Review of the THOKK ArmorPads

I’ve recently acquired a set of THOKK armour pads for use within my Gajardoni Challenge Jacket‎. As I proceeded to more or less immediately take them to a tournament, I suspect I am the first – if not the only – person to have fully put them through their paces at this stage, so I thought a brief review might be of interest.

What are they?

The THOKK armour pads recently came out as a modular system for adding additional protection to your HEMA gear, targeted to specific places that need it, without seriously impacting mobility. They are made of a viscoelastic foam, which means they are light and flexible yet still protective. You can use them to augment existing jackets/trousers and other protection by adding them to specific areas you are concerned about. The pads come in 4 styles: ghost, tournament, joint and chakram. Hovering over the images below will show you which is which.

The pads are not currently on general sale at time of writing. THOKK released a small batch of pads for people who pre-ordered them. The pads will come on general sale when his shop is fully up and running, in the near future. For the latest information and more details about the product head on over to THOKK’s Website.

Review

I took the pads through a trial by fire. They arrived on Wednesday, I put them in my jacket Thursday before flying, tested the‎m in free sparring on Friday and entered a tournament on Saturday. The tournament in question (and the sparring) was Swordfish – not exactly a light tournament. By this point, I’ve used the ArmorPads in about 4 hours of light sparring, 10 hours of intense sparring and 5 tournament fights.

For transparency, I’ll add that Dario – the owner of THOKK – is a friend of mine, but I am not affiliated with THOKK in any way.

Configuration

My main interest in these is for arm protection. For many people, the combination of equipment we wear makes it difficult or impossible to hold guards like ochs or fenestra on the right. This is much worse if you study Vadi, as there are two guards (Vera Fenestra and Sagitaria) that have this issue, both of which are key parts of the system. Finding suitable protection that doesn’t restrict movement is a key challenge for me and I have literally spent hundreds of pounds with various iterations of equipment to try and solve this. Previously I was using Neyman arm guards, Koning gloves and a Gajardoni jacket. My goal was to replace the Neyman’s with ArmourPads for the arm guards, as well as replaceing some of the stiff padding that comes with the Gajardoni jacket.

After trying several configurations, I ended up settling on using two ghost pads side by side for the forearms, the joint pad on the elbows and a tournament pad for the upper arm. The image on the right shows  how the ghost pads were laid out‎  – the joint pad is also just visible. The image on the left shows the tournament pad for the upper arms. The joint pad doesn’t cover fully around the elbow and so I used my old SPES elbow cups on top of this for additional protection.

I should state that this was against Dario’s advice, who thought it better to use a tournament pad for the forearms. However, I could not fit my arm into the jacket with a tournament pad and a ghost pad. I felt that the coverage of a tournament pad alone was insufficient, as it would only protect about ½ the arm. Two ghost pads – whilst lighter than a tournament pad – leaves only a very small gap on the inside of the forearm that is virtually impossible to hit, and smaller than some people experience with Neyman arm guards in any case.

Protection

Given Dario’s advice, and the fact that forearms tend to get hit more than the upper arm, I was most concerned about the ghost pads going into the tournament. I needn’t have been – the pads thoroughly did their job. I was far more aware of arm hits than normal due to being interested in testing them and, I can confirm, despite being hit on the arm at least a dozen times in the tournament and/or sparring, I didn’t get a single bruise.  The level of protection of the ghost pads is at least as good as the Neyman arm guards, which is a little worse than the SPES guards I had before that. Keep in mind that the ghost pad is less protective than the tournament pad or joint pads are due to the shape

In general, I did not take a single bruise or injury through any place where the ArmourPads covered, despite definitely being hit on them.

Mobility

As stated, protection is at least as good as the Neyman arm guards I had previously. However, mobility is a vast improvement. I took the video below to demonstrate.

As you can see I’m moving pretty freely in all directions. Not only can I get to high-right guards with crossed arms, I can do it at speed. Actually, maneuverability is even better than this video implies. As the pads warm up, they shape to your body better and get a bit looser, so after a few minutes wearing the jacket you hardly notice them. If fitted correctly, once they are warm they are no more restrictive than the jacket itself. This video was taken whilst the pads were still cold.

They are also – as promised – virtually invisible. The image shows me just after my first fight. If you squint you might be able to see he pads in the forearms – if you are looking for them. If you follow THOKK’s Facebook Page you might have seen him post a competition offering a reward for anyone who spotted them. No one ended up collecting it.

IMG_20171104_112925

Fitting

Fitting the pads for the first time and understanding how to place them takes time. The Gajardoni jacket I recently got is perfect for working with the ArmourPads. It is made in such a way that any point of the inside can have Velcro stuck to it, which is pretty cool. When the ArmourPads arrived they had Velcro already attached to them. However, the hooks that come with the pads aren’t particularly strong. This is both good and bad. It makes it easy to make minor adjustments to the positioning, especially after you have already put it on, ‎but harder to take off and put on the jacket without knocking things out of place.

I tried adding additional Velcro but the self adhesive tape I used didn’t really stick to the pads and has all come off – I’m not sure if this is an issue with the tape or the pads (I used the Velcro branded tape so definitely avoid this one if you try the same). I’m now using them without any additional Velcro and it’s mostly fine, although I usually need to make minor adjustments before putting on the jacket, this only takes a few minutes. Once you’re wearing it, the Velcro combined with your body keeps them in place well.

