One of the confusing features of Vadi for anyone who has studied Fiore is that many of the guards share names between the two authors. However, in most cases, the similarity of name does not usually come with a similarity of guard and style. Vadi’s Posta di Donna is a good example of this. Whilst both are very effective “default guards”, in the sense that if you have nothing better in mind you can’t go too wrong by adopting it, their position and consequent use is strikingly different.
This guard has very quickly become one of my favorite guards, as it has a number of interesting features that make it good both defensively and offensively. In this article, as well as the practicalities of how to hold it, I go through some of the uses and weaknesses.
One of the things that I try to draw out in this guard are the more surprising elements of its use. For those that fight me regularly, there are some nuggets that I hope you will be able to exploit when we face each other – do tell me if it’s helpful. I’m keen to move beyond “this works because it’s weird and confusing” and get to “this works because it is good”.
Holding the Guard
I mentioned in Principles of Vadi’s Guards a few features of his guards, in general, that apply here.To recap:
- Body position should be side on to the opponent
- The sword should be held firmly on one side of the body, not in the centre
- The sword should be close to the body and not too wide
- Each guard has an opposite number with the other leg leading and sword on the opposite side
All of these apply to this guard. It is held with the sword held vertically over your front leg. Your shoulders should be twisted slightly to be in line with your legs (i.e. if your left leg is your back leg, your left shoulder should be further back than your right shoulder). Your body should be largely behind your sword, keeping you protected. Either leg can be forward, giving two minor variants of the same guard.
Generally speaking, this is a good versatile guard for attacking and defending in. You can easily throw a fendente (downwards cut) to either your mandritto (forehand) or reverso (backhand) sides. Likewise, volante (horizontal cuts) and rota (rising cuts) can also be thrown to either side, as well as, of course, a punta (thrust). In short: any of the 7 strikes is possible from this guard, although some are easier than others. Interestingly, Fiore makes the same claim about his posta di donna* although I’m not sure it’s true in Fiore’s his case. Defensively, as you’ll e below, it is also very strong to either high opening making it tricky to get around if you want a deep target, although read on for some tips to get around it.
Beyond this general versatility, a really interesting feature of this guard is that its strongest defence and strongest attacks are on different sides. If you imagine the typical Fiore posta di donna* (or the German Vom Tag), the sword is on the right and the left leg is leading. You are closing down attacks on your high right opening, and you are best able to make attacks high and to your right. This version of posta di donna, by contrast, closes down attacks on one side (right, as shown) but because of how your feet and body are positioned, attacks on the other side with a passing step are easiest. This is, I think, entirely intentional and has numerous interesting consquences. In particular, this makes a for an easy, fast and relatively safe cut to an opening that often surprises your opponent.
Vadi doesn’t actually tell us much about using this guard explicitly. As is his way, we get an image (above) and a cryptic couple of lines ( below).
“I am the guard of the woman, and I am not vain,
I conceal the length of the sword.” – 16r, Guy Windsor Translation
The first line is more or less just naming the guard and doesn’t tell us much. The second, however, is intriguing. Sure enough, I have found in sparring that opponents often misjudge my distance particularly when striking from this guard.Why is that? Here’s one theory:
“Vadi’s statement that it hides the length of the sword is interesting, as it apparently shows the sword clearly. But he is relying on an unfortunate aspect of the human visual system that makes it very hard to translate vertical measures into horizontal one. It is actually hard to see how far your opponent can reach in this position.” – Guy Windsor, Veni Vadi Vici
Maybe this is all or part of the story, but I have an alternative theory, which hinges on the feature I mentioned above: that this guard is unusual in that your strongest side for attacking is the one opposite your sword. My opponents seem to generally be expecting an attack from the sword side when I use this guard, using an advancing step. Instead, when you use a passing step and attack from the opposite side, your distance is significantly increased.
Another possibility is that your sword is held over your lead foot. This makes it probably 20 centimeters at least further forward than it would be if it was chambered over your shoulder. If you’re used to fighting someone using more conventional guards, a measurement of distance from where the sword is – rather than the body – would lead to you underestimating distances quite significantly as well. Even if you don’t misjudge the distance in terms of overall reach, you have less time to react as the sword is closer to you.
Whatever the explanation, my experience definitely agrees with Vadi’s statement. Something about this guard messes with people’s perception of your distance, and you often find yourself able to strike in a way that surprises them. Most first intention strikes against skilled opponents shouldn’t land, but I often find a mandritto fendente sneaks through when thrown from the left side variant.
There are three points I want to make about the defensive uses of this guard. First of all, rising to the guard is itself a parry in Vadi. Several of the plays seem to be precisely from the circumstances that someone has defended using this guard, so despite the fact he never explicitly states it, I feel the use of this in defence is justified. The benefits of this as a parry are that the guard remains very close to the body. In general, Vadi is at great pains to remind us time and time again that we should be making as small movements as possible. The close defence means that if you react to a feint you remain in a good position to defend.
The gif above, as well as showing a reaction to a feint, shows how easy it is to defend if someone attacks to your sword side. Minimal movement is required to defend, and you are left on the inside of your opponent’s sword with a clear and easy counter attack.
It is equally easy to defend if they attack to the deeper opening, over your back foot. A simple twist of the body brings your into a guard that resembles Fiore’s Back Cross. Again, countering from this guard is easy.
In general, the guard is very effective at setting up the circumstances for quick and effective counter attacks, which (I believe) are a prominent feature of Vadi’s system.
I have found one weakness in particular for this guard, and I’ll sum it up simply: thrusts. This might just be me, this might be a weakness of the guard – it’s hard to pick this apart when you’re the only person you know doing a system. However, time and again, I find that thrusts manage to get around or strike through my defence when using this guard.
Although I don’t have a gif to show it, legs and hands are also a common target. Because (as mentioned above) both of your upper openings are trivial to defend, this means the lower opening becomes tempting. We all know how to deal with these in theory: slip the leg and go for the head. In practice, it’s never quite so simple unless you’re very light on your feet. Hands can be defended reasonably well again if you’re quick, but fast sniping hits to these shallow targets should be watched for.
- This is a good versatile guard, strong in attack and defence
- Watch out – distance is tricky with this guard
- I’m probably going to attack from the opposite side you think I am
- If I defend with this expect a counter attack
- Thrust at me: I’ll probably cock up the defence
- Legs and hands are somewhat vulernable and are a common target
Have you fought with or against this guard and think I’ve missed something? (Good or bad?) Please let me know in the comments below.