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The Fiore Translation Project #7 The Sword in One Hand section summary and thoughts

As I see it, the sword in one hand section is very clearly a short and simple version of the system, foreshadowing Viggiani’s Lo Schermo (1575. Available in translation by Jherek Swanger here: buy it. It’s essential reading for any scholar of Italian swordsmanship of any period.). This parry from the left is so fundamental that Fiore concludes the plays of the longsword on foot out of armour with one:


Questi sono tre compagni che voleno alcider questo magistro che aspetta cum la spada a doy mane. Lo primo di questi tre vole lanzare la sua spada contra lo magistro. Lo segondo vole ferire lo detto magistro d’taglio o de punta. Lo terzo vole lanzare doy lanze chello aparechiado com’e qui depento.

These are three companions who wish to kill this master, who waits with the sword in two hands. The first of these three wishes to throw his sword against the master. The second wishes to strike the said master with cut or thrust. The third wishes to throw two lances that he has ready, as is pictured here.

Io spetto questi tre in tal posta, zoe, in dente di zengiaro, o in altre guardie poria spettare zoe in posta de donna la senestra, anchora in posta di finestra sinestra cum quello modo e deffesa che faro in dente di zenghiaro. Tal modo e tal deffesa le ditte guardie debian fare. Senza paura io spetto uno a uno e non posso fallire. Ne taglio ne punta ne arma manuale che mi sia lanzada. Lo pe dritto chi’o denanzi acresco fora de strada, e cum lo pe stancho passo ala traversa del arma che me incontra rebatendola in parte riversa. E per questo modo fazo mia deffesa. Fatta la coverta subito faro l’offesa.

I await these three in this guard, thus, in dente di zengiaro [boar’s tooth], or in other guards I could wait, thus in posta di donna la senestra [the woman’s guard on the left], also in posta di finestra sinestra [the window guard on the left], with this way and defence that I do in dente di zenghiaro. This way and this defence the said guards must do. Without fear I await [them] one by one, and I cannot fail. Neither cut nor thrust nor hand weapon that is thrown at me. The right foot that is in front I advance out of the way, and with the left foot I pass across the weapon that I encounter, beating it to the roverso side [of the opponent]. And in this way I make my defence. Making the cover I immediately make the offence.

And in armour: the technical instruction for the first play, another parry from the left, tells us to start in vera croce, the true cross, so I’ll begin with that from f32v:

Posta di vera crose che contra ti voglio fare. In mi le toi punte no pon entrare. De ti me coveiro in lo passare che faro. E de punta te feriro, senza fallo. Che ti e le altre guardie pocho mi pon fare tanto so bene lo armizare che non posso fallire lo incrosare, che in lo passar e in lo incrosar e in lo ferire l’arte vole questo a non fallire.

I want to make the guard of the true cross against you. [The guard is speaking to the guard opposite, posta breve la serpentina. I’ll cover that when I get to translating the whole of this section.] Your thrusts cannot enter against me. I will cover [your actions] in the pass that I will make. And I will strike you with a thrust without fail. You and the other guards can do little against me, my art of arms is so good that I cannot fail in the crossing. In the pass, and in the crossing, and in the strike I wish [to do], this will not fail.

And now the play itself, on f33r:

De posta di vera crose io son ensudo cum questa coverta passando fora de strada ala traversa. E di questa coverta si vedera quello ch’io posso fare per gli miei scolari lo posso mostrare. Chelli farano gli miei zoghi in complimento, quegli che sono de combatter a oltranza l’arte mostrarano senza dubitanza.

I have come from the vera croce guard with this cover, passing across out of the way. And with this cover you will see what I can do, I will show you through my scholars. They will do the completion of my plays. Those that are fighting ‘a oltranza’ [in earnest; to the bitter end; to the death] will show the art without doubt.

The play continues:

E son lo primo scolaro del magistro che me denanzi. Questa punta fazo per che ella esse di sua coverta. Anchora digo che dela posta di vera crose e de posta de crose bastarda se po fare questa punta, e digo de subito zoe conme lo zugadore tra una punta alo magistro o scolar che fosse in le ditte guardie overo poste lo magistro o scolar lo magistro overo scolar de andar basso cum la persona e passar fora de strada traversando la spada del scolaro, e cum la punta erta al volto overo al petto e cum lo mantenir de la spada basso come qui depento.

