Giocco Stretto – Sept. 16 – Oct. 14

We’ve been working diligently on giocco stretto for the past several weeks, beginning with identifying entry points, and practising safe entries. Explained were the entry points that give way to the various techniques, and these turn out to be largely the same as with the largo techniques, in that you can divide entry points into quadrants (high, low, left, right) and use this positional information as a guide or waypoint in choosing the appropriate technique (much like guards or poste are waypoints for applying technique and tactical decisions).


The first order of business was sensitivity drills, starting from the bind. From mezza spada, both players move about, one following the other. The player following then takes a cue from his partner to attempt the proper, given entry.

This drill then expands out into different versions – the attacker attempts to force the entry he wants, from the bind, then from wide measure. This expands further into second intention entries – the attacker attempts an entry, the defender may or may not react, and the attacker must choose the proper entry point.

We then looked at the canonical plays, in order. First play (inside low), second play (outside, long) and its alternate, third play (inside short) and its alternate – the fourth play, and the fifth play (inside or neutral high) and sixth (same play as previous, wider measure).

Our exploration of the canonical stretto plays will continue, after which we’ll be looking at how these tie into the a cavallo plays, and counters taken from the daga section.

Fundamentals Class 26/02/2014

Class began with a simple warm-up, followed by some cutting exercises. Students were asked to traverse the room and cut using Meyer’s cutting diagram – the entire sequence – whereas formerly, they learned it in increments, one part at a time.

To add to the diversion, students were asked to tailor the drill to their skill level, and gradually work up. For beginning students, a simple version of the drill was adopted – fendente, sottani roverso, sottani dritto, fendente roverso. Slightly more advanced students could add a slight flourish to the drill at the end of cutting lines, using what is basically a preparation. Cuts thus became more fluid from one guard to the next. Finally, those feeling up to the task were asked to do the drill using double cuts: first falso, then dritto. The sequence then becomes: falso fendente  mandritto, fendente mandritto, falso sottani roverso, dritto sottani roverso, etc. This proved an adequate challenge, and an excellent entry to the class.

Finally, timing of cuts was worked on – landing the foot and the cut at or near the same time.

The rest of the class was spent on thrusts – all five thrusting angles were visited, and students drilled starting thrusts from different poste.

Following this, students practised a simple defence against a thrust: a beat. The goal was to harness an instinctive flinch reaction many have, and hone it martially by enhancing its mechanics. Defeating the beat came next, with a simple dip of the point (cavazione) to finish your thrust to the other side of your partner’s blade.

We ended with the rompere di punta from four quadrants, as a means of securing the opposing blade and enhancing your safety.

Next week will see more thrusts, drills against resisting opponents and maximising your thrust’s stability.

Companion Class 9/01/2012

After a well-deserved holiday break, class began anew. Happy New Year to everyone, and safe training!

We continued where we’d left off – actually, that’s not quite true – we reviewed and got back into the swing of things with some (many) cutting drills, concentrating on form and mechanics. We also discussed the tactical choice of a point-up or point-down parry, which essentially boils down to line. The shorter line will generally dictate what to use – i.e., if you stand in porta di ferro, you employ a point down (hanging) parry, whilst parrying from posta di donna will result in the choice of using a point-up guard (frontale).

The cutting drills employed are simple combination cutting drills, as follows:

  1. cut mezza fendente to longa with a pass , thrust with an acressere.
  2. moulinet and cut fendente roverso with a pass forward.
  3. Pass and thrust punta roverso with a pass.
  4. Strammazone and cut fendente with an acressere.
  5. Invert the sword to thrust punta sopramano with a pass.
  6. Using a wrist motion, cut mezani roverso.
  7. Return to guard.
Drill 2
  1. Cut mezza fendente to longa
  2. Strammazone to fendente roverso
  3. Invert the sword, cutting around to fendente mandritto down to dente di cinghiale
  4. Cut roverso sottano falso to posta di donna
  5. Repeat.
Drill 3
  1. Cut fendente to centre
  2. Moulinet fendente roverso to posta breve
  3. Cut upwards sottani dritto to posta di finestra sinestra
  4. Pivot sword around balance point and cut roverso sottani dritto
  5. Repeat
Flow drill
This was followed by a couple of flow drills  similar in nature, meant to practice fluidity, timing, measure and footwork while also practising the hanging parry.
  1. Begin in porta di ferro. your partner begins in posta di donna
  2. With a compass step left, he cuts fendente mandritto to your head.
  3. Step to the left, performing a hanging parry.
  4. return with a fendente roverso while compassing to your right.
  5. Your partner will parry with a hanging parry while returning to his right.
  6. Continue, eventually switching positions/guards.
You can make this incorporate both sides by modifying the drill so that each person does a fendente then a roverso, than parries the fendente and roverso, then attacks…etc.

