Last time I went to Eugene (March 13th), Sean and I spent almost the entire time working through the abrazare and dagger sections, cross-checking images and text between the Getty and the PD. We ran through them at an easy pace and starting from a collar-and-elbow (C&E) setup. We do about half our abrazare drills from the C&E and the other half by having the player enter into measure. I really prefer to start people off from the C&E because it is simpler; static, clearly defined hand positions, etc. Also, it really is a fairly common position to come to while wrestling. Later on, you can add coming into measure to the drill, remembering (and reminding your students) that it will not look the same as it does on the page or as it did during the C&E drill – as the Man says, grapples are seldom identical, it is important to learn to flow with what you have/are being presented. This run-through of abrazare was really good because it helped solidify in my mind the principles that are represented by each play.
As an aside, because this opinion is out there, I don't believe that all of the plays shown are supposed to flow one-into-another. Instead, the plays are there to illustrate principles – while some may flow into each other, Fiore is usually explicit when this occurs and thus they are easy to spot.
Abrazare, to me, is the basis of Armizare simply because unarmed wrestling is the common ancestor of all martial arts. There are two main reasons I believe this to be so, but, as with so much else we do, there is room for interpretation.
The First Reason
In the Getty prologue Fiore talks about how the rest of the art will follow the principles laid down in abrazare. The problem is that he is also talking at that point about his pedagogical system of Crowned Masters & Scholars. So when he says:
“Overall, these Masters and students support the whole art of arms – on horseback and or foot, armored and unarmormed – through the principles they follow in abrazare” (Trans. Leoni)
is he talking the pedagogy or the martial art? He does say, before the bit quoted above, that the guards, Remedy Masters, Counter Masters, and Counter-Counter Masters form the four pillars of abrazare – and the rest of Armizare.
The Second Reason
“I'll start the book according to the order of my lord Marquis. I'll make sure nothing is left out, so that my lord may thank me out of his nobility and courtesy. Therefore let's start with wrestling, or abrazare” (Trans. Leoni)
There are two possible ways to read the above:
- First, that it was Niccolo who decreed that Fiore start with abrazare – in other words “to the order of my lord Marquis” is to be taken literally.
- Second, that “to the order of my lord Marquis” refers to the book itself, not the order in which it must be written.
Either way, it is true that the Getty and Pissani-Dossi facsimile do start with abrazare and then progress through dagger, single hand sword, two-handed sword, spear, axe, then horseback (which runs lance → wrestling). The problem is that the other two manuscripts, the Morgan and the Florius, run the opposite; they start on horseback and run through the weapons down to abrazare. Which just so happens to follow the usual course of a judicial duel. In the end, both ways of reading both of my reasons are correct – we will never really know the answer, but the fact of the matter is that the four guards of abrazare can be seen, in various forms, with all the weapons and the principles shown are true principles that apply across Armizare.
Fiore gives three very useful bits of information in the Getty prologue. First he tells us that what he will be showing us is done “for one's life, employing every trick, deception, and cruelty imaginable” rather than showing us wrestling “for pleasure”. This is important because it tells us that when we are interpreting how to perform a play there are two questions to keep in mind:
“Would I do this if my life depended on it?”
“Would this work against someone who is actively trying to kill me?”
If the answer to either of these is “No” then your interpretation is not martially sound and needs to be revised. Now, of course, abrazare can still be done “for pleasure” - in fact, that is how we have to practice it! After all, if you keep breaking your training partners you run out pretty quickly!
The second thing Fiore tells us is to observe your opponent. Are they bigger or smaller than you? Older or younger? Stronger? Do they look like they know their way around a brawl? All these add up to a very important part of Armizare, indeed of all martial arts – knowing when NOT to fight. If the person you're about to wrestle with is 6'9” and has a face like Danny Trejo, you might want to reconsider. Just a thought.
The final bit of information Fiore gives us is a list of the eight qualities of abrazare:
- Knowing advantageous grapples
- Knowing how to break limbs & joints
- Knowing binds
- Knowing where to strike*
- Knowing how to throw your opponent without putting yourself in danger
- Knowing how to dislocate limbs
*Earlier, Fiore tells us these are the eyes, the nose, the temples, “under the chin” (throat), and the flanks – but only if your opponent isn't in armor!
The four guards of abrazare are pretty self explanatory and provide the basis for all the other guards in the system. They are Posta Longa, Dente di Cinghiaro, Porta di Ferro, and Posta Frontale.
Posta Longa (Long Position) – Described as a waiting position that enters into 1st play of abrazare. Also, the straight arm is very useful for gauging the distance between yourself and your opponent.
Dente di Cinghiaro (Boar's Tooth) – Described as the counter to the 1st play. It can also use other offenses (binds, breaks, etc.) to transition into Porta di Ferro for the throw.
Porta di Ferro (Iron Door or Iron Gate) – Perhaps the strongest single guard with any weapon, excellent for waiting. Fiore says this guard is “full of tricks”.
Posta Frontale (Frontal Position) – Used to break Porta di Ferro. As with the other three, Posta Frontale is described as “gaining the grapples” needed for victory.
These four guards appear as opposing pairs with Posta Longa vs. Dente di Cinghiaro, and Porta di Ferro vs. Posta Frontale.
I will be describing all these plays (where applicable) as arising from the C&E.
|A Basic Collar & Elbow position. I prefer to have my "short" arm on the outside of my opponent's "long" arm.|
Basic Collar & Elbow Grip – Stand facing your partner, place your right hand (or left hand – I figure you've figured that out by now haha)on your partners left shoulder and hook your left hand into your partners right elbow. Foot placement is ideally long arm = lead foot, but it works cross-footed just fine.
