Longsword Response Time Analysis

By: Tracy Mellow – Iron Gate Swordfighting


Successful defense against a sword strike depends greatly on the reaction time of the fencer. Understanding what is physiologically involved in that process can help a fencer or instructor train to reduce their reaction time significantly.

The science behind reaction time and how a fencer can reduce the reaction time can be quite complicated and boring, but I will do my best to convey the information in a way that most people would be able to understand, and short enough as to not lose the reader as this subject is an important, and often overlooked aspect in the HEMA community.

Reaction time can be defined as the time that elapses between a person being presented with a stimulus and the person initiating a motor response to the stimulus. The processes that occur allow the brain to perceive the surroundings, identify a threat, decide an action in response to that threat, and issue a motor response to execute an action to eliminate the threat.

Once presented with a stimuli (such as a sword strike), Information travels from neurons from the eye to the brain’s visual cortex, which helps process what you see. The brain then determines what response should be initiated. The motor cortex, part of the brain that directs movement then sends signals along your spinal cord by the central nervous system and into your various muscles by the peripheral nervous system to respond to the stimuli. 

Sword strike speeds vary greatly from fencer to fencer, depending on experience level, training, physical properties, distance etc. For our purposes, let’s use one constant stimuli in all the following examples. The stimuli will be a longsword strike from a right side high position (Posta di Donna/Vom Tag) and will be at the average longsword strike speed of 230ms (.25sec.) from a static position to contact with the left side of the head of the intended target.

There are different phases of responses that the body will go through during the course of training as the brain and body go through a physiological change.


Fight or Flight reflex

A beginning student, or untrained fencer being faced with our example stimuli will commonly react with a cringe, turning the face away, and blindly putting their weapon in the path the incoming strike. This is an involuntary response due to the brain not having the resources to pull from to confidently defend against the stimuli. 

This is the “Fight or Flight” reflex. The fight or flight reflex comes from the sympathetic nervous system, that is part of the autonomic nervous system which is the nervous system that is involuntary and cannot be controlled. It is responsible for bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate etc. There are a number of things that happen to the body during the fight or flight reflex, among them are negative aspects that affect the ability to adequately defend one’s self during a sword strike; Auditory exclusion (loss of hearing), and tunnel vision (loss of peripheral vision) among the common actions of cringing, and turning the face away.

Luckily, the human body and brain are amazing things. They can be trained and can be physiologically altered, permanently, to react positively to the stimuli.

In order to confidently respond to the stimuli, The fencer must change the response from a reflex to a response. 


Motor Encoding (Muscle memory learning)

Once a fencer has learned a technique that would counter the stimuli, and has retained it in their short term memory, the body goes through a physiological change. Instead of the response to the stimuli being of an involuntary nature and going through the autonomic nervous system, the brain now has information stored in the prefrontal cortex that can used to respond to the stimuli. The response now goes through the Somatic nervous system. The Somatic nervous system creates responses that the body can control voluntarily.

The motor encoding phase is a very important phase and should not be rushed through. The technique should be trained, with conscious effort, focusing on proper mechanics and should be drilled very slowly over many repetitions so the technique can be stored in the basal ganglia, the part of the brain that controls automatic response. Over time, the technique can be sped up. But only when the fencer can execute the technique perfectly over many repetitions. During the motor encoding phase, it is important to remember to focus on the proper mechanics, even if the fencer knows what to do. The brain will know when it does not need it anymore. Once it is stored in the basal ganglia, the fencer will be able to recall the technique without conscious effort. If a fencer drills too fast with improper body mechanics, the basal ganglia will store the improper technique and is very difficult to change once it is stored. That is why it is very difficult for a fencer who has had improper training to break the bad habits that have been learned.

At this point in the training, the fencer’s visual cortex sees the stimuli, the brain pulls from the short term storage in the prefrontal cortex the appropriate response, sends that information through motor cortex, then the central nervous system via the Somatic nervous system, which then sends the information to the Peripheral nervous system, that controls the muscles, and then proceeds with the appropriate response to the stimuli.

This process is rather slow in terms of fencing time. During this phase, the average response time can be from 200ms to 300ms. Recall that the example stimuli here is a longsword strike coming in at 230ms. That is not much time to respond and the fencer is susceptible to being struck.