If you don’t have a challenge jacket, the pads will be a bit trickier to fit. You’ll need to sew or glue Velcro in place or find some other way of fitting them. THOKK has guides for this to help on his website. Definitely it will require some minor hacks to your equipment to make it so the pads can fit, though.

The fiddly nature of fitting these is, I think, unavoidable. Ultimately this is a tool for customising your kit and tailoring your protection to suit your needs, so you should expect to need to do some work to get it there. Even with the challenge, factor in a couple hours to play about with position and configuration until you are happy with it.

Once you know where it goes, you will still need to spend a few minutes extra tweaking things when you first put the jacket on or after washing things. This isn’t a significant draw back  – indeed it used to take me longer to put on the SPES arm guards by myself.

Conclusion

‎The short version of the review: THOKK ArmourPads are an excellent balance of protection and maneuverability, providing extra protection with virtually no restriction on movement. Fitting them requires a little work, patience and care – but no real special skills. They make it a little harder to get your kit on without knocking things out of place, but in general this is a price worth paying. I am completely satisfied with this for my arm protection, and highly recommend the ArmourPads to anyone wanting to augment the protection of their jacket.

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The Crown and the Lady

Earlier in the week, I made a pair of posts to HEMA International Discussion, each with an image of a guard, and asking people to say which side they thought the guard was on. As many realised, these were images of Vadi’s guards, corona and posta di donna. I’d like to thank everyone that responded – it was a fascinating mini experiment and brings some valuable lessons for interpretation in general and my interpretation of Vadi in particular. In this post I’ll explain some of the rationale behind why I did this and share some of the results.

What did I ask?

These images show the guards that I posted about. On the left we have Post di Donna (Guard of the Lady), and on the right Corona (The Crown). The guards are quite similar at least in appearance. The question I asked in both cases was: “which side of the body is the sword on, left or right?”

Judging by the general lack of consensus, neither image was particular clear. Given the importance of guards – particularly in Vadi’s system (as I have argued previously) – the difference is significant, as the guards give us the framework that defines every action of the system.

The images below show how I’ve been using these guards for the last two years.

I’ve shown these guards on the right, as the images from the original are. If you’ve read some of my previous posts (or you’re my student) you’ll know that I believe these guards can be held on either side – the crucial bit is that they’re held over the lead leg (so if it’s on the left, your left leg would be forward.

Under this interpretation, the major difference between the two is the height of the guard.

Why did I think this?

Like most people who study Vadi, I had prior experience with the earlier Italian fencing master, Fiore de’i Liberi. One of his guards is known as Posta Frontale ditta Corona* – The “frontal” guard called Crown. The images below show how they are depicted in the Pissani Dossi (left) and Getty (right) manuscripts. Note that they are over different legs but the sword is over the front leg in both cases.

I – and many others – saw in this a clear link to Corona in Vadi, and upon seeing a similar position and name assumed it was the same guard.  Posta di Donna, despite sharing a name with a Fiore guard, was obviously not a parallel, but the image seemed clearly over the front leg as well. It was fascinating to me to see several responses to the Facebook post using exactly the same reasoning for Corona.

The text – as with all of Vadi’s guards – didn’t give much hint to say anything otherwise, as for each guard he provides only two lines – one naming the guard and another (very) briefly describing a use for that guard.

What’s the problem?

As I said above, I’ve been using this interpretation for the last two years. I’ve become unhappy with it for several reasons.

The first is that it results in two very similar guards. I generally interpret guards dynamically, in the sense that I consider minor differences as irrelevant. This is because of their use not just as rest positions but as the start, middle and end positions for every action. If I’m using, say, posta lunga to defend, obviously it’s more important that the sword is at the correct height to block an incoming attack than it is to look identical to the book. The height difference between donna and corona is one that I would usually overlook as a minor variant in the guard, rather than an entirely new guard.

But the real revelation came through using these guards defensively, in two scenarios. Vadi gives us the following advice on parrying:

“When you parry the roverso, keep in front,
The right foot, and parry as I have said.
Parrying the mandritto,
Keep in front your left foot.”

(12r,  De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

There is some debate as to when this advice applies; I believe (for a range of reasons I won’t detail here) this is relevant for your initial parry from an attack from distance. Adding this to two further principles from Vadi – that actions should transition between guards, and that they should use the shortest movement possible – causes significant tension.

I’ll illustrate with an example. If I parry a reverso fendente (my attacker makes a downward cut from her left side), then following the above advice I will end up my old interpretation of posta corona or posta di donna, depending on the height of the cut. If she then follows up with an attack to my other side (a mandritto fendente) my options for parrying with the above principle of following a guard are either keep my feet stationary and move to posta frontal or swap feet and move to corona/donna on the left.

Both of these options violate Vadi’s principle of minimal movement – one by stepping when I don’t need to, one by drawing the hands back and leaving me less protected for a large movement. Neither, essentially, are ideal. The image below shows the move to frontal.

The second scenario assumes I have attacked someone with a mandritto fendente (downard cut from my right) and my opponent has defended and is now inside my sword. In the example below she takes the opportunity to counter with a thrust to the face.

bind_censored

What would Vadi do in this circumstance? Following the principles above: go to a guard. I have the same options as in the previous example, with the same criticisms as above. The further piece of evidence that something’s not quite right here is that Vadi does tell us which guard to use in this case – and that guard is corona.

