Gregory D. Mele, ©2014
[N.B: This article greatly expands and upon an earlier one “Understanding Wide and Close Play in the Martial Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi”, first presented in 2008 and later published with photo interpretations in In the Service of Mars, Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999 – 2009), Vol. I. In addition to a new introduction that is about a third of its entire length, substantial revisions and citations extend throughout the article, so those familiar with the earlier work will still want to read this in its entirety.]
I first discovered the works of Fiore dei Liberi in 1995, with a poorly photocopied, badly-translated edition of the Pisani-Dossi manuscript. I soon found a copy of Novati’s original facsimile, and over time learned that a wide variety of Italian authors, from Giacopo Gelli to the famed fencing master, Luigi Barbasetti, had written on the man and his work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Further a new generation of Italian researchers, most notably Massimo Malipiero and Giovanni Rapisardi, were also working with this “father of Italian fencing”, building on the work established by Novati almost 100 years earlier.
What all of these authors agreed upon was that control of distance was critical to how Fiore dei Liberi conceptualized his techniques, or “plays”, which he divided into two categories, one meant to maximize range, and one meant to collapse it. These two distinctions were:
Zogho Largo (wide play) only appears when discussing long weapons, such as the sword, spear or axe. At this measure, combatants may use the weapon’s edge and point, bind or grab the weapon’s head and, depending on the weapon’s length, make long-range unarmed attacks, such as kicks. Grabs will not reach any deeper than the opponent’s elbow; body-to-body contact is not possible.
Zogho Stretto (close or narrow play) is the measure at which dei Liberi describes abrazare (grappling) and dagger combat occurring. When fighting with longer weapons, it is the range at which one uses those same techniques: hilt/shaft strikes, grabs of the opponent’s sword arm, body, or head and includes body-to-body contact such as throws.
We second-generation researchers blissfully accepted this notion of wide and close play, picked up our swords and daggers and set to work. However, as we struggled to make sense of dei Liberi’s text, discovered the much larger and better explained Getty Manuscript, and wrestled with mastering a slightly archaic form of a new language, it became clear that sometimes, the more you learn, the less you are sure what you know.
Consequently, an ever-present bugaboo in the historical reconstruction (HEMA) segment of Western Martial arts is the need to interpret old texts, written in slightly (or very) archaic forms of modern languages, often by non-native speakers. While this is the daily trade of historiographers, and has been for centuries, very few “HEMAtists” are necessarily even truly fluent in those languages, let alone academics trained to analyze a text paleographically, linguistically and contextually. Some seek to educate themselves accordingly, while others embrace a sort of textual isolationism (“I study Master Z and I don’t need to know what Master Y said or how that relates to Thomas Aquinas” ) in a manner that is probably best reserved for the reading of sacred scripture by those comfortable with geocentrism or Young Earth Creationism.
But whatever the methods – or intentions – the end result is that we make mistakes, over-analyze or try to force-fit one language into another, blissfully unaware that neither modern Germans and Italians, nor academics trained in the medieval forms of their languages, need amateur scholars armed with dictionaries, Google Translate and good intentions to explain to them how these languages work!
CLOSE OR NARROW? CRAMPED OR CONSTRAINED? YES!
The Italian word stretto is precisely one of those words that infuriates English-speakers new to la bella lingua, because it can translate as several related, but distinct, words in the English language: “close”, “narrow”, “cramped” or “constrained”. In the context of fencing, all convey a sense that the distance between the opponents is “tight”, but the devil is in the details, as they say. That is where we run into a perpetual host of problems:
Fiore dei Liberi has plays of largo and stretto, as do the Bolognese masters, but then the latter also tell us that guards can be larga or stretta, defined by whether the point is off-line (larga) or in-presence (stretta). The matter becomes even more confusing as we look at the rapier, wherein the old distinction of zogho/gioco largo and stretto is replaced by misura (measure). Here the fencer either needs to move his foot to strike (misura larga) or he is close enough to strike without stepping (misura stretta). Likewise, rapier fencers are told to put the opponent’s sword into the stretta (and from which we get another Italian word, lovingly mangled by modern swordsmen: the verb stringere). Then, in a linguistic equivalent to a photo-bomb, we have Bondi di Mazzo in the late 17th century mentioning that as all rapier play occurs in the gioco stretto it is useful only to discuss the misura! Huh? Does it add clarity if I tell you that a century earlier, Giovanni Dall’Aggochie sharply criticizes masters who only teach gioco stretto and avoid gioco largo? No, I didn’t think so.
Although these definitions and codifications of the terms largo and stretto have merited a fair bit of reinterpretation, debate and careful reconsideration over the years — the current author having engaged in all three of those propositions at various points over the years — in truth the most perplexing thing is who is perplexed by all of this and who is not. For while this vagary of language drives swordsmen from North America, Australia, the UK, Germany or Finland mad, it seems to trouble Italians not at all. There’s a lesson to be learned here and it is a simple one:
Don’t try to force-fit a word or concept from one language into a single word in your own.
It can’t be that simple can it? For the purpose of understanding how to classify the nature of largo and stretto within Armizare — the school of Fiore dei Liberi –it actually can. Distance can be “close” and a guard held with its point “narrow”, the enemy’s blade can be “constrained”, and a small area “cramped” — because while the term has become jargon to non-native speakers, it really is just a common vocabulary term that cannot, and should not be unilaterally translated with a single English term.
What’s more, when we look at the broad concept of largo, stretto and mezza spada, it turns out that dei Liberi might be among our first surviving sources, but his use of the terms is almost pedantically mainstream, not just in Italy, but in Germany and England as well! By looking afield, can we comfortably define what Fiore dei Liberi meant?
