How to hold a sword in Vadi

As I mentioned in my previous post on Vadi’s preferred sword construction, Vadi is very explicit about certain aspects of the sword. One of these is that the “The pommel should be round to fit the fist”. As promised, this is my explanation of why.

A modern day, first-world problem. Someone asks you to pose for a picture and tells you to “act natural”. Your brain kicks into overdrive. “Natural? What do I naturally do? Do I smile like this? Where should I look? OH GOD WHAT DO I NORMALLY DO WITH MY HANDS?” We’ve all been there. Fortunately, this didn’t seem to be a problem in 15th century Italy.


Assortment of pommel grips from Vadi’s guards and plays

As you can see from every single one of these images, the hand position is clear: the right hand is just under the crossguard, the left hand is resting on the pommel in some way (with various changes in grip depending on angle). In case you think I might have cherry-picked to prove a point: this is nearly every single image in Vadi’s book where both hands are clearly shown on the sword and the fighters aren’t grappling. Most of his plays that have images are wrestling-with-sword or half-swording, and many of the guards have the left hand obscured by the body.

I think its safe to assume that this depiction is not accidental, especially when combined with his advice on pommel construction. It is very unusual to get this level of consistency in the images from a historical text. Additionally, the fact that Vadi is holding a long sword in this manner is by no means a given  – there are many ways to hold a longsword. Consider this advice in the Nuremberg Hausbuch (aka Dobringer Codex aka MS 3227a):

Also know that a good fencer should at first grip his sword safely in a secure manner with both hands between the cross and the pommel because this way he will hold his sword safer than by having one hand holding the pommel. He will also strike harder and more accurate this way if the pommel overthrows itself, swinging in behind the strike. This results in a much harder strike compared to having one hand at the pommel and drawing the strike. Drawing the strike this way is not as perfect and strongly, because the sword is like a pair of scales. If the sword is large and heavy, the pommel also must be heavy – just like on a pair of scales.

(Sometimes I really wish the Italians would just stop flouncing around and write as clearly as this).

Clearly there are advantages to not holding the pommel, so there must be some reason why Vadi is doing it in all these images.


Interestingly, this insight didn’t first come from directly spotting this in the book. I first spotted this when trying to perform various cuts from all of the guards, and finding that my hand would naturally slide down to the pommel as I tried to perform the motions. I then went back to the book to check the guard positions in more detail.

Vadi has two guards in particular where one’s wrists are crossed where this is particularly pronounced: posta di vera fenestra (guard of the true window) and posta sagitaria (archer’s guard). These positions are basically impossible to hold comfortably with your hands close together. Your arms actually get in the way of each other.


posta di vera fenestra                                           posta sagitaria

Likewise, the process of uncrossing your arms when making a parry or a blow feels unnatural if the hands are too close together. With the hand on the pommel you’re able to pull with your left hand to quickly uncoil and deliver a blow or parry. This is particularly true if you are doing a middle and low cuts from the roverse side (roverso volante and roverso roto in Vadi’s terminology – but more on that in a later post).

This last is particular important. Vadi informs us:

I don’t want your blows to be solely roverso,
Nor just fendente, but between one and the other,
If between is the common one.
Hammering the head on all sides.

This kind of attack where you alternate openings and edges is far easier with your hand on the pommel. We see a similar hand position in Meyer, who also has this sort of approach.

The pommel-grip is particularly helpful when you’re performing cuts with the false edge of the sword. junck-ritter made an interesting post recently about how using the false edge allows you to get a deeper angle of thrust from a high guard, and how this is even more pronounced with a pommel grip when compared to having both hands on the handle. Whilst not intended as a commentary on Vadi, the point is extremely applicable – especially as Vadi advises us to work with the hands high at the crossing.

The same properties that help in getting the deeper angle of thrust is useful when performing false edge cuts, which (as I mentioned in my last post) Vadi advises us to use for at least 2 of the 7 blows of the sword. The additional range of movement is essential to performing a false edge cut, as opposed to something that might awkwardly bop your opponent on the nose and simply piss them off. When your hands are next to each other, you simply don’t have the range of motion to do this effectively, and your own body gets in the way of a smooth and clean motion.

