trying to show? There is no doubt, given the foot placement, and the blade relationship, that the figure on the left is doing the action in the text. So, is this image showing us the roverso (backhand), or the dritto (forehand) mentioned? As a general rule, derived from my experience, and to which I cannot offhand think of a single exception, treatise illustrations show the moment of the final action of the text. They may show the beginning, middle, or end of a technique, such as the 8th, 9th and 10th plays of the zogho stretto from the Getty MS, subject of this article and this video, but the text accompanying a given image will then state that the play is in an intermediate stage, and the image will show that stage. So this image is most probably showing the “dritto” stage of the action. Given that this blow ends up with the hands crossed on the right hand side, it appears that the scholar has struck a descending blow with the false edge, or is thrusting.

“But hold!” you say, and rightly too. Does Vadi not clearly state in Chapter Five, verse three (on p. 60) that descending blows use the true edge?

Let’s take a look. It’s a tiny chapter, so let’s have the whole thing:

La spada sia una ponta con doi taglie 

Pero bem nota et intende questo scripto 

Che la memoria tua non sabarbaglie 


Luno sie el false et laltro sie el dirito

E la ragione si comanda e vole
Che questo tenghe nel cervel tuo fitto


Deritto col deritto inseme tole 

El riverso col falso inseme sia

Salvo el fendente lo diritto vole.


Intende bene la scriptura mia 

Sepetti colpi son che la spada mena 

Sei taglii con la punta quel feria


Accio che du ritrovi questa vena
Doi de sopra et de sotto e dui mezane

La ponta por mezzo con ingagne et pena 

Che laer nostro sa spesso serena.


The sword has a point and two edges,

But note well and understand this text,

That memory will not fail you.


One is the false, and the other the true,

And reason commands and desires,

That this is fixed in your brain.


Forehand and true edge go together,

Backhand and false edge stay together,
Except the fendente which wants the true.


Understand my text well,
The sword goes with seven blows

Six cuts with the thrust that strikes.


So that you will find this seam,
Two from above and below and two in the middle,
The thrust up the middle with deceit and suffering,
That our Air is often calm.

Fine. So far, so clear. Fendenti take the true edge.

Later, on p 111, we see this image of those seven blows, and the text that reads:

Qvesti son colpi de spa da due mane. 

Non glie el mezo tempo: nel nodo rimane.

These are the blows of the two-handed sword,

Not those of the mezo tempo, they remain in a knot.

So it would appear that mezo tempo blows, whatever they may be, are named differently, or take different paths, or something. It seems clear though that the information on this page does not apply to them.

So what are they? We find them in Chapter 14, pp 95 to 97.

My commentary on this chapter runs like so:

“In this little chapter Vadi describes for us the way to strike safely from the meza spada crossing, using a “half time” or “half motion” of the sword. This may well be what Fiore refers to as a “meza volta of the sword”, and action he mentions but never defines. Fiore’s meza volta is a footwork action, defined thus: when with a pass forwards or backwards you can play on the other side. He goes on to say that there is a half- turn of the sword, but never refers to it in a way that would allow us to be sure what it is. Here, Vadi’s mezo tempo blow is the means by which you can, from the crossing, strike safely on the other side of the opponent’s sword. The key is to keep your hands in front of you, and turn the sword without losing your cover. As Vadi says, one who does not practice will parry badly, and thus get hit.

Up to now, the common interpretation of Vadi’s mezo tempo has been a half-blow which (as the text says) treats as one the cover and the strike. In effect, a counterattack, or counter-cut, much like the Liechtenauer technique zornhau ort. This may be so, but does not fit with the rest of the book, nor with the repeated description that these blows “remain in a knot” or are “a turn of the knot”. Executing these blows from the crossing though, we do simply keep our hands as a knot in front of us, and turn them from one side to the other.

We can cross-reference this to folio 15V, the blows of the sword in two hands, which are illustrated as full blows (as in Fiore), and are specifically not those of the mezo tempo, as Vadi writes:

Qvesti son colpi de spa da due mane. 

Non glie el mezo tempo: nel nodo rimane.

These are the blows of the two-handed sword,
Not those of the mezo tempo, they remain in a knot.

This may also exempt us from applying the injunctions about striking roverso volante and roverso rota with the false edge – these blows of the mezo tempo are mechanically different, and we will normally have to use the true edge even in these two cases to avoid losing the cover.

The key here is to keep your hands in front of you, and your sword between your face and your opponent’s blade.”

I can see that I should explain for those who have not read “the rest of the book” that chapter 11 begins with what to do when crossed at the half sword, and includes a strike to the head done with the false edge (p 85); chapter 12 discusses the feints of the sword done explicitly from the meza spada crossing, and chapter 13 discusses what to do when crossed at the half sword, and includes the following:

E e si pur tu volesti trar ferire 

Lassali andar el fendente riverso 

E filo falso con la punta al vixo.

(Voltandoli atraverso)

And if you want to throw blows,
Let a fendente roverso go,
And a false edge with the point in his face

(turning it across)

Which seems very like this first play of the sword too.

It would seem likely then that chapter 14 is continuing this theme of working from the crossing at the meza spada, and we have at least two specific instances in the text of false edge blows being done to the head.

Lastly then, can we source similar actions being done in contemporary systems for the same weapon? Indeed yes, this action has much in common, both mechanically and tactically, with the duplieren type winding at the half sword. Indeed, this is one of those plays that my students who have trained in the Liechtenaer system find much easier to learn than those who have not.

In the first interpretation shown in the video (time 0.25-0.42) Ilpo and Jarno are showing this play as I would do it if we had no image, just following the text and the general principles of this system. So, for anyone who believes that the image is wrong, this is how I suggest you do the play, though I would be inclined to do that action from the crossing of the swords shown later in the video (from about 1.27) as the basic, default interpretation.

In fine, then, I take the mezo tempo blows to be those done from the meza spada crossing, and specific, textually supported exceptions to the general admonition regarding the blows of the sword, namely that fendenti must be done with the true edge. And while my interpretation may well change as we go through all the other plays and start to incorporate Vadi’s material into our core syllabus, as it stands it follows the text, looks like the picture, fits with the general themes of the book, and has correlates in other systems using the same weapon. Enough to be going on with, I think.

I'm sure you have an opinion: do share!

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