Posts Tagged ‘Tom’



ince 2010, Freelance Academy Press has brought readers innovative books, instructional DVDs and rich supporting material in the fields of Historical European Marital Arts. In 2017, we are pleased to introduce our most ambitious project to date:




Few historical fencing masters are as dear as Fiore dei Liberi to the heart of the modern Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) community. Credited by fencing historians as the father of Italian swordsmanship, his magnum opus, il Fior di Bataglia (The Flower of Battle), composed in early 1409, is one of the oldest, most extensive, and most clearly elucidated martial arts treatises from the medieval period.

Four versions of il Fior di Battaglia—the earliest surviving Italian source on the martial arts—survive today and form the basis for the modern study of armizare. Each has important similarities to and differences from each other. The key similarity is the organization of the material, which systematically covers abrazare (wrestling and hand-to-hand fighting),  daga (dagger, with an emphasis on self-defense and armoured combat techniques), spada a un mano (single-handed sword), spada a due mani (two-handed sword), spada in arme (sword used in armour), azza in arme (poleaxe used in armour), lanza in arme (spear used in armour), and finally all weapons a cavallo, or on horseback.

The key martial techniques, called zoghi or “plays” by Fiore, are identical between manuscripts, but each manuscript contains plays and key information not seen in the others, and each is done in a different artistic style.

This ambitious project goes well beyond anything we have done before: a four (volume set of illustrated, hard-cover books, combining color, 1:1 facsimiles of the master’s original manuscripts; professional, annotated translations, and extensive, peer-reviewed essays.

Held by the J. Paul Getty Museum in California, MS. Ludwig XV 13  is the largest and most complete of the four surviving manuscripts. Dedicated to the young, bellicose Niccolò d’Este, Marquis of Ferrara, this edition of Fiore’s work details the names of his famous students, the five duels he fought against rival masters, and explains in detail the instructional schema he developed to make the work accessible to students. Beginning with grappling, it progresses through the various sub-systems of armizare, ending with mounted combat.

These details all make the Getty Manuscript the most logical and obvious choice for Volume One, which sets the stage for the entire series. It has 183 pages of cutting-edge research, covering:

  • The life of Fiore dei Liberi, his students, and patrons;
  • Arms and armour in the Getty Manuscript, and their relationship to surviving examples;
  • Dueling and chivalric culture in Italy at the close of the 14th century;
  • A detailed analysis of the manuscripts’ use of pedagogy, numbers, and metaphor to teach the Art of Arms;
  • The Flower of Battle’s relationship to other medieval combat manuscripts.

Although the project fully-funded in five hours, with your help, we can still raise funds to expand the amount of color used in the final volumes, bring them to market months earlier and produce a fifth volume covering the inheritors of this tradition. See how you can be part of our first crowd-funding campaign by clicking the link below:


And here’s a peek at the covers for Volumes 2 – 4:

Read Full Post »

Tom Leoni is well-known in the Western Martial Arts community as a researcher and translator of Renaissance Italian fencing texts. His The Art of Dueling (2005) brought the magnum opus of the famed 17th century sword-master, Salvatore Fabris to an English-language audience for the first time. Now out of print, used copies are eagerly sought, often commanding ridiculously high prices on Ebay or ABEBooks.

In 2010 and 2011 Tom expanded on his investigation into 17th c swordplay with Freelance’s Venetian Rapier and Ridolfo Capoferro’s The Art and Practice of Fencing, thereby making the complete “holy trinity” of Italian rapier available in clear, concise English. In 2010’s Complete Renaissance Swordsman: A guide to the use of all manner of weapons, Tom stepped further back in time, opening the doors to earliest surviving text of the Bolognese school of swordplay, which contained a vast curriculum of weapons.

But before joining Freelance, in 2009 Tom had self-published a modest little book – a translation of the earliest known work on Italian martial arts, the renowned il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle) by Fiore dei Liberi. This translation quickly became the seminal translation in the WMA community, and forms the basis of study in Robert Charrette’s Fiore dei Liberi’s Armizare: The chivalric martial arts system of il Fior di Battaglia. In the ensuing three years, Tom has substantially reanalyzed, revised and expanded his translation. We sat down with him at the SCA’s Pennsic War to ask him how a staunch student of the Italian rapier found himself suddenly immersed in a study of the two-handed sword, wrestling, pollaxe and mounted combat, and why creating a second edition became an obsession.

