Here at the Rocky Mountain Swordplay Guild, the material that we research and train is based on the martial arts of Italy and Germany in the late Middle Ages. Our primary martial arts curriculum is primarily based upon the surviving records of the tradition founded by the Friulian master at arms, Fiore dei Liberi.

Dei Liberi gave no formal name to his school or his martial art, simply calling it larte dellarmizare (the art of arms), and we only know that the style outlived the founder because of the surviving manuscript of another master at arms, separated from dei Liberi by two to three generations of time. While we know of this later master, Filippo Vadi, through the treatise he penned, dei Liberi’s fame was such that he has been the subject of periodic biographies over the last six hundred years, and the city hall of his hometown is to this day found on the
Via de Fiore dei Liberi. Yet between them, these two men have left us a complete martial art of a richness and complexity to stand beside any other in the world.

In addition to the Liberi tradition, the RMSG Scholar’s curriculum includes study in the Bolognese Tradition of swordsmanship, hybrid combatives and knife material, and classical period military and civilian sabre.

 

Fiore and the Flower of Battle

Fiore dei Liberi’s art is preserved in the manuscripts he left behind, all entitled il Fior di Battaglia (the Flower of Battle). Presented to the Marquise d’Este in 1409, at least five distinct copies once existed. Only three survive, each with slight differences. The manuscripts are named for the collections that hold them: the John Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Pierpoint-Morgan in New York City, and the Pissani-Dossi collection, formerly in Italy.

The Getty and Morgan manuscripts consist of illustrations accompanied by short paragraphs of text, while the Pissani-Dossi replaces the paragraphs with rhyming couplets, perhaps meant as memory aids for the student. The Getty manuscript is the largest and most detailed of the three texts, presenting a carefully organized learning scheme. In the prologue dei Liberi provides his biography and credentials, including his five duels with other masters and the names and ranks of his famous students and their martial accomplishments. He then presents his basic tactical advice to the combatant, including priorities and cautions, followed by the requirements for fighting in hand-to-hand combat. The prologue ends with an explanation of the manuscript’s organization, and a dedication to Niccol’ d’Este, Marquise of Ferrara.

The Fior di Battaglia divides larte dell armizare into three principle sections: close quarter combat, long weapon combat and mounted combat. The close quarter combat forms the basis for many of the grappling and disarming techniques used in later sections of the manuscript, and is used in or out of armour, with the dagger section forming the single largest collection of techniques:

– Abrazare (striking, throwing and grapping techniques)
– Bastoncello (a short stick, approximately 12’ long)
– Daga (the rondel dagger)
– Daga contra spada (dagger vs. sword)
– Spada contra daga (sword vs. dagger)

Long weapon combat begins with the introduction of the sword and swordplay forms the basis for all other long weapon combat. The treatise also includes several other ‘knightly’ weapons used on foot, both in and out of armour, such as the spear and poleax. There are also several unusual weapons, such as monstrous, specialized swords for judicial combat, and hollow-headed polehammers, meant to be filled with an acidic powder to blind the opponent!

Abrazare
Lanza (lance)
Spada d’un mano contra lanza (sword vs. lance)
Spada contra spada
Ghiavarina (a partisan-like weapon shown on foot against mounted opponents)

Finally, mounted combat, reintroduces many of the disciplines already presented, this time adapted for combat on horseback, again in or out of armour. While the Guild does not practice mounted combat, the mounted techniques contain many interesting insights into the other sections of the art of arms.Long weapon combat begins with the introduction of the sword and swordplay forms the basis for all other long weapon combat. The treatise also includes several other ‘knightly’ weapons used on foot, both in and out of armour, such as the spear and poleax. There are also several unusual weapons, such as monstrous, specialized swords for judicial combat, and hollow-headed polehammers, meant to be filled with an acidic powder to blind the opponent!

– Abrazare
– Lanza (lance)
– Spada d’un mano contra lanza (sword vs. lance)
– Spada contra spada
– Ghiavarina (a partisan-like weapon shown on foot against mounted opponents)

The arte del’armizare within the RMSG
Filippo Vadi’s work, De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi, written c.1482, is very similar to the Pissani-Dossi manuscript, consisting primarily of beautifully painted figures with rhyming couplets. Vadi covers a smaller subset of weapons from Fiore: the dagger, the two-handed sword in and out of armour, the spear and poleaxe. The armoured combat techniques are reduced in scope, and abrazare, one-handed sword and mounted combat techniques are omitted entirely. But De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandis unique virtue is its prologue of sixteen verse chapters, in which Vadi addresses the general and specific principles of swordmanship, such as the proper length of the sword, tactical advice for facing stronger opponents and multiple opponents, how and when to parry and to control the fight when the swords are crossed, and lessons on timing, feints and a few specialized blows. These chapters provide fascinating insights into the tactical application of the art, and add clarity and subtlety to many of the plays found in all four texts.Within these subsections, dei Liberi taught his art through a series of zoghi (plays) formal, two-man drills akin to the kata of classical Japanese martial arts that were both technique and tactical lesson.

The dei Liberi tradition is the centerpiece of the CSG curriculum. It is the source for all of the abrazare, dagger and longsword material in the Guild’s novice curriculum, and this material is also expanded upon in the higher grades, along with the introduction of the armoured and polearm material.

  • Many great and wonderful books about WMA can be found at Freelance Academy Press
  • PDFs of the Novati facsimile of the Pissani-Dossi manuscript are available from the CSG.
  • The Exiles have provided partial translations of all three dei Liberi manuscripts on their site, along with several video clips.
  • The Knights of the Wild Rose have translated the entire Pissani-Dossi manuscript and put it online. Although the translation is quite flawed, it is freely available for those who do not speak Italian.
  • Partial translations of the Getty and Morgan manuscripts can also be found on theSchola Gladiatoria webpage.
  • Italian readers can find transcriptions of dei Liberi and Vadi’s manuscripts on the Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo website.
  • Nova Scrimia has a English language video on the longsword, based upon the dei Liberi tradition, as well as an Italian companion book, La Nobile Arte della Spada(‘The Noble Art of the Sword’).

This material is used with permission from Greg Mele and the Chicago Swordplay Guild.