Understanding the Punta Falsa

Ending the largo section of MS Ludwig XV13 (a.k.a. “the Getty Manuscript”) is a play known as the Punta Falsa or Punta Curta – the False Point or Short Point, as well as the counter to it.  

This play is called false thrust or short point. Here’s how it’s done. I feint a strong mezzano to the opponent’s head. As he forms his parry, I lightly strike his blade, then immediately turn my sword to the other side, grasping it almost at mid-blade with my left hand. I can then place a quick thrust to his throat or neck. This play is better in armor than without.

The play employs a feint to draw the opponent from position and create an opening for attack.  Because the final action involves a mezza volta (half turn) of the body with a step, we need to look carefully at the tempo of the play and the response, and the measure required to carry it out, as well as where things end up if the opponent doesn’t cooperate.  By this last I don’t mean the counter – I’ll deal with that in another article – or a withdrawal of some sort, but what happens if the opponent’s response is an unexpected closure to stretto.

The first thing to note here is that this is not a remedy or a play stemming from the previous remedy master, who is crossed at the mezza spada, and is followed by a number of plays stemming directly from that crossing: it’s an attack, and it’s the only one in the largo section not executed by a player who is then defeated by a remedy master.  Although one can argue that the scambiar de punta, rompere di punta and colpo di villano don’t stem directly from the 2nd remedy master crossing, they do nonetheless all play off the mezza spada or near enough to it, and are executed by a scholar who is responding  to an attack by a player.  The punta falsa is different: the scholar is in fact attacking and taking advantage of the player’s response, the player in this instance executing a remedy – specifically a parry.

We can look at it this way: the scholar executing the punta falsa is in effect a counter master even if not so named:  they throw a blow which is covered by a remedy, specifically a parry that results in a crossing (“I lightly strike his blade”), and then take advantage of that remedy.  In this view the player is in essence a remedy master being countered by a counter master.  

The second thing to note is that the defender – the one who was drawn out by the feinted mezzano – has apparently stepped forward.  This observation is based on the position of the Second Remedy Master, who parries from the right with left foot forward, and is then followed by plays involving a step of the right foot.  The player in the Punta Falsa is in a right foot forward position, as are most of the scholar stemming from the Second Remedy Master.  (This also suggests that the Punta Falsa is in effect a counter to the Second Remedy Master.). The fact that  the player is stepping forward as many of the previous scholars do means that the remedy has already been executed, and the action is complete.  This is obviously the case, since they’ve also got a point in their throat and the combatant executing the Punta Falsa has finished the play.

Resolving that issue is beyond the scope of this article and I’ll look at it in the future – I’m working on an article called “The Case of the Missing Masters,” a bit of detective work into the instructional design of the Fiore manuscripts.  What matters for today is the fact that this play is specifically using an attack to set up a counter action.  To keep things clear I will refer to the figure defeated by the Punta Falsa as the defender and the one who carries out the play as the attacker, eliding the more usual player-remedy-scholar notation.

The third thing to note is that the play is also a bridge to the stretto plays: we end up very much in zogho stretto, close play, though not in  any specific stretto play. (There are obvious similarities to other plays in the Fiore canon, of course.)  This is reinforced by the counter, where the play is opposed by a similar action. 

With all this in mind, let’s look at the play, and what’s required to deal with a player who quickly parries and moves in for their  riposte, and is hit during the execution of it.

“I feint a strong Mezzano to the opponent’s head.”

Fiore is specific: it’s a mezzano, a middle blow, and not a fendente, a more-or-less downward blow.  Why?  The answer lies in the need to create a large opening to the defender’s outside: their blade must be drawn wide, point up and hands down, as shown.  The opening needs to be large to bring the attacking blade around, establish opposition and close the line aided by seizing the blade, and a step in to strike.  A fendente, coming more-or-less directly down, will draw from a good player a tight parry.  Unlike the play of the Colp di Villano, Fiore doesn’t specify a heavy-handed or untutored opponent, so we’ll assume we’re dealing with a skilled opponent that we have to draw out of position.  A good mezzano thrown wide can pull such a parry from even a skilled opponent.