Q: You have been translating Italian martial arts manuscripts since 2005, but your focus has always been on the 16th and 17th centuries. How did a translation of Fiore dei Liberi’s “Flower of Battle” come about?

It was Scott Wilson (owner of Darkwood Armory) who initially commissioned the translation. As a serious Fiore student, he wanted to have a single, reliable and consistent translation of the Getty manuscript at a time when there were many fragments of translations available on the Web, some more dependable than others. So he came to me and promised me to make me a custom rapier if I would complete the translation by the 600th anniversary of what we consider to be the date of the treatise. I complied, my original translation came out in 2009, and the beautiful Darkwood custom rapier hangs proudly in my salle.

Q: Can you answer this question for the Historical European martial arts community once and for all: is il Fior di Battaglia written in literary Italian or dialect?

Actually, neither! The book is written in vernacular, which is somewhere between the literary language and the dialect. Think of it as the proper language spoken with a heavy regional accent and using a simplified vocabulary. In writing, the most telltale sign of vernacular is the spelling, which approximates on paper the way the author would have pronounced the language; in our Master’s case, his spelling was heavily influenced by what linguists call Lombardisms (for instance, z or ç for g or c, gh for c, d for t, etc.). But once you account for the several consonant shifts, a few vowel shifts and the frequent elimination of double consonants, you get a fairly standard Italian–although definitely not as polished as the literary language as far as grammar, vocabulary and style. For an example closer to home, imagine a Joe Pesci spelling words as he pronounces them in his thick New York accent (e.g., “the two yoots”) or a Jeff Foxworthy doing so in his signature Southern drawl (e.g., “less do us sum rasslin’”): the spelling is unorthodox, but the meaning is still clear. Had Fiore written in true dialect, the Italian would be virtually unrecognizable–for instance, he would have used terms not found in Italian, he would have contracted many words, while with others, he would have dropped the final vowel or even the final syllable. Besides, writing in dialect for a wide audience was not at all common in Fiore’s time–and indeed, throughout the history of Italian literature.

Q: One of the other things that your translations have become known for is capturing the voice of the original author, rather than using your own. How would you describe Fiore’s personality as an author?

I am glad that some think I convey the voice of the original authors. Translating is truly an art-form, and my goal is to keep getting better. Returning to grad-school–especially having to translate under the rigorous guidance of the head of the Classics department at Catholic University–has certainly given me more food for thought as far as translating. Fiore’s personality as an author is truly interesting–and I think unique in the history of Italian fencing. While most Masters speak in a single voice, Fiore writes in at least three personas: the meticulous teacher of the art he loves and has learned to describe so well; the lovable boisterous soldier in the tradition of Plautus’ miles gloriosus; and the self-deprecating, easy-going man who never lost his sense of humor despite the respect and the status he has earned, who calls himself “a poor old man” and “Fiore the student.” The Fiore who comes across from the pages of his treatise is someone I would have loved to know, train and share a drink with. After spending so much time with him, I think of Fiore as a friend, while even “my” Fabris I view more as a father figure, since he only spoke in one voice–the voice of absolute authority in his field.

Q: What led to creating a second edition?

Three things mainly. One, the desire to review the translation as a Fiore student, rather than merely a historical fencer with a linguistic background; two, the awareness that working from a high-resolution version of the original manuscript was preferable than working from a transcription; three, the desire to include biographical material, a contextual study on the judicial duel (which is one of my main areas of academic interest), the account of some of the duels fought by Fiore’s students, as well as a thorough bilingual glossary on the Master’s terminology. The result is something I’m quite pleased with, and besides the complementary material I have mentioned, I would rate this translation a good 25-30% better and more accurate than that of the first edition. Also, I was able to offer plenty of footnotes giving suggestions as to the practical aspect of Fiore’s plays, now that I have gone through most of the book several times sword-in-hand (so to speak).

Q: There’s a rumor that after spending this much time with the old Maestro, your rapier now has to compete with the longsword and abrazare in your heart. Is that true?

