Manciolino’s Movement and Tactical System – An Introduction to Bolognese Swordsmanship

These are the class notes for the seminar given at the NZ Swordsmanship Symposium, 10 Oct 2015.

Further information regarding some of the terminology used here can be found at Sword & Buckler Teaching Curriculum

Class Details

Instructor: Richard Cullinan
Class Category: Bolognese Swordsmanship – sword & buckler
Class Length: 2 hrs
Experience Level: Beginner
Intensity Level: Moderate
Pre-Requisites: None, but familiarity with Italian nomenclature is useful
Required Equipment: Sword (<37” / 94 cm blade length), mask and buckler, forearm protection recommended
Maximum Attendees: 30


The sword and buckler was the primary teaching system for the early Bolognese swordsmanship authors, and it describes all the foundation skills used by the other weapon systems incorporated into their art. Antonio Manciolino’s Opera Nova (1531), as well as being the earliest Bolognese Swordsmanship treatise, also provides a surprisingly complete and succinct movement and tactical framework. During the class we will be examining how his movement system is far removed from the complex approach it first appears to be. We will also explore how he provides a rigorous tactical approach that should enable a person to hit without being hit.

Manciolino on Footwork

…as it does not occur that “mandritti”, “riversi”, “falsi”, “punti”, and similar such words (which need to be understood in the art) can be changed into other names, as the signification of “to pass” does, which occurs to me continuously while writing with the pen, whence many times one comes to say that players “pass” with the left or the right foot, since one can say “pass”, “cross”, “glide”, “guide”, or “direct” the feet, and so where “right” <destro> is said, we will sometimes say “straight”, or “strong”, or “able”, because man naturally has more strength in his right side than in his left, and equally sometimes “sinister”, sometimes “left”, or “weak”, in order to avoid tedious regret, there being nothing more odious than the frequent repetition of the same word…

This key paragraph from Manciolino goes a long way towards explaining the seemingly limitless ways in which the feet can actually move within the system. The author is following a literary convention, and is not describing the action using a precise technical language. Once this is understood, the simplicity and elegance of the footwork becomes apparent.

Double Actions are the norm.

Only 17/153 show a single action. The rest are all double actions, following the basic rule of one step one action.

Typical Actions

1. Double descending cuts.

2. Descending & Ascending cuts

3. Ascending & Descending cuts.

4. Thrust & Cut combination.

The Footwork Types

1. The pass

2. The slope pass

3. The Pass & Traverse

4. Expand & Contract

5. Contract & Expand

Some Detailed Examples from Porta di Ferro Stretta

Offensive Combination Using Thrust And Riverso

Pass left and throw a thrust to the face, and as your enemy goes to parry it, throw a riverso to the thigh, ending in Guardia di Testa.

[Libro 2, 3rd Assault]

Offensive Combination Using Thrust And Riverso Feint & Mandritto

Extend a thrust to his face, and passing left, throw a riverso feint to the head, but give him a mandritto to the head or to the leg.

[Libro 1, Capitolo 13]

Offensive Combination Using Thrust And Rising Riverso & Mandritto

Pass with the left foot, extending a thrust, and then traverse right throwing rising riverso to the arms, and mandritto to the head or leg. For your protection, pass back with the right foot, throwing riverso to the sword hand.

[Libro 1, Capitolo 13]

Defence Of The Thrust And Riverso

When the enemy extends the thrust, pass back into Cingiara Porta di Ferro Stretta. When the enemy passes right throwing the riverso feint & mandritto, parry the mandritto with a falso and riposte stepping forward with the right foot to give a mandritto to the face.

[Libro 1, Capitolo 14]

Slip, Parry And Riposte Against the Thrust And Head Blow Combination

When the enemy passes to give the thrust, slip the blow by passing back your right foot ending in Cingiara Porta di Ferro. When he traverses to throw the head blow (mandritto or fendente), pass right and parry with a rising falso traversale, and riposte with a riverso to the leg. Pass back, extending a thrust to the face, covering the sword hand with your buckler, and ending in Porta di Ferro Stretta. [Libro 4, Capitolo 9]

Some Examples from Coda Lunga Stretta

Counterattack Against The Mandritto To The Head

When the enemy throws the mandritto to the head, pass back with your right foot and counterattack to the sword arm with a mandritto that ends in Cingiaria Porta di Ferro, defending the head with your buckler. For your safety, pass back with the left foot turning the sword hand to end in Coda Lunga Stretta.

[Libro 4, Capitolo 6]

Parry Riposte Against The Mandritto To The Leg

When the enemy throws the mandritto to your right leg, pass left and parry with a falso from below the buckler. Riposte with a riverso to the right leg, and redouble with a stoccata to the face. For your safety, leap backwards, and then you can step forward with the right foot, returning to Coda Lunga Stretta.

[Libro 4, Capitolo 7]

Conclude with the circle theory summary

The Marozzo (Bolognese) segno for footwork shows the overall concept for all the actions we used above.

Essentially, everything we did was to control the diameter of the inner circle, forcing the enemy into the circumference. Each of the stepping actions made can be related as either a step from one triangle to the next, or as an expansion from or contraction to the apex of that triangle on the outer circle.