There is at least one obvious disadvantage that is also present in Vadi, however, although for reasons it won’t come up as often in a modern sparring context. You’ll notice from the pictures above that there is a rather large gap between the two hands – a little bit larger than a hand, you might say. This gap leaves you open to your opponent grabbing the hilt of your sword. This gives them a lot of control over your weapon, especially if they do it fast and take you by surprise. Vadi advises us to do this, once in the section on general principles of swordplay:

And if it comes to you then to want
To enter underneath and grab his handle

And also in the plays:


In this way I have you with the left hand, I will not hold back striking with cuts and thrusts

Something very similar to this play also appears in some of the German texts, including Ringeck (I don’t have a translation with permission to copy, so I won’t share the text directly, but you can find it on the Wiktenauer page by searching for “A Sword Taking”).

As I mentioned, this is hard to pull off in a modern context, primarily because even with someone holding their sword by the pommel, our gloves are usually so massive that they massively reduce the amount of room on the handle for you to grip. This makes the move hard if not impossible to perform in sparring. Hopefully with some of the new options for gloves due to come out soon or in the coming years this will become easier.


I feel very solid and sure of the conclusion that performing Vadi’s techniques effectively requires a pommel grip. As well as the text, the difference in feel when you shift your hand down just 5 inches is staggering. Positions that feel bunched and uncomfortable become almost natural. This is one of the few instances where text, image and biomechanics seem to mesh exactly with the first attempt, so in my mind the evidence couldn’t be stronger for this without Vadi getting up from the grave and saying “Yeah, I meant that.”

Or I supposed he could have just written “hold the pommel with your left hand” clearly like in the Dobringer Codex, but that would have been too easy, wouldn’t it?

First Impressions of Vadi

This week, I trained and sparred as an acolyte of Vadi. Not the easiest thing to do, seeing as the rest of my club are all doing Fiore. However, I think I managed to make it work. By which I mean I managed to test out some of the basics of my interpretation. Not that my interpretation was particularly effective. This is a relatively short post discussing what I tried and my first impressions.

What I tried

My understanding and interpretation of Vadi is still in its formative stages so there wasn’t a great deal I could do. We were training basic jiocco largo techniques from Fiore using a range of different cuts. In terms of how I decided what to test, the thought process was essentially “OK this is the exercise… what do I remember from Vadi that relates to this…” As such it was a bit of a random selection of principles that I’m sure I got some aspects wrong.

The first and simplest thing I did was to switch to doing the same drills, but using the guards from Vadi over Fiore’s. This was relatively straight forward, although the guards where Vadi holds the sword over the lead leg were a little confusing sometimes as it changes the need to step, and also the distance we ended up in. I feel this confusion might be an advantage against an unfamiliar opponent.

Next I tried two pieces of advice from Vadi in training the drills:

  1. When at the cross, attack with the false edge to create an opening
  2. Backhand middle and low cuts use the false edge

The text for reference, for point 1:

And if the companion strikes and you all of a sudden
Parry, making then to the head
A blow with the false edge
And as he lifts it, strike a good roverso

And for point 2:

The forehand blows go on one side,
The backhands attack from the other.

The true edge falls on the forehand side,
And note well this truth
The backhand and false edge go together.

(he says elsewhere this doesn’t apply to fendente)

Finally, in sparring I took his advice in sparring to try a range of attacks (which to be fair I do anyway, but I did it a bit more so).

I don’t want your blows to be solely roverso,
Nor just fendente, but between one and the other,
If between is the common one.


The false edge cut when in a bind worked well from parrying a forehand fendente. However when we switched to roverso, I couldn’t make it work. I’m going to re-read some of Vadi’s advice on footwork as this may be the issue.

Many of the false edge cuts I performed felt awkward, but I expected this to. Part of this is getting used to it, but also I was trying out several different interpretations of this piece of advice. Pairing false edge with riverso cuts is one of the pieces of advice Vadi gives that sounds straightforward and turns out it isn’t. I intend to dedicate a whole post to this issue, but in summary here’s a quandary for you: if I’m in a left side guard, which side is my backhand (riverso)? Or if I’m in one of Vadi’s guards with sword and lead leg on the same side? I don’t yet have an answer to this.

Once in a bind, the advice to throw lots of attacks was effective. However, as the first attack it resulted in a lot of doubles. There is some textual evidence to suggest the opening move should be a fendente, and this advice applies specifically to working at the bind. However, I will first go back and see what he says on the other cuts and see if I’m doing them wrong before I use that as a working theory, as this could just be unfamiliarity with some of the false edge cuts and his guards.

