About the flat parry

About the flat parry

In the world of historical fencing, and particularly the fascinating field of research, we sometimes face scholars who express less well-founded hypotheses on certain topics. The question of parrying with the flat instead of the edge, for example, is a recurring topic that causes somewhat curious and, at the same time, interesting debates.

Our  thoughts can be summarized as follows: the parry “par excellence”, as an action seeking to stop the opponent’s blow, done in a way that does not lead to uncertainties in the control of the blade and the point, must necessarily be made with the edge. The flat of the sword may indeed, only in certain situations, be used to deflect a blow or a thrust.

Furthermore, it is a fact that all the Italian treatises from the Middle Ages to today teach only parring with the edge. Only in certain part of the German treatises, after the thirteenth century, appear parries with the flat of the blade, and only executed in particular circumstances.

A clarification, with the help of modern fencing terminology (why re-invent it?): the “flat parry” uses the flat of the blade, NOT “the edge at a certain angle”. Just like it is called “edge parry” not only when the blades clash at a straight 90 degree angle.

 

• DEFINITION OF THE ISSUE

One of the largest and most influential supporters of the flat parry is John Clements, Director of the U.S. Association ARMA. The author of interesting articles, essays and videos, defines the parry as ”the deflecting or deviating of the opponent’s blade before it reaches its target”.

Clements’ definition is missing of the most important sense: blocking the opponent’s strike before it reaches the target. Block and deflect (or deviate) are two very different actions, that generate very different results.

Still, even in English texts the differences  between the two types of actions are clearly explained: the terms parry and deflect are often translated with different words, i.e. “to parry” and “to deflect”, which is clear in the treatises on fencing in any historical period.

It can also be said that in English texts technical terms of fencing have often been italianised. For example “to parere” in Pallas Armata (1639, Book I, Cap V):

“To Parere, is to decline, to put by, and to turn off a thrust or blow”

Surely, with this definition taken out of context of earlier and contemporary fencing, we can easily fall into the error of excessive simplification of an action.
Moreover, Alfred Hutton in his Old Swordplay (1892), when referring to the Opera Nova of Marozzo describes the parries of the latter with the generic word “parries” reclassifying in terms of numbers and adopted in full use.

This kind of simplification seems to be the age-old question of the origin of edge or flat parry, which we will attempt to resolve here.

Keeping in mind that the dodge is probably the best way to avoid of being hit, the parry tends to be preferred (as more conservative) when you intend to stay “a misura” to continue the strike action with a response. However, we have to specify what is the meaning of “block”.

This term describes an action made with the weapon to intercept the trajectory of the opponent’s blade thereby nullifing its kinetic energy. The alternative to the block is the “deviation”: the difference lies in the fact that this action is not meant to stop the opponent’s weapon, interrupting its motion, but to divert it by intercepting the path.

In those circumstances it is quite easy to prove the fallacy of the contention that the parry usually takes place with the flat of the blade rather than with the edge. The arguments against the flat parry, and in support of the edge parry (in its general sense) are numerous:

• The biomechanics of the human body structure
• Morphology and chemical composition of the weapon
• Execution of fencing actions that follow a blade binding
• The informations provided by fencing Masters of the past in their treaties.

Let’s proceed with the examination of these aspects (make yourselves comfortable).

 

• BIOMECHANICAL STRUCTURE OF THE HUMAN BODY

Perhaps this is the more intuitive motivation: in the case of a parry, the impact on flat surface causes a strain on the hand and forearm naturally unfavorable to the kinetic chain arm. When you hit with a fist, the kinetic chain expresses the maximum potential of the arm when the shot is taken with the knuckles, or the side of the hand, as that would most effectively with minimal effort.
It ‘s simple to try this by hitting a punching bag, or a nail with a hammer.

For the same reason, an edge parry follows a more natural movement of the body, ensuring the use of greater strength and muscular endurance at the impact. At the same time you get a better control of weapon point compared to the same action with the flat.

As proof, hold in hand a stick and ask a friend to push with a constant pressure (or to hit, also!) on it’s middle, towards his left side . You will notice that according to the different positions of your fist (flat parry or edge parry) you’ll be able to put a different strength opposite to that pressure. It’s natural and the difficulty to resist this kind of pressure between the two positions is verifiable.

Giovanni Antonio Lovino confirms this exposition:

Ad XXXV – Ascanio Attore, Lauso Reo
“…Percioche il suo pugnale si trovò haver poca forza, nel portar fuora la pugnalata di Ascanio: si per la tardezza, con la quale esso andò alla parata; si perche fece la parata col piatto del pugnale: come si è già detto.”

 

• MORPHOLOGY OF THE WEAPON

Some scholars and practitioners argue that the flat block prevents the edge of being damaged. As answer, we can say that at same time our edge risks being ruined when an opponent blocks our sword with his own blade, or when we hit a steel armor or a shield.

Filippo Vadi provides an indication about the morphology of the two-handed sword: the Pisan master affirms that the blade sharpening (“razor like”) is long only four fingers close to the point. Now, it is natural that this statement should not be taken literally, since it is clear the futility of a blade longer than a meter that is effective only at the tip: you might as well use a spear. A more rational interpretation is that the blade is sharpened only for the last four fingers because while using the remainder of the edge tends to wear out just because of mutual parries.

