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The Teachings of Marozzo

By Giovanni Rapisardi
Edited By William E. Wilson

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The Fight of Marozzo by Giovanni Rapisardi

Editor's Note: This treatise is a translation of some of the writings of Giovanni Rapisardi of Italy on the rapier play of Marozzo. The treatise has been edited by William Wilson to help with Giovanni's grammar. Mr. Wilson would like to thank the author for this important work. As a note, in the descriptions references to Italian saber or foil positions are given. It is suggested that you refer to William Gaugler's book The Science of Fencing for a full description of the hand positions in Italian Saber. The illustration to the right will help in understanding some of the following text:

§ 1 - The weapon

Marozzo's "spada da filo" (litterally "edge sword") is a transition weapon that lies between the one-handed sword (XIV-XV C..) with a large blade which was used primarily for cutting and the rapier (XVI-XVII C..) with a long and narrow blade that was used primarily for thrusting.

The weapon described in the Opera Nova is composed of the blade, hilt, handle and pommel (lama, elsa, manico, pomolo) and its weight is about 1 Kg, with a balance point on the blade at about four fingers from the hilt. This style of sword is a very manageable weapon that allows one to easily execute all the sequences of actions proposed in the "abbattimenti" (bouts).

The blade, straight and double-edged, based on the proportions taken from the pictures, is long (about half the height of the fencer, from the tip to the tallone (the tallone it's the line between the tang (codolo) and the blade). At the ricasso the blade is wide at about 3 cm.

There are not any standard dimensions as the weapons were handcrafted and fit to each fencer.

The blade has three parts or "gradi": the forte (strong), from the tallone to the first third, the medio (middle) the central third, and the debole (weak) the last third until the point and the only part of the blade really sharpened.

The forte is used to parry, the medio to engage and the debole to hit.

The blade has ttwo edges (fili): the dritto (litterally "right", but in english it's used the term "true") and the falso (false): Giovanni Dall'Agocchie explains this difference «Everytime you'll handle the sword, or in the right or in the left hand, the edge that will be in corrispondence of the articulations of the fingers will be the filo dritto and the other will be the filo falso».

The hilt is a steel bar, approximately 15-20 cm long, with a hole in the center and more than protect the hand. This gives to the sword the form of a cross and makes of it a mystic symbol, as a remembrance of the armed defence of the christian's ideals.

The handle is normally wood, sometimes covered in leather or iron wire and is about 10 cm long.

The pommel is a weight put at the end of the handle and is used to balance the weapon: it can have several forms, but normally it's spheric and, like the hilt, can be used to strike in close combat.

§ 2 - The handling and the portamento di ferro (way to move the sword)

The sword must be held with the full hand, tight under the hilt and for more control with the index finger over the crossbar: for this matter the hilt will often have one or two rings that join it to the blade at the edges, to protect the finger.

The spada da filo requires movement, both in giving the blow and assuming the parry position, that must be as tidy as possible. To keep the movement unseeable by the enemy: the action with the blade will have to follow precise lines of movment (going and coming back), starting from a guard position and arriving in another guard.

The correct way to give a cut is to use a movement of the wrist and sometimes of the elbow, but not of the shoulder: Di Grassi explanes this concept saying: «The arm has three main articulations: the shoulder, the elbow and the wrist (...). The cut with the shoulder is the most strong, but also the slowest (...). With the three articulations one must be well trained and will be able to hit hard with the elbow and the wrist. Eventually the shoulder will be forgetten and one will only use the elbow and the wrist to hit, using, at last, above all only the wrist». About the point it needs «pushing it without withdrawing the hand». Di Grassi says also that for fencing training one must use light swords, because «the aim of this art is not to raise heavy weight, but to move quickly».

In Marozzo's bouts there is also sword handling «in atto di spada in armi» (armoured fencing style) that means handling the middle of the blade with the left hand, using the sword like a stick.

§ 3 - The position and the walking

The position of the feet and movement from one guard to another is very similar to that of modern fencing (as shown by the pictures). The fencer stands as profiled as possible, according to the use of one or two hands, with the forward foot pointing toward the enemy and the backward one oriented 60°-90° to the side (left for a right handed fencer); the legs are spaced a little apart and the heels are not on the same line, to give more steadiness, especially for lateral moves (see the picture).