THE MAESTRI OF TECHNICAL JARGON: THE BOLOGNESE TRADITION
Obviously, our first stop should be Italy, where a second great fencing tradition was born in the city of Bologna — little more than two day’s journey by horse down the road from Ferrara — shortly after our master penned The Flower of Battle. The Bolognese masters use a very specific technical vocabulary that heavily overlaps with Fiore dei Liberi’s, but is more directly based on the sort of academic jargo one would expect of a tradition from a University city, ostensibly founded by a professor of mathematics. It includes Aristotelian concepts of mechanics, time and motion, including actions described as “true” and “false”, an Agent (initiator of action), Patient (receiver of action), and a classification of motions as “full” or “half”.
This last concept is the most relevant to us here, since the mid-point of a full-cut is a half-cut, and two combatants both in measure that strike at one another will have their sword cross with a half-cut, at the half-sword (mezza spada) position. The half-sword is further defined as being achieved true-edge to true-edge or false-edge to false-edge, two of the principle outcomes for the parries or deflections shown by dei Liberi.
Although Bolognese plays (giochi) also refer to largo and stretto they seem to emphasize the idea that the mezza spada marks the transition to a new form of fight, so that half-sword plays are normally called strette di mezza spada. A specific definition is given for neither term; however, by analyzing their plays and pieces of advice that weave throughout the various texts in the tradition we can draw the following broad definitions:
Gioco Largo is the kind of play that involves wider distances, full cuts and whole tempi, and is performed with the sword-arm extended. Because it starts well out of measure, and admits the use of wide (largo) and high (alta) guards. Most sequences begin with provocations and feints to unsettle the opponent, since starting at a wider distance also means that a stationary opponent has a better chance to react successfully, and there are few prese (grapples) described out of wide play.
Gioco Stretto, or Strette di Mezza Spada begins after you and the opponent arrive at a crossing of the swords with neither of you having an advantage — meaning that either of you may initiate it. It occurs at shorter distances and involves half cuts and half tempi. Bolognese authors make it clear that this is a distinct type of play, often taught separately from the Gioco Largo. Because it starts in a closer measure and it involves shorter tempi, it favors the use of guards that close the line or are held narrowly (Guardie Strette) by keeping the point in-line. Stretto plays rarely use provocations, but instead initiate simple attacks by cut or thrust, compound attacks starting with a feint, or a close into grips, disarms, strikes with the buckler or hilt, and so on.
Manciolino offers the following advice on largo and stretto:
As you play with the two-handed sword in the gioco largo, you should keep your eye on the part of the opponent’s sword from half-blade to the tip. However, once you are at the half-sword, you should look at your opponent’s left hand, since it is with it that he may come to grapples. The art of the half-sword is necessary to the curriculum of anyone who wishes to become a good player. If you were only skilled in the gioco largo, and found yourself in the stretto, you would be compelled with shame and danger to pull back, thus often relinquishing victory to your opponent – or at least betraying your lack of half-swording skills to those who watch. [Translation by Tom Leoni]
We will revisit this advice again when we return to dei Liberi’s own use of wide and close play. In the meantime, while there is a great deal more than can be said on the nature of close play in the Bolognese tradition, as our purpose here is to look at what other traditions may tell us about largo and stretto play in Armizare, these general definitions should suffice.
WAR, GERMAN STYLE
The same place that Italian masters define as mezza spada or “the half-sword”, the German masters call either Krieg (“war”) or Handarbeit (“handwork”). The concept is largely identical: the blades meet in a bind, crossed in the middle, and ensuing actions can occur instantly, often without so much as a step of the foot — a principle that makes techniques such as the Winden on the same side of the sword, Duplieren or Mutieren so swift and deadly.
Like their Italian counterparts, how to safely come to this place and what to do from it forms the vast majority of the technical repertoire of the German art. Ironically, it is the last master of the tradition, Joachim Meyer, who gives the best tactical descriptions of Handarbeit at the beginning of his 1570 manual:
This (fencing) can primarily and justifiably be divided in three parts, that is the beginning, the middle and the end. / The middle (is) the secondary or handwork, when someone remains in the bind or longer in his work against his adversary and presses him with all his speed.
Meyer further clarifies that any and all actions occur in the hand-work, and it is the sum of all fencing knowledge. This is the only phase in which Meyer says the entire catalog of actions are possible.
The secondary or handwork encompasses the greatest art and skill and all the speed that can occur in fencing….Den sie zeigt nit allein an / wie man das Schwerd anbinden / Winden / Wechseln / Verfüren / Nachreisen /Schneiden / Doplieren / Ablauffen sol lassen / oder wölcher gestalt man umbschlagen / Schlaudern /Vorschieben / Absetzen / Zucken und Rucken /Verstellen / Ringen / Einlauffen / Werffen und nachtringen soll.
Interestingly, as the German masters almost always come to the bind with both combatants’ right feet forward, the moment they reach the half-sword they have achieved what we will see as Fiore dei Liberi’s crossing of Zogho Stretto, and their actions, including the principle objective of threatening with the point to force a wide parry by the defender, closely follow the sensibilities of the Bolognese Masters and their strette ala mezza spada. Not surprisingly, as there are so many ways for primates with sharp lever-arms to harm one another, when they use closing techniques, such as those favored by dei Liberi, they use nearly identical plays with identical footwork.
WHY DOES IT ALWAYS COME BACK TO THAT ENGLISHMAN?
Back in the dark ages of the 1990s, when the term “HEMA” was not a twinkle in Western Martial Artists’ eyes, it was a common trope to use the two works by the 16th century Englishman George Silver to elucidate and explain other systems, particularly as the then Anglophone community had limited understanding of how German and Italian masters conceptualized their arts. With the sudden growth of the community in the middle of the first decade of the 21st century, Silver fell out of fashion, and in many circles is considered “idiosyncratic”, an “outlier” or somehow “not relevant” to compare to other systems for developing greater context of how Renaissance fencers thought about their arts.