Since we hit with the medium-weak of the blade and we parry with the strong, it follows that, although the edge at the strong can be ruined, the sword does not become less effective because the medium-weak will continue to stay sharp.
It should also be said that the dents found on various museum exhibits, mostly found on the strong side of the edge, are very mild and there is no doubt at all that they do not compromise the integrity or the optimal use of the blade.

It ‘s obvious that, in case of dueling (never forget that almost all the treaties we have are about duel fencing) with the sword, the least concern of a duelist was to avoid marks on the blade. The number of blows taken in a duel are hardly enough to affect the sharpening negatively. For example, Fiore de’Liberi in the first game (primo zogho) does a parry “in ponta de spada” (on the point of the sword), with the weak: Fiore does not seem to worry too much about ruining the edge of his blade.

When the sword is used together with the shield, the shield is supposed to protect against the blows, preserving the edge of the sword automatically.

Another essential factor is the hilt (in Italian: elsa or elso) of the sword. The cross-hilt swords of medieval and Renaissance were obviously intended to protect the hand. Already in 1460 King René clearly states it in his famous book on tournaments.

In this quick review of tasks of the hilt, we would like to say a few words to express some concerns on the affirmation of John Clements: according to him the hilt doesn’t protect the hand from the blade of the opponent, but protect fingers from knocking against the opponent’s shield. Specifically, in his interesting Medieval Swordmanship (Paladin Press, 1998), the U.S. researcher says that if the cross guards were really used to avoid the fingers to be hit by the blade, the museum finds should exhibit scratches on the cross because of the impact of the opponent’s blade. It is not obviously so, since the cross guard is not used to direct parry, but only to protect fingers from slipping or a fortuitous bounce of the opponent’s blade (altough it is still relatively uncommon).

John Clements goes on claiming that “the function of wide Medieval cross-guards seems to have been for preventing the user’s hand from slamming into or hitting against the flat of an opponent’s shield.”

This step, thus exposed, may have been misinterpreted by scholars and lovers of historical fencing that formed part of their cultural heritage on his books. Clements’ assertion is, according to me, a mere speculation as we can find no blows delivered with the flat of the shield, or with the boss (except for bucklers with central point) in any fencing treatise. So it is not reasonable to assume that a fencer would normally execute such blows (Do not forget that the shield is a defensive weapon by definition).
The hand could impact against the shield of the opponent, and, in this case, the cross guard is a valuable, but it is wrong to say that this is the primary purpose of this morphology of hilt. If so, we wonder why the Roman legionnaires, who for hundreds of years also used the sword and shield and faced adversaries equipped with a shield, never used the cross guard to protect the fingers from impact against the shields. And yet, surprisingly, the cross has remained in vogue until the XVIII century, when the shield, if not obsolete, had a very marginal use for almost two centuries.

If there is still any doubt, we could seek an authoritative answer in the words of the past Masters. We quote here the words of Docciolini. He specifies in the section on techniques of sword and dagger:
“…e quanto al modo del tenere il pugnale in mano dico che coloro che lo tengono di piatto, con appoggiare il dito grosso nel mezzo del detto pugnale, e si fondono d’andare à parare un taglio che vadia al capo, fanno grande errore; […] il taglio che verrà à correre […] anco che verrà a reggerlo, poniamo che la lo regga, porta grande pericolo, che nel medesimo modo detto di sopra, rimbalzando gli mozzi la mano…”.

In few words, during the parry the opponent’s weapon may accidentally slip or bounce down to the fingers, and the hilt is designed precisely to stop this drift. Parring with the flat means letting the hilt be totally useless, since, it is oriented in a direction not suitable to protect the hand.

Finally, the hilt is often used immediately after the parry to move the opponent’s blade:
Docciolini pg 52 – delle due spade (cap 14)
“…se nò voi venite alla parata, e retto che voi harete il detto taglio, voglio che voi alziate alquanto il vostro pugno destro, che verrete con i fornimenti a mandar la spada avversaria, inverso la vostra parte destra…”

The correct execution of this action described by Docciolini would be impossible from a flat parry.

 

• STEEL: CHEMICAL AND STRUCTURAL COMPOSITION

Francesco Foglia, graduated in industrial chemistry at the University of Rome La Sapienza, who certainly has an authoritative voice on this topic, affirms:

“In consideration of practical use regarding the operation of instruments and tools can be received with the analysis of a few but important structural considerations. First, we briefly illustrate some concepts that will make clear the following considerations. A metal is a solid made up of an internal structure approximated to that of a compact set of all spheres packed together to form a continuous visible macroscopically as a solid object. Imagine a box filled with marbles all the same size, the greater the amount of balls at the same box, the higher the density the same for the same volume. Essentially the mechanical properties of a metal are first and very simplified approximation to this density-dependent. Now imagine you insert inside the same box smaller balls.What will happen is that packing, the density at constant volume, will be increased. Steel differs of the iron for this simple feature, as in the case of box full of balls, the carbon, smaller than iron, is inserted in the mesh formed by iron atoms and increases the mechanical properties due to the “newness” of the addition. The mesh or grid to which reference was made to the microscopic structure of the metal is considered by us. There must be a starting point of the process till a fracture generates itself within the lattice, which develops a macroscopic lesion of the metal. These points are defined defects of the lattice, and are naturally present in a metal. The process of forging, tempering and working of a metal have no other purpose, if not the elimination of many defects as possible, and stabilizing the structure of the metal lattice.

