On the heels of my post last month on the trials of multi-disciplinary study and born out of my love for looking for Universal Principles across the Art, I now give you a meditation/deep dive on said Universals.
If you study Fiore’s system of Armizare and you have yet to check out the book of the same name by Bob Charrette, you really need to (check the link at the end). Between the book and chats with Bob my understanding of Armizare shifted drastically several years ago. What Bob did was step completely away from longsword for a period, if I remember correctly, of 2 years and focused solely on Fiore’s dagger material. Bob’s hypothesis (and one I wholly agree with) is that the entire art of Armizare is contained there in the dagger section. The sword, spear, axe, etc. are all sub-specialties of the principles and plays shown in the dagger.
Fiore’s daggers section features 9 separate masters, each master showing a defense against an attack, and then a multitude of plays from that defense. This was one of the first eye-opening moments for young(er) me – Fiore’s dagger Masters were not the initial plays depicted but the defenses that occurred before the plays. For example, the first play of 1st master, defending against a forehand blow with the dagger by an extension of the arm on that side, reads:
“I am the first master, and I am called remedy because I know how to remedy so well you cannot harm me. I on the contrary can strike and hurt you, and I cannot make a better play against you than to make your dagger go to the ground by turning my hand to the left.” – all translations & images of the Getty courtesy of Pocket Armizare (also linked below).
When I was first learning this, somehow the defense and the disarm got linked in my head as 1st Master. But they aren’t. There is the Remedy (defense) of 1st Master and then the first play. This realization made me go back and look at the rest of the Masters of Dagger not as I knew them – Remedy PLUS 1st Play – but rather as just the Remedy. To use terminology from later sources (nudge nudge wink wink), I looked at them as the parries they are meant to be.
The second paradigm shift courtesy of Bob Charrette was learning that although there are 9 remedies/parries in the dagger material, there really are only five unique defenses shown. Here is a very quick breakdown of the 9 remedies:
- Defense against a forehand blow
- A defense against both a forehand or backhand blow (better in armour; flows between 1 & 3)
- Defense against a backhand blow
- Defense against a straight down blow
- Defense against a collar grab
- Defense against a straight down blow but with something in my hand
- Defense against a straight down blow but with something in my hand & my arms crossed
- Defense against an attack from below the solar plexus with something in my hand
- Defense against an attack from below the solar plexus
So looking at that list you can see that you have a defense against a forehand blow (1, 2), a defense against a backhand blow (3, 2), a defense against a straight down blow (4, 6, 7), a defense against an attack from below (9, 8), and a defense against the grab (5). Using the numbers of Fiore’s Masters you really only learn 1, 3, 4, 9, and 5. Because 5th Master is dealing with the collar grab I am going to slide it to the side for the rest of this post.
Here it is in a super professionally done visual that I totally didn’t make in 30 seconds:
So really, Fiore’s dagger section comes down to being able to defend four lines of attack – Forehand, Backhand, Above, and Below. Even the thrusts will only come along one of those angles, or straight down the centerline (which presents a few different options). Right? Y’all can see that? This tracks into the sword, spear, and axe sections as well.
Okay, this is where I go all Charlie Day conspiracy 1 on y’all. Buckle up.
The primary focus of High Desert Armizare right now is the manual of Zack Wylde, in a tradition the Sword Tribe calls “Insular Broadsword” – meaning the sword traditions of the British Isles. Basically anything people think of as Highland Broadsword, etc. fits this bill. Wylde covers smallsword, broadsword, wrestling, and staff. But of interest to this post on Universals are the broadsword guards. Wylde (and truthfully most Insular sources) use at least 5 guards for the sword – Inside, Outside, St. George, Hanging, and Middle. Some sources use one or more additional guards specifically to deal with low attacks – called either Low Hangers or Half Circle. So what, I hear you screaming at your device, do these guards look like?! Well wait no more. As Wylde’s treatise doesn’t have any illustrations (he says this is a cost saving device because so many other manuals at the time already had them), I am using the illustrations from Angelo’s 1799 Highland Broadsword
First off is the guard and parry against blows to your inside, the guard called Inside (I know, there were VERY creative with the naming):
Next up is the guard and parry against blows to your outside, the guard called Outside:
St. George and Hanging are both using to guard and parry against blows to your heads. Wylde talks about both but says he prefers Hanging:
Middle, while being a good defensive guard, is less a parry and more a ready position where your sword is held, you guessed it, in the middle so I won’t bother including it here but you can check the link below to see the full poster.
Well, well, well would you look at that? A guard for defending against forehand blows, a guard for defending against backhand blows, and a guard for defending against blows straight down. Where have we seen this before?￼￼￼￼￼
Wylde doesn’t directly address a guard from defending against low blows – not those low blows but blows below the solar plexus. One can use Inside or Outside and squat (Cerri shows us this with the bastone) or, more in line with Wylde’s instructions perhaps, just slip the body/leg back and strike. But Angelo and others do include those guards (and I can make an argument that Wylde does too2). These guards all serve the same purpose, guarding and parrying blows to the low lines. They are usually called Low Inside/Outside Hanger or Half CIrcle:
So now we have four sets of guard positions designed to defend against the four blows – forehand, backhand, above, and below. 300 odd years apart (Fiore being 1409 and Wylde being 1711) and people are using new tools to solve the same old problems and coming up with surprisingly consistent answers.
It should come as no surprise that these very same four openings are also the first four strikes/defenses taught in Al Matrag, a form of stick & sword fight training seen in Algeria and other areas of North Africa. Da’Mon Stith of Austin Warrior Arts has a great breakdown video here. I might do a future post on Al Matrag and how foundational this exercise has become for HDA but for now let’s notice that the first four strikes are to the forehand temple, the backhand temple, the chin, and the top of the head. Forehand, backhand, above, below.
Am I claiming these arts are all the same? Absolutely not. But in the quest for Universal Principles, it would be criminally unwise to ignore these connections.
- Anglo Poster: https://swordfight.uk/resources/
- Pocket Armizare: http://www.nwarmizare.com/Pocket-Fiore/assets/www/index.html
- Bob Charrette’s Book: https://www.freelanceacademypress.com/armizare.aspx
1. From “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, season 4, episode 10 “Sweet Dee Has a Heart Attack”
2. I’m not going to chat about it here to avoiding cluttering this up, but in his smallsword section Wylde describes a position in which to invite an attack that could be argued to be a version of Half Circle.