This is unfortunate for a variety of reasons, but not least of which is that in the process, very few note that Silver uses the exact same technical jargon as the Bolognese Masters and for the same reasons: he was educated in Renaissance Europe and thus hard a working knowledge of the Quadrivium and Trivium and knew his Aristotle. So he also has an Agent and Patient performing his Plays, guards can also be True and False, and sure enough he uses Wide and Close…except when he uses Narrow. And that distinction is crucial to our discussion here.
Silver builds his entire conceptual paradigm around the management of distance (Brief Instructions, Cap.1):
The four grounds or principals of that true fight at all manner of weapons are these four, viz. 1. judgement, 2. distance, 3. time, 4. place.
The reason whereof these 4 grounds or principals be the first and chief, are the following, because through judgement, you keep your distance, through distance you take your time, through time you safely win or gain the place of your adversary, the place being won or gained you have time safely either to strike, thrust, ward, close, grip, slip or go back, in which time your enemy is disappointed to hurt you, or to defend himself, by reason that he has lost his place, the reason that he has lost his true place is by the length of time through the numbering of his feet, to which he is out of necessity driven to that will be agent.
Everything for Silver is about managing distance and finding how to win a safe place to strike. Not surprisingly, pressing in or receiving an attack in the seeking of the Place, often brings us to a position he expressly calls the Half-Sword:
Yf ij fyght & that both lye vpon the true gardant fyght & that one of them will neede seek to wyn the half sword by pressinge in, that may you saflye do, for vpon that fyght the half sworde may safflye be woon. 
And the Half-Sword itself relates directly to a position known as Close Fight:
Close fyght is when yõ Cros at ye half sword eyther aboue at forehand wardyt is wt poynt hye, & hande & hylt lowe, or at true or bastard gardant ward wt both yor poynts doun.
Close is all mannr of fyghts wherin yõ have made a true Cros at the half sword wt yor space very narrow & not Crost, is also close fyght.
In other words, at the half-sword, you are crossed from a pair of half-blows or a parry of a blow. This is Close (stretto) Fight, which is described in part as the space between your weapons being narrow (stretto). Although Silver states that the half sword “may safflye be woon”, he goes on immediately to warn of the dangers of winning it, writing:
but he that first cometh in, Must fyrst go out, & that presently, otherwise his gard wilbe to wyde aboue to defend his hed, or yf fyt for that defence, then wil it be to wyde vnderneath to defend that thrust from his body which things the patient Agent may do, & fly out saf
At the half-sword you may still cut and thrust freely, but any attempt at pressing inwards results in an immediate grip. Thus, the half-sword is the position at which both ends of the sword, and grips (prese), may be used:
yf yõ are both ſo croſt at ye baſtard gardant ward, & yf he then preſs in, then take the grype of him as is shewed in ye chapter of ye grype, Or wt yor left hand or arme, ſtrike his ſword blade ſtrongly & ſodainly towarde yor left ſyde by wch meanes yõ are uncroſt, & he is diſcoured,, then may yõ thruſt him in the body wt yorſword & fly out inſtantly, wch thinge he cannot avoyd, nether can he offend yõ. Or being ſo croſt, yõ may ſodainly vncroſe & ſtrike him vpõ the hed & fly out inſtantly wch thinge yõ may ſafly do & go out free
There is one unifying qualifier in the entire chapter on grips (Cap 6) – you have come to the half-sword. If he does not press in, you may still uncross and hit him with the pointy end of your sword (Ground 6), and you can use your free hand to press his blade or wrist (Grounds 2 – 5). Alternatively, you may pass in to the outside with the left foot and envelope his arm in a wrap (ground one). As with grips, hilt strikes can only occur after achieving the half-sword, just like his grips:
yf he com to the cloſe fight wt yõ & yt yõ are both crost aloft at ye half ſword wt both yor points vpwards, then yf he com in wt all in his Croſſing bere ſtrongly yor hand & hylt ourhis wriſt, cloſe by his hylt putting it ouer at yebackſyde of his hand & hylt prſſinge doune his hand & hylt ſtrongly & ſodainly, in yor entring in, & ſo thruſt yor hylt in his face, of ſtrike him vpõ ye hed ſword, & ſtrike vp his heeles, & fly out.
In Silver’s “workaday” swordsmanship we have a style of play quite different from the flowing sprezzatura of the Bolognese school, yet both couch their art in the same technical jargon, not because it is fencing jargon, but because it is the language of the educated. And whereas the Italian language provides one word – stretto – to mean multiple things, Silver, writing in English, is able to use two words to distinguish what he means. When one crosses distance, they are moving into a Close-Fight, which begins at the position of the Half-Sword. When a guard has the points in presence then it is Narrow-Spaced, when the sword is carried low, aloft or otherwise is not closing the line, it is Wide Spaced.
A great deal of digital and real ink has been spilled over the last seven years by non-native speakers of Italian trying to parse a singular translation for largo and stretto into English, when a 16th century English swordsman had already demonstrated how it was to be done. But where’s the fun in that?
FORM FOLLOWS FUNCTION, OR TECHNIQUE FOLLOWS MEASURE: LARGO AND STRETTO IN ARMIZARE
The irony is that all of those 19th and 20th century authors were correct all along: Zogho Largo and Zogho Stretto are distinctions of how measure affects technique, not a definition of how or when you first come into distance, and not a definition of line. For example, all dagger combat is part of Zogho Stretto, since even the longest range knife attack occurs in grappling range, regardless of whether the opponent steps in to strike.
