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Category: Fiore Translation Project

What the world really needs right now is obviously a better beginners’ guide to training in Fiore’s Art of Arms, right? So I have created one. So what's special about that?

I always, always, try to instil self-direction into my students. My job is to make myself redundant. I do this in practice by giving even beginners in their very first class some agency to choose what we cover. By the time they get to the seniors class (usually in a year or two), classes are entirely student-led: we cover whatever they need my help with that day.

Books are a very linear model, and while I can lay out my usual path through the enormous range of the Fiore syllabus, that restricts the reader’s agency to an unfortunate degree. But actually, very few of my readers ever read from cover to cover. Everyone skips ahead to the things they are most interested. And why not? They’ve bought the book, they can do whatever they want with it. 

So I have figured out how to include gradually increasing levels of choice for the reader/student in these workbooks. The series will comprise several workbooks. The first is the Beginner’s Course, of eight lessons each with about as much stuff as I’d cover in a single 90 minute class. In the first class of the first book, you get one simple choice. In the second class, there’s more freedom.  At every stage, if you need prior material to successfully approach the topic at hand, that will be flagged up. So even if you skipped that section for some reason, you can go to the specific prerequisite material and practice that before returning to the thing you want to do next.

There are as many correct paths through the syllabus as there are students to walk them. In this new series I have finally figured out how to represent that on the page. 

Every technique, every drill, is presented as written instructions with images from the source manuscript, and over 40 video clips. Each video is linked to with a QR code on the relevant page, so you can just point your smartphone at the page and it will open the video for you. There is abundant space for your own written notes, which is especially necessary when you are not working through the material in the order it appears in the text. 

It’s a choose your own path training manual.

Part One covers the following material:

Unarmed techniques

The four guards of abrazare (wrestling)

The first six plays of abrazare

The four steps (footwork)

The three turns (footwork)

With the Dagger

The four blows of the dagger

Disarms against forehand, backhand, and rising dagger thrusts

Counters to the disarms

Arm locks and counters

How to fall safely

A basic takedown/throw

With the Longsword

Six ways to hold the longsword

The seven blows of the longsword

How to parry and strike

How to counter the parry with a pommel strike

How to counter the pommel strike

The exchange of thrusts

Breaking the thrusts

Training on the pell

 

That's a lot of material- but thanks to the format it’s presented in, it should be thoroughly attainable.

The book is in layout now; all the video clips have been edited and uploaded, the QR codes created, and so on. We even have the covers. 

There is a limited number of pre-order slots available, which will help pay for the layout and cover graphic design work, and the editing costs. Pre-orders are for the print version, but also include the ebook. 

I hope to get the ebook version out to those that pre-order in a week or so, and the print workbooks ready to ship by the end of this month.

The workbook should be more widely available in May.

You can preorder the right-handed layout here: https://guywindsor.gumroad.com/l/aw1RHpreorder

And the left-handed layout here: https://guywindsor.gumroad.com/l/aw1LHpreorder

It’s always the way. You bring out a new book, and somebody comes up with something that makes you jump up and down going “I wanted that in my book!!! Why couldn’t that have come out a month ago!!!”

It’s actually a good feeling. Because no book is the last word on any subject, and no non-fiction book is ever truly finished (which is why we have second editions, third editions, etc etc.).

You may have heard that I’m into bookbinding. I got into bookbinding while I was researching Vadi, and came across the auction house catalogue for the sale of the manuscript to the Biblioteca Nazionale di Roma. The catalogue included a collation of the manuscript, which is a description of the way the pages are bound together. It’s extremely important because it can give you a great deal of insight into what might be missing from the manuscript. I’ve written about that here.

So a couple of weeks after my new Fiore book came out, Mike Chidester (who was one of the inspirations for the book) sends me this email:

A few weeks ago, while trying to do preparatory work on the second facsimile project, I ran into problems with the Getty museum on the subject of how many pages are missing from their online offerings. The reproductions department sent me six scans (the inside and outside covers and one flyleaf) and swore blind that that was all of the missing pages. I was pretty sure that was wrong, and ultimately my questions were bounced to the manuscript department, which sent me this arcane formula:

This is an example of a collation statement, which tries to capture the exact way in which the manuscript is bound together. Manuscripts are built up out of quires, which are stacks of paper that are folded in half and then sewn down the middle, so that each sheet (bifolium) becomes two pages (folia). Medieval manuscripts are often bound in quires of 4 (quaternions), which is the number of parchment sheets of roughly A4 size that you can expect to harvest from a single goat. The number actually typically ranges from 3-5 (ternions to quinternions), because perfect plans rarely survive contact with reality.

The Getty manuscript is a normal-seeming manuscript of 49 numbered folia, so one might expect 7 quaternions (for 56 total folia), with several blank pages at the beginning or end. Instead, when I created a visualization of this diagram (inspired by work I've seen Daniel Jaquet and others do), it turned out like this:

Two single bifolia bound into the spine, and then a series of very large quires—quinternions and a sexternion. What's more, any student of Fiore knows that folio 38, which contains dagger plays, is misplaced; specifically, it belongs between folia 14 and 15, which are the end of quire III and the beginning of IV. Since folio 27 is also bound into the book as a single leaf, we can surmise that 27 and 38 were originally a single bifolium, forming the outside layer of quire IV—making it a septernion, or seven-sheet quire. At the time, I thought that this was a ridiculous number of pages for a manuscript quire. What little I knew. (Excerpt reproduced with permission. Personal correspondence, May 27th 2020).