We come now to practical considerations regarding the use of a metal tool as it can be a sword. The mechanical stress to which the tool will be subject to all borne by the aforementioned network, the more the network will have been cured, the more the tool will respond well to the conditions of use, avoiding any unpleasant accidents such as breakage. Some of the most famous physics can be analyzed by a microscopic point of view:

The hardness is the resistance of the wire mesh provides the dislocation of its constituent points, when another body tries to penetrate it.

The elasticity is the ability of the wire mesh to keep the energy of a solicitation, such as a bump, and return very quickly.

The bending resistance is the resistance offered by constituents from the lattice to exchange places with the other, this property together with the ductility is important to prevent such a metal bend. This property, unlike others such as hardness, which are intrinsic to the material, depend on the amount of metal in question. In this case the flexural strength depends on the thickness of such material to be deformed. It is easy to understand from these few hints that the problem of optimization of a metal artifact is not trivial, and that many of the processes are specifically designed for the difference in use that makes the object in question. In particular, in tha case of a sword we have an attitude critically new examining the features of the object for own working. It is easy to see that the hardness of the metal will be an important factor as regards the edge and the pont, whose aim is precisely to overcome the resistance of targets and unleash the power sets the instrument to penetrate the structure.

The elasticity will be especially important for handling: in order to understand this point, let’s image of wielding a sword that responds to an blow with noticeable vibration or impact dissipates part of the force imposed. For flexibility it can seem trivial, but certainly a fencer will not look kindly on the fact that his weapon is deformed each time you come in contact! In the specific problem of the parry by sword against a blow led by a similar tool so you understand that among the pitfalls there are for sure: the breaking, bending deformation and the development of vibrations that affect the hand of wielder. The thickness of the tool is a parameter to be reckoned with in the evaluation of the flexion, and certainly the section cut will be greater than the flat section. Still, about of the hardness we have to consider that in addition to the intrinsic characteristics of the metal come into play during a collision geometric factors. The force impact is to be distributed on the surface of contact between the tools: Who will be benefited with the same force then distributes it on a smaller area. There should be no doubt that the edge of a sword has smaller surface than flat!

Finally we must consider that, with the same elasticity, a stress on the plate induces vibrations on the body of the object greater than on the edge. The reasons are to be found not only in different section solicited, but also in the mechanism by which stress the body travel through the material.The field of forces acting on the sword that receives a blow on the plate is larger than one that responds with the cut, this means that even remote areas are solicited from the point of contact and consequently will be more likely to affect areas with structural defects mentioned above and incur therefore effects on the structural integrity of the material.”

We want to emphasize the importance of this passage, clearly explained by Dr. Foglia, as surely the key-point of the matter on the molecular composition of the steel.

We are proud to present an additional observation of a mechanical nature which has been kindly provided by Prof. Francesco Cirillo, a former fencer, and Professor of Machine Design, Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering of the Faculty of Engineering at the University “La Sapienza” of Rome:

“Why in fencing is mainly used parrying by cut side and not with the flat of the sword? A purely mechanical response – and it is not the only possible – is the need to minimize the deformation of the weapon and maintain the highest possible frequencies of vibration caused by the impulse induced by collision. These demands stem both from best exercise the art of fencing. While we fight it is imperative to strive for the highest possible speed and accuracy in the execution of orders processed by the brain about the position of the weapon in space. For example: the position of the sword to parry an enemy’s blow. This performance is essentially composed by the determination and decision to place the iron (neurological reflex) and the change of position by moving the weapon sets and rotations of the handle: that is, through the forces that a fencer discharges on the weapon discharged through his arm and his wrist (implementation muscle). From the mechanical point of view, a sword is essentially a cantilevered beam, stuck at one end within a joint (the wrist of the fighter) that moves rapidly in space, with translational and rotational accelerations very high. It has been measured to the tip of a sword Olympic 1100 mm in length, during a match you can reach accelerations equal to 5 G (excluding those due to collisions with the opponent’s tool). Due to the sudden change in position set by the handle, the blade must therefore react to forces of inertia (which are opposed to the change in momentum) of relevant entities.

These forces produce a distortion in the opposite direction to the advancement of motion, that is, to find that the blade in a “backward” or “late” compared to the theoretical position that the blade itself would be in the absence of deformation. The deformation by forces of inertia, therefore, disturbs the action of the fencer’s sword because it does not reach exactly the theoretical position elaborated by the commands of the brain, in this way it reaches that position with a delay that increases with the deformation of the blade. Therefore, for the fencer is preferable the least possible distortion.

Suppose that the section of the sword be a diamond blade very flat, ie with a diagonal lot less than the other. At the same load, the deformation in the plane containing the major diagonal, with load applied on the cutting edge, is much smaller than the deformation that occurs in the plane containing the diagonal lower as the same force is applied to the plate of the weapon. This is due to the fact that the deformation is inversely proportional to the moment of inertia around the neutral axis; in the case of edge load on the Moment of Inertia Jx is much greater than Jy which occurs in the opposite case. In short, the “stiffness” of the sword is directly proportional to the moment of inertia of the section that is opposed to its deformation and is much greater if the weapon has to react to an applied force on the cutting edge.