A mezzano carries some risk as an opening blow, however.  Compared to a fendente, in which the weapon is on a more-or-less vertical line between you and the opponent, a mezzano leaves much of the blade not between you and your opponent.  Note that in the video I briefly explain, at a couple of points, how a mezzano is best thrown.  The key element is that the forte of your sword must be between you and your opponent to afford you some protection.  Even so, as an opening attack a mezzano does not offer as much cover as a fendente.

The footwork isn’t specified, but I’m positing a diagonal step to the right to aid in drawing out the parry, and I further suggest cheating the measure a bit by stepping slightly short.  This can draw a well-formed but wide parry, leaving the player open and vulnerable on their right.

“As he forms his parry, I lightly strike his blade.” 

This seems a curious requirement – can’t you just get them moving in the parry and come to the other side of the sword?  Certainly you can, and in practice this often works out well enough.  What the requirement suggests, however, is that you’re convincing the opponent they have an overbind on your blade and can ride that bind forward for their riposte.  It makes them comfortable in their position – we all like a good overbind when it’s ours.  It’s generally a tactically sound position to be in.  And this is where Fiore is particularly cunning: he makes the adversary comfortable in their position and willing to commit to the next step – literally.

“…then immediately turn my sword to the other side, grasping it almost at mid-blade with my left hand.”

The direction of the turn – over or under – is not specified.  But given the final position shown, where the attacker’s forte is opposed to the defender’s mezza, I argue that a tutta volta di spada, a full turn of the sword, over the opponent’s blade is the best way to reach this position.  The path of travel is shorter than going under the blade and likely the hands and arms of the defender, and it also positions the attacker’s mezza spada first at the debole of the defender’s sword as it travels down to the mezza, and gains opposition at its’ own forte.  This also makes the seizure of the blade with the hand easier.  The motion is altogether more efficient for this purpose – closing to stretto – than going under.

“I can then place a quick thrust to his throat or neck.” 

The trust to the throat or neck happens after the grasping of the blade, which has implications for movement.  Stepping forward while reaching for the blade means that you don’t have full control of your position.  We also have to account for the fact that the opponent is moving forward as well – measure is collapsing rapidly.  Grasping the blade first and establishing a strong cover for moving forward is critical to the play.  The riposte is coming forward with a step, and we need to have a strong opposition to keep it clear.  In practice the opponent ends up partially impaling themselves on your blade.

“This play is better in armor than without.”

This is an interesting caution – it highlights that the play does carry some risk beyond the normal, beyond what you’d usually court in unarmored play.  Obviously armor will afford enough protection to guard mitigate risk – that’s the function of armor.  But note that this is a play “better in armor” that starts with the sword in a standard grip – both hands on the handle – when the initial attack and defense are made.  It clearly shows the use of the “full sword” grip as opposed to what we commonly call the “half-sword” grip, showing that Fiore does in fact fight in armor, with sword, using both hands on the handle.  The video highlights the most obvious risk for ignoring the blow of someone executing a standard cut with the grip: it leaves their point hovering right above the mail and the tender flesh below it.  Even in armour, the defender needs to parry.

Stretto and The Uncooperative Opponent

One of the most obvious things that can happen is that the adversary can exploit an inherent opening in a mezzano.  As noted above, the mezzano offers less cover than a fendente and is thus more vulnerable to a counterattack – a direct attack into your attack.  If the opponent closes measure during the tempo of your attack, you won’t be able to execute the punta falsa.  You will, however, find yourself forte-to-forte, both of you right foot forward.  In short, you’ll be in a position to execute stretto plays.  We show a few options in the video, but I suggest a good old-fashioned pommel strike as being a good choice.  You’ll probably have the outside line for it, and if you don’t there are other plays at your disposal.

Tactical Considerations

In the video I note that this is employed against a good player who is drawn into error.  Tactically, you need to have some idea of how the opponent responds to your actions, and you have to have already shown them some intent to press them, so you’re unlikely to make this your first play.  Fiore directly tells us that we need to observe and assess our opponents, using abrazare as his exemplar:

When you engage in abrazare, you must assess whether your opponent is stronger or bigger than you, and whether he is much younger or older. You also need to take note of whether he places himself in any of the guards of abrazare. Be sure to pay attention to all these things. And whether you are stronger or weaker, use the grapples that arise from the binds and be sure to know how to defend against those which your opponent uses on you.