How to Start a fight in Sidesword Combat

By William Wilson

I think that the easiest way to start a fight is to either walk up and slap a person in the face or throw a drink in their face. If that doesn't start a fight nothing will.

All kidding aside, starting a fight or entering into combat is a tricky thing for many people. The following techniques for sword and buckler may also be used with single sword, sword and dagger or sword and cape. As a note, I find it better to learn the single sword first as was advocated by Giovanni Dall'Agocchie. His book starts with the use of the single sword and lays down the foundation for combat. It is my opinion that it is much better to learn the single sword first and then add in other off-hand implements such as buckler or dagger later. It is difficult enough to use the sword itself without complicating things by adding something to the left hand (for right handers, right hand for left handers).

The Dardi authors1 gave their theory and practice throughout their treatises. One must scour Marozzo’s treatise for the bits of theory scattered throughout it. On the other hand, Manciolino and dall’Agocchie put much of their theory before the practical sections of their books. Dall’Agocchie’s principles include.

  1. Having taken (used) the sword, knowing which is the true edge and which is the false2

You must know the tool that you are using. If you do not know the physical characteristics of your sword, it will be difficult to master its use.

  1. In what ways it is possible to attack

It is crucial to understand the various modes of attack that are available with the weapon at hand. With this, it will be important to determine for yourself which of the available attacks work the best for you against various types of opponents.

  1. The order of the guards and which are most important

The guards are starting and ending positions for attacks. Some of them provide defense and an invitation3 for your opponent to attack in a specific manner that you may then counter.

  1. The manner of movement

How to move is also very important. You must learn the various ways of stepping to be able to fence effectively.

  1. When finding yourself in said guards, what is possible in defense from all attacks by the enemy and how to offend him

This principle relates to principles 2 and 3 above. When in the various guards you must learn what defenses are available against specific types of attacks and what attacks are most appropriate from each specific guard. It is also important to know how to move efficiently from one guard position to another, with or without an attack between the guards.

  1. Having a knowledge of mezza spada and tempo together

This last principle alludes to the use of tempo (time or timing) and close quarter combat. Close quarter combat includes disarms and throws. Mezza spada is theory and technique resulting from fencing at the half sword (mezza spada means half sword in Italian). “Half sword” technique in this style of combat refers to close combat where the swords touch.

Two other principles that are common within this system are 1) Never attack without defending or defend without attacking and, 2) always move the hand with the foot and the foot with the hand.4 Chapter 2 of Marozzo’s Arte Dell’Armi gives this first principle; Manciolino, Marozzo, and dall’Agocchie taught the second.

Tempo and measure are two of the most important aspects of entering into combat. Without a knowledge or timing and distance a fencer may put themselves at danger of being struck.

In interest of time for the class5, we will commence with drills to facilitate demonstrating how one may enter into combat, i.e. how to start a fight.

Technique from Marozzo and dall'Agocchie will be used for the drills.

The first drill illustrates how to use a combination of attacks starting with a cut to the head. This drill may be found in the original in capitula 10 part 2.

Drill 1

Student A will start in the guardia alta and student B in the porta di ferro e stretta.

Student A

Student B

Step forward and right while making a mandritto to the head. This should be a full cut ending in the guardia di fianco.

step back and allow the cut to hit the buckler

immediately step with the left foot and make a roverso squalimbrato (half cut) to the head.

Parry with the true edge of the sword

immediately make a strammazone to the inside ending in a fendente to the head while stepping further to the left. End in the guardia di testa.

Marozzo advocates making three attacks and then retreating. Hopefully one of more of the cuts will land.

Drill 2

Student A starts in an extended guardia di testa. Student B starts in the porta di ferro e stretta just out of distance.

Student A

Student B

Step into distance into the cinghiale porta do ferro e stretta

with a short step of the right foot make a mandritto to the outside of the leading leg immediately followed by a roverso squalibrato to the sword and head.

step back into the porta di ferro e stretta

bring the right foot close by the left and cut with a high montante into the guardia alta.

Drill 3

This drill is based off part of the second part of the second assault at sword and buckler.

Student A starts in the sopra braccio and student B in the porta di ferro e stretta.

Student A

Student B

Throw a roverso at the sword of student B while advancing forward with the right foot followed by the left.

Raise the sword slightly to parry the blow

Immediately throw two outside stramazzone to Student B's head ending in the porta di ferro e stretta

Make a full mandritto squalimbrato to the head

Parry witht he guardia di faccia while thrusting Student B in the face.

Drill 4

This drill starts with a feint.

Student A starts in the porta do ferro e stretta and B in the same guard.

Student A

Student B

Push a punta riversa to the face to the outside of Student B's sword with a step of the left foot

Parry with the true edge of the sword

as B parries turn the palm down and cut the leg. Immediately give a fendente to the head guarding your arm and hand with the buckler and making a circular counterclockwise step with the back foot.

Cut towards A's arm.

Retreat back guarding well with the sword and buckler.

Drill 5

This drill illustrates some use of close quarter play

Student A and B start in the porta di ferro stretta

Student A

Student B

Push a thrust to the face of B outside their sword with a step of the left foot

Parry with the true edge

Immediately make a kick to the groin with the right foot followed by a step back with the right foot while cutting riverso fendente. For defense throw the left foot back while cutting with a riverso tondo to the throat.

1Lippo Dardi was the founder of the school/tradition in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. Masters in this tradition include Manciolino, Marozzo and Dall'Agocchie.

2 Giovanni dall’Agocchie, Dell’Arte Discimia Libri Tre. p 8. Dall’Agocchie’s principles 1 thru 6 are found on this page.

3 An invitation is a positioning of the blade that exposes some part of the body encouraging the opponent to attack the exposed part of the body allowing you to counter the incoming the attack.

4 Marozzo spells this out verbatim but Manciolino and dall’Agocchie do not. The original text reads “et insegnarli d’accompagnare la mano con il piede, et il piede con la mano”. Achille Marozzo, Arte dell’Armi. p 4. Capitula 5.

5For more information go to Also, look towards the end of summer/early fall for my introduction to sidesword through Kindle as an ebook.