This topic is a tad difficult to write about – I only just understand it myself – but I’ll do my best. Our sixth lesson starts, as the lessons usually do, with practicing the unarmed guards. Easy enough. This time, however, we don’t move straight on to the dagger exercises. Instead, we’re told to continue practicing the unarmed guards, steps and turns, and to pay special attention to how we “lead” each attack.
In this case going into any of the unarmed guards means attacking. Posta longa, dente di cinghiaro, posta frontale and porta di ferro equal “choke him, break his jaw, fingers in eyes and head on floor” (pictured above).
An action, be it an attack or a defence, can start from three different points: the hands, the hips or the legs. The speed and strength of the action is (partly) determined by its starting point.
But how does one “lead” an attack with any body part? It’s a bit tricky to explain. Imagine that you’re stepping forward with a posta longa (first panel in the picture above), or better yet, stand up and try it. Leading with the legs would mean stepping before raising your hand. You’ll notice that this way you can put a lot of force behind your attack, but also that you’re in reach of your enemy before you’ve extended your arm (i. e. your opponent has plenty of time to kill you in all kinds of horrible ways). Not good.
In combat you’ll generally want to go for the quickest option: leading with the hands. With the posta longa attack this is done by fully extending your arm before stepping forward. This way your attack lands at the same time as you come into your opponent’s reach.
As for leading with the hips: I’m pretty sure that it’s just a combination of leading with the legs and the hands (meaning that you step forward and raise your arm(s) simultaneously), but I also suspect that that is a bit of an oversimplification. It doesn’t really matter though: as far as I know you’ll never start an attack or defence from the hips.
To sum up: leading with the hands is good, leading with the legs is bad, and leading with the hips is just plain weird. These three rules are applied to unarmed fighting, dagger fighting and sword fighting alike.