Note: this article is being revised to include images from the manuscript! I have some placeholder notes below.
True times refer to the sequence of actions required to correctly make an attack. These are implicit (and often explicit) in European weapons arts, but the principles were best expressed by the Englishman George Silver, writing in 1599:
The names and numbers of times appertaining unto fight both true and false. There are eight times, whereof four are true, and four are false.
The true times are these.
1. The time of the hand.
2. The time of the hand and body.
3. The time of the hand, body, and foot.
4. The time of the hand, body, and feet.
The false times are these.
1. The time of the foot.
2. The time of the foot and body.
3. The time of the foot, body, and hand.
4. The time of the feet, body, and hand.
Thus have I thought good to separate and make known the true times from the false, with the true wards thereto belonging, that thereby the rather in practicing of weapons a true course may be taken for the avoiding of errors and evil customs, and speedy attaining of good habit or perfect being in the true use and knowledge of all manner of weapons.
Simply put, this means your weapon must enter the fight before your body so as to force the opponent to deal with the attack, instead of merely hitting you.
Fiore’s first statement supporting the use of True Times is on 22 Recto, with the first two of the 24 Fight Masters who explain the principles of fighting at range with long weapons, including when to move to zogho stretto or close play. (Prior to this all plays have been in zogho stretto: even the sword in one hand plays are really/mainly a series of stretto plays done at the sword. True times apply to stretto plays, as we will examine later in the article.) He states here that “As with all other guards in this art, alike guards are contrary to one another, with the exception of the point guards (Posta Longa, Breve, and Mezza Porta di Ferro); with point guards, the most extended guard can reach the opponent first.” (Emphasis mine) A simple thought experiment will show the nature of True vs False Times: if you extend you weapon into Posta Longa, and I enter that measure in Posta Breve, you will strike me first. To avoid this I will need to begin my extension into Longa before I step, crossing or avoiding your blade in some manner, or I will be struck before I can strike. Even if I manage to hit by stepping in first in and then attempting to extend my arms as I am being struck, I am still struck, and it would be a poor martial art that advocated this as a first principle. And Fiore does not advocate it: the play of the scambiar de punta, or exchange of thrusts, on 26 verso, clearly demonstrates the principle of leading with the weapon both in offense and defense. And the 5th Fight Master on 22 Verso reinforces this. He is poised with right hand and foot behind, and he says: “I am a guard set to deliver a long thrust: the way I hold my sword makes it possible to extend the thrust considerably.” It’s useless to step closer and subsequently deliver the thrust, because as shown above, he is subject to attack as he prepares his own. His only logical choice is to begin moving his sword forward, thus focusing his adversary on it, and stepping after.
Image: posta longa vs posta breve (image reversed; note this)
Image: exchange of thrusts
The description of the fendenti (cleaving blows) gives further support:
“We are the cuts named fendenti. In this art, our trade is to part the opponent’s teeth and travel down to the knee for good measure. We can easily transition from a guard to another, through any guard that becomes low. We also craftily break the opponent’s guards, while our strikes leave their mark in blood. We fendenti are not slow to strike, and we recover in guard with each step. “ (Emphasis mine)
Image: fendenti diagram
Recovery is plainly stated to accompany the step, meaning that the sword has already made the blow. Let’s combine this with a practical understanding of cutting mechanics: for a cut to cleave strongly into a target, it must be coordinated with a forward movement of the body that settles the weight at the end of the blow. This cannot be done if the body has already finished its movement – it has to happen with the movement. The sword begins movement forward, followed by the body, and the sword completes its motion as the body arrives, thus delivering maximum force generated by a coordinated body movement, rather than with the strength of the arms alone.
Note that none of this means that the sword should be fully extended before making the step: if the intent is a direct attack, that would telegraph it plainly. Again, it would be a poor martial art that advocated telegraphing a direct attack. Instead, the development of the thrust or cut (the motion of the hands) precedes the movement of the body and the step of the foot or feet, so that the body enters behind a weapon that has first established threat potential and forced the adversary’s attention on it – the weapon – rather than the fighter behind it.
In order to see how Fiore constructs a tactical model that employs Silver’s True Times, we need to start where Fiore does: with a defense. The first play of the sword in zogho largo (wide play) has the Remedy Master defend while standing still. There’s no foot movement to be considered here, although the nature of the defense requires coordination of hand and body movement. The Remedy Master can only act in the Time of the Hand or the Time of the Hand and Body. Given that he can only act this way, the Player opposing him cannot act in anything other than Time of Hand, Body and Foot or Feet: he must bridge the distance to strike (i.e. gain the place, in Silver’s terminology), and if he does so leading with his body while in any manner reserving his sword, he is subject to an attack on his entry. This is supported by the statements of the Fight Masters above. The bind arises precisely because the Player acts in True Time to bridge the distance. Since he acts first, the Remedy Master must act in a shorter time – that of the Hand or Hand and Body, which is why Fiore demonstrates a defense that doesn’t rely on movement of the feet. The incrosada is at the weaks of the swords, so we need to consider here what Fiore says about sword crossings:
“These two masters are here crossed at the full sword. And each can do what the other does, that is, that one can make all plays of the sword with the crossing. But the crossing is of three types, which are full sword and point of sword. And the one who is crossed at full sword cannot stay long. And the one who is crossed at mid sword can stay less. And the one who is at point of sword cannot stay at all.” – Morgan, translation Mele (emphasis mine)
Any crossing at the point of the sword requires quick action: the Time of the Hand or of Hand and Body. And this is precisely what Fiore shows:
“This Master has crossed his sword at the point with his opponent, and says: when I am crossed at the point, I quickly turn my sword and strike the opponent on the other side with a fendente that comes down to the head and arms; or I thrust to his face, as you will see next.
