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|Nuovo et brieve modo di schermire (1584)
Alfonso Falloppia was a 16th century Italian soldier and fencing master. Little is known about his life, but he identifies himself as a native of Lucca, and describes himself as "Ensign of the Fortress of Bergamo".
In 1584, he published a treatise on the use of the rapier entitled Nuovo et brieve modo di schermire ("New and Brief Method of Fencing"). It was dedicated to Ranuccio Farnese, who was 15 years old at the time of publication and would become Duke of Parma, Piacenza, and Castro.
It has been suggested the Falloppia may be the student of Silvio Piccolomini in Brescia mentioned in 1580 by the French diarist Michel De Montaigne during his tour of Italy.
On Monday I dined at the house of Sir Silvio Piccolomini, very well known for his virtue, and in particular for the science of fencing. Many topics were put forward, and we were in the company of other gentlemen. He disdains completely the art of fencing of the Italian masters, of the Venetian, of Bologna, Patinostraro (sic), and others. In this he praises only a student of his, who is in Brescia where he teaches certain gentlemen this art.
He says there is no rule or art in the common teaching, he particularly denounces the practice of pushing your sword forward, putting it in the power of the enemy; then the passing attack; or repeating another assault and stopping, because he says this is completely different to what you see by experience from combatants.
While the timeframe is plausible there is no further evidence to corroborate this theory, and it remains speculation. Furthermore there are no marked similarities between the treatises of Falloppia and Federico Ghisliero (a self-declared student of Piccolomini) although curiously they both dedicate their respective treatises to the same patron, Ranuccio Farnese, within three years of each other.
AND BRIEF METHOD
OF ALFONSO FALLOPPIA OF LUCCA,
Ensign in the Fortress of Bergamo.
TO THE MOST ILLUSTRIOUS, ETC.
THE SIR RAINUCCIO FARNESE
Prince of Parma.
With Permission from the authorities
IN BERGAMO MDLXXXIIII.
Printed by Comin Ventura.
To my most illustrious and excellent sir. Wishing to make myself known to the world as a most devoted servant of Your Excellency; and to find myself respected wherever I go, as any young doe would be who heralds no longer the name of Caesar, but that of Rainuccio Farnese, I could think of no better means, than by dedicating this slight work on gentlemanly arts. It is composed for the universal benefit of all gallant men, and to confound those fencers who do not know, or who wish to teach naught but certain things that nature teaches by itself, and furthermore whose prices are set, much like the mechanics they use.
I say gentlemanly, in contrast to those who teach tricks and abuses. They are not ashamed to suggest arms that are never seen except in premeditated cases and blatant murders, such as rotellas, targas, bucklers, balls of iron, spadones, and polearms of whichever name or type. These are all distant from me, because by the term arms I include only those that are proper, both in defence and attack, that every day and by all are commonly carried. These are the sword, and dagger, chain shirt, and cape (since for now we are allowed to call the cape a defensive arm).
Of these alone I intend to write, as those appropriate to a gentleman, one who must undertake the profession of a soldier, and to a gentleman of honour. And I shall be succinct, condensing everything into seven guards, or rules, however you wish to call them. Of which three shall relate to the sword alone, one to the sword and cape, with the other three to the sword and dagger. Nonetheless I shall not overlook anything, because these seven guards shall encompass the substance of any others. It shall also be straightforward, such that it can be understood without figures.
As for the usefulness of this art, as she regards the preservation of honour and of life, there is no one who is not aware of it. May Your Excellency enjoy it, not because it is useful to princes of your rank, who are defended by their own authority, but because it stands in eternal testimony of my devotion and servitude towards your most joyous and sublime house.
I will start by briefly discussing the sword alone, being the foremost among all the other arms, in the manner that follows. Firstly, a man who wishes to employ this sort of weapon should settle his body with this method: with his right foot forward, standing in profile, somewhat bending his left knee, in a half-pace. His sword arm should be extended, with his hand a palmo above his head, and his point perpendicular towards the chest of his enemy. He can perform thrusts and cuts as he sees fit, in tempo, taking care to deliver the blows quickly, and to return quickly into his starting posture, ensuring the blows are long, stretching out his body, and extending his step as far as he can.
Having acquired this habit with much practice, he will do the same in anger, no differently than when in his natural state. From this guard he can practice beats with the hand, voids of the body – either backwards, or to the sides, as the tempo takes him; and this first form can serve in many instances in the play of the sword.
