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Tag: filippo vadi

Ultra-geeky sword post alert: this is a lengthy and detailed discussion of some really specific terms from Fiore. Expect pedantry and nit-pickery, in the service of a definition of terms which has little bearing on how we actually fight. Read on only if that sort of thing floats your boat. I have written this because a friend and colleague asked me what I thought about ‘largo' and ‘stretto' these days. It turned out longer than I expected.

Since study began on medieval and Renaissance Italian swordsmanship, the terms giocco largo and giocco stretto have been discussed at length. The earliest reference we have to these terms is in Fiore dei Liberi’s Il Fior di Battaglia, (c.a. 1400) and they are a consistent feature of most Italian sources from then until the middle of the sixteenth century, after which they are less common.

I'm going to be using the Italian terms a lot in this article, so let's take a moment to look at translating them into English. Giocco (or zogho in FdB) means ‘play’ or ‘game’. This is consistent and unremarkable, and has about the same connotations as the English word. I can’t think of an expression in either language where you might translate the term as anything else: it even works in mechanics, where slippage in a mechanism is ‘play’ in English, and ‘gioco’ in Italian. I should note that there is no connotation of measure with this term. Measure is misura.

Largo means ‘wide’, with connotations of ‘loose’, such as in the expression ‘questa giacca mi sta larga’, ‘this jacket is loose on me’, or ‘open’, such as in the expression ‘andare al largo’, ‘to go out into the open sea’. Sticking with the maritime theme for a moment, ‘off the coast of Pisa’ would be ‘al largo di Pisa’. Freedom of movement is implied, as is space to play in.

Stretto is the past participle of the verb ‘stringere’, which means ‘to constrain’, ‘to grip’, ‘to squeeze’. It has a lot of connotations, and you can see many of them at this convenient dictionary link: https://dictionary.reverso.net/italian-english/stringere There is no one perfect English equivalent. Stretto as an adjective is ‘narrow’ or ‘tight’, such as in the expression ‘questa giacca mi sta stretta’, ‘this jacket is tight on me’, with the implication of restricted movement. To return to the maritime theme: ‘una stretta di mare’ is a ‘strait’, a narrow channel of water between two pieces of land. It’s worth noting that it’s only used to indicate ‘close’ in phrases like ‘un parente stretto’, ‘a close relative’. Close would normally be translated as ‘vicino’. The single English word that best fits the set of meanings is “constrained”.

While these examples are modern, there is no reason to believe that the meanings of these words have changed over time; I’ve tried to find evidence that they may have, and failed. In modern HMA parlance, the usual translations used are ‘wide play' and ‘close play'. Neither is particularly apt; ‘loose play' and ‘constrained play' would be better, but there's little chance of changing them in the wider community after so long. But bear the connotations in mind.

For most of the time since we began studying these sources, most people have translated and interpreted them to mean ‘wide play’, as in fencing from far away, and ‘close play’ as in getting to grips; in other words, the defining feature is measure. I published this theory myself in The Swordsman’s Companion in 2004. Many of my colleagues (excellent people all) still hold that opinion, which you can read a full discussion of in Greg Mele's article here. The article is explicit: “Zogho Stretto (close or narrow play) is the measure at which dei Liberi…”

For the last decade or so I have held a more nuanced view of their meanings. I’ll confine my interpretation remarks to Fiore, as that’s where the most disagreement lies, and also where I have the most experience and expertise. And I’ll include here all my published opinions on the subject, so you can see how they have developed over time. Before I get onto this, I should be clear that the ambiguities occur only when discussing the sword; all abrazare and dagger plays are considered ‘stretto’, and the grappling plays of the sword mostly occur in the ‘stretto’ section. On this we can all agree.

Where we disagree is the notion that the term ‘giocco stretto' is effectively synonymous with ‘misura stretta' (which in Capoferro's Gran Simulacro at least is the measure at which you can strike without passing, which we might indeed call ‘close measure').

As I see it, in Fiore's plays, the defining tactical consideration (and the organising principle of the longsword section of his book) is the crossing of the swords, in which the measure is approximately the same, but the blade relationship, and so tactical situation, is quite different.

This gif illustrates the point nicely:

Getty Longsword Crossings

make action GIFs like this at MakeaGif

 

These are the three crossings from the Getty ms, centred on the front foot of the player. The outstandingly obvious conclusion is that the measure seems pretty much the same, but the blade relationship changes hugely. (With thanks to Joeli Takala who made a gif like this in 2010, which I reproduced because the original stopped moving.) There is no question that one of the two crossings shown at the middle of the blade is ‘zogho largo', and the other is ‘zogho stretto', as they are the first images from those sections. From one, we are free to strike, from the other, our best course is to enter with a pass ‘and come to the strette'. [I know that some researchers consider the images to be unreliable, but in my experience they are almost invariably very accurate. And once you start playing the ‘but the drawings aren't photos' card, you might as well discard all the pictures altogether, because it opens the door to making the images say whatever you want them to.]

So as I see it, “zogho stretto” is a tactical condition of the play, to which our best response is to enter in. Zogho stretto in general is ‘the condition of play in which you are constrained and cannot strike directly”, and zogho largo in general is “the condition of play in which you are free to strike”. “Le strette”, “the constrained ones”, is the term for techniques in which we come to grips. Yes, they are done from closer in than the “unconstrained plays”, but to say that they are defined purely by their measure is wrong; they are defined by being grappling actions.

