Tag: Rapier

Brief notes on fencing, from the military treatise of Giovanni Alberto Cassani (1603)

Giovanni Alberto Cassani published a military treatise in Naples in 1603.1 In this work he indicates that he was born in the town of Frassinello Monferrato in Piedmont, and that he served in the Spanish army, but little more is known about his life. Most military treatises of the time contain almost no advice on hand to hand combat. Cassani’s is somewhat of an exception. The bulk of the work is dedicated to organising troop formations, relying heavily on mathematical formulae, however on pages 5 to 8 he briefly includes notes on fencing. These notes are succinct and somewhat...

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Hack & Slash in the Age of Reason: Italian Rapier Against Multiple Opponents

“Finding yourself assailed by enemies, and supposing there are many of them, the situation demands nothing less than attacks like those of a desperate man, that is to say you must enter liberally into the fray” Giuseppe Colombani (1711) The scarcity of advice for multiple opponent combat, within the rich literature of several hundred European fightbooks, has often been noted.1 Moreover period masters are often quick to admit that fighting more than one assailant can be particularly difficult and dangerous. The German master Michael Hundt in 1611,2 suggests carrying a bag of stones to throw at your opponents, or...

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Florentines Doing “Florentine”: Combat with Two Swords According to Altoni and Docciolini

The sixteenth century saw a proliferation of fencing treatises written and published in the Italian peninsula. Some masters and styles have long been well known to fencing historians and modern historical fencers. Other masters, although perhaps influential in their time, remain less well studied. This is the case for two Florentine authors: Francesco di Sandro Altoni, whose manuscript is dated to circa 1540, and Marco Docciolini, whose work was published in 1601. Altoni’s dedication indicates he was fencing master to the Second Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo I de’Medici, from the latter’s boyhood. Docciolini’s patronage is less clear, but records of a portrait by the prominent painter Santi di Tito, suggest that he too enjoyed a degree of status and success. Despite the sixty years between these treatises, a clear continuity of style and structure supports the existence of a putative “Florentine” school, no less illustrious than the better-known contemporary school of Bologna. With this article, we hope to increase awareness of an important but rarely studied school of fencing, ahead of the future publication of Docciolini’s treatise in full English translation. The article itself addresses combat with two swords, another topic that is under-explored, and about which there are often misconceptions. In actuality, combat with two swords holds a relatively privileged position in the systems of Altoni and Docciolini, as the first discipline to be taught after the sword...

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Follow some Lessons with Dagger and Rapier

In a previous article, a detailed introduction to manuscript Cod. 264.23 was presented along with an English translation of the first two sections, dealing with the single rapier. In this contribution, a translation is presented of the third part (pages 61-83), dealing with fencing with rapier and dagger. While the first two parts of Cod. 264.231 appeared to have been written directly by the unknown author, this third part is a partial copy containing 44 pieces from Hans Wilhelm Schöffer von Dietz’s treatise “Gründtliche vn eigentliche Beschreibung der freyen Adelichen vnd Ritterlichen Fechtkunst”, published in Marburg in 16202, and two pieces (33 and 46) for which corresponding lessons were not found in that treatise. There are however some minor changes in the copy presented here, mainly in the spelling of certain words and the use of commas rather than slashes. Additionally, the illustrations from the original are missing in this manuscript, and the references to the plates have not been included in the copy. For comparison, with all lessons here, the numbers of the corresponding lessons from the printed edition are included between braces: […]. New considerations about the identity of the Fencing master “Hans Wilhelm” On page 5 of the manuscript, the anonymous author mentions the name of his fencing master “Hans Wilhelm”. In the previous article3, it was theorised that this “Hans Wilhelm” might be Hans Wilhelm...

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Some Fencing Rules

The following translation of the manuscript Cod. Guelf. 264.23 contains the notes of an unknown German speaking student about his fencing lessons at the knight academy at Sorø (Ritterakademie Sorø). It was most likely written over the period of several months to years, though all title pages are dated to the 10th of July 1657. This manuscript is of particular interest due to the perspective that it provides. Most Fechtbücher were written by experienced teachers with the purpose of conveying their prowess. In contrast to this Cod. Guelf. 264.23 was only written for personal use. The author directly wrote down the lessons that he received on the fencing floor, using the diction and methods of his teacher, and brought in his own views and thoughts while doing so. The concept of a student who is sitting at a table in his room at the knight academy in the evening, to once more reflect upon the fencing lessons of the day by the flickering light of a candle flame to make notes, which are then collected in his own notebook, is fascinating. Description of the manuscript Cod. Guelf. 264.23 Extrav. of the Herzog-August Library in Wolfenbüttel consists of 47 leaves of 20 x 16 cm and was created around 1657 at the knight academy in Sorø1. It was written in German in a cursive hand. However, certain technical terms were...

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Unfolding the cape

Neither a real weapon, nor a simple cloth: the cape in Italian martial arts. The cape is an item of clothing, subject to the rules of fashion and climate, and cannot be described appropriately by measures and rules, therefore it may have various shapes, lengths and widths, it may have a hood, or not. It is typically made of  rather thick and heavy cloth, in order to protect from rain and bad weather, but in milder periods it could just be a short cape attached to a shoulder. However, this is usually a garment worn by the men-at-arms, or fencers, commanders and mercenaries. The famous adventurer and goldsmith Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571), brought in front of the Eight of Florence as a result of another stunt, repents “giving me a great reproof and yelled, so to see me with the cape and the others in civilian hood” ”dandomi una grande riprensione e sgridato, sí per vedermi in cappa e quelli in mantello e cappuccio alla civile;” (“La Vita” 1558 – autobiography). As he realizes that, having to discuss their demeanor, he showed up very badly with the cape on him, while his opponent wears “a civilian hood” “mantello e cappuccio alla civile”. In a comment to the same passage from “La Vita” in the edition of 1926, the essayist Enrico Carrara says “the cloak was worn by bad people, unless...