My wrists hurt. Vadi has a lot of crossed wrist guards, and the emphasis on holding the pommel with your left hand gives you a powerful uncrossing action. But yeah, they hurt. Actually my whole left arm feels like it got a lot more of a workout than normal. Again might be interpretation issues.


None yet. It’s far too early to draw any conclusions from this, as any issues with my fighting could be due to interpretation, and many successes could be down to surprise of a new move more than anything else. Although I must say I do like the false edge cut from the bind.

One thing of note: for those that read my previous post on Vadi’s prefferred sword, I speculated there that the Rawlings sword would be better for Vadi if you used the extended pommel on a longsword blade. I can confirm that I tested this yesterday, and it was indeed an improvement.









Measurements of a Sword in Vadi

One of the interesting things in Vadi is that he dedicates a short chapter to the proper size and shape of the sword. Although brief, I think this chapter is extremely interesting for two reasons. First of all,  most authors don’t do this (I’m not aware of any others at least). If we have any idea of the type of sword they prefer its from looking at the art work in their treatise, and comparing the size of swords to the size of the fighters. However, more interesting for me are the actual measurements that result from his advice. As we’ll see, I think Vadi’s sword advice represent yet another area where he clearly differs from Fiore, again rubbishing the claim that Vadi is not really that different to the earlier Italian master.


Vadi’s depiction of a sword for use by someone in armor

Given that Vadi carefully spells out what type of sword I should be using, it would be churlish of me to ignore him. So I asked myself the simple question: do I have the right type of sword? We’ll explore Vadi’s advice on swords by comparing it to the practice swords that I own.

I have two practice swords, which are both about as common as you can get. My nylon is a Rawlings Synthetic from the Knight Shop with steel quillons (crossguard). My steel feder is the literally off-the-shelf standard from Peter Regenyei. Apart from the steel quillons on my nylon, there is nothing at all unusual about either and no customisation at all (and the quillons aren’t that uncommon either). To be clear, I’m pretty happy with both products and this isn’t intended as a review of either. This post is simply to answer one question: do these swords measure up to Vadi’s standards? As I’ll explore at the end, Vadi has quite different views of swords to even his closest contemporary, so if it doesn’t measure up, that doesn’t automatically make it a bad sword.


Regenyei on top, Rawlings on the bottom


As you wish to avoid any trouble,
The pommel should be round to fit the fist
Do this to not enter the trap.

This is some pretty straight forward advice. I want a round pommel, that will be comfortable to grip in my hand (I will make a post in the near future showing why this is important for Vadi).

Whilst the Regenyei is nicely rounded, the Rawlings has this “scent stopper” shaped pommel that flares quite sharply. Definitely, I wouldn’t describe it as round.

Likewise, the Regenyei is much more comfortable to hold in your fist. I feel like you can even see in the pictures the difference in in comfort when gripping the sword by the pommel. The grip also feels a lot more solid and secure with the Regenyei.

All in all, the Rawlings pommel is not ideal. It’s uncomfortable to grip it directly, and this would cause problems if using a grip where you held the pommel. The Regenyei, however, is basically perfect – according to Vadi.


And do this as it is always done:
The handle should be always a span
If it is not of this measure there is confusion.

Once again, pretty clear. What’s particularly useful – and striking – is that this and all measurements that Vadi gives are relative to the fighter (short fighters who favor longer swords take note). I’m not sure why it will be confusing to have a shorter pommel, but the instruction on length is pretty clear – the handle (without pommel) should be the length of my hand span.

Again, the Rawlings sword comes up a bit short here. My thumb comes to the middle of the pommel, so the handle is slightly to short. Once again, the Regenyei fits perfectly.


So your mind is not deceived,
The crossguard should be as long as the handle
And pommel together, and you won’t be condemned.

This is the second time Vadi has stated that his measurements are so that my sword doesn’t confuse me. I assume Vadi doesn’t have some weird crazy paranoia about living swords trying to trick their wielders, and he probably means this metaphorically (at least I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt… for now). I’m really not too sure why a shorter/longer crossguard would confuse me though. I haven’t got pictures of this, but both crossguards are the same width, which is a span. So they are both about 5cm too short.

You want the crossguard strong and square
With a wide and pointed iron,
It must cut and thrust to do its duty.