That's the short version. I shall now expand at considerable length…

Back in 2009, I published an article that described my new understanding of largo and stretto, and includes an analysis and interpretation of all of Fiore's longsword plays out of armour. Please read it, and then we'll move on… you can download the pdf from here:

Crossing Swords 2009

Back again? Excellent.

Recall this passage:

It is my contention that zogho largo, wide play, describes the actions that are safe to do when the attacker’s point is driven wide. Zogho stretto, close play, describes the actions that we must do if the attacker’s sword is too close to us when we are crossed. The correct action then is to pass with the cover (i.e. without leaving the cross) and execute one of the close play plays.
As the defender, one should not seek out the close play; as Fiore states, from the stretto cross, either person can do the plays that follow. But by passing in, we prevent the attacker from winding the point into our face.

My interpretation of the basic form of these plays as it stood in 2009 can be seen in these videos:

Sword in One Hand:

Zogho Largo:

Zogho Stretto:

My current up to date and explained in detail interpretation of these same plays are Section 8 of my Complete Medieval Longsword Course

I should point out that introducing this interpretation of largo and stretto did more to prevent double hits in freeplay in my school than any other change to the way we conceptualise Fiore's art. Suddenly, people started paying much more attention to whether an action was appropriate in the context they found themselves, simply because they now had a way to define that context.

By 2014, my thinking had not changed particularly, despite my colleagues’ best efforts to persuade me that it was all about measure: in my book The Medieval Longsword, pages 43-45, 2014, I wrote:

Perhaps the most overt tactical distinction Fiore uses is between zogho largo, universally translated as “wide play”, and zogho stretto, which may be translated as “close”, “constrained” “narrow” or “tight” play. I find “constrained” to be the most accurate rendering, but “close” is currently the most common choice. This topic has produced perhaps the most persistent and widespread disagreement amongst Fiore scholars, so I will go into some detail regarding what I think these concepts mean, and how I use them.

Fiore’s plays of the sword in two hands are clearly divided into the 20 plays of the zogho largo and the 23 plays of the zogho stretto. There are also plays done with the sword in one hand, in armour, and on horseback. The distinction between, say, the plays of the sword in armour and those of the sword on horseback are pretty obvious. The distinction between what constitutes zogho largo and what constitutes zogho stretto has been far less clear. In my first book, I defined the terms gioco largo (wide play) and gioco stretto (close play) as functions of measure: when you are close enough to touch your opponent with your hand, you are in gioco stretto. If you can reach him with your sword using one step or fewer, you are in gioco largo. This is a useful distinction to make, especially when classifying and cataloguing techniques.

For many years, this stood as the standard interpretation of zogho largo and zogho stretto, however, this is clearly not how Fiore uses the terms. (Remember our earlier discussion of changes in interpretations? Here you can see my pressure-test system in action.) In il Fior di Battaglia, we clearly see actions done close-in but placed in the zogho largo section (such as the 14th play of the second master), and actions done from quite far away placed in the zogho stretto (such as the 12th play). So what, then, do “wide” and “close” play refer to?

Simply put, the relationship between the two swords when they cross. There is a plethora of circumstances in which you are free to leave the crossing and strike as you will—these are all considered “largo”. In other circumstances the conditions of the bind are such that if you leave the crossing you will immediately be struck. In these cases you are constrained to enter in under cover, and use one of the “close plays”.

In practice, the type of crossing that demands close play is very specific: you must be crossed at the middle of the swords, with the points in presence (i.e. threatening the target) and sufficient pressure between the swords such that if one player releases the bind, he will be immediately struck. Ideally both players have their right foot forwards, which makes it easier to enter in. This is a situation of equality, in which either player should do the close play techniques.

In all other circumstances, most commonly when the opponent’s sword has been beaten aside, it is safe to leave the crossing to strike your opponent. This is the fundamental condition of wide play. If it is necessary to maintain contact with the opponent’s sword and enter to grapple or pommel strike, you are constrained to the close play. So, the plays are ordered according to the kind of crossing that they follow. These conditions exist in a continuum. As the opponent’s sword gets closer, and the bind gets firmer, your ideal response changes. As it switches from “leave the bind and strike” (largo) to “keep in contact with the bind and enter” (stretto), so you will find your ideal response in one section of the book or the other. Identifying these conditions is perhaps the key tactical distinction to make in this system. Note that close play techniques can often be done in a wide play situation, but wide play techniques cannot be done from a close-play crossing without extreme risk. The techniques we see in the 10th, 14th, and 15th plays of the second master of the zogho largo (crossed at the middle of the swords) section are clearly “close”, and there is no practical distinction between for example the 10th play here and the 2nd play of the zogho stretto. It’s apparent then that we have a choice: either Fiore organised his book as a catalogue of techniques arranged by the measure in which they occur, with several errors, or ordered them according to the tactical circumstances in which they should be done, with no errors. Which would you choose?

As a rule of thumb, if your opponent’s sword is moving towards you, or pressing in, you must bind it to prevent it from hitting you (stretto). If it is moving away from you, you can simply strike (largo).

