Is the Mezano a Zwerch?

As I understand it, the Riverso Mezano is commonly considered to be a cut from the left, to the opponent’s right, with the short edge that can hit anywhere from the knee to the head.

My problem is, that doesn’t seem like a very effective action. Even people whom I respect a lot, people who focus primarily on Fiore, look awkward and ineffectual when they perform this cut. So let’s take a step back and look at what the text actually says.

Combined Transcription

Noy colpi meçani andamo trauersando;
Dal zenochio in su andamo guastando;
E rebatemo le punte fora de strada
E redopiando lo colpo de ferir è derada;
E si noy del meçano colpo intramo in fendent, .
Asay cum tali colpi guastamo zent.

Colpi mezani semo chiamadi perché noy andamo per mezi gli colpi soprani e sottani. E andamo cum lo dritto taglio de la parte dritta, e de la parte riversa andamo cum lo falso taglio. E lo nostro camino si è dello zinochio ala testa.

I don’t speak Italian, so moving on…

Brian Stokes Getty Translation

Named the middle cuts because we go between the high and low cuts. With the right cut go with a right handed blow and on the left side go with the false cut. Our path is the knee to the head.

Note: A “right handed blow” is commonly used to mean the true/long edge.

The first question is about “we go between the high and low cuts”. Does that mean it is aimed somewhere between where you would normally aim high cuts and low cuts? Or does it mean it goes between yourself and your opponent’s high and low cuts? In other words, it parries high and low cuts.

Something to note is that it doesn’t say “from my left side”. Nor does it say “to his left side”. It just says “the left side”, which could be interpreted either way.

Finally there is “Our path is the knee to the head”. That could refer to targets, as in “Our path is from our knee to his head” or it could be “Our path is to anywhere from his knee to his head”.

Note that answering the last question isn’t definitive: a rising Zwerch passes by the attacker’s knee, while a rising Falso can pass by the height of the opponent’s knee. Likewise, both a Zwerch and Mittlehau/Tondo can hit at nearly any height.

Exiles’ Getty Translation

Middle Blows we are called, because we go in the middle of high/downwards and upwards cuts. And with the right edge/cut to the right side, and of the reverse [left] side we go with the false edge/cut. And our path is from the knee to the head.

Again, that first sentence could be referring to target zones or parrying.

It does say “to the right side”. If the original actually says that, the question is closed. (Though it does raise the question as to why Stokes didn’t include the word “to”.

The last sentence adds the word “from”, but that doesn’t really help as it can still be interpreted as either an origin of the action or a range of targets.

Colin Hatcher’s Getty Translation

We are the middle blows, and we are so-called because we go crosswise through the middle of the path of both the downward blows and the rising blows. And we strike with the true edge of the sword from the right, and with the false edge of the sword from the left. And our path could be anywhere between the knee and the head.

In this version we see the word “crosswise through the middle”. A false-edge cut from our left to right doesn’t go cross anything, rather the tip precedes the blade. It is, however, a very common way to describe a Zwerch.

But then we have “from the right” and “from the left”. Again, we must ask if the word “from” is in the original Italian. (And for that matter, “crosswise” as well.)

Michael Chidester’s Pisani-Dossi Translation

We middle blows go thwarting;
From the knee and above we go wounding;
And we beat the thrusts out of the way
And, redoubling the blow, striking is our deal;
And if we of the middle blow enter cleaving,
We waste many people with such blows.

First line, “thrwarting”. That’s a little too on the nose, as it is the English translation of Zwerch. And it is clearly not in the original Italian which begins “Colpi mezani semo”.

Target zones are anything from the knee up, answering our earlier question.

A rising Falso from the left can certainly beat thrusts away, but it can be argued that Fiore would call that a Sottani. A horizontal from either side wouldn’t work, nor would a rising true edge cut from the right.

Is the Zwerch generally considered a good counter to thrusts? The general consensus seems to be no, though Gavin Corben argues differently,

Depends where you’re throwing your zwerch from, and where they’re thrusting from. Also depends how you’re performing your zwerch. I do zwerchs as diagonal cuts and feints/zirckels as well as the standard horizontal way. When used diagonally they can cover the line, guard against an in coming thrust, then displace it when you come around with a cut to the other side.

Is the horizontal false-edge from out left, horizontal true-edge from our right considered a good counter to thrusts? Here the general consensus is that it is useless.

If we go with the “from our knee to his head” interpretation then the answer changes to a resounding yes for the falso, but not the rising true edge from the right.

Redoubling is definitely something associated more with the Zwerch than Mittlehau/Tondo cuts. The rising true edge cut, however, is known as Ridoppio or Redouble in later Italian texts.

