Sunday, November 29, 2009


Started, for my own edification, listing all the plays in the Getty. Essentially I am making a list: Weapon, Remedy Masters, Remedy Master's plays. I'm doing this because I know that I memorize things better when I list them out, which is why I am a compulsive list writer (just ask my wife!).

No doubt about it though, it is a lot of work. Up to 5th Master of dagger and my word document is 4 pages long. Whew

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Understanding the role of the manuscripts

Medieval combat manuscripts present an interesting dilemma for their modern students in that they are not “How To” manuals in the modern sense. If you were to pick up a modern book on Western Martial Arts (or any martial art) the first physical lessons taught are usually stance, footwork, and how to grip the weapon (if there is one). Of these three basic elements, the manuscripts attributed to Fiore de’ Liberi only expressly teach one.
That one thing is footwork. Fiore describes three types of footwork; the volta stabile, the mezza volta, and the tutta volta. In the Getty MS it appears “A volta stabile lets you play forward or backward (from one side only), without moving your feet. A mezza volta is when you pass forward or backward, letting you play on the opposite side forward or backward respectively. A tutta volta is when you use one foot to describe a circle around the other foot; in other words, one foot stays in place, the other circles around it” (Leoni 46). There are no images of the footwork patterns. Furthermore, Fiore states that “there are four more concepts in this art: pass forward, pass backward, extension of the front foot (step forward) and withdrawal of the front foot (step backward)” (Leoni 46). So, in total we are presented with four separate pieces of footwork; the volta stabile, mezza volta, tutta volta, and the step, which we are to combine in countless variations to execute the techniques. The most common footwork directive Fiore gives is to “Extend your front foot off the center-line and pass at an angle with the back foot” (Leoni 49), in essence a step followed by a mezza volta.
Stances are taught, but not like they are in modern books. In a modern martial arts book the stance will be described in detail; where the feet are in relation to the body, how much weight is placed on each foot, whether the knees are straight or bent, the alignment of the feet, the alignment of the spine, etc. The “basic stance” (which most Fioreists assign to Porta di Ferro from the abrazare section) is never described in detail, but details, such as foot placement, have been discerned by looking at the images. Each guard is represented by an image and text that is descriptive only of that guard’s capabilities and what to do from that guard, not how to achieve each it.
There is absolutely no discussion of how to grip the various weapons in any of the Fiore manuscripts. Instead, we the interpreters must look very carefully at the images: Do the figures have both hands facing the same, or opposite directions on the weapon? Where are they gripping the weapon? These questions must be asked of every image and correlated between all known Fiore manuscripts (and Vadi – See Below).

So why are these seemingly simple and “basic” elements mostly missing from medieval combat manuscripts? Because these elements were assumed to be “common knowledge”. Remember that these manuscripts were created not as “How To” manuals but as memory aids. Fiore states that Galeazzo da Mantova, a student of his, convinced him to write his knowledge down because “there is so much to this art that even the man with the keenest memory in the world will be unable to learn more than a fourth if it without books. And a fourth of this art is not enough to make someone a Master” (Leoni 8). There is the Old Man himself telling us, his modern students, that this manuscript is not intended to teach us the art, but to help us remember it. That is the true purpose of the Fiore manuscripts, indeed of the majority of medieval combat manuscripts: To be portable memory devices. Much like any modern student does not write down the lecture verbatim in their class notes, much of the information in the manuscripts seems to be lacking, because it was “common knowledge”. What exactly is the Player attempting to accomplish prior to the play of the First Master of Abrazare? Is he coming into grips or is the technique supposed to happen from an already established grip? We don’t know. I can take my wrestling background and extrapolate what I think is going on (as others have done and continue to do) but until we have Fiore’s words as to what the Player is trying to achieve we will never know. For us, that is not common knowledge. These manuscripts were written for men who had been fighting and training for the majority of their lives; they did not need to write down the basics – they knew the basics. The challenge is for us as interpreters to re-discover those basics. Here is the beauty of this art – all of our answers will be different. While there is a base, common denominator in how the human body is designed to move, every individual will bring a different “common knowledge base” with them to training.
The problem with this approach is the introduction of “Frog-DNA”. In the movie Jurassic Park, the scientists are attempting to clone dinosaurs from incomplete bits of DNA material, so they use frog DNA to fill in the gaps. The problem is what they cloned were not dinosaurs in the purest sense; they were a dinosaur/frog mix. This is the challenge facing those of us working with these manuscripts; every piece in our “common knowledge base” is Frog-DNA because we do not live in the mid-14th century and for many of us, this is not our first introduction to martial arts. The majority of our “common knowledge base” is cultural influence; to my grandfather fighting meant boxing, pure and simple. To me, growing up during the tail end of the heyday of B martial arts movies, such as Enter the Ninja, fighting meant lots of jumping around and screaming. Now, if you witness two young Americans fighting, they will more than likely try to emulate various mixed martial arts moves they’ve seen.
So should we just give up, accept the fact that we will never produce a “pure” form of armizare, and just make stuff up when confused? Of course not, not if we openly acknowledge and attempt to keep our Frog-DNA to a minimum. When interpreting a manuscript there is a hierarchy of sources, so to speak: the primary source, other works by that "author", works by other authors in the same lineage, other works in other lineages, finally, other works in similar styles of combat. As an example, my hierarchy runs something like this:

Fiore, Getty MS
Fiore, Pissani-Dossi, Morgan, and Florius MSS
The German Tradition
The Bolognese Tradition
Catch & Greco-Roman wrestling
Aikido, Judo & Jiu-jutsu

That is by no means all the sources I use for longsword study, just a highlight.