There is also a second, lower form, which demands the centre line, which it governs, keeping your arm extended in line with your shoulder, such that your hilt faces your enemy’s shoulder, while your face is covered by the hilt.
By leaning your head towards your sword-shoulder, while standing in this fashion, if your enemy delivers a mandritto cut to your head, you can parry it inside, meeting him to the face in that same tempo. If he attacks you with a roverso to the head you can parry to the outside and meet him to the face.
If he attacks your legs while you are in this said posture, you can meet him to the face, or lower, pulling your leg back toward the other. Reason dictates that with the sword alone, if someone attacks the legs, they will run onto the point of your sword with their face, without you having to parry; which many do, parrying at their legs with the sword. If two play with the sword alone, maintaining the centre line, and one drops to the legs, he always brings his head forward, and if he meets his enemy’s sword (which is easily done), he will find that his own sword does not reach.
While I do not approve of attacks to the legs while the sword is in presence, because it carries great risk, you can quite well wound to the leg with the sword alone, but look for the tempo where enemy’s sword moves out of presence, or else parry a cut with cover, and quickly respond to the legs, quickly jumping back to avoid clashing, which can happen with the sword in your face, when you drop to the legs.
You can attack to the legs with a void to the sides, but note carefully the position of your enemy’s sword, because with a void of the body to the side, if you are not quick to defend well, you can be struck on the head by a mandritto, or roverscio depending on which side you move to.
However, I say that attacking the legs with the sword alone is highly dangerous. If you do not have a great tempo, or great quickness of body, it is not beneficial. If you parry a cut to the legs with your sword, it carries great risk, that by a turn of the wrist you are struck to the head. Therefore, you should not parry in this manner. It is better to extend your point in a straight line, pulling your leg a little towards yourself, turning your body, thereby striking your enemy with ease.
While two play with the sword alone, you should also be advised that when one delivers a thrust, you can meet it with your sword and wound in the same tempo, and do so easily. This is because it is greatly advantageous to wait for the other to strike. Because in attacking you first he brings his debole onto your forte. While you hold the centre line, however the attacks, either inside or outside, you can easily meet him, turning your hand to the side where your enemy moves to strike.
If he strikes to the inside, you can meet it with your forte, turning your hand somewhat, such that the enemy’s sword remains out of presence, while yours wounds first, in that tempo. If he strikes to the outside, towards your sword-shoulder, you can meet it with the forte of your sword, bringing your body slightly to the outside, towards his face. I advise that the forte of your sword is from the hilt to within one braccio of the point.
If your enemy wishes to gain your sword, keep watch, so that when he moves his sword, before he has an advantage over yours, you do not disengage with a wide tempo, but to free your sword and enter in one tempo. While he takes two tempos, one to gain your sword and another to attack, you only perform the motion of not letting your sword be found and wounding in that same tempo.
If it happens that you cannot execute this with diligence and speed, and he gains your sword, do not try and force it free. This would have no effect whatsoever, you can however free it in this manner: by retreating back somewhat, with a void of your body, which will free your sword. You can then follow-up by attacking, or finding your enemy’s sword, or waiting in guard – to enter when the tempo arises.
If your enemy delivers a great cut, meet it with your forte and enter in that same tempo, since you will easily parry and wound in one tempo. If he delivers a thrust, and you have the sword alone, you must watch his sword, to understand where his point may land, and how close you are. Because if you are close to the enemy, you must be aware of where his sword moves. If the point arrives low, you must meet it with your forte, fleeing with a small void to the side, that is to say dodging the point. Take care however not to void such that your point leaves the centre line, and your enemy’s presence, because you can easily attack in that same tempo, applying this skill.
If your enemy delivers a thrust, and you are not very close, you must judge the distance, and void your body back, not shifting your sword from the centre line or from your enemy’s presence, since you can easily meet his sword with your forte and attack. Because by voiding backwards you bring the enemy’s debole onto your forte, and he cannot wound you without first gathering his step, taking another longer tempo, as follows. Having delivered the thrust, which fell short, the enemy can recover in this way: keeping his arm on the centre line, with a quick eye to recover his sword which finds itself at your forte, he then gathers his left foot towards his right, with either a long or short step, depending on how you moved.
