The Guards of I.33 and Their Footwork and Cuts

By Randall Pleasant
ARMA Dallas-Fort Worth, TX

The sword and buckler art shown in Royal Armouries MS. I.33 contains seven common guards and several obsesseo guards. The common guards of I.33 are those used by all men when fighting with sword and buckler, regardless of their skill level. The obsesseo guards are used by skilled fighters to counter the seven common guards. A common misconception of I.33 is that it focused on teaching how to use the obsesseo guards to counter the common guards. The focus of I.33 is actually on how to use the common guards against a skilled fighter who is using the obsesseo guards. Therefore, a clear understanding of the footwork and cuts of the common guards is just as important as knowing the footwork and cuts of the obsesseo guards. The majority of the counters taught in I.33 are focused on establishing a bind from which one can perform a Shield-Strike with a follow up attack. However, the binding, Shield-Strike, and follow up attacks are not directly addressed in this article. This article explores how to hold the body and weapons in the guards, the footwork that can be used and the basic cuts that are performed from the guards. Please note that this article does not address the history of I.33; for that I refer you to the many existing online articles on I.33.

The footwork of I.33 is simple and straight forward and basically the same as the footwork seen with all other European martial arts weapons. If you practice European longsword with the Waage (Scales) footwork, then you already know the basic footwork of I.33. In both the common guards and the obsesseo guards the rear foot will normally be at either 45 degrees forward or 135 degrees to the rear, positions Clements (2010:2) refers to as the "Closed Stance" and the "Open Stance". A number of the binding and shield-strike actions shown in I.33 could make use of the "Turned Foot" footwork (see Clements 2010:40).

Full understanding of the footwork of I.33 must include a clear understanding of what it is not. Standing statically in a guard is not taught in I.33. Instead, the guards of I.33 must be held with constant motion. The images of I.33 do not suggest that a fighter should stand on the balls of his feet; rather the feet in the images suggest motion. One interpretation of the I.33 footwork suggests that it was circular, with the fighters always circling each other as they trade blows. There is no support in either the text or images of I.33 for that interpretation. Another interpretation of I.33's footwork holds that the fighters are standing on the balls of one or both feet. Fighters who follow this interpretation often stand with the weight of the rear leg on the ball of the foot with their lower rear leg close to parallel with the ground and rock their weight back and forth between their front and back leg. This stance and footwork clearly is not taught in I.33. Moreover, such positions are unbalanced and extremely tiring.

As previously stated, one must be in constant motion. When a guard is described as having the buckler held out to the front it should be understood that the buckler itself will also be in constant motion. The buckler should be moved up and down and back and forth across the body so as to close off all possible openings. One should also make jabs with the face of the buckler and lunging thrusts with the edges of the buckler. Aggressive buckler use should also include making uppercuts, left hooks, and backward blows from the right with the edges of the buckler. A fighter must not allow his buckler to be just an obstacle for the adversary to work around; rather the buckler must be used aggressively so one's adversary understands that it is a dangerous and effective weapon to be greatly feared.

It is not stated in I.33 how the sword is held in the hand. However, in order to make the false edge cuts shown throughout I.33, the thumb should be placed on the flat of the blade much of the time. Having the thumb on the flat of the blade not only makes all of the false edge cuts possible, it facilitates transitioning between the guards and facilitates establishing binds.

Common Guards

The common guards are so named because " general all fencers, or all men holding a sword in hand, even if ignorant in the art of fencing, use these seven wards..." (Forgeng 2003: 20 [1R, page 1]). Not surprisingly, the common guards of I.33 are seen in earlier Byzantine artwork (Dawson, 2009) and in later centuries in the works of Paulus H. Mair and the Bolognese masters (see Leoni and Reich for examples of the Bolognese guards).