Wide and close play describe what happens, but can also be used to describe a set of tactical preferences, an approach to the fight. When fencing an opponent who is much more comfortable in wide play, we may engineer a situation where only close play techniques will work. We can also of course deny a close-playing opponent the context he wants, and slip away into wide play as he tries to constrain us. A good fencer will be comfortable with both contexts, though most people have a preference for one type of play or the other.

This interpretation is still my default, though I would express it differently now. In short, you are in ‘wide play’ when you are free to leave the crossing to strike, and in ‘constrained play’ when you have to maintain contact with your opponent’s sword to strike.

So where do I stand now? 

In combat, you are only likely to have your freedom of motion constrained by some threat or physical contact from your opponent. When it comes to making decisions under pressure, it’s usually unhelpful to have more options than necessary, because every choice slows you down. So I think the point of the largo-stretto distinction is to reduce the likelihood of getting hit by making it as clear as possible when it is safe to strike. It’s a tactical distinction, not a technical one. The tactical situation is determined by the following conditions:

Measure: how far apart are you? Yes, measure is a critical component of the condition of play, but not its defining feature.

Movement: where is everything going? Is your opponent pushing in, pulling back, binding strongly, yielding? And you?

Blade relationship: are the blades crossed, and if so, how?

I’ll expand on these one at a time:

Measure: 

If you are in range to strike without stepping, this distinction is crucial. Are you free, or constrained? Outside that measure, it’s irrelevant. Fiore does not explicitly discuss measure at any point- the term is used once only, on the segno page under the lynx: E acquello mette sempre a sesta e a misura. Clearly, if he had wanted to define the plays of the sword by their measure, he had the linguistic tools to do so. We can see that at the moment the swords cross, the measure is approximately the same in all three crossings, and it's at the moment of the crossing that tactical situation is defined. To be in either largo or stretto play, you must be close enough to strike.

Movement:

The measure and the blade relationship will normally be in constant flux. Sword fighters rarely stand still when this close together. The exact positioning of the players at a given moment is less important than the direction they are moving in. If your opponent’s actions are such that you have to bind their sword, you’re probably in a stretto situation. If they are moving away from you, then you are probably freer.

Blade relationship:

Is your weapon controlling your opponent’s? If not, it should be. 

Let me quote again from The Medieval Longsword  pages 159-161

Whoever masters the crossing, gets the strike. All medieval swordsmanship sources emphasise what happens when the blades cross. This crossing can be reduced to three critical factors: where on the blades the cross occurs, where the points of the swords end up, and how much pressure is being exerted. Up to now, almost every parry has been aimed middle to middle, and has worked as intended, beating the sword aside, with the exception of the “sticky” cut against the position of the sword in one hand. This was by way of introduction to the idea of binding the sword, which is a process of gaining mechanical control of your opponent’s weapon using your own.

In combat, the crossings of the sword happen so fast, and ideally last for such a short time, that it is unusual to respond to their specific conditions as they occur; more commonly, cues in our opponent’s prior movements indicate what will happen when the blades meet. It is nonetheless useful to analyse the possible crossings, to get an idea of what may occur and what you should do about it. This section is a bit like explaining traffic lights to a driving student.

Let’s start with where on the blades the cross is made. Most of the time you would be aiming for a cross at the middle of both swords, but Fiore divides the blade (as we have seen) into three parts: the tutta spada (the first section near the hilt), the mezza spada (the middle section) and the punta di spada (the last section, near the point). Mathematicians will have no difficulty working out that there are nine possible combinations of places on the sword where the crossing happens:

 We must also consider the position of your point, close enough to be a threat, or wide, and his, close or wide, so multiply 9×4 and we get 36 possible crossings. Add to that (or rather multiply) the degree of pressure between the blades (let’s be binary and say strong or weak—we could have a dozen gradations of strength) and we have 72 crossings. And lastly, which side is open—inside, outside or neither? So multiply by three and we get 216 possible meetings of the swords. That is patently absurd. Let’s carve it down a bit.

What matters most is what you can do from a given relationship of the blades. In practice, it is only possible to apply pressure when meeting at the mezza or the tutta of your sword. So where there is a punta involved, that sword (or both) are always weak in the bind.

Also, when crossed at the points, the points of the swords can’t be threatening either of you directly, as you are either too far away, or they are pointing up or to the side, so it can always be consid- ered “wide”. Likewise, when crossed at the tuttas, the points must be wide, or there would have been a strike already, you’re so close. Where one point is against another’s mezza or tutta, there should be sufficient leverage advantage that the punta is always weak in the bind, and will be driven wide. So, that same table now looks like this:

It should go without saying that you strike on the side he is open; if you aren’t sure, if neither side is clearly open, go to the other side (so if your sword is on the right of his, go to the left). This is because whatever force he is using to keep you out of the centre should open that line when you release your counter-pressure.

The only part of the table where there is any real ambiguity is the middle one, where the swords have met in the middles: the points may be wide or close, and the bind may be strong or weak. If his point is close, and the bind is strong, you must enter into the close plays. This crossing leads only to the zogho stretto. If his point has been driven wide, and/or there is little pressure in the bind, it is safe to either grab his blade and strike (if it is close) or just strike (if his point is wide). These are examples of zogho largo.

And what about Vadi? Well, he doesn’t divide his 20 plays of the longsword this way, but he does refer to largo and stretto play, principally in his Chapter 3: Theory of the Sword, especially on folio 5v. You can download my free translation of the entire manuscript from here and make up your own mind… Or if you're feeling wealthy, you could buy the snazzy hardback of the whole book: my new The Art of Sword Fighting in Earnest!

