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Fiore Translation Project #8 Footwork

O lordy. Here we go. This page alone blows every other longsword treatise out of the water. We have footwork, people. Clearly-defined terms. Nothing vague, mysterious or difficult. This section begins with these words above the picture:

Noy semo doi guardie, una si fatta che l’altra, e una e contraria de l’altra. E zaschuna altra guardia in l’arte una simile de l’altra sie contrario, salvo le guardie che stano in punta, zoe, posta lunga e breve e meza porta di ferro che punta per punta la piu lunga fa offesa inanci. E zoe che po far una po far l’altra. E zaschuna guardia po fare volta stabile e meza volta. Volta stabile sie che stando fermo po zugar denanci e di dredo de una parte. Meza volta si e quando uno fa un passo o inanzi o indredo, e chossi po zugare de l’altra parte de inanzi e di dredo. Tutta volta sie quando uno va intorno uno pe cum l’altro pe, l’uno staga fermo e l’altro lo circundi. E perzo digo che la spada si ha tre movimenti, zoe volta stabile, meza volta, e tutta volta. E queste guardie sono chiamate l’una e l’altra posta di donna. Anchora sono iv cose in l’arte, zoe passare, tornare, acressere, e discressere.

We are two guards, one made like the other, and one is counter to the other. And [with] every other guard in the art one like the other is the counter, except for the guards that stand with the point [in the centre], thus, long guard and short, and middle iron door, that thrust against thrust the longer will strike first. And thus what one can do the other can do. And every guard can do the stable turn and the half turn. The stable turn is when, standing still, you can play in front and behind on one side. The half turn is when one makes a pass forwards or backwards, and thus can play on the other side, in front and behind. The whole turn is when one goes around one foot with the other foot, the one staying still and the other going around. And so I say that the sword also has three movements, thus stable turn, half turn, and full turn. And these guards are called, one and the other, the woman’s guard. Also there are four things in the art, thus: pass, return, advance, and retreat.

Let’s unpack this. 

1. The two guards shown are both posta di donna. One is shown forward weighted, the other back weighted. I interpret the difference between them to be a volta stabile (more on that later). 

2. Any two guards that are alike can counter each other. 

3. Except for guards that have the point in the centre line (longa, breve, and mezana porta di ferro; more on those in the next section). This is because the longer sword will strike first. Here I’m translating punta as point (stano in punta, stand with the point), and thrust (punta per punta, thrust against thrust). The meaning is obvious whichever way you translate it though: don’t stand with your point in line against someone else who has their point in line unless you have the longer sword.

4. Any similar guards can do what the guards they are like can do.

5. Every guard can do the volta stabile and the meza volta. (I use the Italian terms for technical actions, guards, etc. where possible. Refer to the glossary if you need it.

6. The volta stabile: I interpret stando fermo, standing still, to mean without stepping, or moving a foot. As I do the volta stabile, the balls of my feet stay on the same spot on the ground. It makes no sense for a turning action to involve no movement at all, so standing still cannot mean literally ‘not moving’.

7. The meza volta: this is a passing action, forwards or backwards. I interpret that to include a turn of the hips and body, so you go from one side to the other. 

8. The tutta volta: here again we have a ‘fixed’ foot, that, unless your legs are made of swivel-joints (top tip: they’re not), must at least turn around itself for the action to occur. This supports my reading of ’stando fermo’ above. Simply, this is whenever you pivot on one foot by turning the other one round it. There is a video of me doing these three movements further down this post.

9. The sword also has three movements: stable turn, half turn, and full turn. Unfortunately there is no further discussion of this, and these terms simply aren’t used in the rest of the book. Fiore will tell us to ‘turn the sword’ for instance in the play of the punta falsa, on f27v, but never with the qualifiers stable half or full. So I simply do not use these terms to apply to sword actions. Other instructors and interpreters do, but you should be aware that there is no evidence supporting any one interpretation of these turns over another.

10. In case you missed it the first time: both these guards are posta di donna. Both of them. Got that?

11. There are four things in the Art: pass, return, advance and retreat. (See the video further down this post.)

Let me further unpack those four things:

Passare and Tornare

Passare is to pass; an unexceptional and totally uncontroversial word meaning to step with one foot going past the other. As we see from the meza volta definition, it can be done forwards and backwards. Tornare is also a pass, but backwards. It literally means to return (please note: it in no way implies a turning action). It is not often used in the treatise, though you can find it used on f19r, in the play of the dagger defending against a sword thrust:

Qui cominza Spada e daga a zugare. La vantazo e grande a chi lo sa fare. Lo magistro spetta in questa guardia. E la guardia se chiama denti di zenghiaro. Vegna tagli e punte che di quello mi so guardare. Lo pe dritto cum rebatter in dredo lu faro tornare. Lo zogo stretto so a mente e non lu posso fallare. A uno a uno vegna chi contra me vol fare. Che se ello non me fuzi io lo guastaro in un voltare.