Prior to the ascendance of rapier fencing, European masters-at-arms conceptualized combat into a series of phases. The first began with breaking measure from out of distance and ended when the swords crossed mid-blade, such as when two combatants struck at one another, or one struck and the other parried. At this distance, both long distance and close quarter combat was possible, whereas if one pressed in closer, the combat progressively shifted to in-fighting or wrestling. This transitional place was extremely dangerous, since each combatant could threaten the other with the same techniques. Finally, some masters further elaborate how, having come to the half-sword, a combatant might wish to remain in wide-play, using a variety of strategies to drop back and retreat. How each tradition of 15th and 16th swordsmanship applied these principles is in large part what defines their particular art, and this level of analysis is beyond the scope of this essay. Instead, having a working model of the concepts of Zogho Largo, Zogho Stretto and Mezza Spada, we can analyze how it relates to a specific discipline, l’arte dell’armizare of Fiore dei Liberi.
COMING TO THE CROSS
The best way to understand when you are in Largo and when you are in Stretto is to understand what happens in the bind. Fiore dei Liberi defines three types of parry, based on a crossing at one of the three parts of the blade the tutta (forte), mezza (middle third) and the punta (debole):
These two masters are here crossed at full-sword. And each can do what the other does, that is, that one can make all plays of the sword with the crossing. But the crossing is of three types which are full-sword (tutta spada) and point-of-sword (punta della spada). And the one who is crossed at full-sword cannot stay long. And the one who is crossed at mid-sword (mezza spada) can stay less. And the one who is at point-of-sword cannot stay at all. [Morgan Ms – translation mine]
The play of Zogho Largo is taught by three magistri (masters), the first two of whom are related to the three crossings: the first shows the crossing at the punta, the second shows the crossing at the mezza spada, and the third master is a contrario (counter), showing how to transition into close-quarters. Zogho Stretto is taught by only one master, who crosses at the half sword in the Getty Ms and at the tutta in the Pissani-Dossi. The crossings at Zogho Largo are shown with the left foot forward. Although Fiore is silent on the matter, Vadi specifically addresses this foot placement, when discussing how to parry a strike:
When you parry the backhand, keep forward / the right foot and parry as said / when parrying the forehand / then you will have the left foot forward.
The most likely reason for the left foot crossing throughout wide play is not best described by Fiore or Vadi, but by the Bolognese master, Antonio Manciolino, whose description of the relationship between largo, stretto and the mezza spada is worth revisiting:
As you play with the two-handed sword in the Gioco Largo, you should keep your eye on the part of the opponent’s sword from half-blade to the tip. However, once you are at the half-sword, you should look at your opponent’s left hand, since it is with it that he may come to grapples. The art of the half-sword is necessary to the curriculum of anyone who wishes to become a good Player. If you were only skilled in the Gioco Largo, and found yourself in the Stretto, you would be compelled with shame and danger to pull back, thus often relinquishing victory to your opponent – or at least betraying your lack of half-swording skills to those who watch.
By crossing with the opposite foot forward, the Scholar completely closes the opponent out of his inside line, can freely use his sword’s point and edges, and keeps his dominant hand further from his opponent’s left hand, forcing him to pass in if he wishes to grapple. Conversely, having the left leg forward allows the Scholar to quickly make his own grabs to the opponent’s sword or sword arm without having to step at all. Finally, the Scholar can still pass in with his right foot as he makes a follow-on attack and only if that fails has he moved into close play.
Conversely, the crossings at Zogho Stretto are shown with the right foot forward, and this is confirmed by Fiore dei Liberi in the first play:
The first play I execute derives from my Master’s crossing with his right foot forward. [Getty Ms. 28r]
Although the master does not overtly discuss this, the reversed stance changes the relative measure between the combatants’ dominant sides, and affects which line is open.
There are twenty techniques of Zogho Largo, arranged as follows: a lesson on how to counterattack by striking so that the swords engage in the last third, or punta.
The bind is very weak in the crossing of the punta (‘the one who is at the point cannot stay at all”) and as such there are only two possibilities, based on who is more forceful in the bind. If the Scholar (defender) wins the bind, he presses through the opponent’s strike, striking him in the head or “stands the point to his face”. However, if he loses the bind he simply lets the opponent’s blow push through his guard and strikes him with a backhand to the side of the head. Essentially, the “bind” is nothing of the sort – the sword’s meet and if the Scholar has done his work he either kills the opponent on the inside line in one tempo, or on the outside in a second, almost instantaneous one.
Most of the techniques of wide play are taught by the second master, whose measure relates to a crossing at the mezza spada. His initial plays are based on the same lessons of blade pressure in the bind taught by the first master, only from a different, stronger crossing on the blade. The first play is the Master himself. In the second play, the Scholar wins the bind, opening the inside line to a risposta. The third and fourth plays are a continuum: in play three the blades bind with the points in presence, so the Scholar grips the opponent’s punta and rispostas with a cut. The fourth play gives us a variation of what to do should the attacker try to cover his head when his blade is grabbed: kick him in the shin and then cut him! The fifth and sixth plays deal with being weak in the bind and are the first time the Scholar moves to the outside; this a is called the Colpo di Villano (villain’s blow).
It is worth noting that while the plays of the Second Master are at the measure of the half-sword, not all involve a direct crossing, anymore than do all of the Bolognese largo plays, the German Zufechten (approach) or Silver’s three other fights besides Close Fight. In fact, this is a defining trait of “wide play”! In dei Liberi’s case we see two such actions. The first is the defense against a cut to the leg (See Fig 4). Against this attack, the master tells us:
When the opponent attacks your leg, withdraw the foot you have forward or pass back, and deliver a fendente to his head as shown here. However, with the two-handed sword you should never attack below the knee, because it would place you in too much danger, since it leaves you wholly uncovered. If you had fallen on the ground, striking the opponent’s leg would be fine, but not in any other circumstance, when you are fighting with a sword against a sword. [Getty 26r]
Generally called a “slip” in English, this is a staple of European swordsmanship and simply uses geometry to defend by distance – since our arms attach at the shoulders, not the hips, which means that the swordsman is able to overreach the attacker with a cut to the head, by counterattacking while pulling back his leg. While the play is straightforward, what is it doing in a section on crossing at the mezza spada?
