This section is very interesting as it describes the seven blows of the sword, and divides one of them (the thrust) into five, which makes eleven in total (like the eleven plays of the sword in one hand). It is also admirably specific in terms of the lines of the blows, and in some cases, even the guards that you would finish in.
The first image is of the Colpi fendenti, the fendenti blows. (Fendente, singular; fendenti, plural. Fendente means a cleaving blow, and it’s always a descending action.) The text opens with a witty wordplay:
Noy semo fendenti e in l’arte fazemo questione de fender gli denti e rivar alo zinochio cum rasone. E ogni guardia che si fa terrena, d’una guardia in l’altra andamo senza pena. E rompemo le guardie cum inzegno. E cum colpi fazemo de sangue segno. Noi fendenti dello feriri non avemo tardo, e tornaremo in guardia di vargo in vargo.
We are fendenti and in the art we make a quarrel, to smash the teeth and arrive at the knee, with reason. And all guards that are low, from one guard to the other we go without difficulty. And we break the guards with cunning. And with blows we make a sign of blood. We fendenti are not late to strike, and we will return in guard from pace to pace.
Fender gli denti: fendenti, geddit? No? Well it only works in Italian, sorry. But it’s a great way to remember that these blows smash the teeth and arrive at the knee. If we look at the image, the swords pass the jaw and the knee. This is true for the target, and for the striker: generally speaking, striking from a high guard, the blow passes your jaw and arrives near your knee on the other side. You see this most clearly in the strike from posta di donna (forward weighted) to dente di zenghiaro. Be careful though: the ‘sign of blood’ should be on the opponent…. You’re not supposed to cut your face or jam your crossguard into your thigh as you strike. These things have been known to happen, though not by me, I hasten to add.
Fendenti can be used to transition between low guards: this is well worth taking note of, because it’s easy to forget that you can strike down from a low guard.
Breaking the guards: when your opponent is standing in guard, you are not in control of their sword. You can use a fendente to force them to move their sword; this action, done at your command, is controlling their sword up to a point; and it gives you the opportunity to control it mechanically too, as they will usually either parry, or counterattack. In both cases, you can exploit their movement to control their weapon. This is what breaking the guard is all about.
The last statement gives you some idea of the flow of the movement: as you make a fendente, it will probably be with a pass, and as you walk, each step will have at least one sword movement. Vargo is not passo, take note. I think it comes from varco, a gap, in this case the space between your feet. Fiore uses it again on f32r, the famous ‘segno page’, in the text regarding the elephant:
Ellefante son e un castello porto per chargo
E non mi inzinochio ne perdo vargo.
I am an elephant, and I carry a castle as my burden,
And I do not kneel down, nor lose my pace.
It’s a tricky word to define, in a sword context; I have it as “pace”. Leoni uses “stride” (on f32r) and “step” (on f23r). Please note, non-translators, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in Self Reliance: “ foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” In other words, straining the bounds of intelligibility to render every Italian word into the same English word everywhere it appears can lead one into ghastly and unnecessary contortions. Repeat after me: My clothes didn’t match while striking a match at a football match…
The sense here is clear, I think: co-ordinate your blows with your steps, and having made a fendente, be damn sure to return to guard (not necessarily the one you started in).
The next image is of the sottani blows. ‘Sotto’ is ‘under’ or ‘low’ , ‘sottani’ is ‘the low ones’. If I were to translate sottani, I’d call them ‘rising blows’. [edit: Sótano is also Spanish for basement]
Gli colpi sottani semo noi, e cominzamo alo zinochio, e andamo per meza la fronte per lo camino che fano gli fendenti. E per tal modo che noi montamo per quello camino noy retornamo. Overo che noi remanemo in posta longa.
We are the sottani blows, and we begin at the knee, and go to the middle of the forehead by the [same] path that the fendenti go. And in the way that we rise, by this path we return. Or we remain in posta longa.
This is simple enough: sottani blows begin at the knee, and end in the forehead, travelling along the same path that the fendenti take. And they return (as fendenti) back down the same path, or remain in posta longa.
What’s posta longa? I’m glad you asked…
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.
I’ll comment more fully on posta longa in her own section in a few weeks. In the meantime, you can see that it would be natural to strike up with the false edge into this guard.
Now the middle blows:
Colpi mezani semo chiamadi per che noy andamo per mezi gli colpi soprani e sottani. E andamo cum lo dritto taglo de la parte dritta. E de la parte riversa andamo cum lo falso taglio. E lo nostro camino sie dello zinochio ala testa.
We are the middle blows because we go between the high blows and the low ones. And we go with the true edge from the forehand side, and from the backhand side we go with the false edge. And our way is from the knee to the head.
There is a lovely example of a mezano blow being struck from below, to the neck, using the false edge from the backhand side, in the second of the breaking of the thrust plays, bottom right on f26v.