Fundamentals class 30/11/2011

This was the last in our series of introductory spear classes, so I took this opportunity to introduce the formal dei Liberi spear plays, of which there are few, in actuality. I was slightly pressed for time, since I wanted to get through it to allow some of our people who need to leave early a chance to bout a little bit. Owing to this, I skipped the spear poste dance, and got straight to the nitty-gritty.

Actually, we began with just a quick recap of the past weeks’ classes – a couple of exercises involving inside and outside parries before moving into the canonical material.
Before going any further, let me simply say this about dei Liberi’s spear material: while the plays in and of themselves are few, the rest of the method for wielding it can be amply sourced in the armoured sword and pollaxe material.
First up were the poste, of which there are three on the right: tutta porta di ferro, porta di ferro mezana and posta di finestra. The left side has dente di zenghiar, posta di vera croce and posta di finestra as well.
With this bit out of the way, we practised the scambiar di punta on the right, then on the left. Advanced students were reminded how the play from the left utilises the same principles as the universal parry – rising into a descending thrust.
Last was the counter: the butt strike. This is performed with a rising blow under the arm to displace the spear, followed by a thrust to the face with the butt. Since the goal was not so much perfection of technique, but an introduction to the tactical framework involved, I didn’t harp too much on mechanics. That said, most students had serious measure issues. Rather than remaining in spear measure and using the length of the weapon in the counter, people stepped aggressively into measure and tried to butt with the four inches of butt protruding out from their hand. Aside from being a weak blow, it simply doesn’t make use of the tactical advantage offered by the spear. On the bright side, it means I still have work!
In fact, measure was *the* major issue throughout the spear portion of the curriculum. For most, it was brought about by their too-wide grip on the spear, which brings them closer to their opponent due to a psychological trap. Most people seem to want to fence with their spear tips touching, or just within reach of one another. Aside from the obvious tactical implications of this that allow your opponent to gain control over your weapon before even initiating an attack, it makes you close distance, since when your grip is spaced wide, the point is more drawn back, which brings you closer to keep your tip in contact. This became clear when students were having trouble performing a thrust to one line, withdrawing, then thrusting to another line. They got “jammed” up, and couldn’t change lines adequately. there were some other issues going on as well, but that was a major component – one that we will need to work on next time. Again, I didn’t harp too much on this and let them discover the problems on their own, since the goal, pedagogically speaking, was to instil the mechanics of the attacks, the various parries and point control. We’ll go into more depth in another round of spear in the new year.
After a quick stop for some water, we suited up for some loose play with the spear. Pedagogical goals were simple: try to put into practice what you’ve learned; form an introduction to controlled bouting in a limited environment; make use of the spear’s length and practice point control; have fun. The rules reflected this: no butt strikes (for safety reasons more than anything else – an uncontrolled butt strike could knock someone silly with a fencing mask, and since there are quite a few newbies, this is a real risk), no grappling (stay in spear measure and control measure, practice you point placement), and first blow counts for three points in a five point bout. This last one emphasises the importance of initiative and the first blow, as well as properly defending to prevent starting down 3 points.
The bouting was spirited and fun, with again some fine displays by students. Part way through, I decided it was time to play “king of the hill”, so the winner got to stay in the centre. Sébastien put on a fine display, and finally ceded his place because of exhaustion! Kudos to everyone else as well, well done.
Bouting was followed by the inevitable pub visit, where we enjoyed fine company among friends and companions in arms. I thank you all once again for your company and your confidence in me.