The Regenyei’s crossguard is nicely square, where as the Rawlings has a very slight curve. Neither has “pointed iron”, but this is a good thing – they are practice swords after all.


The sword should be of the just measure,sword_height
The pommel should come under the arm
As it appears here in my writing. 

I actually find this description a little ambiguous here, and I don’t know if this is a product of the translation or the original text. Should the sword come literally just under my arm (i.e. to my armpit) or is this expressing a maximum size?

I think it is probably the former. If it is, the Regenyei is about 5cm too short (coincidentally: if I got the longest blade Regenyei does and had the same pommel and handle, this would make it the perfect size).

The Rawlings – being slightly shorter than the Regenyei – is also too short.

This is, I think, really interesting. I’m tall, but not that tall, and yet more or less the longest feder on the market is the sword for me.

Also shorter friends take note: Vadi is pretty explicit about this in several places, both in terms of direct advice and the fact he gives relative measurements. If you are short, you should have a short sword. If you are tall, it should be long.

Armoured Fighting

Take note and understand this guide
If you wish to test the sword in armour,
Make the cutting edges four fingers from the point,
With the handle as is said above,
With pointed crossguard, and note well the text.

I’m not going to talk about this in great detail. There’s two things of interest to me here. One, note that Vadi is really talking about maximising the effectiveness of the sword by making every point sharp but allowing you to grip the sword in the middle comfortably. The second is that Vadi is giving us specific instructions for how your sword should differ depending on use. I’m not aware of any other (longsword) masters who cover both armored and unarmored that do this.

Vadi’s Sword vs Fiore’s Sword

I think Vadi’s instructions on sword construction present a very interesting contrast to Fiore. It is widely agreed that Fiore’s style is better suited to a shorter longsword, yet Vadi (supposedly the same) advocates a very long sword. I’m hoping the contrast is representative of deeper differences in the style rather that just personal preference.

One thing I think this might be is that Fiore does not seem to have the concept of a specialised sword for any specific purpose. Going by art work, in general the swords always look pretty much the same. Although some images in the one handed sword section look like an arming sword, by and large the handle has more than sufficient room for an additional hand. Likewise, the sword in armor has no significant differences with the unarmoured sections.


Sword in one hand, sword in two hands and armoured sections from the Getty manuscript

Vadi has no one handed sword section, and both in description and depiction, the swords for unarmoured and armoured fighting are very different.


Armoured and unarmoured sections of Vadi

Fiore and Vadi do refer to the two-handed sword slightly differently. Fiore refers to it as spada a doi mane where Vadi refers to is as spada de doi mane. I don’t know if this is significant.  My knowledge of 15th century Italian is somewhat lacking. I don’t even know how to say “please don’t kill me with your two handed sword!”, let alone make sure to be specific as to which sword it is that I don’t want to be killed with.

Even without knowing the finer points of how to prevent my own murder in renaissance Italy, I think there is strong evidence in the text to support this claim: that Vadi’s sword is one intended solely for two handed use, where as Fiore is teaching us how to use a sword that could at a push be used in many situations.


The Regenyei sword clearly matches Vadi’s specifications much more closely. Actually, the pommel on the Rawlings is something that I’ve never been particular happy with. It would be nice if The Knight Shop produced a pear shaped pommel that wasn’t quite as long as their extended pommel. However, I suspect that if one wanted to make the Rawlings a closer fit to Vadi’s specifications, the extended pommel used for turning a single handed sword into a longsword  would make it much a closer fit. I will likely try this and report back.

Do note that if you are a different size to me the results would be different.  I’d be very curious to hear if the swords that you use match to Vadi’s specifications – if you’re willing, post the results in the comments below.

This is part of a series of posts, where I’m reading Vadi for the Esfinges challenge.

Credit and thanks for all translations in this post go to Guy Windsor, with additional thanks to Wiktenauer for hosting it freely and publicly online. Images  from Vadi are taken from scans by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma, where are the images from Fiore are courtesy of the J Paul Getty Museum.

Esfinges 30 Days of Hema: Day 1 of Vadi

I’ve decided to participate in Esfinges’ 30 Days of HEMA Study event. The basic challenge is simple: starting April 1st, every day for 30 days, I must read and study a historical, European fencing treatise for 15-30 minutes. There are some additional steps:

Day 1 – declare what treatise and/or section you are going to focus on.
Day 7 – explain why you chose it
Day 14 – quote a meaningful line and explain why it’s useful to you
Day 30 – post a drill to train a technique from that source, or pics/video of  your interpretation

True to form, I’ve slightly nerded out and I’m ahead of where I strictly need to be for this. So this post is going to combine day 1 and 7. I’m also going to post various thoughts on my interpretation along the way as well as the “required” steps for the event. All posts should be taken as a “work in progress”.