In the parry, the blow of the sword against the opponent’s blade produces a solicitation of an impulsive nature that sets off vibrations in the weapon itself. The frequencies and amplitudes of these vibrations are complex, however it can break down into the sum of sinusoidal vibrations easily calculable and measurable. Substantial component of these vibrations is the “own way” how blade vibrates subject to impulse, characterized by a “own frequency” and “own wideness”. At equal impulse (exciting energy) higher is the frequency and lower will be the amplitude of vibration. In addition, for the same “exciting energy”, the frequency of vibration is higher if there is a greater “stiffness” of the structure, that is, if there is a greater Moment of Inertia of the section that is opposed to its deformation. Therefore, when we parry with the edge side, the section which opposes the deformation is characterized by increased Moment of Inertia (Jx), which causes vibrations of higher frequency than the parade with the flat side.

At same energy, higher frequency means a lower amplitude and therefore less uncontrolled movements of the blade and of the wrist holding the weapon. It ‘s obvious that even from this point of view it is preferable to parry with the edge instead of the flat of the sword.”

We are sure that the last statement be crucial and indisputable. In other words: it is wrong to claim (as someone does) that flat parry allows the stroke to discharge on the flat side because it’s the flexing part amortize the blow itself: if it is true that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, the spring action of the blade, which bends during the blow and then stretches, produces a rebound, a shift of the sword in the same direction of the blow. In practical terms the result is similar to the fencing action called “botta sul ferro”.

 

• FENCING ACTIONS FROM A PARRY

Riccardo Rudilosso, FIS National Instructor and fencing practicer since 2 decades, has an important affirmation to add:

“Even in the fencing sport, with weapons that reach the maximum weight of 800 grams, the flat is never used to deflect or parry. However, in case of further doubts, I have to add the following consideration: the terminology of modern fencing “parata di tasto” identifies a “soft” parry, used for avoid to bouncing off the opponent’s weapon (which leads the “parata di picco”) and cushioning the blow keeping the contact of both blades. With the gained bind it’s possible take advantage to perform actions on the blade’s enemy. The Sforzo is one among these: immediately after the parata di tasto, virtually the only movement of the wrist exerts a strong pushing on the blade of the opponent forward and down. In this way the opponent loses for a fraction of a second the control on the weapon. The Trasporto is another one: immediately after the parata di tasto (such as a parade of 4^) with medium-strong blade I imprint on his weak-medium side a pressure to the blade in order to “carry” to a diametrically opposed location (for example of 2 ^ block position) without interrupting the contact between the two blades. In short, if the parry was made with the flat, it would be absolutely impossible to correctly perform these actions.”

 

• ANCIENT FENCING TRATISES

Every lover of historical fencing will have matched his studies with illustrations of medieval Italians and Germans fencing treatises, which are notoriously devoid of perspective. In particular, the sword is always shown with the flat facing the reader. It is not reasonable to assume that the parries were carried out with the flat because otherwise, for the same reason, we could believe that even blows were made with the flat.
However, some German treatises are here presented as examples to support the parade with the flat, and, in addition of certain pictures, could be interpreted in this sense, but very rarely specify which part of the blade should be used to block.

In Talhoffer’s and Dürer’s works, we can easily identify some illustrations of techniques with the Messer that unequivocally describe a parry/deflection with the flat. These techniques are also peculiar because the parry is carried out so as to turn the edge of Messer upward. However these techniques appear to be isolated cases, they seem to be exceptions, not the main rule.
In addition, we have some instruction by other German Masters:

As an example we may quote the last sentence on folio 32v of MS 3227a manuscript (1389), also known as the Hanko Döbringer:

  • “And as you turn aside [Abewendet] all strikes and thrusts with the foremost edge, that is also displacing [Vorsetczen].”

For completeness, we refer to another German author, Sigmund Ringeck: he affirms to parry the enemy’s blow with a “half-hit” against the blow itself. Not much different from what found in Fiore de ‘Liberi and Filippo Vadi: both respond to a blow with a similar one, to impact the opponent’s weapon (incrosar) and eventually proceed to a binding or a response. Surely this action is a parry, and, since it is a half-stroke, it is performed with the edge of the sword and not with the flat.

Countless explanations about the way to make a parry can be found in Renaissance treatises, of which we present here only a few brief but important excerpts:

Achille Marozzo – Opera Nova (1536):

  • “…tragandote lui tal mandritto tu el parerai in su el dritto fillo del pugnale tuo…”
  • “…perché tragando lui mandritto tondo, o fendente, o stocata, o ponta, voglio che tu pari queste botte in fil de spada in atto de guardia de intrare…”

Giovanni Dalle Agocchie – Dell’arte di Scrimia (1572):

  • In 13v: “…in due modi la spada si può parar, ò co’l fil dritto di essa, ò co’l falso…”

Bolognese Anonimous – (sec. XVI):

  • “…et se egli si argomentasse di ferirti di colpo alcuno, tu passarai del piede manco innanzi schifandoti con il dritto filo della spada dal vegnente colpo in guisa propria di guardia di testa…”

Francesco Altoni – Monomachia (sec. XVI):

  • Il giuoco della spada sola – inizio pag 69 verso: “Li colpi di taglio come si debbon fare. Insegnare la parte della spada qual’è da parare, e qual’è da ferire, perché assai importa come il filo buono del mezzo inverso la punta, serve a ferire, ed al mezz’indietro serve a parare. Dire quante sono le difese, che sono secondo me tre, col filo overo fuggita, con l’offesa, e con l’arme.”