Finally, finally, finally, we have a collation statement for Il Fior di Battaglia. And the mystery of how folio 38 ended up where it did is solved. It used to be the first page of the next quire, and at some point the vellum tore along its fold, the pages fell out, and what should be folio 15 got bound back in in the wrong place. That binder needs a good slap round the back of the head, of course. But it’s always a relief to get confirmation of a theory. Until now, there was no way to be certain beyond all doubt that the naughty folio 38 wasn’t in fact in its original place (if, for instance, it appeared in the middle of an intact quire), and Fiore just decided to strip a page of dagger plays and dump them between the pollax and the spear plays. 

O happy day, calloo callay! But now of course I have to edit the introduction section of From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice.

Not this year though. 

In a sword fight there is no time to think. You see, you act. The essence of training is to adjust your instinct so that the instinctive response is also the correct one. I’ve spent decades training my instinct, and  I apply this to literally all parts of my life. I don’t decide what to do when I get up in the morning, and I certainly don’t plan my week/month/year. I do whatever my gut tells me is the right thing, and figure out why afterwards.

I’m spending a lot of time in my shed at the moment. Not to get away from the wife and kids- in fact the best times are when one or other of them join me, and sit in the chair I keep there for the purpose chatting to me while I chisel. Or when my youngest is cutting stuff up on the bandsaw, just for fun. I’ve completed the major project I was working on (a Pilates ladder barrel for my wife), and have spent almost all my time in there since re-organising my tools and making better tool storage solutions, such as this saw till.

Please note, I should probably be doing that sabre video class for the Solo course, but I’m not. I will, but not until my instinct tells me it’s time. I wondered why I was spending so much time out in my shed, and eventually it came to me. This is a period where the normal illusion of control (I can go here, I can do that) has been stripped away. We actually have exactly the same degree of agency we’ve always had, but as good citizens we are deciding to obey the government guidelines and stay home (yes really please do). The environment seems stranger and more hostile than usual, and it makes us feel helpless. So I have been spending my time in an environment I can control, and exerting that control in a clear and obvious way by making things, particularly things that change that environment for the better. This is the linear opposite of stressing about the plague. 

When I figured that out, I thought “good job, brain! nice one” and carried on making this:

Here it is from another angle.

What the hell is that? I hear you ask. Well now…

I don’t know if you have ever written a book. I have, several in fact. And every single one is like being constipated for a year or more, before finally it forces its way painfully out, and you lie spent from the struggle clutching this thing you’ve made. I should probably have written ‘pregnant’ for ’constipated’, but I was present for the birth of my children, and actually, giving birth seems to be orders of magnitude harder than producing a book. 

My latest extrusion is done and dusted, and the hardback pre-orders have been sent out. Hurrah!

In it I take you through all of Fiore's longsword techniques on foot out of armour. Each play is shown with the drawing from the treatise, my transcription and translation of the text that goes with it, my commentary on how it fits into the system and works in practice, and a link to a video of the technique as I interpret it. The book contains a detailed introduction describing Fiore's life and times, and extensive discussion of the contexts in which Fiore's art belongs.

You can get the ebook (in all formats) from my gumroad shop here: https://gum.co/longsword1

It’s available to pre-order from Amazon in any one of their national stores, just search for its ASIN: B08629VNKY

But before you go dashing off to buy it: it’s Fiore sword geekery in the extreme. Please ONLY buy it if you are really into the historical side of historical swordsmanship, and/or you want to know how I think Fiore’s art is put together. This is not a basic introduction to how to hold a sword.

Or you can get the ebook for free… if you can tell me what the object pictured above is for, let me know in the comments, and the first correct answer will get the ebook. Note, that the object is lying on my bench, and may or may not be correctly rotated in the images.

I will also give out a free ebook to the best answer, correct or not!

I will post a picture of the object in service, and the best answer(s) next week.

Producing a book is a marathon, not a sprint, but the finish line for From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice: The Longsword Techniques of Fiore dei Liberi is in sight!

I’m in my study plodding through the first draft of the the laid-out print file. This is simultaneously very exciting (my NEW BOOK! HURRAH!), very nerve wracking (I’ve got to find EVERY error!), and very tedious (I’ve got to go through every page with a fine-tooth comb. For instance, in the bibliography I had the publication year for Domenico Angelo’s School of Fencing wrong. Doh!). This is simultaneously the best and worst part of publishing: the best because you can see that the book is real, not just a thing in your head; the worst because the temptation to rush through the last few hurdles is extreme. 

I have Basil Poledouris’ soundtrack to Conan the Barbarian on repeat coming in through my noise-cancelling headphones. This helps.