For the perspective of a Bolognese fencer, Ilkka Hartikainen has an article on the terms here.

So let me sum up:

Being close enough to strike is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the term ‘zogho stretto’ to apply. If you are free to strike, and have room to do so, the play is ‘largo’. If you are constrained, the play is ‘stretto’. Fiore’s solution to the problem of being constrained is to enter in with a pass, to get to grips (he does love his wrestling); grappling plays of every kind are ‘strette'. It’s worth noting that we find different solutions to the same tactical situation (as shown in the crossing of the master) in the German medieval sources, which often recommend a winding action instead. 

Zogho stretto is a type of play, not a specific measure. All of Fiore’s stretto plays involve grappling, which requires you to get close. But that isn’t what the term means.

This interpretation makes teaching decision making at the crossing easy. A catalogue of techniques organised by measure is not useful; a distinction of when to do what is much more so. So whether you agree with my thesis or not, you can still use the idea behind it to make better tactical decisions in the moment. I think the best thing about this interpretation is that it is directly applicable to winning fights, of which I'm pretty sure Fiore would have approved.

As this awesome comic shows, many students find the new, foreign, terminology a major barrier to learning swordsmanship. (You can see the whole strip here; this is just one panel)

How it feels to take your first sword class in an Italian style… from the excellent web comic Sähköjanis.

I get it. I really do. In 2006 I even wrote an article explaining why I translate “meza” and “tutta” the way I do. I put a glossary in the back of most of my books, and I created a separate pdf handout for the Longsword Course that includes the essential terms for studying Fiore and Vadi. If you'd like a copy, sign up below and I'll send you one automagically.

 

 

 

My urgent desire to snuggle up to Philippo Vadi has been gratified, and now you can do the same too. This lovely facsimile went live today, and you can get it from Amazon US, Amazon UK, or order it from any bookshop with the ISBN: 978-9527157091 Not every online store stocks it, probably because it's in Italian.

This is a pure and beautiful facsimile, with no translation, transcription, commentary or introduction; just you and the book. I’m rewriting Veni Vadi Vici at the moment, including a massively improved translation, but until that’s ready you must content yourself with this free copy of my first translation attempt.

And as if that wasn’t enough: I’m planning a reproduction of Meyer’s lovely 1560 manuscript, but am running into trouble with the print options. The trouble is caused by the format of the book- it’s landscape (wider than it is tall) rather than the more usual portrait (taller than it is wide). I’ve put together a summary of the options in this handy form— if you have an opinion, please share it with me there!

In November 1967, De Arte Gladiatoria was sold to the Biblioteca Nazionale di Roma. It lies there still. In the process of doing research for the second edition of Veni Vadi Vici (which should be out this year), I found the auction catalogue on ebay, and bought it. As you may know, I'm not one to keep my finds secret, so I have scanned in the relevant pages, and uploaded them here. This catalogue has the only published collation of the manuscript (the description of how it is bound together), as well as some fascinating extra details. I didn't include scans of the plates reproduced in the catalogue, as much better images are available online from wiktenauer.com.

If you happen to want other pages from this catalogue, let me know and I'll scan them for you.

Sothebys Vadi 1967

I will be releasing the corrected translation for free online, as before, and all of the original backers of the campaign will get ebook copies of the second edition sent to them for free.

UPDATE: this was posted on April 1st, and was, as some readers spotted, a giant jape. For more details, see here.

Oh. My. God.

As you may be aware, I have spent most of this year in Italy, and much of that time looking for insight into the systems I teach. While I was there, I found a treatise; probably in the Fiore/Vadi tradition. It features two women, exemplifying the art of arms as applied to the falchion (or messer, or storta). The original is in private hands: fortunately, the owner is a reader of my books, so agreed to let me post them.

I could not be more excited. These are relatively low-resolution files, so some detail is lost (but I will be getting the max-res ones soon, and will share, of course). It starts with six guards, Porta di ferro, Posta alta, Posta di Finestra, Dente di Chingiaro, Posta Frontale, and Posta di Vera Croce:

Judith f3vJudith f4r

 

 

 

The text goes:

Porta di ferro

Son la porta di ferro forte
Aspeto per dare al nemico morte.

Posta Alta

Son la posta soprana e altera
Per far difesa aciascuna manera

Posta di finestra

Questa sie posta di finestra
Che de malicie sempre la e presta.

Dente di chingiaro

Con mortal posta de denti cinghiare
Chi cerca briga assa glinposso dare.

Posta frontale

Son posta frontal tanto sicura
De taglii epunte mainon faro cura.

Posta di vera croce

La croce vera contra ti voglio fare
In mi le toi punte non poii entrare

Then we have four plays, beginning with a parry from the left side.

Judith f4vJudith f5r

 

The text with them goes:

[1st play]

De la sinestra facio mia deffesa

Fatta la coverta subito faro loffesa.

[2nd play]

Traro il colpo come il maestro ha detto,

Fendente ala testa o punta in petto.

[3rd play]

Questo contrario che io te facio

Entrarti nel mezana ligadura del bracio

[4th play]

Con questa partita ti butto al terra

Non mai tu po farai la guerra.