Chosen Text: Vadi

My chosen text is De Arte Gladiatoria 384px-Cod.1324_16rDimicandi by Phillip di VadiVadi was a late 15th century Italian fencing master. We have one and only one copy of his work, and know very little about him for certain. He was probably the Governor of Reggio and/or a councilor for the Duke of Ferraro. In either instance he would have been working for the D’Este family – the same family which Fiore de’i Liberi dedicated his works to the best part of a century before.

The book itself is dedicated to the Duke of Urbino. Guy Windsor, in Veni Vadi Vici, suggests that it may have effectively been an application to join the court – and apparently a failed one, as there is no record of Vadi ever being at the court of Urbino.

The text is primarily, although not entirely, dedicated to unarmored fighting with the longsword, although there are increasingly smaller sections covering other areas, such as: armored longsword, pollaxe in armor, lance, dagger and a random collection of arms. However to put it in perspective: Vadi dedicates more space to longsword than all other areas combined. Indeed, he himself says:

I only esteem the sword of two hands,
And this is the only one I use at need,
And of which the verse of my book sings.

Everything else does feel very much like an afterthought. Correspondingly, my main focus will also be on the longsword – this is my main weapon after all.  But, to be fair, there is a lot of material on this topic. After a rather flowery introduction, Vadi has 15 text-only chapters focusing on differing aspects of the longsword, followed by by 3 illustrated chapters, covering some basic principles principles, 12 guards and 54 plays.  Quite a lot to get through in just 30 days (OK, I have more like 40 because I started early). This is why I’m referring to the event as a “challenge”.

Why Vadi?

There are lots of reasons why I chose Vadi. Partly, it’s down to the fact that I already train Fiore, so Vadi is hopefully an easy next step. It also rounds out my “Italian” credentials, so I can justifiably claim I do “Italian Longsword” (when most people say this, they just mean “Fiore”).

But the main reason I chose Vadi is that there is relativelyspearsticks little about him published online – whether in text form or YouTube videos. Part of that is that there is relatively little written by him, but I think it is also a reflection of the common view from many people; that Vadi is plagiarised, or at best highly derived, from Fiore.

If you just look at the section on plays – and in particular, the non-longsword plays – you can really see where this view comes from, as there are some similarities that are just weird if they are not directly copied from Fiore. For instance, note the play on the right. How often do you really think two sticks vs spear really comes up? Certainly there isn’t any other master I’m aware of that covers this particular pairing of weapons. When you add the close geography,  and the likely link to the D’Este family, it seems clear that Vadi copied at least some things from Fiore.

In general though, I think this impression is a little unfair on Vadi. One thing that struck me when I flicked through the book some months back is that whilst some things feel very similar, there are definitely aspects that feel very different. The below image shows the first two guards in Vadi’s book – on the left, mezana porta di ferro forte (strong middle iron door) and on the right posta di donna (guard of the lady).


Both of these names could be lifted straight from Fiore. Other the qualifier of “strong” on the first guard, the names are both names of Fiore’s guards.  However, the actual positions shown are entirely absent. In both, the sword is held over the lead foot – something not present at all in Fiore. Guards or Posta are absolutely fundamental to any sword fighting system  – they teach you how to move – so if the guards are fundamentally different, how can the two systems be the same?

This has given me a vague feeling that there are more differences than we really know between the two authors, that I hope to explore over the next month. Indeed, I generally have a sense that we’ve missed a trick with Vadi. I’ve previously played around with mezana pora di ferro forte with a degree of success. But this hasn’t been serious scholarship… mostly just “that looks cool I wonder what happens when I use it”. The Esfinges challenge is the catalyst to me taking a proper look at Vadi, and seeing if there isn’t something more to it than most of us have given him credit for.

Who knows, I might even think of something no one has considered yet – which is the advantage of going with something that no one really studies!

Stay tuned for future updates.

(Credit and thanks for all translations in this post go to Guy Windsor, with additional thanks to Wiktenauer for hosting it freely and publicly online and images taken from scans by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma)