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Our Martial Traditions

The CFAA member schools and organisations practise and teach a variety of styles, reflecting the vast geographical expanse covered by our varied practises as well as the large time frame in which they were practised. We present, in no particular order, a brief overview of each of these traditions, for reference or comparative purposes. This list is not comprehensive, and will be updated as the articles are written. Please stay tuned for a more exhaustive list in the days and weeks to come.

If you’d like more information on schools or organisations offering instruction in one of these traditions, please visit the main CFAA website.

Bolognese Swordmanship
L’arte dell’Armizare
German sword and buckler: MS I.33
Traditional Italian Fencing
Italian Rapier Fencing
German Swordsmanship: Kunst des Fechtens
Destreza: A Spanish Fencing Tradition

Bolognese Swordmanship (L’arte dell’armi)

The city of Bologna, has a rich fencing pedigree, stretching from the 14th to 19th centuries. One of the most famous traditions to come from this central Italian city was the fencing school founded in 1415 by Lippo Bartolomeo Dardi, a swordsman, astronomer and professor of mathematics at the University of Bologna. The Bolognese or “Dardi” School was a cognate school of armed and unarmed combat, teaching a wide variety of weapons. Sword use was taught both alone and in conjunction with a wide variety of defensive arms, including the a variety of shields, the dagger, cloak and armoured  gauntlet.  The tradition also includes a wide variety of two-handed weapons: the two-handed sword, poleaxe, halberd, partisan, bill and spear, as well as close quarter combat with and against the dagger.

Our primary sources for this style are seven books published during the 16th century by later masters of the system. All of these texts share a consistency of terminology and curriculum that is traced to the most famed teacher of the tradition, Guido Antonio de Luca, who flourished in the city around 1500 and “from whose school came more warriors than from the belly of the Trojan horse”. The Bolognese masters have also left behind a very specific didactic method, including long solo-drills, assalti (sequences of techniques to be used in friendly matches) and abbattimenti (techniques to be used in serious duels). In all, the Bolognese style is extremely dynamic and flamboyant, with its many guards, varied footwork and aggressive attacks.

L’arte dell’Armizare

L’arte d’Armizare (The Art of Arms) is the medieval Italian term for knightly martial arts that were employed by the aristocratic warrior class of Europe – the knights. During the medieval era, the ruling classes and the upper echelon of the fighting classes were the same people, and they developed sophisticated martial arts systems to pursue what was in fact a large part of their role in society: fighting. Armizare (are-mit-TZAR-ay) is divided into combat on foot and on horseback, in and out of armour. It includes wrestling and techniques when armed with a dagger, sword, pollax or spear. The art survives in four illustrated manuscripts attributed to Fiore De’ Liberi, a minor nobleman from the town of Premariacco, near Cividale del Friuli. He finished the work, Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle) in 1410. Italy in this period was rife with warfare: city-states often enforced political goals by force of arms using condotierri, professional warriors who led mercenary armies to make money and as a means to social advancement.  The book was written for Niccolo III d’Este, the ruler of the principalities of Ferrara, Modena, and Parma – a powerful early Renaissance prince, knight, and commander of armies. The four copies of Fior di Battaglia, the earliest surviving Italian source on the martial arts, form the basis for the modern study of armizare.

Read full article here.

German Sword and Buckler: the Royal Armouries MS I.33

The earliest martial arts manuscript known is a sword & buckler text from Germany, 1300 AD, known today as Royal Armouries Manuscript I.33. I.33 is a medieval fencing instructional manual that makes key techniques of Europe’s medieval men-at-arms available to us today. The manuscript shows a priest giving combat instruction to a young man – and also to a young woman.  I.33 details a system of combat using a short single-handed arming-sword and a small buckler or hand-shield, roughly the size of a dinner plate.  Contrary to popular belief, medieval swords in general were light and well-balanced tools, and swords of this type generally weighed between 2.5 and three pounds.

Read full article here.

Traditional Italian Fencing

Traditional Italian Fencing is the late 19th century practice of the foil (a blunted training weapon), the épeé or spada (the dueling sword), and the sabre (a cutting as well as thrusting weapon). It is the art from which the modern sport of fencing derives. Today’s practitioners study the traditional art as a means to develop the necessary fundamentals and complete command of technique required for both martial practice and contemporary sports competition. This approach is more in-depth and requires greater time than many modern systems, but gives the fencer the skills for a lifetime of successful development and enjoyment of fencing.

Read the full article here.

Italian Rapier Fencing

Rapier fencing was the first truly “civilian” system of fencing, maximized for single combat and meant to be used without either any secondary arms (although their use continued for quite some time) or protective armour. Originating in Italy, rapier fencing spread throughout Europe, where it developed into several unique forms, most notably in Spain, where an entirely unique method of rapier fencing persisted until the early 19th century.

Read the full article here.

German Longsword: Kunst des Fechtens

There were many fencing traditions that were recorded from medieval Europe, but perhaps one of the most prolific traditions is that of the German master Johannes Liechtenauer. We know very little of the man himself, save that he probably lived in the 14th century, and was a fencing master lauded by students of his art centuries after his death. His Kunst des Fechtens, or “Art of Fencing”, taught hand to hand weapons covering combat on foot, on horseback, and both in and out of armor. Various masters of his fencing tradition who lived long after Liechtenauer’s death wrote fencing treatises that dealt with self defense, war, dueling and even friendly competitive sport. These treatises taught fighting with the arming sword, sword and buckler, quarterstaff, poleaxe, dagger, unarmed, the langes messer (long knife), spear, exotic dueling shields with maces, and an entire panoply of other weapons. Perhaps the weapon most famous of the Liechtenauer tradition in the modern world is the use of the two handed longsword, which seems to have formed the core curriculum of his teachings, giving the basic actions that would lead the way to learning all of the weapons of the art.

Read the full article here.

Destreza: A Spanish Fencing Tradition

During the mid-1500s a new analytical approach to sword theory was developed in Spain based on the works of Aristotle, Euclid, and Plato and incorporating other scientific, mathematical, and philosophical concepts. They called the system La VerdaderaDestreza, the True Art.  While the science could be applied to any fighting tradition, the Spanish masters used these tools to refine a martial technique which, while conservative and simple in practice, was also sophisticated in theory and notation.  This new Spanish method focused on a universal method of fighting based on reason and mathematics that could be taught to any student.
As embodiments of the direct union of arms and letters, the Destreza masters were educated men striving to reinvent the practice as an essential part of early modern aristocratic education.  Training a young man to use the sword was a mechanism to create the ideal Spanish noble and the curriculum included mathematics, physics, religion, philosophy, and the other elements of a larger classical education.  With a broad focus covering greatsword, sidesword, rapier, and classical weapons, the tradition thrived from 1569 until it began to fade in the 1800s when it was subsumed by the largely French-influenced classical tradition.

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