Here’s the back cover blurb:

In the late 14th century Fiore dei Liberi, an Italian knightly combat master, wrote a magnificent treatise on the Art of Arms. He called his book Il Fior di Battaglia, the Flower of Battle, and it is one of the greatest martial arts books of all time, describing how to fight on foot and on horseback, in armour and without, with sword, spear, pollax, dagger, or with no weapon at all. Guy Windsor has spent the last 20 years studying Fiore's work and creating a modern practice of historical swordsmanship from it. In this book, Guy takes you through all of Fiore's longsword techniques on foot out of armour. Each technique (or “play”) is shown with the drawing from the treatise, Guy's transcription and translation of the text, his commentary on how it fits into the system and works in practice, and a link to a video of the technique as Guy interprets it. The book contains a detailed introduction describing Fiore's life and times, and extensive discussion of the contexts in which Fiore's art belongs.

This is essential reading for any scholar of the Art of Arms, and will also provide fascinating insight to all martial artists and historians of the medieval and early Renaissance eras.

What do you think?

I don’t have a draft of the cover yet, but my friend Siobhan Richardson is starring in the image above (by Dahlia Katz) for it. I think it looks fantastic, and really tells the story of the book.

Staring at the pages of the new book means that I will soon also be staring at the bills coming in from my editor (Andrew Chapman) and my layout artist (Bek Pickard). Both these fine humans totally deserve to be paid for their work. And of course they will be no matter what – I would never stiff a freelancer.

I used to crowdfund my books through Indiegogo to cover the costs before publication. I don’t do that any more because the platform fees are rather high, and they also tend to hold onto the money for weeks. Instead, for the last couple of books I’ve taken limited pre-orders for the hardback, through my Gumroad account. It’s much more efficient- I get paid at the end of the following week, and the platform fees are way lower. I’ve set it up to allow maximum 75  pre-orders.

If you pre-order the hardback I can’t guarantee that it will be faster than ordering it through your usual bookshop (online or bricks-and-mortar) when it's released, because sometimes the shipping takes forever. But you will get immediate access to a pdf of the current draft (no images, but the video links all work), the ebook version the moment it's ready, and your book will printed and shipped before the book goes into general distribution. 

So, if you would like to order one or more copies of the new book, go here! https://gum.co/longsword

Greetings!

I have been beavering away on the Fiore Translation Project, and have completed the work on the Stretto plays. Hurrah! You can find them here: https://gumroad.com/l/ftp4

I am now working on bringing the four parts of this series together into a coherent whole, starting with the defences of the dagger against the sword, and ending with the conclusion to the Stretto plays. This covers the entirety of the longsword on foot out of armour. I hope to have that complete book in your hands before Christmas, but dashing off to Australia next week makes it something I'm not willing to promise!

It's true I'm a Fiore man through and through, at least when it comes to Longsword. But, I do hear good things about that Meyer chap, though he was born a full century after Fiore must have died, and tended to wear outrageous trousers when fencing. So I have teamed up with the excellent Alex Beaudet who has compiled the MS A.4º.2 version of Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens into comic-book format (CBZ). You can get that for free (or pay what you want) here: https://gumroad.com/l/meyerThat all should keep you busy while I'm cracking on with the compilation!

I've been working on The Fiore Translation Project for about a year now, working through all of Fiore's longsword plays out of armour on foot. The work so far has been published here on this blog in 24 instalments, taking us all the way from sword against dagger to the end of the zogho largo section, and which have also been published as three ebooks:

The Sword in One Hand

Longsword Mechanics

The Plays of the Zogho Largo

I have just completed the work on all the stretto plays. I made the decision not to publish them bit-by-bit on the blog because I am going to compile the entire work into a proper book, and I want to keep something back from the public domain to encourage readers to go buy the book!

However, I will be making the Stretto Plays available to buy on its own on my Gumroad account in due course, so that people who have already got the first three can complete the set.

Watch this space for updates!

 

You There is a critical feedback system between transcription, translation, and interpretation. Getting the words in the original language right is a good first step, which allows for better translation, which enables better interpretation, which in turn may resolve issues of translation or transcription. It would be foolish to begin with interpretation and try to make your translation work from there, but when there is some doubt regarding the transcription or translation, sometimes one version works in reality, and the other doesn’t. For this reason I’ve been hesitant to translate the mounted combat section. Sure, the language is quite clear and straightforward, but still, it seems odd to me to publish a translation of descriptions of actions that I haven’t tested in reality. This is a common problem for historical martial arts translators, but doesn’t seem to bother those translating fiction so much. Though I reckon Sir Richard Burton was careful to test every translation in practice when working on the Kama Sutra.

If you find this process inherently interesting, you'll enjoy my book From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice.

I had the opportunity recently to work on the plays on foot against attackers on horseback, from folio 46r. I went to visit Jason Kingsley (of the Modern History youtube channel), who has a superb riding facility, and is an expert jouster and horseman. I am neither, so we had a go at recreating the plays of the ghiaverina on foot, which meant that Jason did the riding, and I got to stay on the ground, which was much safer all round.

Now that I’ve worked through them, here’s my transcription and translation. I’ll comment as I go.

