(draft version--still some problems with getting the italics to show up)
C. Deily, Schola Saint George - Boston Area
Guy Windsor, in his essay “Half full? Meza and Tuta in Fior Battaglia”,1 looks at poste (guards), volte (turns), ligadure (binds) and grips, coming to the conclusion that in Fiore dei Liberi’s work the word meza (or mezza) generally means half, and tutta means full.2 In his exhaustive coverage of the words, he pins down for interpreters exactly why this obvious translation can be used consistently in Fiore’s manuscripts. This essay should not be seen as a challenge to his work or to change our physical interpretations, but to suggest a possible reason why these terms are used to describe the volte (plural of volta, a turn) of the feet and the sword.
The paragraph containing the definitions of footwork is given in the Getty version of Fiore’s manuscript as:
“… Volta stabile che stando fermo po zugar denanci e di dredo de una parte. Meza volta si e quando uno fa un passo o inanzi o indredo, e chossi po zugare de laltra parte denanzi e di dredo. Tutta volta sie quando uno va intorno uno pe cum laltro pe, luno staga fermo e laltro lo circundi. E perzo digo che la spada si ha tre movementi, zoe volta stabile, meza volta, e tutta volta ….”3
which I translate as
“ … A stable turn is staying in place; one can fight in front and behind on one side. A half turn is when one makes a step forwards or backwards, and thus one can fight on the other side in front and behind. A full turn is when one turns one foot with the other foot, the one stays in place and the other circles it. And thus I say that the sword has three motions, namely a stable turn, a half turn and a full turn …”
In the Schola Saint George’s current interpretation,4 the footwork of the volta stabile (stable turn), the meza volta (half turn) and tutta volta (full turn) have remained fairly consistent over time, and seem to agree with other schools’ interpretation of this passage, although we choose to also emphasize the resulting position of the hips in order to generate power for the blow. A volta stabile is generally a swiveling motion on the balls of the feet, turning the body to face a new direction and charging the hips so the opposite side of the body (left or right) now has more potential power. A meza volta is not merely a step (which we would term a passo), but a step that swivels and powers the opposite hip.5 Thus, a meza volta requires a passo, but a passo does not require a meza volta if the hips remain twisted toward where they were at the beginning of the step. A tutta volta is, as Fiore says, a motion rotating around the ball of one foot (either the front or back foot). The hip that is charged remains the same throughout a tutta volta. As Guy Windsor points out in “Half full?”, the body’s center of gravity tends to move along an arc during a tutta volta, and more along a straight line during a meza volta.
Our interpretations of the three motions of the sword, as they are not clearly defined by Fiore, are more conjectural but have withstood the test of time and are consistent with the tactical framework of the Zhogo Largo. We tend to teach our current interpretation from the incrosada, the position where the swords are crossed, as in the 2nd Master of Crossed Swords, introducing the Zhogo Largowhere the swords are crossed at mezza spada (halfway up the blade).
In analogy to the volte of the feet, the volta stabile is a motion where one is fighting on the same side and gains a tactical advantage by a twisting of the wrists and blade, either down into a cut on the hands and body, or upwards into a position similar to the German winden (windings). The meza volta is a change in line, generally a coupé to the other side. The tutta volta is a full circling of one part of the blade around another part, generally one of the hands on the grip, as in the colpo di villano6 (Peasant’s Strike) where the opponent’s blow powers the blade through a nearly-full rotation.
With these interpretations, I propose the following equation:
Tutta Volta = Mezza Volta + Volta Stabile
That is, any one tutta volta motion can theoretically be replaced by a mezza volta (a step) and a volta stabile (a body twist).
|a tutta volta =||a mezza volta||+ a volta stabile|
Despite this, it is sometimes helpful for me to describe an action in the context of these separate parts. For example, in the play of daga contra spada (dagger against sword, M107), the initial incrosada of the blades can be thought of during an initial volta stabile, and the reasserting of control on the elbow and counterstrike during a subsequent meza volta step. In practice, both actions of the hands happen during a single action of the feet, blurring the idea of whether the action occurs in one tempo7 (for the feet), due tempi (for the hands), or mezzo tempo (as a combination of these motions). In George Silver’s terms, the true action of the hands and arms is sufficiently faster than the action of the feet that one can make two hand/arm motions during such a step.
This interpretation must also be matched against the volte of the sword that was originally quoted above.8 If the volta stabile is a twisting of the wrists and blade, and a mezza volta moves the sword smoothly to the other side of your opponent’s weapon, then the tutta volta should be a moving to the other side while twisting the blade. Because of the biomechanics of the tutta volta, the wrists do rotate in the opposite way as they do when swinging a bat. Colin Hatcher9 once suggested that the volta stabile of the sword rotates on one spatial axis (along the length of the blade), the mezza volta rotates on two spatial axes, i.e. a plane, and the tutta volta rotates and tumbles through all three spatial axes in its circle. So the mezza volta does seem to be a necessary but not sufficient part of a tutta volta for the sword as well as the feet.
Thus, though it is impossible to ever answer definitively why these terms were chosen by a man dead for nearly six centuries, I propose that a mezza volta is named such because it is only half of what is required for a tutta volta, and the tutta volta is complete, with both other volte making up its parts. This does not change how the actions are executed, but gives both a possible reason for why they are named what they are, and a way of talking about the parts of a combative action. As Guy Windsor concludes, “I feel confident in translating meza as ‘half’ when referring to the volta.”10
1Guy Windsor’s many writings and interpretations have influenced me from the beginning of my study of Fiore dei Liberi, so I often fall back on his analogies and thoughts when teaching and interpreting.
2Within the Schola Saint George, we tend to leave many terms untranslated from the original Italian/Friulian, both to emphasize that the words may carry connotations of which we are unaware and to encourage scholarship within the original language. Thus, the Italian is in italics, but I have tried to provide translations on the first instance of a word.
3Paragraph M126 from Massimo Malipiero’s transcription of Il Fior di Battaglia.
4For full details, consult Brian Price, our principale’s book Sword in Two Hands, pp.113-117.
5When this swinging step is repeated, it has been characterized by a former member of Guy Windsor's school as a “John Wayne walk,” the strut of Hollywood Western gunfighters as they approach the showdown.
6Paragraphs M156-157 from Massimo Malipiero’s transcription of Il Fior di Battaglia.
7Tempo, plural tempi, literally means time. It is a measure of how long it takes to complete an action or make the next decision against an opponent. An action that is done stesso tempo is done at the same time, mezzo tempo (half time) is done after the first tempo but generally before an opponent has a chance to react, and due tempi (two times) allows your opponent a chance to change their action as well, or, as Brian Price says, gives them a vote in the outcome.
8Thanks to Deborah Barolsky of the Schola Saint George who suggested this requirement.
9The Schola Saint George’s chief instructor in abrazzare (grappling) and daga (dagger).
10Again, Guy Windsor’s “Half full? Meza and Tuta in Fior Battaglia.” An earlier version I have (downloaded 17 June 2007) was even more quotable at the end, but I defer to Guy’s revision.
Malipiero, Massimo. Il Fior di battaglia di Fiore dei Liberi da Cividale. Ribis, 2006.
Price, Brian. Fiore dei Liberi’s Sword in Two Hands. Highland Village, Texas: Chivalry
Windsor, Guy. “Half full? Meza and Tuta in Fior Battaglia.” The School of European
Swordsmanship. 2006. 23 May 2008. <http://www.swordschool.com/assets/files/pdf/mezatuta20070618.pdf>