To sum it all up, the medieval combat manuscripts need to be understood as study guides to aid the student's memory, not "How To" manuals. Much work has to be done in order to extrapolate the very basics of a combat system, examining many images and deciphering pages of text. This process becomes even more fun when dealing with a manuscript like Le Jeu de la Hache, which has no images nor provides any indication of stance, footwork mechanics, or guard positions. Is it a bad thing to use one system as the basis for another, if that other provides no support structure for itself? No, not so long as you (the researcher) are very clear about your sources and reasons for using one system as a basis for another. It is ideal to use as many basics as are provided in your primary manuscript, but if you must use another, do so knowingly and openly. I know that some will agree with me, some will not care, and some will disagree.

Clear as mud?

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wrestling Jackets

This weekend I got to go back to the Northwest Fencing Academy and have a marathon training session - which was nice! The day was spent on abrazare and dagger materials. The most pleasant surprise of the whole day was trying out a few wrestling jackets made by various companies/persons. While I will not go into a detailed review of each jacket, I did just want to say that I now not only have the intellectual understanding of why such a jacket is necessary for abrazare, but a very visceral understanding as well. I am not usually one for claiming that it is impossible to understand medieval combat techniques if one is not wearing medieval clothing - I practice in sweats, a t-shirt, and tennis shoes (I won't get into the shoe issue here, maybe I will have another entry in a few days to discuss it). I honestly don't believe that wearing hose or turnshoes will drastically alter technique; the reason being that the techniques do not depend upon what type of foot-wear or leggings I am wearing. With abrazare, however, the case is different. I have felt (and so has Sean and many others) that it is inadequate to practice abrazare in t-shirts. It can be done (I've done it for almost 6 years now) but the practitioner will be left feeling like something is missing or like some techniques "just don't work". The two big issues with grappling in t-shirts is that:

a) two bare arms, when in contact with one another, will slide and slip around due to a lack of friction and sweat.
b) there are some techniques which require, or are greatly aided by, gripping your opponent's sleeve, jacket, or belt.

Not only are long sleeves, IMO, necessary to medieval wrestling, they also provide a greater understanding of dagger techniques. I have had more than one friend or acquaintance who has commented on the "silliness" or "stupidity" of attempting some of the disarms (Fiore's 1st Remedy Master of Dagger for instance) against a knife. Usually after a discussion of how sharp a rondel dagger really was (see point number 2 today) I also make a point about the type and amount of clothing worn. Sean will sometimes quote Bram Frank, from a seminar years ago, saying that "teaching knife defense in Florida is different than teaching knife defense in Maine." How true! I would be hard pressed to attempt the 1st master disarm against a sharp knife (even a rondel) in a t-shirt, but while wearing a heavy flannel long-sleeve shirt? You betcha! Cloth is amazingly good body armour. So, whether providing a little extra grip or protecting the arm, I think a wrestling jacket a necessity. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing a decent quality, inexpensive ($150 or less) wrestling jacket as the top half of the Academy uniform.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fiore dei Liberi's pollaxe material

Fiore’s Axe Material

Plenty of real and digital ink has been spilled over the effectiveness of the poleaxe techniques shown in Fiore dei Liberi’s four manuscripts (well, three, the Morgan has no axe section) because at first glance they do not look anything like the techniques described/shown in German manuals or in Le Jeu de la Hache, the only known manuscript that places the poleaxe as the primary weapon. The two main complaints are the paucity of techniques shown and the apparent lack of “signature” axe moves, such as displacements and thrusting with the butt of the weapon, or hooking actions with the head. I will address these concerns and give evidence for why they are misguided.

First a little background information on Fiore’s system. The four known manuscripts detail the art of Armizare, a 15th century Italian martial art. Armizare is a martial art in both the original meaning of the term, as an art of war (martial arts = the Arts of Mars) and in the modern sense, as a complete system of self-defense that encompasses empty hand and weapons techniques. The manuscripts are divided into sections; wrestling, knife defense, sword in one hand, sword in two hands, spear, sword in armour, poleaxe, and equestrian techniques (which encompass’ spear, sword and wrestling) and are dated to circa 1409. The primary weapon in the manuscripts is the long sword, a weapon with a ~37” blade and a handle long enough to be gripped by both hands. The art is based upon simple principles and is highly self-referential; once you’ve learned a particular technique, i.e. the Middle Bind (introduced in the wrestling & dagger sections), Fiore does not then later feel the need to detail how to do it. He simply says something like “Now do the Middle Bind, which you already know.”

Figure 1. Middle Bind, 1st Master of Dagger, Getty Museum.

Figure 2. Entry into Middle Bind in Sword in two hands section, Getty Museum. The text reads: “

This is still sound pedagogy; when teaching someone how to swim, after they have learned how to do the Front Crawl Stroke you can simply say “Do Front Crawl for 100 meters” not “For the next 100 meters I want you to lie prone in the water, arms extended, alternate pulling one hand down to the waist and back, while kicking, etc.” It simply is not necessary.