Qui sono tre compagni che voleno alcider questo magistro. Lo primo lo vole ferir sotto man che porta sua lanza a meza lanza. L’altro porta sua lanza restada a tutta lanza. Lo terzo lo vole alanzare cum sua lanza. E sie de patto che nissuno non debia fare piu d’un colpo per homo. Anchora debano fare a uno a uno.

Here are three companions who want to kill this master. The first wants to strike under-arm so carries his lance by the middle. The other carries his lance couched by the end. The third wants to throw with his lance. And it is agreed that none of them may make more than one blow per person. Also they must do it one by one.

This is an interesting set-up. As we have seen elsewhere, there are three different kinds of blows each represented by a different companion. Though they want to “kill” the master, there is an agreement in place that they will only make one blow each, and will come one at a time. Fiore uses the expression ‘a meza lanza’ and ‘a tutta lanza’ in the same way that he has used ‘a meza spada’ and ‘a tutta spada’ (see the discussion of the crossings of the sword for more information). I’ve translated them as ‘by the middle’ and ‘by the end’; ‘a tutta lanza’ means that the whole lance is extended, as you can see from the image. So how does the master handle them? Effortlessly, it seems:

Vegna a uno a uno chi vol venire, che per nessuno di qui non mi son per partire. Anche in dente di cenghiaro son presto per aspettare. Quando la lanza contra me vignira portada o vero de mane zitada, subito io schivo la strada zoe che io acresco lo pe dritto fora de strada e cum lo stancho passo ala traversa rebattendo la lanza che mi vene per ferire. Si che d’ mille una non poria fallire. Questo ch’io fazzo cum la ghiaverina, cum bastone e cum spada lo faria. E’lla deffesa ch’io fazo contra le lanze, contra spada e contra bastone quello faria li mie zoghi che sono dredo.

Come one by one who wants to come, I’m not for leaving here for any of them. Also in the boar’s tooch I am ready to wait. When the lance will come against me, carried or thrown from the hand, immediately I avoid the way, thus, I advance my right foot out of the way and with the left I pass across, beating away the lance that comes to strike me. If there were a thousand, not even one would fail. This that I do with the ghiaverina, I do with a stick or a sword. And the defence that I make against the lance, against the sword and against the stick I will make my plays that follow.

The first line of this reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s famous remark “the lady’s not for turning”. It’s the same construction: ‘non mi son per partire’: ‘I’m not for leaving’. The ‘fuck you’ is clear in the subtext. He re- iterates that this action is done against the lance whether it is held or thrown, though he uses a new locution: ‘schiva la strada’, which literally means ‘avoid the way’, and of course means ‘get out of the way’. This is perhaps the sixth or seventh time we’ve seen the instruction to step the front foot out of the way and pass across.

I always assumed that this would be quite hard to do, and so the next line about being able to do it a thousand times was hyperbole. Well, you’d get tired after about a hundred, but otherwise, this is way easier to do against a mounted lancer than it is to do against one on foot. Jason is a superb mounted combatant, as one would expect the companions to be (at least by our modern standards). As his lance approached me, the point was rock-steady, and because he was on a horse, he didn’t come straight at me- his lance was angled off to his right by perhaps 30 degrees. This gave me plenty of space and time to do the action, and the steadiness of the lance made this absurdly easy to do. The only real challenge was being careful not to hit him or the horse, which of course would not be an issue if we were doing this in earnest.

The plays that follow are these two:

Questo si’e zogho del magistro ch’e denanzi che aspetta cum la ghiaverina quegli da cavallo in dente di zenghiaro in passar fora de strada e rebatter chelo fa elo intra in questo zogho. E per che ello sia inteso, io lo fazo in suo logo, che cum taglio e punta lo posso ferire in la testa. Tanto porto la mia ghiavarina ben presta.

This is the play of the master that is before, that waits with the ghiaverina, for the one on horseback, in boar’s tooth, passing out of the way and beating and then enters into this play. And because he understood it, I do it in its place, that with cut and thrust I can strike to the head. Thus I carry my very quick ghiaverina.

In terms of interpretation, this is easy enough. Having stepped out of the way and beaten the incoming lance aside, you can strike with cut or thrust. The language is a little awkward, with some apparently redundant phrasing, such as ‘and because he understood it’. Likewise at the end, ‘tanto’ usually means ‘a lot of’, but it’s one of those words that has a range of uses (such as in ‘ogni tanto’, every now and then). I take this last line to mean essentially ‘this is why I’m carrying a ghiaverina. It’s very quick and takes care of those pesky horsemen’.

If you’re familiar with the plays of the spear on foot, then this last play of the ghiaverina will come as no surprise.

Anchora e questo zogho del ditto magistro ch’e denanzi in posta de dente de zenghiaro, in suo scambio io fazo questo ch’ello lo po fare. Quando la lanza e rebattuda, io volto mia lanza, esi lo fiero cum lo pedale, che questo ferro sie temperado e di tutto azale.

This is also a play of the aforesaid master that is before me in the guard of the boar’s tooth, in his exchange I do this which he could do. When the lance is beaten aside, I turn my lance and then strike him with the butt, the which iron is tempered and completely of steel.

