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Fundamental Mechanics: Executing a Correct Fendente

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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.


  • This lesson teaches a full cut from Posta di Donna to Posta Porta di Ferro Mezzana.  The cut can be used offensively, defensively, or counter-offensively.  There is also a version of the cut that takes a shorter, tighter arc to a parrying position, but that cut is not developed in this lesson.
  • The accompanying video shows a breakdown of the fendente into several steps.  One of these steps ends in Posta Longa: it is important to note that the centerline is not closed at that moment, but closes as the transition to Porta di Ferro Mezzana is made.  A deliberate mezza colpo (half blow) would close the centerline.  The mechanics of this are covered in a separate lesson.  As a general rule, cuts must close the centerline, and thrusts must establish opposition.
  • Use of the back stance and volta stabile is usually not included in this lesson; it is briefly described here for completeness.
  • This lesson will be reviewed frequently, as it is the most fundamental of the fundamentals.


Part 1- Warm Up

Part 2 – Review: Fundamental Body Mechanics, Proper Stance, Mezza Volta

Part 3 – First Lesson overview of Armizare

Part 4 – Body Mechanics

  1. Proper Forward Stance
    • Stand relaxed, weight slightly on the balls of the feet, feet hip width apart (the outside edge of the foot corresponds to the outside edge of the hip.
    • Step directly forward along the line of direction with the riverso side foot (left foot for a right hander, right foot for a left hander) three shoe lengths.
    • Settle the weight by bending the knees equally, and turning the rear foot to an angle of 45 degrees to the line of direction.
    • Extend the riverso side hand forward and slightly outside the line of the body, palm oriented inside and diagonally towards the ground at 45 degrees, fingers relaxed and open.
    • Place the mandritto side hand near the right hip, in a “gunslinger’s position,” fingers relaxed and open.
  2. Mezza Volta Forward
    • Begin reaching the rear hand forward, bringing it through the center line of the body, while bringing the rear hand back, also through the center line of the body.  The arms will brush up against each other, ideally with full contact of the forearms during the middle of the movement,
    • As the rear hand reaches forward, it brings the rear shoulder forward into the motion while the front shoulder moves back, which starts the hips turning in the same fashion, which causes the rear foot to pivot and point forward, heel rising off the ground.  Be sure to keep the body weight low and the knees bent.
    • As the rear foot beings to pivot, the heel will naturally leave the ground and trigger the step forward.  The step stays close to the ground, without undue rising. The foot travels below the body, almost brushing against the other foot, and then passes forward.  The step has a slight curve to it: the foot starts off to the side of the centerline, passes above the centerline, and then moves outward to again be at the side of the centerline. The hand should at all times be ahead of body and feet in the action.
    • The front foot lands heel first and settles firmly to the ground, while the rear foot pivots and also settles firmly to the ground.  The weight of the body lowers slightly and evenly on both legs as the feet land, so that the front leg does not bear more than half the weight (which causes the body to be unbalanced forward).
  3. Mezza Volta Backward
    • The movement is reversed, with hand leading the retreat slightly, triggering the movement of shoulders, hips and feet similarly to above.
    • The hand moves first to teach the importance of engaging the arm in wrestling, and then using the strong muscles of the body to unbalance or throw the opponent.
  4. Volta Stabile
    • Assume Forward Stance, as above.
    • Lifting the heels slightly from the floor, pivot on the balls of the feet so that your facing is rotated through 135 degrees – one third of a circle.  Your back leg becomes your front leg, and vice-versa.
    • As you practice, engage your hips in the turn as well as your legs.  Both legs will have knees bent and weight equally distributed at all points in the action.
  5. Proper Back Stance
  • As you make a volta stabile, keep your face and chest turned in their original direction.  Your hips will rotate very slightly, but because you don’t change your facing, your front and back legs do not “exchange” as in the exercise above.
  • Your front leg will slightly extend.  Do NOT lock the knee out: keep it bent so as to allow supporting of the body on both legs.  Locking it throws the weight onto the rear leg.  Keeping it bent slightly helps distribute the weight between the legs.  The rear leg will load slightly more than the front, but this should be slight – something like 60% to 40%.

Part 5 – Partner Exercises with Body Mechanics

  1. Partner Exercise: testing structure
    • Partners face each other in mirrored stances (one is left foot forward, one is right foot forward).
    • Partner A assumes Posta Longa d’abrazare (the unarmed form of Posta Longa) with a left side lead: using the Forward Stance, the left arm is extended easily with the shoulder down, elbow slightly relaxed, and palm facing diagonally down and to the right.  The arm should be angled slightly outward from the body with the hand at the height of the face. The right arm is held angled back and diagonally outward and downward, completing a line through the shoulders.
    • Partner B assumes Posta Dente de Zenghiaro d’abrazare (the unarmed form of Dente de Zenghiaro) with a right side lead: as for Posta Longa, save that the lead (right in this case) arm is bent about 90 degrees at the elbow, with the palm facing diagonally to the left and slightly outward.  The rear arm takes a downward-facing mirror position.
    • Partner B’s right forearm is place on Partner A’s left forearm, both forearms meeting just below the wrist.
    • Partner B attempts to extend his arm directly forward so as to place the edge of his hand just inside Partner A’s shoulder, on the chest.  B does not push to the side: he must push directly forward in this lesson.
    • Partner A resists by using his structure and allowing the pressure to be directed through his arm, into his body, and out his hips into his rear leg, grounding against the floor.  The body should be held in place with minimal muscular exertion, and A should breath easily and not “muscle” as he resists.  He should use passive strength rather than active.
    • As B increases pressure and even bring the body to bear, A will need to use greater effort.  The point of the exercise is not that one can resist indefinitely; it is that the body structure is sufficient to resist and defend a single action executed in martial time, allowing the defender time to execute techniques.
  2. Partner Exercise: engaging the core
    • This is the push-hands exercise, where the core is engaged by both people without leaning.
    • Both partners assume Posta Longa d’abrazare, left foot forward, modifying the rear arm position so that the hand is poised just above the hip.  Partner A holds both hands palms open, while Partner B places his closed fists up against A’s palms.  B’s fists must be held with the closed palms facing diagonally up to the inside: the left hand will face diagonally up to the left, the right to diagonally up to the right.
    • With A resisting through use of structure, B begins to extend his right arm to push B’s left arm back.  As the arm engages in a smooth and steady extension, the right hip is rotated forward to lend power to the action, followed by the right foot, as in the Mezza Volta Exercise 2 above.  As A feels the push, he slowly executes a mezza volta backwards (as in Exercise 3 above), being careful to maintain his form and not “jerk” himself away.
    • Neither A nor B should lean into the action.  The consequences can be demonstrated by having B lean into the action with his body, and A abruptly pulling away.  USE CAUTION: B may easily fall on his face.
  3. Volta Stabile to face a new direction
    • A volta stabile is performed on the balls of the feet, with the heels slightly off the ground, and shifts the orientation of the body approximately 135 degrees in the opposite direction.
    • From a Right Stance, turn your hips to your left using the muscles of the legs.  The shoulders should follow and remain in alignment with the hips.  If your body is centered between your legs at the beginning of the movement, you will not notice any shift of the relative position of the torso – it will not move backwards even though you now face 135 degrees towards the rear.
  4. Volta Stabile to a Rear Stance
    • Alternately, the volta stabile can shift the weight back while retaining the same forward facing, such as in Fiore’s Posta Finestra.  Shift your torso to the rear by lengthening the front leg and contracting the rear leg.  The extended leg must not lock the knee, which needs to remain loose and supple, so that the leg can move freely.  The feet will change orientation as above.

Part 6 – Preliminary Exercises with the Sword

  1. Holding the Sword
    • Sword grip is a combination of structure and pressure.  The structure is the shape of the hands on the sword’s handle or grip, and the pressure is the minimum amount of force necessary for the techniques being performed.  The sword is gripped firmly but not tightly.  You should never squeeze or grip with a fist. The proper grip is firm but relaxed, and capable of shifting as needs require.  Learn to hold with light pressure
    • The sword is held in two hands.  The dominant hand (right hand is assumed) holds with thumb and forefinger in opposition to each other on the flatter sides of the grip (corresponding to the flat of the blade), close to but not against the crossguard (about one finger width down is appropriate).  The grip is angled at about 45 degrees in the palm, so the top edge of the grip nestles against the ball of the thumb and into the groove at the inside center of the wrist (put your thumb and pinkie together to see this “groove” in the middle of the wrist).  The remaining fingers wrap loosely but firmly around the grip.
    • The grip is repeated for the non-dominant hand (left is assumed), with the pommel of the sword being nestled in the palm of the hand.  If the sword’s hilt is especially long it may be held just above the pommel.
  2. Center of Rotation
    • The sword has a center of rotation, and most cuts and movements of the sword take advantage of it. These movements are the mechanical properties of a lever, which is what the sword is: effort is applied to one side of the lever across a fulcrum to generate the force necessary to move the load on the other side.  In the case the effort is supplied by the two hands, and the load on the other end is the cutting edge of the blade.  The fulcrum exists in between: the rotational node of the sword, a point somewhere between pommel and point where the weapon will rotate when force is applied.  In equilibrium (no force applied), this is coincides with the balance point, the place where the weight on both sides is equal.  In a uniform steel bar this would be in the center.  In a sword it’s usually closer to the handle.  But when a sword cuts properly  it’s no longer in equilibrium: the application of force shifts the “balance” to a center of rotation a little further forward.  This is in effect the fulcrum or stable point of the sword when the force is applied.  When properly directed by the extending arms, this rotational node travels linearly forward during the cut.
    • Standing in a normal manner, hold the sword in the dominant hand, over the shoulder and with the blade pointing backwards.  The blade should be at about jawline height and the arm bent 90 degrees at the elbow.  The hand should grip loosely, with the palm not in contact with the grip.
    • Rotating from the shoulder and not the elbow, firmly but not too strongly pull the sword’s pommel directly to the center of your chest.  Your should feel a “whipping” or “catapulting” action from the tip of the sword.
    • As the sword’s blade moves forward the grip should contact the palm of your hand – close your fingers firmly but not tightly on the grip.
    • Halt the sword’s movement when your elbow is at your side.  Your arm should still be bent 90 degrees.
    • Repeat this exercise on the left shoulder.
    • Repeat these exercises with two hands.

Part 7 – Executing Fendenti

  1. Mandritto Fendente from a Forward Stance
    • Assume Posta di Donna: the body is in a left forward position, strongly profiled, with the sword held so that it is parallel to the ground and above the shoulder at about the height of the jawline.  The hands will not be closed tightly, but with the grip only partly in contact with the palm, using mostly finger pressure.  The left elbow and upper arm are held close to the chest, so that they do not present a target, and the right arm is held with wrist straight and forearm lined up with the true edge of the sword.
    • Rotating from the shoulder and not the elbow, firmly but not too strongly pull the sword’s pommel directly to the center of your chest.  Your should feel a “whipping” or “catapulting” action from the tip of the sword.  Elbows should be just at the outside edge, and very slightly forward of, the body.
    • Begin a smooth extension of the hands, with the right hand leading so that the sword’s weak begins to accelerate faster than the strong.  The hands drop slightly during this extention, and the sword should assume a sharp angle that remains within the profile of the target (Fiore describes this angle as being from teeth on one side the knee on the other).  The elbows should be centered, not splayed, so that the force vectors are lined up behind the weapon.
    • As the arms extend, the right shoulder joins the motion, which triggers the right hip to follow, which in turn triggers the step forward of the right foot.  The sword should arrive at the target (transitioning through Posta Longa) as the right foot is about to land, so that the cut is assisted by the forward movement of the body and the settling of the weight.  Be careful to not lock the elbows: the arms should be extended but the elbows and shoulders relaxed.
    • As the cut transitions downward to Posta Porta di Ferro Mezzana, settle the body’s weight equally on both feet, to avoid placing all the weight on the front foot.
    • The angle of the cut should follow a line from teeth to knee: if you have a mirror, you can use your own image as a guide.  If you have a partner, the partner can be placed far out of striking distance for safety, and used as a guide.
    • The cut should travel through Posta Longa by a final movement from the shoulders, ending with the sword parallel to the ground and roughly at the height of the knee.  This is the termination of the cut – any additional motion will carry it down to Posta Porta di Ferro Mezzana.  For purposes of this exercise, we will not follow through to the low posta.
  2. Mandritto Fendente from a Back Stance
    • In this exercise, the hips begin turning in the volta stabile as the hands are pulled down to initiate the movement of the sword.  The hip turn lends power to the blow.  If properly coordinated, the time needed to throw the fendete is the same as from the forward stance.
  3. Riverso Fendente from a Forward Stance
    • As in Exercise 1 above, save that the hands will tend to pull the sword in a much flatter, more horizontal cut than the nearly vertical fendente.  With practice the cut can be made along the correct line and at the correct angle.  Take care not to push the left hand hard to the right during the cut: too much power from the left hand is a common problem with a riverso fendente.
  4. Riverso Fendente from a Back Stance
    • As in Exercise 2 above, with the cautions from Exercise 3.