Martial Arts
Fiore’s system is based, like every other martial art on the planet, on two things:
1. The human body. No matter how hard you try you will never invent a new way for the human body to move. Thus, all martial arts systems have the same foundation; the ability for movement in the human body. I am not saying that because I know armizare, I know Hung Gar or karate or Taekwondo. That’s silly. What I’m saying is that at their most basic level, all martial systems are the same. In fact it’s easy (and fun!) to look at armizare and other martial arts and see all the techniques that similar enough to be called the same thing. An arm-bar is an arm-bar is an arm-bar, no matter how you get there or what you call it.
2. The stick. After empty hands techniques, any weapon in any martial art can be viewed as a variation on the stick. These are my five common categories of stick:
• Small Stick – dagger, knife, kubaton
• Medium Stick – arming sword, escrima stick, bolo machete, axe
• Large Stick – long sword, katana, broom handle, axe
• Extra Large Stick – spear, poleaxe, naginata
• Moving Stick – arrow, javelin, anything that is thrown.
After size, the only differences in technique occur because of adaptation/specialization of the stick. If I have a plain ole stick, I can hit and I can bluntly poke. But adapt that stick by sharpening one end, and suddenly I can stab too. Even better, make the stick out of steel with a point and two sharp edges. Now I can hit, cut, slice, stab, etc.

But what does any of this have to do with answering the complaints about Fiore’s axe play? Everything.

Complaint #1 – Lack of Techniques
At face value, this complaint has some merit. After all, in the Getty MS there are 12 guards and 44 total plays illustrated with the sword in two hands. The axe section has 6 guards and 10 plays, two of which can be considered “tricks” requiring specialized axes. But this is the problem with only looking at the pictures, if you include textual advice given in the descriptions of the axe guards, the total number of plays jumps to: 14. Still pretty underwhelming, especially considering that Le Jeu features 68 paragraphs full of techniques, counters and counter-counters. But remember that the axe is the only weapon described in Le Jeu.
Remember what I said earlier about the system being self-referential? Also remember that I said the long sword is the primary weapon? Remember the talk about sticks? Good, because here is where those three ideas come together to form the core of weapon techniques in Fiore’s armizare. In order to understand how to use the poleaxe in Fiore’s system you must look at the axe section AND the spear section AND the sword in armour section AND the sword in two hands section. The sword in two hands section is, as previously mentioned, the foundation for weapon techniques in armizare. The other three, poleaxe, spear and sword in armour, are specialized techniques to augment those learned with the sword in two hands. Let me repeat that, the other weapons augment the lesson and principles learned in the two handed sword section. The best description of this comes from Greg Mele of the Chicago Swordplay Guild. The three sections (axe, spear, sword in armour) represent a specialized sub-group of techniques from the basic two handed sword, because being in armour changes what you can do (it alters your movement abilities.) The spear represents a sub-group of techniques for when your weapons are crossed at a middle height, the sword in armour for when they are crossed higher and the axe for when they are crossed lower (because of the mass of the heads, axe crossing tend to go to the ground). They are all interchangeable techniques of armoured combat. Adding the spear and sword in armour plays to that of the axe we now have, in the Getty MS, 22 total plays for the poleaxe. If we continue and add those from the sword in two hands section as well (because it is the basis of weapon combat in the system) we have 66 total plays. Now, because of differences in mass, etc. not all of the plays may be the most reliable, but they are all possible.
The two clearest pieces of evidence of this combining of sections both occur in the text accompanying the illustrations of guard positions with the axe. The first appears in the text for the guard position Vera Crose, where Fiore states “Trà pur ché ben t'aspetto ché zò che fa lo scolar primo dello magistro remedio della spada in arme cum lo modo e cum lo passar, tale punta cum la azza mia ti posso far” “With my axe, I can perform the same thrust with a pass as the first student of the Remedy Master of the sword in armor.” (English translation courtesy of Tom Leoni). Here Fiore is directly telling us that one play from this guard position is that of the 1st scholar of the Remedy Master of the sword in armour.

Figure 3. Posta Vera Crose with the poleaxe. Getty Museum.

Figure 4. Posta Vera Crose with the sword. Getty Museum.

Figure 5. Play of the 1st Scholar of the sword in armour. Getty Museum.

The second example is in the description of Posta Porta di Ferro Mezana or Posta Dente de Zengiaro (it is the former in the Getty and the latter in the Pissani-Dossi. I will henceforth refer to it as Dente de Zengiaro). In the text Fiore calls attention to the fact that Posta di Donna and Dente de Zengiaro have “faced each other numerous times” and that you should know what to do from here, i.e. a deflection upwards with a pass offline. This same advice is given in the two handed sword and sword in one hand sections as a good defense against any straight line or same side attack.

Figure 6. Posta di Donna vs. Dente de Zengiaro poleaxe. Getty Museum.

Figure 7. Dente de Zengiaro, sword in two hands, vs cut, thrust, or thrown weapon. Getty Museum.

Figure 8. Dente de Zengiaro di un man, vs cut, thrust, or thrown weapon. Getty Museum.
Complaint #2 – Lack of “Standard” axe plays
The other common complaint about Fiore’s axe material is that it lacks some of the “standard” axe plays found in other manuals. The “standard” plays referred to are displacements, thrusts, and/or deflections with the butt of the weapon and hooking actions done with the head. The simplest and very first defense featured in Le Jeu is a queue (butt) parry, yet Fiore does not show this technique anywhere. Why? One answer is that while he does not show it, but he expects his student to know it. Refer again to Figures 6, 7, and 8 above where Fiore advocates, repeatedly, that if your weapon is on the same side as the attack, you deflect it with a step offline. From Dente de Zengiaro with the axe, where the head (the heavy end) is off to your left, you must deflect with the head. If, instead, you were in Breve la Serpentina with your right hand leading, then the head would be on your right, with the haft crossing your body, and your opponent throws their blow, you will be unable to deflect it your head. Instead, you can still follow his directions by passing forward and parrying with the butt of your axe.

