Manciolino’s Sword and Buckler: Sotto il Braccio Part 1

When looking at Sotto il Braccio, also known as Under-Arm or First Ward (MS I.33), the general assumption is that the most natural attack is an upwards diagonal cut with the true edge. Which is why I find it so interesting that Manciolino doesn’t teach that cut.

I’ll explain what I mean through a series of drills.


For the purpose of these drills, we will be keeping the right foot forward. While Manciolino allows for either a wide or narrow stance and the plays seem to work equally well with both modes.

Unless otherwise stated, both fencers begin in the same guard. This is a convention that Manciolino uses in his text.

Ridoppio from Sotto il Braccio

To begin, we’ll a basic Ridoppio (diagonal rising attack) from Sotto il Braccio. The agent, or first fencer, will pass his left foot diagonally forward while performing this attack.

The patient fencer shall step likewise, parrying with a simple Riverso (attack from the left).

The patient should find his basic parry to be especially easy. As the German’s are fond of saying, an attack from below can be taken away by an attack from above.

Riverso to the Face

This next exercise may be done against a pell or static opponent without a sword.

First without the buckler, try a series of true edge Reversi that aim for the face from an underarm-like position. Note that no matter the angle, Squalembrato (descending diagonal), Tondo (horizontal), or Ridoppio, hitting the face is fairly easy.

Now repeat the experiment with a buckler in hand. While the Squalembrato and, to a lessor extent the Tondo, can hit the face, the buckler arm prevents a clean cut with the Ridoppio unless you allow it to float ridiculously high. And even then, the blow is more likely to strike the shoulder than face.

Chapter 11/12, Play 1

The first technique that Manciolino teaches for Sotto il Braccio is the aforementioned Riverso to the Face. As mentioned above, these formal drills assume both fencers start in the same guard.

In this drill, it is important that the agent step wide with the left foot. This changes the line of engagement, allowing the Riverso to strike behind the outstretched buckler. If the agent steps directly forward, the patent is protected without having the move.

If you try the same basic parry as used the Ridoppio, you’ll find that the parry is less satisfying. It is harder to perform correctly, especially if the agent steps particularly wide.

Chapter 11/12, Play 1 Counter

The counter is a matching passing step to the left with a Riverso directed at the right temple. At first blush, that doesn’t make much sense. If the patient actually hits the right temple, it won’t be in the right place to parry and both fencers will be wounded.

The trick is in the wording. You aren’t told to actually strike the temple, but rather to go “at him toward his right temple”. What’s that look like just slightly outside of range?


By cutting through the temple line, you will make contact at a triangle formed by his sword and buckler. The exactly angle isn’t too important, so long as it isn’t so shallow that it strikes the buckler on the way end.

This leads us to an important concept that is unique to sword and buckler fighting, the parting of the tools. It is almost always advantageous to have your sword between your opponent’s sword and buckler.

When performing this technique, there are three ways that wounds can be inflicted.

  • Striking the head on the way down
  • Hitting the sword at the right angle to push it out of the way, thus continuing the counter-cut to the sword arm.
  • Release the bind by rotating the false edge outwards, followed by a mandritto.

During this counter, your buckler should be covering your sword arm.

Falso from Sotto il Braccio

This next exercise may be done against a pell or static opponent without a sword.

There are two ways to through the falso from Sotto il Braccio, soft and hard.

The hard falso is essentially a beat. This opens up your opponent’s sword, giving you room for either a cut or thrust as you see fit. Care must be taken, as the contact informs your opponent of your intentions and he won’t give you much time to work. The strength of the blow is also very important. You need to be hard enough to create room to work, but not so hard to you take your own sword far off line.

The soft falso is a bit different in philosophy. Rather than removing his sword from your presence, you remove your presence from his sword. You do this with a wide step. At the same time, you bring your point on line with the same motion as real falso, but you make little or no contact with his blade. You simply stop with your sword somewhat below and behind his, allowing for rising thrust to the eye. I like setting this up so that the falso puts the point just in front of the left eye.

Chapter 11/12, Play 2 [Counters Play 1]

Though not stated anywhere in the text, it isn’t unusual to find an attack to be a counter to the previous counter. For example, if someone tries to use the Play 1 counter against the Falso in play 2, it just won’t work. The patient will find that he meets the sword far to high on the blade to really have any kind of effect.

After the failed parry, the agent can simply release the bind and cut a mandritto right back down the same line. This requires a hard falso, as you need to ensure you have room for the cut.

During this falso, the agent’s buckler falls under the sword arm. Then during the mandritto, or immediately thereafter, he can push the boss of the buckler against the opponent’s sword arm, pinning it to the chest.

Chapter 11/12, Play 2 Alternative

While there is nothing wrong with the play as written, my club prefers the thrust. After the falso makes contact with the sword, rotate the point down and the hilt up so that you may thrust into the chest behind the buckler.

Be careful to not rotate the sword’s edge too far. While you certainly don’t need a 90-degree angle between the blades, you need at least a little edge against his in order to capture his blade with your quillon (cross guard) as you thrust. If you turn your flat against his edge, his blade will ride down said flat and injure your fingers.

This variant can be done with either the hard or soft falso. The choice between the two should be based on the opponent’s temperament.

I’ll address the counter to play 2 in a future post.

This entry was posted in Antonio Manciolino, Sword and Buckler and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Manciolino’s Sword and Buckler: Sotto il Braccio Part 1

  1. Pingback: MS I.33 – Falling Under from Underarm (2r) | Grauenwolf's Study of Western Martial Arts

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