It is absolutely true. Rapier is like the violin, while the medieval arts are like playing guitar. Both instruments are sublime and capable of perfection, but the guitar gives you satisfaction sooner, comes in many more varieties and can have an air of cool nonchalance that the more exacting violin does not have. I view medieval martial arts in the same light. Thanks to Fiore, I am learning to wrestle, I am getting proficient at fighting unarmed against a dagger, I get to use a whole plethora of interesting weapons under a single, coherent system, and I even get to fight in armor. Fiore also inspired me to get back on a horse, something I used to love when I was younger but I had not done in years. Something else that attracts me to Fiore is the fact that there is a lot more still to discover about his world, which as a researcher is like a newly-found gold mine. This is not to say that my enthusiasm for the rapier has diminished; only, it is hard (I would say impossible) not to be seduced by the system of Fiore and the context in which his art was practiced.

Q: There are a few questions that come up when English speakers with a bit of Italian look at Fiore’s terminology. Why do you think he used “abrazare”, for example, rather than “lotta”? Or “colpo” rather than “taglio”? To those of us who didn’t grow up thinking in Italian, what is the lesson to be learned there?

The lesson is that as a late-medieval man, Fiore understood his categories! Lotta is the whole of wrestling, while abrazare is a part–namely, arm-wrestling (as Fiore gives away on Folio 45 R, when he says “a play of abrazare [means] a play of the arms”). Colpo is the whole, a generic term for blow, action or attack, while taglio is a part–namely, a cutting attack. In other cases, it must have been the tradition that affected terminology; for instance, the name or descriptive adjectives of some guards and some strikes are unique to Fiore (as far as we know today) and must have come from a Master-student lineage particular to his area or his instructors–e.g., Posta di Donna, Sottano, Colpo di Villano, Guardie Pulsative, etc. I am looking forward to discovering what further research will yield in this regard.

Q: Now that you’re Fiore’s student, and not just his mouthpiece to the Anglophone world, how do you think his work “measures up” to the works of the later Renaissance that you have spent so much time with?

It measures up excellently. His treatise is so clear and thorough, we don’t have an excuse for getting Fiore wrong. We may argue about such minutiae as how far off-line you need to step, or whether or not you need an additional pass when you deliver your riposte by fendente in the Peasant’s Strike or whether there is a left Finestra in longsword, but as far as the main ideas and principal motions, he leaves no room for speculation. This is also greatly aided by the late-medieval pedagogical model of illustrating most actions, as well as by there being four extant version of his treatise. I wish that at least one among the great 16th century Bolognese Masters had adopted Fiore’s pedagogical model–we would know a lot more about that style than we can at present, with their (largely) non-illustrated, discursive instruction. I would say that up until the 17th century, Fiore has written the most valuable Italian treatise for us historical martial artists–and even compared to more recent treatises, he more than holds his own.

Q: There seem to be a lot of “memes” about Fiore’s work, perhaps because no complete, vetted translations of his work are readily available to the larger community. If there are a few of these that you could put to rest right now, what would they be?

I am glad you asked! The most macroscopic meme of recent vintage is that Fiore somehow wrote in code, and that his text is cryptic and hard to understand. Quite to the contrary, Fiore wrote as an expert instructor, who needed very few well-tested words to describe what he wanted to convey. His goal was clarity, and he achieved that admirably, in my opinion. How much clearer, for instance, can you get than his description of the Peasant’s Strike?

Wait for the peasant to launch his cut with his sword. As you wait, stand in a narrow stance with your left foot forward. When he attacks, perform an off-line accrescimento with your left foot to the opponent’s right, followed by an oblique pass with your right foot, catching his cut with the middle of your sword. Let his sword glide to the ground, and immediately respond with a fendente to the head or arms …

Sure, the fact that every action is illustrated helps, but how many treatises can you name that spell out the footwork with such consistent precision–in virtually every action? How many can you tick off that tell you exactly where to put your hands and your body and in which direction to push or pull as you wrestle? How many that name and describe all the turns that your body, your feet and your sword can make? As you read Fiore, you really get the sense that he wants you to know, he wants you to get it. Which is why I said that you simply can’t get Fiore wrong–although performing his actions correctly and efficiently is of course a matter of arduous practice.