Figure 9. Posta Breve la Serpentina. Getty Museum.

Here is the text from Le Jeu de la Hache describing the first queue parry from that system:

When one would give you a swinging blow, right-hander to right-hander and you have the croix [head] forward, you can step forward with your left [rear] foot, receiving their blow on the queue of your axe…from there you can thrust at him with the queue…or strike a blow to his head.

You can see that the actions described in both of these manuscripts are very similar, if not identical. Additionally, in the spear section, Fiore shows the counter to his spear plays as driving forward with the butt of the spear, either striking or thrusting. Fiore does not discuss initial attacks with the butt of the axe because if you are holding the axe with the butt forward and thrusting then you are executing a spear or half-sword play, which are covered in their respective sections.
Hooking actions with the head are a little harder to track down in Fiore’s system, mainly because many of the hooking actions in other manuscripts occur at the knees and Fiore is very reticent about low attacks. In the two-handed sword section, Fiore specifically advises against low attacks with the sword. Fiore does, however, understand the tactical advantage of taking out your opponent’s knee as this technique appears in both the wrestling and dagger sections of the manuscript, and is even hinted at in the axe section where Fiore show the Scholar gripping the visor of, and throwing to the ground, the Player, who is attempting a low grab, possibly something akin to a single or double leg take-down (Figure 10).

Figure 10. Wrestling in the axe section. Getty Museum.

However, it is quite a jump, even for such a self-referential system, to go from a supplementary wrestling maneuver to a straight out attack. Does this mean that Fiore did not know how to use the head of your axe to hook your opponent? No, other hooks, usually of the opponent’s neck, are mentioned in the sword in armour section and can, as shown above, be extrapolated into the axe section. I would argue that he knew, he just did not find the low hook the most martially sound technique, so he did not include it. Fiore himself admits, in the introduction to the Getty, that his book does not contain every technique, just those he deems most worthy of knowing.
A further issue I have with this complaint is the use of the term “standard axe plays”. Medieval martial arts, indeed all martial arts, are deeply personal. Remember, above all else, when you read a manuscript, or a modern translation, or even this blog, that you are reading one person’s opinions. There is no “Italian Swordsmanship”, nor “German Swordsmanship”. There is the sword art of Fiore, that of Liechtenauer, etc. Every work on swordsmanship differs from the others. Even if the author uses an earlier author as the basis for his work, there will be differences. Filipo Vadi, whose manuscript has some illustrations that are almost direct Xeroxes of Fiore’s material, still advocates a unique method and style of swordsmanship. This applies even more to those of us now recreating these arts. It is impossible for us to practice “Fiore’s art”; we practice our interpretation of Fiore’s art. But the differences in interpretation are usually subtle things; one can usually tell a practitioner of an Italian system from that of a German system. I can even tell the difference between students of the Chicago Swordplay Guild, the School of European Swordsmanship and the Northwest Fencing Academy, all of which teach Fiore’s art, but with some subtle differences in execution. I do not teach or practice the art the exact same way my instructor does; but anyone who watches me can tell I am a student of Sean Hayes. When people ask, I claim that I teach armizare, the art of Fiore dei Liberi, as interpreted by myself, and influenced by Sean Hayes, Greg Mele, Guy Windsor, and others.

To make the claim that Fiore dei Liberi’s poleaxe material is incomplete, or somehow lacking, is to misunderstand Fiore's art. I hope that this can help clear up some of these misunderstandings.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Stay Tuned...

Having successfully moved to Portland, stay tuned for the eventually announcement of the opening of the Northwest Fencing Academy - Portland, a satellite school of the Northwest Fencing Academy

As soon as I find a space....

And students....

Saturday, August 29, 2009

So what the h@ll is "Armizare"?

In response to some friends who've asked me this recently, here we go:

Armizare is a 15th century Italian martial art that encompasses unarmed grappling, knife, sword, spear, poleaxe, and all of the above on horseback.

That's it. It's a martial art - just like Karate, Aikido, Krav Maga, etc.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Abrazare as Foundation for Armizare

I’ve been focusing on grappling recently. I personally believe that his grappling (including the abrazare & dagger sections) is the foundation upon which Fiore’s armizare is built. Of the four manuscripts, two begin with abrazare (the Getty and Pissani-Dossi). The other two, the Morgan and the Paris, seem to follow the order of a judicial duel (horseback -> lance on foot -> pollaxe -> armoured sword -> sword -> dagger -> grappling). Any explanations for this difference in format are purely speculative at this point, but I believe that the format and order in which the sections appear is somewhat irrelevant. All four manuscripts are self-referential in a manner similar to a modern hyper-texting; the captions consistently include statements such as “as shown before” and “my play is that of the 3rd scholar of the 1st master of the sword in armour”. So in a system where the manual refers you to other sections, the order of the sections doesn’t necessarily matter, just that you can find the other sections.

But how is grappling the basis for the whole system of armizare?

1. All of Fiore’s poste can be seen as derivative of the four basic abrazare guards.
2. It encapsulates all of the principles of measure, proper body mechanics, and timing that are the core of armizare.

1. Fiore describes four basic grappling poste:
• Posta Longa - Lead arm well extended, with the hips turned slightly to allow further reach. The other arm is held in some fashion to help protect the body and is not as extended as the lead arm.
• Posta Dente de Zengiaro - Lead arm is extended from the shoulder with the elbow bent at a 90˚ angle. The other arm is held in some fashion to help protect the body and is not as extended as the lead arm.
• Posta Frontale - Both arms extended forward, elbows down. The body is more squared than in Posta Longa.
• Posta Porta di Ferro - Both hands held low, in front of their respective thighs.