Motor Skill Retention (Muscle Memory)

Once the fencer has trained the technique with enough repetitions to have it stored permanently in the basal ganglia, the response to the stimuli has become automatic. The fencer no longer needs to consciously assess the threat and determine what course of action to take.

 This phase has a much faster response time than the previous phase. At this phase, the visual cortex sees the stimuli, sends the information to the basal ganglia, that already knows what to do, sends the info through the motor cortex, then to the peripheral nervous system that then automatically responds with the appropriate response.

The average response time for a fencer with motor skill retention is approximately 140ms to 190ms. The stimuli in our example once again is at 230ms. Plenty of time to perform the defense.


Peripheral Vision

Response time can be further decreased by using peripheral vision. There are two types of vision; Central and Peripheral. Central vision is made up of many cone shaped cells in the retina that help focus on an object and is sensitive to light. Peripheral vision is made up of many rod shaped cells that have no focus abilities, but perceive movement much faster than central vision. The fact that peripheral vision perceives stimuli much faster than central is beneficial to historical fencers.

In my research, it is noted that the response time to a stimuli perceived from peripheral vision can be as low as 80ms. That is much faster than focusing on the stimuli.

Usage of peripheral vision is simple, but must be trained to do automatically, same as any other technique. The goal is to not focus on any object at all. The best technique to use is to look through and behind the opponent’s center, just below the chest. By attempting to look beyond and through the opponent’s center, the Peripheral vision can pick up the opponent’s legs, arms, shoulders, hands, and weapon. All the things a fencer needs to be cognizant of while fencing.

If a fencer is focused on the opponent’s chest instead of through it, the fencer runs the risk of getting tunnel vision, which is the loss of peripheral vision. Since focusing on a specific object slows the response time, focusing on the opponent’s weapon or hands is not the best option either if the fencer wants to decrease their response time.



Being able to analyze the position the fencer’s opponent is in, and having enough knowledge in lines of attack, and the most probable attacks or defenses the opponent may attempt will also go a long way in decreasing response time if the fencer chooses a response based on various possible options the fencer’s opponent has at that time. Pre-choosing possible responses will only help the brain determine the best response and automatically respond then the stimuli is perceived.



Speed of the fencer’s weapon will also go a long way to decrease response time. The key here is to remain as relaxed as possible, only using the muscle tension needed to remain in guard and hold the weapon. Then once the stimuli has been perceived, using explosive speed by activating the type II (Fast twitch) muscles in a short burst, almost as if the fencer had received a hard electrical shock, will speed the weapon up significantly. This also needs to be trained and become a motor skill, since the fencer does not want to have to concentrate on generating power while responding to a threat.

In conclusion, nothing will decrease response time without proper training and time. As noted above, there are a few ways even advanced fencers can decrease response times, they just have to be trained and stored as motor skill.


Connecting The Dots In Armizare
By: Tracy Mellow, Iron Gate Swordfighting


Armizare, the art brought to us by late 15th century fencing master Fiore dei Liberi as laid out in historical manuscripts he has left us, is a vast and complicated one. The art is so vast that if he were to try to explain all of the art, it would be a very large book, and would take a very long time to document. So Fiore has given us concepts that could be used throughout Armizare. Fiore intends you to understand the concepts behind the plays and techniques and applying them in real world situations. Fiore states numerous times throughout his sources that the art is connected. At the end of the Getty, he has a depiction of an unarmored horse and an armored horse tied to a tree. The tree represents the art, and the unarmored horse represents unarmored techniques, while the armored horse represents armored techniques. They are tied to a tree representing that all the branches of the art of Armizare, both armored and unarmored are tied together. There are many plays in the Getty which depicts an unarmored play but in the text, Fiore states that it is better armored.










There is a structure to Armizare. Each section has principles of the prior section, plus new principles added, usually with a transitional section showing that the art is connected. Dagger has principles of Abrazare plus new principles, and bridging the two sections is Baton, that used principles from both sections. Then Sword in one hand has principles of abrazare and Dagger, plus new principles, and is preceded by dagger versus sword and sword versus dagger. The sword in two hands has principles of the sword in one hand, dagger, and abrazare, plus new principles. Sword in armor has principles of sword in two hands, sword in one hand, dagger, and abrazare and is preceded by a section of various weapons with principles from the previous sections plus principles you need to know ….etc. That structure continues to the end of the manuscript.
In this article, we will explore these concepts. First, I will show you examples of techniques that Fiore has stated in his text in one section, referring to another section. Then I will give you examples of plays that are similar to plays of other sections. And finally, I will show you examples on taking a play from one section, and applying it to a play from another weapon, connecting the art.
I will be only using MS XV 13 “Getty” for the purpose of this article. However, the same concepts applies to all of his manuscripts, in fact some of the other sources has plays and concepts that are not in the Getty. I will be using the English version of the Getty that I created, and can be found on the Wiktenauer website as a free PDF book here:

0 Coverleather








Please refer to the credits page in the book for proper credits of the English translations that I will be using in this article.
There is also a structure to the plays themselves in the Getty. The structure of the manuscript goes the closest measure (Abrazare), to Dagger, to Longsword, to Poleaxe, to Spear, and finally the longest measure, Mounted. The same goes with the Novati manuscript. It is in reverse order in the MS. 383 Morgan, and the MS 11269 Paris manuscripts. The Morgan and Paris are in an order that is similar to the structure of judicial duels or fencing in the barriers. The Getty and Novati has a structure starting with the foundation of the art, so you should learn first(Abrazare) and working your way up to mounted in an order that is suitable for learning the art.
It is also important to understand the pedagogy of the manuscript. Here is a quick explanation. (Most of you should already know this, but am including it for those who don’t.)
Segno Master – Wears a crown. Provides you with the strikes of the weapon, and the virtues.
Instruction Master – Wears a crown. Provides you with instructions or fundamentals
Fight Master – Wears a crown. Is a Poste or guard.
Remedy Master – Wears a crown. is a remedy to an attack
Scholar – Wears a garter on a leg. Is the follow-on play of the Remedy Master
Counter Master – Wears a crown and garter. Is a counter to the Remedy Master
Contra-Counter Master – Wears a crown and garter. Is a counter to the Counter Master
Contra-Contra Counter Master – Wears a crown and garter. Is the counter to the Contra-Counter Master

Next to the images in this article are numbers and letters, indicating the location of that image in the Getty for you to easily locate if you so wish.

The first number is the folio (Page) number.

The “R” or “V” is Recto (Front of the page) and Verso (Back of the page)

The images in the Getty are laid out in quarters on each page. laid out like this:

A       B

C      D

As an Example, our first image is 8VC, which would be the 3rd image on the back of the 8th folio.


So Lets begin with plays that Fiore clearly references other sections.

The first time Fiore references another section is in the Baton section. In fact, he is having you go forward to a later section to get a further understanding of the play.









Here he tells us that this play is from the 8th Dagger Remedy Master:








Clearly, it is the same play, with the exception that the Scholar is sitting and has a baton.
Fiore then states that the counter to this Baton play is the same counter to the Dagger play:








The next play has the same concept, except with the 6th Dagger Remedy Master.















The counter to this play is the same as the counter to the corresponding dagger play.








The next concept Fiore tells us about, connecting the art is his “Elbow Push”. He tells us in the counter to the 7th Dagger Remedy Master that the elbow push is “Good against all close range plays of the Dagger, Poleaxe, and Sword, whether in armor or unarmored.”  He shows the elbow push in many of the sections, both as Scholars and Counters. These are just examples. There are more elbow pushes throughout the manuscript.






























































In the Dagger versus Sword section, Fiore tells us in the 2nd Scholar that he can “also bind the arm in the way that the fourth play of the sword in one hand is done.”








So once again, we have to go forward into the manuscript; 4th play of the sword in one hand








(Continued from 2nd Scholar of Dagger versus Sword)…….”and you can also find the middle bind in the third play of the dagger.”  So now, we have to look back in the dagger section to see this other technique Fiore tells us that we can do in this Dagger versus Sword play.










In the Sword in One Hand section, 3rd Scholar, Fiore tells us “I can injure you with a cut and a thrust. Also if I advance the forward foot, I can bind you in a ligudura mezana, which is drawn before, at the 3rd play of the 1st Master Dagger Remedy.”














In the Sword in Two Hands section, in Zogho Stretto, 13th Scholar, Fiore once again refers us to the 1st Dagger Remedy Master, and the follow on play which is the 1st Scholar of the 1st Dagger Remedy Master:
“This Play is taken from the play of the dagger which is the 1st Master Remedy, in which he put his left hand under the dagger to disarm, in the same way this Scholar has put his left hand under the right hand of the Companion to take the sword from his hand. Or he can put him in a ligadura mezana like the second play after the 1st Master Remedy of Dagger as said before. And that bind belongs to this Scholar.”


