Then of course there is the meme initiated (or perpetuated) by the Victorians, namely, that Fiore wrote a treatise in which there is essentially no theory and no finesse, only brute force. A few hours of training are enough to disprove that: can you imagine wildly muscling your way through the first few plays of abrazare? Or trying to “win” a crossing by pressing hard against the opponent’s blade? But then, the Victorians’ goal was different from ours: theirs was to trace an evolutionary pedigree (documented or half-legendary) for their own style, while ours is to piece together the original arts on their own merit, understand them and perform them to the best of our ability.

Fiore dei Liberi’s Flower of Battle, 2nd Edition is available exclusively from Freelance Academy Press! But it direct, and receive an added bonus: an annotated translation by of the closely related Morgan Ms, correlated as a correspondence to the Getty Ms and red-lined to make it easy to spot the differences, additions or deletions of text.

Read Full Post »

tudents of historical swordsmanship often ask me which Italian rapier treatise they should get, and how they should study it to improve their fencing skills. The first question is easily answered: with both Capoferro and Giganti available in English, as well as my older Fabris translation still circulating, you can get the most representative rapier treatises of early-seventeenth-century Italy, complete with their original illustrations.

The answer to the second question is a bit more complex, since it can be restated this way: how do I learn a physical discipline from a written work?

There are three components to take into consideration:

1 – The theory – Rapier fencing is, to be sure, a physical discipline–but it is a physical discipline that hinges on very precise theory. How many guards are there? How many hand-positions? How many lines of attack? How many types of attack? How many parries? How many voids? When do I use which? Etc. The good news is that Italian rapier treatises contain this theory, and there is a fair amount of consistency between authors. The not-so-good news is that this theory must be parsed from texts organized not as comprehensive training manuals, but as either treatises on the art of fencing (e.g., Capoferro) or as pithy syllabi on the main actions (e.g., Giganti). It is for this reason that in the introductory material to both books, I have included a rapier fencing primer on theory, which can serve as a basic template to be filled by the reader as he absorbs the information from the original author.

2 – The fundamentals – The fundamentals of rapier fencing apply to the way you stand and move, even before you face your opponent. These are how to stand in guard, how to advance and retreat without disordering your body, how to lunge powerfully and accurately and recover safely, how to perform various voids (such as the girata) without losing your balance, etc. The key for a historical fencer is not only to know how to perform these, but to also be consistent with the style of swordsmanship you are trying to learn. As trivial as it may sound, here is when the illustrations in the books have a great pedagogical value–if you know how to “read” them. In other words, you should know what you must pay attention to, and whether the illustration(s) agree with the text or with what you know about theory–in which case it is best to follow the text.

3 – Drilling the basic actions – Theory, if understood correctly, lays out a set of basic actions and counter-actions (or, simply “counters”) that make up the essence of Italian rapier fencing. These must be memorized, practiced slowly to perfection, and continually rehearsed, no matter how “old hat” they feel. For instance, theory teaches you that when the opponent gains your blade while in measure, you should perform either a cavazione or a feint by cavazione. A drill should consists in fencer A gaining fencer B’s sword while in measure; upon a command, fencer B should perform a cavazione while extending his arm, closely followed by the completion of the lunge and a hit with good opposition, and lastly by the recovery in guard. Then, after the right amount of repetitions (and switching roles), B can provide the counter in the form of either a contracavazione, a parry-riposte, a single-tempo counterthrust or a void. In general, these actions are the first to be described and illustrated in historical fencing texts, so you have the advantage to also see how they should look at the point in which you score the touch.

The goal here is not just to learn the fundamentals and the actions until your body knows them; it is to keep them fresh and in constant refinement for as long as you intend to fence within your lifetime. If you are used to just eyeball the fundamentals and then spend your practice session free-fencing, the best outcome may be improvement in your point-scoring, but not in your historical fencing. Using a rapier simulator to fence strip-mall modern epee is like using a Renaissance lute to strum a Joni Mitchell tune; you may strum really well, but you can’t call yourself a Renaissance lutenist.