The position is the same, no matter if the right foot is forward or the left: in the first case it is a right guard, in the second a left guard.

Movement forward and backward, isn't defined by Marozzo in one place but is described each time in relation to the action being executed: we can determine a series of movements that are repeated several times in the actions.

The simple step (passo) (ex. «moving forward in that parry/guard with your left foot (...) and the right foot will follow the left backward» - Ch. 11/second part) is executed in a forward manner, moving first the forward foot and then the other, to return to the starting position and backward with the opposite movement: this is the base of the fencing movement and, as suggest Dall'Agocchie: «the walk with the step is not large and not narrow it is of better utility, for doing so it is possible to go forward and backward without disarranging the body».

The step of redoubling (raddoppio) (ex. «the left leg will send the right forward» - Ch. 94) is executed by putting the back foot near to the forward which will (forward foot) then immediately will go forward: it's a movement used to take more measure to the enemy.

The fente step or "gran passo" (big step) (ex. «you'll make a big step forward with the right foot blowing with a mandritto over the arm, then returning with the right foot near to the left» - Ch. 10/second part). This is the attack step and is executed by throwing the leading foot forward and then returning to the starting position.

The "passata" is the movement used to change from right guard to left and viceversa (ex. «Being in Porta di ferro alta (a right guard) (...) you'll pass forward with the left foot» Ch. 14/second part) and is executed by putting the rear foot forward, arriving, thanks to the ankle's movement, in the new position: it is the base movement to close with the enemy to wrestle.

The passata's fente or "gran passata" is executed to cover the most distance as possible.

This movement can be executed stepping forward and backward, in right guard and in left guard.

The lateral movements or "volte" are about the same as the passo and passata, but they are made laterally: they are used just to dodge (schifata) an attack.

Fencing actions will always be made on the straight line, no matter if eventually lateral dodges (schifata) or close combat attacks are executed to the left or the right side of the enemy.

§ 4 - Tempo, Velocità and Misura

Timing, velocity and measure are fencing's constants in its evolution through the centuries.

From the Flos Duellatorum's "Segno di scherma" with the representation of the "tiger" (Celeritas - velocity) and of the lynx (Prudentia - timing and measure) to the less coloured but as much explicative descriptions of the modern treatises, the fencer's training about these three elements are the base for correct fencing instruction and without these simple explanations it does not matter what technicis employed for it is completely useless.

The Tempo (timing) is used to evaluate any situation for the opportunity to execute a particular fencing action (when to act).

The Velocità (velocity) is the physical ratio between space and time, executing a fencing action (how to act).

The Misura (measure) is the most useful, necessary and sufficient distance from the enemy to execute a fencing action (where to act).

The consideration of these three elements is shown in all the Opera Nova, not explicitly, but during all the actions of the several "abbattimenti": Marozzo cites in particular the Tempo talking about the "gioco stretto" «they that know how to get in and out in the close measure technics, you have to know that they are eccellent and perfect fencers, for they know the timing».

The velocity is a logical concept: a direct blow must be as quick as possible, to surprise the enemy, but a feint must be executed keeping in consideration the time of reaction of the enemy, so executing it at maximum velocity is not always useful: in fencing the Velocità is not a constant, but a variable.

The measure is the base of the two concepts of "gioco largo" and "gioco stretto" and to better uderstand it, there is needed a comparison between the ancient and the modern classification.

In modern fencing there are three kind of measure: walking measure (misura camminando) when to execute a blow the fencer must make the fente and, before, at least one step; the fente measure (misura d'allungo) when only the fente it's needed to hit; the close measure (stretta misura) when the arm's extention it's sufficient, without moving the feet.

In ancient fencing there are the "gioco largo" (litt. large game) and the "gioco stretto" (close game): in the first case, as Marozzo says, «the fencers make skirmishes» so it's assimilable to the actions at misura camminando and misura d'allungo, when the blades of the two fencers are at maximum weak with weak; in the second, classified also as «technics and grappling of half sword», the actions are that made at misura stretta and
the close combat: so the gioco stretto it's not only the wrestling or the actions with the pommel or the hilt, but also the blows with the blade from the crossing of the blades at middle with middle (mezza spada).