The key is understanding its position in the section. Thus far, the master has shown us a direct counterattack against a fendente (First Master of Zogho Largo), and then a series of plays that determine what happens when two attacks to the high-line bind (plays one through six of the Second Master). The next logical step is to show what happens if the attack is made to a low target instead. Sure enough, we only have one further technique versus a cut, a kick to the testicles (play 8). This is the logical counterpart to the leg cut, as it demonstrates how to use a low line in defense to counter an attack to the high line. Having addressed cuts, the master is ready to move on to thrusts (plays 9 – 14)before moving on to using a prese at wide-distance (plays 15 and 16) and finally a feint to break distance and its counter (plays 17 and 18). We will look these plays, and what they tell us of moving from Zogho Largo to Zogho Stretto, a little later.
Note not only what techniques in the Largo section focus upon — cuts and thrusts with the last third of the blade — but what they do not — hilt strikes, throws or body to body contact. They do contain two kicks and an elbow-push. This reflects an issue of measure, rather than line, because the two stomp kicks are long-range unarmed techniques — almost equivalent in reach to a sword cut from the bind.
Finally, note that the Zogho Largo plays principally occur on the inside line, with the Scholar only stepping to the outside in five instances. As we shall soon see, by understanding when and why four of these five plays move to the outside, we can get a clear understanding of the relationship between wide and close play in the dei Liberi School.
The second division of combat is Zogho Stretto, which is best defined by Fiore dei Liberi himself at the end of the Zogho Largo section:
We will now start the close play of the sword in two hands, and look at how to break every manner of cut and thrust.We will see every kind of parry, strike, bind, dislocation, grapple, disarm and throw. We will also see the remedies and the counters to each action needed to attack and defend. [Morgan Ms; compare to the less complete Getty 27v, caption four]
The master demonstrates twenty-five plays of Zogho Stretto, all of which come from a crossing with the right foot forward. (Fig 5) While this crossing seems more “natural”, as it often arises from two simultaneous blows, it does not close the Scholar’s inside line as strongly, making him susceptible to follow-on attacks in the same line. It also brings his sword arm closer to his opponent’s grappling hand. Dei Liberi has already introduced this concept earlier in his manuscript, while teaching how to use the sword one-handed”
I’ve found you completely open and hit you in the head with no trouble. And if I pass forward with my rear foot, I can perform some zoghi strette against you–like binds, breaks and abrazare.[Getty 20v]
Remember, the principle importance of the half-sword is tactical. Note that in the above passage, the master himself is specific as to what defines plays of zoghi stretti: at the half-sword, if he passes forward he will perform “binds, disarms and grapples”. This is reiterated in the final play of Getty Ms. 28v:
When I am crossed, I enter into close play.
The other known master of the Armizare tradition, Filippo Vadi, introduces this idea in chapter three of his treatise, where, after discussing how to “hammer him with blows”, the master demonstrates that the half-sword is the range in which we move from wide to close play:
When he comes to the half sword / close towards him, as reason requires/ leave the wide distance and assail him.
Finally, if he wishes to pass in with the rear foot the swordsman must pass to the opponent’s outside, thereby winding to his (the opponent’s) strong side, and collapsing measure. While the Scholar can now grapple, he is also vulnerable to being counter-grappled, as we are warned at the beginning of the section:
We have crossed our swords: this is the crossing from which we can make all the plays that follow. Both of us could perform each of them. These plays will follow one another, as I have explained above. [Getty 28r]
Thus, as we’ve seen previously with the definition of Krieg and Close Fight, the half-sword is our moment of transition – we can make any action at this position and should we press in, we make close (note I am not calling it “narrow”!) plays that involve grappling man or weapon.
COMPARING TECHNIQUES OF WIDE AND CLOSE PLAY
It is a gross simplification to say that Zogho Largo involves cuts and thrusts, whereas Zogho Stretto involves grips or disarms, as these are found in both types of play. The difference is where and how these plays occur. This is best explained by comparing a few specific examples of techniques that appear in both types of play.
GRABBING THE OPPONENT’S SWORD
One of the first plays of the second Master of Zogho Largo involves grabbing the opponent’s sword when the weapons bind. As the blades cross, the pressure is more or less even in the bind, and the opponent’s point threatens the Scholar; he cannot safely leave the bind without being hit. Therefore, the Scholar releases his sword’s hilt with his left hand and grasps the Player’s blade by the punta. He then immediately uncrosses and makes a one-handed cut to the Player’s face. (See Figure 6.) By keeping the right leg refused, the Scholar’s sword hand remains completely out of reach of the Player, and he can freely uncross and cut the Player in the head or the left hand, should he attempt a grapple. Conversely, in the corresponding play of Zogho Stretto the Scholar comes to the half-sword with his right foot forward.
He then passes in with his left foot, as he reaches between the opponent’s hands with his left hand, in the position of 12 o’clock (little finger up). He grasps the wrist of the Player’s sword arm and makes a short, counter-clockwise rotation of his hand, as he draws his sword back into posta di finestra. (See Figure 7). Note that when the combatants cross with both of their right feet forward at the mezza spada, i.e.: the Master of Zogho Stretto, that the forward pass of the left foot will bring the Scholar much closer to the Player. Consequently, he must retract his sword in order to threaten him with a thrust, as he is too close to execute an extended blow.
Another recurring technique throughout dei Liberi’s treatise is the elbow push, which occurs both in the crossing of Zogho Largo and Stretto. By comparing them, we can again see how the subtle difference of which leg is forward during the crossing at the half-sword affects the final measure of the play. In the Largo version of the elbow push, the Scholar and Player again come to the bind. The Scholar immediately releases his hilt with his left hand, and does an elbow push to the Player’s sword arm, spinning him away and to his own left. From here, he pursues with a pass forward of the rear (right) foot, and cuts him across the back of the head. (See Figure 8.)