However, you must be quick with your eyes and legs, and have resolve in your play, and not act as many do, who having delivered their blow, which the enemy defended, remain disordered, not knowing how to take further actions, not considering that the other has hands with which to defend and attack. For this reason take great care not to rush into hands of the enemy, consider also what he might do, you will find many various approaches: one who waits for the enemy to attack first, one who circles to find the tempo, one who plays short, one who plays long, however I wish to advise you on all of these circumstances.
If your enemy circles around you, I do not want you to walk similarly, encircling, as many do, but to stay firmly in your stance. As he takes three or four steps to gain an advantage, to one side or the other, and as he moves his body, ensure that the point of your sword is always watching him. When you know that your body is thereby encircled, and that you are not in presence of the point of his sword, take only one step in the circle, small or large, depending on the tempo you find, that is whether the enemy circles you quickly, or slowly. When the enemy wishes to take advantage of you to steal the tempo, he will take three or four steps, however you will only move the foot that you find in front, in the manner I described above, therefore with this rule no one will be able to steal the tempo from you.
You also have another advantage: while the enemy wishes to encircle you, you can attack him advantageously in that tempo, because he thinks to steal the tempo from you, but in that instant you can attack and steal it from him, and furthermore wound in just that single tempo, where you please, depending on the area that is uncovered. Be quick in delivering your attack, and in recovering your body.
You must take note of the tempo I describe below, which is very advantageous, governing yourself in the manner that follows. Every time you hold the centre line, and your enemy wishes to initiate an attack in the form of a cut, I want you to push your sword directly forward, while he raises his arm to attack you. Before his blow comes down you will be able to wound him, with great advantage. If you consider carefully, your eye watching his sword in this action, you will find that when your enemy brings down his sword, he brings it onto your forte.
The same occurs when the enemy commences, wishing to deliver certain wrist-cuts to your head, I want you to meet him to his face, and you will easily land in one single tempo. Pay attention to whether your enemy attacks to the inside or the outside, because you can meet him and parry and wound either to the inside or the outside, depending on where he attacks.
But if it happens that your enemy cannot make headway with his plays of the wrist, he might easily retreat in guard. In this case you must push your thrust forward down the centre line, and be quick, before he takes the tempo to settle into guard. The reason is because when your enemy is in presence, and wishes to change guard, you can attack in that tempo, and can hit him easily.
Now let us suppose he retreats such that you cannot wound him, take care to be quick with your legs moving forward, always keeping your sword in presence against your enemy. If he performs a feint to the outside, or the inside, take care not to move with your sword, in the belief you will parry. If you do, he can easily disengage to the other side and wound you in that tempo. Observe instead this rule: every time someone performs a feint against you, meet him in that first tempo. Because your enemy employs two tempos, one to feint and the other to wound, while you need only one tempo to wound.
I praise feints in this manner: while you are on the centre line, I want you to motion an entry to the face, whereby it is likely your enemy will move to parry. You should watch where he moves his sword, which will be near the area you motioned, or rather feinted towards; without disengaging your sword you will then find a tempo in which to enter. Meaning, by managing your forte, you shall save yourself from his sword if he attacks in that tempo, which will be as follows. As you make the motion, and your sword begins to travel, clearly your enemy will move his sword to parry and wound. With an attentive eye, you will enter on the line where your enemy extends to parry your blow, and you can enter with a single tempo, without certain disengages, as many do when performing feints. These instructions are called contra tempi, and are so subtle they are not considered by everyone.
Similarly, if you make the motion to enter, and your enemy does not move in belief, feel free to follow through, entering with the same motion. When you perform the action, take care always to target the area that is most uncovered. This forces the enemy to parry, and you will make him take two tempos, while you only take one; however check with your eyes, taking note of whether he stands firm, or else moves in belief of your feint.
I now wish to inform you how to gain advantage over your enemy’s sword, and its benefits. When you wish to find the sword, clearly your forte is superior to his debole. However, you must have a good awareness of how your enemy holds his body and sword, to know the tempo in which to move your body, and begin to dominate his debole with your forte, executing the action, and moving slowly till you reach the debole of his sword. Because if you move quickly, he can disengage and wound you as I described above, and you will not be able to find his sword, but if you go slowly you will find it easily.
Take care, however you found it: either to the inside or the outside, not to let him recover; because he will be forced to disengage. As he disengages, you should find him again, or attack in that single tempo. If you apply reason to the sword, as you found him once, you can do so again, such that he can no longer recover. Having found the sword, with your enemy unable to disengage, wound him in the same tempo of finding, always using your forte, so he cannot recover.
