March of Marozzo

Marozzo’s progression…I have taught that damned thing so many times, in so many different ways…I’m always eager to abandon it from my teaching repertoire. Familiarity can breed contempt. It’s a bit inescapable, though. Marozzo’s method makes the guards into valuable assets when you have them thoroughly understood. You don’t need them to understand his method. You can parse out the tactical lessons and apply them without needing to use his entire method, but you do lose some of the flair, and some of the deeper lessons.

I’ve always been of the opinion that later systems are not so much better as they are simpler. More efficient methods of teaching and learning swordplay, more elegant presentations of the core of the art. Marozzo is the harder path, taking longer to learn and master, but offering more at the end of the day. I’d resolved to include more guard work with my Valkyrie students, and despite my ennui, it really seemed like the progression was easiest way to get everyone started.

It went a little different this time. Previously the teaching goal was for students to memorize the movements and the guards. It was just a pattern to learn. Marozzo clearly writes that as you teach each guard, you should also teach the good and bad of each guard, as well as which attacks and defenses you can use from each guard. He says this, but he never specifies what those good and bad’s are beyond vague general statements. I’d considered his words to be indications of something lost to time, known only to his students and considered to obvious to write down…or a deep secret to be discovered only after heavy parsing and re-organization of the entire manual. Turns out I was wrong.

Flipping through the progression, I realized I knew the good and bad of each guard intimately. I’ve been using them in sparring and tournaments for years. I know the value of each guard, I know what tricks to use, what openings exist, how you feel using them against different opponents and what people are prone to do when they face you when you adopt one of the guards.

Teach the progression was suddenly not a lesson in rote memorization, but a real teaching opportunity. Armed with anecdotes and phrases, I could help the students build the progression into what it should be…a complete memory palace to store future learning in. Once the structure is in place with the correct imagery, it’s easy top encode layers of new information within each section. Particularly for Marozzo, I’ll be able to use the points of the progression to embed future lessons about engagements with true and false edges.

I started out by once again explaining Capoferro’s Terza guard as the platonic ideal guard, with Marozzo’s guards being different shadows of the guard. Three dimensional shadows of a fourth dimensional object might be a better descriptor, but hey, Plato works.

Coda lunga e stretta is an easy variation. We ditch some of the defense of terza, shift our weight more forward and drop the hilt a little, moving it outside the knee. Right away, you feel a little more aggressive. That low hand position invites some false edge entries on your opponent, and puts you in a good place for quicker footwork. With the hand rolled palm down, you’ve got some good strength in your wrist for true and false edge parries.  You’ve lost a lot of abilities of Terza, but gained some benefits. All of Marozzo’s guards can be seen this way, shifting the weighting away from the balanced ideal to specialize more in one thing or another. Weaknesses are implicit and understood, which requires the student to be constantly weighing options and being aware. It’s a fighter’s game, not a scholars.

Cinghiara porta di ferro feels tight and a little scary. All you have is the point and false edge, and no one argues with Marozzo’s comment about being a reactive fighter from this guard. You’ve got a powerful entry from here, a solid and classy kill shot, but it takes some finesse.

Guardia Alta is odd at first. Blowing away all the defense and measure of Terza, and leaving yourself in place for just the most obvious attack? Better have the fast feet in this guard, and keep the opponent constantly second-guessing. If you can do that, you can master the enemy quite well. Because gravity handles the drop of the blade, you are free to control direction and timing of your cuts more than from any other guard. The obvious attack becomes the most deceptive weapon when skill is built in this guard.

Coda lunga e alta sits in the same camp as its stretta variation, but more defensive. It’s not high enough to allow a good subtle cut, aside from the nice rolling-to-palm-up with a step cut, but you have a little more threat with the point going on. I like this one because it’s an excellent invitation guard. It just feels really open, and people can’t seem to resist going for the easy entry that seems to be present in this guard. It makes your opponent feel comfortable in their attack, but that same open feeling gives you plenty of time and place to defend.

Porta di ferro stretta is basically terza, but a little more offensive because of the weight shift. The lower line also allows more false edge use, allowing you to gain the space behind your opponents blade. It’s somewhat risky against the classical Terza, but because you have better footwork due to the weight shift, you can compensate with offline movement.

