This is what we have to do: one of us will stand in place, while the other steps forward and attacks with a mandritto fendente, stopping it just above the pair’s shoulder (in the posta longa position). No masks are necessary.
It takes a while to digest this. The class is silent.
Of course, before we do this the teacher needs to be convinced that we can actually stop our swords.
HOW TO STOP YOUR SWORD MID-BLOW
As far as my artistic ability allows, I’ve pictured the right-handed grip on a longsword as seen from above. It’s not perfect, but it’s enough to show where the hands should approximately be. (The guard looks a bit funny because it’s supposed to be pointing up at the viewer.)
To stop a sword effectively mid-blow you need both hands, the teacher explains, because each hand has its own role.
In this case the right hand (the hand closest to the crossguard) is the one that determines how far forward a blow goes. Unless you allow that hand to go forward, the sword is not going anywhere.
The left hand, closer to the pommel, regulates how far down the sword turns. By holding that hand down you prevent the pommel from going up, and therefore the blade from turning down.
When striking a mandritto fendente at your pair, you need to stop the sword’s motion forward and its downward turn at the appropriate time. A proper grip of two hands is essential to success.
TRYING NOT TO KILL ANYONE
I feel nervous about the exercise, but realise that there’s no need to be scared. I’m quite convinced that everyone is too terrified of leaving class with a murder charge to be careless. Even so, it’s hard not to feel freaked out as we pair up.
My pair is about my height—quite a rare situation, as most people in the class tower at least a head above me—, which seems to give me a little more time to stop my sword. I go through the attack a dozen times, then it’s her turn.
Standing in place and taking the attacks is not that difficult. A 50 push-up penalty awaits anyone who as much as grazes the other with his sword, so there’s no contact between me and my pair’s blade. Besides, as the teacher tells us, as long as the distance between me and her is right there is little risk even if her blow did land. The swords are blunt and the attacks gentle. Should the attacker stand too far back or the other flinch and move, however, the risk is greater, because a sword is more than capable of maiming the face.
I make sure to stand absolutely still.
We now know how to get killed without moving a fin. Not really a medieval swordsman’s goal, is it? This exercise was good to establish trust and to practice not flinching, but now it’s time to learn how to defend ourselves against the mandritto fendente.
Looks like a basic block, right? This is the first play of the second master of the sword… I think. I’m not entirely clear on this type of terminology. (These “plays” and “masters” refer to the manuscripts we study from and from which a large amount of this blog’s illustrations are. A post on reading Fiore’s manuscripts will probably come in the future once I’m a bit better at doing it myself.)
The two men are crossing their swords in the middle. The one on the right is the attacker: he has gone from posta di donna into posta longa while taking a passare (step forward). The one on the left is the defendant: he has awaited the other’s attack in porta di ferro and lifted his sword into posta frontale to beat the attacker’s sword aside. Or, in simpler terms: one comes down with a cleaving blow and the other lifts his sword to stop it.
The second play has the defendant stepping away to his right, off the strada (his opponent’s line of attack). This provides him with a little more safety. He can then thrust the tip of his sword into his opponent’s face or cut is arm. For now we’re instructed to give our pair’s mask a gentle tap.
This is the real stuff, steel against steel! Practicing footwork and dagger combat is of course useful and interesting, but it’s the swords we signed up for. The exercise proves challenging but awesome. I have to concentrate on putting force into my block, as well as remembering to block before stepping (something that I find surprisingly difficult).
Overall the exercise goes well, and makes me realise how happy I am about attending this course.
We end the lesson with a salute and a loud “thank you”. My muscles are complaining loudly of the sword’s weight. I ignore them and stay for some free training.