Here begin the sword and the dagger to play. The advantage is great to the one that knows how to do it. The master waits in this guard. And the guard is called the boar’s tooth. Come cut or thrust, I am watching for them. I make a return with the right foot with the parry. I have the close play in mind and I cannot fail. Come one by one, whoever wants to act against me. They cannot escape me, I’ll smash them in one turn.

Note: I’ve translated ‘rebatter’ here as parry, because you’re doing it with the dagger against the sword, so it doesn’t feel like a ‘beat’, the way I would translate it sword against sword.

The play is shown in the next illustration:

Lo mio magistro contra la punta fa tal coverta e subito fieri in lo volto overo in lo petto. E cum daga contra spada sempre vole zogo stretto. Qui son stretto e ti posso ben ferire, o vogli o no tu lo conven sofrire.

My master makes this cover against the thrust, and immediately strikes in the face or in the chest. And with the dagger against the sword one always wants close play. Here I am close and can strike you well. Whether you want to or not, you will suffer.

I need to shoot a video of this action- in the meantime, you can find it on pages 140-142 of The Medieval Dagger  as you can see in these page caps:

Notice that the tornare here isn’t really a full pass back: the feet come together. But I do end up with the other foot forwards, so they must pass each other.

You can also find tornare used in the text regarding posta frontale, on f24v, the pollax guard finestra, on f36r, and in the spear guard dente di zenghiaro, on f40r. Note, I’ve not done an exhaustive search for it, as it is an uncontroversial word.

Acressere and Discressere

We know from the internal evidence that accressere (literally ‘increase’, which I translate as ‘advance’) is a movement of the front foot forwards and/or to the side, without passing, such as in the plays of the sword in one hand. Discressere (literally ‘decrease’) is used much more rarely (I’ve had a quick look, but can’t find a single instance. There’s bound to be one somewhere, feel free to point it out), but is obviously a step back without passing. 

This video is extracted from the 23 minute longsword footwork class module from the Fundamentals: Footwork course. If Fiore's footwork fascinates you, you can buy just that one section for only $20 (plus sales tax in the EU, sorry), here: https://swordschool.teachable.com/p/longsword-footwork-mini-course

The mini-course also includes a $100 discount voucher for the whole course.

In conclusion then, we have three turns (stable, half, and full), and four steps (pass forwards, pass back, step forwards, step back), making seven things. I wonder how many blows of the sword there are? That’s coming in a couple of weeks. Next up will be the six ways of holding the sword, starting with the rest of this page. See you then.

I've completed work on all the longsword out of armour and on foot plays, and it has been published as From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice

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

3 Responses

  1. The only place I can think of where discressere is mentioned is in the cutting of the leg play:

    “Quando uno te tira per la gamba discresse lo pe’ ch’è denanzi o tu lo torna indredo e tira del fendente per sua testa come qui depento.” (Getty)

    I have a question though.

    Now since the play requires the front leg to move out of the way (and this being the only place I can think of discressere being mentioned) I’ve come to interpret the accressere simply as elongating the stance by taking a step forward with the front foot and discressere as shortening the stance by withdrawing the front leg. Whatever footwork that follows is arbitrary. Now my Italian skills still being next to nothing, are there any linguistic clues in the previous passage that would suggest otherwise?

    1. Was just going to say that, about withdrawing the foot against a cut to the leg.

      Also worth noting that when advised to acresco we’re usually told explicitly to do it with one — the front — foot. This is another reason why I agree with your interpretation.

      1. There are a couple of things to consider here:
        1) I don’t think that ‘discrescere’ need be only one specific thing. A step back to gain time, or withdrawing the front foot, are both ‘decreases’, if you like. Fiore doesn’t define these terms probably because they just don’t need it. Think of how many different ways you could ‘step back’.
        2) Simply elongating the stance doesn’t do very much to either gain ground, or gain power, or gain stability. We almost invariably find the acrescere accompanied by a movement of the back foot- often ‘passo ala traversa’, or a kick to the knee (see 4th play of the master of the zogho largo crossed at the middle of the swords). Bringing up the back foot to restore the original stance is never explicitly discussed, but there are many times when people will naturally do exactly that. And as with the discrescere, there’s no reason to suppose there is only one foot action that satisfies the condition of ‘acrescere’.
        Does that help?

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