When you have found his sword, you can employ your left-hand glove to grab it, with a grapple, that is by grasping it, which you will accomplish easily. Take care not to act as many do, who having delivered a thrust wish to grab his sword with their left hand in that same tempo. This is difficult to perform, therefore those who employ this approach often miss the sword, that is they cannot grasp it, and are often struck either in the chest or face. The reason is that the fencer with the sword alone switches, by putting his left side forward. Since you can vary the sword, you can easily wound one who stands like this, in several ways. I judge a bold cut towards that side as the best of these, which cannot fail to hit and disorder him.
There is also a rushing play, which most Frenchmen employ. When confronted by this, I want you always to hold the centre line. Your enemy therefore comes running to wound you, open, and you stop him by setting yourself in a strong posture, such that he crashes into your sword. Watch the distance, meaning when he gets close to effect his crash, and at the same time keep your eyes on his sword. Note that in wishing to crash into you he will take a long tempo, whereupon you can meet him with your sword where he is most open, and with a void of the body, avoiding his sword, you will surely hit him.
The crash could be in this form: he arrives with the false-edge of his sword to disorder you. In that instant you can meet him, meaning when he is close, and you can reach him, you can easily free your own sword to anticipate his. Because he arrives with impetus, persuading himself that in one tempo he can impede your sword, which you show in presence, and either deliver a cut to your leg and retreat back, or unleash a thrust and step to the side. However observe the rule I described, wounding him when he arrives to find the tempo, and note that you will easily hit him in that single tempo, standing with your body firm and nimble.
Although you see someone come at you with impetus, you should not fear, because when afraid you make a thousand wrong movements, whereby the enemy can easily enact what he intended. If you stand in the form I described above, keeping your sword in presence, he will be disordered on his approach, your sword in presence watching him; and if by chance he runs without consideration, he could also easily meet it, and you will stop him in his tracks.
Now if your enemy does not rush, but sets himself in a low posture, enter on the centre line, but over his debole such that when attacking you in that same tempo, as I discussed, he cannot injure you. His blow will come to nothing, as it will necessarily meet your forte, as you previously ensured. In this manner he will not anticipate you, and hereby reason staunches those in haste.
Although many say that reason does not matter with the sword, as is beaten by rage, I do not agree, and I defer to the judgement of knowledgeable men. It is true that reason with arms, this is to say play, does not count for those who allow themselves to lose heart, to not do their duty, whereupon they lose to those who know and those who do not.
There is also much else to say over this centre line, which for the sake of brevity I will leave to the judgement of the prudent reader, it being very advantageous. However, I wish to discuss it no further, having spoken of useful and necessary matters, we will now speak of the third guard, and how it is formed.
The third guard is as follows: you must extend your right arm towards your right knee, keeping your hand approximately half a braccio from your knee, and your point up towards your enemy’s face. Lean your body slightly, but not so you fall, that is make yourself somewhat small, with your right heel facing the middle of your left foot, in a half-pace stance; or more, or less depending on what you find comfortable and strong.
Standing in this posture, if the enemy thrusts a point at your face, be sure to catch it with your sword’s forte, either to the inside or the outside, depending on which side he attacks. Thrust all in one tempo, raising your back, and you will easily parry and wound in that tempo. If he delivers a cut, whether a dritto or a roverscio, parry with your forte, and enter to his face; meaning whether he aims at your head, or if he strikes lower, in either case respond in that direction.
If he feints towards your face, or to another part of your body, do not move in belief to parry, instead push your sword forward in that tempo, catching his debole with your forte. If he aims at your leg, pull it back a little, and meet him by raising the hilt of your sword and lowering the point. Be quick, and in this manner you can defend yourself again such blows. If you deliver the attack I described, and when he attacks your legs you remove your body, he will not be able to harm that part of you, if having attacked the legs he then wished to deliver a thrust. Judgement also matters, which teaches you to take decisions as required, when observing this and similar forms, permitting you to defend against many attacks.
Now I wish to discuss passing steps, and to demonstrate how dangerous they are, and when they are useful. You should understand that passing steps require feints, and be aware that they pose great risk to those who do not employ them with great tempos, agility, and quickness of body.