“I am the crown and I am made master
Of binds I am found to be adept.”

(17r, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

Going to corona here – under the old interpretation – does very little to defend me and will in fact likely just result in her stabbing me slightly higher up in my face. I do not consider this to be a good option.

The simplest action with the least movement to keep me safe is, in both of cases, just to move my sword ~6 inches to the left. All of this lead me to feel like there was a “missing” guard – but before I concluded that it was time to kick in Vadi’s request to correct his book when required, I thought I’d look again at my interpretation of corona, and pay closer attention to the image. This made me realise that the sword position wasn’t nearly as clear cut as I’d first thought, and to question whether indeed the image showed the guard on the left or the right of the body,

 

The New Crown

A more detailed look at the image led me to believe that corona should actually be on the same side as the back – not the front – foot. Both guards should hold the sword in front of the use, but the key difference between them is not height but side of the body.

The biggest clue here is actually the elbow, which is at near right angles. This position is only reached if the sword is on the left. If the sword is pushed to the right of the body then the elbow and shoulder need to move across, and the elbow needs to slightly unbend. The image below demonstrates the different – on the left, the sword is on my left (back leg) and on the right image over my right. Compare it to the guard image and you can see the difference.

Left vs Right Crown.png

I think it’s important to note that even the photographs aren’t super clear about the side of the body the sword is on. In both cases, it is just inside my shoulder (i.e. the minimum position to defend me against a fendente). Interpreting from an image in the period where perspective was only just being formalised is tricky, but nothing in the text directly states one way or the other. However the elbow positioned combined with the issues I mentioned above have resulted in a change to my understanding of these guards: posta di donna is held in front of the body on the side of your lead leg, and posta corona is held in front on the side of the back leg.

In case you’re curious, the image below shows posta di donna over the lead leg, matching near exactly to the image.

pdd

Survey Results

I did a quick count of the responses on HEMA International Discussion. A reminder, that in both cases all I did was show an image of the guard and ask which side of the body they thought it was on.

Many people said neither and that it was in the centre. If those people also went on to say a side of the body as well I counted them for that side, as I don’t believe there are any centre guards in Vadi (see my post on the Principles of Vadi’s Guards for an explanation of why). The table below shows the results.

Side Corona Donna
Centre 9  0
Left 14 2
Right 18 11

Whilst donna was pretty solidly viewed as on the right, corona was heavily split across all options (I think if I had counted centre differently it would have won). Whilst I wasn’t attempting  to decide on the correct position for the guard by internet poll, I was curious whether other people were as unclear about the image as me – and this seemed to have proved true. While not changing my decision, this made me feel better about the mistake. The image is simply not clear at all. It was fascinating that people both fell into the same trap that I did – comparing to Fiore’s corona  – and used the same visual queues to come to my new conclusion.

Implications for interpretation

Personally, I find it quite ironic that I (who strenuously argue that Vadi is a distinct system from Fiore) fell into this particular trap. Whilst this difference is, I think, pretty significant for all 7 Vadi scholars around the world, I think there are also some lessons learnt here about interpretation in general.

We all come to the HEMA with preconceived notions – whether from previous martial arts, other historical masters or just general life. It’s best to closely examine these assumptions and make them as explicit as you possibly can, because that helps you to identify where your conclusions (and errors!) are caused by the assumptions instead of the text itself.

One of the best ways to combat this is to bring in alternative view points, whether that is other students looking at the text or other practitioners globally. In general, I feel that more and better peer review of each other’s interpretations would benefit us as a community greatly – something that is quite difficult if we only ever take a handle of classes from other instructors across the globe. I strongly believe getting better at sharing and commenting on interpretations will help us develop as a community.

The “Rotare” in tournament

A couple weeks ago I did something fairly crazy: I had two HEMA events in the same weekend. Shortly after I signed up to compete in the Reading chapter of the Wessex League, I was asked to teach at The Exiles 25th birthday event – The Cutting Edge. As they clashed, I decided I could compete on Saturday and then head straight to Sheffield to teach and compete on Sunday. Both events were incredibly fun and I’m glad I did it, but it was exhausting.

However, by sheer coincidence, during the Saturday tournament I successfully performed (almost) perfectly the technique that I was going to teach on Sunday, which of course gave me an incredible sense of satisfaction. Thankfully one of my club mates happened to capture that moment on his phone and, after posting to Facebook, I’ve been asked by a few people to explain what happened in more detail, so this post will do just that.

The Clip

The gif below is the image I posted to Facebook. I am the fighter in the red/yellow mask.

videotogif_2017.10.28_18.00.41.gif

There’s actually three elements of this that I covered in the class. Specifically:

  1. The approach
  2. The thrust
  3. The “Rotare”

I’ll break them down individually.

The Approach

During the approach I close rapidly with my opponent without ever leaving guard. The basic idea is to be able to move quickly whilst staying in a ready position at all times, in case you’ve misjudged the distance. Fundamentally this is achieved – like everything in Vadi – by moving between several guards at speed.