As before, in terms of interpretation this is perfectly straightforward. Because the butt of your ghiaverina is shod with steel, you can turn the weapon and hit him with the butt instead of the head. We’ve seen this before in the counter-remedy of the spear, on f39v, where he also mentions that the butt (pedale) is shod.

The language is a bit less straightforward though. I read ‘in suo scambio’ to mean ‘in his exchange’, in other words, in his technique. Others (Hatcher and Leoni, for instance) both read it to mean essentially ’in his stead’, in other words ‘I can do this instead of that’. From a practical perspective, it makes no difference, of course. Likewise though there is no doubt about the sense of it (hit him with the butt because it’s shod with steel), the specific locution is tricky. “Ferro” is iron, of course. And it also has the connotation of ‘the metal bit attached to a stick’, as in the English word ‘ferrule’. Temperado is ‘tempered’, as steel may be, and as iron cannot be, a fact Fiore would certainly have known. The last word, ‘azale’, is probably a version of acciaio, steel as Florio’s dictionary has azzale for steel. (See here: https://www.pbm.com/lindahl/florio/065.html)

I may be making a meal of this, but I think it’s useful to show my working (as my maths teacher used to insist on).

So, what do these plays look like in real life? Here are Jason and I (and the inestimable Warlord) working through them, in the latest instalment of his excellent Modern History TV:

See also: my interview with Jason Kingsley on The Sword Guy, here.
and my book From Medieval Manuscript to Modern Practice.

One of the most stylish techniques in the system is the punta falsa, literally “false thrust”. Fiore’s instructions are very detailed:

Questo zogo si chiama punta falsa o punta curta, e si diro come la fazzo. Io mostro d’venire cum granda forza per ferir lo zugadore cum colpo mezano in la testa. E subito ch’ello fa la coverta, io fiero la sua spada lizeramente. E subito volto la spada mia de l’altra parte piglando la mia spada cum la mane mia mancha quasi al mezo. E la punta gli metto subita in la gola o in lo petto. E de miglore questo zogo in arme che senza.

This play is called the false thrust or the short thrust, and I’ll tell you how I do it. I show that I am coming with great force to strike the player with a middle blow in the head. And immediately that he makes the cover I strike his sword lightly. And immediately turn my sword to the other side, grabbing my sword with my left hand about at the middle. And I place the thrust immediately in the throat or in the chest. And this play is better in armour than without. 

This is the 17th play of the second master of the zogho largo, and so in its basic form is done as a riposte after a successful parry of the first attack (as shown by said master). It can of course be done any time there is an opening to throw the mezano feint, but let’s start out being strictly canonical. We bring this to life like so:

https://youtu.be/BkhdctzyE2g

When practising the punta falsa, there are some things to bear in mind.

  • Make sure you leave enough space to turn your sword when feinting. A small step offline with the back foot can help, when making the feint.
  • Keep the turn of the sword tight, by rotating it around the midpoint of the blade, then let the point lead you in.
  • Cross-handed pairs will find that the punta falsa only works when there is a forehand (mandritto) mezano being met by a parry on the inside of the attack. This allows the turn to half-sword, which is only mechanically possible from this situation. A left-hander will therefore need to strike the mezano to generate a parry from their opponent’s left side; right-handers need to draw a parry from the opponent’s right side.  

Incidentally, in Italian, punta can mean ‘point’ (as in the point of the sword), or ‘thrust’, depending on context. So you may find the term punta falsa translated as ‘false point’, and punta curta as ‘short point’. (or indeed, references to ‘exchanging the point’ or ‘breaking the point’). It doesn’t actually matter from an interpretation standpoint, but as a fencer, I would be more inclined to think about actions rather than parts of the sword. Where it matters are when Fiore is telling us which bit of the swords are crossed (such as in the first master of the zogho largo, crossed at the points of the swords), or where to grab the blade (see for instance the 14th play, where we should grab it ‘near the point’). This has changed over time: in modern Italian ‘a thrust’ is ‘una spinta’, while ‘point of the sword’ remains ‘la punta della spada’.

We should also think a moment about the ‘better in armour’ injunction. Why would Fiore put a play here that apparently belongs in the armoured section? As I see it, it is because firstly it can be done out of armour – it’s quite safe to do if you get it right. And secondly, this play is something that a person wearing armour when you are not might do, and as we shall shortly see, the counter works just fine out of armour. 

The next play is the last play of the zogho largo; the instruction is simplicity itself, but the action is very counterintuitive for most people.

Questo sie lo contrario del zogho ch’e me denanzi, zoe de punta falsa overo di punta curta. E questo contrario si fa per tal modo. Quando lo scolaro fieri in la mia spada, in la volta ch’ello da a la sua spada, subito io do volta a la mia per quello modo che lui da volta a la sua. Salvo che io passo ala traversa per trovar lo compagno pui discoverto. E si gli metto la punta in lo volto. E questo contrario e bono in arme e senza.

This is the counter to the play that is before me, so, the false thrust or short thrust. And this counter is done in this way. When the scholar strikes on my sword, in the turn that he makes with his sword, I immediately make a turn to mine, in the same way that he makes a turn to his. Only I also pass across to find the companion more uncovered. And I place the thrust in his face. And this counter is good in armour and without. 