If you find yourself in the first form of the sword alone, and someone wishes to pass at you, seeing your sword high, it is probable he will move to find you, in order to perform it. Note carefully that if the enemy feints to your face in order to pass, as reason dictates, I do not want you to respond to the feint except as follows. Lean your body somewhat to void, where you see fit to avoid the point of his feint, then all in one same tempo beat with your hand, and deliver a thrust down perpendicular with his body. You will easily meet him if he bends down well with his stomach towards the ground, and you will stop him, since he will not be able to pass. The reason is as follows: you do not move in belief of the impetus his feint. You have time to beat the point of his sword with your hand, and employ the methods I described above, breaking his designs, because he arrives at great speed to perform the feint and passing step in that tempo.
If you find yourself on the centre line in the second form, and the enemy comes at you with a feint to execute a passing step, void with your body to the side, evading his sword’s point. While he passes you can catch him to the head, by voiding, playing somewhat with your body, equally you can thrust him to the face.
When your enemy performs the feint, and all in one tempo wishes to pass, void from the left side. That is, if he feints to the inside, and you reverse your point towards his face, you will stop him easily. You can also meet him lower on the body, because in keeping your point low, it is difficult for him to pass.
If he feints to the outside, bring your left foot forward, opening yourself with a half circle, your right food following the left to meet it, and you will easily exit from presence, and you can deliver a thrust, or else a roverso cut.
If you wish to perform a passing step, observe the following: when you wish to pass, execute the feint, and the movement of passing, but do not run. It is likely that your enemy, seeing the movement, that is carrying your body out of your sword’s presence, will turn his sword’s point to side on which you perform the action of passing. In that tempo, you can cover his debole with your forte, and enter to the face without performing another pass.
If you wish to pass freely, observe this rule: first find his sword, then enter to the face. He will be forced to parry, and thereby will remove his sword, such that you can pass without danger; equally if he does not parry, you will catch him to the face.
If you are in the third guard, and someone feints at you to pass to the body with their sword low, I want you to void your body, pushing your thrust with the point perpendicular, closely watching your enemy’s sword, so that you can void your body to one side or the other. However, you must pay great attention to your enemy’s body, see the manner in which he moves, understand the tempo, and most of all be aware of his sword; that is consider with your eye, and judgement, where his sword might land.
This will suffice on this subject matter. Although there are many other things, these are very useful, and very natural, such that you can employ them. Furthermore there are many who suggest other sorts of guards beyond these, which I in fact do not esteem, condensing them all to mine here.
I will now discuss the sword and cape, or cloak, as quickly and briefly as possible. You can employ the cape in two circumstances. One is when you cannot carry a dagger. The other when you are attacked by surprise, and it is easier to wrap your cape than put your hand to your dagger, that is when you have your dagger at the back and not at your side.
Because most people without quarrels carry them almost always, then when the time comes to reach for their swords, cannot find them, because they cannot reach with their left hand. You should therefore wear it on your right side, to have full control over it. However, I will speak no more of the dagger now, being enough merely to have indicated to carry the weapon at your side.
Finding yourself therefore in a place where you cannot carry daggers, it is likely that employing the cape or cloak will be useful. I say that wishing to wrap the cape or cloak, you should let the part of the cape over your right shoulder drop behind you, then turn your left hand (that is the palm) upwards, grabbing the hem with your hand half a braccio under the shoulder, or less, depending on what you find comfortable. When you let the cape or cloak fall from your left shoulder onto your left arm, which will remain completely covered, you will perform one turn only, to the right towards your hand, letting the other part of the cape fall low towards your leg. You will execute this wrap very quickly, and not act as many do, who wrap all of it around their arm, because by letting it hang low brings you have many advantages, which I will describe.
Having wrapped the cape, as I discussed, I want you to bring your left side a half-pace forward, keeping your sword to the outside, below your hand. Standing in this manner, if your enemy delivers a cut to your head, either a dritto or roverso, I want you to parry with your sword’s forte, meeting him to the face in that tempo, bringing your right foot forward with a long and resolute pass forward.
However, if he cuts to your leg with a roverso, while you are in the above position, raise your sword-hand a little and deliver a perpendicular imbroccata, bringing your right leg forward with your arm extended. Take care to void somewhat, but not by much, to enter with less danger.
If he cuts a mandritto to your legs, I want you to defend immediately with the hanging portion of your cape, in the meantime turning your hand with a thrust in the centre of his chest, where you find him most uncovered.
Take note never to cover your face with your cape-arm, because your enemy could deliver a point to your body, or cut to your leg while you cover your face.
Even if he cuts to your head with a dritto o roverscio, I do not wish you to move to parry with your cape, but to meet him to the face, controlling with the forte of your sword as I described above.