Giovanni Antonio Lovino – intorno alla Practica e Theorica… (sec. XVI):

  • Prima fermata di spada: “…voltando sempre il filo buono, contra la spada di quello; ci tiene sicuramente difesi della offesa nimica.”
  • Fine 73 recto: “Overo se la spada nimica sarà fuora di tempo, che vostra signoria non sarà tenuta à ricercare quella spada; ma la basterà solamente serrarlo, come si è detto dinanzi: voltando Però sempre il filo buono, contra la spada contraria; se ben ciò non fosse in tempo; accioche venendosi al ferire, trovi il buon contrasto del filo buono della (73v) Spada. Però che cosi facendo si può con facilità serrare il nimico, e investirlo di punta.”
  • inizio 74 verso: “Vi aggiungo (74v) questo avertimento che convien tenere le braccia ben distese; la spada giusta: col pugno, e il piatto della spada verso terra; accioche il filo buono resti contra l’offesa della spada nimica.”

Federico Ghisliero – Regole di molti cavagliereschi esercitii (1587):

  • Della Theorica pag 31 parlando delle imperfezioni del colpir di taglio: “…la spada per non esser sferica, & perciò di peso non ugualmente grave, molte volte resistendovi l’aere ferisce di piatto: & la spada è soggetta a rompersi.”
  • Della Theorica pag 82 sui 4 modi di parare: “Nel terzo modo di parare si resiste a tutte le ferite col filo dritto; & se bene si potrebbe anchora col falso, nondimeno per esser questa parata debole la tralasciammo: & e mettendosi la spada in linea retta si para, & si ferisce facendosi scorrere i fili della spade…”

Marco Docciolini – Trattato in materia di scherma (1601):

  • Di spada, e pugnale (cap 15): “…tiri l’avversario dove gli piacerà […] non havete da far altro, che presentargli il taglio del detto pugnale…”
  • “…ma poniamo che egli ve la metta (la punta) con il filo dritto, e voi havete à presentare il vostro filo dritto al suo…”

Ridolfo Capoferro – Gran simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della scherma (1610):

  • Delle Parate: “Si para tanto di filo dritto quanto di fil falso, ben che rade volte, così in linea dritta come in linea obliqua,…”

Erhardus Henning – Kurtze jedoch gründliche Unterrichtung vom Hieb-fechten (1658):

  • Vom Pariren“Positio prima. Alle Hiebe müssen mit der Schneide pariret werden / ratio, weil / wenn man mit der Fläche pariret leichtlich einem die parade weggehauen werden / und alsdann einen Streich erlangen kan.”

 

• CONCLUSIONS

Finally, the point is: flat parry does exists, but it has not to be taken as general rule of parrying (as many Clement’s unwise emulators and followers are inclined to do), expanding a priori a concept restricted to a particular historical period, to a particular kind of fencing and to particular fencing actions.

Andrea Morini
After previous oriental martial arts experiences, Andrea joined the Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo in 2006.
He graduated as a SAAM Assistant Instructor in 2009 and Instructor in 2013. In 2013, he became also HEMAC member.
He’s currently holding classes in Rome, Naples and Salerno and several workshops in Italy and abroad. He published “Manoscritto I.33″ in 2012, a publication about Giacomo Di Grassi in 2014, and few short essays for HROARR.com.

32 Comments

  1. Ciao Andrea,

    Bravissimo! I had long wanted to rewrite my badly-dated “Much Ado About Nothing: The Cutting Edge of Flat Parries” article, and still might give it to HROARR to post. But you did an excellent job of demonstrating how clear this issue is. It is a sad commentary that in 2012 we still need such articles, however!

    The “cross defends against shields” is not original to Clements, but rather an idea he took from Hank Reinhardt – which is also where his idea of flat parries originated. Not from historical sources, or even historical artwork, but from a series of old articles in both the early Museum Replica catalogs and places like Blade Magazine. Hank’s work was based on practical experimentation, for good or ill, and he had little interest in most of the historical sources besides Silver – as he told me on numerous occasions. No harm there, but we’ve moved beyond it.

    Again, great article, and I had never noticed that passage in Docciolini before, which I have really just skimmed!

    Grazie a mille,

    Greg Mele
    Chicago, IL

  2. Grazie a te, Greg! For your compliment, and for the explanation of the whole backstage I didn’t know!
    I hope I can read your article, sooner or later!
    I know, this article is about an “old” issue (I wrote it years ago), but I hope someone will find it interesting.