That the common guards are even used by men ignorant of the art does not mean these are simple and unimportant guards. In referring to them as common guards, I.33 is only implying that the guards are natural to the human body, which allows men ignorant of the art to naturally assume them. A person must indeed have good knowledge of the common guards, how to position the body, hand, feet, and weapons when standing in them, how to move in them, how to transition between them, how to defend with them, and what attacks can be made safely and effectively from them. This is underscored by the fact that, as mentioned earlier, the focus of I.33 is teaching how to use the common guards to break the obsesseo guards.

First Guard - Under Arm (sub brach)

The First Guard is held with the hilt under and in front of the left armpit with the blade pointing back. The bucker is held extended to the front. The left elbow must never drop down over the blade as this would restrict movement of the blade and would pull the buckler back, greatly reducing its ability to protect the body. There is also no Left Side guard in I.33; therefore never allow the sword to drop down to the left hip. A right Zornhau with follow through will end at the left side, but one has to transition from that position into a proper First guard. Also, the sword hilt must never be pulled out in front of the body. The natural body position of First Guard is with the right leg forward and the left foot in either the Closed Stance or Open Stance. One can stand in First guard with the left leg forward but this greatly reduces the effectiveness of the guard.

The primary cut from First guard is a left diagonal true edge cut (left Zorn). When cutting, the left wrist is pulled back in order to flatten the buckler along the left arm and the palm is turned outward, allowing the right hand to pass directly underneath the buckler, which protects the sword hand during the cut. A left Unterhau from First guard is never shown in I.33, probably because the right hand would be traveling on the inside of the buckler leaving the right hand exposed to a counter attack during the cut.

1st vs. Half-Shield
1st vs. Krucke

Second Guard - Right Shoulder (humero dextrali)

Second Guard is held with the sword at the right shoulder with the blade pointing backwards. Second guard is an equivalent to the longsword guard Vom Tag. The left foot is always forward. Both the Closed and Open Stances are used with Second guard. The Open Stance is clearly seen with Second guard in the Byzantine art presented by Dawson (2009:82). A passing step with either leg will result in a transition into the Fourth Guard (Head). In transitioning from the Second guard to Fourth guards, the right hand will naturally move from the right shoulder to over the head.

The most natural cut from the Second guard is a true edge diagonal cut (right Zorn). However, this cut is never shown in I.33. The primary attack from Second guard in I.33 is a descending false edge cut (Schiller). I.33 does show a vertical true edge cut from Second guard, but only as an attempt to separate the adversary's sword and shield. The reason a right true edge diagonal cut is not shown in I.33 is because Second guard is countered by the Cover, which is very effective at over binding against a right diagonal cut, setting the cutter up for a Shield-Strike. Therefore, I.33 teaches how to break the Cover from Second guard with a false edge, which establishes a much more effective bind, leaving the cutter in an almost mirror position to the Cover. In short, a right diagonal true edge cut is powerful and the sword hand is well protected, but tactically the cut is less effective than a false edge cut.

The Stepping Through (durchtreten) technique shown on page 18 [9V] (Forgeng 2003:54) has been mistakenly interpreted by Brian Hunt (2007) and others I.33 scholars as showing a true edge vertical cut to the hands or arms. In actuality, Stepping Through is nothing more than a Duplieren action performed just as it is with a longsword (see Meyer 1.19r.3 in Forgeng 2006:64]), thus the cut is actually horizontal. The Stepping Through described on page 4 [2V] (Forgeng 2003:27) is just the same Duplieren action on the left.

2nd vs. Cover
2nd vs. Cover

Third Guard - Left Shoulder (humero sinistro)

In Third Guard the sword is held over the left shoulder with the blade pointing back. The right leg is forward and the left leg is to the rear. Both the Closed and Open Stances can be used while in Third guard. A transition to the Fourth guard can be made by simply raising the sword over the head.

The natural cut from Third guard is a left true edge diagonal cut. This cut is quick and powerful but because the blade is cutting over the buckler the sword hand is exposed during the cut. However, this cutting action does make for a quick transition into the Fiddlebow guard.

