Looking at three translations of Manciolino’s First Defense from Alta

This has always been a difficult passage for me. Swanger’s translation takes liberties with the text, while Leoni’s doesn’t make much sense to me.

Transcription by Steven Reich

Accia il nemico qual colpo gli piace per offender te, che sei in guardia alta. Tu dei tre, o quattro fia te percoter l’orlo del Brocchero in su & in giu, cioè con il fendente & con il falso della spada, il che facendo ti ue nirai a render sicurissimo da qualunque offensiuo colpo.

W. Jherek Swanger Translation

The enemy makes some blow that pleases him, in order to offend you, who are in guardia alta. You must beat the rim of your buckler up and down, that is, [in response to] the fendente or the falso of his sword [respectively], doing which, you will come to render yourself safe from any offensive blow.

Tom Leoni’s Translation

No matter which of the attacks the opponents chooses while you are in Guardia Alta, hit the rim of your buckler with your sword three or four times up and down, using the fendente and the falso. By doing this, you will be most safe against any attack.

Google Translate

I’m including Google Translate because, not being a fencer, it is unbiased.

Accia the enemy what shot he likes to offend you, who are in high guard. You three, or four fia you percoter the rim of Brocchero in up & down, that is with the blow and with the false sword, which you doing ue Nirai to render very safe from any offensiuo blow.


Lately I’ve been experimenting with a new interpretation. The basic idea is this: your buckler only moves up and down, never side to side.

For blows that come from above or below, fendente or falso, this obviously works. But where it really helps is for blows that come from the sides. Normally a good way to defeat a bucklerist is to throw a wide blow to one side and, when he chases it, snap back to the other side which is now open.

Since under my new interpretation I’m not allowed to move the buckler sideways to parry, thus I can’t chase my opponent’s sword and create an opening for him to take advantage of.

What I can do instead is track my opponent with my buckler. By that I mean I can rotate my whole body such that the boss of my buckler is always facing his center of mass. And I do this whether or not he is attacking so that I’m always covered.

So far it has proven quite effective so I’m inclined to think that this is what Manciolino is trying to say (or at least closer than what I was doing before).




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Wallerstein Longsword – Plate 7 Weakness




First Interpretation

Our first interpretation looks like a form of nachreisen (chasing/following after) where our opponent attempts to leave the bind and we pursue.

Second Interpretation

Since recording our video on plate 7 (see below) we’ve learned a bit more about the play. Essentially this is a game of leverage.

In terms of power, both fencers start by pushing to their respective lefts. Our fencer needs to be in a slightly stronger bind so that his opponent doesn’t have an easy thrust. While maintaining light to moderate pressure, our fencer slides his sword up towards his opponent’s weak (top half of the sword). Not all the way, just enough that he can then apply then downwards pressure.

This is where our opponent foils himself. If he continues to push inwards while our fencers pushes down, they’ll eventually reach an inflection point. After which, the opponent will unwittingly be helping our fencer sweep his blade down.

This works surprisingly well even when the opponent is sensuously resisting because his direction of force is nearly 90 degrees to ours. We just need to have enough power to get past the inflection point, which can be found using leverage rather then brute strength.

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Spanish Footwork Diagrams

Source: https://books.google.es/books?id=PH1DAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA209#v=onepage&q&f=false

Explanation: https://www.reddit.com/r/wma/comments/47mrfm/discussion_about_parry_retreat_or_step_back/d0e63bd


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Practice Notes: Follow-up on the Steeply Angled Zwerch

First of all, since people still refuse to believe what’s right in front of their eyes when it comes to older illustrations, here is Meyer also showing that the Zwerch is performed with a very steeply angled cut.

File:Meyer 1570 Longsword G.jpg

As for effectiveness, we did a lot of tests last night and so far everyone agreed that the steeper angle was faster and hard to parry. It will take awhile to retrain ourselves to not rely solely on the shallow Zwerch.

We are also going to need to refilm our interpretation of Meyer’s example device to use this interpretation of the cut.

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Practice Notes – Screwing up Kron

The last time I sparred with the longsword, I found myself getting hit on the head a lot. The problem was that the second or third attack was coming in so fast that I didn’t have time for a proper counter-cut.

What I did wrong

Given that I only have time for a hard block, I would raise my hilt high with the point to the left. Basically I was trying to form St. George’s Parry, but there wasn’t really enough time to bring it all the way up. And there definitely wasn’t enough time to bring my hand onto the blade for this parry.


(Note that this isn’t actually a parry in Mair, I’m just using the illustration.)

When I did is right

Eventually I got tired of being hit and actually used Kron. It worked too well.

A thing to note about Kron is that it’s a really fast parry. There are no complicated movements involved, you just need to thrust upwards. And the timing is rather loose; you gain enough structure to withstand the blow long before you fully form it.

I say it worked too well because of my opponent’s reaction. When performed correctly, it disrupts your opponent’s stance. I knew this, but what I didn’t know was that disruption, combined with having my sword above his head in a Tag is pretty damn scary. You don’t see it in drills because both sides know its coming, but in sparring it is unexpected.