    • Ciao Andrea,

      I forgot to get back to this, mi dispiace. If you send me your email I will send you the old article, as well as some notes on where it is badly outdated! ;)

      A presto,

      Greg

  3. Great article, Andrea; thank you!
    Two thoughts occurred to me as I read it:
    1. On my first day with the Hammaborg Club, Dierk Hagedorn demonstrated to me that the Strong and Weak of the blade is not only a factor of distance from hilt-point, but that the flats of the blade are also Weak while the edges are Strong!
    2. The DVD by Schielhau.org “Extreme Fencing” has a very well crafted explanation of the various effects of parries based on edge alignment (flat, edge, edge-angle) wherein they refer to the parrying of a incoming blow by hitting its flat with your edge as a “beat” because it will knock the incoming blow 90 degrees off of intended path; hitting the incoming blow edge-on as a “stop” (for what I hope are obvious reasons), and hitting it edge-to-edge at an angle as (I think I remember correctly) a “slide” because the incoming blow will be redirected off-path but not so dramatically as with the “beat”
    Again, nice work and thanks!
    Bob Foster

  4. I agree!
    As I said: there are many ways of parrying.
    One of the most important is the one that allows me to take the control on the opponent’s blade, that allows me to bind: the “block” parry. In order to get it, the parry has to be done edge-to-edge (again, obviously not only at 90 degrees).
    Thanks Bob, for reading my article (I hope it is not so boring…) and for your comment!!

  5. Andrea
    You have a very poor understanding of what John Clements teaches. In ARMA there has never been a “question of parrying with the flat instead of the edge”. In ARMA we do both. Take a close look at the ARMA videos and you will see Clements doing both. The only thing we don’t do in ARMA is edge-on-edge hacking. Until you move beyond such a simple issue you are basically in the dark ages of reconstructing these lost arts. For last 12 years Clements was a generation ahead of everyone. Personally I think Clements is now 2 generations ahead.

    • Actually, Randal, having known JC for several years longer than you, that really isn’t true. John has morphed and altered how he defined “flat parries” constantly over the years to try and force fit a preconceived notion that a) originated with Hank Reinhardt, not John – as they both discussed *publicly* at SSI in May, 2000 and b) was bolstered by John twisting Ewart Oakeshott’s words into a declarative of support, which Ewart complained about in email to myself and others.

      All of which still ignores that the “edge bashing” he vilifies is a strawman argument, since that is not what anyone besides maybe some old time faire performers are advocating.

      • Greg – All of this is easy to test, just take two good quality sharp swords, any of the top of the line Albion swords will do, then just slam the edges together at high speed a couple of dozen times. The observe the edges. Very simple test. Or ask Guy Windsor, several years ago he noted on SwordForum that edge-on-edge play did significant damage to the edges of his swords (please don’t say I’m using that out of context).

        All the best to you,

        • Yes, Randall, that would mean something IF that was how people parried with swords. That is the strawman argument that JC has been promulgating for years – long before you were ever a twinkle in ARMA – then HACA’s eye. Anyone using the edge to parry must be making 1970s style stage combat blocks. But parries include collections at the forte – on the shoulder of the blade/cross, and deflfections which are cuts. The latter almost never lead to the hard “edge bashing” you are discussing. But then, you know this, and that isn’t the point. The point is that there are examples of edge and flat being used by various masters, for various purposes – as I established back in 1999 and 2001 with my articles (to your Guru’s delight, I might add), and as Andrea shows here. What there is ZERO evidence for are things like taking a static parry in guard on your flat, as JC has demonstrated time and again, or the notion that if I parry a blow by CUTTING into it with my edge against it’s flat, that somehow that is a flat parry. It is not, because parries are defined by the defending sword.

          But again, if you can’t or won’t see that after nearly a decade and a half of the being presented with evidence from the texts – none of which your teacher can read in their original language, none of which he HAD read (since they weren’t in translation) when he wrote Renaissance or Medieval Swordsmanship and presented his ideas, there isn’t much more to be said.

  6. Randall. I am really curious as to why you think JC is two generations ahead of everyone else. I can certainly accept that some believe they know things that others haven’t understood, since I myself also know better than everyone else, but it is an incredibly bold statement. ;)

    But, keeping one’s discoveries to oneself, for whatever reason, can only hurt our common goal of recreating the Arts. If nothing else this single thing unites ARMA with the rest of us, our love for this once dead Art.

    Regarding the poor understanding of JC’s teachings: Perhaps this is part of why communication and sharing of thoughts and interpretations are so important? You may have moved beyond your older interpretations but as rather little interaction is done with the rest of the community then we all have a quite unclear image of what ARMA teaches and thinks and I would think the opposite is also true, much of ARMA knows rather little about what is going in the other clubs and organizations around the world.

    I am really not taking any sides here, since the topic of parrying and deflecting with different weapons is very complex and different depending on what weapon and style you choose. I am not really talking about parrying at all. I am just curious as to why you believe JC is now TWO generations ahead of EVERYONE else practicing the Arts. It is a bold statement and would like to understand what it is based on and if it is indeed correct, then I would like to take part of these teachings.

    To me it seems as if that would be very hard to know, since that would require regularly meeting the about 400 HEMA clubs and 12,000 fencers that are around the world.

    If you truly believe this and you honestly care about how HEMA/WMA/RMA/MARE develops then such knowledge should be spread openly so we can all benefit and the Art that we practice can evolve to its best potential in our common ambition to recreate what was once lost.

    And as a result, ARMA and JC would gain a lot of credit from the rest of the community.

