SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART FOUR: STABLE, STRIKING AND MUTABLE, REVISITED. THE TWELVE GUARDS OF THE SWORD

[NB: Part Four of this series is a revision and clarification of an early article, which can be found on the Chivalric Fighting Arts blog.]

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Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

From time to time IAS will release Member’s Area content (normally only available to affiliates) to the general public, in the interests of promoting L’Arte dell’Armizare and the Academy’s approach to it.  This post is an in-depth lesson and video detailing the execution of a fundamental action: the fendente, and is part of a series of in-depth Fundamentals videos.

The video details the specifics of the fendente itself; the lesson refers to partnered body mechanics exercises that are reviewed before the fendente lesson is begun.  Those videos are not shown here (but are in the Member’s Area).

Lesson 1: Fundamental Body & Sword Mechanics

Level: Fundamental/Beginning

Description: Students will learn to execute both mandritto and riverso fendenti from Posta di Donna diritta (mandritto side) and Posta di Donna sinistra (on the riverso side) using correct body mechanics.

Prerequisites: None.

Goals: To properly engage arms, shoulders, hips and legs to power the blow in a true time (hand before body and feet) into a tactically sound and physically stable ending position.

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Measuring Success: the Role of Freeplay & Competition in Training
Author (right) fighting at the Borealis 2014 tournament.

Measuring Success: the Role of Freeplay & Competition in Training

Freeplay

IAS Schools employs a variety of models for freeplay (sparring).  The bridge between strict drills and complete freeplay is in the form of exercises with certain parameters in which actions are limited to specific techniques.  Such exercises can more or less limit the scope of possibilities, and are designed to focus the student’s attention on specific aspects of the art as applied in the fight.  Since any limitation introduced necessarily distorts the reality of the art’s application, conditions in these drills are usually changed frequently from more limitations to fewer, consistent with the student’s level of ability.

Sean Hayes (r) fighting Axel Petterson (l)
The author (right) fighting Axel Petterson at Longpoint 2014. Axel took 1st in the tournament.

It is important to understand that even freeplay has limitations placed on it.  The most obvious limitations are that we use blunt weapons and protective equipment, we play so as to minimize the possibility of injury, and our intent is not lethal – quite the opposite!  Safety is always our first priority.  The effect of all this is to remove the very natural fear one would have with sharp weapons and lethal intent, to remove the caution that fear would inspire, and to encourage behavior that is not consistent with a real fight.

Because of these considerations, students must: (more…)

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Memory and Performance: Visual and Rhetorical Strategies of Il Fior di Battaglia

(First presented at the Renaissance Society of America’s Venice conference in 2010. Presented also as part of an academic session followed by an armoured combat demonstration, organized by Dr. Regina Pskai, at the American Association for Italian Studies conference at University of Oregon, 2013)

This paper is part of a larger study on medieval and Renaissance martial arts manuscripts, their art historical context, their relationship to medieval arts of memory, and the practical interpretation of the arts they represent. I will address the work of Mary Carruthers and Kathryn Starkey on medieval techniques of reading to show how a medieval martial arts manuscript makes use of visual rhetorical devices to address the problems inherent in notating fencing actions. MS Ludwig XV 13, dated to 1410 and commonly known by its title Il Fior di Battaglia or Flower of Battle, is a Northern Italian manuscript by a military captain named Fiore dei Liberi. The manuscript, currently held by the J. Paul Getty Museum, is a complex performance document which employs specific notational techniques to record for later use the elements of a physical performance.

The difficulties of understanding and interpreting historical martial arts texts lie partly with their semiotic remoteness from the present day. It is not simply that the teachers of those traditions are now long dead, or that the manuscripts themselves invariably seem to assume some prior knowledge of the arts they record, but also that they employ a literary, academic, and artistic vocabulary that is different from our own. To arrive at reasonable interpretations of the physical performance and use of these arts requires study of the complete cultural context in which these arts were performed. Only with this type of study can we begin to assign degrees of confidence to our interpretations of these arts.
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Stable, Striking and Mutable: Fighting from the Guards of L’Arte dell’Armizare

“I am the sword and I am lethal against any weapon; lances, axes and dagger are worthless against me. I can become extended or withdrawn; when I get near the opponent I can enter into close play, perform disarms and abrazare. My art is to turn and to bind; I am expert in defense and offense, and always strive to finish in those. Come against me and feel the pain. I am Royal, enforce justice, propagate goodness and destroy evil. Look at me as a cross, and I will give you fame and a name in the art of arms.” –Il Fior di Battaglia, folio 25r, Fiore dei Liberi, 1410 (tr. Tom Leoni)[1]

Introduction

Fiore dei Liberi’s il Fior di Battaglia, a medieval martial arts manuscript dated to 1410 in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum and catalogued as MS Ludwig XV 13, uses an innovative instructional design to teach the techniques and principles of L’Arte dell’Armizare (the Art of Arms). Among the features of this system is the organization of longsword guards (positions from which the fighter attacks, defends or counterattacks) into three classifications: StabilePulsativa, and Instabile, or stable, striking, and mutable. Knowing the play of these three classifications of guards is an essential part of understanding Fiore’s strategy and tactics in the fight – in other words, the actual application of martial technique against an antagonistic opponent.

In order to better describe how the three types of guards are used strategically and tactically, I’ll first outline the pedagogical model of the manuscript, and then briefly outline the core elements of longsword play as taught by Fiore’s 24 First Masters on folios 22r through 24v. These masters teach lessons both specific to the sword and general to all weapons. For example, the four masters who teach the cuts and thrusts teach them for sword, axe and spear, but not for dagger, which are taught separately. Conversely, the First Masters of the armoured and mounted combat sections have lessons applicable to the sword, whether used single-handed or with both hands.   The focus of this article is on the play of the longsword, but since the manuscript teaches an interconnected system, I will draw from its entirety.

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