If we examine Fiore’s 12 unarmoured sword poste (the largest set of guards in the manuscripts), we can see that they all derive from these four.


Posta Breve -> Porta di Ferro
Posta Tutta Porta di Ferro -> Porta di Ferro
Posta Porta di Ferro Mezana -> Porta di Ferro
Posta Dente de Zengiaro -> Porta di Ferro
Posta di Coda Lunga -> Porta di Ferro
Posta Frontale -> Longa / Frontale
Posta di Donna (Left and Right) -> Dente de Zengiaro
Posta di Finestra (Left and Right) -> Dente de Zengiaro
Posta Bicornu -> Dente de Zengiaro
Posta Longa -> Longa / Frontale

So, all of the low sword poste can be seen as variations of Porta di Ferro and the high guards vary, depending on whether the leading arm is straight or bent or by the rotation of the hips. The four abrazare poste are given as basic positions to hold in the system, with variations depending on the weapon used.
In addition to the guard positions themselves, many plays and actions with weapons are derived from grappling actions. The dagger strike, the sword thrust and thrust, etc. are all examples of moving out into Posta Longa of Frontale. The basic motion of the pommel strike, from a crossing of the swords, is a transition to Dente de Zengiaro.

2. That fact the many of Fiore’s initial Remedy Masters plays have a correlation to abrazare or dagger plays is very telling. For instance, the 1st Remedy Master of Giocco Largo, as interpreted by the Northwest Fencing Academy, is a strong parry against a fendente mandritto that:
• intercepts the attacker’s blow part way through its “power arc”
• redirects it away from the defender
• simultaneously threatens the attacker
• is usually accompanied by an accressciamento to the left

Now if we look at the 1st Remedy Master in the dagger section we see a defense against a mandritto that, in terms of what it does and how it is done, is almost the same thing. After the left arm parry, and subsequent bind, redirects the attacker’s strike, while the right hand is poised to, and does, strike. Obviously, this is only one example.
Fiore lays out his seven requirements for grappling in the prologues of the Getty and Pissan-Dossi:

Also I say that wrestling requires seven things; which are strength, speed, knowledge, that is,
knowledge of binds of advantage, knowing how to fracture, that is how to break arms and legs,
knowing binds, that is how to bind arms so that the man has no defense anymore, and can not leave
freely, and knowing how to injure the most dangerous points. Also, knowing how to put someone on
the ground, without danger to himself. Also, knowing how to dislocate arms and legs in different
ways. Which things I will write and draw in this book, step by step, as the art requires.
(dei Liberi, c.1409, trans. Easton and Litta, 2003)

I list these as:
1. Strength
2. Speed
3. Knowledge of Binds
4. Knowledge of Dislocations
5. Knowledge of Striking
6. Knowledge of Breaks
7. Knowledge of Throws

While these are given before the abrazare section, we can see them echoed in the dagger section:

And I shall do these five things always. Namely I take the dagger and strike, I break the arms and I
bind them and I force him to ground. And if of these five plays one or the other I will not abandon.
(dei Liberi, c.1409, trans. Lovett et al. 2002-2005)

The five things are: Disarm, Strike, Break (Dislocate), Bind, and Throw. So in the dagger material, which is built on and combined with the abrazare material, we are given key principles that are the same as those given for grappling. The additive, disarming, makes sense; now you are dealing with a weapon as opposed to empty hands. These principles are further distilled down into the segno, where Fiore shows all seven blows of the sword (and the four dagger strikes) plus the four main virtues of a swordsman, shown as animals, surrounding a figure (in the Getty the figure is dressed in scholar’s robes - this is significant) above who’s head floats a crown. The Elephant, at the bottom of the figure, represents strength and fortitude and carries a tower on his back. The Tyger, to the left, signifies speed and quickness and holds an arrow. The Lion, to the right, represents courage and holds a heart in his paw. The final animal, the Stag-hound (or Lynx) represents Prudence and holds a compass, an instrument used for measuring distance. In this figure you can find the whole of armizare distilled - a practitioner needs strength, speed, courage, an understanding of measure and timing, and knowledge (remember that the figure is wearing scholar’s robes). The image shows all of the possible strikes that can be made as well as footwork directions. The most telling piece of symbolism in the segno, however, is the crown that floats above the figure’s head. The crown, throughout the manuscripts, is the symbol of Masters. That the figure is not actually wearing the crown has, in my opinion, a two-fold meaning:
1. The way to mastery of armizare is through assimilating all of the requirements and virtues shown here in the segno.
2. Perhaps more esoteric, it shows that true Mastery of the art is the pursuit of perfection - it will always be just out of reach.

Why is this important?
Understanding that Fiore’s grappling and dagger material forms the base for the rest of his system allows the student of armizare to from a minimum number of positions, very useful in situations where a combatant needed to switch between weapons or improvise a weapon. Knowing that all the guards (sword, spear, dagger and pollaxe) are derived from the four abrazare poste means that the armizare student can pick up a sword, baton, cudgel, spear, staff, baseball bat, katana or BiC pen and fight effectively.