Spear classes – November 16 & 23

The past two weeks have been focused on the spear, what Greg Mele refers to as the “common method” of Italian spear fighting, as opposed to the “dueling” method that is represented by Fiore dei Liberi’s short section. This is the first time I include the spear in the novice/apprentice curriculum, and it was certainly an eye opener. I always appreciated it as a pedagogical tool for learning to deal with the thrust and point-on guards, but it’s much more than that.

Using the spear as an introduction to the principles of fencing and fencing theory will now be a standard part of the curriculum. Furthermore, using the spear as an introduction to light freeplay was a resounding success.  Using rubber-tipped spears and restricting grappling makes for some really clean play, and even the novices shone against some more experienced players – they actually applied what they had been taught, and to marvellous effect.

The spear is an excellent tool for illustrating the openings (L/R, H/L), lines (inside/outside), closing said lines, changing lines, developing attacks, and using feints or provocations. We went through the basic parries with the spear (inside/outside, low line parry) and the infamous entering with a butt strike when the points go wide. Several set-plays were shown and practised, and after the second week of spear training, I let them loose on one another to see what could happen. The experiment’s results were a net positive, and as I said earlier in this post, I will be repeating the experience.

So, you heard it here first. Spear is now an official part of the Novice/apprentice curriculum. It will *not* be a requirement when testing for rank, but rather will be used as a pedagogical tool to bridge into longsword from the wrestling and dagger portions of the curriculum.

Stay tuned as this coming week we will be focusing on Fiore’s poste and their use as it applies to the spear. I should probably get photos too!

Fundamentals class 26/10/2011

Sorry if these aren’t necessarily in order, but I’m going back through my notes to see which classes I’ve failed to note for posterity.

This week’s class was a continuation of the dagger material. we had previously seen the core first remedy master plays, and will next be moving into the third master remedies. As usual, class begins with a warm up.

First drill: a simple dagger moulinet

  1. Pass forward and attack mezani dritto
  2. Mezani roverso with an acressere
  3. Pass back and shift grips to a forward grip to stab from below with a pass
  4. Pass back shifting grips again and step forward with a straight fendente.
  5. Recover to the beginning and repeat.

I noted the “five things” to do against a dagger, mentioning that while we practise without their inclusion, strikes should be understood as forming an integral part of what we do. Incidentally, if anybody knows of a way to integrate striking into our practise without causing one another brain damage, I’m open to hearing it.  Of course, wearing some tindill masks would help immensely, but for those in simple fencing masks, I guess control will have to suffice.

We then did a review of last week’s techniques: Disarm, ligadura mezana, advanced students with strikes after first iterations (masks, please!)

Following this, we performed the backward takedown from dagger grab. As is my wont these days, particular focus is on the mechanics and breaking structure. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Companion attacks mezani dritto.
  2. Player covers, stepping in with an accressere and attacking the weapon hand close to the wrist.
  3. Grip the wrist and bring his weapon hand back to your body, working from a position of strength rather than from an elongated position. This has the added benefit of drawing his weight further onto his front leg, unbalancing him.
  4. As you step through behind his leg, keep him unbalanced by drawing his arm out. You want to attack the leg on which his balance resides, while preventing him from regaining it. One way to do this is by bringing your hand to your waist, which will pivot back as it turns with your step.
  5. Break his balance with your other hand, using a wave principle (moving up, then down), use leg as fulcrum for throw. When stepping behind his leg, keep weight on toes, and plant foot when throwing to remove what’s left of his resistance and balance.

The figure four lock to the inside of the elbow figured next.

  1. Companion attacks mezani dritto
  2. Player covers, stepping in with an accressere and attacking the weapon hand close to the wrist. The Companion present a bent elbow.
  3. Reach behind his elbow to the inside. as you reach around to grasp your left wrist or forearm, pull his arm down and towards you. The point of his elbow should be firmly ensconced against your sternum, where you are strong.
  4. Step through using the hips to drive the takedown.

