Vadi’s Guards

This page is intended as a reference guide for all of Vadi’s guards. As a reference guide, it focuses on the end product of interpretation, rather than drawing out the parts of the text that have lead to those interpretations. Please see the main blog for details on where this is derived from.

Principles

The following 4 principles apply to all of Vadi’s guards:

  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 (n.b. with the exception of Falcone)

Please see my post on the principles of Vadi’s guards for a textual justification of these princples.

Note that for the purposes of this page I refer to “strong” and “weak” sides rather than left/right. To state the obvious, “strong” refers to the right for a right-hander and left for a left-hander.

Group Guard Description
High Falcone [Falcon Sword over strong shoulder, pointing back, strong foot leading
Vera Finestra [True Window] Sword over strong shoulder, pointing forward and up, weak foot leading
Frontal [Frontal] Sword over weak shoulder, pointing forward and up, strong foot leading
Middle Sagitaria [Archer] Weak foot forward, sword on strong side pointing at opponent
Breve [Close] Strong foot forward, sword on weak side pointing at opponent
Lunga [Long] Either foot forward, sword over front foot, pointing at opponent
Donna [Lady] Either foot forward, sword over front foot, pointing up
Corona [Crown] Either foot forward, sword over back foot, pointing up
Low Denti Cinghiare [Boar’s Tooth] Strong foot forward, sword on weak side pointing down and slightly left of centre
Porta di Ferro [Iron Door] Weak foot forward, sword on strong side pointing down and slightly right of centre
Cingiaro di Fora [Boar on the Outside] Weak foot forward, sword on strong weak pointing down and slightly left of centre
Mezzana Porta di Ferro Forte [Strong Middle Iron Door] Strong foot forward, sword on strong side pointing down and slightly right of centre

High Guards

High guards are in general position that it is easiest to strike from; the body starts in an ideal location to deliver a powerful, well structured strike. While you can deliver an effective fendente [downward blow] from any position, even with practice the high guards will simply always result in a better structured and so more powerful cut. You can of course also attack with volante or rota from these guards. The trade off is that they are harder to move in as passing steps require swapping the sword-side to remain in guard, so you must use footwork that retains your orientation. Consequently it is best to approach in a low or middle guard and raise the sword to a high guard as you approach distance. If your opponent cuts with good structure it is better to be in a high guard to ensure you can parry effectively against them.

Falcone [Falcon]

Falcone is held with the strong leg forward, and the sword high and over the strong shoulder, pointing backwards and away from the opponent.

It is a highly flexible guard offensively, and can effectively deliver all 7 strikes with good structure. Vadi emphasises its flexibility in defence; in the same way as you can perform any strikes, you can parry against any against you and it provides a really strong position for beating the opponent’s sword as they attack. The hands can be vulnerable with poor judgement of distance.

Falcone is an odd one out; it has no opposite number, points the sword away from the opponent and does not really cover any openings. No other guard has any of these 3 let alone all of them.

Vera Finestra [True Window]

Vera Finestra has the weak leg forward and the sword over the strong side, covering the head from an attack on your strong side. The point is slightly raised, as if pointing a few feet above the opponent’s head. The wrists will be crossed with the weak hand near the strong elbow. Be careful not to bend your wrists when holding this position; normally, if this is happening it’s because you are holding the guard too low. It is the opposite of Frontal.

It is an effective position for attacking on your strong side or thrusting, but not good at attacking on the weak side. The trade off for this reduction in flexibility (compared to Falcone) is a better structure for the cuts you can do and added closing off an opening.

Frontal [Frontal]

Frontal has the strong leg forward and the sword over the weak side, covering the head from an attack on your weak side. The point is slightly raised, as if pointing a few feet above the opponent’s head. Keep your lead elbow tucked in or else it will be a target. It is the opposite of Vera Finestra.

It is an effective position for attacking on your weak side or thrusting, but not good at attacking on the strong side. The guard is in general very good for defending to virtually any opening. Note that the opening this guard covers without moving is the most common one for a right-handed fighter to strike into. Tactically, this is a good guard to use against people who don’t train cutting over their weak side or who are in guards that don’t effectively cut to that side, as attacking this position with a mandritto fendente is a bad idea. If someone does it, stab them in the face by extending the arms as you are already covered.

Middle Guards

The middle guards strike a balance between the easy of mobility of the low guards and strong structure for attacks of the high guards. Their main use is that they are all typically guards to parry into and, consequently, they cover quite a large area of the body. Several of the middle guards are their own opposite*, by changing which leg is forward. When you factor this in, they make a complete set of 8 guards, which means that moving the sword across the body or stepping will not take you out of a guard.

*This is possibly up for debate. A future blog post will argue this point in more detail.

Breve [Close]

Breve has the strong leg forward, sword over the weak (back) leg. The sword is pointing directly at the opponent’s face. Because the sword is in front of you it actually covers quite a range of the body (much like a buckler does when held in front). One possible interpretation of Vadi’s advice is to strike into this guard with a pass backwards. I often use this technique of someone is attacking by leading to their hands, cutting into them as they attack.

Cuts are at first a little counterintuitive from this position but are entirely possible, and effective with a little practice, primarily on the weak side. It is a good guard to thrust into as it keeps you covered as you thrust, from a cut to the head on your weak side.