1st Play (first two illustrations) – Trap your partners left hand (the one that is on your shoulder) with your chin/cheek. As you lift their elbow, turn their arm and gain the bind, give their right shoulder a slight push with your left hand and then slide it down to control their right arm. The shoulder push actually helps extend and straighten their left arm, making the bind so much easier. Footwork should be a slight accreciamento with the right foot, then either a pass back with the left or a volta stabile. In reality, do whatever footwork you need to to get the bind (so long as it fits within the framework of Armizare – mezza volte, volta stabile, tutta volta, accresciameni, descresciamenti, etc.). The 2nd illustration show the completion of the bind. This will be an inside throw – player will go down face first in front of you (to your inside).
3rd Play (3rd illustration) – What to do if your partner/opponent isn't willing to simply stand there and get their arm messed up. As they pull their left hand from your shoulder (however they do it – doesn't matter) transition the enveloping motion of your right arm into a throat chop (chest slap for the “Nice Training Partner” variety) and reach down with your left hand, grabbing the nearest (usually left) knee and throwing them over your forward (right) leg. This will be an outside throw – player will go down butt first to your outside.
4th Play - We play this as an alternate to the 3rd Play - if instead of trying to fly out, what if the Player presses in? Well, you (again) turn the enveloping motion of your right hand into a press against the Player's face, twisting it to their right. As you do this, grab their arm/waist with your left hand and volta stabile to perform an inside throw.
5th Play - This is an outside throw variation of the 4th Play with two differences; important one - the Player's left leg is forward (not the right as in 4th Play). Not quite as important one - the Player's grip is now low with both arms (not high-low as in 4th Play). Execute the play exactly as described in 4th Play except instead of a face push, grab their chin and perform an outside throw.
6th Play - The 6th Play introduces us to the most common grappling counter in the entire system - the elbow push. Simply push on the elbow of the hand that is against your face and do whatever grapples pop up.
7th Play - *This Play has the Player's lead leg switched between the Getty and the PD, works either way* From the C&E (right lead), use your left hand to control Player's right arm, grasping at the wrist and twisting/opening it up. Change your elevation and drive your right arm under their lead leg while stepping underneath their right arm. I like to add a shoulder to the sternum as I drive through, but I'm just mean :)
8th Play - A pressure point counter. Simply take your thumb and press it into the soft spot below the ear. *DO THIS CAREFULLY IN PRACTICE - IT REALLY FREAKIN' HURTS!* Like the other "hand to face" plays this can be countered with an elbow push.
9th Play - We drill the 9th Play as a counter to an elbow push. From the C&E the Player performs an elbow push against your left (long) arm. As he closes in, throw your left arm against the right side of his neck while stepping your right foot outside his left leg, executing an outside throw.
10th Play - The Gamberola is a straight-forward play which Fiore describes a "not safe" because your opponent can just as easily throw you! To drill this, start from the C&E, but with lead hand & lead foot crossed (right hand, left foot forward). Execute an elbow push against the Player's right arm, throwing your right arm over their shoulder (or against their throat) and passing in and placing your right foot between their feet, driving your hips into their butt as you push their upper body back, throwing them over your leg.
11th Play - This is a counter to a full nelson and it is simple and brutal - Find something (a wall, a tree, etc.), back your opponent towards it and begin slamming them into it. :)
12th Play - This is another straightforward play - from a double waist grip, the Scholar knees the Player in the balls. That's all - Just knee them in the block & tackle and then take advantage of their indisposition to do what you will to them. The counter is to grab behind the knee they're attempting to drive into you and throw him.
13th Play - Here we are told that if the Player has both their arms under yours (double underhook in modern grappling parlance) and is not wearing a helm (not in armor), then put both your hands against their face - fingers in eyes, etc. You counter this with...an elbow push (noticing a pattern yet?)
14th Play - This is just an illustration of the previously mentioned counter to the 13th play. Elbow push + grabbing under the Player's lead knee.
15th Play - If you have double underhooks, then you can also put your hands in your opponent's face. From the double underhook position, bring your arms up and around the outside of the Player's, squeezing your elbows as close together as possible to control Player's arms.
16th Play - This is also a counter to the 13th Play and is essentially a reverse of the 15th Play - If your hands are on the inside, as the Player attempts to put his hands in your face, then keep your elbows spread and drive your hands up between his and into his face - Fiore recommends driving your thumbs into his eyes. To counter (drum roll please) use an elbow push to open him up.
Conclusions & Observations
Fiore presents us with a very concise and wonderful little wrestling primer. Of the eight qualities he mentions in the prologue, we are only shown in detail grapples and throws - Fiore saves binds, breaks, and dislocations in detail for the dagger section. In my opinion, full knowledge of abrazare will only come from studying both the abrazare and dagger sections; unlocking all the possible techniques and variables. The three principles that I believe are present in the abrazare section are:
- Take advantage of opponent's extended limbs.
- All throws can be reduced to two - a throw to your inside & a throw to your outside.
- The elbow push can be used to counter damn near anything.
One final observation I have about abrazare is that when I look at the body positions of the figures, I see very upright body carriage - reminiscent of modern Greco-Roman wrestling, where attacking the legs is illegal so the fighters tend to stay very upright. Compare this to the body positions of collegiate style or some folk style of wrestling - even some of the German manuscripts so very low, torso leaned forward positions, which makes it much harder for your opponent to attack your legs. See Jessica Finley's article on Ott in "In the Service of Mars" from Freelance Academy Press for a wonderful exposition of German wrestling. Now, we can go back and forth about why the different torso leans are shown, but I believe that because Fiore is showing a complete system he expects your body to remain the same. A sharply inclined torso is great when you aren't wearing armour, but in armour is a great way to a close-up of the ground in front of you.
Tune in next time for "Why the Hell Don't They Just Punch Each Other!?!"