Ultimately, this is all just my own humble opinion, but it is based on understanding of the system, practice and research. I could “wake up” in a month and consider this all bunk, but for now, this is my understanding of the basis of armizare. Your opinion and mine will most likely be different which is exactly what I find so cool about this art! Please leave comments as you see fit, but remember that we are all human beings. Be polite. Constructive criticism is welcome, destructive is not. Thanks *steps off soapbox*

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

New-ish Blog direction

So I have decided to take this blog in a new direction -sort of.

After a pseudo-epiphany I will expand my musings to cover armizare in general as well as my working through Le Jeu de la Hache and other pollaxe material.

So not really a new direction, but simply one that allows me to talk about all of my training, given that my training at the moment is 90% Fiore, 10% pollaxe. Once I receive my second axe from Purpleheart Armoury (sometime this week hopefully) I will be able to train with axes more often and then I will have more to add.

So what exactly is armizare? Simply put, it is a late medieval (14th and 15th century) Italian martial art. The particular version I study is based on the four discovered manuscripts attributed to Fiore de Liberi of Cividale, with supplements from Fillipo Vadi and Le Jeu de la Hache. It encompasses wrestling, dagger, sword (in one hand & two), armoured lance, armoured pollaxe, armoured sword, and wrestling, lance and sword work on horseback. But those are just the main sections - sub-sections include pole-arms against cavalry, cudgels, and mis-matched weapons (i.e. dagger vs sword).

The Fiore MS's are magnificent in their ability to constantly refer to themselves. For instance, in the Giocco Stretto (Close Play - wrestling with the sword) Fiore often says things along the lines of "From this crossing of the swords, do this play from this master of dagger". For me, the constant referencing of other sections within the MS is truly amazing and demonstrates that this is a complete martial art that is built on simple principles.

Monday, May 11, 2009


So, I've been thinking of doing something very controversial in HEMA. A little background on this; having done about 5 years of longsword work, I am starting to realize that being strict about studying "Italian longsword" is a mistake. My main studies are the longsword art of Fiore dei Liberi, with supplemental studies of Vadi. I believe that I have just started to truly understand the principles beneath this art and in doing so have realized that there is nothing wrong with borrowing a technique from the German arts, so long as it fits within the "Fiorean" framework. Let me say that again, so long as it fits within the "Fiorean" framework. After all, the man himself (Fiore) tells us in the prologues that he studied with many Italian and German masters and has included in this manuscript only those techniques he found especially useful. He is not claiming that his manuscript includes all the possible techniques for the longsword, just that the ones he is including are useful as teaching tools for the deeper principles. As a training partner and fellow researcher said "Once we start doing that, [I think] we are closer to what Fiore's students would have done." Now, I am not advocating blindly combining Italian and German longsword systems. They are two different systems that developed differently because of differing social and contextual influences. However, both systems use the same (or nearly so) weapon and there are only so many ways in which the human body can move a longsword around. The key is to have a solid grounding in one style, and then add aspects of the other style(s. Sorry I tend to forget about English longsword. My bad ) that appeal to you, so long as they fit within the principles of your style.

So all of that rambling is a lead up to this; I have decided that instead of writing, teaching and (maybe) publishing my interpretation of one style of pollaxe play, I will use one text as my primary framework while using as many supplemental manuscripts as possible in order to collate what I believe to be a useful method of "medieval pollaxe combat". My main reason for doing this is realizing that there are some things that are discussed in some manuscripts but not in others. So, the only potential issue is that my source manuscripts run the gamut from early 14th century to mid 16th century, but thankfully the axe as a weapon didn't change it's basic form during that time.

In closing, while what I'm doing may be controversial, I believe that I can logically explain my thought process and reasoning to anyone who politely asks. I always love a good discussion.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

One of the best explanations of Fiore dagger material

So I am sure that most of the people who will read this have already seen it, but I thought it was worth immortalizing again. In a recent discussion about Fiore's dagger material on Sword Forum Mark Lancaster posted this succinct and eloquent process for interpreting and reading Fiore's dagger material:

This is the way I tend to describe the Masters to students.

Think of each Master as being an expert in whatever Fiore is describing at the time (i.e. he is representing mastery).

So, we have several different areas of expertise:

1. The stages of a fight (from the introduction).

a. The first expert is Master Battle. He knows how to fight (distance, reaction, etc). In context this would be an expert fighter of the period and Fiore does not go into much more detail (but see below).

b. This expert, however, can be countered (Fiore calls this a Remedy) by the expert Master Remedy. This is really where Fiore's manuscript starts (he expects the reader to know the bulk/jist of Master Battle).

c. The first person (who was the expert Master Battle) could be good enough that he/she knows the technique used by the Master Remedy expert and how to counter it. Fiore calls this Contra, so we have Master Contra.

d. Finally the chap who did the Remedy knows how to counter this Master Contra and is Master Contra-Contrary. This is so rare that is it only shown once in Dagger and Fiore basically says that the fight (if it every reaches this stage) won't go any further.

The above is like a pyramid with four layers (Master Battle at the bottom and Master Contra-Contrary at the very peak). The options (techniques) reduce as the fight continues.

2. The Posta Masters

Here Fiore is basically giving good "expert" positions from which to fight and to recover into (maybe in the middle of a technique). He is saying that mastery of these posta/positions and how they can be used are core to his system. The natural place that this happens is in the first stages of the encounter - Master Battle - and when recovering out of a technique/encounter back to a Master Battle position. Knowing these postas and mastering them gives your brain basic building blocks (like lego) to find within the fight and reduces the thinking time dramatically.

3. The Dagger Requisites.

Fiore gives us four requisites of dagger - each shown as a Master (with the crown).

