I’ve decided to participate in Esfinges’ 30 Days of HEMA Study event. The basic challenge is simple: starting April 1st, every day for 30 days, I must read and study a historical, European fencing treatise for 15-30 minutes. There are some additional steps:
Day 1 – declare what treatise and/or section you are going to focus on.
Day 7 – explain why you chose it
Day 14 – quote a meaningful line and explain why it’s useful to you
Day 30 – post a drill to train a technique from that source, or pics/video of your interpretation
True to form, I’ve slightly nerded out and I’m ahead of where I strictly need to be for this. So this post is going to combine day 1 and 7. I’m also going to post various thoughts on my interpretation along the way as well as the “required” steps for the event. All posts should be taken as a “work in progress”.
Chosen Text: Vadi
My chosen text is De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi by Phillip di Vadi. Vadi was a late 15th century Italian fencing master. We have one and only one copy of his work, and know very little about him for certain. He was probably the Governor of Reggio and/or a councilor for the Duke of Ferraro. In either instance he would have been working for the D’Este family – the same family which Fiore de’i Liberi dedicated his works to the best part of a century before.
The book itself is dedicated to the Duke of Urbino. Guy Windsor, in Veni Vadi Vici, suggests that it may have effectively been an application to join the court – and apparently a failed one, as there is no record of Vadi ever being at the court of Urbino.
The text is primarily, although not entirely, dedicated to unarmored fighting with the longsword, although there are increasingly smaller sections covering other areas, such as: armored longsword, pollaxe in armor, lance, dagger and a random collection of arms. However to put it in perspective: Vadi dedicates more space to longsword than all other areas combined. Indeed, he himself says:
I only esteem the sword of two hands,
And this is the only one I use at need,
And of which the verse of my book sings.
Everything else does feel very much like an afterthought. Correspondingly, my main focus will also be on the longsword – this is my main weapon after all. But, to be fair, there is a lot of material on this topic. After a rather flowery introduction, Vadi has 15 text-only chapters focusing on differing aspects of the longsword, followed by by 3 illustrated chapters, covering some basic principles principles, 12 guards and 54 plays. Quite a lot to get through in just 30 days (OK, I have more like 40 because I started early). This is why I’m referring to the event as a “challenge”.
There are lots of reasons why I chose Vadi. Partly, it’s down to the fact that I already train Fiore, so Vadi is hopefully an easy next step. It also rounds out my “Italian” credentials, so I can justifiably claim I do “Italian Longsword” (when most people say this, they just mean “Fiore”).
But the main reason I chose Vadi is that there is relatively little about him published online – whether in text form or YouTube videos. Part of that is that there is relatively little written by him, but I think it is also a reflection of the common view from many people; that Vadi is plagiarised, or at best highly derived, from Fiore.
If you just look at the section on plays – and in particular, the non-longsword plays – you can really see where this view comes from, as there are some similarities that are just weird if they are not directly copied from Fiore. For instance, note the play on the right. How often do you really think two sticks vs spear really comes up? Certainly there isn’t any other master I’m aware of that covers this particular pairing of weapons. When you add the close geography, and the likely link to the D’Este family, it seems clear that Vadi copied at least some things from Fiore.
In general though, I think this impression is a little unfair on Vadi. One thing that struck me when I flicked through the book some months back is that whilst some things feel very similar, there are definitely aspects that feel very different. The below image shows the first two guards in Vadi’s book – on the left, mezana porta di ferro forte (strong middle iron door) and on the right posta di donna (guard of the lady).
Both of these names could be lifted straight from Fiore. Other the qualifier of “strong” on the first guard, the names are both names of Fiore’s guards. However, the actual positions shown are entirely absent. In both, the sword is held over the lead foot – something not present at all in Fiore. Guards or Posta are absolutely fundamental to any sword fighting system – they teach you how to move – so if the guards are fundamentally different, how can the two systems be the same?
This has given me a vague feeling that there are more differences than we really know between the two authors, that I hope to explore over the next month. Indeed, I generally have a sense that we’ve missed a trick with Vadi. I’ve previously played around with mezana pora di ferro forte with a degree of success. But this hasn’t been serious scholarship… mostly just “that looks cool I wonder what happens when I use it”. The Esfinges challenge is the catalyst to me taking a proper look at Vadi, and seeing if there isn’t something more to it than most of us have given him credit for.
Who knows, I might even think of something no one has considered yet – which is the advantage of going with something that no one really studies!
Stay tuned for future updates.
(Credit and thanks for all translations in this post go to Guy Windsor, with additional thanks to Wiktenauer for hosting it freely and publicly online and images taken from scans by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma)