Pulsativa, Instabile, and Stabile. Those words are only labeled with the Longsword Poste (Positions/Guards) in MS XV 13 (Getty) manuscript. They are not labeled in any other manuscript, and Fiore is mostly silent on their meaning or uses. There are two other places in the Getty in which they are mentioned; 36 Recto in the Poleaxe section he mentions that Posta di Fenestra Senestra (Left Window Position) does not have stability, making it an Instabile position. The last one is on 37 Verso in the caustic powder axe section, he talks about if he misses his opponent with the powder, he can defend himself with the Pulsativa positions of the sword.
To be fair, These labels are not the only subject touched on in the manuscript that Fiore is silent about. On page 22 Recto in the Getty to refers to the three turns of the sword:
“I say the the sword has three movements, which are Volta Stabile, Mezza Volta, and Tutta Volta”
He touches on that directly after describing the three turns of the body but gives us few clues how they are performed. There are a couple places in the manuscript in which he mentions a turn of the sword, but is silent on how the movement works. But just as the turns of the sword are important to understand, so are these Poste classification.
Even though Fiore is mostly silent on the matter, he felt they were important enough to put to the longsword Poste. Perhaps it was a subject he told to his students in person, or perhaps those classifications were part of the “common fencing” terminology during his time and were already expected to understand the terms, as Fiore only taught well trained swordsmen, that we know of. Fiore’s manuscript is the oldest known manuscript that deals with the longsword, So we do not have examples of the common fencing terminology of his time. We really have no way to know for sure, so we have to hypothesize as to their meaning. Many followers of Fiore have their hypothesis as to their meaning, and some don’t bother with the labels at all because Fiore is silent on the matter and believe they are not important.
I believe they are important in understanding the qualities of the Longsword poste, as well as the Poleaxe. So here is my current school of thought on Pulsativa, Instabile, and Stabile:
Pulsativa is a tricky word to try and understand when it comes to the meaning in Fiore’s work and also has the most interpretations. I believe it is derived from Latin, possibly “Pulsa” meaning to “Beat” or “Strike”. I take this not as striking in the offensive sense, but rather defensive. Looking back at page 37 Verso, Fiore implies that if the caustic powder does no good, or misses, he can defend himself with the Pulsativa positions of the Longsword. That leads me to believe they are intended for defensive purposes. In addition, I am taking account of the other two classifications; Instabile, and Stabile. Looking at the Poste assigned to them, they appear to be labeled as per their defensive qualities. Taking all three under consideration as a whole, it appears to me that all three classifications are intended to be qualities of defense.
Lets look at Pulsativa (Strongly covers/beats all blows)
There are three Pulsativa positions:
Tutta Porta di Ferro (Full Iron Gate)
Posta di Donna Destraza (Right Woman’s Position)
Posta di Donna Senestra (Left Woman’s Position)
Here’s what Fiore says about these positions;
Tutta Porta di Ferro – Pulsativa
“Which stays in great strength and she is good at waiting for every handheld weapon, long and short and if she has a good sword that is not too long. She passes with a cover and goes to close (Stretto). She exchanges the thrust and puts hers in. Also, it strikes back the point to the ground, and always goes on with a pass, and to every strike she makes a cover. And who in this one gives great defense does it without tiring.”
Nowhere in that passage does Fiore talk about attacking from Porta di Ferro other than a thrust after exchanging, which you are no longer in Porta di Ferro, but either Longa or Breve. So we can eliminate Pulsativa as meaning “Strongly strikes all seven blows” as is commonly represented. Fiore explicitly states that Porta di Ferro is a very strong defensive posture, and can defend against all strikes.
Posta di Donna Destraza – Pulsativa
“Which can do all seven blows of the sword. And of all the blows she can cover. And break the other guards, for the great blows she can do. And for exchanging the thrust she is always ready.”
There, Fiore does talk about Posta di Donna as an offensive position, but also can cover all blows. That’s where I believe it is Pulsativa, because it can defend against all blows.
Posta di Donna Senestra – Pulsativa
“Which of covering and of injuring she is always ready. She makes great blows and breaks the thrust and beats them to the ground. And she enters Zogho Stretto (Close Plays) thanks to the knowledge of how to cross. This guard knows how to these plays well.”
Again, the only common denominator amongst all three “Pulsativa” positions are their ability to cover all blows. Therefore, I define Pulsativa as a “Position in which can strongly cover/beat all blows of the sword.”
Now lets discuss “Instabile” (Unstable)
There are four Instabile positions:
Posta di Fenestra (Window Position)
Posta Longa (Long Position)
Posta di Bichorno (Two Horn Position)
Posta Frontale (Front Position)
If you look at each of these positions, you will notice a couple of things they have in common. They each have their hands away from their core, and their blade is offered for engagement. If your hands are away from your core, and your blade is offered for engagement, you are not in a stable position, hence, Instabile. And because they are not stable, you have to keep them moving. So I believe they are positions in which you move through to perform a defense. That is not to say that you cannot wait in these positions. Fiore tells us on page 36 Recto that he can wait in Posta Fenestra on the left making the opponent believe he is going to strike on the left, but enters on the right. So you certainly can wait in an Instabile position, but you will have to change positions to cover the blow or to strike because by themselves, they are not stable enough to withstand a blow unless it is moved into, or through.
Now lets discuss “Stabile” (Stable)
There are five Stabile positions:
Porta di Ferro Mezana (Middle Iron Gate)
Dente di Cinghairo (Boar’s Tooth)
Posta di Choda Longa (Position of the Long Tail)
Dente di Cinghairo Mezana (Middle Boar’s Tooth)
Posta Breve (Short Position)
Looking at these positions, they also have some things in common. Their hands are near their core and their blades are not offered for engagement, with the exception of Posta Breve, which we will look into last. This makes them stable positions in which you can wait in to defend, or even offend. Each of these positions have their limitations and cannot cover every blow, but are intended to be superior against certain kinds of blows, and do them well. Another thing they have in common is they are positions in which you can be relaxed standing in, saving energy for when the time is right to defend very quickly. If you are relaxed in a position, your muscles are not activated, and only activate when you want to move your weapon to defend, or offend as quickly as possible.
Posta Breve is an exception. If you look at Posta Breve, you will see the hands are near the core, but the blade is offered for engagement, making it a hybrid Stabile/Instabile position. Here is what Fiore says;
“This is Pota Breve, which wants a long sword and is a malicious guard which does not have stability. Furthermore, it always moves and sees if it can enter with a thrust or with a pass against a companion. And this guard is more appropriate in armor than without.”
So, even Fiore felt the classifications were important enough to mention that Posta Breve is also an Instabile position as well as Stabile.
In closing, I believe understanding the classifications of the Poste are very important to understanding the qualities of each position and what you can/cannot do from those positions as it pertains to defenses. If you understand the quality of a position, then you can come up with defenses from these positions that are not explicitly stated in the manuscript. I believe the manuscript is an abbreviated cataloging of the art, and cannot give you every defense possible. Understanding the qualities of the positions will help you come up with your own tool box of techniques to use.