If the enemy attempts these tempos, you can respond, making decisions step by step, depending on the tempo that arises, taking note of what your enemy can accomplish.
Here I will end the rule of the sword and cape, it suffices that you know how to wrap it, and how you conduct yourself. We will now speak of the sword and dagger, on the advantages of a gauntlet, and also on using it without a gauntlet with as little danger as possible.
You will understand how play with the sword and dagger is governed best and with the least risk possible, conducting yourself in the manner that I will explain in this discussion.
Firstly, you must take care to carry your body well. I want to observe only three forms to place yourself in, although there are many guards which many have written of, and which I will discuss somewhat, however I do not observe them, since everything can be accomplished with three guards.
It is very true, that at times in play or combat you find yourself performing many things in many forms, but if you consider carefully you will find that it is all the same, comprising of the three guards I will describe. Even if they seem to be different things. When concluding, that is in wounding, you will find that the three forms I observe contain every blow you can perform. Furthermore those I describe, I hold to be the most expedient and least dangerous, from which you can wound in just one tempo the most, also without disordering your body.
For this reason, there are no movements that are contrived or forced – which arise only for entertainment, but only very natural ones, which are not lost to the force of rage. Those who teach should be take careful note of this, since confrontations do not occur if not in anger.
It is true that you should train your body in every way, since agility counts for much in this art, but recognising the tempo is much more important, as you have already seen, and as you will see, you cannot act rashly.
The first form is very useful and is observed in this manner: place yourself with your sword-arm extended in a straight line, with your dagger-arm long, covering your face with it, keeping it somewhat extended, with the point up. Stand sideways in line with your right side, keeping your weapons close together.
Standing in this form, if the enemy delivers a cut to your head, I do not want you to parry with your dagger, but to meet it with the forte of your sword, as you would with the sword alone, towards the face.
If in this instant he wishes to parry with his dagger, beating your sword, disengage underneath and wound him to the face along the centre line; or else raise your hand, landing the point perpendicular over the dagger, freeing your sword as he moves to beat it.
Standing in this form, equally if he wishes to deliver a dritto cut to your head, you can parry with the forte of your sword and in the same tempo put your dagger to his sword, allowing the point of your sword to land under the enemy’s right flank, in that same tempo pushing the thrust forward by stepping your right foot forward. If the enemy disengages underneath, towards your left flank, be alert, beating his sword away with your dagger, from the wrist, wounding him to the face, then withdrawing into the same posture.
If your enemy thrusts at you during the withdrawal, void your body a little, and catch your enemy’s sword between your sword and dagger, that is with your dagger above and your sword below, and attack him to the face.
If your enemy delivers a roverso to your head, meet it with your weapons accompanied together, taking care to parry with your sword’s forte quickly accompanied by your dagger. Since your enemy attacks with a great blow to your head, parry with your sword as he has the advantage, and if you parried with your dagger you would come off worse. Many incidents have shown that the dagger wielded poorly is the death of a man. It is extremely hard to parry a great cut with the dagger, because if it does not catch the sword with its forte, it can easily become dislodged from your hand, or you are struck on the hand. Therefore, those without great tempos with the help of voids of the body, should not move to parry the cut with their dagger, but with the forte of their sword.
If your enemy wants to catch your sword with his dagger, to attack your legs, note that you must execute the following action. With his body low he will cover himself under his dagger. Given that he wants to find your sword with his dagger, be quick to free it with a small void of the body back, while all in the same tempo wounding him under his dagger. If you free your sword quickly, you will find a very large tempo in which to enter, with his blow remaining half-finished. In other words, he cannot reach your legs, because he brings his head forward, such that he cannot land, while you maintain your sword unhindered. I have explained the reason why previously, when discussing the sword alone.
It is true that even in this clash you can wound him to the leg, but in this manner: you must pressure your enemy such that he cannot disengage underneath, if not to the outside where your dagger could not impede him. Having pressed him in this manner, you can attack with little danger. However, for a greater advantage, I want you to follow a different rule: that is having pressured your enemy, to enter strongly with a thrust. You will move with little risk of being wounded, and you will wound quickly. But as I said I do not observe these methods, as they are very dangerous.
Let us return to our subject matter, the centre line, in the first guard. Suppose someone is in a well-covered guard, in whatever form he wishes. Move to press him, and note carefully how he holds his sword: whether high or low. Then in tempo move to press him (as I said), and look to wound him where he is most uncovered. Be quick in attack, and quick in recovering back; so if by chance you enter and he follows up, the quick withdrawal will defend you, taking care as you attack to meet his debole with your forte.