Conversely, in the Stretto version, the Scholar and Player come to the cross, with their right feet forward. As the Scholar parries, he passes forward with his rear (left foot) and makes the elbow push, spinning the Player away and to his own left. From here, the Scholar throws his sword about the Player’s neck and cuts his throat. (See Figure 9.) Despite both being the same basic technique, performed from the crossing at the mezza spada, the relative positions of the body in the cross changes the nature and measure of the play. Whereas the first play required him to pursue his opponent to even reach him with a fully extended cut, the second play immediately puts the combatants in body-to-body contact.
TRANSITIONING FROM WIDE TO CLOSE PLAY
Although grapples in wide play focus on long-distance actions such as grabbing the sword or kicking the knee or groin with a straight leg, there are two grappling techniques that do appear in this section, where they occur as follow-on techniques. In both, the technique that precedes them has the Scholar pass forward with his right foot, putting him in the position of the master of Zogho Stretto!
The first of these techniques is called the scambiar di punta (the exchange of thrusts). The Scholar assumes tutta porta di ferro, posta di finestra or posta di donna. The opponent enters into measure with a thrust to the Scholar’s face. The Scholar strikes with the true-edge of his sword as he steps forward left with his left foot, stepping into the line of the attack, and parries the blow with his arms well-extended from his body and his hands low, at about the height of his groin. Passing forward with the right foot, he thrusts the Player in the throat. However, should the thrust miss the target, glance off of any armour, etc., the Scholar is now in a bind on the tutta of the sword, with his right foot forward. This is the position of the master of Zogho Stretto. Applying this master’s lesson, the Scholar immediately passes to the outside with his rear (left) foot and grips the Player’s hilt between his hands. Locking down the opponent’s sword, he thrusts under his arm to his face. (Fig. 10)
The second play that leads to a transition from wide to close play is another thrust counter, the rompere di punta (breaking the thrust). The Scholar begins in tutta porta di ferro, posta di finestra, or posta di donna. As the opponent passes in with a thrust to his chest or face, the Scholar makes a small traverse with his left foot to his forward left while striking up with his sword into the attack. Making a mezza volta (a passing step that rotates the Scholar’s body to face the other side of the centerline) with his right foot, he presses down with his sword, driving the opponent’s weapon into the ground. He then immediately cuts up with his false edge to the opponent’s throat. He finishes with a descending backhand to the opponent’s head as he passes back with his right foot, and then withdraws from measure.
However, if the opponent is prepared when his sword is driven into the ground, he can parry the false-edge cut by pulling his hands up into a left posta di finestra. As before, the Scholar now finds himself in an incrossada with his right foot forward.
As the opponent parries the false edge blow, the Scholar releases his left hand from his hilt and hooks it over his opponent’s wrist. Passing to the outside with his left foot, he grabs his blade in his left hand and presses it forward into the enemy’s neck, as he wrenches back with the hilt. The pressure of this bind is then used to bear him to the ground. (Fig 11)
Throughout the Getty Manuscript, dei Liberi uses a bridging technique that leads from the end of one section into the next. For example, abrazare ends with the use of a small stick in a way that relates to dagger combat, while the dagger section ends with plays of the dagger vs. the sword, leading into the instruction on swordsmanship.
In the same way, the final play in the section of Zogho Largo is the punta corta (shortened point) and its counter. This time the Scholar is the attacker, and he closes measure with a pass of the right foot as he makes a horizontal blow to the left side of his opponent’s head. The opponent passes in with his right foot and attempts to parry. But as he does so the Scholar’s blow falls short, just touching his blade. The Scholar instantly cuts around to the other side and passes in with his left foot. He grasps his blade in his left hand and thrusts the opponent in the face.
To counter this technique, the opponent waits until the Scholar begins to pass to the outside. He simply turns his hand to his right side, letting the Scholar run onto his point. Passing in with his left foot, the opponent grabs his own sword by the blade and completes the thrust. Considering the use of bridging techniques and repetition used throughout the manuscript, it is likely no coincidence that the punta corta is the link between wide and close play, nor that the follow-on to the exchange of thrusts is also the first play that dei Liberi teaches in his section on Zogho Stretto!
CONCLUSION: WALK DANGEROUSLY
In analyzing the organization of the plays we find that our original definition still holds:
Zogho Largo (wide play) only appears when discussing long weapons, such as the sword, spear or axe. At this measure, combatants may use the weapon’s edge and point, bind or grab the weapon’s head and, depending on the weapon’s length, make long-range unarmed attacks, such as kicks. Grabs will not reach any deeper than the opponent’s elbow; body-to-body contact is not possible.
Zogho Stretto (close or narrow play) is the measure at which dei Liberi describes all abrazare (grappling) and dagger combat occurring. When fighting with longer weapons, it is the range at which one uses those same techniques: hilt/shaft strikes, grabs of the opponent’s sword arm, body, or head and includes body-to-body contact such as throws.
Further, the crossing of mezza spada assumes prominence, for it is both the divider and unifier of the two types of play. Based on the three crossings of the blade and how he orders them, Fiore dei Liberi shows us that at the crossing of the punta, the swordsman can only play in Largo; while at the tutta he can only play in Stretto. But at the mezza spada, the swordsman can use both types of play.
When these plays are taken as a complete set, and we analyze how to flow from one to the next, we find a simple pattern: Left – Right-Left. Defend by crossing with the left foot forward (Zogho Largo) and win with either a counterattack (First Remedy Master) or a parrata-risposta (Second Remedy Master). If this technique fails and you are still in the bind, your right foot is forward. Since this is the crossing of Zogho Stretto, use a play of Zogho Stretto, by passing to the outside with your left foot. From the moment you draw your sword and enter into a measure, you are simply walking forward until the opponent is dead!