The exact nature of the blade action and the relationship between the weapons was first figured out, as far as I know, by Sean Hayes at WMAW 2006. We had just attended a lecture on the manuscript given by Brian Stokes, and seen really high resolution scans for the first time- so clear that places where the manuscript had been corrected (by scraping off the original ink and redrawing a line) could be seen. The counter-remedy master’s sword was suddenly, clearly, on the inside of the player’s (the one trying to do the punta falsa). I will never forget the time about half an hour later when Sean tried out this interpretation on me, and sold it in one go as my attack collapsed as his point magically appeared in my mask.

Here’s how it looks in practice: 

https://youtu.be/E4Y0AAZ9Z_0

Perhaps the most common problem when attempting this counter is ending up outside your opponent’s sword. Don’t worry, that’s how everybody did this play for years. It works, it just takes longer. It can also be documented in other sources, so it’s even historically accurate. But if your partner does it, yield immediately to pommel strike on the other side. 

The text continues on this page with two paragraphs side by side, with no illustrations:

Qui finisse zogho largo dela spada a doy mani, che sono zoghi uniti gli quali ano zoghi, zoe rimedii e contrarie da parte dritta e de parte riversa. E contrapunte e contratagli de zaschuna rasone cum roture coverte ferire e ligadure, che tutte queste chose lizerissimamente se porio intendere.

Here ends the wide play of the sword in two hands, that are joined together plays, which plays are: remedies, and counters from the forehand and the backhand side, and counterthrusts and countercuts of ever type, with breaks, covers, strikes and binds, that all these things can be very easily understood.

This passage is actually quite tricky to translate, as the second line is unclear: ‘che sono zoghi uniti gli quali ano zoghi, zoe…’

I am translating ‘zoghi uniti’ as ‘joined together plays’, in the sense of they are joined (united) in some way. It’s a clunky sentence, I think. Though the meaning of it is reasonably straightforward to tease out, the exact grammar makes no sense to me. Then Fiore continues with what appears to be a bare-faced lie: these ‘joined together plays’ are apparently “remedies, and counters from the forehand and the backhand side, and counterthrusts and countercuts of ever type, with breaks, covers, strikes and binds.” We have seen nothing, zip, nada, from the backhand side, and while we have arguably seen a counterthrust, countercuts have there been none. Plus, there has been exactly one counter-remedy (the last play of the section), so not ‘contrarie’, counters plural. Unless we count the 14th play, which kind of counters the break and is then countered.

So what do we do with this statement?

I think we go back and play. And sure enough if we take this material and play with it, pretty soon we do end up doing all these different things. Applying the exchange of thrusts idea to cuts gives us something astonishingly like a zornhau ort, for instance.

What’s a zornhau ort? Don’t you read the German stuff too? It’s really interesting… basically, it’s when a mandritto fendente (sorry, forehand oberhau) is met with the same blow, leaving the defender’s point in the attacker’s face. We’ll need something like that for the next section, so I’ll go into it then.

The plays of the zogho stretto are coming up. Take a look at this two-page spread:

The master of the zogho stretto is the first play on the recto page. The text introducing the stretto plays is at the bottom of the verso page. This makes perfect sense when you see the pages as they are bound in the manuscript, but the sense is lost when you look at individual pages. Or worse, when the pages are bound such that the verso pages are printed on the recto side, and vice versa. 

The text reads:

Qui cominza zogho de spada a doy man zogo stretto, in lo quale sara d’ogni rasone coverte, e feride e ligadure e dislogadure e prese e tore de spade, e sbatter in terra per diversi modi. E sarano gli remedij e gli contrarij de zaschuna rasone ch’e bisogna a offender e a defender.

Here begins the play of the sword in two hands zogo stretto, in which will be, of every type, covers, and strikes, and locks, and dislocations, and grips, and disarms, and throwings to the ground in various ways. And there will be remedies and counters of every type necessary to offend and defend.

Well, that sorts us out then. It reads like a trailer for a movie: there’ll be drama! And excitement! And explosions! And sticky situations over a pound note! Don’t miss it!

(Full marks if you spotted the Blackadder reference. If you don’t know what Blackadder is, start here. The reference is from Season Three episode Ink and Incapability).

I am now working on the next section, the stretto plays. I’ve been thinking though of not publishing them here, just making them available as part of the book I’m compiling from this series (provisionally titled “Fiore dei Liberi’s Longsword Plays on Foot Out of Armour”). What do you think?

And in the meantime, you can get parts one to three as snazzy ebooks here for reading on your phone, kindle, kobo, or other device. 

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

And you can get Part three, the Plays of the Zogho Largo, from Amazon or Gumroad.

The two-page spread of plays against the thrust continues with the six plays relating to breaking the thrust. I’ll cover them all in order, starting with the 11th play of the master of the zogho largo crossed at the middle of the swords, shown on f26v.