Lo scolaro che me denanzi a rebatuda la spada del zugador a terra, et io complisto lo suo zogho per questo modo. Che rebattuda la sua spada a terra, io gli metto cum forza lo mio pe dritto sopra la sua spada. Overo che io la rompo o la piglo per modo che piu non la pora curare. E questo no me basta. Che subito quando glo posto lo pe sopra la spada, io lo fiero cum lo falso de la mia spada sotto la barba in lo collo. E subito torno cum lo fendente de la mia spada per gli brazzi o per le man com’e depento.
The scholar that is before me has beaten the player’s sword to the ground, and I complete his play in this way. Having beaten his sword to the ground I put my right foot forcefully on his sword. Either I break it or I grab it in such a way that he can no longer fix it [I.e. Recover from it]. And this is not enough for me. Immediately that I have put my foot on the sword, I strike with the false [edge] of my sword under the beard in the throat. And immediately return with the fendente with my sword to the arms or hands as is shown.
Finally, we have The Thrusts:
Noy semo le punte crudele e mortale. E lo nostro camino sie per mezo lo corpo cominzando a lo petenechio in fin a la fronte. E semo punte de V rasone, zoe doy soprane una d’una parte l’altra de l’altra. E doy de sotta simile mente una d’una parte e l’altra de l’altra. E una di mezo che esse di meza porta di ferro overo di posta lunga e breve.
We are the thrusts, cruel and mortal. And our way is from the middle of the body, starting at the groin, and ending in the forehead. And we thrusts are of five types, thus: two from above, one from one side and the other from the other. And two from below, similarly one from one side and one from the other. And one in the middle, being from the middle iron door, or from posta longa or breve.
This is quite simple, and only needs expansion on those guards, both on f24r:
Questa sie posta breve che vole longa spada, et 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 piu e appropriada tal guardia in arme che senz’arme.
Posta breve stabile.
This is posta breve (the short guard) that wants a long sword, and it is a malicious guard that is not stable. Almost always it moves and looks to see if it can enter with a thrust and with a pass against the companion. And this guard is more appropriate in armour than out of armour.
Short guard, stable.
I’ll discuss stable/unstable (and why breve is a stable guard that is not stable) in the guards section; it’s enough at this stage to note that it is held in the middle of the body, and is only really used for moving around looking for openings to thrust into.
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 got 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.
Notice here the returning with a fendente to the head or the arms. It’s something of a theme, wouldn’t you say? And notice again the image of the fendenti blows, how the swords pass through the jaw, and the arms, and seem to miss the thighs. And look again at the sottani image, where the swords strike the hands (not the arms), and the face. The middle blows only seem to pass through the neck. I’m not putting too much weight on this, but it seems to me that fendenti blows should be used to the head or the arms, sottani to the hands or the face, and mezani usually to the neck. This accords very well with what works in my experience. We will find exceptions, of course (the punta falsa on 27v has a mezano done to the head as a feint, for example, and we have seen in the breaking of the thrust play above a fendente done to the arms or the hands), but note that the only blow to the legs in this book is an error on the part of the companion, punished on f26r.
If you have trouble remembering all these instructions, this might help:
The Seven Eleven:
Seven great Blows: six cuts and a thrust,
We leave a bloody scene:
Forehand or backhand, above or below,
Or even across from between!
False edge and true edge, in steel we trust,
From guard to guard we go:
Say the thrusts to cuts: “You never shall slice
As much as we shall sew!”
Dritto Fendente, a good downright blow,
From Lady or Window I flee:
Through Long Guard I pass, to Boar’s Tooth at last,
My path from your teeth to your knee
Roverso Sottano, backhand from below,
From the Boar or one-handed I strike
A parry, a thrust, or some other blow
Use me however you like.
Backhand from Donna, why should I abate?
You know I never shall fail?
From the sinister Lady and down to the Gate
Or coming to rest at the Tail.
And soaring up strong, into Crown or Long,
Mandritto Sottano I fly,
To find blade or face, to win the race,
Feinting I never lie.
Mezani we riddle who come from the middle,
Slicing under the beard:
Crosswise we go, parry or blow,
None of us are more feared.
From my knee to your neck, your throat we will wreck,
Slicing your larynx we pass
True from the right and false from the left,
A bloody touch of class.
The Thrusts are we, five points to know,
One of us strikes up the centre
Forehand or backhand, above or below,
Or groin to face we enter.
From middle Gate, guards long and short,
Up the centre we zip,
Or down from the Window, down from the Lady
And rising up from the hip.
So Seven’s Eleven, this you should love:
Six are the blows false and true:
Backhand and forehand, below and above,
And even across: what a coup!
Five of the trickery snickery thrust,
The one up the middle’s the king,
Remembering’s easy, now we can trust,
Our well-deserved praises you’ll sing!
From the Armizare Vade Mecum, a book of mnemonic verses I wrote to help me internalise the key principles of Fiore’s Art. You can find it here.
And for a convenient drill that includes all the blows in one or more variants, my Cutting Drill is here. This is the old video from the Syllabus Wiki; I have a newer, cleaner version on the Longsword Course, but haven’t gotten round to editing it down for this blog series yet.
Get your free 70-page sample here!