  7. How can John Clements be 2 generations ahead of me, when I am light-years ahead of him?

    Regardless of this dead-horse-riding of this article, it is my opinion that JC and ARMA are not doing flat-parries at all, but had a curriculum based on “safety first” that needs the training of safe blows and a series of parries for free play. Another base-stone was the idea of knightly fighting. This is very similar to other first hand interpreters of that time (10-15 years ago).
    A lot of HEMA people used that foundation as a stepping stone. And they stepped further, created stepping-stones of their own. After the impact of their studies and interpretations JC revised his personal understanding in the last 5 years and changed it. He called it his new Rosetta Stone. But it is in fact only a new curriculum based on the combined work of others and himself. (he still needs those “safety first” approach, while at the same time presenting “strong blows”).
    Because any revisions may be seen as weakness, it is kept “secret”. There is the problem that this “new” interpretation is again full of errors and faults. There are people constantly bringing up new knowledge on the masters and the art, and they are doing it better than JC. What is no surprise because they work as an international team. So JC and ARMA had to face a superior interpretation of the art and a better knowledge of the old masters today or in a few years. The only way to simulate a superior knowledge to their ARMA clients is the trick called “vapor-ware”. It is the claim that you have an understanding and secret knowledge no one else had or has “Integrated understanding of these key elements has not been correctly understood anywhere by anyone in hundreds of years-certainly not in any online materials or publications on this craft over the past decade.”.

    I claim there is no such “unified field theory” of Renaissance combatives that I do not know already. And I further claim that I myself could teach a bunch of insights to JC and would happily and freely do so. He just have to pay the tickets and some tequilas. I am so easily bribed.

  8. Ran…

    “You have a very poor understanding of what John Clements teaches.”
    Probably you are right, but I watched his videos, and read his books and his articles, so I can only talk about what is “public”.

    “In ARMA there has never been a “question of parrying with the flat instead of the edge”. ”
    The above-mencioned videos and texts suggest the contrary.

    “In ARMA we do both.”
    I’m sure you do!

    “Take a close look at the ARMA videos and you will see Clements doing both. The only thing we don’t do in ARMA is edge-on-edge hacking. Until you move beyond such a simple issue you are basically in the dark ages of reconstructing these lost arts. For last 12 years Clements was a generation ahead of everyone.”
    Take it easy! I’M NOT attacking Clements, nor the ARMA! He is a very good researcher and I guess he is a very good fencer. BUT I still meet people that idolatrize the flat parry: a lot of Clements’ followers (also in Italy), pick his words as good “a priori”, without investigating their full meaning.

    “Personally I think Clements is now 2 generations ahead.”
    Good for you (and him of course!) :)

  9. Hi Andrea,

    Interesting article. Thank you. Please translate italian parts of the text. I do not know your language, but I would like to understand these quotations ;)

    Best Regards

    JC ;)

  10. The pretty quick traslation of the italian masters’ quotes:

    Achille Marozzo – Opera Nova (1536):

    …if he strikes from his right you have to parry with the true edge of your dagger…

    …because, if he strikes from his right vertically or orizontally, or with a thrust, I want you to parry this blows with the edge of your sword, just like you were in “entering guard”

    Giovanni Dalle Agocchie – Dell’arte di Scrimia (1572):

    …With the sword you can parry in two ways, with your true (long) edge or with the false (short) one…

    Bolognese Anonimous – (sec. XVI):

    …and if he wants to strike at you with any blow, you shall pass forward with your left feet, parrying the incoming blow with the true edge of the sword, just like you were in “head guard…

    Francesco Altoni – Monomachia (sec. XVI):

    To teach which part of the sword is for parrying and which is for hitting, because it is very important that the edge from the middle to the point is for hitting, and the rest (of the edge) is for parrying. To tell how many are the ways to defend, that are three, according to me, with the edge or fleeing (stepping back), with an offense, and with the armor.

    Giovanni Antonio Lovino – intorno alla Practica e Theorica… (sec. XVI):

    …turning the true edge toward the opponent’s sword; this certain keep us safe from enemy’s offense.

    (going to the point)…:but always turning the true edge toward the opponent’s sword…..so that, if he wants to strike at you, he will finde the true edge of your sword….

    …it is advisable keeping the arms well extended; the sword in the right manner: with fist and flat of the sword looking the ground; so that the true edge is kept toward enemy’s sword offense.

    Federico Ghisliero – Regole di molti cavagliereschi esercitii (1587):

    In the first quote he talks about the shape and the weight of the sword, ad it says that often it hits with the flat and it can break.

    …in the third way of parrying you have to face al kind of offense with yout true edge; and you can also use the false edge, but is a weaker parry so we skip it: and you have to keep your sword with streightness in order to parry, and you hit making both edges slide (one each other)

    Marco Docciolini – Trattato in materia di scherma (1601):

    The opponent can strike wher he prefers […] you only have to present the edge of the mentioned dagger…

    …but if he lands a thrust with the true edge, and you have to present your true edge toward his one…

    Ridolfo Capoferro – Gran simulacro dell’arte e dell’uso della scherma (1610):

    You can parry with the true edge and with the false one, but fewer times, in a straight line as much as in a oblique one.