There are 4 low guards:

Left to right these are:

  1. posta di cingiaro di fora (left leg forward, sword on left)
  2. posta de denti cinghiare (right leg forward, sword on left)
  3. porta di fero piana terrena (left leg forward, sword on right)
  4. mezana porta di ferro forte (right leg forward, sword on right)

Note that to transition between these guards the hand position stays roughly the same as you swap the lead leg. This enables rapid movement without needed to worry about moving the hands – and hence can be used for rapid approach.

This feature is not described in the book as Vadi actually says relatively little about the guards apart from the need to stay in them at all time, and comes instead from experience.

The Thrust

Vadi has a love/hate relationship with the thrust. In brief, he tells us that the thrust is deadly, but we need to be cautious to ensure that we don’t get hit back when we use it.

“I am he that quarrels with
All the other blows, and I am called the thrust.
I carry venom like the scorpion.
I feel so strong, bold and quick,
Often I make the guards plough again
When I am thrown at others and confront them

By my harmful touch, when I join them.”

(9v, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

“If the thrust enters but does not swiftly exit,
It lets the companion strike back hard.”

(10r, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

He does not detail thrusting mechanic precisely anywhere in his book, sadly. However two principles he gives us are:

“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.”

(11r, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

And later:

“It is necessary that the sword should be
A great shield that covers all”

(14r, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

In summary: every action should be a transition from one guard to another, and the sword should be used to keep us defended at all times. Combined with his concern about being hit back, and we can deduce that we should thrust to one of three guards in a way that keeps us covered from the opponent’s sword.

From left to right these are:

  1. posta breve di spada longeza
  2. posta sagitaria
  3. posta lunga con la spada curta (destreza)
  4. posta lunga con la spada curta (sinestra)

These are shown as a rest position but turning any into a thrust involves simply extending the hands more.

Note that none of these guards are in the center. By being on one side, they allow us to follow Vadi’s prescription to stay behind the “great shield” of the sword. When thrusting, we opt to use whichever will keep us defended by best interfering with the opponent’s sword. The image below (from the same tournament) shows what I mean, using a higher posta lunga to defend against a fendente as I thrust.

FB_IMG_1509917008597.jpg

The “Principio Rotare”

Plan A was to stab my opponent in the face, but sadly he had other ideas and parried. The last bit of the play is after the parry I use the “Principio Rotare” or turning principle as plan B. So what is this principle? Thankfully Vadi tell us!

“So that you will understand and use
The system well, I wish to first make clear
The turning principle of the sword.
And with arms extended
Bring the edge to the middle of the companion.”

(10v, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

And there you have it: the Rotare. Nice and clear right? Er… maybe not. Thankfully, there are some other clues to help us work it out.

First, the section is titled “Ragione di meza spada” – roughly “the system of the half sword”. Half sword, in the context of Vadi and many other Italian sources, refers not to grabbing the blade but instead the portion of the fight when swords are crossed. Secondly, the section is littered with specific plays that he describes. I, and others, believe each of these is a specific application of the general principle of rotare.

The particular one used both here and in my class is this:

“Place yourself in the guard of the boar,
When you enter with the thrust at the face
Do not leave your point in the face,
Turn quickly a roverso fendente.”

(11v, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

The “turn quickly a roverso fendete” is the part where we execute the rotare. We are in the mezza spada because our thrust has been parried. Using the force of his parry allows us to cut effectively to the other side quickly without retracting our arms (“with arms extended”). This is, in it’s essence, the rotare.

Put this together with the above. Why are we in the guard of the boar? Because we approached rapidly in a low guard. How do we thrust to the face? If his sword is on his right – with posta breve keeping the sword between his sword and our head. At the point of being parried, our arms are extended, so we must execute “rotare” and bring our sword to the middle of the companion. Doing this with force requires us to use the strength of his parry to charge the blow – this, ultimately, is the rotare, or at least one version of it.

What’s different?

Here’s the play again so you can look at it in a new light without scrolling up.

videotogif_2017.10.28_18.00.41

There are two differences here to the canonical version described and that I taught. Instead of striking from the cingiare di fora I start in posta di donna (note: not the same as Fiore’s guard of the same name). This shares some features and is a perfectly fine guard to start from. In fact, you can do the same thing from almost any guard by varying whether you do a passing step or a lunge. Ultimately, the structure of Vadi’s system is best thought of as a number of principles and some example applications of the principles – this bit of the play follows all the principles perfectly and is just a slightly different application of them.

The one mistake I make that isn’t perfectly valid at the end is my final step. Vadi tells us in the same chapter:

“Making the roverso you will be helped,
Passing out of the way with the left foot,
Following with the right foot too,
Keeping an eye out for a good parry.”

(11r, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, Windsor Translation)

This should result in my right foot coming behind to allow me to retreat or attack again if the strike failed. In this case it didn’t cause issues, but this footwork would have been better (as I’d end in a better position) and more in keeping with the text.

Conclusion

I hope this has been an interesting breakdown of the action and my interpretation of vadi. One other thing to take away: this 4 second action took months of study, practice and drawing together of separate bits across the text. People often say “why don’t tournaments look like the text?” – which always irritates me. Most people would have seen this play and blinked and missed it. Almost no one apart from me would have spotted the bit I did wrong. Sometimes it’s the subtlest of details performed at high speed that make the differences between a successful play and a colossal cock up – so keep practicing and pay attention to the little details, and it will pay off in your fencing.

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.