A perfect definition is given by Capoferro (Gran simulacro dell'arte e dell'uso della scherma - 1610) «the measure can be large or close: large when I can hit the enemy only with the fente, close when I can hit him without moving the feet».

§ 5 - The guards

The guards are positions to prepare for an attack or a defence.

Thay can be high (more useful for attack) or low (better for defence).

Although Marozzo shows through illustrations ( but not very clearly) 15 guards, from ch. 138 to 143  he mentions others during several  descriptions of bouts, without explaning them.

Thanks to the comparison with the treatises of Manciolino and Dall'Agocchie we can explain each one well, remembering that this analysis is for a right-hander fencer and for the the left-hander the positions will be reversed.

§ 5/A - Coda Longa (Long tail)

At Ch. 138 Marozzo explanes: «You'll set your student with the right leg forward with his sword and buckler well straight versus his enemy and make that his right hand be outside by his right knee, with his right wrist toward the ground, as you see in the picture: and this is called Coda longa & stretta»; but Dall'Agocchie more clearly says: «Coda lunga will be when the sword is held outside the right side: Coda longa e stretta when the right foot is forward and Coda longa e alta when the left foot is forward, always keeping the sword out of the right side with the arm well staight and the point versus the enemy. This guard is so called as a similitude with important persons that are always surronded by a lot of people and for popular proverb it's used to say "Beware to they that have the long tail". And the same for this guard cause it gets the long tail. (...) I told before that the Coda longa is a guard of three kind: the first it's Coda lunga e stretta with the right foot forward, alta with the left; the second is when being in Coda longa e stretta withdrawing the armed hand and putting the point toward the ground and it's named Coda longa e larga. Third when, being in Coda longa e larga, the point of the sword is put backward and it's called Coda longa e distesa. Coda longa e larga and Coda longa e distesa can be made both with the right or the left foot forward».

With this descriptions we assume that the position of the hand in the Coda longa is in the modern 2nd position, with the back of the hand up and the true edge to the right side.

Coda longa e stretta (Long and narrow tail) and Coda longa e alta (Long and high tail) are the same guard, but the first is with the right foot forward and the second with the left.

Coda longa e larga (Long and large tail) looks like the invito of 2nd of modern sabre and the Coda longa e distesa (Long and outstretched tail) is the same of that already described by Fiore de' Liberi.

Note: the term "long" in modern italian is translated as "lungo" (female "lunga") but in ancient italian was "longo" or "longa". In the picture you'll see a frontal prospective of the guards: remember that the pictures are made by the translator (GR) and are not from the treatises for the most part.

§ 5/B - Porta di ferro (Iron door)

As it is explaned by Dall'Agocchie, this guard «is said Porta di ferro like an iron door, very hard to smash down. At the same, to hit a fencer when he is in this guard it's needed a lot of art and intelligence. This guard has two kind: the Porta di ferro and the Cinghiale (wild boar) porta di ferro; the first is when the right foot is forward and the armed hand is on the line of the right knee and the sword's point looks to the enemy. But Wild boar iron door will be when the left foot will be forward and the armed hand inside, in correspondence of the left knee and the right shoulder will look to the enemy. This guard is so named in comparison of the wild boar that attacks not perfectly in line with its fangs. (...) Everytime you'll have the right foot forward and the armed hand will be on the line with the right knee, you'll call this guard Porta di ferro stretta (Narrow Iron door); and it was said "narrow" to be very safe. But moving the arm from the knee to the left side, it will be Porta di ferro larga (Large Iron door), cause it makes the body more unprotected; and, being in Porta di ferro larga, if you'll raise up the armed hand, you'll set in Porta di ferro alta (High Iron door), so called to be higher than the other two. And what has been said about Iron door at the same can be said also for the Wild boar Iron door».

We can assume that the hand position of the Iron door is the 3rd of modern fencing, with the hand"s back to the right and the true edge toward the enemy. Narrow Iron door resembles the invito of 3rd of the modern sabre and the High Iron door the line of 3rd.

