(The Flower of Battle)
Fiore dei Liberi was born to a knightly family in
Cividale del Friuli sometime around 1340 or 1350. He tells us in the
prologue of his treatise that he took an interest in arms as a youth,
and traveled to many provinces, training under many Italian and German
masters. In time he became a master himself, and he states that he had
been practicing the art of swordsmanship for forty years when he began
writing his treatise.
He received jealous challenges from other fencing
masters, and in his prologue informs us that he fought in five such
challenges with sharp swords, wearing only and arming doublet and
gloves. He says also that he remained, "By the Grace of God with
honor and without injury to my body."
We know from Francesco Novati’s research into historical
documents of the period that the nearby towns of Cividale and Udine had
present in them many fencing masters during the period of Fiore’s youth
and prime. Also in the historical record are instances of Fiore’s
involvement in military and civic duties. In 1383 Fiore pledged
his military service to Frederigo Savorgnan to aid him in a war that
broke out over the rights of the Patriarch of Aquileia. In 1384 he
was sent to aid the Captain General to maintain order in the town Gemona,
and in 1387 he was in Padua to oversee a duel.
Circa 1400, he was appointed master swordsman to the court of Niccolo
III d'Este, Marquise of Ferrara and later acquired a commission as a
master swordsman on behalf of Signore di Ferrara. It was during
this period (1409 or 1410) that he began to write the manuscript for the
knightly nobility and dedicated his treatise to the Marquis. Dei Liberi
appears to have died before 1450. Fiore’s teaching is priceless as a
window to the martial culture of late 14th and early 15th
Fior di Bataglia, or Flower of
Battle, exists today in three manuscripts, all named for the
collections or libraries in which they were or are now kept: the
Getty-Ludwig, the Morgan-Pierpoint and the Pissani-Dossi (reproduced
with glosa by Francesco Novati and now lost) manuscripts. The Morgan-Pierpoint
and Getty-Ludwig versions of the work seem to be fairly similar (though
the Morgan-Pierpoint includes only swordplay and mounted combat),
possessing a great deal of explanatory text with each technique.
The Pissani-Dossi seems to be a departure from the other two, the text
being primarily written in short rhyming couplets. The Pissani-Dossi
version of Fior di Bataglia is the most widely recognized and may be
found elsewhere on the World Wide Web.
Members of St. Martin's Academy are currently assisting
in the translation of the Getty-Ludwig copy of the manuscript. It
is our intention to remain true to his manuscript, not filling in with
techniques from other sources, or interpreting techniques in the way
they may be executed by other martial arts, but rather attempting to
interpret them strictly as Fiore himself set them down.
The Getty-Ludwig copy of the Fior di Bataglia is divided into sections
dealing with wrestling, dagger, sword, spear, pollaxe and finally,
mounted combat with lance and sword. It is a complete system of martial
arts. One finds transitional material between each section, and
many internal references and thematic repetition, so that the student
can very quickly come to an understanding of the system. It is
clear that Fiore was an excellent educator and knew how to set down
material for ease of instruction and learning.
He tells us also that the art is so large that one may
not learn it properly without books, and that he learned to read, to
write, to draw, and owned books in the art himself. He was part of
one of the most cultured courts of his time, and this is revealed in the
seemingly simple but many-layered symbolic representation of his art,
known as the “segno page.”
In his “segno”, shown under the logo on the left, are the seven blows of
the sword (fendente, mezani, sottani, and punte). Four animals
that surround the central “master” figure represent virtues the student
must take on and understand in order to be successful in the art.
Above the figure, a lynx (lovo cerviero) carrying a pair of calipers
symbolizes foresight (avisamento), and the use of timing and measure. To
the left of the figure a tiger (tigro) carrying an arrow symbolizes
quickness (presteza). To the right of the figure a lion (leone) holding
a heart symbolizes bravery or daring (ardimento), which is necessary to
undertake the art of arms. Under the figure’s feet is an elephant (ellefante)
with a tower on its back, symbolizes strength (forteza). This
animal indicates a solid, erect stance, and the text beneath says that
it never kneels and never loses the way.
This is an elegant mnemonic for the
student of self-defense, presented as it is in the device of a “memory
seal.” When it is carefully considered in light of the academic models
of the time, this “segno” page becomes so significant as to constitute a
topic of study unto itself.
We find within the
Fior di Bataglia a complete martial art, set down by a talented martial
artist and teacher, hired by one of the most brilliant courts of the
time to teach arms to its members. We find that the author, Fiore,
earned his credentials through great labor and expense, to arrive at the
top of his field. There is a lifetime of learning within the
treatise, and the great joy of learning from a teacher, who so long
after his death is able to instruct us.
For a sample
Text content created
and copy written to Bob Charron 2001, all rights reserved.