One last piece of advice: when reading a historical rapier text for practical purposes, do not attempt to read it like some sort of Da Vinci Code. Obscure writing–both in the middle ages and Renaissance–was generally considered a liability. So go with the most obvious meaning, even though that takes some of the fun out of the process. And if in doubt, ask someone who knows via one of the many forums or, better yet, by attending a historical fencing venue such as WMAW, VISS and many others. (I have listed some of these resources in both my Giganti and Capoferro books.)

Read Full Post »


his Halloween we have no tricks, only treats. And this is a treat we’ve been itching to announce for weeks.

Rapieristas, you read it here first: Capoferro is  only weeks away from sitting on your shelf!

Tom Leoni completes his “Italian Rapier Trifecta” with an all-new translation of the text most prized by historical fencing revivalists in the last 150 years: the Great Representation of the Art and Practice of Fencing, written in 1610 by master Ridolfo Capoferro.

Tom has also included bullet-point synopses of all the actions illustrated by Capoferro, as well as a glossary of rapier-fencing terms with examples referring the reader to how they are used in the text. Also included is a primer on key rapier-fencing concepts and actions, as well as a historical introduction about Capoferro and his extraordinary relevance in the revival of historical martial arts.

At the heart of Capoferro’s fame are the 43 beautiful illustrations that form the centerpiece of his Practice.  Thanks to the generosity and leg-work of Mr. Devon Boorman, we were able to gain high-resolution reproductions of the original illustrations, taken directly from the copy owned by our friends at Academie Duello in Vancouver. We can’t thank Mr Boorkman enough for his generosity in not only offering to provide the images, but arranging to have his precious book scanned!




Read Full Post »

Would you buy books from these men?

hey say it gets lonely on the road.

Actually, it seems that it doesn’t – at least when you are surrounded by friends, patrons and fellow enthusiasts of the sword. It just gets sle

ep deprived.

After a busy spring, summer was largely taken up with one of the most onerous tasks of the publishing industry: production snafus! No one likes when a project goes astray; it’s a hundred times worse when technology, third parties and just pure bad-luck are to blame.

So, when the going gets tough, the tough mix a little business with pleasure in the infamous “sales trip”.

In August, we were off to the hills of western Pennsylvania for the Society for Creative Anachronism’s 40th annual “Pennsic War”.  Pennsic is a hard thing to explain if you’ve never been there: a 12,000 person tent-city that is a unique combination of reenactment, Renaissance Faire and Burning Man festival all rolled into one!

(I told you it was hard to explain!)

Over the years, Pennsic has also become an increasingly hospitable home for students of historical European martial arts to meet and exchange ideas, whether they are reenactors or not.

Ergo, we dusted off our doublets, practiced our “Huzzahs” and yet again imposed upon our friends at Revival Clothing to host the Freelancers and our wares in the Pennsic merchant court. To the left you can see us at our dashing, knightly best. (We clean up pretty well, don’t we?)

This year there were HEMA-related classes running throughout the two weeks of the events, including many taught by all four of your friendly-neighborhood Freelancers:

  • Last year it was big shields and paired swords; this year Tom taught classes on Bolognese sword and buckler and the history of the judicial duel in Italy.
  • Greg taught a very well-received class on Italian Spear Fencing, and another on the one-handed swordplay of Fiore dei Liberi, designed to give new student a quick and easy method of wielding the arming sword without a buckler or shield;
  • Christian took a similar tact in his class on the Glasgow Messer Treatise, which is an entire curriculum in miniature for this unique, falchion-like weapon. Christian also taught additional classes on the German longsword and the dagger material in Peter Falkner’s Fechtbuch.
  • Finally, Adam taught four hours of classes on the rapier and rapier and dagger of Salvator Fabris, each building on those preceding it.

Of course, there were many other classes and instructors, such as those by our friends Scott Wilson and Dr Ken Mondschein. I wish I could say that we saw them all, or even many of them, but contrary to what everyone thinks, this really was a working trip, so if we weren’t playing instructor, we were generally inside the booth.

A huge thanks to all of you who met us with sword – or book  – in hand, came to our wine and cheese soiree, or just popped your head inside the tent to tell you us you appreciate our work. It really does make a difference!

(And of course, special thanks to our hosts at Revival Clothing, without whom we’d have been selling books out under the stars; and we all know that paper and rain do not mix.)

Read Full Post »