Exiles’ Pisani-Dossi Translation

We are the Mezzani blows we go across
From the knees upwards we damage
And we beat the thrust out of the way
And we redouble the wounding blow easily
And we are of the middle blow between the Fendente
Also With such blows we execute hundreds

Gone is “thwart”, which is good because that word isn’t actually in the

The Pisani-Dossi Illustration

Note that the cuts are illustrated as being straight across. That’s not typical of false-edge cuts from the left side to the right with a two-handed sword. Though not impossible, I always see fencers use at least a shallow rising cut, if not a steep one, when coming cutting from their left with the false edge.

And then there are all the problems with trying to parry a thrust with a horizontal cut.

Ars Gladitoria

Ars Gladitoria by Philippo di Vadi offers us the same cut under the name Volanti.

Porzio’s Vadi Translation

We are volanti and we always go crosswise,
from knee upwards we wound,
we are often banished by fendente and punte.

[…]

Rota with fendente and volante
against the thrusts are said, and so is shown
that these are not so dangerous.

It says that it is weak against descending cuts, which is not a characteristic of the Zwerch.

It says that it is both good and bad against thrusts, so this is probably a mistranslation.

Windsor’s Vadi Translation

We are volanti, always crossing
And from the knee up we go,
Fendente and thrusts we often banish.

[…]

The rota with the fendente and the volante
Say to the thrusts “we will show
That you are not so dangerous”.

With a slight change in wording, we now have is consistently saying that the cut in question is good at countering both descending cuts and thrusts.

Other Stuff

Meyer’s Cutting Diagram

An interesting thing to note is that in Meyer’s cutting diagram, the Zwerch is illustrated as a horizontal cut (C-G), but the text tells us it can be a horizontal or a rising cut. Fiore’s illustration and text may be showing the same.

Ringek’s Illustrations of the Zwerch

  

Here we see that the Zwerch doesn’t quite reach the knee. With a longer sword, lower stance, or standing a bit closer, it is plausible to hit that target, but that’s not something that I’ve actually seen done.

A normal Mittlehau/Tondo would have no problem hitting the knee, as would a rising falso, but a rising, true edge cut wouldn’t make much sense.

Bolognese Fencing Terms

In Bolognese fencing, we have separate names for horizontal cuts and rising cuts.

  • Horizontal: Tondo
  • Rising, False Edge: Falso
  • Rising, True Edge: Ridoppio

To group all of them together under the heading of “middle cuts” seems a bit odd. But you need all three to match both the illustration and the requirement that it counters thrusts.

Plays that use the Mezani

Adrien Pmlt writes,

Two plays actually use colpi mezani : the punta falsa in the Getty, and the far more significant Getty stretto play on folio 30r-b. I have yet to see a sound interpretation of the latter.

The text of this play, from Wiktenauer, is,

This play is performed as follows: against a crosswise strike from his left, you meet it with a crosswise strike of your own from your left. Then you quickly move to close range under cover, and then throw your sword around your opponent’s neck, as you see drawn here. From here you can easily throw him to the ground.

 

Posta di Donna Destraza

image

This is the Posta di Donna who can make all seven blows of the sword.

How would one throw a falso from the left side when starting in right Posta di Donna?

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2 Responses to Is the Mezano a Zwerch?

  1. Grauenwolf says:

    As some already know I believe the mezzani look like zwerchauen. That’s based on the original language, the drawings, comparison with the German texts and drawings, and the mechanics of effectively cutting crosswise (i.e. Somewhat horizontal, although crosswise is the more correct word) . It’s certainly a crappy cut from the left if you DONT do it like a zwerchau…

    Jonathan you can see from the various translations you quoted how flexible the translation can be ;)

    The error would be to say “the zwerch cuts true edge from the left and Fiore’s mezzano cuts false edge from the left, therefore Fiore’s mezzano cannot be called a zwerch”.

    There is more than one error in such a statement. One of course is that Fiore cares whether anyone calls his mezzano a zwerchau.

    Note: Fiore says he studied with German masters… assuming that to be true it seems reasonable he would have been familiar with the zwerch. Therefore the question arises: why would he leave it out of his own art?

    (We have no evidence Fiore puts his thumb under the blade either)

    The mezzani and the zwerchauen for me share common mechanics. Only difference is Fiore uses the opposite edges. But you can perform zwerchauen with either edge on either side.

    Here’s a Fiorean way to express it: the mezzani strikes end on each side in Fenestra (window guard). Thus they look like zwerchauen…

    I’ve been persuaded that this is a valid interpretation of the mezzani for several years now.

    Here are two of my students Timmy and Raz doing a mezzano cycling drill at class today. Nope they are not zwerching- they are mezzano-ing

    — Colin Gabriel Hatcher

    • Grauenwolf says:

      The edge used is utterly inherent to the mechanics of a zwerhaw. With the other edge from the left, you either end up with a sottano-style hooking cut, or a Meyer-style zirkel, neither of which work like the normal long edge zwerhaw.

      — Tea Kew

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