Coda lunga e distessa takes hefty gonads to use right. You have zero defense aside from intimidation and body voids. The position of the sword means you are limited in your footwork. But you do have some slick little tricks you can play when attacking. The cuts have so much tempo in them that you have time to compensate for any defense that the opponent tries. You can even transition to a thrust in mid-cut, if you know the trick of shorting your cut past a parry. If you can avoid your opponent simply stabbing you in the face, you can do well with this guard.  And since you are, ideally, only sticking one body part out to be struck, you should be able to manage a defense if you can keep the opponent off-balance.

Guardia di testa is a bit of a beast. It’s a lovely guard against Terza if you manoeuver right. It threatens, and has a solid defense. Vulnerable to the snipe from below against the hand, so you have to watch for that, but all your responses are powerful. Using this as an opening guard is a sneaky way to set up and transition to some of the spanish engagement methods from the Destreza tradition.

Speaking of Spanish, Guardia d’intrare might feel similiar, but Marozzo isn’t kidding when he says be reactive as you can’t really attack from here. From the straight extension, any movement opens the possibility of a weakness that can be exploited, without the compensation of a correspondingly better attack position. At the same time, it’s not called the entering guard for nothing…

Coda lunga e larga. Yeah, this is good one. I like to think of this as the “Gangsta” guard, or the “Badass” guard. It’s pure braggadocio, the swordfighting equivalent of a being a bullfighter and telling the other guy he has no choice but to be the bull. With the right leg forward, you work the reactive game, with the left leg forward, pure offense. And you can switch feet in the middle of a technique. Best not try this one until you really know what you are doing, and it’s no coincidence that in the Darwinian world of  SCA rapier, this wound up being the number one guard of most of the top fighters.

Becca possa. Like prima, only awful. You’ve got all the wonderful options of the hanging guard, but with the wrong leg forward! Marozzo tells us to oppose it to all of the porta di ferro guards. Something in me quails(chirp!) at the thought of doing this. That said, I’ve done a fair bit of working with Viggiani in the past, so I know there is some value…but only as much as there is in Viggiani, which isn’t much, honestly.

Marozzo takes a moment here to talk about opposition, and makes some good points:

Oppose the extended long tail guard (Coda lunga e distessa) with Beca cesa? Prima against the subtle, supple and complex attacks that guard offers? Hell yes. A long bar of steel presents the perfect wall against most cuts, and adding in a little point threat is just common sense.

Against the Badass guard, the closed long tail guard (Coda lunge e stretta)? Absolutely. The weakness of the badass guard is the reliance on right-to left motion, and the closed long tail guard offers a nice cover against most of the lines of attack from Badass.

Against Prima (hanging guard, beca cesa) he says to adopt the Wild Boar (Cinghiara porta di ferro) which is another hell yes. Prima is one of my favourite guards. A low line entry coming up under my armpit? Chilling. The minute I see something like that I back out and pick a new guard.

Against the entering guard (Guardia d’intrare), the high guard. Seems odd, doesn’t it? Like the guy in high guard is just opening himself up for a shot to the face. Except even if you kill someone instantly with a sword through the brain, once that downward cut starts it only needs gravity to drop down on you. You can’t discount that. But the real secret here is Marozzo’s advice about the entering guard lacking in offense, whereas the high guard is offensive and still has some defensive ability. Combine that with the increase in mobility the correct high guard position gives us, versus the reduced mobility resulting from the constrained posture of the entering guard and you’ve got an effective counter…on paper. You’d want to really practice this one first.

Moving on to the next guard now, Guardia di faccia. Arm fully extended, palm up. It was easy to slot this guard in as just Capoferro’s Quarta for a while, but with experience, and a new sword, my perception has changed considerably. Now that I’ve got a properly hilted rapier with a very short handle (about three fingers long) and a thumb ring? This is my go-to guard. Excellent defense and offense. Frustrates my opponents, gives me the chance to be subtle and deceptive, land pin-point stop hits, rapid cuts and parries. What’s not to love?

Beca Cesa, the final guard. The classic hanging guard, with all it’s strengths and few weaknesses. You need the correct body alignment to make this an easy guard, but once you’ve got it down it’s like a fortress. You can play a nice close game with no real worries about exposing anything, and you can attack with thrusts, lunges and cuts interchangeably. The hand is exposed, but  you can cover that with good tip movement. A very under-rated guard.