Unfortunately while he was busy giving up the vor and trying to break measure, I just stood there mimicking his shocked reason rather than actually finishing with the Kronhauw attack. (Aren’t mirror neuron‘s fun?)

What I need to work on

I need to retrain my panic reactions to use Kron instead of just throwing the hilt up high. This won’t be easy, as Kron isn’t something one should endeavor to use. If you have time to think “I would like to use Kron”, your opponent has time to respond with its counters. So really I can only practice this in sparring against someone who is better than me at maintaining the vor.

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Longsword – Cutting to the Ochs and Pflug

When examining the illustrations in Ringeck and other older manuscripts, I was told something to the effect of “if we used a zwerch like the illustrations, we’d be hitting with the flat”. While flat strikes do exist, they don’t look like this:


He didn’t say which illustration was bothering him, so here’s a few more that likewise seem problematic.

image imageimageimage image

While some of them could be read as coming in at an angle, a lot of these look like they are coming nearly straight up.

And why not? Who says that a rising Zwerch, or any cut, has to come in at a 45 degree angle? Meyer’s cutting diagram implies it, but it’s easy to dismiss that as broad classifications of cuts rather than specific recommendations.



Lets assume that the illustrations are correct and that under some circumstances it is more appropriate to cut very steeply when using the Zwerch.

An obvious benefit is the protection it offers to the hands. We know that a flat Zwerch is a danger to the fingers, and generally speaking the steeper the angle the safer the hands. (I’ll need to test this further to see if there is a point where that no longer holds true.)

Mark, thus strike the Thwart strike to the Four Openings:

Mark, when you come to him with the pre-fencing, then stand
with the left foot before and when you are near him, then
spring well on his left side with the right foot against him, and
strike the Thwart with vigor against his left side to the lower
opening. That is called striking to the Plow. If he parries, then
strike him quickly to the upper opening on his right side. That
is called to the Ox. And then drive the Thwart strikes quickly,
always one to the Ox and the other to the Plow, crosswise
from one side to the other, that is to the head and to the body.

Note that this passage concludes with “to the head and body”. A shallowly rising Zwerch is generally aimed for the head or maybe the upper arm. But a steep one, as shown in the illustrations above, truly does go for the body.

It also makes sense in regards to terminology. The lower openings are referred to as the Pflug/Plow. A shallow rising Zwerch would go over and behind Pflug, but a narrow Zwerch would strike where Pflug naturally covers. This mirrors the Ochs/Ox openings, which are clearly protected when standing in Ochs.

The word cross-wise is also important. The shallow rising Zwerch is usually followed

Zwerch into Pflug and Ochs

I can’t find the passage now, but somewhere I read that one should cut rapidly between into Ochs and Pflug. That may be a confusion with the above passage, but if it’s not then here’s my theory.

If you cut a steeply rising Zwerch followed by a steeply descending Zwerch (almost a squinter), you naturally fall into Pflug. This works on both sides equally well (though some may object to a left Pflug with the long edge up). And the next cut, another sharply rising blow, returns us to Ochs.

Note that this is not just any old Pflug either; it lends itself specifically to the retracted Pflug we see in the earlier manuals.


I’m one of those who normally uses horizontal and 45 degree rising Zwerch cuts. Had someone not complained about the illustrations it wouldn’t have even occurred to me to cut so steeply.

Now that I see them, I can think of many plays that would benefit from their use. Not all of the Zwerch plays that I use, but enough of them to make it worth investigating further.

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Interpreting Illustrations – Where are you looking?

A common criticism of illustrations, especially the earlier ones, is that the artist doesn’t understand perspective. While there is some truth to that, most of the time the perceived flaws in the illustration are in the viewer’s mind rather than the page.

Consider this example from Fiore:


It is tempting to think of the fencer on the left as simply right ochs. But if that’s the case, the illustration is badly drawn. He’d have to turn his head even further to see his opponent on the right, and the human head just doesn’t turn that far. Clearly this is just another example of the artists inability to draw anatomically correct figures.

But look at the eyes. If he were truly standing in right ochs, why isn’t he looking at his opponent? Likewise the fencer on the right seems to be looking out of the page.

What’s happening is that we’ve got the camera angle wrong. We’ve been trained by 17th century manuals to assume every illustration is directly to the side such that both fencers are the same distance from the camera. But in this case, if we want to see the fencer from the side, we need to rotate the image roughly 45 degrees.

This isn’t an isolated occurrence. Fiore often draws his figures at “odd angles” in order to better show the details. And he isn’t the only one, we saw the same thing in the vom Tag post. And if we look closely, we’ll probably see other examples across the various manuscripts.

Note, however, camera angle isn’t the only reason why a fencer may not be looking at his opponent. If the illustration is in the middle of a play, it could be telling us that one or both fencers moved such that one has lost sight of the other. This is to be expected when fencers correctly execute offline steps, especially at closer measures.

Thanks to Brain Stokes, organizer of Fiore Fest, for pointing out the trick of the eyes. Fiore Fest will be held next year in Santa Clara at Steaphen Fick’s school.

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