3rd vs. Half-Shield

Fourth Guard - Head (capiti)

Fourth guard is held with the sword hilt over the head with the blade pointing rearward, the buckler held forward and the right foot forward. The Fourth guard is another equivalent of the longsword guard Vom Tag. A passing step with either leg will take you out of Fourth Guard and into the Second Guard.

The primary cut from Fourth guard is a true edge vertical cut and a left true edge diagonal cut. As with the First and Third guards, a left Krumphau and a left Zwerchau can also be performed but these cuts are not shown in I.33. With the right leg always forward, the Fourth guard is focused on attacking the adversary's strong side. Both the Closed and Open Stances can be used with the Fourth guard.

4th vs. Half-Shield

Fifth Guard- Right Side (latere dextro)

In Fifth guard the sword is held with the hilt out from your right side and the blade pointing down with the true edge facing forward. The buckler is held forward and the left leg is forward. Both the Closed Stance and Open Stance can be used. As with the Second guard, having the left leg forward sets the focus of this guard on attacking the adversary's weak side.

The primary attack from Fifth guard described in I.33 is a thrust made by quickly flipping the point of the blade up and then forward. However, both a right Oberhau and a right Unterhau can be made from Fifth Guard.

5th vs. Special Longpoint

Sixth Guard - Breast (pecton)

In the Sixth Guard the sword is held on the right side pointed at the adversary with the palm turned out and the buckler hand forward. The sword is usually held at the level of the chest but the height of the sword can vary from the level of the waist up to the level of the head. Sixth guard is seen in earlier Byzantine art work (Dawson 2009:81). The images of I.33 and the Byzantine art show both Closed and Open Stances being used with the Sixth guard.

Sixth guard has been misinterpreted as having the sword held with the right hand turned under so that the palm is facing up and the pommel is directly in front of the chest (see Windsor 2008:11). This is a misinterpretation of the drawing of the hand in the images of Sixth guard (see 17r at ). The text of I.33 never describes such a position. Moreover, this position does not make martial sense as a thrust from that position is weak and the sword is not readily available to perform defensive actions, plus one cannot easily transit from that position into the other guards. I interpret the image as having the sword hand turned out, making the guard an equivalent to the longsword guard Ochs.

The primary attack from Sixth guard is the same thrust made from the Fifth guard. The Open Stance offers a lot of advantages in Sixth guard for controlling the distance for a thrust by shifting one's weight between the front and rear leg. From Sixth guard one can also quickly transition into Second guard, Fifth guard, or Fiddlebow.

6th vs. Half-Shield

Seventh Guard - Longpoint (langort)

Seventh guard is held with the blade pointing forward and down with the buckler covering the hilt. The thumb is on the flat of the blade and the blade is turned so that the the true edge is facing to the left. This allows the true edge to be quickly turned up during a rising cut, making for a more powerful cut and allowing a quick zuckening if the cut is displaced. Both the Open and Closed stance can be used with the Seventh Guard. The Seventh guard is functionally similar to the longsword guard Alber, so much so that it is broken with a vertical cut identical to how the Alber guard is broken in longsword.

There are two other versions of the Seventh guard; one with the blade pointing straight at the adversary and another with the blade pointing over the adversary's head. Seventh Guard with the blade pointing straight at the adversary is a "common displacement" to the First guard (6V, page 12) but it is not very effective since the one in First Guard can easily bind against it.

7th vs. 2nd

Obsesseo Guards

What makes the sword & buckler system of I.33 highly effective is the Obsesseo guards. The effectiveness of the obsesseo guards lies in their ability to both defend and establish binds as well as attack. Most scholars have interpreted the word "obsesseo" as "displacement" or "counter". However, Jeffery Forgeng (2003:8, 150) noted that the word normally meant "siege" or "blockage". The "blockage" definition actually gives a better indication of the intent of the obsesseo guards. When used in constant motion the Obsesseo guards are highly effective at barricading off the weaker left side while allowing quick attacks. Just as in longsword, by barricading your weak side the adversary is forced to attack your strong side from his weak side. The Obsesseo guards also allow effective binding. It is very clear in I.33 that the author placed a very strong emphasis on audaciously seeking the bind. The core of I.33 is attacking after a Shield-Strike and it is binding that allows the Shield-Strike.

