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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


‎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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.



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.


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.


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.

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)