SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS, PART 6: ORDERING THE PLAYS OF ZOGHO LARGO

We now turn to a more in-depth analysis of the technical curriculum Maestro Fiore has left us for how to remedy, or defend, against blows launched from the various guards in either wide (largo) or close (stretto) play. As seen previously, we can define wide play, or zogho largo, as encompassing any action that begins with one of the combatants bridging distance (analogous to the Wide Distance/misura larga/Zufechten of other traditions) and ending with the swords  crossed in the middle third (mezza spada).

Dei Liberi divides his instruction into two main groupings: a crossing of the sword in the first third, or punta, and a crossing at the mezza spada, with the majority of the plays falling in the latter category. There has long been a tendency for students to treat these plays in isolation — not just from the larger system, but from each other — and this is understandable, given how the master presents the material: Sometimes providing specific advice for variations to a play, illustrating a follow-on technique in zogho stretto for what to do when a play fails or is countered, discussing in some cases how to come to the half-sword, rather than beginning at the half-sword, etc. However, by carefully studying how the scholar is controlling the Player, both tactically and mechanically, a clear reason for each play and their overall ordering can be deduced.

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An Interview with Fiore dei Liberi’s stunt double….

Alphabet - The Akademia Szermierzy is a Polish HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts) academy in Warsaw. While I knew of the Akademia and its members via Facebook, I wasn’t really aware of the focus or quality of their work, other than they were interested in Armizare.  So imagine my delight (and the entire Society’s!) when they released a short film presenting their interpretations of Fiore dei Liberi’s swordsmanship, not as a how-to or demo-reel, but as a dramatization of one of the old master’s five duels against rival fencing masters. Since it was released (Aug 13, 2016), the video has garnered 56,000 views and enthusiastic applause from HEMA students across the globe.  Certainly, IAS feels it is one of the most dynamic snapshots of our art currently online.  (See for yourself, then come back and read the rest of this article!)

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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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SWORDSMANSHIP IN THE ART OF ARMS: SERIES INTRODUCTION

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

Introduction

At first glance, swordplay seems to take  relatively minor role in armizare, at least compared to its German contemporaries. Whereas there are nine tactical situations, or Remedii (“Remedies”) containing 78 discreet dagger plays, Fiore dei Liberi summarizes his sword teachings in three Remedies with just over forty plays, more than half of which concern grapples and disarms with the weapon. The twenty plays reserved for Zogho Largo (“wide distance”) are not even a fifth of the vast corpus of techniques found in the Liechtenauer compendia.

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Filippo Vadi’s Role in the Dei Liberi Tradition, Part II

(c) 2010 – 2014 Greg Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild

While Filippo Vadi’s De arte gladiatoria dimicandi differs in the main very little from the work of Fiore dei Liberi in terms of technique, the assertion that Vadi’s work does not differ in method of communication is simply incorrect. The true originality of the De arte gladiatoria dimicandi stands in the sixteen introductory chapters that come before the illustrated leaves. These elegantly written verse chapters constitute the center of Vadi’s work and detail the main principles of swordmanship. They also mark a notable difference in the pedagogical method of the manuscript itself from all three of the dei Liberi texts.

Dei Liberi’s Fior di Battaglia are experiential manuscripts. In the Getty and Pierpoint Morgan manuscripts, the author clearly describes the various guards, attacks and mechanics of the individual techniques. Each illustration follows in a logical sequence, so that a technique is followed by its counter, and then the counter to that counter follows. Dei Liberi also goes to great length to show the repetition of key mechanical concepts, so that an armbar learned in the wrestling section is often pointed out in the dagger plays, and again in the use of the sword.

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Filippo Vadi’s Role in the dei Liberi Tradition, Pt. I

(c) 2010 – 2014 Gregory Mele, Chicago Swordplay Guild

When I teach at workshops and seminars, I am often told something along the lines of this:

I’m surprised that the man who co-authored the reproduction on De arte gladiatoria dimicandi doesn’t work more with the hallmarks of Vadi.

It’s a fair question, and suggests that in 2001, when I was working on my edition of Vadi, I did not yet have enough understanding of the larger dei Liberi tradition to separate Vadi’s brilliance from the marketing hype aimed at securing him a position at the court of Urbino. While Filippo Vadi defines his art as “newly made”, and specifically draws attention to several supposedly unique features, a study of his work against Fiore dei Liberi’s shows that this is a bit of clever marketing on Vadi’s part. As such, Vadi’s value is not in the tweaks he provides to the mainline of the art, but rather in his often detailed explanations of the art’s fundamentals and theory.

A recent email from one of my students asked about Filippo Vadi’s innovations and his role in the dei Liberi tradition, and how they influence what we teach at the CSG. These were such excellent questions that I thought I would share them, polish up my replies and post them here.

Greg:

As long as I’ve known it, the CSG offers two main initial courses of study: the Renaissance rapier masters of the early 17th century and the medieval dei Liberi tradition.  In each class session weall practice abraçare, dagger, and longsword as learned from Fiore dei Liberi’s treatises.  To attain the rank of Scholar one must have a certain knowledge about Fiore.  Translated quotes from Fiore are often cited in class.  Even rapier students are required to learn the abraçare and dagger sections of Fiore, in order to play their prize. In short order, the CSG “teaches Fiore.”

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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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