Then we have a crossing from the right, followed by six plays (for seven total on that side), and a definition of the weapon:

 

 

Judith f5vJudith f6r

Judith f6vJudith f7r

 

The text reads:

[5th play]

Le spade della destra son incrossade

Se la via e aperta, sempre intrare.

[6th]

Levo la mano con la storta in erta

Traro nella faccia cum la coverta.

[7th]

Fiero con la spada dalaltra parte

Questa lo faccio con tutta mi arte.

[8th]

Col pomo martelando alsuo mustaccio

Guardando bene che tu non piglii impaccio

[9th ]

Piglo sua spada in mezo le mantenir

Cum taglo e punta io lo posso ferir.

[10th]

Con la punta erta e la mano basso

Scambio la punta, in un solo passo.

[11th]

Per la volta fata amia spada presta

Con quella di feriri non faro resta.

 

La Mesura della Storta [this paragraph is not in verse.]

La mesura della storta vol esere dal mano fin ala terra cum filo dritto e punta e fa chel taglio falso quatro dita inpunta.

In overall structure, the book follows the usual pattern: guards, followed by technical actions. The last “play” is actually a definition of the weapon, as we see in Fiore and Vadi’s armoured sword section, and in Vadi’s dagger section.

The content will be pretty familiar to medievalists; all of these techniques can be found in the longsword sections of Fiore; and many of the verses are very like ones we find in these other treatises.

Why women, though? And why Judith?

That question, at least, is easily answered. In medieval art, and indeed much later, the biblical character Judith was a favourite; as it allowed the artist to depict nekkid women with swords. Or dressed women with swords.

You can get the general idea here, in this version of the story by Domenico di Pace Beccafumi

judith-1510-c-domenico-di-pace-beccafumi

The story is told in the biblical (Apocryphal in some traditions) Book of Judith. In short, Judith’s tribe was being attacked by the Assyrian army lead by Holofernes; the night before the battle, she seduced her way into his tent (hence the nekkid), hacked off his head, and took it back to her leaders in a basket (I’m pretty sure that’s where Lois McMaster Bujold got that fabulous scene in Cordelia’s Honor).

My favourite version of the theme in paint is this by Botticelli, which you can find in the Uffizi, along with it's partner image, the discovery of Holofernes:

return_of_judith

Now, before everyone gets TOO excited, you should be aware that this has not been authenticated, and there is much work to be done examining the art and the text for possible correlations with other manuscripts. But oh my, I am falling off my chair in glee.

Please share this with everyone: our martial heritage should not be kept in the dark, but in the great tradition of Wiktenauer, let's get this stuff out there to everyone who might be interested.

OR DON'T: I posted this reveal on April 2nd, but on the principle that it's unlikely that everyone will spot it, I've copied and pasted it here:

April Foooooool!!

Yesterday, I gave the impression that I had found an authentic medieval Italian falchion treatise. But actually it was the work of Heidi Zimmerman (the Meyer plates printing genius), an anonymous calligrapher friend, and yours truly. I got the idea long ago, and while talking to Heidi over skype one day, asked her in on the jape. My contribution was to design the system: I chose the guards, the techniques, and so on, and I wrote the “medieval Italian” verses. Which are largely stolen from Fiore and Vadi.  I framed the images I wanted in the salle, with Ville Henell and Ilpo Luhtala, and took photos, which Heidi drew and painted. Then the calligraphy was added, and our treatise was made real. I also roped some friends in to boost the signal; not everyone who appeared to believe did so! Thanks Neal, Mike, and all the usual suspects.

But lest you think I am a lying toad, not so! Every word of the revelation yesterday was true. Let me explain, by adding in the missing information.

“Previously unknown Falchion treatise” is true. It is a treatise. About the falchion. Unknown to almost everyone. And I discovered it in my shared Dropbox folder.

As you may be aware, I have spent most of this year in Italy, [TRUE] and much of that time looking for insight into the systems I teach. [TRUE up to a point] While I was there, I found a treatise [in my dropbox folder]; probably in the Fiore/Vadi tradition. [Well, it is!] It features two women, exemplifying the art of arms as applied to the falchion (or messer, or storta). The original is in private hands: fortunately, the owner is a reader of my books, so agreed to let me post them. [Yes, Heidi does read my books.]

Every word of what followed was true. But my glee was caused by mischief-making, not by finding an original treatise…

But seriously, folks; if we ever do find a medieval Italian falchion treatise, I think it will look like this. These actions can all be found in, for instance, Lecküchner's treatise, and in Italian sources for the longsword. The structure is very Fiorean, and follows the logic of his sword in one hand plays. The number of guards, numbers of techniques, and so on, are all very much in the model Fiore set.

I should also point out that we were very careful to make it just “wrong” enough that it could not be passed off as a forgery. My overriding brief to Heidi was that if the original is found in a hundred years, nobody in the medievalist world could reasonably mistake it for an authentic medieval document. Well done all of you that spotted the many “errors”. Most obviously, that great big falchion at the end is indeed a picture of Cosimo de' Medici‘s falchion from the Wallace Collection. From about a century after this is supposed to have been written. That was meant as a little clue….

