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The Fiore Translation Project #12 The Guards (part 2 of 3)

[oops! I accidentally scheduled part 2 for this week, and part 1 for next. Sorry! don't worry though, part 1 is in the queue to post then. Part 3 is growing and growing- I thought it was about done but just added another 1000 words to it… and I'm still only part way through. But it will be ready and up for the week after.]

The next set of four guards are on folio 24r, and are: longa, porta di ferro mezana, breve, and dente di cenghiaro (long, middle iron door, short, boar’s tooth).

Let's take them one at a time.

Posta longa

Posta longa sie questa piena di falsita. Ella va tastando le guardie se lo compagno po inganare. Se ella po ferir de punta la lo sa ben far. E gli colpi la schiva, e po fieri sela lo po fare. Piu che le altre guardie le falsita sa usare.

Posta longa, instabile.

This is posta longa, full of deception. It goes tasting the guards of the companion to deceive. If it can make a thrust, it knows well how to do it. And it avoids blows, and can can strike, that it can do. More than the other guards, it uses deception. 

Long Guard, unstable.

Let’s unpack that a bit. What is ‘tasting the guards’? As I see it, if you enter into measure with your sword out in posta longa (as opposed to coming in with a committed blow), your opponent must react or your sword gets inside her no reaction zone, I.e. Too close for her to react in time if you strike. But because your sword is effectively still, you can move it out of the way, or parry, very easily. So you can sound out her responses, and force her out of her guard. The former is ‘tasting the guard’ the latter is ‘breaking the guard’.

If, while you are coming forward to ’taste the guard’, there’s an opportunity to strike, you would thrust. If she tries to beat your sword aside, you can ‘avoid the blow’, after which you would strike.

Recall also that guards tend to be the beginning, middle, or end of a blow. We saw on f23r that longa is specifically described as a place that sottani blows can end in. Longa is also the position that all fendenti blows, and all false-edge sottani blows will pass through or end in. 

Mezana porta di ferro

Questa e mezana porta di ferro per che sta in mezo [one or two letters illegible, probably “et”] e una forte guardia, ma ella vole longa spada. Ella butta forte punte e rebatte per forza le spade in erto, e torna cum lo fendente per la testa o per gli brazzi, e pur torna in sua guardia. Po ven chiamada porta per che la e forte, E de forte guardia che male se po rompere senza periculo e venire ale strette.

Porta di ferro mezana, stabile.

This is the middle iron door, because it is in the middle, and it is a strong guard, but it wants a long sword. It strikes strong thrusts and with strength beats swords up and away, and returns with the fendente to the head or to the arms, and then returns to its guard. It came to be called “gate” because it is strong, and a strong guard is hard to break without danger or coming to the close plays.

The middle iron door, stable.

It’s quite clear that you would lie in wait in this guard, and when your opponent attacks, you parry and strike. It’s a nice example of the sottani returning by the same path as the fendenti, as we read on f23r, and will see again on this page regarding dente di zenghiaro.

It’s interesting to note that Fiore specifies you need a long sword for this (note, not a ‘longsword’, a ‘sword that is perhaps longer than usual’). He has referred to the length of the sword before, in the text on 22r:

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.

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.

He also brings up the subject of weapon length in the discussion of the mezana porta di ferro with the spear, on f39r:

In meza porta di ferro io me o posto cum la lanza, lo rebatter e lo ferire e sempre mia usanza. E vegna chi vole cum meza lanza o stanga, che rebatter cum passo lo ferir non me mancha. Che tutte le guardie che stano fora de strada cum curta lanza e curta spada sono sufficienti aspettare ogni arma manuale longa. E quelle de la parte dritta covrano e cum coverta passa e metteno punta. E le guardie de parte sinistra covrano e rebatteno e di colpo fierano, e non po metter chossi ben punta.

I have placed myself in the middle iron door with the lance. Beating and striking is always my custom. And come who will with half-lance or staff, [I will] beat it aside with a pass, and I will not fail to strike. All the guards that are [held] out of the way [I.e. With the point offline] are sufficient to wait with the short lance or short sword against all long hand-held weapons. And those on the right side cover and with the cover pass and place the thrust. And the guards on the left side cover and beat aside, and strike with a blow, and cannot place the thrust so well.

I think we need to discuss this left-side/right-side business, especially as regards the spear. If you compare the guards on either side, you’ll see that the spear is used ambidextrously. Dente di Zenghiaro with the spear is the exact mirror image of tutta porta di ferro. So why would it behave differently?