In executing this, you have time to defend and attack within the same tempo, as you see fit, which you will perform as follows. That is, if while the enemy attacks you find your step forward, having delivered your attack, the tempo will permit you to gather and defend simultaneously; if you are gathered, I want you to defend and enter in that same tempo.
If your enemy keeps his sword low, I want you to press him, with one foot gathering behind the other, and as you find yourself in distance to land, to enter covering his debole with your forte without touching his sword. If during this action he beats your sword from high to low, disengage with your wrist, and wound him to the face over his dagger. If he beats your sword with his dagger to the outside, return inside with your sword and wound him underneath.
Note that you must have a quick eye, to see where your enemy brings his dagger, and that many will give you a large tempo in which to enter. They disorder themselves with the dagger, and make a thousand movements, which are harmful, whereas you can always enter on the centre line.
In this first form you do not have to use your dagger to beat your enemy’s sword, except in cases where you have delivered a blow and you sword remains out of presence, then your enemy attacks so quickly that you cannot reset your sword; whereupon I want you to beat with your dagger, gathering your step to recover your sword. But avoid reducing yourself to these conditions, which are dangerous. It suffices that I teach you this solution, so that in such cases not all is lost, and in some manner you can take decisions in combat.
Standing in this form, you can perform feints in the following manner: if you feint to the face, your enemy must bring up his dagger to parry. If he does not go for the feint, enter in that tempo. If he does go for the feint disengage to the other side. If while you perform the feint your enemy wishes to parry and enter, employ your dagger, beating his sword, and enter with a disengage, not letting your sword become impeded, understanding your advantages. This is as much as I want to say on this first form.
Here is the second form, in which you place yourself with your sword high, and your arm extended, keeping your sword’s point high, so that your enemy cannot discern where your sword will fall. Here beating with the dagger is beneficial, and I would keep it with the arm extended, a gauntlet being very useful in this instance.
While you are in this form, always try to stay with your step as narrow as possible, meaning in the form you find most strong and comfortable, keeping your right shoulder forward as much as you can, positioning yourself somewhat to your left on the side of your dagger, that is over your left leg. Keep your dagger extended, covering your face. Positioned over your left side, you will deliver thrusts with less effort, and recover more quickly.
In this second form I encourage you to deliver a long thrust, extending your arm well, and keeping your body in profile. While you are in this form, watch how your enemy sets himself, because how he sets himself will determine how to conduct yourself from the rules I will describe.
Firstly, if your enemy delivers a thrust, I want you to beat with your dagger, and in that same tempo enter where he is most uncovered, noting whether the thrust arrives low and perpendicular, or if it comes along the centre line.
If the thrust arrives perpendicular, I want you to beat it to the outside with your dagger towards the right side, because it is quickest and easiest, and in that same tempo bring down your sword, likewise delivering a thrust, quickly returning back with your step.
If the enemy thrust along the centre line, you can defend in three ways. The first is from high to low, when he thrusts at the middle of your chest, entering in that same tempo, voiding your body as much as you can, passing, and always keeping your dagger over his sword to stop him raising his sword. If he does so, it will easily return to your dagger, or else he will be forced to disengage to one side or the other.
You can parry in the second way when his sword falls towards your left side, beating it to the outside to the left side; and if he delivers his thrust to your right side, beat his sword to the outside towards your right flank. Here beat with your wrist, always entering in that tempo, both beating and delivering the blow.
You can also beat in this third way. When your enemy delivers his thrust, bring your left side somewhat out of the presence of your enemy, gathering your right step, so that with any minimal help from the dagger you will parry his thrust and can wound him.
Now I wish to talk about pressing the enemy in this same guard. Take careful note of how the enemy positions himself, because it is very useful for recognising this tempo, which is as follows. If the enemy keeps his sword long, press it in this manner: move forward with a half-step, until you arrive with your dagger two palmi above your enemy’s sword. Be alert, if he attacks in this tempo, beat it, and enter. If he does not attack you can enter likewise by beating, or rather finding his sword with your dagger.