Although line appears to have a role in these techniques, with Largo techniques favoring the inside line, and Stretto techniques favoring the outside line, it is actually a secondary concern to the issue of measure. Instead, as with the German, Bolognese and English sources of the 15th and 16th centuries, it is the crossing at the half-sword (mezza spada) that assumes prominence in Armizare, for it is both the divider and unifier of the two types of play, wherein all of the technical diversity of medieval swordsmanship – cuts, thrusts, grips, kicks, disarms, pommel strikes and throws – becomes possible. By using its particular leg position in coming to the cross, the dei Liberi School sought to maintain maximum distance in wide play, and allow the strongest, fastest closing of distance in the narrow.
Over the last decade I’ve had the chance to discuss, debate and analyze this topic with a number of excellent colleagues, all of whom, whether we agreed then (or now!) or not, have made my analysis a) necessary, b) possible and c) forced me to delve much more deeply into the structure and organization of Fiore dei Liberi’s sword plays to ferret out what he was trying to convey and how he was doing it. This list includes Devon Boorman, Bob Charrette, Bob Charron, Matt Easton, Matt Galas, Ilkka Haritkainen, Sean Hayes, Steve Hick, Mark Lancaster, Tom Leoni, Rob Lovett, Steve Reich, Jason Smith, Christian Tobler, Guy Windsor, Gianluca Zanini and Nicholas Zeman. My thanks to them all.
Anonymous: MSS Ravenna M-345 & 346; reprinted by Rubboli, Marco; Cesari, Luca in L’Arte della Spada: Trattato di scherma dell’inizio del XVI secolo. Rome: Il Cerchio Iniziative Editoriali, 2005.
Dei Liberi, Fiore: Fior di Battaglia; Italy, 1410; J. Paul Getty Museum (Ms. Ludwig XV 13) 83.MR.183
____________: Fior di Battaglia; Italy, c.1400; Pierpoint Morgan Library (MS M.383)
____________: Flos Duellatorum; Italy, 1410; reprinted by Novati, Francesco, Flos Duellatorum, Il Fior di Battaglia di Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco;Bergamo: Instituto Italiano d’Arte Grafiche, 1902.
Manciolino, Antonio: Opera Nova; 1531, translated by Tom Leoni in The Complete Renaissance Swordsman; Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.
Marozzo, Achille: Opera Nova; Venice, 1536.
Meyer, Joachim: Gründtliche Beschreibung der Kunst des Fechtens; Strasbourg, 1570
Silver, George: Brief Instructions on My Paradoxes of Defense; London, c.1602, unpublished until Cyril Mathey, The Works of George Silver; London, 1896
Vadi, Fillipo: De Arte Gladiatoria Dimicandi; c.1482 – 87; translated by Luca Porzio and Gregory Mele in Arte Gladiatoria: 15th Century Swordsmanship of the Italian Master Filippo Vadi; Chivalry Bookshelf, Union City, CA 2002.
Anglo, Sydney, The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.
Charrette, Robert N., Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The Chivalric Martial Arts System of Il Fior di Battaglia, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.
Malipiero, Massimo, Il Fior di battaglia di Fiore dei Liberi da Cividale: Il Codice Ludwing XV 13 del J. Paul Getty Museum. Udine: Ribis, 2006.
Leoni, Tom, Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris’ Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.
Mele, Gregory, “Understanding Wide and Close Play in the Tradition of Fiore dei Liberi” in Mele, Gregory (ed), In the Service of Mars, Proceedings from the Western Martial Arts Workshop (1999 – 2009), Vol. I, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.
Tobler, Christian Henry, Secrets of Medieval German Swordsmanship, Chivalry Bookshelf, Union City, CA 2002.
Tobler, Christian Henry, In Saint George’s Name: An Anthology of Medieval German Fighting Arts, Freelance Academy Press, Wheaton, IL 2010.
Rubboli, Marco; Cesari, Luca, Flos Duellatorum. Manuale di Arte del Combattimento del XV secolo. Rome: Il Cerchio Iniziative Editoriali, 2002.
Zanutto, D. Luigi, Fiore di Premariacco ed I Ludi e Le Feste Marziali e Civili in Friuli. Udine: D. Del Bianco, 1907.
Windsor, Guy, “Crossing Swords: an analysis of the crossings of the sword in Fior di Battaglia”, digitally self-published, 2009. Available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/104773013/Crossing-Swords (sourced 10-4-2014)
Windsor, Guy, Mastering the Art of Arms, Vol 2: The Longsword, digitally self-published, 2014.
 See, for example Francesco Novai, Flos Duellatorum, Il Fior di Battaglia di Maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco;Bergamo: Instituto Italiano d’Arte Grafiche, 1902; Jacopo Gelli, Scherma italiana, Milano, Hoepli, 1901 and L’ arte delle armi in Italia, Bergamo, Istituto italiano d’arti grafiche, 1906; Carlo Bascetta, Sport e giuochi: Trattati e scritti dal XV al XVIII secolo (Classici italiani di scienze techniche e arti), Il Polifolio, 1978; and Giovanni Rapisardi, Fiore de’ Liberi Flos Duellatorum – in armis, sine armis equester et pedesta, Gladiatoria Press, 1998.
 A conceit of the modern Western Martial Arts community is the belief that using an antique or dialectical/regional spelling of a word makes it more “pure” to the art. Thus, we students of Italian fencing find ourselves cheerfully referring to dei Liberi’s Zogho Largo and Zogho Stretto, and the Bolonese Gioco Largo and Stretto, blissfully ignoring that the former’s spelling is nothing more than consonantal drift wherein “g+i” or “c+i” becomes a “z”. This gioco becomes zogho, embracciare becomes abrazare and cengiaro becomes zengiaro. On the other hand, since our Italian colleagues also seem content to maintain these various ligatures and “Lomardisms” when referring to dei Liberi’s art, who am I to break with tradition?
