The Renaissance (14th to 17th century AD) saw frequent warfare on Italian soil and mercenary armies were formed by the Condottieri, refining and improving weapons and techniques. One soldier of fortune, Master Fiore dei Liberi wrote a manual Flos Duellatorum or "The Flower of Battle" in 1410, illustrating a repertoire of techniques for many different weapons and for unarmed combat, and thus originated the Italian school of swordsmanship. After Fiore, the Italian school of swordsmanship was continued by Filippo Vadi (1482–1487) and Pietro Monte (1492).
The techniques and skills taught by the Italian school were successfully tested against the Landsknecht and the Swiss Pikemen, regarded as the finest infantries of the time, and also against the French Knights, who represented the flower of European Cavalry. Example of such engagements were: The Battle of Arbedo in 1422, The battle of Calliano in 1487, The Battle of Ravenna in 1512, The Challenge of Barletta in 1503. In this tournament 13 Italian knights faced and defeated 13 French knights in hand to hand combat. The forces led by Giovanni dalle bande nere fighting against the Landsknecht in a number of small battles in 1527. The battle of Marignano in which Gian Giacomo Trivulzio earned the rank of Marshal of France, an honor conferred to few foreigners. The utter defeat at Marignano was one of the events that transformed Swiss policy from one of military aggression to one of neutrality.
These battlefield experiences influence a number of masters at arms, including Antonio Manciolino, Angelo Viggiani, Achille Marozzo, Camillo Agrippa, Giacomo Di Grassi, Giovanni Dall’Agocchie, Henry de Sainct-Didier, Frederico Ghisliero and Vincentio Saviolo.
Bolognese Swordsmanship, also sometimes known as the Dardi school, is a tradition within the Italian school of swordsmanship which is based on the surviving fencing treatises published by several 16th century fencing masters of Bologna, although records indicate that as early as the 14th century several fencing masters were living and teaching in the city: a maestro Rosolino in 1338, a maestro Nerio in 1354, and a maestro Francesco in 1385.
The Dardi school is named after Lippo Bartolomeo Dardi, a professor of mathematics and astronomy at the University of Bologna, who was licensed as a fencing master and founded a fencing school in Bologna in 1415, just a few years after Fiore dei Liberi had completed his Fior di Battaglia. The Dardi School constituted both the last great medieval Western martial arts tradition as well as the first great Renaissance tradition, embracing both armed and unarmed combat. No manuscript ascribed to Dardi himself survives, although his tradition became the foundation for the work of Antonio Manciolino and Achille Marozzo, both possibly students of famed Bolognese master Guido Antonio de Luca.
The Bolognese masters whose treatises have survived shared a greater consistency of style, terminology and pedagogy with each other than with fencing masters of the period from other parts of Italy, thus justifying their treatment as a single school. The Dardi school focused primarily the single-handed side-sword still used for both cutting and thrusting. The side-sword was used in combination with various defensive weapons, including a shield (brocchiero, rotella or targa), a dagger, a gauntlet or a cape. The two-handed sword or spadone was also still taught, although losing its prominence. In addition, instruction on fighting with the poleaxe and other polearms was given.
Fiore de'i Liberi
The Italians, perhaps the highest exponents of the “classical” rapier, had no specific term for this kind of weapon. Continuing a tradition that had started centuries before late-16th-early17th century fencing masters such as Salvator Fabris, Francesco Alfieri and Ridolfo Capoferro, any sort of sword appearing in Italian manuals was simply calle - spada (“sword”). One of the few exceptions was the Spadone, essentially a long-sword primarily for war rather than a dueling or urban self-defense tool.
The original Italian edition of Di Grassi (Venice, 1570), for instance, was written in the tradition of the Bolognese spada da filo or spada da lato (side-sword or short sword / “cut and thrust”). In Di Grassi’s manual, the blades are short, slender, and tapering with simple hilts of side-rings. Di Grassi’s manual was not a “rapier” text, but a fencing manual clearly in the Bolognese cut-and-thrust tradition. But when it was translated into English, it “became” a “rapier” manual. Conversely, the work of the Milanese master, Camillo Agrippa, a few decades earlier, isdecidedly rapier in style, although it features almost the same, late-medieval cruciform sword. e authors that are recognized as the primary classical Italian “rapier” authors: Giganti, Capoferro, Alfieri and, above all, Fabris.
What is rapier? The term rapier generally refers to a thrusting sword with a blade longer and thinner than that of the so-called side-sword but much heavier than the small sword, a lighter weapon that would follow in the 18th century and later, but the exact form of the blade and hilt often depends on who is writing and when. It can refer to earlier Spada da lato and the similar espada ropera, through the high rapier period of the 17th century through the small sword and dueling swords, thus context is important in understanding what is meant by the word.
"The knowledge of the sword is the first half of fencing: it teaches us to become familiar with the sword in order to handle it properly." (Capoferro, Chapter III).
Italian rapier masters insisted that the knowledge of the sword is an essential element of successful fencing. Since the need to name and classify its many components.
Forte. This is the half of the blade closer to the swordsman’s hand. It is the defensive part of the sword with which virtually all successful parries are executed. The forte has no offensive role in traditional Italian rapier theory, so much so that Capoferro states that it would not matter whether it sported an edge at all.
Debole (Foible).This is the half of the blade incorporating the tip. It is the offensive part of the sword with which all attacks are executed. According to traditional Italian rapier theory, this section of the blade should almost never be employed defensively, especially against cuts. The one exception is noted below under terza.
Temperato. This word is employed by Alfieri to describe the middle section of the blade.
Filo dritto (True edge). The edge of the sword on the same side as one’s knuckles. This is the part of the blade with which most parries and cutting attacks are performed, according to virtually all classical Italian rapier masters.
Filo falso (False edge). The edge of the sword opposite the true edge. The role of this part of the blade is somewhat more limited than that of the true edge. However, there are some cuts that are delivered with this edge, primarily ascending diagonal cuts (falsi, see section below on cuts). As far as defensive play, Capoferro concedes that in rare cases, the false edge may be used in parries.
Piatto (Flat). The “side” of the sword, i.e. the flat part of the blade on either side, between the two edges. This part of the sword has no active role in traditional Italian rapier play, as no offensive or defensive action involve it directly.
Finimento, fornimento, (The guard of the hilt). This is the part of the hilt consisting of differently-shaped bars and branches or (later) of the cup. Its role extends beyond the obvious one – the protection of the hand. Fabris makes a very successful use of the guard’s mass and width to literally shut the opponent’s blade out of line in the course of an attack.
The sections of the blade (using Fabris’ four quarters).
Prima (First). In the division of the blade, this is the quarter closest to the swordsman’s hand. It is the strongest part of the blade and, for this reason, it is the preferred part of the sword with which to execute parries. The prima and the seconda have no offensive role in traditional Italian rapier play.
Seconda (Second). In the division of the blade, this is the quarter that goes from the end of the first part to mid-sword. This section of the sword, like the previous one, is exclusively used for defense, although it is not as strong as the prima. The reason for this is both structural and mechanical. Structurally, any well-made blade tapers progressively from the hilt to the tip, thus becoming increasingly flexible; mechanically, the greater the distance between any point along the blade and the swordsman’s hand, the less the leverage when meeting another blade. The prima and the seconda together constitute the sword’s forte (see definition above).
Terza (Third). In the division of the blade, this is the quarter that goes from mid-blade to half-way to the tip. It is almost entirely useless for parries (especially against cuts), although it can be successfully opposed to the fourth part of the opponent’s blade when parrying a thrust. Its primary role is an offensive one: when used together with the fourth part in adding a “slicing” motion to the percussive action of a cut, it can make such a blow very effective, as Fabris reminds us in chapter 3.
Quarta (Fourth). In the division of the blade, this is the fourth incorporating the sword’s tip. Its role is essentially offensive, as it is the part responsible for delivering both thrusts and cuts (see above). The terza and quarta together constitute the sword’s debole (see definition above).
I'm not a expert of Italian fencing school, but I know couple more things about fencing with rapier.
In Italian school we have multitude guards (guardie), other terms pertaining to guards and posture, counterguards, measures (misura), advantage of the sword, footwork, timing, attacks, thrusts, cuts (classification according to general direction, according to specific direction, according to delivery method), trading sides and other actions (attaching swords, yielding of the sword, voiding, feint, invite, mutation).
Generally, Italian fencing school is very complex and advance type of fencing with lot of guards, postures etc. So if you are fan of Italian fencing school, be my guest, I have enough things to learn in German fencing school.
Undermaster of historical fencing