The text reads: 

Questa sie unaltra deffesa che se fa contra la punta, zoe, quando uno ti tra una punta come to detto in lo scambiar de punta in lo secondo zogo che me denanzi che se de acresser e passar fora di strada. Chossi si die far in questo zogho salvo che lo scambiar de punta se va cuz punta e cum gli brazzi bassi, e cum la punta erta de la spada come ditto denanzi. Ma questa se chiama romper de punta che lo scolaro va cum gli brazzi erti e pigla lo fendente cum lo acresser e passare fora de strada e tra per traverso la punta quasi a meza spada a rebater la a terra. E subito vene ale strette.

This is another defence that is done against the thrust, so, when one thrusts at you as I said in the exchange of thrust, in the second play that is before me, one advances and passes out of the way. So you must do in this play except that in the exchange of thrust you go with the thrust, and with the arms low, and with the point of the sword high, as I said before. But this is called the breaking of the thrust, that the scholar goes with his arms high and catches the fendente with the advance and pass out of the way, and strikes across the thrust about at the middle of the sword to beat it to the ground. And immediately goes to the close plays.

The next play shows the scholar stepping on the player’s sword, like so:

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.

Here’s how I do the play in its most basic form:

https://youtu.be/gGD4KAz3JJQ

I just love the instruction to ‘strike with the false edge of your sword under the beard in the throat’. In case you weren’t certain where the throat was. This also reaffirms the general practice in this system of using multiple strikes. We aren’t playing tag, first to touch wins. A single blow may well not incapacitate the opponent. Once you have them where you want them, hit them until there’s no point continuing to do so.

The next play, on the top left of the facing page (f27r) is also a continuation of the breaking of the thrust:

Anchora questo zogho del romper di punta ch’e lo segondo zogho ch’e me denanzi. Che quando io o rebattuda la spada a terra, subito io fiero cum lo pe dritto sopra la sua spada. E inquello ferire io lo fiero in la testa come voy vedete.

Also this play of the breaking of the thrust that is the second play that is before me. When I have beaten the sword to the ground, I immediately strike with the right foot over his sword. And in that strike I will strike him in the head as you can see.

So this is the same play as the one before it, except the strike is to a different target- directly to the head as you step on the player’s sword, rather than cutting the throat first. What follows is a way to deal with the player parrying the strike (which can only happen if you have failed to step on the sword, as indeed the first of these breaking the thrust plays shows). In practice we tend not to step on our training partners’ swords – they are likely to get damaged.

Questo e anchora un altro zogho del romper de punta, che si lo zugadore in lo rompere ch’i’o rotta la sua punta, leva la sua spada ala coverta de la mia, subito io gli metto l’elzo de la mia spada dentro parte del suo brazo dritto apresso la sua mane dritta, e subito piglo la mia spada cum la mia man mancha apresso la punta, e fiero lo zugadore in la testa. Ese io volesse, metteria la al collo suo per segargli la canna de la gola.

This is also another play of the breaking of the thrust, in which if the player, in the breaking that I have broken his thrust, lifts his sword to cover mine, I immediately put the hilt of my sword on the inside part of his right arm close to his right hand, and immediately grab my sword with my left hand close to the point, and strike the player in the head. And if I wish, I could put it to his neck to slice his windpipe.

There are a few things to note here. Firstly, though the player parries the initial riposte, his action does not count as a counter-remedy, and this scholar is not, therefore, a counter-counter-remedy master (as his lack of a crown confirms). Why not? It’s my view that because his action is not shown as a successful counter to the break, it doesn’t merit the term. As Fiore wrote in text above the first master of the dagger (f10v):

Io son primo magistro e chiamado remedio per che rimedio tanto e a dire savere rimediare che non ti sia dado e che possi dare e ferire lo tuo contrario inimigho. Per questa che meglo non si po fare la tua daga faro andar in terra. Voltando la mia mane aparte sinestra.

I am the first master and am called remedy, because remedy is as much as to say to know how to remedy, that you are not given [a blow] and can give [a blow] and strike your own counter [against] the enemy. For this it is better to make your dagger go to the ground. Turning my hand to the left side.

The definition of ‘remedy’ is quite clear- you must be able to prevent the attack from hitting you, and strike afterwards. It’s not enough just to stop the attack. You should also note the change of point of view in this passage. It begins with Fiore addressing us, the reader: ‘so that you are not given a blow’. Then it shifts to address the player so that ‘your dagger goes to the ground’ describes the play, not an instruction to us to drop our weapons! It’s worth remembering that this kind of conversational tone pervades this text.

Returning to the play in question, the player’s attempt to parry ends up with him getting his throat cut. As a matter of good training, I don’t recreate the play this way- there is really no point teaching students to parry in a way that just fails. So in this drill, I have the player countering the break with a pommel strike, closing the line of the blow to the throat or the head (or as Fiore would say, ‘passing with the cover’), which is then countered by the scholar putting their hilt over the player’s arm and following the instructions. I also tend to swap out cutting the throat with a take-down, as you can see in this video:

https://youtu.be/ttFY_EQqvU8

The last pair of plays on this page, the fifteenth and sixteenth of the second master of the zogho largo, can be done as a follow on from the breaking of the thrust, or not, as we will see:

Anchora quando io o rebatuda la punta o vero che sia incrosado cum uno zugadore, gli metto la mia mane dredo al suo cubito dritto, e penzolo forte, per modo che io lo fazzo voltare e discovrire, e poy lo fiero in quello voltare che io gli fazo fare.