If your enemy keeps his sword short, move to press him in this manner. Advance enough so you know you can reach him without budging your foot, keeping your body in guard. When you are at the tempo where you can reach him, deliver a thrust freely, quickly returning into guard. You need not worry if you are well covered by the enemy’s dagger, just that his sword is withdrawn. Standing in this posture the enemy can easily deliver a free thrust, which you can defend returning the attack in that single tempo. Take care not to leave your body too far forward, such that you lack time to quickly withdraw. You must be aware of all of these matters, so as not to disorder yourself, so you are in control recovering quickly.
There is another tempo from this guard, which is certainly difficult, but resolute. It is by pressing your enemy so much that your sword is a palmo from his body, keeping your dagger-arm as extended as possible, voiding your body, keeping your sword (meaning your point) in the enemy’s presence. In that tempo you will beat, and enter with a thrust.
As I say this is difficult, but resolute and good where you can secure yourself, wearing a mail shirt, and you must deal with those who set themselves in guard, waiting for the other to attack first. It takes great judgement to know the distance, and also to see if you enemy will attack in that tempo, while standing in this form. If your enemy attacks with a cut, either a dritto or roverso, you can parry with your dagger, entering in that same tempo. If he attacks the legs you can meet him to the face, since you will have a great advantage, as I described above. Here I will end on the second guard.
I will now discuss the third guard, or rather posture, and how you govern yourself with the sword and dagger, with all the advantages that it brings. The third guard is in this form: you should put your left foot forward, in a moderate pace, with your left arm extended, ensuring your hand is in line with the face, with the dagger-point high, keeping your right-arm somewhat bent, and your sword-hand away from your body somewhat. Your sword point should be level with your dagger-hand about one palmo apart. In this form you will be very well-covered, and you can conduct yourself depending on the tempo and motion of your enemy.
For example if your enemy attacks you with a dritto to the head, I want you to simply beat it with your dagger. But meet it with your dagger’s forte, and in that tempo enter with a thrust, putting your right foot forward, as feels natural, then quickly bring it back behind. However keep your dagger-arm in place, so if your enemy then redoubles his blow you can defend it, which will be in the following manner.
If your enemy delivers a mandritto, parry and enter in that tempo. If in stepping you abandon your dagger-arm, and the enemy redoubles his attack with a roverso or dritto, he could easily hit you. But if you hold firm with your dagger you can parry the second blow, and return an attack in the same tempo.
If he delivers a roverso cut to your head, I want you to parry with your dagger, performing a slight void of the body, and bringing your right foot back a little; also delivering your attack in that tempo, and quickly retreating into guard.
If he attacks your legs with a dritto or roverso, you can defend in one of two ways.
One is, as he attacks you, to gather your left leg next to your right. When your enemy’s sword passes you can enter with a thrust, or cut, as you desire. In truth, in this defence of withdrawing the leg you must carefully watch the distance of the enemy’s sword. If the middle of it approaches when attacking your leg, you will not be able to withdraw it enough to avoid being hit; and I do not wish you to use it if it arrives rapidly.
The second method is this. If the enemy attacks your leg, you can parry with the dagger and enter in that same tempo, resolutely before the enemy can recover. Note however that this entry is only for one who is armoured, and would be very difficult and dangerous if you are not armoured, and I do not recommend you use it. But when armoured it is excellent, because it has the advantage of the step, delivering a longer and more powerful blow.
In this form you can also press your enemy so much that you come to dominate his sword with your dagger. Observe, once you have begun to gain it, not to abandon it, but to follow it always forward, since possessing it is beneficial. Having executed this, your sword will always be free, to strike liberally where you please. However if you allow him to recover it, he will have a great advantage over you.
Here I find that I have satisfied my promise, and what I have judged necessary for this profession. Nor should anyone object, saying I have not written anything in particular for those who are left-handed or sinister as it is commonly called. Because having taught how to attack and parry, depending on the guards, the art can be adapted to the left-handed as much as the right. There is no difference between them except in relation.
May everyone understand me well, and practice well, because I am sure of the benefits to those who praise my efforts, and perhaps one day I will give them something more.
- de Montaigne, Michel. Journal du voyage de Michel de Montaigne en Italie, par la Suisse & l'Allemagne en 1580 & 1581, Volume 1. Paris, 1774.p.284.
- The palmo (plural palmi) is an antique unit of measurement. Its precise length varied by location, but was typical around 25cm.
- The braccio is another antique unite of measurement, whose length varied by location. A Milanese braccio for example was 59.49cm, or approximately 23.4 inches.
- In other words, towards the right.
- This seems to refer to the outside of the dagger arm, not the sword arm.
- In the original: passo giusto.