Katas in western martial arts?

People who have studied karate or other eastern martial arts will know about the kata. A definition of kata as given at thefreedictionary.com is:

“ka'ta Pronunciation (kätä)

n. pl. kata or ka'tas

A system of basic body positioning and movement exercises, as in karate or judo.”

The use of the kata allows the student to memorize movements and perform them to illustrate knowledge of a specific system of combat.

When looking at the corpus of western historical treatises it has been readily apparent that description of anything resembling a kata appears to be missing. Or is it?


In the 15th century, we have evidence of a fencing school founded by Lippo di Bartolomeo Dardi in Bologna, Italy. Footnote The descendants of his school would become prominent in Italian fencing for over a century. Footnote Today we have copies of the treatises of three prominent Bolognese masters who laid a foundation in Northern Italian swordplay of the time. These masters are Antonio Manciolino, Achille Marozzo and Giovanni dall’Agocchie. Manciolino published in 1531, Marozzo’s first publication was in 1536 and the publication of dall’Agocchie’s treatise was in 1572. We also now have a copy of a hand written manuscript by Francesco Altoni (another master of the Dardi tradition) that dates from approximately the time of Marozzo.


Of the three published masters, the most famous is Achille Marozzo whose book was published numerous times under two titles: Arte dell’Armi (1536 ) and Opera Nova (1540). The book went into a number of reprints, with its fifth printing in 1615. Footnote

Marozzo’s treatise was written to his students for use in instruction of their own students. In chapter 5 of Arte Dell’Armi Marozzo stated “Again I say to you, that in teaching your students the principles of the edged weapons, that with the targa, & rotella, & brochiero larga, & single sword, & sword and cape, sword & dagger, & of two swords, & of many other strong weapons that you use, remember always the standards of movement, from guard to guard, forward, as behind, & from the side, & for deviousness, & in every way that it is possible, & to teach them to accompany the hand with the foot, & the foot with the hand, otherwise you would not do well, so that if you that teach walk over such a sign Footnote you will teach it in place, where others are not that you did not teach. Otherwise, you upset the foundation with those you teach.” Footnote

Chapters 1 through 9 are introductory chapters giving general instruction to the reader. Chapter 10 is at first glance an introduction to combat but something is not quite “right” with this chapter. At first when I read it I thought it was a set of moves to use in an encounter but with later reading and study I realized that it was an introductory piece that was similar to a kata as used in karate.

To understand some of the terms used in the following translation refer to the websites www.marozzo.org and jan.ucc.nau.edu/wew/fencing. You may also refer to the book Arte of Defense by William E. Wilson.

Arte Dell’Armi Chapter 10

“Now I will begin the first assault of the spada Footnote and brochiero stretta Footnote , which is very beautiful and useful for playing and for teaching. Note, before going to play you must find a companion/partner; then I want you to take a side of the room with your brochiero low to the left side, that is on your upper thigh, and your right foot close by the left in good form and with the sword in the coda lunga e larga with the arm extended and the body upright and as courteous as possible. You will then advance your right foot forward and at the same time cut with the false edge at the copula Footnote of the brochiero and bring the copula near your face. Then make a gran passo with the left foot, forward and to the right and then strike the sword with the brochiero. End in the guardia di testa with the arm extended and then bring the point towards the ground, that is with the false edge of your sword towards your brochiero and strike your brochiero with the false edge. Then throw a high upwards cut with a mandritta and in this cut you do a molinello by making a gran passo forward with the right foot towards the left. Then make another with the left foot and go over the brochiero and strike the brochiero with the pommel of the sword on the side inside the rim. Bring the sword hand forward and place the sword point towards the ground and then bring the right foot forward and cut with a montante. Again, with the foot towards the left and ending in the guardia alta and your brochiero extended. Now cut with a fendente against the rim of the brochiero with your right foot back and the blow to the left against the right. End in the coda lunga e distesa. Finally make a gran passo forward to the right, punching the sword with the brochiero and going into a guardia di testa. Then bring the false edge of the sword towards the copula of the brochiero making a gran passo with the right foot towards the left and immediately cut with a montante as the right foot passes left. End in a guardia alta with your arm extended. Your left thigh will be guarded from your enemy and your right foot will be extended. You will have reached close to your enemy being agente or patiente. But I suggest that you be agente, that is you are the one attacking. You should be in guardia alta with the right foot forward.”

