Journal of Western Martial Art
By Peter Kautz
In his 1410 book Flos Duellatorum (The Flower of Battle) Fiore tells us that in his time he met "1000 men who would call themselves masters; though if their skills were combined, you would not have 4 good students, let alone one True Master", and that he wrote his book at the end of his life because there was simply no one around who was as skilled as he was, or who knew so many kinds of techniques. If you have studied the ancient manuals, in my opinion, you will find that he was right. No other manual shows the same amount of clear techniques with such a diversity of weapons. If you put all of Talhoffer's manuals together, you might get a tome equal to Fiore's, but no single manuscript could claim to be its equal.
Fiore tells us that "Some people will think that I mixed up useful and unuseful techniques, but he makes a great mistake as I have only described the ones I saw, used, or created, and I omitted the unsafe ones." These were the same techniques he used to kill many men in war, and in a number of personal combats to the death, without some of the more "speculative" techniques of later manuals, where the authors were perhaps more distantly removed from this sort of brutal life.
More then mere techniques are contained in this manual, however, and Fiore gives instruction on the proper mindset and attributes training necessary to be effective in combat. This aspect of his work has not been properly explained, I fear, and many people only look to Fiore's masterwork as a source of individual "tricks" which, without the proper mindset and attributes, may be unworkable. In an effort to shed light on these aspects, then, let us cover some of ideas from the text of Flos Duelatorum.
The first thing I think important to get is the 7 Rules which are taught to us as part of the Art of the Embrace (Wrestling). He tells us simply that Wrestling requires 7 Rules. These are given as a set of Key Words - Strength, Foot and Arm Speed, Grabs, Breaks, Tyings, Hits, and Wounds. Fiore tells us to practice these techniques carefully in practice but to hold nothing back in a real fight for your life. "No man may face his enemy with kindness."
Other than listing the Key Words, Fiore gives us no advise on what this means, or how to practice the 7 Rules. To this end, I will break down each Rule so that it might be clearer, and give more of an idea what to think about doing to supplement your training.
Endurance is a second component of your fighting strength, for without it we can not keep fighting. There is an old saying that "Fatigue makes cowards of us all". Wrestling will quickly develop "whole body" endurance in a way unlike other aerobic activities.
The ability to Give Hurt is the third part of the Strength equation. Giacomo DiGrassi, a later Italian Master (1594), said that all combat came down to Strength and Judgment. He defined Strength as the ability to "deliver hurt" to the enemy, and bottom line that is the key. It is important to know how to hit hard, fast, and in a way to maximize the weapon.
You must have good footwork, balance, and agility. You also must have fast hands and reactions that coordinate with the whole body. The Western arts generally use a structure where the hand moves before the body to facilitate speed, but when the strike lands the whole body is behind it, through coordinated use of footwork and timing. There is also an emphasis on avoidance with the body to allow for single time hits to be delivered, without the need for an active blocking defense.
You must be able to grab the enemy and control him. Before you can apply techniques of locking, breaking or throwing, you must first contact the enemy. In this initial work to control him, you must know where to grab and how to grab to get maximum effect. There are a number of specific points on the body that when pushed, pulled, or twisted can manipulate the opponent and take him off balance or throw him. Grip strength is another important, and often overlooked, area.
Once you have grabbed the opponent, you may break his limbs in a number of ways. These are initially learned as joint locking techniques, but they are applied in combat as breaks using full body force against the captured joint. Breaks for the finger, wrist, elbow, shoulder, neck, and spine are shown as well as kicks meant to break the knee, shin, ankle, or foot of the opponent.
You must have the ability to tie up the opponents hands and arms so that you may apply strikes, throws, locks, or disarms. This is known as "trapping hands" in some arts, and includes arm drags, wraps, hooks and other close in techniques. This is integrated with the striking and disarming skills, so as to control the opponent and sense his counters through tactile sensitivity. Tyings also includes the ability to "untie" yourself and escape from holds.
You must have skills in striking to injure your opponent. This includes fist, palm, forearm and elbow strikes, head butting, kneeing, low kicking, as well as such "timeless" techniques as eye gouging, fish-hooking, and hair pulling.
You must know the vital targets and the appropriate weapons of the body
to strike them with. The eyes, ears, nose, throat, collarbone, sternum,
solar plexus, groin, knees, shins, and spine are some of the common targets.
Francesco Novati, Flos duellatorum (1410): Il Fior di battaglia di maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco (Bergamo, 1902), Pisani-Dossi Collection.