The Large Iron door has the hand in 4th position (hand's back downward and true edge to the left) and is executed like the invito of 4th.

About the Cinghiale or, as named by Marozzo, Cinghiara (Wild boar) the hand is in 3rd position for the Large and for the High and in 4th for the Narrow (remember that in this case the Narrow is with the armed hand in correspondence with the left knee and in the Large is displaced to the right side).

§ 5/C Guardia di testa (Head's guard)

Here the description by Dall'Agocchie of this guard:

«Head's guard is when the armed arm is well straight to the right of the enemy's face and the sword is set obliquely, with the point to the left side; it's so called cause it protects the upside body's parts.»

No difference with the invito or parry of 5th of modern sabre.

§ 5/D - Guardia di faccia (Face guard)

«It is said that the Guardia di faccia is positioned with the arm  straight and the right side (read "the palm") of the hand is upward and the true edge looking to the left side and the point, together with the right flank, must point at the enemy's face: this guard is so called because it looks very well to the face».

There couldn't be a better description than this one, by Dall'Agocchie, about this guard, perfectly identical to the line of 4th and since the XVIII cent. the only guard in the fencing treatises (cfr. Rosaroll & Grisetti - La scienza della scherma - 1803, but also Masaniello Parise - Trattato di scherma - 1883).

§ 5/E - Guardia d'intrare (Entering guard)

From the previous description Dall'Agocchie continues:

«it will be Guardia d'intrare when, at the contrary of the precedent (Guardia di faccia), the arm well straight toward the enemy's face will have the right of the hand downward and the true edge will look to the right side: this guard is so called cause it's very useful to enter (in the enemy's guards).»

Nothing to add, but only that as the previous is in the line of 4th, this is in the line of 2nd, as used by modern sabreurs.

§ 5/F - Becca cesa and Becca possa

        The etymology of these two guards is not clear: the "becca" was a kind of baldric used by the medieval knights; the adjective "cesa" could derive from the latin "caesa" (past participe of "caedere") that would mean "killed", "defeated", and "possa" as derivation of "possum", "to be able", "to be powerful"; then, seeing that in this guard the blade crosses  the figure obliquely, there can be a "baldric" (becca) "strong" (possa) or "weak" (cesa), with the left foot forward in the first case and with the right in the second.

       Dall'Agocchie describes these guards, giving them a different name, in this way: «Guardia di Alicornio (Unicorn) is when the handle of the sword is downward, the arm straight and the point low, looking to the face or the chest of the enemy, like the Unicorn that sets his horn in this way when it has to fight».

        Becca cesa and Becca possa are compatible with this description, as Dall'Agocchie, about the Head, Face, Entering and Unicorn guards adds:«These four guards can be executed with the left or the right foot forward»; moreover Becca cesa and Becca possa are the same the guards of Salvatore Fabris (De lo schermo - 1606) guard of 1st, and the hand position for both is the 1st.

§ 5/G - Guardia alta (High guard)

Manciolino describes so this guard:

«... will be called Alta (High), because to set in that we'll keep the sword above the figure, with the armed arm as high as possible (...) and the buckler hand as straight as possible toward the enemy (...) this guard can be executed both with the left or the right foot forward»
and Dall'Agocchie adds:

«it's so called to be the higher guard it's possible to execute».
Then, the High guard can be executed both with the right or the left foot forward, it's extremely an "invito" guard, cause discovers a lot of target and is the analogue of the Guardia di Falcone described by Filippo Vadi (De arte gladiatoria dimicandi) for the two-handed sword.

§ 5/H - Guardia di sopra il braccio (Overarm guard) and di sotto il braccio (Underarm guard)

        Manciolino explains: «the Guardia di sopra il braccio is so called  because the armed hand is placed, as a cross, in the middle of the left hand, keeping the sword's point backward and the buckler's arm straight toward the enemy. (...). The Guardia di sopra il bracciois so called because the armed hand must stay under the buckler's arm, under the left armpit, keeping the sword's point backward».

        A good description of these two guards, often cited by Marozzo in the sword & buckler bouts (ex. «you'll hit with a mandritto tondo that will go in Overarm guard» ch. 10-4th part; «you'll hit with a mandritto tondo to the legs that will go in Underarm guard» ch.10-3rd part) which are good to execute just in this particular fencing style.