So, it would then make sense that the counter to this previous play (Stretto 13th Scholar) would also be the counter to the 1st Dagger Remedy Master.

“I am the counter. And do the counter to the Scholar who is before me, who wants to do dagger plays, which are from the 1st Master Remedy, his 2nd play, which is after him. If with your sword you remain on your feet, I do not believe it.”















In the Poleaxe section, in the text for Porta di Ferro Mezana;

“If Posta di Donna is against me, Porta di Ferro Mezana, I know it’s play and mine. And many times we have been in battle with Sword and Axe. And I say that what she says she is able to do, I can do it more to her than she can do it to me. Also, I say that if I had a sword, and not an Axe, I would put a thrust in the face, that is, in the striking that Posta di Donna does with the Fendente, and I am in Porta di Ferro Mezana two handed with the sword, that immediately as it comes, I advance forward and pass out of the way, under his Poleaxe with force I enter and immediately with my left hand grab my sword in the middle and place a thrust in his face. So that between our others that of malice is little comparison.”









So there, Fiore references Porta di Ferro Mezana from the armored section. Sure, he is telling us how to beat an axe with a sword, and not directing us to another play in another section…or is he? He is giving us another technique from Porta di Ferro Mezana in the Armored section that is not stated in the text in the armored section. You can very well use the technique as described in the Poleaxe section in the Armored Longsword section…just against another armored opponent. Because Porta di Ferro Mezana in the Armored Longsword section is the only one that does not use your left hand on the blade….until you read about it in the Poleaxe section.

“I am called the Porta di Ferro Mezana because in armor or out I give strong thrusts. And I will step out of the way with my left foot and thrust my point in your face.”









Can you see now, that Fiore may not be intending you to use Porta di Ferro as depicted in the unarmored Sword in Two Hands section? You see, against an armored opponent, you need your left hand on your blade for point control to be able to thrust into unarmored areas. So the technique described in the Poleaxe section directly corresponds to the fundamentals of the Armored Longsword section. But then again, He may be describing the same action as set forth in the Unarmored section, and is merely describing how to defeat a poleaxe with a sword in the Poleaxe section. I’ll leave it to you to interpret. That’s half the fun of being a student of Armizare.


From the 4th Scholar of Largo, the Colpi di Villano (Peasant’s Strike):

“This play is called the Colpi di Villano, and is made in this way. That is, you have to wait for the peasant to strike with his sword, and the one who is waiting has to stay in narrow stance with the left foot advanced. And immediately when the peasant attacks to wound, step forward with your left foot out of the way, towards the right side. And with the right foot pass traversing out of the way, taking his blow in the middle of your sword. And let slide his sword groundwards, and immediately respond with a fendente in the head or in the arms, or with a thrust to the chest, as is drawn. Also, this play is also good with a sword against an axe, against a big stick, serious or in practice.”







What I wanted to point out here is the fact that Fiore mentioned you can perform this play against an axe, or a big stick. Because of the force those weapons are producing, you can easily pull this play off. But what isn’t mentioned, and I argue can be done, (I have done it) is to pull off this play with a Poleaxe against another Poleaxe. One of those things you can infer, even though it is not expressly dictated.


In the Mounted section;

“And if he turned around to the front he could well enter in Dente di Cingharo (Boar’s Tooth) with his lance, or in Posta di Donna la Senestra (Left Woman’s Position) and strike back and finish up, as it can be done in the 1st and 3rd plays of spear.”








So then we can look back at the Spear section under the Dente di Cingharo section to get the technique to use;

“We are three guards of the reverse side. And I am the First in Dente di Cinghiaro. Those that are on the right side do the same on the reverse. We pass forward out of the way, advancing the foot which is in front as said, out of the way. And we make our thrusts on the reverse side easily. And all the right side and reverse converge in beating thrusts to finish. Because other offenses with the spear should not follow.”





What is perplexing to me is that Fiore tells us in the Mounted play that the Master can also take Posta di Donna Senestra and complete the play as laid out in the third play of Spear. The third play of Spear is actually Posta di Fenestra Senestra, not Posta di Donna Senestra. I interpret it as him taking a Posta di Donna Senestra instead of Posta di Fenestra Senestra because you cannot do a fenestra with a lance, but you can still pull off the 3rd play from the Fenestra Senestra in Spear with the Posta di Donna Mounted as the beat and thrust are similar actions as in the 3rd play in the Spear section.