Forcing the adversary to attack your weak side has a major effect upon the body position during binding. Binding on your weak side results in a crossing of your arms. Therefore, when you bind on the weak side you must make sure that your right arm is over your left arm so that after a Shield-Strike with your buckler your sword arm is free to attack. Moreover, when you bind on your weak side, your follow up attacks are being made from your weak side. When you bind on your strong side your arms do not cross, thus after a Shield-Strike your sword arm is always free to attack. Plus, your follow up attacks are from your strong side.

Half-Shield (halpschilt)

Half-Shield is held with the hilt straight out just under one's line of sight with the blade pointing up and slightly forward and the buckler held next to the hilt. Either leg can be forward in either the Closed Stance or Open Stance. Half-Shield is the primary Obsesseo in I.33, as it can be used to counter all of the common guards. As a general rule, when in doubt of what Obsesseo to use, go to Half-Shield.

Brian Hunt (2007) and Keith Myers (2001), like so many other scholars, mistakenly interpreted Half-Shield as being held and used like the longsword guard Pflug. However, from the manner in which Half-Shield is held and used in I.33, it is undoubtedly the equivalent of the Kron guard. This becomes even clearer when the thumb is placed on the flat of the blade, since this results in the guards of the sword projecting out to the sides between 45 and 90 degrees to the front. Having the guards pointing to the side makes them ready to bind against possible vertical cuts and stops a vertical cut from separating the sword and buckler, which I.33 states is a common attack against Half-Shield. With longsword one normally does not stand in Kron due to the vulnerability of the hands, but with the buckler held next to the hilt, the vulnerability of the hands is greatly minimized. The buckler can easily be moved around the hilt to protect the hands from attacks on the right side.

Being a protective form of Kron allows Half-Shield to effectively barricade off vertical cuts while allowing easy binding against both right and left diagonal cuts. Attempts to cut under Half-Shield to the legs leaves one's head vulnerable to attack, something that I.33 stresses. From Half-Shield false edge cuts can be made on the right and true edge cuts can be made on the left. Thrusts can be made by quickly transitioning to Longpoint by lowering the point.

Half-Shield vs. 1st

Crook (krucke)

Crook is used to counter the First guard (Under-Arm) and Third guard (Left Shoulder). The hilt is held just under one's line of sight with the blade pointing down roughly 45 degrees to the left. The buckler is held to the front and the blade is held either on the outside or the inside of the left arm. The thumb should be on the lower flat of the blade, leaving the flat ready to ward blows. When the sword is held outside of the left arm the right wrist is over the left wrist and the ricasso is against the left arm. Against Third guard the buckler is held facing to the right side.

Functionally, Crook is the equivalent of the Schrankhut (Barrier) guard in longsword. Since the counter from both First and Third guard is a hard bind on top of the blade, having the blade over the right arm allows one to be much stronger in the bind since the ricasso is supported by the left arm. As with the Barrier guard in Longsword, Crook can be raised up and used as a hanging guard.

If the sword is held outside of the left arm, a strong right false edge diagonal cut can be made by simply flipping the sword over to the right. If the sword is held inside of the left arm then a true edge left Zorn can be made by flipping the sword over on the left.

Krucke vs. 1st

Cover (schutzen)

Cover refers to both a displacement and a position used to counter the Second Guard. As a position, Cover is held on the left side with the right wrist over the left arm just behind the buckler with the arms extended forward. Due to the limited space within the I.33 manual, Cover was drawn with the sword pointed over the priest's head (see top image on 9r, page 17). However, in actual use, the sword should be pointed at either the adversary's face or chest. This leaves the buckler on the inside of the blade. Cover may be held with the true edge down or with the true edge up with the right thumb on the flat of the blade.