These show the areas of expertise that define mastery of dagger fighting in general - being able to strip the dagger from your opponent; being able to break limbs (in his view); being able to lock your oppenent and finally being able to use all of the unarmed/wresting skills shown in abrazare.

The important point here is that the illustration shows someone who is getting older (check the beard) and better dressed with each of the four illustrations and Fiore is saying that these progressively take longer to master - i.e. the easiest thing to learn is to strip the dagger and the hardest (requiring longer to master) is the full abrazare within dagger.

4. The 9 Masters of Dagger

In the entire dagger section Fiore shows 9 different "methods" with several sub/progressive techniques for countering a dagger attack. These cover attacks from above and below and can be stopped one handed (left and right) or two handed, etc.

Fiore has grouped all of these possibilities into 9 methods and he starts each one by showing the Master and the basic technique - i.e. the expertise of how to implement the defence/counter (he calls it remedy). However, he then states that he will let his students/scholars show the other techniques that spring out of these nine methods.

This has two illustrative advantages. First he is showing the arrogance of a Master by only showing the basic method and then allowing his students to do the hard work. Second it makes it easier to illustrate when a Master Contrary comes in to counter these Remedy techniques.

If you can crack this use of Master then the manuscripts suddenly make a lot of very simple sense at a quick glance. I could look at any technique, without text, and tell you what is happening by who to whom.

Don't know if that helps - but it's my contribution.


Mark Lancaster
The Exiles

That really is one of the best descriptions of the dagger material I have ever heard. Enjoy!

Monday, April 27, 2009


So I really need to get better at this. The problem is I've set this up as a WMA blog, and my main area of study is the pollaxe, the info etc. for which I am still developing and don't feel terribly comfortable putting online yet.

My finger is healing. The good part is that the bruising is almost gone and you can just see the smallest part where my left pinky is shorter than the right. The bad part is that the internal stuff, i.e. the broken bone healing, is going slowly and still causes issues every now and again.

On April 18th the Northwest Fencing Academy did an armizare demo at the Oregon Knife Collector's Association Knife Show in Eugene. We also had a table where we sold a few Arms & Armor pieces (Thanks Craig!). The one hour demo went great! The students displayed pieces from I.33 and Fiore longsword while Maestro Hayes narrated and then answered questions. It was a wonderful opportunity to get the word about HEMA out to the public. As one of my co-workers who caught the demo said "Wow, there's a lot more to it than I thought!" Overall, the reception the Academy received was great!

I've been working on putting together lesson plans and solo exercises for pollaxe, mainly based on Le Jeu, with some bits of Fiore and the Anonimo to be added in. Eventually I'm hoping that these will form the base of own school's axe curriculum. At the moment I am 60% done with a solo form that will encompass all of the principle defensive and offensive actions. As with everything in HEMA, it will of course change and adapt over time, but I am confident that it's pretty solid for my present interpretation.

I'm planning on attending WMAW this year, where I will be assisting Maestro Hayes in two classes; one on armoured sword work and another on longsword flow drills and how they provide the bridge from basic work to sparring. I went to WMAW in 2007 and absolutely loved it and am really excited to go again, especially with a little more experience under my belt, both with the weapons and with teaching.

As always I continue to work on teaching myself French. Methinks I should stick with teaching history and martial arts! Teaching languages may not be my forte!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wow I really suck at this blogging thing. Oh well. The finger is healing nicely, no more open wounds, but it is still slightly tender, probably due to the bone being still broken.

Other then that, life pretty much continues as it has for some time. Work, practice, eat, sleep, repeat.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Injury Update

So my finger is healing...s...l...o...w...l...y. I am a horrible patient, I just want it to be healed up right now so I can go train! But I know that I need to wait and let myself heal properly before I go sword (or axe) in hand again.

On the plus side, I'm getting lots of research done. I'm translating the axe sections from two of the Fiore's and from the Anonimo Bologonese. And still trying to teach myself French. It's slow going, but it will be worth it. It's very interesting to see how certain axe manuscripts describe counters that others seem to have forgot or just not thought important (I'm looking at you, silly anonymous guy who wrote Le Jeu).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Finger injuries and sparring

So I found out last night just how useless hockey gloves can be for longsword sparring. During the last pass of the sparring session between myself and a colleague last night I got thwacked on my left little finger. We were using A&A Fectherspiel swords. When I took off the glove I noticed blood and thought "well crap". I went to the bathroom to clean it up and noticed just how bad I had been hit. Long story short, after 3 hours at the Urgent Care clinic, I have what the docs called a partial distal amputation with the tip of my finger bone chipped off. I again want to point out that the swords we were using were blunted not sharps. We have never, and never will, spar with sharps. I find the very idea ridiculous. In fact, my injury would have been better had it been a sharp sword as it would have simply sliced the tip of my finger off, not mangled it up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Axe lengths

Anyone else notice that the axe lengths in the Getty are shorter on average than those in the PD? The Getty axes appear to be about shoulder height while the PD's appear to be about user height (with the exception of the 4th play). Two things about this, first that it explains a lot about Fiore's axe plays where he holds the axe one-handed. With a user height axe, gripping it the way it says/shows makes it very difficult if not impossible to hold (maybe I just need to train more :p ). The second thing is that it furthers my hypothesis that Fiore shows an earlier form/style of pollaxe play. Comparisons between Fiore, Vadi and the Anonimo Bolognese show a developmental arc in axe-play. The number of poste I think helps show this; 6 in the Getty, 4 in the PD, 4 in Vadi, and 2 in the Anonimo and Le Jeu. The majority of the plays are similar and the basic principles remain the same, but there are some differences which I believe occur because of the differences in axe size. All of Fiore's different axe poste/plays are possible with a longer axe, but some would just work better with a shorter one, for instance the play described in the Getty as coming out of the vera crose-Fiore says vera crose with the axe works just like the first scholar of the Remedy Master of the spada in arme section. That play is essentially a parry with the middle of the haft with a step offline, driving their weapon down and thrusting. This works really well with a shorter axe but is slightly more awkward with a longer axe.