Those are some examples of plays that Fiore directly links to other plays from other sections. Now, lets take a look at some examples of plays that are the same as, or similar to other plays from other sections, even though they are not stated in the text.


The 1st Scholar of the Dagger versus Sword:








2nd Scholar of Zogho Stretto:







Now, just imagine if the 2nd Scholar of Stretto had a dagger in his hand. It could very well be the follow on play from the 1st Scholar of the Dagger versus Sword. Sure, how they got to the bind were different, but the follow on mechanics are similar.
The 1st Scholar of the Sword in One hand:








The 5th Scholar of Zogho Stretto:








The plays are very similar, with the exception of the opponent having one hand on the sword in one, and both hands on the sword in the other. The Scholar’s plays are identical other than how they arrived in the bind (Sword in one hand arrives in the bind in Fenestra, Stretto arrived in the bind crossed in the middle of the sword in Longa)
The 8th Scholar of the Sword in One Hand:

“You cast a thrust at me, and I beat it to the ground. You see you are uncovered, and I can injure you. Again, I want to make you turn, to injure you worse. And I will injure you in the middle of your back.”







14th Scholar of Zogho Largo:

“Also, when I have beaten back the thrust, or when I am crossed with a player, I put my hand behind his right elbow, and I push it strongly in a way that makes him turn and uncover himself, and then I injure him in the turning that I do.”








Yes, I already shown you examples of the elbow push, but wanted to show you these two plays as an example of plays that are the same from different sections of the manuscript.
6th and 7th Scholars of Sword in One hand:
















3rd and 4th Scholar of Zogho Stretto:
















Here, the ending actions are very similar. But how they got there was different. The Sword in one Hand play was the result of an elbow push, the Stretto play was the result of a pommel strike. Here’s why I think it’s important to mention these plays; It tells us that you can achieve this grapple from both an elbow push and a pommel strike. Now, lets say that you never study the Sword in One Hand section, and only study the Sword in Two Hands Section (Yes I know some that do). You will never know that you can perform an elbow push from Stretto because the elbow push is never depicted in Stretto, which I find strange since it is the grappling section of the Longsword. But from the play in Sword in One hand, it clearly shows you that you can perform that play in Stretto if presented with the opportunity. That is why it is important to study each section in the sources. But I digress, let’s move on.
11th Scholar of Zogho largo:

“The Scholar which is before me has beaten the companion’s sword to the ground. And I complete his play in this way. Having beaten his sword to the ground, I put my right foot strongly onto his sword. I can break it, or I can grab it in a way that he cannot offend me anymore. And if this is not enough for me, immediately when I put my foot on his sword, I injure him with the false edge of my sword, under his beard, in his neck. And immediately I return with a fendente of my sword, to his arms or to his hands, as is drawn.”







10th Scholar of the Sword in One Hand:

“This one attacked my head, and I beat his sword. I have come to this part. Also, I will make you turn, not to fail. And I put my sword to your neck, while I am daring.”








Here is an interesting concept. We have two similar plays, but the finishing actions are different. Who’s to say that you cannot perform the elbow push as depicted in the Sword in One Hand play in the Largo play? The beginning of the techniques are the same. Let’s say your opponent is wearing armor and thrusts at you and you perform the Breaking of the thrust as depicted in the Largo play. Can you complete the play as depicted in Largo? Not really. Can you complete the play as depicted in Sword in One Hand, by pushing the elbow and then thrusting him in the armpit or in a unarmored area of his back side? Of course you can. Are you beginning to see what this article is about? Very interesting stuff!


This play is connected to the other two just mentioned:







The play and final action is exactly the same as in the Largo play depicted above, except with poleaxes.

So there, you have a total of three plays from different sections that are similar.


Here is a concept of Measure in plays:


7th Scholar of 2nd Zogho Largo Master:








10th Scholar of Abrazare








What is important here is these are very similar plays, but at different measures, and one has swords. I argue that Fiore is telling us when you are in a tight spot, and you can’t figure out what to do next, when all else fails, Knee/Kick them in the balls!

The counters to these plays are likewise similar, other than which hand grabs the leg of the companion.