 The emphasis on parity is as crucial component of defining the stretto in Bolognese fencing as is its beginning at the half-sword, as we are constantly reminded throughout the writings of the Anonymous Bolognese, Manciolino and Giovanni Dall’Aggochie.
 Achille Marozzo speaks to this directly in chapter 162 of his Opera Nova. “Let’s say there are two fencers, one of whom has learned both the wide and narrow play, while the other only knows the wide. The latter will be retreating his way through the salle, with the fencer who knows both plays chasing him around. This is why you should tell your students to learn both types of play, as long as they do not mind the payment. For the wide play with the two-handed sword (used against a similar weapon as well as against polearms) I charge seven Bolognese pounds; for the narrow play (also used against a similar weapon as well as against polearms) I charge another seven, making it fourteen Bolognese pounds total.” Translation by Tom Leoni.
 There are notably fewer of these actions in Bolognese fencing than there are in Armizare, but this likely reflects the nature of sword and buckler or sword and dagger fencing; those masters who include the two-handed sword, such as Marozzo and the Anonymous Bolognese, have a variety of grapples, hilt strikes and throws, many of which are directly analogous to those taught by Fiore dei Liberi.
 An excellent, short summation and musings as to how the Bolognese notions of gioco stretto does or does not relate to Armizare can be found at Ilkka Hartikainen’s blog: http://marozzo.com/tag/gioco-stretto/
In modernized transcription (by Steve Hick):
If 2 fight & both lie upon the true guardant fight & that one of them will need seek to win the half sword by pressing in, that may you safely do, for upon that fight the half sword may safely be won, but he that first comes in must first go out, & that presently, otherwise his guard will be too wide above to defend his head, or if fit for that defence, then will it be too wide underneath to defend that thrust from his body which things the patient agent may do, & fly out safe, & that agent cannot avoid it, because the moving of his feet makes his ward unequal to defend both parts in due time, but the one or the other will be deceived & in danger, for he being agent upon his first entrance his time (by reason of the number of his feet) will be too long, so that the patient agent may first enter into his action, & the agent must be of force an after doer, & therefore cannot avoid this offense aforesaid.
In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:
3. Close fight is when you cross at the half sword either above at the forehand ward that is with the point high, & hand & hilt low, or at the true or bastard guardant ward with both your points down.In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:
4. Close is all manner of fights wherein you have made a true cross at the half sword with your space very narrow & not crossed, is also close fight.
In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:
but he that first comes in must first go out, & that presently, otherwise his guard will be too wide above to defend his head, or if fit for that defence, then will it be too wide underneath to defend that thrust from his body which things the patient agent may do, & fly out safe,
In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:
If you are both so crossed at the bastard guardant ward, & if he then presses in, then take the grip of him as is shown in the chapter of the grip. Or with your left hand or arm, strike his sword blade strongly & suddenly toward your left side by which means you are uncrossed, & he is discovered, then may you thrust him in the body with your sword & fly out instantly, which thing he cannot avoid, neither can he offend you.Or being so crossed, you may suddenly uncross & strike him upon the head & fly out instantly which thing you may safely do & go out free.
In modernized transcription by Steve Hick:
23. If he comes to the close fight with you & that you are both crossed aloft at the half sword with both your points upward, then if he comes in withal in his crossing bear strongly your hand & hilt over his wrist, close by his hilt, putting in over at the backside of his hand & hilt pressing down his hand & hilt strongly, in your entering in, & so thrust your hilt in his face, or strike him upon the head with your sword, & strike up his heels, & fly out.
 See, for example, the German technique Überlaufen in Ringeck (1460s), 39v and von Danzig (1452), 30r;Silver Cap Cap.4.22 ; the Bolognese technique levare di piedi (for example, Manciolino, Book 1, Cap. 6, 10 and 12); Nicoletto Giganti (1606), plate 14, etc, through to the 19th century.
 My colleagues Guy Windsor and Bob Charrette argue for a more literal interpretation, that this blow must come after a crossing is made. While we often accord, in this case I cannot agree for two reasons. The first is the commonality of the technique, and the second iz expressed in fencing theory. From a bind at the half-sword, a cut to the leg is an action in the time of the hand. SO is a cut to the head. I can just hit him without slipping the leg. However, Fiore is express on the slip. While the defender can easily strike his opponent in the head in the same tempo, trying to slip the leg is an action in time of the hand, body and foot. If the reader is familiar with the notions of true and false times the issue here is that it takes longer on a stop watch to move three parts of your body the length of a passing step then it does one. Relative to the speed of moving a meter to a meter and a half long sword, that is too long. Structurally, I understand why they hold their view, and thus have tried to explain why I believe the plays are ordered as they are and thus a bind is not implied in the action.
 This play is another recurring technique, particularly in the Italian tradition, appearing in Marozzo’s spadone (Third Assalto), and sword and buckler (Second Assalto) with the sword and gauntlet (Anonymous Bolognese, ) and even the rapier (see Salvatore Fabris, plate)! Within the German tradition, it usually appears in the teachings on the Vier Versetzen (Ringeck, 36v). Although each master clearly has his preferred variation — for example, the rapier relies on two thrusts, not a cut — the principle remains the same: a feinted attack on the inside line to collapse measure and close on the outside line.
 If this seems simplistic, consider that this was considered by the rapier Grandmaster Salvator Fabris to be the absolute highest expression of the art of fencing, to which he dedicated the entire second half of his monumental Lo Schermo, overo Scienza d’Arme (“On Fencing, or the Science of Arms”). See Tommas Leoni, Art of Dueling: Salvator Fabris’ Rapier Fencing Treatise of 1606. Highland Village, TX: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005.