Notice that all the spear attacks shown are being done from the player’s right hand side. If you’re also on the right, then your weapons are coming from either side, and will meet in the middle (more or less). So displacing the attack and immediately thrusting is quite easy. If you are on your left, and they attack from their right, then you are coming into the centre from the same side, and so you have to beat their weapon away much more vigorously.

You can see the basic remedy from all six spear guards in this video:

While we’re on the spear material, take a look at the counter-remedies:

What do you see?

This (in addition to much practical experience) is why at the basic level I say that you can only exchange the thrust (with the sword or any longer weapon) if you are both coming from your forehand side (it doesn’t matter if the opponent is left or right handed; it’s your forehand side). You can break the thrust from either side, regardless. If you have a look at my breaking the thrust and exchanging the thrust basic videos, you’ll see the difference:

Taking this back to the mezana porta di ferro: this guard is in the middle. This means it cannot parry easily from the forehand or backhand side, but instead parries upwards. It is mechanically much more similar to dente di zenghiaro than it is to tutta porta di ferro.

Posta Breve

Questa sie posta breve che vole longa spada. S’e maliciosa guarda che non a stabilita. Anche sempre si move e vede se po entrar cum punta e cum passo contra lo compagno. E pui e appiada tal guardia in arme che senzarme.

This is the short guard that wants a long sword. It is a malicious guard that does not have stability. It always moves and sees if it can enter with a thrust and with a pass against the companion. And this guard is more appropriate in armour than without armour.

In the bad old days of yesteryear, would-be Fioristas used to circle round each other out of measure, wandering through the guards (for no particular purpose, other than perhaps to show that they knew them, at least their external form), and then they would devolve into breve, and start poking at each other. It's natural, when you're under a bit of pressure, to hold your sword back where it can't be bound, and in the middle where you can jolly well see it.

It seems from Fiore’s description that things were much the same six hundred years ago. But, and it’s a big but, things are very different in armour, so that kind of ‘circle-circle-stab!’ fencing might make more sense when you are properly encased in steel.

It’s also interesting to note that the three guards Fiore mentions as ‘standing with the point in line’ are grouped together on this page:

Dente di zenghiaro

Questo sie dente di zengiaro per che dello zengiaro prende lo modo di ferire. Ello tra grande punte per sotto man in fin al volto e non si move di passo. E torna com lo fendente zo per gli brazzi. E alchuna volta tra la punta al volto e va cuz la punta erta, e in quello zitar di punta ello acresse lo pe ch’e dinanzi subito, e torna cum lo fendente per la testa e per li brazzi e torna in sua guardia, e subito zitta un altra punta cum acresser di pe e ben se defende delo zogho stretto.

This is the boar’s tooth because it takes its way of striking from the wild boar. He makes great underarm thrusts that end in the face, and does not move the stance. And returns with the fendente, for example to the arms. And sometimes he strikes a thrust to the face and goes with the point high, and in that throwing of the thrust it immediately steps the foot that is in front forwards, and returns with the fendente to the head, and to the arms, and returns in its guard, and immediately throws another thrust with the step forwards of the foot, and it defends well against the close plays.

It’s interesting to note that Fiore explains where the name comes from; my feeling is that this is one of the few guards (like longa and breve) where the naming actually has something to do with the guard’s function.

It’s also interesting to note that he doesn’t mention defence from this guard here, though if you recall this post, he does describe how to do it on f31r. 

You could easily come up with a striking drill from these instructions, that will turn you into a stabby slashy machine (and what more could one aspire to?):

  1. Stand in dente di zenghiaro
  2. Stab to the face without stepping
  3. Strike immediately down to the arms
  4. Thrust high to the face with an accrescere
  5. Strike immediately down to the head, and arms, and return to guard
  6. Immediately thrust again, with the step.

I’m just guessing, but I think Fiore would approve of us returning again to the guard and doing it all over again…

Now, how does dente di zenghiaro “defend against the close plays”? Good question, for which I don’t have a definitive answer, but I would say that

  1. if you are in this guard, neither your blade nor your arms can be bound- both features of close plays.
  2. if your opponent tries to enter in, you can probably stab them from here
  3. so they have to try to bind your sword, but it is more difficult to do so because you are coming from your left. 

You can see our “stretto form of second drill” here, which goes through what could happen if when you parry from zenghiaro, your opponent binds and enters.

Food for thought, I think!

Next week we'll conclude this section, and gear up in preparation for the plays of the zogho largo. Stay tuned!

This project is being published in stages. 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!

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

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