An aspect of the swordplay of the Dardi school that applies to this is the embellishment of the play. Embellishment is adding extra, fancy sword movements after one has moved back from an opponent after an attack. The series of moves given above in the translation of chapter 10 show pre-combat embellishment. This may be used as a type of “kata” to practice the various cuts and guards used in the Dardi system.

As I believe that it is important to learn the single sword first before adding anything else into the equation, I have developed the following “kata” to be used to practice some of the various guards and attacks that may be employed with an edge-sword.




Cut Mechanics

Guardia Alta

Mandritto Sgualimbrato

Starting in the guardia alta, with the left foot forward, begin your cut with the arm by swinging the hand forward and down at an angle. When the arm has moved forward approximately 45 degrees, step forward with the right foot about a foot length, so that in the same instant as your sword would strike your opponent, your foot comes down. You will follow through on the cut bringing your hand near your left hip.

Guardia di Sotto Braccio

Riverso Ridoppio

You will make the cut by driving your hand forward, pivoting at the elbow and when the arm is almost straight you will guide the edge at an upwards angle from lower left to upper right while bringing the left foot close up to the right. As the hand reaches shoulder height, you will start to turn the knuckles up with the hand in first position and bring it back behind your head as your twist your shoulders so the right shoulder trails behind the left. You should be on the toes and ball of the left foot with your right foot flat on the ground. Your blade should be parallel to the ground.

Guardia Di Testa


While stepping forward and to the left a little with the right foot you will thrust with the sword, extend the sword arm and twisting the right shoulder forward again. Make a slight clockwise turn with the body as you bring the left foot forward and to the left a little.

Guardia di Alicorno

Mandritto Stramazzone

While maintaining the extension of your arm, let your point drop and circle clockwise up and around your head. As the point come around past the top of your head make a counterclockwise circle with your feet by stepping behind your right side with your left foot and pivoting on the ball of the right foot. Continue the cut by bringing the sword hand down in front of the left hip while turning the palm up.

Guardia di Fianco

Punta Riversa

First, bring the left foot close by the right and then while stepping forward and to the left with the right foot thrust forward with the palm up. The hand should end at shoulder height with the arm extended.

Guardia di Faccia

Riverso Tondo

Keep your arm extended as much as possible as you describe a counterclockwise arc with the sword. The point will travel first to the right and then will swing up and over your head and your hand will turn from palm up to palm down in the cut. When the cut is almost complete, you will step back with the right foot and your sword hand will drop with the arm extended and the point of the sword stopping near the ground.

Cinghiale Porta di Ferro Larga


Raise the point of the sword so it is at about 45 degrees and then while stepping forward with the right and then the left foot thrust up and raise the hand to shoulder height with the palm facing to the left.

Porta di Ferro Alta

Mandritto Sgualimbrato

Cut immediately downward and to the left without first raising or circling the point. During the cut, make a shuffling step back with the left and then the right foot while turning your hand over so the palm is down and the hand is near the hip. This position is similar to that where you would be drawing the sword. This ending position is the guardia di sotto braccio.


 If you would like to see the execution of this "kata" click on the following link.


Single Sword "Kata"


The students in this video learned the sequence in two weeks. By going over the guard positions and the cuts, an instructor may simply give the names of the cuts and thrusts to guide the students through the sequence.


Dall'Agocchie also has an individual progression. This is a very good introduction to moving from guard to guard with cuts and a thrust. I suggest that people start with this if single sword is to be taken up.