Next was the third remedy master introduction – notably the cover and disarm using the same principle as the mandritto cover.

  1. Companion attacks roverso with an acressere.
  2. Cover the attack, stepping in and attacking the wrist.
  3. Roll your hand over and grip his wrist.
  4. Twist the arm as you draw your arm back into yourself, prying the dagger loose in the process. Make sure the dagger lies across your forearm, otherwise this doesn’t work.

This segued nicely into the “canonical” disarm done with two hands:

  1. Companion attacks roverso.
  2. Make cover with an acressere.
  3. Draw his arm back against you by the wrist as you step forward and into his arm. Volta stabile to your right to unbalance him.
  4. Twist his arm, elbow up and pass your left arm over his elbow. Continue to draw his arm up into your armpit as you sink your weight by bending at the knees.
  5. With your left hand, strip the dagger from his grip by opening it towards the little finger. Continue to apply pressure to the elbow
  6. Encircle his arm with your left arm, holding the dagger.
  7. Let go with your right arm – remember to keep the lock on – and transfer the dagger to your right hand.
  8. Feed the dagger back to him.

We ended practise with the armbar against the roverso.

  1. Cover the attack by stepping into it.
  2. Place your left hand against his elbow.
  3. While twisting his wrist with your right hand, strike to his elbow with your left.  Careful! This is practise! Using a slight up and down motion to aid this movement helps immensely, and if it fails, brings you to the chiave forte or lower key.
  4. Step forward and along the line formed by his feet, loading his weight onto his rear leg.
  5. Volta stabile to your right, driving the takedown with your hips. applying pressure to his elbow, drive the point of his shoulder to the ground. Keep it tight to yourself and don’t allow any “wiggle room.”
  6. Control it on the ground by continuing to apply pressure to the elbow, which in turn locks up the shoulder. Trying to roll out either direction should either place pressure on his elbow or his shoulder, depending on the direction he tries to roll.

We ended with the dagger “poste dance.”

End with poste dance.
Next week: Third master review (cover and takedown), collar throw and rear takedown (ignoring dagger, gambarola), dagger grappling (from clinch).

Companion class, 14/11/2011

Along with the wrestling curriculum, I’ve been working on upping two other aspects of our practice: tactical considerations, in particular entering, and spada a una mano. Of particular interest to me is reconstructing a single sword method for Fiore that resembles Fiore, and is more than just the universal parry we see in the relevant section. In regards to this, it means we need to look at cutting, entering (a particularly thorny issue, given the measure difference between 1h and 2h sword) and a slew of techniques derived from the largo plays. we also need to condition our troops to the 1h sword so that they don’t tire out after 15 minutes and also to prevent injuries. Therefore we began with some strength-building exercises:

Strength building exercises and warm up:

Arm rotations, forearm rotations, wrist rotations, hand clenches.

Next some cutting drills, particularly fendente, for which I’ve decided to adopt largely Roland’s mechanic, but done with a pass. It is terribly difficult to describe, but centers around dropping the hand to chest level to get the sword moving, then casting the point forward around the balance point. I find this does a few things: covers the line nicely, while covering your hand; requires very little actually force from the wrist and elbow; is fast and while less powerful than a swinging blow, is tactically superior. Yes, for those of you who’ve done this with me, it is a departure from before, where I was advocating more swinging blows to save your elbows and wrists, done properly, this cutting mechanic is superior – at least until I change my mind again.

Next up:

Inside and outside moulinets. (aka moulinet and strammazone or simply inside and outside tutta volte)

Solo cuttting drills:

Simple cutting drill: fendente, around balance point, claiming center, lead with sword, tighten grip, etc.

Compound cutting drill: Fendente, follow up with thrust or slice using a gathered step.
Compound cutting drill: Fendente, thrust, follow up with moulinet to roverso with a pass and recover to Porta di ferro mezana..

Rolling cut drill:

  1. Begin in di donna on the right, cut to center
  2. Strammazone to a roverso to longa
  3. Raise hand, inverting sword pommel up, cutting around mandritto ending in cinghiale
  4. Cut falso to di donna

A second cutting drill:

  1. Di donna to center,
  2. Moulinet to a roverso down to porta di ferro
  3. Cut sottano dritto to left finestra
  4. Quickly invert the sword to cut sottano roverso to finestra
  5. Return to di donna.
A drill I skipped for time:
Poste drill – 

  1. Begin in coda lunga in back-weighted stance.
  2. Slip the right foot offline to the right and begin cutting with a rising true edge mezzano/sottano. Follow the cut with a pass of the left foot, finishing in posta di finestra.
  3. Drop the elbow into the vera finestra variation of posta di donna la destraza.
  4. Rotate the hand back into posta di donna la destraza.
  5. Pass forward with the right foot while cutting fendente mandritto, finishing in dente di zenghiaro.
  6. Make a volta stabile backwards, and lift the sword to a left posta di donna la sinestra.
  7. Pass forward and cut riverso fendente, finishing in porta di ferro mezzana.
  8. Lift the sword’s point into posta breve.
  9. Thrust into posta longa with a pass.
  10. Volta stabile to a back weighted stance and assume coda lunga. Repeat.

Another drill I skipped for time:
Thrusting drill – 
  1. Straight thrust from di donna, recover to porta di ferro
  2. Rising thrust to longa, recover to cinghiale
  3. Rising thrust to longa, recover to di donna
  4. Descending thrust to longa, recover to di donna la sinestra
  5. Thrust roverso from di donna sinestra, recover to di donna destra.
Yet another drill skipped

Compound drill: 
  1. Thrust from di donna to longa, wind to a descending thrust, strammazone to porta di ferro
  2. Rising thrust from PdF, volta to a roverso thrust, moulinet and retreat into cinghiale.
  3. From cinghiale, rising thrust to center, strammazone to fendente mandritto, retreat to di donna sinestra
  4. Thrust roverso from sinestra to longa, raise pommel and strammazone to cut mandritto, push a true edge slice, return to di donna.
I then discussed measure and entering briefly, but decided to go with the flow and continue working cuts and combinations.
Measure, points to consider.:
  • Methods of breaking measure: wait for him to break measure or enter under cover to provoke an attack.
  • Entering with a thrust to draw him wide. If he responds, bind and work from there, if not, kill him.
  • Enter with a cut to center line, claiming the center.

Drills we *did* do (finally!), concerned not just cutting combinations, but responses to certain attacks or defences. The first one was of course the ever-present sentimento di ferro drill.
  1. Cut to center, continue cut and retreat.
  2. Cut to center, parried, cut around.
  3. Cut to center, soft parry, slice through or thrust.
the next set of drills was meant to practise blade work, specifically the voltas around the blade on both the attacker’s and defender’s parts while maintaining sword measure, and then by entering in a true Fiore manner.  🙂

Paired drills:
Four responses (maintaining sword measure)
  1. Fendente to opponent, opponent parries true edge inside, moulinet and tutta volta to other side
  2. Opponent parries true edge from outside, yield and strammazone to other side
  3. opponent parries falso inside, yield and cut to head
  4. opponent parries falso outside, yield and cut to hand

Four responses (defending)
Against fendente mandritto, using the appropriate volta (moulinet or strammazone)
  1. True edge parry, volta to outside
  2. Universal parry (rising true edge), volta to inside
  3. Falso from PdF, yield and cut to outside
  4. Falso from cinghiale, yield and cut to inside

Four responses (entering)

  1. Fendente to opponent, opponent parries true edge inside, moulinet and tutta volta to other side with a pass, controlling the arm.
  2. opponent parries true edge from outside, yield and strammazone to other side, wrapping arm while entering
  3. opponent parries falso inside, yield and cut to hand, enter and control arm (wrap and throw, disarm)
  4. opponent parries falso outside, yield and cut to arm

Fundamentals Class 19/10/2011

Class began with a warm up as usual: laps around the gym, sprints, burpees, paired push ups, animal walks. Following this, I lectured a bit about the weapon, the context of its use, period clothing, the poste and grips.

