Continuing on from last week with the Sword in One Hand:
Folio 20v, first two plays:
This is where the rubber meets the road: the first sword on sword action of the book! Personally I love the dagger stuff too, but pretty much everyone comes to class for the SWORDS!
Recall the situation: the Master (that’s you) is about to be attacked with a cut, a thrust, or a thrown sword. In this illustration it’s pretty clear that the player (no garter) is attacking the master’s scholar (with garter), with a cut to the head. Good start.
Quello che a detto lo magistro io lo ben fatto, zoe chio passar fora de strada facendo bona coverta. E lo zugadore trovo discoverto. Si che una punta gli voglio metter in lo volto per certo. E cum la man stancha voglo pigliare. E la tua spada posso in terra far andare.
That which the master said I have done well, thus, I have passed out of the way making a good cover. And I find the player uncovered. Such that if I want to I can place a point in his face for certain. And with my left hand I want to grab. And I can make your sword go to the ground.
Notice that opponent starts out as “the player” (lo zugadore) and then becomes ‘you’ (as in la tua spada, your sword), as if the scholar was speaking to him. This sort of inconsistency is not important for reconstructing the techniques, but should be noted, because it tells us something about the level of care taken with the text. Also, as I wrote in The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest, page 32: “I should also note that it is normal Italian usage to write ‘the arm’, ‘the sword’, where in English we would use ‘your arm’, or ‘his sword’. Where it is clear from the context whose body part or weapon is being referred to, I say so. Readers should note that, strictly speaking, this is interpretation.”
Given the starting point, with the master’s sword chambered to his left, and the player cutting from his right, and the way all the plays continue, the blades must at this point be arranged such that the master’s is closer to us in the picture. Have a look at the crossing in close-up: you can see that the lines don’t quite work.
Now look at the feet. The player has his left foot forwards, which is odd given that he is striking from his right. It may suggest that the attack was done with an accrescere forwards, not a pass.
Hold that thought while we look at the next play.
In tutto tu trovando discoverto, e in la testa to ferido per certo. E se io cum lo mio pe di dredo voglio inanci passare, Assay zoghi stretti poria contra te fare, zoe in ligadure, rotture, e abbrazare.
Finding you completely uncovered, I struck you in the head for sure. And if I, with my back foot pass forwards, I can do some close plays against you, such as binds, breaks, and wrestling.
Notice that the scholar doing the play has his right foot forwards. The question is, what about the pass mentioned in the master’s text? Has the player already done two passes, and is about to do at third? Clearly not, as that would be absurd in practice. So, can we omit the pass, and do the parry and strike without one?
Let’s have a look at the Pisani-Dossi, carta 13A:
Cum passo o fata coverta cum mia spada
E aquella in lo peto subito te intrada.
With [a] pass I have made [a] cover with my sword
And that has immediately entered your chest.
This play on the next page (carta 14a) looks very much like the second play in the Getty above. The text reads:
Anchora la testa to ferida senza passare
Per la bona coverta ch’io sapuda fare.
Again I have struck the head, without passing,
With the good cover that I knew how to do.
So it would seem that we have textual authority to interpret the Getty play as making the cover with just the accrescere, and then striking immediately, no pass required. This makes abundant practical sense anyway, but it’s nice to have the confirmation from the Pisani-Dossi.
So these two plays may be summarised as ‘parry, pass in, and grab’, and ‘parry and strike without passing’. This begs the question of when and why to do which?
Many years ago, one of my senior students, Topi Mikkola, was doing the second play with a much less experienced person. Despite Topi being co-operative and helpful, his internal structure was just too stable for the beginner to be able to move the sword out of the way for the second play to work- there was no opening. So I told him to enter with the first play… and boom! It made sense in my head.
When you are attacked, parry. You can’t predict exactly what will happen when you do, but so long as you’re not hit (ie the parry worked), then either:
A) the line to the head is not open for your cut, so do the first play (this is the most likely outcome), or
B) the line is open, so strike with the second play.
This is how I do them:
The Parry: the mechanics of this are important, so it’s worth spending some time getting it fluent.
These videos are excerpted from my Medieval Longsword Complete Course, which you should totally go and buy. Here’s a 50% discount
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Next week we’ll have a look plays 3 and 4. 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!