This week let's take a look at the four defensive methods in Armizare and just what that means for interpreting the armoured sections of the manuscripts, specifically the axe section.
The Four Ways to Defend
In Armizare there are four ways to defend against an opponent's attack:
• Cross it
• Deflect it
• Exchange it
• Break it
Let's look at these four things a little closer.
Crossing your opponent's attack mean just that; parrying your opponent's blow such that your weapons cross to your advantage. He divides the sword in two hands section by where the cross occurs; at the point (weak), at the middle, and at the strong. The importance of crossing in Armizare is clear from the fact that what to do after the cross has been achieved encompasses the majority of Fiore's art. Vadi is even more explicit on the importance of the cross:
"The art of the sword only consists in crossing / putting both strikes and thrusts in their rightful place / bringing war to those who oppose you." - Porzio & Mele 19
Deflections are an interesting beast in Armizare because they appear throughout the manuscripts but only singly – never as a series of plays (like the cross does). Why is this? The first, and most obvious answer, is that if your deflection is done properly, there is no follow on other than hitting the other guy. If your deflection does not go well (either you mess it up or they bind against it) you are now in a cross. The deflections are scattered throughout the manuscripts; it appears at the beginning of the sword in one hand section, the end of the sword in two hands section and in the mounted section. In the first two instances, the master is described as using the same defense against several different attacks (cuts, thrusts, thrown swords/spears) on foot, while in the last he is shown as being on foot against horsemen. In all of these instances we are given the same tactical advice:
“I'll advance the right foot, which is in front, off the line, pass at an angle against the opponent's weapon and beat it to his left side. After making my parry I'll instantly attack” - Leoni, 64
All of the illustrations show the master in a left side guard, Dente di Cinghiaro with the two handed weapons. Fiore explicitly says that you could hold any left side posta – Posta di Donna & Finestra and that the plays would work just as well as from Dente di Cinghiaro. Why only on the left side though? Because the majority of people in the world (just as true in Fiore's time as ours) are right handed. Why does this matter? Why, gentle reader, that is a wonderful segue into...
When to Cross & Deflect
“Right-sided guards will parry and, while parrying, pass and strike with a thrust. Left-sided guards will parry and beat aside, and strike with a cut – but are not as good for answering with a thrust” - Leoni 78
The general rule as to when to cross and when to deflect is this:
If your sword is on the opposite side as your opponent's attack, cross it.
If your sword is on the same side as your opponent's attack, deflect it.
That is why Fiore shows all the deflection coming from the left side – 9 times out of 10 a right-handed person will attack from their right side, so in order to deflect properly, your sword must be on your left side.
The exchange and break of thrusts can be seen as subsets of crossing (they are) but because Fiore calls these out as being defenses against the thrust, I separate them as well. The especially handy thing about these two techniques is that the exchange can easily flow into a break if needed.
The exchange of thrusts is just that: an exchange of attacks. In modern fencing parlance it can be viewed as a thrust with opposition (or a parry followed by a riposte with opposition). Here is what Fiore has to say about it:
“This play, called exchange of thrusts, is done this way. As your opponent attacks you with a thrust, step out of line with your front foot, then pass obliquely also offline, crossing his sword with your arms while thrusting in his face or chest with your point high” - Leoni, 55.
The break of thrusts is another option for defending against a thrust. The footwork is the same as for the exchange, but instead of exchanging with a thrust, you cut a fendente against their blade, driving it to the ground, then executing numerous follow on plays.
While it is possible to break a cut after crossing it (for instance crossing in Frontale, then driving their blade down) it is more difficult to exchange cuts (although you could consider the 1st play of Gioco Largo as an exchange of cuts...).
Interpreting the Armoured Sections
Because the longsword is the basis for all weapons techniques in Armizare, you can find all four defense methods in the sword in two hands section. However, the armoured sections of the manuscript are arranged differently – instead of including all four methods, Fiore focuses on one option per weapon. Which method is shown is based on the nature of the weapon when fighting in armour.
• Cross it = Sword in Armour
• Deflect it = Axe
• Exchange it = Spear
• Break it = Axe
Sword in Armour – Crossin' It Up
The longsword, when used against armour, is held in the half-sword grip – one hand on the hilt the other about halfway up the blade. This grip allows the sword to be used like a very short spear and/or dagger. Because of the relatively light weight of the normal longsword (Fiore and Vadi do show specific armoured combat swords – essentially the bastard child of the longsword and poleaxe. Yes, I want one!) blows made with the sword would be ineffectual against most armour, hence the focus on the thrust to get into all the little gaps in armour.