Use of Vadi’s Posta di Donna

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.

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Fiore (left) vs Vadi (right)

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:

  1. Body position should be side on to the opponent
  2. The sword should be held firmly on one side of the body, not in the centre
  3. The sword should be close to the body and not too wide
  4. 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.

Versatility

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.

Opposite Sides

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.

Distance

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.

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I throw a mandritto fendente with passing step from a left-side posta di donna. My opponent misjudged the distance and the first blow lands.

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.

Defensive

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.

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I attempt to parry my opponent’s feint by rising to Donna. This leaves me in a good position for an easy defence to her actual cut.

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.

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My opponent attacks to the deeper opening as the sword is covering the outside. Defending requires minimal movement from the position

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.

Weaknesses

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.

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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.

In summary

  1. This is a good versatile guard, strong in attack and defence
  2. Watch out – distance is tricky with this guard
  3. I’m probably going to attack from the opposite side you think I am
  4. If I defend with this expect a counter attack
  5. Thrust at me: I’ll probably cock up the defence
  6. 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.

10 Tips for Reading a HEMA Text

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Cover of Vadi’s original manuscript

There have been several moments since I started fencing when I’ve noticed a massive increase in my abilities. One of these is when I first picked up a historical text and started reading it instead of just training it and following my instructor’s take on things.

Despite the fact that the fencing treatises are literally essential to HEMA (as in they are part of its essence) most practitioners don’t read the texts directly, getting their dose of the H aspect indirectly, through their instructor. There are lots of problems with this, but I think the most fundamental issue is that 2 hour highly physical training session are a poor medium for transferring conceptual knowledge about the structures, body mechanics and tactics of good fencing.

When I think about how to teach Vadi, often a lesson plan for a two hour training session will be based upon maybe 9 lines from the book. I’ve mapped out what a “complete” curriculum might look like, and think it impossible to really cover the book in less than 20 sessions. To be honest, even that requires skipping over some of the specifics, and probably minimises time reinforcing previously learned concepts. By the time you’re done, you will have forgotten concepts form the start, and never build a complete framework in your head if this is all you do.

Compare that you can read the book in a few weeks, and re-read more quickly it to cement the concepts in your mind, and you’ll see that reading is really a much better way of getting the conceptual framework necessary for understanding fencing in full. This won’t magically turn you into a brilliant, perfect fencer. What it does is give you the understand required to be able to analyse your fencing, and your opponent’s actions, and identify what the correct response should have been (often: the exact opposite of what your untrained instincts actually did). Reading, therefore, is an essential component of becoming a skilled HEMA practitioner.

However, it’s not easy. Reading a historical martial arts text is tricky at the best of times, and sometimes utterly baffling due to wide separations in centuries, languages, geographies and a complete lack of a common cultural context with the author. Reading these books is very different from reading a modern how-to manual, and you need to come at it from a different angle if you want to be successful. I was discussing this very issue with my club in the pub after training the other day, which inspired me to write a list of top tips that have helped me in working through Vadi.

You should take this article with a pinch of salt. I am not an expert in medieval history, or medieval manuscripts. I have thoroughly worked through one text and flicked through several others. The texts have a wide range of styles, content and clarity of expression. Generally the closer you get to the modern time the easier the manuscripts are to read, but this is not a hard and fast rule. So some of the tips below may not help you with whatever manual you are working with, but if even a few of them help you break the barrier of actually getting stuck in with a text, I think this post was worthwhile

1. Read through multiple times

Above I distinguished between manuals I had “read” (one) and “flicked through” (eight). Now, I read a lot, probably in the order of ~70 books a year. With a modern book, I will pick it up, start at page 1, finish at the end and put it down then forget about it. Some tougher, non-fiction books I might read specific chapters or go back and forth a little bit. When I say I’ve “flicked through” eight manuals, this is what I’ve done with those manuals.

With Vadi, I have read the longsword section in the order of 50 times or more. Some of the confusing sections must be over 100 reads. It did not make much sense to me on the first read through.

My general advice would be to read through the book 3 or 4 times before you start to really try to tackle it. This will give you a general picture of the system that will help you not get lost, and you might have picked up a few things, but you will still have a ways to go. When you read it again more carefully, things will start to click and you’ll begin making connections to other bits you read.

2. Read Slowly

You will not read a historical fencing text nearly as quickly as you are used to reading a modern work. Putting a description of a martial art to paper is hard enough at the best of times, but when you factor in that these texts are hundreds of years old, translated and not necessarily written in prose, you should be aware that you will not be able to comprehend the text if you read at your normal speed. Slow down, and don’t be afraid to read paragraphs multiple times before moving on.

There are some sections in Vadi (indeed, whole chapters) that took months of re-reading before I really felt I understood was going on. If progress feels slow it’s probably because you’re comparing it to your “normal” reading, which this isn’t. Don’t feel disheartened. It’s going slowly because it’s hard, not because you are bad at it.

3. Read confusing bits out loud

This was a bit of a surprise one for me, and might be Vadi specific. However, especially in the early texts, you should remember that most of the words are written as verse, not prose. Even with the translation, the natural rhythm is closer to the spoken rather than written word. This also helps to force you to slow down in your reading.