p.s. I was actually impressed with "Bones" tonight. They had a mystery involving medieval re-enactors. One of the ladies is attacked by a guy dressed up as the Black Knight, who half-swords for the fight. Later she describes his fighting as using "the Serpent" and "the Arrowhead". I was impressed with tv for once! I mean "the Arrowhead" is a stretch, but hey it's a start. On the downside, they kept calling it "chainmail" *sigh*

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe

This book, by Dr. Sydney Anglo, is one that I have been trying to acquire and read for over tw o years now. I finally got ahold of a copy (thanks Mike) and I'm about half-way through it.

First the positive feedback; this is a wonderful book if you are looking for a general overview of most of the manuscripts used today in HEMA. The few manuscripts that he hasn't mentioned (that I noticed) are because they are relatively recent discoveries and the book was published in 2000, so things like the new Florius Fiore MS just weren't known about. I also believe that Dr. Anglo does a good job of tracking certain ideas (especially the attempt to "rationalize" fencing via mathematics) through the years. To me, however, the most striking thing about this broad cross-comparison of sources is how much the varied masters agreed upon. While there were significant differences (for instance in the number and naming of guard positions) overall you get a sense that swordsmanship, whatever it's form, boils down to a few key elements; control, timing, speed and strength.

My problems with the book stem mostly from the fact that while I have no doubts about Dr. Anglo's abilities as a scholar, I wonder at his experience in martial arts. For instance, when he describes pollaxes as being "awkward" and "inefficient" against armour it makes me wonder. I have never found axes to be unwieldy, nor have any of the folks I've talked to who have handled surviving examples. And as far the axe's efficiency against armour goes, the whole purpose of the weapon's design is to defeat a man in armour; i.e. to crush, to pierce, to hook and to cut. But I can accept that my umbrage with these points could be merely personal. The next however I cannot. When discussing the fact that Agrippa used multiple figures in one plate in order to show movement (example), Anglo criticizes 19th century historian Jacopo Gelli because Gelli claimed that Agrippa was showing "combats of three against two, or four against three" when in fact Agrippa was jsut indicating motion. Anglo specifically states that Gelli's misconception came about because he did not read the Italian, merely looked at the plates. The ironic part is, in the beginning of the book, Dr. Anglo discusses the Flos Duellatorum by Fiore dei Liberi, which he claims holds illustrations that depict encounters with "multiple attackers". The illustrations he is referring to are this one from the sword in one hand section and another very similar illustration from the two-handed sword section. The problem is that these illustrations do not depict combat against multiple opponents; they depict that the same basic covering action can be used against a thrust, cut, or thrown weapon. This common misconception when looking at Fiore's work can only be explained by not reading the Italian. Ironic huh?

All quibbles aside, Dr. Anglo's The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe is worth reading and owning. As with any secondary source just make sure to take what you read with a grain of salt.

Saturday, January 24, 2009


So today I got to help Sean do a demo at the 3rd Annual Pacific Martial Arts Conference in Eugene. Like last year, it was fun! We used some real cheap pseudo-wasters to show 60 odd martial artists from various systems and styles some basic grappling actions from the Spada in Armi sections of the Fiore manuscripts. We used the "new" fiddle-bow-esque posta from the Florius (which we have named "Posta di entrare" - Guard of Entering). The first action we did was a simple serpentine on the sword and take-away against a thrust. Then we used the same basic action, but entering deeper and wrapping the left arm in a ligadura sottana. We had planned on doing a collar-throw and reversal from the Bolognese pollaxe material, but we ran out of time :( All in all it was a great day, at least what I got to experience before I had to run off to work. I think my highlight was Sensei Best of Best Martial Arts in Eugene talking about how the basic karate punch (and it's action) can be used as a high and low block, much like every strike with sword can be a parry as well as a strike. All in all, it was great to network with the areas other martial artists and spend a day (or part of one anyways) realizing that we all do the same stuff, just differently.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

So, as an aside to what I normally write about here, I am a big MMA fan. As a sport it is very impressive. By far, my favorite fighter is Fedor Emelianenko. If you know who he is, or if you have no clue, just watch these 6 mini-episodes about him. He is not only a great fighter he truly is a wonderful and well-rounded man.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


So by far the single most frustrating thing about living in Eugene with all its rain is that the grass is permanently soggy. This, combined with living in an apartment, means that I only have two choices for sword/axe training: 1) Drive across town to the salle or 2) Practice in the middle of the complex's driveways. I know that deep down it is my own laziness that keeps me from actually grabbing the weapons and doing it, but sadly in this age you have to be careful about practicing our arts outside. I have already had police called on me by my neighbors for practicing in my old yard with my aluminum sword, so I can only imagine how quickly the cops will be called if I break out my pollaxe in the driveway! So I will just do what I have been doing for a while, which is going to the salle about an hour before class and spending my time at home doing the mental side of WMA training (especially trying to learn French).

On the positive side, owning all six seasons of Mythbusters is awesome!