§ 5/I - Guardia di fianco (Flank guard)

This guard is mentioned just one time by Marozzo when using  a rapier and then in the case of swords bout («I want you to open to your enemy your left leg and if he'll attack there with a mandritto you'll parry with the false edge of your left sword, raising up your hand in Flank guard» ch. 78): following the description the parry is executed with the false edge of the left sword with the hand upward and the point downward, to cover the low left target.

Comparing the picture about the Flank guard in the two-handed sword style it's evident that this guard protects the low left target, so this guard, executed with the single rapier by a righthander will be like the parry of mezzocerchio (halfcircle) of modern epee.

Conclusion on Guards

        In conclusion remember that the concept of the guard must not be confused with that of the parry: the first is a position, the second an action. So, there can be guards that are just guards, guards that are also parries and parries that are only parries.

§ 6 - The blows

        The blows made with the sword are the cuts and the thrusts.

        The cuts are executed above all with the true edge, but also with the false and they are of two great cathegories, the mandritti (singular "mandritto"), so called because «thay start from the right (dritto) side» of the fencer to hit the left side of the enemy and the manroversi or simply roversi (singular "roverso") executed in the opposite way (from the left).

        Able to be executed with the true edge, there are the fendente (plur. "fendenti") which cut in vertical line from up to down, the
sgualembro (pl. "sgualembri") which cuts diagonally from a shoulder to the opposite flank, the tondo or traverso (pl. "tondi" or "traversi") which cuts in a horizontal line, and the ridoppio (pl. ridoppi) that cut diagonally from a flank to the opposite shoulder.

        With the false edge it will be possible to execute the tondi; the ridoppi will became falso dritto (left flank > right shoulder) and falso
manco (right flank > left shoulder), and the cut in vertical line from the bottom upwards is the montante (pl. "montanti").

        There is also the mezzo (half) mandritto, described by Dall'Agocchie: «the mandritto sgualembro starts from the left shoulder and
arrives until the right knee and for that it was named a finished cut. The half mandritto is of the same kind, but is not a finished cut and it needs less time to be executed and so it's called "half"»; a cut very similar to that used for the "arresto di sciabolata al braccio" a particular cut used in sabre fencing in time on the enemy's attack; Marozzo in the ch. 57 talks also about the half roverso.

        The cut executed «with wrist articulation in a molinello (a full circle executed by the blade to give more strenght to the cut)»
(Dall'Agocchie), is called the tramazzone..

        The thrusts are of four kind: the punta dritta (pl. "punte dritte") or just punta, executed with the hand in the Entering Guard's position; the punta roversa (pl. "punte roverse"), with the hand in the Face Guard's position; the imbroccata,(pl. "imbroccate") or overhand thrust, normally executed in Becca Cesa or Possa's position;  and the stoccata (pl. "stoccate") or underhand thrust, normally executed with the hand in High Iron Door's position.

§ 7 - The parries

        Until the XVIII century there is no classification of the parries and for this reason they are often confused with the guards: remember always that the parry is an action and the guard a position.

        About the parries, the only information are about the sword's edges and about this question Dall'Agocchie says:«in only two ways can you parry with the sword, or with the true edge or with the false: and the false is of two kind, falso dritto and falso manco».

        So the falso dritto and the falso manco are not only two cuts, but  also the main parries, that are able to protect almost all the body.

        The parries in Face, Head and Entering guard are useful to parry with the true edge the fendenti and the sgualembri.

        Virtually other steady parries, which mean executed with a position, not with a blow against the blow (like falso dritto and manco),
are Long and Narrow and Long and High tail (high right target), the Large Iron door and the Wild boar Narrow Iron door (high left target); Long and Large tail is good to protect the low right target and the Flank guard the left, although Marozzo prefers the dodge than the parry against the cuts to the legs.

        Becca cesa and Becca possa are good to protect head and shoulders, above all against the sgualembri.

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The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 | The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
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Liancour's Tercentenary | The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual | The Red Court Fencing's Royal Connection
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Demystification of the Spanish School 1 | Demystification of the Spanish School 2
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| A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
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Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
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