4. Make links between different parts

In Vadi, whilst each section nominally is on a particular topic, there are numerous examples where he seemingly repeats or even contradicts himself, or describes an earlier concept in a new way, with more detail or perhaps just emphasising something else. Really getting to grips with the concept will require you to think about parts that are conceptually close but in disparate places within the book. This same is true with Fiore, where  (for example) aspects of the dagger and wrestling sections are fundamental to the longsword. Don’t assume that just because something has a chapter with a title that there is only one place you will read about it. I believe that despite having an almost worthless chapter on “mezzo-tempo” actions in Vadi, the actions are described (better) in 3 other locations in the text. When combined with the section itself, this gives you some general principles and three actual examples to work with to try and extrapolate the principles and apply them in novel contexts.

5. Write notes

You will need to write notes as you try to puzzle things out. One of the best places for thi
s is on the text itself. In the case of Vadi, I madeimg_20161014_220636-copy a word document version of the text on Wiktenauer. This is an image of my printed copy of this document. As you can see, it has all of
my comments plastered over it (including an alternative translation to one of the sections). I find these immensely helpful when making links between sections of the book and to build my understanding slowly with every read through of a section.

If you’re going to make a copy like this, check the copyright information in Wiktenauer. It’s fine with most of them but not all, but Wiktenauer is very clear about what the copyright situation is on every piece of text or image.

 

 

6. Read with sword in hand

Whilst you can pick up a lot just be reading, you will get to sections that you just can’t make work in your head. Usually, the only way I can get it to make sense is by picking up a sword. This will result in a process of going back and forth from the text to waving my sword around in the air as I try to put the words on the page into motion. Having a partner can help but it’s not necessary. You can get a lot out of just seeing how your body moves to see if it makes sense.

An example of this for me in Vadi was with the guards and – specifically – with the pommel grip. It took me three or four times going back and forth between trying the guards and some cuts in the air, then looking at the text again to see how closely I matched, before I realised that I needed to hold a pommel grip to make the guards work. These things rarely click right away.

7. Work Backwards

This advice works particularly well for cases where you have an image and a few lines of text to describe the action. The main problem with this situation is that the image is often at an unknown point of time in the action, and the authors are not necessarily that clear about what precedes or succeeds that point in time.

To solve this, you will need to stand in exactly the position as depicted in the manuscript, and work backwards through the actions mentioned until you arrive at a starting point. Working forwards I tend to find that I end up in a position that isn’t quite right and doesn’t seem to quite work. This guarantees the end is correct and attempts to reconstruct it.

8. Try multiple theories

I have some bad news for you: the texts are not always (ever?) crystal clear. Some sections are genuinely ambiguous, in either the translation or the original. When you find sections like this, write notes on all your possible interpretations. Sometimes this can be solved by reference to other sections, careful re-reading or alternative translations. In other cases, test them all out with a friend to see which feels right.

9. Read the Translator’s Notes

It is likely that the text you have chosen was not written in your native tongue. Even if it was, it may have stylised writing and random spelling that means you are reading a modernised version of the original. This means you are probably working from a translated copy.

The start of every translated text I have ever read (not just for HEMA) begins with an introduction from the translator. Usually it starts with them telling you how no translation is perfect and you should really go read it in the native tongue. Assuming you don’t want to learn (e.g.) medieval Italian regional dialects, or would rather get started whilst doing that alongside, the translated copy is probably what you’ll have to go with.

However, the notes often detail certain key things that are ambiguous or tricky to translate, OR connotations that are present in the original language that get lost in translation. The notes will allow you to get some idea of the subtleties without needing to become an expert in a long dead language, and they can be really helpful.

In Vadi, the word “rota” is used to describe an upward blow. It also means “to turn” or “to rotate”. There is a whole chapter that the meaning changes entirely depending on whether you interpret it as referring to rising blows, rotating blows or (potentially) rising rotating blows. Indeed translators are split on how they describe this chapter. You need to be aware of these complexities if you are to understand the text.

10. Find multiple Translations

Part of the translator’s usual spiel is to tell you how they cannot translate without also interpreting the text. This means that multiple translations can, at times, appear very different. Having multiple translations can really help on tricky sections that don’t seem to make sense. Whether the alternative is more accurate or just a clearer way of expressing the same point, it is a useful tool.

I have three translations of Vadi. I’m not qualified to judge which is the most accurate, but from a clarity perspective I don’t believe any of them are “better”. They are, however, surprisingly different in both style and content for a variety of reasons. I’ve found that for most sections the translations are pretty close in content, with minor differences in style. However, in general, the more complicated or confusing a section is, the bigger chance there is that the translations differ dramatically in substance. Therefore I highly recommend working with multiple translations.

Why does this happen? Well, for a start, even reading medieval text is not trivial. One word in Vadi has been transcribed to Italian in Windsor as “fe” (makes) and as “se” (knows) in Rubolli and Porzio/Mele. These letters are written nearly identically in a medieval text – make your own mind up about who is right from the image here.

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The original text can also be ambiguous. In one line, Vadi states either that the Volante (a mezzani/mittelhau/middle cut) banishes fendente and thrusts or that it is banished by them. Unsurprisingly, the translations have differed on which they chose (and thankfully Rubboli marks that this *is* ambiguous so the laymen can understand why).

For an excellent description of some of the issues translators face, I highly recommend this article on translating the Paris version of Fiore’s manuscript. Whilst specific to a manual, many of these issues are faced throughout, and it’s good to have an appreciation of the hard work and dedication that is freely given by those working hard to translate these texts to modern languages.