This was followed by a simple flow drill for moving between the ligadure. The focus is on flow and proper mechanics. The drill goes like this:

  • The Companion attacks the Player with a hammer fist, like a mandritto dagger blow.
  • The Player covers, applying the ligadura mezana.
  • The Companion taps when pressure is sufficient, followed by attempting the counter.
  • In response to pressure, the Player extricates his arm, controls the wrist and applies an armbar.
  • Again, when pressure is sufficient, the hold is reversed, and the Player transitions to a ligadura soprana.
  • Once the Companion taps again, move into the ligadura di sotto/chiave forte.
  • Repeat.
This was followed by the dagger poste dance, available here:
The first remedy of dagger followed. The base play for this is the cover, and it incorporates its own scholar: the disarm. Proper execution requires an acressere into the attack, breaking his structure and halting it before it has time to develop. Note that you may not have time for this, but the cover is done the same way: attack the Companion’s wrist with your arm. Do not wait passively for it to arrive. First part of the exercise was focused solely on the cover and grab: a fundamental part of the remedies. Students were instructed to cover, then flip the hand and control the wrist. Second part was to have the Companion try to retrieve his dagger while you maintain control. It’s important not to game the results by not committing an attack. Make strong, committed attacks and then remove the arm.
The disarm was practised next. The mechanics involved for this drill were as follows:
  1. Make cover.
  2. Grip wrist.
  3. Pull the wrist back and into your hip, breaking structure.
  4. Volta stabile, passing the hand across the centerline and bringing the dagger into your right hand. This action liberates the dagger through the applied leverage to the dagger blade, as well as giving you a bead on the outside line.
  5. Stab him in the eye.
The ligadura mezana was practised next. What is interesting about this technique is that apart from distance (the disarm occurs at wrist distance, while the ligadura happens from a deeper cover), the mechanics are relatively the same.

  1. Make cover
  2. Due to the deeper cover, either because his attack was deeper or your cover was deeper, rather than circle his wrist to grip it, you will pass your arm into the crook of his elbow, while his wrist lies in your armpit or thereabouts.
  3. To ensure good structure, pull his arm back into your body, joining his arm to your hips and torso.
  4. Perform a volta stabile, setting the Companion up on his toes. Moving forcefully into dente di cinghiale will dislocate the arm.
  5. Maintaining pressure with an upward torsion of the elbow, step slightly along the line formed by his legs, and drive his shoulder into the ground – effectively “folding” him onto himself. This is a bad fall to take, so do so in a controlled manner. If you don’t feel comfortable, take it to unbalancing.
  6. Apply the lock on the ground.
  7. Stab him in the eye.
  8. At step 4, if you perform you may also step into his knee from the side to help the takedown. Please don’t do this to someone you want to continue practising with. Alternatively, performing a tutta volta will bring you alongside your partner. Step behind his knee and along the calf, effecting the takedown.
Next week will be a review and continuation of these plays before moving to the third remedy master.

Fundamentals Class 12/10/2011

Warm up included paired push ups. One person lies on top of the other, head to feet. Synchronising their movements, both do a push up. The person on top is thus doing a plank in the air, simultaneously working their core.  Let down, roll over, do it again. repeat across the room. This was followed by doing the simple wheelbarrow exercise with a partner.

We then played a cool game of Trollball, to everyone’s delight, just to get the juices flowing. This was followed by some medicine ball grappling, whereby a medicine ball is put between two people and they must grapple over it and attempt to remove it from the others’ grip.

Paired backward falling exercises ensued, after which the attributes required of a man at arms were explained along with Fiore’s four virtues. We also visited his “five things” to do when going against a dagger (which I believe applies to the whole philosophy of his art): Strike, bind, break, disarm and throw.

Grips stemming from the poste were visited, with drills set up so that students gained a grip and were to use the various poste to break them. I.e. a bear hug (frontale) is broken by using porta di ferro against the hips to create space. Against a back hold (porta di ferro), use a two handed face push (frontale), and so forth. The previous plays of abrazare were presented as exemplars of longa versus boar’s tooth.
Finally, a nice, relaxed rendition of the poste dance to round out the evening’s work.  Good work, folks.