More similar plays:


From the Tutta Porta di Ferro in the Spear section;

“We are three masters in guards with our spears, conforming to the grips of the sword. And I am the first, which is Tutta Porta di Ferro. I am positioned to quickly beat the spear of the companion, that is I pass with the right foot traversing out of the way, and crossing his spear beat it to the left side. If I pass and I beat in doing that pass I injure the companion, this is a thing that is not possible to fail in.”

39R A/B39RAB








With the follow on play:

“In this play I will finish, from the three guards which were before: that is, Tutta porta di Ferro and Porta di Ferro Mezana and Posta de Fenestra Destra (Right). In this play finishes their plays and that is their art. As I will do for their part.”







Can you guess where I am going with this? I am hoping that your gears are turning in your mind at this point and can figure out which play this is similar to, if not identical.

If you said Exchange of the Thrust in Zogho Largo, you are correct!


“This play is called Scambiar de Punta (Exchange of the Thrust), and you have to do it in this way: When someone delivers you a thrust, immediately step forward your forefoot, out of the way, crossing his sword with your arms lowered and with you’re the point of your sword high, to his head or his chest, as is drawn.”







What I feel is important to point out here, is that in the spear section, Fiore does not explicitly state to keep your hands low and your point high. But does so in the Largo play. So it is important when learning a new play, to look for a similar play in the manuscript, or even another source, compare them and see if there are any fundamentals that you can learn from that will help you understand the play you are learning. I cannot emphasize that point enough, it is very important, and one of the reasons I am writing this article.


Now that you have seen examples of plays that Fiore references to in the text, and plays that he references to in drawings, let’s take a look at examples where you can infer a play with one weapon from a play from another section.


From the Sword in One Hand section:









Let’s say that the angle is wrong, and you are not able to get the ligadura Mezana as depicted in this play. Can we find another play, somewhere in the manuscript that may help us with a different approach to completing the play?

Sure we can. If you look in the Poleaxe section, the 5th Scholar performs a different grapple from a similar crossing. Instead of a Ligadura Mezana (Middle bind), we can perform a Ligadura Sottano) Lower bind as depicted in the 5th Poleaxe Scholar:









Are you getting the point yet? (Pun intended)

Let’s check out another one.


Let’s look at 10th Scholar of Zogho Stretto:






Now, can you imagine this play in a dagger senario? I can. Let’s say the companion has a dagger in an upward grip, and you cover in the 8th Dagger Remedy Master:








And he pulls away from the bind before you can preform a follow on play, just like the companion did in the 10th Scholar of Stretto, and as he pulls back, you release your left hand and grab the pommel of his dagger, just like is depicted in the Stretto play, and you stab him with your dagger. It works!


From the Sword in Armor Remedy Master:









Can you see pulling this play off with Poleaxe? It is very easy to perform from Posta Breve Serpentina with the Poleaxe:









Fiore does not need to repeat it in the Poleaxe section, because he has already covered it in the Armored Sword Section.

Last but certainly not least, one of my favorite hidden gems in this treatise, Posta di Fenestra Senestra!














Fiore never mentions Fenestra Senestra in the Sword in two hands section, but is a position I favor frequently when I am fencing with the longsword and that I teach in my classes. So, in order to document and justify the use of Fenestra Senestra with the longsword, I can use the principles as laid out in this article, and the depiction of it in the Poleaxe and Spear section to justify it. Sweet!

There you have it, how to connect the art from other sections. These were just examples. Now, grab your copy, and see what you can come up with.

Train safe and have fun!

Virtues of a Swordsman

By Tracy Mellow – Iron Gate Swordfighting

“This Master with these swords signifies the seven blows of the sword. And the four animals signify four virtues, that is prudence, celerity, fortitude, and audacity. And whoever wants to be good in this art should have part in these virtues.”

Fiore’s Segno. That famous page that has an image of a man, presumably a depiction of Fiore dei Liberi himself, with seven swords representing the strikes and thrusts. But it also contains four animals with symbols that represent the virtues one must have in order to fully understand the art, and to survive a sword fight. Here, we will explore the meanings behind the animals and symbols.

The virtues; Fortitude, Audacity, Celerity, and Prudence. You must have all four in order to be successful. One does not work without the other. All four must be instilled in a fencer if they want to pursue the art and survive.

Each animal represents a certain virtue, and the accompanying symbols add an additional information to help you fully understand that virtue.


Fortitude: Elephant with Castle

“I am the Elephant and I carry a castle in my care, and I neither fall to my knees nor lose my footing.”