Conclusion

I hope these tips have been useful to you. As I mention above, I make no claims to be an expert in this: but all of the above are things that I do and have found helpful in understanding Vadi from the text. If you find these help, I’d love to hear about it – and if you’ve got other top tips, please pop them in the comments below so that I can use them as well!

Principles of Vadi’s Guards

As I mentioned in my opening post, one of the single, most striking differences between Vadi and Fiore is the guards. A superficial glance at the two sets of guards could lead one to think they are quite similar. Both have 12 guards, for instance, and there are many names in common to in each set. Indeed, some of the guards match perfectly in name and form and can be basically considered to be the same guard.

However, I think this superficial reading would be a mistake. The similarities between names should be largely ignored – Fiore’s posta di donna has more in common with the German Vom Tag than Vadi’s guard that shares a name.

Vadi also has a number of unique features in his guards that, I believe, make his system fundamentally different to Fiore. Indeed, some of the features of his guard system are – to my knowledge – unique to any system of medieval longsword. Curious? Read on…

What is a guard?

Before we get to Vadi, I just want to be clear about what guards are. They could be:

  1. A ready position, to stand waiting to attack or block
  2. A position to close a line of attack
  3. A start position for an action
  4. A transition point as part of an action (e.g. a strike itself)
  5. An end position for an action

Indeed, all of the guards in either Fiore or Vadi are several of these – typically a ready position, and 1 or more of points 2-5. Any and all actions which you do should start and finish in a guard position, going through a trajectory (perhaps another guard) at the proper speed and angle between the two – whether that action is a step, an attack, a block or just a change in guard to gain an advantage.

Vadi gives us a lovely turn of phrase to explain this:

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, 11V)

Anecdotally, I find strong evidence for this in all weapons and systems, not just Vadi or longsword. I often find myself in situations where someone wants to spar with me using a weapon that I have very little clue how to use. My first (and often only) question is usually: “What are the guards?”  This is usually all I need to perform adequately with an unfamiliar weapon (general principles about distance and timing and decent reaction times and fitness don’t hurt there either). This is because learning the guards a system has is effectively learning how to move within that system.

In practice, of course, it’s not always so simple and your knee jerk reaction will usually take you out of guard -I am still often falling back to Fiore’s guards when under stress. But then…. that’s why we train.

Principles of Vadi’s Guards

Beyond the general principles of guards, Vadi gives us some specific advice that seems to apply to all of his guards, but wouldn’t necessarily generalise beyond his system. I list these in decreasing order of confidence in my conclusions.

And follow then as the saying goes,
Place yourself in guard with the sword in hand,
If you pass forwards or back remain side-on. (Vadi, 05r)

So that you will not play in vain,
Face the side to which you turn,
And enter there, if this is not strange. (Vadi, 05r)

These two quotes come from Vadi’s section on the Principles of Swordplay indicate a preference for remaining side on with your opponent. This is one thing that I was getting wrong at first, and switching to this makes a big difference, especially for the high guards, such as posta di vera fenestra. However, this isn’t always easy to apply for some of the low guards, and can lead to some awkward  positions (c.f: Posta di Cingiaro di Fora).

On one side you make defence
The forehand blows go on one side,
The backhands attack from the other. (Vadi, 05r)

Whilst the 2nd two lines don’t add much to the discussion of the guards (although Vadi talks about these two kinds of blow a lot and it is significant in the system), the first line seems to suggest another principle, that the guards are held firmly on one side of the body.

What I’m unclear of is the sense in which they “make defence” on one side. This could mean that the guards close a line of attack by directly interfering with a strike targeting a specific region of the body, or that by having only one direction to move the sword you will always be moving it in the right direction for defence. Or both. Nothing in the text tells me which way to interpret this, so for now I’m assuming it can be either (as this seems to be accurate in the guards themselves). The result of this is that the guards are all held firmly to one side – there are no centre guards (note: I will use “centre” to refer to the left/right middle, and “middle” to refer to the top/bottom middle). For what it’s worth, the positioning of the guards reflects this principle (a future post on the specifics will be next).

It is necessary that the sword should be
A great shield that covers all,
And grasp this fruit,
That I give you for your mastery.

Be sure that your sword does not
Make guards or strike far away,
O how sensible this thing is,
That your sword makes short movements. (Vadi, 14r-14v)

The first part of this paragraph gives weight to the interpretation of the guards closing down a line of attack, although on its own it would be quite cryptic. The second half, whilst giving a principle for his guards, is also an example of a recurring theme in Vadi: that one should make as small movements as possible and play close to the body. This is repeated advice, and would be odd not to be a principle within the guard system, seeing as this appears time and again throughout the text.

Interestingly, a common issue I’ve had doing Fiore has been that my defences are far too wide. Despite best efforts, I have been unable to train myself out of this bad habit. However, I find that Vadi’s guards are significantly easier to keep tightly to the body, and I have noticed an improvement in my fencing as a result. This is particularly true of guards where the sword is over the lead leg. More on that below.