Anyway, I hope you all had fun with this (though it's obvious from some of the internet chatter that some folk were really annoyed, which I find baffling). I have been thinking a lot about stortas (Italian falchions), and how odd it is that we have lots of surviving originals, and lots of German sources for the equivalent messer, but nothing in Italian. So this is an exercise in predictive archeology: if such a treatise ever does come to light, I think it would look like this. I'm planning to write up a proper analysis of the “system”, with translations of the verses, and why I think it would look like this, but I'm in the process of moving back to Finland right now, so it will have to wait.

I raise a glass to tomfoolery, and to Heidi! For more of her art, go see Draupnir Press.

 

While living in Lucca, I am taking advantage of the opportunity to see something of the rest of Tuscany, and indeed Italy. Most recently, I went to Florence to catch up with Heidi Zimmerman, she of the sumptuous Meyer longsword plate reproductions, as she passed through with Chris Vanslambrouck (who was touring Italy teaching Meyer). I took the train up on Tuesday morning, and met up with Heidi, Chris, and their charming hosts Rodolfo Tanara, Eleanori Rebecchi, and Lorenzo Lotti, outside the Uffizi (where else?). We visited the Uffizi, had lunch, chilled out some, and ended up at Eleanora’s home polishing off a bottle of red; I got back to my hotel about midnight, and met them all again the next morning for a trip to the Stibbert museum, followed by our own bodyweight in sushi, a visit to Rodolfo, Eleanora and Lorenzo’s workshop (where they make swords, knives, and leather goods), and then the train home.

This all-too-brief trip (I was away from home for 36 hours exactly) reminded me of the technique of being a tourist, which I have distilled down to three simple guidelines for your benefit and amusement.

1) Do one thing each day; let serendipity do the rest. For example, on this trip I had two days. I went to the Uffizi on the first day, and the Stibbert on the second (I go on about the Stibbert at length, further down this post) . That’s the top two items on my Florence bucket list (in reverse order, but that had everything to do with museum opening times and Chris’ schedule). I also, and by accident, made three new friends, ate a glorious Bistecca Fiorentina, saw the inside of a truly astonishing church (thanks for suggesting it, Lorenzo!), and soaked in the renaissance. I didn’t see Michelangelo’s David, but it will still be there when I get back. Be warned though: I was in New York in June 2001, and had a choice between going up the World Trade Centre tower, or going and getting a new sword bag. “I’ll do the tourist thing next time I’m here”, I thought. Bugger.

2) Rest. There is absolutely no virtue attached to having once glanced  at some cultural treasure. If it has no effect on you, it’s doing you no good. But wetting your pants in glee because you just saw the actual painting, the real one, of the father of the Duke of Urbino to whom Philippo Vadi’s De Arte Gladiatoria was dedicated, changes you.

The Duke and Duchess of Urbino

It’s what you bring to the experience that makes the difference; where this piece fits in its story, and yours. Time spent chilling out in a cafe with friends is every bit as valuable as time spent shuffling through yet another gallery of priceless artwork that is all running together in your head. Recognise how much you can actually absorb in a day and don’t overdo it.

L-R: Guy, Heidi, Chris, Eleanora, Lorenzo, Rodolfo, not overdoing it. (photo by Lorenzo)
L-R: Guy, Heidi, Chris, Eleanora, Lorenzo, Rodolfo, not overdoing it. (photo by Lorenzo)

3) Always look up, and down. Sometimes the best stuff is on the ceiling, or even the floor. Like this in one small room in the Uffizi; I couldn’t tell you what was on the walls in this room, but these utterly amazing images are on the ceiling!

Making gunpowder (I think):

Buti gunpowder makers

Making cannon:

Buti Cannon

Designing fortifications:

Buti fortifications

Making armour:

Buti Armourers

and best of all: Making swords!

Buti Sword makers

Roberto Gotti’s book Caino  tells me they are by Ludovico Buti (1560 – 1603). They are so taken for granted here that I could not find the slightest thing about them written up for visitors in the room itself.

That’s it, in a nutshell: Do one thing, rest, and always look up.

Now, for you sword enthusiasts: the Stibbert Museum. Oh my. What an under-appreciated utterly magical gem of a museum. Of all the museums I know, the Wallace (in London) is usually my favourite, and this is very, very similar. But in terms of arms and armour, I’d say the Stibbert has the edge (and point, and both barrels!). This was the home of Frederick Stibbert (1836-1906), ambassador to Florence, and a keen collector of arms and armour, in the way of nineteenth century wealthy English lunatics. Which is to say that if my next book does a JK Rowling on me, this is what my house will look like.

The entrance hall

Because it is just a house (a very large and amazingly well decorated and filled house); it’s as if the man has just popped out, and someone had left the door open. There are a few ropes keeping the unwashed masses back from the hand painted embossed leather wallpaper, but by and large, you could get your fingerprints all over the goods if you were so inclined. Which is why you can’t just buy a ticket and walk in, the way you can everywhere else. Every hour on the hour, between 10 and 1, a museum employee will walk you round in a group. Ours was very kind, and clearly pleased that the six of us (plus a coincidental group of three Spaniards) were so overwhelmed by her museum. She allowed us to spend as much of our allotted 60 minutes as we liked (which, as there wasn’t another group coming after us, stretched to about 90), in the main arms and armour rooms, and not footling it away on the porcelain. The place is pretty dusty, something you just don’t see in most modern museums, and it’s very dark; I think they can’t afford to light it properly. Which means that most of my photos didn’t come out at all. So can’t show you things like the cases of stirrups, or pommels, or cinquedeas, or guns, or knives; nor the fucking sarcophagus he had in his house. I kid you not, you could outfit a regiment in pretty much any period from 1350-1600, in either European or Asian style, just from the stuff on display.

