I’ve been teaching Bolognese swordsmanship for many years now, and one of the most important things to understand is that it’s actually all one system, not a collection of tricks for each weapon combination.
I work primarily out of Manciolino, with some additions from Marozzo. Both of these authors use sword and small buckler as their primary teaching system, and I follow this pedagogy as well. The buckler teaches dual hand use right from the start, and also gives students a great focus point for cutting actions.
One of the things that many people miss is the instructions for how to use the buckler. We get some simple instructions regarding how to hold the buckler in Manciolino and a relatively unhelpful instruction for how to use it to parry. What we really need to understand is that the use of the offhand in defence is really embedded in the sword and dagger material, which is where Marozzo really comes into his own due to his quite comprehensive instructions.
A prime example of how this works is the crosswise parry with the offhand against the riverso. (Right handed fencers is assumed in this discusssion.) In the buckler material we get the unhelpful instruction to “defend the head with the buckler” from both authors. In sword and dagger though, Marozzo tells us to turn down the point and parry the blow with the true edge. This thumb down hand position (1st hand position in Classical Italian fencing) is a strong skeletal alignment, that forms a true cross against the opponent’s sword. The parry is also made close to the furniture on the oponent’s forte, preventing redirection. Now when it comes to holding the dagger, the hilt is held exactly the same way we hold the buckler handle, so this parry should work exactly the same way in sword and buckler and lo and behold it does. Our natural inclination to make the buckler parry with the hand in 3rd (thumb up) creates a weak collapsible skeletal alignment, but the thumb down position doesn’t!
Without this dagger instruction, we wouldn’t understand the buckler parries, which is to use it exactly as we would with a dagger true edge parry. The instructions for holding the buckler tell us how to hold the dagger, but the dagger material really fills in the blanks for using the buckler to parry. Together, it all makes one comprehensive teaching system! So the upshot of this post is that if you want to study Bolognese Swordsmanship, you can’t study the individual weapon combinations in isolation but need to look at the material holistically. I’ve been teaching the sword and dagger material this way over the last term in 2016, with reference back to the buckler material, and have seen the understanding of my students go through the roof!
Bolognese Swordsmanship isn’t just a collection of tricks for using different weapons combinations, it’s actually a beautiful art and system that teaches you core principles that can be applied to all weapon combinations! I love it, and it will reward you if you take the time to really plumb it’s depths.