Fortitude is defined as; Mental Strength and courage that allows one to face danger, pain, or adversity. This tells us that in order to be a good swordsman, you must have the mental strength to stand against a person who wants to harm you. It definitely takes fortitude to be able to perform deadly techniques with a weapon against another person who could possibly kill you.

The elephant represents strength, power, and stability. The Elephant in Fiore’s sources has no knees which represents that one “does not kneel” which means does not give up. It may also mean if you were to fall, you most likely will not get back up.

The Elephant also signifies footwork. The text accompanying the Elephant states “nor lose my footing” which tells us one must have a solid foundation and proper footwork.

The Elephant carries a castle for his load. This signifies that strength and stability is needed. The castle may also signify fortification; You must fortify yourself with proper guards and defenses by using the most solid positions and strongest defenses against an attack.

The Elephant stands on a stone platform. That signifies that strength, stability, and footwork are the foundation of the art.



Audacity: Lion with Heart

“No one has a more courageous heart than I, the Lion, for I welcome all to meet me in battle.”


Audacity is defined as; Willingness to take bold risks. Confidence. Basically, having the courage to fight, and to have the confidence in your abilities that you can pull off techniques in stressful situations. I would like to add that it could in addition, mean having the audacity to step into the opponent’s attack, which is against human nature, but in reality robs the attack of power and/or beats the opponent’s weapon to the centerline, thus diverting their weapon offline.

The lion represents courage, bravery, ferocity, and boldness. Ferocity is interesting, you must be ferocious in your attack while remaining true to the other virtues. Not easy for most people. Must be unforgiving and unhesitant in committing your attack.

The heart represents the heart of a lion, which reminds you that you must be audacious. It also represents nerve, resolve, spirit and enthusiasm.



Celerity: Tiger with an Arrow

“I am the Tiger,and I am so quick to run and turn, that even the thunderbolt from heaven cannot catch me.


Celerity is defined as; Rapidity of motion or action; swiftness, and speed. Being swift and quick allows you to strike your opponent before he can strike you, or allows you to defend yourself before you can be struck. Along with many other facets of fencing.

The tiger signifies fast, graceful and smooth strikes, defenses, and footwork. When the tiger moves, he moves in a graceful manner. His movements are swift but smooth, and moves with confidence.

The arrow represents speed and efficiency. Also, the arrow flies in a path that is the fastest way between two points; a straight line. It represents that your strikes and defenses should also move in the straightest line possible, since a straight line reduces tempo as compared to circular motions or arching.

It is interesting to note that the word “arrow” derives from the ancient Persian word meaning “Tigris” as in the Tigris river, which was known to be the swiftest river.


Prudence: Lynx with Compass

“No creature sees better than I the Lynx,and I proceed always with careful calculation.”


Prudence is defined as careful, good Judgement, to avoid danger, ability to reason, resourceful, and cautious. Prudence is one of the most important virtues. You can be strong, swift, and courageous, but if you lack good judgement you don’t stand a chance against even the most mediocre swordsman.

The lynx signifies foresight. The ability to understand the thoughts and intentions of your opponent. It also represents cautiousness; you don’t want to be so audacious that you rush into a technique without observing the position your opponent has taken and the most logical actions they would most likely take from that position. In order to have a good dose of prudence, one needs to have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of the art, it’s techniques, and has trained enough to understand the mechanics behind the techniques and an understanding the science behind the fundamentals. The lynx also represents the understanding of timing, which we call tempo. You need to understand the timing of your strikes, defenses and footwork, and that takes prudence.

The compass signifies measurement and geometry. Understanding measure is a cornerstone of fencing. Everything you do will depend on measure and tempo; from the approach to the withdrawal. Tempo and measure correspond directly to the geometry of the sword fight; Having your sword ready to strike from your shoulder has a wider measure and longer tempo than being in a position where your sword is held low and on the center line. Another example of the use of geometry is when you are in a bind, and you move your left foot offline to the left while keeping your hilt on the center of your body as you move but keeping your point directed at your opponent, you will see that their point will be offline and cannot harm you while your point is in perfect position to thrust up the middle. Geometry allows you to use the smallest moves necessary to gain the advantage by understanding positioning with imaginary lines.

Understanding and applying these virtues should be a major part of your training. Having all four virtues, you can achieve a great understanding of what it takes to be a swordsman.