This is where the famous hauberk with a verse of the Koran on every link is kept. Here is the best photo I could get of it, cropped to a bit of the sleeve:

Mail closeup

Fortunately, I went on about this place at length to my Italian teacher, Stefano Manelli, who was passing Florence that weekend with his family, and they went in to see it. He was able to use 10 second exposure times to get images like this cavalcade of 14 mounted knights in armour of various periods, in what passed for Stibbert's fucking living room:

The Cavalcade

And a tiny fraction of the pistols:

Some guns

And remember what I said about remember to look up? Here's a ceiling. Nothing special. Just a hallway in a chap's house:

A ceiling

And the smoking room. Because every house needs one, right?

Smoking room ceiling

He even has the funerary armour of Giovanni dei Medici, that’s Giovanni delle Bande Nere to you and me. Right there.

Giovanni's legs

(This was my phone doing its best in low light). Stibbert could have worn it if he wanted to. Fortunately for us, he had his own suit of armour, in which he fought his chums. Yes, he was one of us!

Stibbert's armour

Now, chaps, a call to arms. This museum is an utterly priceless treasure in our arms and armour world, one that gets none of the attention or funding that those silly paintings in the Ooofeeezy (like I was wetting my pants over only the day before), or that dopy stone bloke with a sling (who I’ll visit next time), seem to attract.

I put it to you all; what can we do to make the Stibbert the best-known, best funded, most appreciated museum in all Florence? Because it ought to be.

Lucca

This instalment of the Blog of Guy is coming to you from beautiful Italy, a land where historical artefacts of astonishing antiquity are just left lying around! I shit you not, this is a place where the new buildings are anything less than 500 years old. And people seem to live and work in buildings that you would imagine American museums would be falling over themselves to disassemble stone by stone, and reconstruct inside a hermetically-controlled special exhibition space. It’s unreal. Ever since University days (in Edinburgh, with lots of old buildings everywhere), I have been involved in antiques restoration in one form or another; first restoring furniture, then restoring European swordsmanship. And now everywhere I look there are antiques: in stone, wood, iron and paint, many of them crying out for some tender loving care, all of them quietly glowing with the residue of the love their makers put into them centuries ago.

As no doubt you know, I do a lot of researching and recreating of Italian medieval and renaissance swordsmanship styles. Especially those of Fiore dei Liberi, Philippo Vadi, and Ridolfo Capoferro. So you would be forgiven for thinking that this move to Italy was all part of a deliberate plan to improve my grasp on Italian, further my research interests, and so on. But it didn’t happen that way.

In the beginning, there was plumbing. Now, let it be said that Finnish plumbing is a miracle to behold. They do central heating better than the Romans (and that is really saying something!). But one side-effect of this is that they seem to do a lot of plumbing. To whit, every 50 years or so, they rip it all out and do it again, in a process known to all as the putkiremontti. Fear it. Dread it. It is not for the faint-hearted. This means that the average dwelling is uninhabitable for a period of perhaps 3-6 months, at a cost of about 7-900euros per square metre of floor (which is how the costs are divided among the building owners). Our apartment’s turn came this year, and we got our exact dates about 6 months ago; January 12th to May 13th. Given the vast cost of the work (hello, remortgage), we immediately set about finding ways to make this affordable. The average cost of a furnished flat for 4 months in Helsinki was about 1800e per month. This is simply not within our reach, especially when the usual mortgage, service charges, and so on, are going out as before. So what to do?

Go somewhere cheaper was the obvious option. We looked at Cyprus (cheap, not great to get to though), Bali (cheap, once you get there, but very expensive flights especially at this time of year), and various other possible locations, when my oh-so-excellent wife found us an apartment here in Lucca, Italy, at a silly-cheap off-season price. I hadn’t thought we could afford Italy, of all places on the planet, but we got very lucky…

And Lucca, for a medievalist like me, is just perfection. We are inside the walls of the old town, and these are serious, keep those fucking Pisans out, walls. Round every corner there is some staggering work of art, of staggering antiquity, and just strolling around (which I am doing a lot of, as I made the very sensible decision to treat this as a proper sabbatical, and do no work that I don’t feel like, blog posts, writing and most definitely teaching included) is like being in a great architectural museum. This is helped along by the fact that a) that’s how the Lucchese have chosen to maintain their city, bless them, and b) neither the Allies nor the Axis bombed the shit out of it in WWII.

It’s also incredibly cheap, to eat, to live, to get around. We went to Pisa last Sunday, birthplace of Vadi; it cost about 20e for the four of us (my wife, two kids, and me) to go there and back on the train. We saw the tower. It leans. A lot.

Note the two little artists in the foreground, supervised by Mrs Guy.
Note the two little artists in the foreground, supervised by Mrs Guy.

 

We saw the medieval old town, and the Duomo, and the Battistero, and all sorts. Getting the kids excited about going into the Duomo was easier than I expected; I told them there was a real dead body in it, and they were super-keen to see it! San Ranieri to the rescue…

Dead bodies in glass coffins are apparently perfectly kid-friendly. Who knew?
Dead bodies in glass coffins are apparently perfectly kid-friendly. Who knew?