And I am the first scholar of the master that is before me. I make this thrust because it comes from his cover. Also I say that the true cross guard and the bastard cross guard can do this thrust, and I say immediately. So, when the player comes with a thrust to the master or scholar who was in the said guards [poste] or guards [guardie], the master or scholar, the master or scholar, goes low with their body and passes out of the way across the scholar’s sword, and with the point up to the face or to the chest, and with the handle of the sword low as is pictured here.

Note the accidental repetition of ‘master or scholar’, and crossing the scholar’s sword, where it should obviously be the player’s. Don’t exaggerate the ‘going low with the body’; you’re in armour after all. I think this is mentioned because students have a tendency to rise up with the parry, which is a mechanical error.

Don’t let me get too far off topic. We’re still focussing on the plays of the sword in one hand. But there are more parries from the left. Every parry done with the sword in the mounted combat section is done from the left. Starting with the plays of the sword against sword (so skipping all the lance stuff, which also has, you guessed it, parries from the left), we have these two masters on 43v:

Questo portar di spada se chiama posta de coda longa e sie molto bona contra lanza e contra ogni arma manuale cavalcando de la parte dritta dello suo inimigo. E tente ben a mente che le pu[n]te e li colpi riversi si debano rebatter in fora, zoe , ala traversa e non in erto. Eli colpi de fendenti si debano rebatter per lo simile in fora levando un pocho la spada dello suo inimigo. E po fare gli zoghi segondo le figure depente.

This way of carrying the sword is called the guard of the long tail, and it is very good against lance, or against all hand weapons, riding on the right hand side of your enemy. And keep well in mind tha the thrusts and the backhand blows you must beat away, thus, across and not up. And the fendente blows must similarly be beaten away, lifting your enemy’s sword a little. And you can make the plays according to the drawn figures.

Anchora questa propria guardia de choda longa sie bona quando uno gli vene incontra cum la spada a man riversa come vene questo mio inimigo. E sapia che questa guardia e contra tutti colpi de parte dritta e di parte riversa e contra zaschun che sia o dritto o manzino. E qui dredo cominzano gli zoghi di coda longa che sempre rebatte per lo modo che ditto denanzi in prima guardia de coda longa.

Also this same guard of the long tail is good when one comes against you with the sword on the backhand side as this enemy of mine comes. And know that this guard is against all blows from the forehand side, and from the backhand side, and against anyone who is right-handed or left-handed. [YES! Fiore does mention left-handers explicitly. Manzino, left-hander]. And below follow the plays of coda longa that always beats in the way that is said above, in the first guard of coda longa. 

The mechanics are similar, though of course you can’t step across in the same way- that’s the horse’s job!

You can also find covers from the left in the second, third, and seventh masters of the dagger (ff 13r, 13v, 17r), the guard of porta di ferro mezana with the pollax (f35v), and the dente di zenghiaro guards on 24r and 24v. You can surely find even more if you look… oh yes, there’s one with the spear too (40r).

One of the downsides of this kind of examination of the treatise is that you can lose sight of the book itself, and the way that the section we're looking at fits into the book as a whole. I highly recommend having a printed facsimile of the book to hand, ideally one that preserves the layout of the original. Such as this one. (Non-US readers, go here)

We also see this action in every messer treatise I’ve come across. 

Here it is in Talhoffer (translation by Cory Winslow, on Wiktenauer)

Here begins the Messer.

God please do not forget us.

He will hew from the roof.

So he will he displace the hew with might.

He has his hew completed.

He has displaced the blow and will over-grip him.


Here has he over-gripped him and hewed him through the head and the before described piece has an end.

Looks familiar, doesn't it? 

Two hundred years later, even Capoferro gets in on the act with his “secure way to defend yourself against all sorts of blows”, at the end of Gran Simulacro. 