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Fencing Culture, Duelling and Violence

Armed civilian conflict was a reality of early modern life, both arranged duels and spontaneous violence. Many masters speak lucidly of deadly combat, or claim direct experience of it, which should not surprise given their violent trade. Nonetheless many young men learned to fence, and relatively few perished by the sword. Examining sixteenth and seventeenth-century Italy (contrasted with France)1 evidence suggests that despite a vibrant fencing culture, and a generally more violent society, death by the sword in civilian duels was not inordinately common. Most violence fell outside of duels, and stopped short of killing, while most fencers would never need to apply their skills to lethal effect. Comparing the emphasis of the manuals, with the actual form and incidence of civilian violence, we must question the extent to which these arts were conventional, rather than purely pragmatic self-defence systems. This is not to disparage the traditions we study, or deny their value as a preparation for combat. But rather to acknowledge, celebrate, and understand the entirety of historical fencing practice: when it was used with lethal intent, and when not. The French Exception Carroll argues that few duels were recorded in France before the 1520s, the popularity of duelling spreading from Italy, and that: Unlike the tourney, judicial combat was a rare event and widely despised. Olivier de la Marche … witnessed thirty major jousts and tournaments in his...

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Exercises for the Cloak and Rapier

  The following are partnered drills for the cloak and rapier. It is vital that the attacker providing the techniques you are working against makes the techniques properly. If a thrust finishes too soon or is not committed, it is not realistic and of no help. The attacker must work at a speed that tests the defender but the aim is not to score points or catch the defender out. However, the attacker must work you hard! Finally, if this is done too fast, then you will not be provided with the opportunity to teach your body how it...

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Brief Notes on Using the Cloak with the Rapier

The following are some suggestions for using the cloak with the rapier. Please note, the techniques will vary from those which can be used with a sidesword, so this should not be taken as a definitive form for all sword types. The notes are not exhaustive and are best used as an aide memoire to a workshop, rather than a complete introduction. Size and make of the cloak The cloak should be wide enough to be grip in the fist at one corner and still cover the forearm and half of the upper arm. It should be long enough that, when in guard, it will drop to the shin, having been wrapped around the arm once or twice. However, it should not be so low that it can be stepped on. It should be of rough linen or similar cloth; nothing synthetic. Warning: the cloak will be heavy! For exchanging, a thick glove (like a hockey glove) and forearm armour is advised. Holding the cloak Grip the cloak at the top corner and hang the rest along your out-stretched arm. Only a little of the cloak should hang to the inside of your arm, the rest should hand to the floor. Wrap the cap once or twice around the arm by swinging the arm around in large circles. This will take practice and space! The cloak should now be...

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A short note on strengeren, or “gaining the blade”.

What’s our problem? The main purpose of any fencing art is to keep the fencer safe from the hostile intentions of his opponent(s), i.e. defense. However, in all of these arts it is recognized that through defense alone, a fencer will eventually lose, because as his opponent continues throwing attacks, inevitably some attacks will pass through the fencer’s defenses. Therefore, the fencer is taught to attack his opponent, in order to prevent them from continuing their offense. Such an attack, however, can only be made if the fencer can safely come into range, execute his attack, and then move...

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The Plagiarism by Nicolleto Giganti.

A few years ago I translated the first book of Mr. Nicolleto Giganti into Castilian. The book I used for the translation was printed in 1644 by Zetter in Frankfurt with the text translated into German and French. I must confess that this fencing felt quite lively and fresh, although I noted the lack of nomenclature of the guards, already seated among the masters of his time. Apart from that the book doubtless contained some innovations, passes, contra-passes both inside and outside (as the long points for example) in its 42 beautiful prints. In short, the treaty left me impressed. I know Mr. Salvatore Fabris very well. I’ve worked two years translating his two books into Castilian. Personally, I consider him the greatest master of the rapier. His art, science, system… And its only objective throughout the pages of his books is to teach and do it methodically and thoroughly. The books used for these translations were the originals printed in Copenhagen in 1606 by Henrico Waltkirch. So my impression of the work of Mr. Nicolleto was very friendly and although I considered the allegations made by Mr. Salvatore to be caused by potential jealousy and envy among masters. As for my opinion about Mr. Salvatore and his work I retain my deepest admiration. This year I began to carefully study the second book of Mr. Nicolleto, the Zetter version, printed in...

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Giovanni Battista Gaiani (1619) – An Italian Perspective on Competitive Fencing

  The relative benefit and importance of competition in modern HEMA is a frequent subject of debate. Despite differences in context, it is arguable that historical perspectives might usefully inform present discussions. This article reviews some examples of competitive fencing, primarily from Italian sources, and in particular Giovanni Battista Gaiani’s Arte di maneggiar la spada a piedi et a cavallo from 1619.1 There is a long, well-documented history of public contests at arms in Italy, both plebeian2 and patrician.3 Throughout this history, the boundaries between performative and purely practical fighting were often permeable. During knightly exhibitions of arms, combats...

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