I was in Florence this week, which will get a blog post all of its own. There and back for 15 euros. And the trains run on time, with no help from il Duce. And here’s the kicker; when we take into account the costs of renting, of food and wine (dear god, drinkable wine at under 4e for a 1.5 litre bottle! I’ll be perfectly round, and a complete alcoholic, by the time we come home), and our flights here, it works out that we are saving about 2000 euros on our living costs over the three months we are here. (We are coming home 6 weeks before the putkiremontti ends so that our eldest daughter can get back to school for a month or so before the summer break.)

And what of income? I have been self-employed now for fifteen years, and never really let go of business, which has never been more than two weeks from bankruptcy. (Really. I hear that it’s a good idea to have about 6 months operating expenses in reserve. I have never, ever, had more than a fortnight’s, until this last year). My wife has been telling me for ages that she’s worried about me getting exhausted, just as my friends were telling me a decade ago. I need and deserve no sympathy; I have the best job in the world. But it is still a job, and lately, it has been starting to feel like one. I have been teaching way too much, and not unwinding properly. It’s a curse and a blessing that there are so few people out there with my specific skill set. So taking a three month break from teaching felt at every level like a really good idea, confirmed by the way I spent almost all of December floored by a cold turned into bronchitis.

But if I am not at the salle teaching, nor doing weekend seminars (and I have deliberately not looked for teaching opportunities here) where’s the money coming from? Well, for starters, the biggest monthly cost is the salle, which the SHMS pays for separately from my teaching time. So that’s covered. The actual teaching of classes is covered by my excellent senior students; I have been thinking for a while now that my constant presence can act as a cap on their development, so I’ll be interested to see how they are getting on when I get back. And in the meantime, a huge hat-tip and thank you to the ladies and gentlemen who have stepped into the breach and are running things in Helsinki while I’m away.

But salary? Aha, my friends, that’s the secret. The books that I have self-published over the last couple of years (re-issues of The Swordsman’s Companion and The Duellist’s Companion, Veni Vadi Vici, plus the all-new The Medieval Longsword) are bringing in enough royalties that we can actually get by for a few months without any teaching gigs. I cannot tell you what a relief that is. It’s incredible, to be able to take some real time off and not go bankrupt. And that’s down to every one of you that has bought one of my books in any format over the last year. Thank you. You may just have saved my life. And you have certainly allowed me to convert what would have been an impossibly hard problem into a glorious opportunity.

The Fiore Extravaganza, a week-long immersion in medieval Italian martial arts, is now over. This year we spent much of our time working through Filippo Vadi's fencing theory, and his 25 longsword plays. This was in part to help with the commentary section of my upcoming Veni VADI Vici book, in part to satisfy the curiosity of the students present, and in part because it provided a set of key plays and concepts that bridge the gap between Fiore's longsword material other systems.

While it was clear that Vadi's presentation of the material is far less complete and far less well organised than Fiore's he nonetheless introduces some important concepts. In the first advanced class following the Extravaganza I summarised the critical insights like so:

1) Size matters. Vadi requires us to use a longer sword than the ones we see in Fiore. This has a huge impact on the appropriate responses to the crossing at meza spada. Video explanation to follow!

2) The blows of the mezo tempo “remain in a knot”. At the moment the default understanding seems to be that the “mezo tempo” equates to a counterattack with a half blow. That is just not how he is using the terms- they are instead the blows done from the meza spada crossing, in which your hands must remain in front of you and the sword going forwards turning around its midpoint or you get stabbed.

3) All of Vadi's longsword plays can be done from the meza spada crossing, which is analogous to Fiore's crossing in zogho stretto.

4) The solutions Vadi talks about when crossed at the middle of the swords are very similar to those found in Liechtenauer; and depend in large part on the sword being some inches longer than the ones illustrated in Fiore. He describes actions that are very similar to certain windings (e.g. “the arms play above the head”), and actions like zucken.

5) Vadi's longsword guards are not always created by blows, and though he makes little real use of them, he includes guards that we do not see in Fiore or the Liechtenauer system, but which appear in the later Bolognese.

6) His solution to avoiding the complexity of the plays from the meza spada (zogho stretto) is exactly as Fiore's- parry from the left with a good roverso and strike.

The Extravaganza ended, as always, with a tournament. The format was agreed beforehand by those participating, and unlike last year we went for the two teams approach. The participants were divided into the A team (seniors) and the B team (juniors). We started with two rounds in which the B team members challenged the A team member of their choice, at the weapon of their choice. This guaranteed every B team member at least two good fights. If the B team member won either of their fights, they got into the final. Those B team members that did not get into the final were organised into a pool and all fought each other, giving them more experience. The winner of the pool also won a place in the final.

The finalists, so the original A team plus successful B-team members, were organised by rank and experience, and fought a winner-stays-on elimination. Number one fought number 2, winner fought number 3, winner fought number 4, etc etc. The spectators got to pick the weapons used. So the most experienced person would have to beat every other finalist to win- the least experienced had to win only one fight to take the tournament. Janne Kärki of the Kuopio branch won in fine style, winning four matches in a row. His prize was a bout with me, which we both enjoyed thoroughly.

All in all, a fantastic week of research, training, and fighting. Well done all who took part!

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