When Cover is held with the false edge up and the thumb on the flat, it is easy to see that Cover is the equivalent of a left Pflug. As with Pflug, Cover should be used with constant motion to barricade off the your weak left side. Interestingly, Second Guard breaks Cover with a false edge cut in the exact same manner as Pflug is broken in longsword with a Schiller (see bottom image on 9r, page 17). The natural attack from Cover is a thrust. A true edge diagonal cut or a true edge horizontal cut can also be made on the left by quickly transitioning to Third Guard.

Cover vs. 2nd

Priest's Special Longpoint

The Priest's Special Longpoint is held with the hilt in front of the right hip and the blade pointing down to the left at about a 45 degree angle. The buckler is held in front of the left chest. Either leg can be forward but in most cases the right leg is forward. Both the Closed and Open Stances can be used regardless of which leg is forward.

The Priest's Special Longpoint is basically a reverse equivalent to the Iron Door guard in longsword. The weak side is well guarded with the blade covering the lower left opening and the buckler covering the upper left opening, enticing the adversary to attack the strong side. The blade can be easily moved over to intercept low attacks on the right or flipped up to intercept high attacks on the right.

The natural attacks from the Priest's Special Longpoint is a thrust and a false edge cut on the right or a true edge cut on the left.

Priest's Special Longpoint vs. 5th

Special Ward at the Right Shoulder

The Special Ward at the Right Shoulder (aka Special Second Guard) is similar to the Second guard, except the hilt is held slightly lower with the blade pointing straight up. This guard is shown only with the feet in the Closed stance, but the Open stance can also be used.

I.33 does not show an actual attack cut being performed from this guard. The sword is shown only as being thrown out to bind against the Crook Obsesseo guard in the same manner as is done from the First guard.

Special Ward at Right Shoulder vs. Krucke


Fiddlebow is held with the blade behind the buckler at roughly a 45 degree angle with the point up and slightly forward over the left arm. When Fiddlebow is used with constant motion the fighter looks like he is playing a fiddle. In I.33 Fiddlebow is used to bind against an Oberhau strike with the blade intercepting the oncoming blade and, like a reverse hanging, guides the other blade to the buckler from which one can overbind on the right to Shield-Strike and counter attack.

A major misunderstanding of Fiddlebow is how the sword is held in relationship to the left arm. Some I.33 scholars (Myers 2001, Hunt 2007, Windsor 2008) interpreted Fiddlebow as having the sword resting across the left arm. However, I.33 never shows the blade on the left arm. Moreover, this is martially unsound for two reasons. First, anytime a weapon is at rest it must be picked up before it can be put into action. Second, and more importantly, laying a sharp weapon across one's arm, especially the sharper weak of the blade, puts one at risk of an accidental cut. For both of these reasons, laying a sharp weapon across one's left arm is no different than laying a sharp weapon upon one's shoulder.

Fiddlebow is listed among the Obesseo guards since it is useful for binding. However, I.33 also notes that Fiddlebow is a commonly used guard, which suggest that it was also used by the less skilled fighters.

Fiddlebow vs. 2nd



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Dawson, Timothy. The Walpurgis Fechtbuch: An Inheritance of Constantinople? Arms & Armour, Volume 6, Number 1, 2009, pages 79-92.

Forgeng, Jeffery L. The Medieval Art of Swordsmanship: A Facsimile & Translation of the World's Oldest Personal Combat Treatise. Chivalry Bookshelf, 2003. Highland, Texas.

Forgeng, Jeffery L. The Art of Combat: A German Martial Arts Treatise of 1570 by Joachim Meyer. Greenhill Books, 2006. London.

Hunt, Brian. A Comparative Pictorial Study of the Wards and Techniques of the late 13th century Sword & Buckler Manuscript I.33, or Tower Fechtbuch. 2007.

Leoni, Tommaso and Steven Reich. Illustrated Guide to the Bolognese Guards for Single-handed Sword.

Myers, Keith P. Lignitzer's Sword & Buckler Teachings. 2001.

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Windsor, Guy. Taking the Initiative: The Technical and Tactical Structure of I.33. 2008.


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