If you have been following The Fiore Translation Project from the beginning, you may recall that I gave myself permission to skip about in the treatise as the whimsy takes me. I had a nagging feeling that I ought to include the plays of the dagger against the sword, and the sword in the scabbard against the dagger, and so here we are.
One of the things that was stopping me getting to these plays earlier was that I realised I didn’t have them on video anywhere, so on my last trip to Seattle, when the topic came up in class, I asked the students present if they’d be happy with my videoing the demonstrations. It’s a firm principle with me that the students who show up to my classes get priority over those that don’t (for whatever reason- this is not a value judgement on those who can’t afford to fly from Thailand to America every time I teach a class there. Or are even in Seattle but have other commitments). This means that though I’m always happy having my classes videoed, I’m never going to inconvenience my class for the sake of people not present.
But they’re a nice bunch of people at Lonin, so the videos were shot and you get to watch them. Try to contain your excitement.
This section begins on folio 19r, and it immediately follows the final plays of the ninth master of the dagger. As such, it forms a beautiful segue between the dagger plays and the sword plays. First the dagger beats the sword, then the sword beats the dagger, and then we’re into the plays of the sword in one hand.
So, without further ado:
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 dente di zenghiaro. Vegna tagli e punte che di quelle 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 dagger to play. The advantage is great to the one who knows how to do it. The master waits in this guard. And the guard is called the Boar’s Tooth. Come cut and thrust, I am ready for them. The right foot with the parry I will pass back. The close play I have in mind, and it cannot fail. One by one come those who wish to act against me. If they do not get away from me, I will destroy them in one turn.
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 non 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 [you] always want close play. Here I am close and I can well strike you. Whether you want it or not, I’ll make you suffer.
The next play is the counter to the dagger’s defence:
Si lo zugadore ch’e denanzi avesse sapuda fare tal deffesa, se ello avesse la mane stancha al scolaro posta a questo modo dredo lo suo cubito voltando per tal manera che qui si mostra, a me non bisognava far contrario del magistro che sta cum la daga in posta.
If the player that is before me had known to make this defence, he would have put his left hand on the scholar in this way behind his elbow, turning [him] in the way that is shown here. To me it would not have been necessary to make the counter of the master that stands with the dagger in guard.
This play and its counter are quite straightforward: here’s how I do them.
The phrasing of the counter-remedy master’s explanation is interesting though. It reads like “if I’d known the counter to the remedy, there would have been simply no point in you doing the remedy. What a great big waste of my time.”
I should point out here that if you are starting out of measure, weapons drawn, the sword has a huge advantage over the dagger. In close, not so much. So the general advice here is sound (of course! It’s Fiore!) but I think he overstates the case regarding how easy it is to defend against the sword armed only with a dagger.
The next play is the defence against a sword cut.
Si a lo magistro che sta in posta cum la daga contra spada gli vene tratto de fendente per la testa, ello passa inanci e questa coverta ello fa presta, e dagli volta penzando lu cubito. E quello po ferir ben subito. Anchora la spada cum lo so brazo gli po ligare per quello modo che lo quarto zogo di spada d’una mane sa fare. E anchora in la daga allo terzo zogo troverai quella ligadura mezana che apresso lo volto sta serada ad una spana.
If one had come with a fendente to the head against the master that stands in guard with the dagger against the sword, he [the master] would pass forwards and make this cover quickly, and give him [the attacker] a turn, pushing his elbow. And this must be done absolutely immediately. Also, the sword with the [attacker’s] arm can be bound in that way that the fourth play of the sword in one hand does. And also in the dagger [section] at the third play you will find that middle lock, that stands closed up within a span of the face.
This is the defence against a cut to the head. You pass in with the cover, and either push the elbow, turning the attacker so you can strike them in the back, or you wrap the sword arm with a ligadura mezana. Fiore helpfully tells us that we can find that lock shown in the fourth play of the sword in one hand, shown here on the right:
The text reads (on f20v):
La tua spada el tuo brazo e ben impresonado e no ten poy fuzare che non ti fiera a mio modo, per che tu mostra saver pocho di questo zogho.
Your sword is well imprisoned and you cannot escape without being struck in the way that I do (lit. my way), because you show that you know little of this play.
And also in the third play of the dagger (he doesn’t specify which master, but it’s clearly the first). This is from f10v:
In la mezana ligadura t’o serato ‘l brazo, per si fatto modo che tu non mi poi fare alchun impazo. E se ti voglo sbatter in terra a mi e pocha briga. E de fuzirme non ti daro fadiga.
I have locked your arm in the middle lock, in such a way that you can’t be of any inconvenience. And if I want to smash you to the ground, that’s no trouble. And don’t bother escaping from me.
He reminds us that when doing the lock, your hand should come within a span (the measurement from the tip of your thumb to the tip of your little finger when your hand is completely open) of your face. Comparing that to the image, clearly the lock isn't fully on yet.
Here's how I do these in practice:
Looking at this page as a whole, it’s clear that one of the foundational skills when dealing with the sword is to distinguish between cut and thrust. They are dealt with completely differently. The dagger only thrusts: it’s a murder spike for getting through medieval clothing and even armour. There are no cuts or slashes shown or mentioned in the entirety of the dagger section. So working through the treatise from the beginning, the sword cut on this page is the very first cut we have seen.
Against the thrust, you pass back, clear the weapon out of your way, and move in.
Against the cut, you move in, parrying closer to the centre of rotation, and so are able to actually control the blow. You then must be able to distinguish between inside and outside, which is determined by the mechanics of the sword blow you are facing, and how that interacts with your parry.
These skills will be vitally important in the rest of the sword plays.
So that’s how the dagger defeats the sword (in theory anyway). Next week we’ll have a look at how the sword in the scabbard defeats the dagger. Drawing the sword is very rarely covered in medieval sources (or indeed later ones), so it’s a special treat to be able to see some techniques that are based entirely on the draw. See you then!
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! This post will be edited into part one when I put the four sections (Sword in One Hand, Mechanics, Largo, and Stretto) together into one volume for print.