The parries described in this section use the bit of the sword between your hands to parry an opponent's attack, leaving the point and the hilt free to attack. One effect of the half-sword grip is that your weapon is shortened, so you have to get in close. The result is that after the initial parry & thrust, all of the plays in this section are Gioco Stretto plays, including collar throws with each end of the weapon and the ligadura sottana.
Axe – I Will Break You
“I am the axe, heavy, cruel and lethal, and I deliver bigger blows than any other handheld weapon.” - Lenoi 77
The major difference between the axe and the spear and sword when used against armour is that the axe has sufficient weight to make effective blows against armour – possibly puncturing but more likely crushing it. Even if the axe blow does no external damage, the transfer of force will likely cause broken bones and/or severe trauma. As such, for the first time in the armoured sections, we have a weapon throwing blows, and guards that have to deal with that fact. As one would expect, the primary guard for blows in the axe section is Posta di Donna and so she is faced by Dente di Cinghiaro, who's forte is deflecting right-handed blows. But the axe is also a very efficient thrusting weapon, with the potential to pierce breastplates and other armour.
The primary focus, however, of the axe section is what happens when you break your opponent's attack – as often happens because the heavy heads tend to...ah...encourage a low bind :) Accordingly, we see the canonical follow up to the break, complete with stomping on your opponent's axe, as well as a thrust adaptation, a between-the-legs trip, a disarm and a ligadura.
The final two plays feature “unique” axes that, as far as I am aware, are only found in Fiore. The first has a weight attached by a rope or chain to the axe head, the play being exactly what you would expect – you wrap that thing around their legs, drag them around for a bit, then beat them senseless. The other unique axe that has a hollow head for delivering an “eye-melting powder”.
“This axe is hollow all around and filled with a corrosive powder that makes it impossible to open the eyes as soon as it comes into contact with them – and may even cause permanent blindness.” - Leoni 77.
How awesome is that!
Spear – The Exchange of Pain
The spear shown in Fiore is approximately 5-6 feet tall with a pointy end and a (usually) iron shod end. Like the sword in armour section, your opponent's armour limits your targets and the nature of the spear makes blows ineffective against armour. All of the techniques in this section are exchanges of thrusts – three from right side guards, three from left side guards.
From the right:
“I will pass obliquely out of line with the right foot, and crossing his lance I will beat it away to the left.” - Leoni 78
From the left:
“We pass out of lone by first stepping offline with the foot that is forward. And all of us (mandritto or riverso side) come together with a thrust after the parry, since the lance can only strike this way.” - Leoni 80
The spear section also includes Fiore's “common” polearm counter – which, in truth, is nothing more than an adaptation on the advice given in the two hand sword section – If your opponent parries such that your point is taken offline, strike him with the butt of the spear.
Putting it All Together
So, know we've reached the meat & potatoes part of the post where, if you've read this far, you're asking what the point is. Well here goes.
When I first started studying Armizare, I was intrigued as to why the sections in the Getty seemed to get shorter and shorter. The longsword section is the longest (22R – 31V); the sword in armour (32V – 35R), the axe (35V – 37V), and the spear (39R – 40R) each being shorter than the last. The reason is that the foundation for Armizare weapons combat is found in the sword in two hands section and the armoured sections simply represent sub-sets of that section. Because of the limitations of certain weapons against armour the three sections all address different aspects of the four defenses while in armoured combat.
To get a clear picture of armoured combat with the poleaxe, which combines attributes of the sword and spear, it is therefore necessary to take all three armoured sections as one. When you do so, you will naturally find techniques such as the collar throw, playing around with the butt end of the axe, etc. that you find in many of the other axe treatises out there. Much like the unarmoured longsword features all four defenses, so too can the poleaxe use all four in armoured combat.
I've talked about this before (here) but what is new is that rather than looking at them as high crossing, middle crossing, low crossing, I know look at the three armoured sections in Fiore as exemplifying one of the four defenses; cross, deflect, exchange & break.
Fiore's system, Armizare, is just that – a system, a series of principles that does not merely address the art of fighting with specific weapons, but the art of fighting.