  11. No where in the manual, in the quotes that have been given say to use weak/medium edge on weak/medium edge. ARMA is ok with using the edge on the flat and the false, dull edge of the lower part of the sword. It depends on the combination, just not weak/medium on weak/medium at 90* angles. That’s what John Clements is trying to get across. I back up what Randall said. I am not an ARMA member, however in the last year or so in the debate I have decided to pursue ARMA membership over others. This article is written in ignorance of what ARMA is teaching.

  12. Strong argue indeed.
    I wonder which part of “I’M NOT attacking Clements, nor the ARMA! He is a very good researcher and I guess he is a very good fencer. BUT I still meet people that idolatrize the flat parry: a lot of Clements’ followers (also in Italy), pick his words as good “a priori”, without investigating their full meaning” is not clear…

  13. Thank you for translation Andrea. Do not worry about ARMA USA. Ignore them, they only speak loud on internet. Debate with them is useless.

  14. I made a slowmotion versions of most of the ARMA videos. I analysed them and counted the flat parries and the edge parries. Even in technical videos, the flat parry had statistically a hard time. Edge parry won by far. And JC is doing very nice 90° blocks. I studied the freeplay videos of ARMA in slow motion and I found that there is only a extreme right sided hanging guard practiced as a flat parry the rest is edge blocking usually produced by simultaneous blows as a try of intercepting that fails. In most cases the recommended ARMA method of interception failed and caused double hits.

    In practice ARMA students and JC are not using the flat parry if it comes to speed actions in youtube videos (may be that differs in daily class).

    What I personally think: I see the ARMA as a bunch of jolly sword wielders having fun in learning and training in a community of fellows. And as it is always in those communities: the word of the “leaders” are highly respected and practically ignored. So be not irritated that a ARMA member is strictly defending the ideas against outsiders on one hand, and does a lot of different things during the fight on the other hand.

    Thus knowing I think the complete discussion is obsolete. Nobody does flat parries by a dogma, even if he says he does.

  15. Actually I did not think that you attacked ARMA & JC enough. They deserve far worse. Besides its director/dictator being a totally corrupt failure of a human being, the tactical & technical positions they=he take(s) tend to be extreme and absolutist. That is why The Association has gone so wrong. That is why most all the talented, brave & dynamic guys & gals have chosen to free themselves thereof.

    That said, I think this article did not take the German material seriously enough and did not explore it so well as might be done. Consequently, other contradictory evidence for usage of the flat for Versetzen (interception) has been forgotten or dismissed.

    Hence its argument is “Italianated”, as Master Silver might call it. (Hah!)

    Aside from that, it is a pretty good article and it makes an argument worth considering.

  16. Thanks Jeffrey! Let me clarify again: I do not mean to attack the ARMA, but something I think is a totally wrong fashion.
    «The parry “par excellence”, as an action seeking to stop the opponent’s blow, done in a way that does not lead to uncertainties in the control of the blade and the point, must necessarily be made with the edge. The flat of the sword may indeed, only in certain situations, be used to deflect a blow or a thrust.
    Furthermore, it is a fact that all the Italian treatises from the Middle Ages to today teach only parring with the edge. Only in certain part of the German treatises, after the thirteenth century, appear parries with the flat of the blade, and only executed in particular circumstances.»

    I admitted my quite poor knowledge of german fencing, but I just wanted to emphasize the fact that ALL italian fencing uses always the edge parry. In other words, IMHO, it is an error to generalize the flat parry, as Clements (and others) does.

    As I said, I’d like, sometimes, making the same analysis for the german fencing, or finding someone else’s. It find it interesting.

    Uh, and about Silver, he was just envier :D :D

    • Might be because I have to approve comments from users who are not registered as authors. You are an author and can comment straight away on your articles, but Greg isn’t yet and therefore can’t. You are most welcome to join us in sharing your thoughts, research and articles though, Greg! ;)

  17. Ciao Andrea!
    Very good article Andrea, very well documented. Mi è piaciuto molto.
    Regards

  18. Hi Eugenio.
    Thanks a lot, glad you find it interesting!! Thanks fot having read it.

  19. I enjoyed reading your article. You present your points very clearly and give food for thought. I know its a small thing, but I would like to add that it is my impression that the reason the Roman military gladius did not have a cross guard is because it was used primarily in formation and in a thrusting manner, with only occasional opportunity to slash or cut, such as a pulling draw cut to the back of the leg or ankle. Used in this manner it doesn’t need a cross hilt because the hand and fingers remain well back away from the opponent a good bit of the time, and the guard that the gladius did have was designed to keep the hand from slipping forward onto the blade, a job which I think it performs admirably. I’m sure you know all this but I just wanted to add it for clarification for those who may not.

  20. Thanks Chris!!
    You are right! And, I guess, the gladius did not have a cross guard because it was almost never used to parry, so fingers were quite safe. :)

  21. I love this debate, it brings out the best! I find all this very interesting. Thanks. now my humble opinion:

    strikes on the flat is a good way to hurt your wrists, best to dance around the measure LOL

  22. great article Andrea, it recently appeared on the Society of American Fight Directors Facebook page and was very warmly received, with the exception of one ARMA practitioner. As a “student” of Fiore, I really appreciated the attention to detail you provided in your argument for the benefits of the edge parry.

  23. Thank you a lot!
    I’m very glad to hear that someone has found it interesting and that you appreciated it!

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