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The Fiore Translation Project #19: Slip the Leg, and Kick the Nuts

The seventh play of the sword in two hands in zogho largo punishes the opponent for offences against geometry. Pythagoras is widely credited with establishing the relationship between the lengths of the sides of a right angled triangle (though I think the Babylonians got there centuries earlier). In short, the square of the length of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the lengths of the other two sides. So, a right-angled triangle with sides of lengths 3 and 4 units (cm, mm, inches, miles, the unit doesn’t matter) will have a hypotenuse length of 5 (because 3×3 + 4×4 = 5×5).

Which means that the hypotenuse is always the longest side.

Your arm is attached at the shoulder, and you measure is determined by the placement of your front foot, approximately directly below your shoulder. This means that you can strike to shoulder height from further away than you can strike to shin height. If you're striking at or about shoulder height, and your opponent is striking downwards at your shin, you can be in measure to strike them while they are too far away.

This play illustrates this beautifully. 

Quando una te tra per la gamba, discresse lo pe ch’e denanzi. O tu lo torna in dredo. E tra del fendente per sua testa com’e qui depento. Ben che cum spada de doy man non si de trare del zinochio in su. Per che troppo grand’ pericolo a cho luy che tra. Ch’ello rimane tutto discoverto quello che tra per gamba. Salvo che se uno fosse cazudo in terra poria si ben trar per gamba. Ma altramente no, siando spada contra spada.

When someone strikes at your leg, step the front foot back. Or you can pass it back. And strike a fendente to their head as is shown. So being with the sword in two hands, do not strike below the knee. Because there is too great a danger to the one who strikes. They, the one who strikes at the leg, would remain completely uncovered. Unless one had fallen to the ground, then you could well strike at the leg. But otherwise no, being sword against sword.

Let’s unpack this a bit:

1. When someone strikes at your leg, slip it back with a step back or a pass back.

2. And strike them in the head with a fendente.

3. With the longsword, never strike below the knee- note that this allows strikes to the thigh, and even to the knee itself.

4. If you do strike below the knee you are exposing yourself.

5. Unless you have fallen to the ground- then it’s ok to strike below the knee. One could also read that to mean if the opponent has fallen- presumably, if they are lying on the ground and the closest target is their foot, then you could strike it. 

From a geometrical perspective this all makes perfect sense. And it’s very interesting to note that the fight does not necessarily stop when one player has fallen (though in a formal duelling context in this period it often would).

The set-up from this play can be as simple as your partner launching a direct attack from wide measure at your shin, or it can follow from the crossing. I see this play as an example of a general principle, not a specific technique as such.

Here's the basic play:

Please note that as with the colpo di villano, the cut to the lower leg is bad fencing. So ideally get your coach to train your response to it; don’t get comfortable with making the incorrect action.

The next play continues the geometrical theme, though less explicitly.

Questo partido ch’e io ti fiero cum lo pe in li cogloni el fazo per far te doglia e per far te suariare la coverta. Che fazando questo zogho volesse fatto subito, per non avere del contrario dubito. Lo contrario di questo zogo vol esse presto fatto, zoe che lo zugadore de piglare per la gamba dritta lo scolaro cum sua mane stancha, e in terra lo po buttare.

This technique is that I strike you with my foot in the balls. I do it to cause you pain, and to make your cover falter. In making this play you want to do it immediately, so you don’t have to worry about the counter. The counter to this play wants to be done quickly, thus: the player grabs the right leg of the scholar with their left hand, and can throw them to the ground.

This is quite straightforward, but note that this depends on the crossing of the swords being such that while your weapon is tied up dealing with your opponent’s, you are nonetheless able to take a foot off the ground without losing your cover. 

Here it is on video:

What about the geometry? Well, we have seen two kicks in the zogho largo section: in plays 4 and 8. One done to the knee or shin, the other to the groin. Your foot is attached by your leg to your hip; striking at hip-height (which is pretty close to groin height) gives you the maximum reach. 

For more information about kicking, hark back to this post.

Striking lower works because it’s a shorter tempo (your foot doesn’t have to go very far), but we don’t see kicks higher than the groin in this or any other medieval treatise (prove me wrong! I would LOVE to find a kick to the head in a medieval combat treatise. Why? I just like kicks).

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!

4 Responses

  1. It’s not always a very popular opinion, but my sensei (in Goju-ryu karate) always advises against kicking any higher than the groin. Why? Because it’s slow*. By the time a headkick gets to your head, you’ve had time to react, start your own kick and land it, against the headkicker’s knee or groin. Or just can just shrug a shoulder and take the kick there. The only time high kicks work is when you clearly have the advantage in timing or geometry. Like when your opponent’s back is halfway turned and you’re in a blind spot and his intentions are focused on a different area of the fight.

    *Another very good reason is that there are no high kicks in any of the katas, which I’ve always seen as the karate equivalent of the fechtbuchen.

  2. I hate to be That Guy (not THAT Guy, but, you know… that guy), but the sides being 3 and 4 does not follow from the hypotenuse being 5 — but rather the other way around. (For example, the hypotenuse could be 5, and the sides could each be 5*sqrt(2)/2). The basic point stands, though, that the hypotenuse is strictly greater than either side.

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