Also when I have beaten aside the thrust, or when I am crossed with a player, I put my hand behind his right elbow, and push it hard, in such a way that I make him turn and be uncovered, and can strike him in that turn that I have made him do.

The next play completes this action:

Questo scolaro ch’e me denanzi dise lo vero che per la volta ch’ello ti fa fare per questo modo dredo de ti la testa ti vegno a taglare. Anchora inanzi che tu tornassi ala coverta, io ti poria fare in la schena cum la punta una piaga averta.

This scholar before me tells the truth, that by the turn that he has done to you, in that way I come to cut you from behind in the head. Also before that you would turn to parry, I could give you an open wound in the back with the point.

So, when we can reach the elbow, we can push it and strike from behind, just as we saw in the sixth play of the sword in one hand. This can be done after breaking the thrust, but also whenever we are crossed with the player (at the middle of the swords in zogho largo, at least, given the section that we are in). Notice how specific Fiore is about which elbow to push- as we saw in the 6th abrazare play, where you push ‘the elbow of the hand offending your face’, here you push the elbow of the sword arm. Pushing the other elbow may well not give you full control of the sword. And the window of opportunity is small – you must strike immediately, before they can turn back round to parry.

You can see my interpretation here:

https://youtu.be/96LDqDG9cRU

The theme of thrusting will conclude in the next post, with the punta falsa, and its counter. 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!

Having kicked our opponent in the groin, we turn the page to see this spread:

[Note, this image is not a photograph of the manuscript opened up; I have just put the scan of each page next to each other.]  The story is the same though; having dealt with a whole lot of cuts, including (if you’ll indulge me a moment) too hard, too low, and the regular kind, we now deal with thrusts. The first, and probably ideal, response is to exchange the thrust. We have seen this play before in my discussion of the eighth play of the sword in one hand. 

Questo zogho si chiama scambiar de punta e se fa per tal modo zoe. Quando uno te tra una punta subito acresse lo tuo pe ch’e denanci fora de strada e cum l’altro pe passa ala traversa anchora fora di strada traversando la sua spada cum cum gli toi brazzi bassi e cum la punta de la tua spada erta in lo volto o in lo petto com’e depento.

This play is called the exchange of thrust, and it is done like this, thus. When one strikes a thrust at you immediately advance your foot that is in front out of the way and with the other foot pass also out of the way, crossing his sword with with your arms low and with the point of your sword up in the face or in the chest as is pictured.

Note the repeated ‘cum’, ‘with’. A common scribal error. Not secret messages from beyond the grave, ok? The instructions couldn’t be clearer, could they?

Rapier fencers will of course be delighted to see the classic thrust in opposition done with longswords, though one should take care to make the crossing thoroughly, and not race to get the point in. At the end of the zogho largo section, on folio 27v, Fiore wrote:

Qui finisse zogho largo dela spada a doy mani, che sono zoghi uniti gli quali ano zoghi, zoe rimedii e contrarie da parte dritta e de parte riversa. E contrapunte e contratagli de zaschuna rasone cum roture coverte ferire e ligadure, che tutte queste chose lizerissimamente se porio intendere.

Here ends the wide play of the sword in two hands, that are plays together, which plays are: remedies, and counters from the forehand and the backhand side, and counterthrusts and countercuts of ever type, with breaks, covers, strikes and binds, that all these things can be very easily understood.

I’ll discuss this translation in more depth in the post after next (there is a lot to discuss), but for now, just notice the ‘contrapunte’, counterthrust. As I see it, this refers to the exchange of thrusts. That Fiore also mentions (but as far as I can see does not show) countercuts, suggests that the lesson of this play can legitimately be applied to countering a cut with a cut.

At this stage we should remember that Fiore loves us and wants us to be happy. He understands that sometimes one might miss a stroke, and that’s okay. Because this action continues in the tenth play:

De questo scambiar de punta ch’e me denanzi, essi questo zogho, che subito che lo scholar ch’e me denanzi non mettesse la punta in lo volto del zugadore, e lassasela si che non la metesse ne in lo volto ne in lo petto, e per che fosse lo zugadore armado, subito debia lo scolaro cum lo pe stancho inanci passare, e per questo modo lo debia piglare. E la sua spada metter a bon ferire poy che lo zugador apresa sua spada e non po fuzire.

From this exchange of thrust that is before me, comes this play, that immediately that the scholar that is before me does not place the thrust in the player’s face, and leaves it such that he doesn’t place it neither in the face nor the chest, and because perhaps the player was in armour, the scholar must immediately pass forwards with the left foot, and in this way must grab. And put his sword to work with good strikes, because the player’s sword has been grabbed and he cannot get away.

So having missed our thrust, perhaps because the opponent is in armour, we pass again, grabbing the sword and striking. In practice I always teach these plays together, and you should continue with the grab whether you hit the face with the exchange or not. That way if you do miss, you’ll continue without pause.

Here are the plays in action:

https://youtu.be/JEsKnhBm_PU

Next week: breaking the thrust!

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!

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