A Foray into Fiore's Metaphor
Context for Studying His Dagger Section

By Justin Moorman
ARMA North Carolina

Alongside Leichtenauer's verse, The Flower of Battle by Fiore dei Liberi is a cornerstone of medieval and renaissance martial arts. This manuscript is one of the most popular and well studied martial treatises in our corpus of source literature. Scholars have read and reread its pages countless times, and many have come to largely similar conclusions. If you don't know who Fiore was, are unfamiliar with his manuscripts, or maybe just need a refresher, read here: http://www.thearma.org/essays/FDL_studyguide.v3.htm#.VimKjHjnB-h

and here: http://wiktenauer.com/wiki/Fiore_de%27i_Liberi

and look at the amazing high res images made available by the Getty museum here: http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/1443/unknown-fiore-furlan-dei-liberi-da-premariacco-il-fior-di-battaglia-italian-about-1410/?artview=dor69881

But sometimes, things in plain sight can be downplayed as insignificant or overlooked entirely. These things, which seem to have a small part to play in a bigger picture, make all the difference when looked at in the right context. To show you what I mean, let's look at Fiore's dagger section in his Getty Manuscript.

What's Important?

Here is the part where I give you a dagger and tell you about how to do technique A, or what to do when he does technique B, and other specific techniques you can do, blah blah blah. All this stuff is fun and interesting but....

Let's look at the very first thing Fiore chose to present in his section on dagger:

Folio 8 Verso
"and for his honor I make such covers with this small stick. And suddenly rise to my feet, and I do the plays of my master, this that I do with a small stick I do with a hat."

and "Of the eighth king that is the remedy I do to this play and also with this small stick I make my defense. And I make the cover I stand to my feet, and the plays of my master I can do, and with either a cap or rope I do the same to you."

It strikes me that Fiore does not start out with guards, angles of attack, or dagger plays. He begins his dagger section with a stick! If anything, this tells us that this art is about fighting with whatever works. "Anything you can do with a dagger you can do with a stick." This statement is fairly intuitive. However, his follow up that he can do the exact same techniques with a hat, rope, and presumably any other stiff fabric type material (such as a bandana or belt) illustrates the idea that you can use non-weapon objects in a pinch when weapons are not readily at hand. Not to mention you can perform some very interesting things that you cannot do with a stick or dagger with minimal practice. (Hint: Try the bandana)

So my recommendation would be to follow the very first advice that Fiore gives us. Practice these techniques with the dagger, then move to other objects you would have with you on the street. Know their strengths and weaknesses in comparison with the weapon that these techniques were designed for. Belts, hats, bandanas, and yes, even shoes. Not that shoes are usually readily available, but you never know.


These Five Things I Shall Always Do
and Their Allegorical Figures

In this section, Fiore states five things that we should always adhere to when fighting with the dagger, and even takes the time to illustrate them.

Folio 9 Verso
"And I shall do these five things always
Namely I take the dagger and strike, I break the arms and I bind them and I force him to ground.
And of these five plays one or another I will not abandon.
He who knows to defend himself guards the body."


In the first figure (1/5) illustrating his five things, Fiore shows us a man holding a dagger. If the only manuals we had access to were the PD or the Florius, it is ambiguous who the dagger belongs to, especially if you lack a translation. However, the Getty version illustrates very clearly that his figure has a dagger sheathed while holding what we can safely deduce is his opponent's dagger. His second illustration skips over 2/5 and goes directly to 3/5. This one seems fairly straightforward: break/dislocate your opponent's arms, for which he illustrates the King holding his opponent's dismembered arms. This is one of the principles of which abrazzare is composed. For 4/5, Fiore uses a key to symbolize the locking of his opponent's arms. This is the master of opening and closing, something he has already illustrated in his abrazzare section. His fourth illustration (5/5) shows our master in a toga, holding a palm leaf, standing on his vanquished opponent. Traditionally, the roman toga is a symbol of citizenship and peace, as opposed to the sagum (a type of cloak), which was a symbol of war and used by the military class of the Roman Empire. The "victory palm" is a symbol of victory and of peace. This illustration may be a nod to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus; Fiore is saying once you have put your opponent in the ground you have won and may return to life as normal.




If we look at the figures of the Getty in succession we also see an interesting trend.

Our master seems to age right before our eyes! I feel the beard growth suggests a chronological order for fight progression. This may also indicate an illustration of the requirement of increasing technical ability to complete all five components. In other words, if you hold your opponent defeated underneath your feet, you are wise and you know your art well. Though there is still something missing.


How Many Things?

As has been previously stated, his second piece of advice, "strike" is curiously not illustrated in any manual. I wracked my brain for weeks trying to reconcile this, but sadly could not come up with any answers. It certainly was not because he couldn't fit it on the page, as his guards clearly illustrate five figures. It was certainly important; you can't get much clearer than "I will never abandon". I finally decided to move on, leaving this a mystery to ponder later. I turned the page and it hit me like a lightning bolt…

Imagine you are a fechtmeister; you have to illustrate, or convey to your audience, the most important parts of the fight in one image. After all, you don't have video to show everything. You have to pick and choose the most important and information laden snapshots of a fight or technique. If I were a fechtmeister I would do two things:

  1. Ask myself, "What is the GLF? What is the greatest limiting factor to my survival?" The components that are largely the same can be prefaced, left out, or downplayed. The onset is usually the same; you take his weapon. With a little setup (each King) you can set the stage for a much larger range of techniques (the subsequent Scholars of said King). The end is also usually the same; your opponent is defeated and, in Fiore's dagger, under your feet. Why should there be anything more than a distillation of the information, leaving room for elaboration of the more variable elements? The only elements left are striking, locking (ligadura), and breaking. Which ones of these strikes, breaks, and locks you perform are dictated by how each is set up and whether your opponent is hard or soft on the bind.
  2. I would combine elements as much as possible so that each image is a multi-tasker, showcasing multiple concepts simultaneously.

Fiore's Dagger Kings, with some exceptions, are images of his first and second concepts simultaneously (take his weapon and strike)! In many of the King's plays you can see a strike ready to be made. In addition, his Scholars show not only "strike", but the "breaking" and "locking of arms". Two great examples, shown below, are the 3rd and 5th Scholars of the First King.

Fiore prefaces his dagger section with seemingly straightforward advice, but upon further inspection it becomes clear that The Flower of Battle blooms with an intricacy and richness that one can easily miss. Whether it's his foundation of the elements of abrazzare, advice on the use of non-weapon items, guards, or the five things Fiore will never abandon in fighting, the next time you train in dagger keep the techniques in context. If you do, the simple techniques illustrated might just bloom into an elegant, brutally efficient fighting art.


Copyright © 2015 The ARMA and Justin Moorman


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