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The Anonimo and Marozzo or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spada Dui Mani

Today I would like to focus on two specific texts from the Bolognese fencing tradition.  More specifically, I’d like to do a case study peering into the Anonimo Bolognese and Achille Marozzo’s Opera Nova.  My hope is that this will help elucidate some broader thematic differences between how the two authors want us to fight.

Let us turn now to the sections on gioco in stretto (constrained play), false edge to false edge with the spada dui mani (sword in two hands).  While we aren’t given a specific guard this starts in, we can imagine it as an extended porta di ferro stretta with each fencer’s true edge (assuming they’re both right handed) pointing out to their own left sides.  While this is the only section on the spada dui mani the Anonimo gives us (as it is a handwritten manuscript with many parts clearly missing), Marozzo gives us both gioco stretta as well as gioco largo both false edge to false edge as well as true edge to true edge.  Without exploding the scope of this article too much, we can think of gioco stretto as that part of fencing where our point stay’s within our opponent’s silhouette whereas gioco largo generally involves larger actions that involve our point constantly passing through our opponent’s silhouette. 

Porta di ferro stretta
Porta di ferro stretta

Continuing on, let’s look at one specific play out of the Anonimo.

(p.178/#1) (Counter to (play #466))

“The counter of this stretta play will be, that being false edge to false edge with the right foot

forward, you will stay alert, that as he passes to feint the mandritto your head, you in that tempo will pass with your left foot towards his right side turning at him a rising roverso to his right temple, and as he will remove his left hand to take your sword to make his presa, you will withdraw the left foot back throwing at him a mezzo mandritto to the hands, but in case the enemy should grab your sword, or some other part of the body to strike you with his pommel to your face, you will immediately drive the left arms turning him towards his right side, and lifting the sword outside the hand.”

So as they feint you pass your left foot towards their right and perform a roverso ridoppio (a rising cut going from left to right) towards their right temple, passing through guardia di croce.  When they go to grab your sword with their left hand, you pass back with your left foot and throw a half cut to their hands.  If, however, they manage to successfully get a hold of your sword, immediately use your left arm to push theirs off to the side, freeing your sword held in your right hand to do whatever you want.

Guardia di Croce

The Anonimo, across the board, is fairly straight to the point.  Their plays only last a few actions and lack the extended solo assalti (think Bolognese katas) we see most of the other Bolognese masters use in order to teach their techniques.  While they don’t shy away from strikes to the head or body, they are just as happy to end a fight by just cutting to the hands.  They don’t necessarily use the guarded retreat we see so commonly employed at the end of most other Bolognese plays.  Finally, while they are no stranger to coming to grips, they normally do so to open up an opportunity for the sword to strike instead of going all the way to pure grappling.

In contrast here’s a play out of Marozzo with a very similar beginning, but then diverges drastically as time goes on.

“Now when you’re false edge to false edge with your enemy, both of you right foot forward, step forward quickly with your left leg and cross your arms together as you do so.  Then quickly put your left hand on the inside of your enemy’s sword and grab it, and once you’ve seized it, step to the enemy’s left with your right foot and hit him in the face with your pommel as you step.  But watch out in case he sends his left hand toward the handle of your sword.  If he does, let him grab it, but once he has, put your left hand on his right arm, and grab his left arm with your right hand; once you’ve grabbed both of his arms, let yourself fall backwards to the ground, holding onto him tightly, and as you fall, stick both your feet in his torso or belly, and throw him backward.  Once you’ve thrown him, quickly jump to your feet and grab both of the swords.  This is an excellent action that can be done in many kinds of situations.”

-Marozzo, page 233

Marozzo, while occasionally to the point, is generally the largest show off of the Bolognese masters.  That doesn’t mean his techniques are any less potent, they just often require you to burn more calories.  We see here a similar set up starting false edge to false edge and then cutting up to guardia di croce, with your arms crossed.  Marozzo follows this up with a pommel strike, an action familiar enough to the Anonimo that they refer to it quite descriptively as “feeding him your apple.”  From here our opponent sends out their left arm, to grab our sword.  Whereas the Anonimo was ready to preempt this by sending their arm first, Marozzo openly invites his opponent to come and close in with him.  It’s at this crucial moment that the two authors really diverge.  The Anonimo closes in merely to open up a new line for the sword, Marozzo does so to remove swords from the equation entirely.  He goes so far to instruct us to abandon our own sword and to instead use both of our hands to grab our opponent’s arms and perform what we may nowadays refer to as a suicide roll, an action we see across a wide variety of martial systems which Marozzo employs again in his dagger section.

Marozzo, page 330

While I don’t doubt the efficacy of Marozzo’s technique, it definitely requires more things to go right as well as a higher level of athleticism and dexterity than what the Anonimo shows us.  It also looks super cool.

While both the Anonimo and Marozzo cover the widest swath of techniques of any of the Bolognese masters (and are the only ones to touch on the spada dui mani), they do so in subtly different ways.  The system at its core is almost exactly the same, but even within that space we see here quite a large amount of room for variation.  Fencers in early sixteenth century Bologna weren’t any more carbon copies of each other than fencers today.  While the guards, techniques, and overall approach remained fairly consistent across the Bolognese tradition, there was still plenty of room for different personalities to shine through.

Works cited:

The Anonimo Bolognese, translated by Stephen Fratus

Opera Nova, written by Achille Marozzo, translated by Jherek Swanger

Published by Arik Mendelevitz

A martial artist since the age of 8, I picked up a rapier for the first time in March of 2008 and have never looked back since.

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