I have given you a thrust to the face, as the Master before me had said. I could have also performed the other action he mentioned: just after crossing swords to the right, I could attack by turning a fendente on the left side to the opponent’s head and arms, just as my Master before me has said. “
Image: 1st 2 largo plays
If the Remedy Master controls the crossing, he instantly delivers a thrust to the face. If he doesn’t – if the Player controls the crossing – he quickly turns his sword and strikes on the other side of the Player’s sword. Again, if the Player had entered with his sword in any way trailing the movement of his feet and body, the Remedy Master could simply have struck him. The crossing occurs because the Remedy Master does not have this opportunity.
The 2nd Remedy Master of Spada Largo, and the corresponding Player, act in precisely the same fashion. As above, the Master defends without stepping; as above, he has been forced to parry because he didn’t have the opportunity to simply strike into the Player’s False Time attack – because the Player acted in True Times. Only the crossing is different: it’s at the Mezza Spada, or middle of the sword. Recall what Fiore says of this crossing: “the one who is crossed at mid sword can stay less.” The time here is a little longer that that of the crossing at the weak, so we have a defensive response in the Time of the Hand or Hand and Body, and an immediate offensive response that combines Time of Hand with that of the Foot: “As soon as the cross is made, I let my sword glide over the opponent’s hands; if I pass offline with my right foot, I can push a thrust to his chest, as you will see pictured right after this. “ This immediate offensive action is done from a place where measure has been bridged, and the first portion of the response is with a quick movement of the hands alone, though it can be followed by an action of the Hand, Body and Foot/Feet.
Image: 2nd pair of largo plays
Does Fiore show defenses that rely on time of Hand, Body and Foot or Feet? He does: the 10th Play of the Lance explicitly states “I am waiting in the Posta di Vera Croce, and you are too close to me. I pass backward with my front foot while beating your lance out of line to my right. My point won’t miss, while yours will.” (Emphasis mine.) EXPAND
Another instance of the use of True Times, and their use to “safely gain the place” (Silver, BIPD, pg ??), is the 19th play of Largo on 27 Verso. In this instance, Fiore specifies a feint:
This play is called False Thrust or Short Point. Here’s how it’s done. I feint a strong mezzano to the opponent’s head. As he forms his parry, I lightly strike his blade, then immediately turn my sword to the other side, grasping it almost at mid-blade with my left hand. I can then place a quick thrust to his throat or chest. This play is better with armor than without.
Image: punta falsa
Here, the time of hand, body and foot or feet is used to feint and draw the opponent’s time-of-the-hand parry. The attacker then responds to that action in a time of the hand that is shorter than the riposte (which is also time of the hand) will be. As insurance, the second motion of the feinted attack provides cover against the developing riposte by closing the line of entry while the body and foot are entering, thus using time of the hand as cover for time of the body and foot. The Counter-Master who immediately follows this play similarly employs time of hand, body and foot in his counter: “When the student strikes my blade and circles his sword around mine, I turn mine around his in the same manner, while with an offline pass, I find the opponent’s uncovered side. I can then put a thrust in his face. “ This employs Fiore’s strategic paradigm of Attack-Remedy-Counter to the Remedy to safely “gain the place,” in Silver’s terminology.
The action of the volta stabile (stable turn) is used by Fiore to employ time of the body in both defense and offense. The volta stabile is a pivot turn, performed on the balls of the feet, that shifts the body forward or backward by as much as a foot. Defensively, any position that employs it (such as Posta Finestra) allows the fighter to increase measure as the sword moves defensively, thus using a shorter time than an incoming hand-body-foot/feet attack. This move gains an instant of time in the defense, and can make an incoming attack fall short, thus combining the use of time and measure effectively in defense. Any riposting action from this position can use a forward volta stabile in combination with the riposting action of the sword to close distance in a very short time, and the motion of the body adds power to the blow. Offensively, with an attack, or counteroffensively, as in an exchange of thrusts, it performs similarly to the riposte. Posta di Donna is shown in the “refused” position of the body, and the Fight Master on 23 Verso states, “Perform an offline accrescimento with your front foot, then execute an oblique pass with your back foot. This leaves the opponent uncovered, enabling you to hit him quickly and surely. “ Posta di Donna steps offline and oblliquely in combination witht he volta stabile, skillfully adding time of the body to the attack.. The combination of hand-body-foot/feet aids in closing measure and adding power to the blow. Even if the opponent is aware of the advantages of this action, he still must contend with it. Used skillfully it can be decisive.
Image: finestra compared to longa, showing the increased reach