Vadi’s system focused on fighting in a duel

In a recent Facebook thread I made the claim that one difference between Vadi and Fiore is that Vadi’s system is more focused on fighting in a one on one dueling context, where as Fiore’s system has greater thought about the situation of fighting multiple opponents.

Understandably, I was asked to justify this claim. As the answer is long, I figured a blog post would beat a Facebook comment. However, as this post has been written entirely on the phone, off the top of my head whilst catching a train back home from the ass end of nowhere, it might not be up to my usual polished standard, so please bear with me.

First up, let me caveat my claim slightly. Both Vadi and Fiore care about both dueling and multiple person fighting. However:

  1.  Vadi is more focused on 1vs1 over multiple opponents
  2. Fiore’s system and advice better lends itself to multiple opponent fighting
  3. The low guards in the two systems in particular demonstrate this well

This claim is a little weird. It’s weird because only one of these two Italians promises to explain how to defeat multiple opponents in his introduction and then goes on to fulfill that in the main text. The master that does that is, of course, Vadi.

His advice, however, is somewhat lacking:

And so you will not be shamed, 
Avoid fighting more than one
Who makes against the other one the reed-pipe.

If force constrains you to contend
With more than one, then keep this in mind,
Take a sword that you can really use.

Choose a weapon that is light, not heavy,
So it is easily controlled
And you are not given difficulty by the weight.

At need you can take another way,
And you leave the thrust and employ
Other blows to return here,

As you will hear in my text.

(Vadi, end of Chapter 4)

That’s it. The advice boils down to three principles for fighting more than one enemy.

  1. Don’t. Seriously, just don’t. But IF you MUST do it…
  2. Keep your sword in motion
  3. Don’t thrust

The advice actually runs on the same lines as a plethora of Italian fencing masters (see this excellent article by Pim Terminiello on this topic). But it’s not exactly a huge body of knowledge, like you see in arts that really focus on this like Jogo do Pau. 

By contrast to Vadi, Fiore says nothing explicit on the topic. The only place I’m aware of that depicts something like this situation is from the sword in one hand:

However the text describes fighting them one by one, meaning it’s hardly clear cut – but we’ll come back to this example later.

Why then do I think this? 

Partly, this is due to Vadi’s advice on sword length (yes I promise this is relevant). The single most quoted aspect of Vadi is the advice he gives that your longsword should come to your armpit, which he goes into at length in chapter 2. Later in chapter 4 he reiterates the point that sword size is relative:

Understand my sentence well,
A big man should have a long sword,
And a little man should have a short one.

All nice and clear and consistent for a change. Of course four paragraphs later he says:

Also understand well this other thing,
The sword that is longer is deadly,
You cannot play with it without danger.

Make sure they are of equal measure,

This is frustrating. Clearly, the only way I can have the right sword for my height AND have the same length sword as my opponent is by only fighting opponents exactly the same height as me (historical evidence for height category based tournaments maybe?). In the unlikely circumstances of a tall or short opponent, what do you do?

Luckily, there is some clarity two paragraphs earlier:

Make it so the swords are always sisters
When you come to fence with someone
And choose the one you want from them.

Do not give advantage of the sword to anyone
You will be in danger of being shamed,
And this is something to be followed by anyone.

This advice says that you make sure the swords are the same – and the length to suit you – when you can  choose the sword. There is basically only one circumstance in medieval Italy where you get to choose the weapon both you and your opponent use, and every translation highlights this: when you are the challenged party in a duel. 

This conclusion is further strengthened by an analysis of their low guards when paired with their advice on footwork.

Vadi makes much of how his footwork is new and special. I won’t deal with whether this is true here, but want to focus on the below quote.

And if you wish to appear great in the art,
You should go from guard to guard,
With a slow and serene hand,
With steps that are not out of the ordinary

Vadi, Chapter 10

I don’t think this is just talking about transitions between low guards, but it is pertinent. Vadi’s four low guards all have a very distinct and specific sword angle, with the sword pointing at around 1-2 o’clock relative to the body (i.e. towards a person in  front of you). The result of this is that when you walk normally whilst holding the sword at this angle you will move through all 4 guards naturally: moving from guard to guard with ordinary steps. This only works if your opponent is in front of you.

Moving to  Fiore, at the start of his section on guards he explains footwork:

 And from each guard you can make a “turn in place” or a half turn. A turn in place is when without actually stepping you can play to the front and then to the rear on the same side. A half turn is when you make a step forwards or backwards and can switch sides to play on the other side from a forwards or backwards position. A full turn is when you circle one foot around the other, one remaining where it is while the other rotates around it.

Fiore, Getty 22r

Add this advice to the sword position on Fiore’s low guards. The relevant guards have a vastly different  angles of swords. Consequently, the relevant “turn in place” or volta stabile described above means that simply by shifting your feet, whilst keeping three sword still, you can switch between his low guards. However, this only holds true if you are also changing the direction you are facing. If you add on to the mix the single handed guard we saw above, this gives you the ability to turn to any direction and end up in a guard under Fiore’s system – a feature only relevant if you are fighting more than one person.

This, roughly, is why I think that Vadi is much more focused on fighting one on one than his predecessor. I don’t consider the matter closed or water tight  – neither of them have felt the need to weigh in on this so we’ll never know. However, there is a good range of evidence to back up my claims laid out above.