Wanting to put an end to this, my work, it does not seem to be to be out of place to seal it with this brief discourse of mine, which consists only of demonstrating the virtue and the action of the guards of prima and quarta, discovering in prima the offense, and in quarta the defence, the beginning and end of whatsoever honoured scheme; considering that quarta defends against any blow, resolute or irresolute, and prima offends the adversary, accordingly it is necessary to say (for the two to be faithful companions) that the beginning of the one is the end of the other, and thus, without beginning and end they evade beginning and ending, since the prima begins from high and finishes in a somewhat low quarta, and this is for two reasons. First, because if the adversary throws a thrust or a cut, passing somewhat with the left foot, in parrying with a riverso toward the right side of the adversary, advancing the right foot, one can strike with an imbroccata in the chest, and by such an end, one returns into the guard of quarta. Second, because the adversary cannot offend if not to the right side, which can easily be defended with an ascendente from the said quarta, demonstrating nonetheless in these actions boldness in the face, the eye quick to recognize the uncovered and covered parts of the adversary, strength and speed in the legs, arms, and hands, quickness in parrying and striking, and agility in the body; and this is the nature of the guards of prima and quarta.

THE END (Translation by William Wilson and Jherek Swanger. Shouty CAPS are in the original.)

This parry is one of the foundations of swordsmanship, culminating even in Angelo’s parry of carte over the arm (done with the false edge from the left!).

So we should not be surprised to find that this parry from the left is so prevalent in Fiore’s manuscript, nor that he would choose to introduce sword against sword actions with this parry.

Now let's think about the section as a whole. I wrote this in Advanced Longsword (Non-US readers go here) p84-86:

This would be the perfect place to go through the eleven plays of the sword in one hand, so let me summarise them for you below.

You parry a cut. It either beats the sword wide or it doesn’t. From there, your opponent is either still, moving away or moving in. That gives you the first seven plays; then you have the defence against the thrust, then the defence against an over-committed blow, and finally dealing with an opponent in armour. It looks like this:

Or indeed, like this:

Notice here how we have a complete mini-system that takes into account all eventualities while keeping things very simple. Add the master in all his solo glory and you have twelve plays, so the whole thing fits neatly into your memory palace.

You do have a memory palace, right?

Skipping along to the very end of the manuscript, we see this on f46r:

Questo Ribaldo mi fuzua a una forteza tanto corsi che io lo zunsi apresso la forteza a sempre corando a tutta brena. E de mia spada lo feri sotta la l’asena, li che male si po l’omo armare Et per paura de soy amisi voglio retornare.

This cad escaped from me to a castle. I rode so hard that I caught him close to the castle, always running at full rein. And with my sword I struck him under the armpit, where it is hard to protect a man with armour. And for fear of his friends I want to return.

Note, this is the last play in the book. This ‘ribald’, ‘cad’, or ‘scoundrel’ is running away. Riding hard, I catch him. Riding at ‘full rein’- we have that expression in English still- to give free rein, or full rein, to something is to let the reins go slack, so the horse is not curbed in any way. Give it your all. Stab him in the armpit (l’asela, modern Italian, l’ascella), because it’s hard to armour. Then run away from his friends. Who are in the castle. Doing things. Things that you have seen counters to over the last 90-odd pages. 

This is clearly not a technique or play as such. It’s a vivid image of your memory palace, and the villains it contains. Place your abrazare on the ground floor, perhaps, in 20 rooms. Divide your second floor into nine chambers, each with a master… and so on.

Memory training is a really useful skill, and I have a few book recommendations for you:

Academic discussion of medieval memorisation techniques: Carruthers, Mary J. 1990. The Book of Memory

Classic book of memorisation techniques: Lorayne, Harry, and Jerry Lucas. 1974. The Memory Book

Fun modern memoir of developing a world-class memory: Foer, Joshua. 2011. Moon Walking with Einstein

Next week we’ll take a look at the next longsword section, which begins with an honest-to-god discussion of footwork. In a medieval treatise. Seriously. See you then. In the meantime, feel free to buy me a beer, via the Be a Patron page.

You can get part one, The Sword in One Hand, as a free PDF by subscribing to my mailing list below, or buy it in ebook format from Amazon or Gumroad. You can get Part two, Longsword Mechanics, from Amazon or Gumroad too!

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