Sunday, 5 July 2015

Capo Ferro - From whom one must learn

"You have to know that there are some who immediately after they have learned a little, and having yet a bit of practice, put themselves to teach others, and they teach without the foundation of the rule which is true, not knowing that knowing is quite different from teaching, and this methodical teaching is acquired with length of time, because in order to recognize measure and tempo requires much time, so that he who does not well understand measure nor tempo, and does not have a methodical teaching, can be called an imperfect player, and one must be wary of learning from these." 

Thursday, 2 July 2015

David Rawling's just won the internet


Colombani - concise advice on stepping

"throw in terza, always starting with the hand and not rushing in but as I have already said moving the foot when it is needed by the hand." - Carlo Giuseppe Colombani

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

How long to train someone in Sword fighting - take 2

A follow along from this post about the length of time sword training historically took, this new translation from The Scholar San Marco was interesting, detailing the amount of time Lippo Dardi took to train his students. Clearly dividing his instruction into theory and practical sessions and also taking into account the physical attributes/intelligence of students:

"I do not want to be obliged to teach anyone for less than a year, except as far as it pleases me, informing your lordships that if one were larger than the man from Buda [?], he would learn the theory of the two-handed sword in two and a half months, and the practice in the same amount of time the theory of the buckler in one and a half months, likewise for the practice and so for each of the other plays as far as theory goes, they will learn each separately in one month and the practice in the same amount, such that each play requires two months, between theory and practice, such that everyone has over seven months to learn, with some plays having nine months and some ten months, such that if they do not learn in these periods, they will never learn." 




Monday, 29 June 2015

Principles of fencing - Take 1

“I have first of all laid down the principles or grounds of all the Art” – DiGrassi, True Art of Defense

"the discipline of fencing grows on properly understood principles you have contributed to, rather than relying on mindless juggling," - Joachim Meyer, 1570

It often comes up as an assumption that there are “principles” of swordsmanship and all martial arts: universal rules. The idea being that all good systems of combat are a blend of an implicit understanding of these rules and the accepted norms of combat from that time.

I've attempted to write this summary several times and abandoned it every time as I confused myself. However this process has helped me consolidate my thoughts so I think it's time I attempted again and perhaps even might stimulate others to educate me by writing an improved version of this. Certainly with the more I learn I'll be attempting to revise and update this. 

I think from the treatises the basic elements that come up are:

Mechanics (strong & weak) - Force
Tempo (quick & slow) - Speed
Measure (long & close) - Range

Or how to hit your opponent with mechanical advantage, when to hit your opponent and where you need to be to do this

Mechanics (strong/weak)

At it's most basic level this is how you arrange your body to deliver your actions (strong or weak). It's about understanding both your body and the nature of your tool, i.e. sword, and all the different ways to generate force so you can be strong or weak at command. It also expresses in understanding this in your opponent or how strong/weak your opponent can attack from a position or how effectively they can resist force, how you can displaying the appearance of force and knowing how much force you need to break an opponents position etc. 

From this principle is born good posture and using "correct" positions, i.e. guards, to most effectively express or resist force. 

Tempo (quick/slow)

At it's most basic time is about the time it takes to perform an action (thrust, parry, step) and whether that is quick or slow. However the principle of "time" is understanding how being faster or slower can generate advantage in a bout. i.e. Timing. It can be expressed in both action and in-action: doing something quickly or not doing anything at all.

Measure (long & close)

In its simplest form means the distance between two combatants. The principle is understanding the advantages and disadvantages of how the distance between opponents determines which techniques will be most effective. This can be broken down into different "measures" such as long, middle, close measure etc and the actions that are best expressed from them


Understanding a situation (or better yet how to create an advantageous situation) by knowing how quickly or slowly you need to act, at what range and with what force equals "Judgement."

All the above is, I think, common to all sword fighting. From these principles people tend to form guidelines to steer "judgement". Here are a few examples expressed in general terms as I best understand them:

1. "Guard" positions and the implicit understanding of using a mechanically strong position to break a mechanically weak position. What is a mechanically strong and weak position? Depends on the context generated by understanding the tempo, measure and force of potential actions from positions, some guidelines:
  • Striking with the same side arm and leg forward will deliver a very powerful linear action, i.e. a thrust. Whereas striking with the opposite leg to the hand enables the torso to rotate thus increasing speed for rotational actions, i.e. cuts. Same hand and leg is called ipsilateral, opposite hand and leg is called contralateral. So a right foot stepping forward to thrust on your right is "strong" and left foot passing forward to cut is "strong." 
  • The wider your stance the more stable you are as you have a wider base however you cannot move your feet as far. The narrower your stance the less stable you are but the more rapidly you can move. Hence the wider stances of close measure guards for facilitating rapid, small, thrusting/wrist cuts and grappling while the narrower stances of longer measure for favoring multiple long steps and big actions slow actions like shoulder cuts
  • Cutting actions reach further when coming downwards than striking upwards (over reaching) while thrusting actions reach further when coming upwards than downwards, therefore have an advantage. Hence the high guard is the premier cutting guard and the low point forward guard is the premier thrusting position
  • Your strongest position is to have straight arms, held square to your shoulders (forming the "triangle of power") supported by legs ready to push or give into the blow. Moving so your whole body (centre line, triangle and legs) face into a blow or to deliver a blow will be very powerful.  
  • Positions can be "read" in terms of stored energy: i.e. a bent leg is stored moved, a twisted torso is stored movement, a cocked arm etc. While a twisted torso makes for a weak position to statically receive a blow by un-twisting rotational force can be generated making a action more powerful.   
2. True time and True position

Firstly True Time, the smaller the motion (and/or the less number of motions) then the action will be:
  • faster (Speed)
  • weaker (Force)
  • shorter (Range)
Conversely the more of your body you engage (or the more motions you make) then the action will be:
  • slower
  • stronger
  • longer range
Then bearing in mind that the human brain can only process information at a certain speed therefore if you move quick enough theoretically you could strike someone before they have had time to process your action and respond.  

From the above we know that speed is quickest at close measure, and because we know this action will also be weak we know we have to be attacking into an opening. Therefore True Position is being in that optimal close range (measure), with the initiative (tempo) attacking a position that your opponent cannot resist from (Mechanics). 

(As an aside, I believe this theory also lies behind opening from long measure with large powerful strikes, because while they are slow for the attacker they often require an equally large and slow reaction from the defender,  Provided you launch them with the initiative and not into a position designed to facilitate a counterattack.) 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Philippo Vadi - On Mastery

"If you would be dexterous, and master the sword, you must be accomplished in teaching and learning" Philippo di Vadi, On the Art of Swordsmanship (1480's)

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Get the basics right

"All techniques function from the same principles, any ignorance of a principal manifests itself in every technique." Steven J. Pearlman, The Book of Martial Power