Sagitaria [Archer]

Sagitaria has the weak leg forward and the sword covering the strong side. Perhaps one of the strangest features of the guard is that it is twisted; the false edge should be pointing towards the right. It helps to not grip the sword too tightly, especially with your top hand.

Cuts are at first a little counterintuitive from this position but are entirely possible, and effective with a little practice. It is a good guard to thrust into as it keeps you covered as you thrust, from a cut to the head on your strong side. Vadi advises us to use this in particular against someone sitting in the Iron Door guard, by stepping slightly out with the back foot and coming to lunga.

Lunga [Long]

Lunga can be held with either foot forward, with the sword over your front leg and pointing directly at your opponent.

It is particular effectively at covering against rising strikes, or when facing someone who favours low guards. While thrusts are effective and it is possible to cut, cuts do not tend to have good structure from this position. Consequently it is not a very effective guard to make your first attack from as you have limited options. Vadi’s main advise is to use this to “defeat the blows” i.e. as a parrying guard.

Donna [Lady]

Donna can be held with either foot forward, with the sword pointing vertically or near to it over your lead leg.

Defensively, this is probably the most common guard to parry into against either fendente (downwards) or volante (horizontal). Not coincidentally, it is also a very good guard to wait in defensively as it covers a large amount of the body. Vadi tells us that the guard will confuse your opponent’s perception of distance as well (experience supports this). It is also one of 3 guards that you can effectively throw any of the 7 strikes. Combine all this, and it is a very versatile guard to use. The main drawback of standing in it is that it is vulnerable to powerful thrusts and that your hands can be vulnerable if you judge distance poorly.

Corona [Crown]

Corona can be held with either foot forward, with the sword pointing vertically or near to it, and over your back leg.

Much like donna it covers a lot of the body and is a decent guard to wait in. It is most commonly used as a parry for someone’s second intention (i.e. you have first parried with donna then parry their cut to the other side with corona) OR if you have attacked and they have counter attacked. Using donna and corona together you can keep your self safe easily and effectively against most strikes by swapping between the two.

Low Guards

The low guards are the easiest guards to move about with, as by keeping the sword in a relatively static position you can move and even run without ever coming out of a guard. Consequently they are great to use to either rapidly gain ground or position, or to manoeuvre around the opponent. The trade off for this is that strong downwards blows can power through them as you have a less secure structure for attacking and defending in. A common misconception is that people only use rising strikes from low guards; downwards and horizontal strikes are both perfectly possible from all of them.

With all low guards it is important to practice defending both by a standard parry of bringing the sword across the body into the opponent’s sword, and beating the sword away from underneath. If you don’t have both of these options well trained you will have a large hole in your defence.

Porta di Ferro [Iron Door]

Porta di Ferro is held with the sword pointing downwards to your strong slide, and slightly towards your opponent, with your weak leg forward. Note that unlike the Fiore guard of the same name it is not held at a right angle.

This is a very stable guard with good options for defence and attack. In particular, it is one of the easiest guards to execute an exchange of thrusts from.

Mezzana Porta di Ferro Forte [Strong Middle Iron Door]

Mezzana Porta di Ferro Forte is held with the sword pointing downwards to your strong slide, and slightly towards your opponent, with your strong leg forward. Note that unlike the Fiore guard of the same name it is not held down the middle. You can easily swap between Mezzana Porta di Ferro Forte and Porta di Ferro by making a passing step and keeping the sword at exactly the same angle.

Denti Cinghiare [Boar’s Tooth]

Denti Cinghiare is held with the sword pointing downwards to your weak slide, and slightly towards your opponent, with your strong leg forward.  You can easily swap between this guard and Cingiaro di Fora by making a passing step and keeping the sword at exactly the same angle.

Cingiaro di Fora [Boar on the Outside]

Cingiaro di Fora is held with the sword pointing downwards to your weak slide, and slightly towards your opponent, with your weak leg forward.  You can easily swap between this guard and Denti Cinghiare by making a passing step and keeping the sword at exactly the same angle.

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2 thoughts on “Vadi’s Guards

  1. Is it that you just think that the cross guard angles in the illustrations are wrong, as in an artistic perspective problem, or just not important, because several of your interpretations have cross guard angles quite different from the illustrations? That sounds more overly critical than I mean it, I really just want to understand where you coming from.

    • That’s a great question. There’s a couple different things happening here.

      First is a lack of trust in that particular aspect of the images. Swords are typically always drawn side on in this period and earlier, and Vadi is no exception here, with every sword in the guards and the plays being flat to the perspective of the really reader, and apart from a couple of cursory attempts to show an angle, the quillons are typically square on. The book was published right in the middle of perspective becoming common place in art, so it’s not unreasonable to suspect that Vadi’s artist was not familiar with, or good at, depicting this.

      Reconstructing the body positions tends to lead to very different sword positions. If you also then apply Vadi’s advice about which edge to use in strikes and parries you tend to end with the middle guards having false edge to the right and true to the left, which also agrees with positions taken from matching the body.

      There are also some instances where I think depending on how you’re using the guard the blade position might change slightly. Donna and corona are the best examples of this. I’d actually say that either guard can use either of the blade alignments I’ve shown; the one shown in corona if I’m using the guard to parry, the one shown in donna if I’m using it as a ready position.

      The dynamic nature of guards means (ie they are part of a system of movement not just for waiting in) means that variation is inevitable. I have a planned blog post to discuss this in more detail, and when a variation is enough that it means it’s a new guard, but that will be some time in the future 🙂

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