 

Here are the guards with their names,
Each of your sides is shown.(Vadi, 16r)

This is is the rather cryptic opening to the entire section on the guards. Guy Windsor, in his translation notes, details a lot of the issues he had with translating the particular sentence, but explains that he takes this to mean that Vadi will show guards that are pairs to each other on either side – the right and left version of every guard. Indeed, most guards in Vadi have an obvious counterpart on the other side. Crucially, however, 4 don’t seem to have an opposite. As I will argue below, I think there is evidence for these 4 guards also having an opposite pair that is just left unshown in Vadi – much as Fiore misses some guards in the guard section and shows them in the plays. Likely, this is to keep to the magic number of 12 guards.

Unique Features

The unique features of Vadi’s guards are that he has 6 guards where the sword is held over the lead foot. This is not present in Fiore, except maybe in his posta breve, which in one manuscript looks like it might be – but this is usually interpreted as a centre guard. Likewise, it isn’t present in any of the standard 4 Liechtenauer guards or – to my knowledge – any of the other secondary guards that appear in the various texts in that tradition.

I think there are three categories of guard that explain this feature. To understand the first, we need to look at Vadi’s advice on defending the blows.

Defensive

 

Parrying well however many blows.
When you parry the roverso, keep in front,
The right foot, and parry as I have said.Parrying the mandritto,
Keep in front your left foot.
What seems clear at first needs a few caveats. My current understanding of a mandritto vs roverso blow is that mandritto is a blow from your strong-side, and roverso from your weak. I think that the left/right instruction relating to footwork should also relate to strong/weak (Vadi uses the word stancho and dritto, which have been translated to left/right, but are not the usual Italian words for left and right). Finally, think on this: what if your opponent is the opposite handedness to you? His mandritto is then correspondingly reversed. I am assuming for now that the foot you lead with doesn’t change if the opponents hands change (i.e. if he attacks me with a right-side cut, I defend with my left foot forward). This last point I am unsure about; from experience with Fiore, generally reversing your footwork for plays makes them suddenly start working again. More research with sword in hand is required to decide.

If this interpretation is correct, following Vadi’s advice will result in your lead foot being on the side that the opponent’s sword is coming from. As a result, in order to defend against the blow, your sword will also need to be over that foot. Remembering that Vadi explictly tells us to travel between guards when blocking, this leads me to the conclusion that some of these guards have sword over lead foot because their primary use is in covering from an incoming attack. The three guards covered by this are posta longa con spada curta, posta di donna and corona (left to right, below).

Note that all of these guards are ones that lack a partner. It is precisely because of their apparent use parrying that I believe they can be used with either foot forward – attacks can come from either side, after all (and Vadi explicitly tells us to attack on both sides). In my head, these correspond to a low, middle and high cross or parry, which can be varied depending on blow or what move you want to set up in response.

This kind of footwork is, I believe, core to Vadi’s system, where by your defence should initially be in jiocco largo (wide play), and only if you see an opening should you close to do all the fun jiocco stretto (closer play) stuff. These concepts will be explained in their own right in a separate post.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit that I am less confident about the inclusion of posta di donna in this list as there is little description of its use to back it up. There are supporting passages for the use of corona and curta in blocking though.

Offensive

Two other guards where the sword is over the lead leg are two of his low guards – mezzana porta di fero forte and posta di cinghiaro di fora. Exact replication of these guards is probably the hardest part of interpreting Vadi’s guard as, in keeping with the principles, they lead to some odd positions.

Trying to stay side on with these guards is actually very tricky. At first I was leading with the wrong shoulder forward, when compared to the picture. This is quite natural for porta di ferro forte, but was basically impossible to remain side on with posta di cinghiaro di fora. Fixing the leading shoulder leads to an oddly positioned system.

The whole thing makes sense when you treat this guard as an end position for a fendente (downwards blow), in one of the following circumstances:

  1. A mandritto fendente
    1. From a guard with left leg forward using an acressere or no step
    2. From a guard with right leg forward using a passing step
  2. A roverso fendente
    1. From a guard with left leg forward using a passing step
    2. From a guard with right leg forward using an acressare or no step

(an acressere is where you step with your lead foot first, and your back foot follows)

When you do this, your natural end position has the leading shoulder matching Vadi’s pictures. If you add this to the fact that Vadi gives us explicit instructions to attack the opposite side at a time when you are already in distance, the guard position makes perfect sense: this is the end position for if you’ve attacked (say) a mandritto fendente with passing step, and then immediately cut to the other side without making another step.

This isn’t the only use of the guards of course, but I think it is one of them.

Posta di Falcon

This isn’t so much a category as “the other one”. original_posta_di_falconI’m going to confess here that I’ve had little luck with this guard and have no real working theory for it’s use. The description is entirely defensive: it doesn’t feel like a defensive guard. Sadly, there aren’t many clues in the text.

I have been using this on both sides, because I can see no good reason not to. Having said that, there is not strong evidence for it having an “other side” as with the defensive guards. But I don’t want it to feel lonely, so for now I say it does. I am prepared to be convinced otherwise though.

Summary

To sum up the general points on Vadi’s guards made above:

  1. Body position should be side on to the opponent
  2. The sword should be held firmly on one side of the body, not in the centre
  3. The sword should be close to the body and not too wide,
  4. Each guard has an opposite number with the other leg leading and sword on the opposite side

I will make a follow up post soon showing my interpretations of the specific guards, with comments on their use. For now, thanks for making it through what ended up being a rather long post.