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.