Gran Simulacro: Section 1, Chapter 1

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Of Fencing in General

From the Manuscript


  1. There is nothing in the world to which Nature, wise mistress and benign mother of the universe, with greater genius, and more solicitudinous regard, than for the conservation of one’s self provides him (of which Man is, more so than any other noble creature, demonstrating himself very dear of his safety), as the singular privilege of the hand, with which not only does he go procuring all things necessary for the sustenance of his life, but if he arms himself yet with the sword, noblest instrument of all, protects and defends himself, against any willful assault of inimical force; nonetheless following the strict rule of true valor, and of the art of fencing.
  2. Hence if one would clearly discern how necessary to man, how useful, and honorable may be the said discipline, and how it is that to everyone it may be necessary, and good to them, and maximally in demand, those armed of singular valor are inclined to the noble profession of the military, to which this science is subordinate in the guise of an alternative or subservient discipline, as is the part to the whole, and the end of the middle is subject to the final end.
  3. The aim of fencing/protection is the defense of self, from whence it derives its name; because to fence does not mean other than defending oneself, hence it is that "fencing" and "defense" are words of the same meaning; hence one recognizes the value and the excellence of this discipline is such that everyone must give as much care thereunto, as they love their own life, and the security of their native land, being obligated to spend that lovingly and valorously in the service thereof.
  4. Thence it is yet seen that defense is the principal action in fencing, and that no one must proceed to offense, if not by way of legitimate defense.
  5. The effective causes of this discipline are four. Reason, nature, art, and practice. Reason, as orderer of nature. Nature, as potent virtue. Art, as regulator and moderator of nature. Practice, as minister of art.
  6. Reason orders nature, and the human body in fencing, is its defense, in reason is considered judgment and volition. Judgment discerns and understands that which must be done for its defense. Volition inclines and stimulates one to the preservation of self.
  7. In the body, which in the guise of servant executes the commandments of reason, is to be considered in the body proper greatness: in the eyes the vitality, and in the legs, in the torso, and in the arms, the agility, vigor, and quickness.
  8. Nature orders and prepares matter, is the sketch, is the accommodation to such extent in order to contain the final form and perfection of art.
  9. Art regulates nature, and with more secure escort guides us according to the infallible truth, and by the ordinance of its precepts to the true science of our defense.
  10. Practice conserves, augments, stabilizes the strength of art, of nature, and more so than science, begets in us the prudence of many details.
  11. Art regards nature and sees that owing to the small capacity of matter, it cannot do all that which it intends to do, and however considers in many details its perfections and imperfections, and in the guise of architect takes thereof and makes such a beautiful model that it is thus refined, and sharpens the rough-hewn things of nature, reducing them little by little to the height of their perfection.
  12. Of nature art has undertaken in defending oneself the ordinary step, the third guard for resting in defense, and the second and fourth for offense, the tempo, or the measure, and the manner as well of the placement of the weight with the body, now placed on the left leg for self-defense, now thrown forward, and carried on the right leg in order to offend.
  13. Because without doubt the first offenses were those of the fists, in the making of them is seen the ordinary step. The third, the second, and fourth, it is yet seen, that many do the punch mostly in tempo and measure.
  14. Against this offense of the fist, of course was found the art of the stick, and this defense not yet sufficing, iron; I believe it is, that of this material were made little by little many diverse weapons, but always one more perfect than all others, owing to the multiplicity of its offenses, to wit that the sword was discovered, the perfect weapon, and proportioned to the proper distance, in which mortals naturally can defend themselves.
  15. The weapons which are of length exceeding the distance of natural defense and offense are discommodious and abhorrent for use in civic converse, and the excessively short ones are insidious and with danger to life; owing to which, in republics founded upon justice of good laws, and of good customs, it always was, and is, prohibited to carry arms of which can be born treacherous and heedless homicides.
    On the contrary, in the ancient Roman republic, the true ideal of a good government, the use of arms was entirely prohibited, and to no one, however noble and great that there was, was it licit to carry a sword or other weapon, except in war, and those who in time of peace were discovered with arms, were proceeded against as against murderers.
  16. And the Roman soldiers, immediately upon arriving home, put down their arms together with their short uniforms, and soldiery, and assumed again their long civil robes, and attended to the studies and the arts of peace, because no Roman exercised the body (as says Salustio) without the brain, each one attending beyond the studies of war, to each office of peace, therefore desirous, the burden of war, themselves supported, and yet immediately upon the end of war, they heard no more of captain, of soldier, nor of military wages.
  17. In these times soldiers are a greater burden to Princes and to Lords, and more so to the populace in times of peace than in war, and because they are not trained in other studies than those of war, they hate peace, and much of the time they are the authors of turbulence and wretched counsel.
  18. But turning to our matter, I say that the sword is the most useful and just arm, because it is proportioned to the distance in which offense is naturally made, and all arms, as much more as they differ from this distance of natural defense and offense, so much more are they bestial, more adverse to nature, and but useless to civic converse; one is the way of virtue, and of true reason, and that other one burdensome and rough, from which nature never departs; to sin and ignorance, one runs to and fro and glides by many routes; one is the straight line, which the other does not know to do; if not, the artifice, the oblique lines, are infinite, and they can make each one.
  19. From the force of nature, art, and practice, as efficient causes of the defense of which, up until now we have treated, is born the advantage and disadvantage of arms, but principally derives from the just height of body and from the length of the sword; because a man, large of frame, and that carries a sword proportioned to his body, without doubt will come first to the measure. In regard of this, in order to compensate for the natural imperfections of those who are found to be inferior of height, I believe, that it is prohibited in certain lands to make the blade of a sword longer than another, which does not seem a just thing, that one, who is through nature superior, loses advantage still from art, necessitating to him to suffice the privilege of nature, which without manifest indignity, wanting to equalize him with the smaller, not able to take away from him in general, with bestowing a sword less long to him, than to those who are short, who by chance could have other advantages of art and of practice, which exceed those of nature, in which cases human prudence is not sufficient to provide imparticular things.
  20. The art of fencing is most ancient, and was discovered in the times of Nino, King of the Assyrians, who, through use of the advantage of arms, was made monarch and patron of the world; from the Assyrians the monarchy passed to the Persians; the praise of this practice, through the valor of Ciro, from the Persians, came to the Macedonians, from these to the Greeks, from the Greeks it was fixed in the Romans, who (as testifies Vegetius) delivered in the field masters of fencing, whom they named “Campi doctores, vel doctores” which is to say, guides, or masters of the field, and these taught the soldiers the strikes of the point and of the edge against a pole. Nowadays we Italians equally carry the boast in the art of fencing, although more in the schools than in the field, and in the use of the militia, considering that in these times war is made more with artillery, and with the arquebus, than with the sword, which moreover almost will not serve in order to secure victory.
  21. This discipline is art, and is not science, taking that is, the word “science” in its strictest sense, because it does not deal with things eternal, and divine, and that surpass the force of human will, but it is art, not done from manuals, but rather active, and serves very closely the civil science; because its effects pass together with its operation, in the guise of virtue, and being passed, they do not leave any chance of labor or of manufacture, as are employed in performing the plebian and mechanical arts, all of which, although some of them are celebrated with the name of nobility, at great length it surpasses and exceeds.
  22. The material of fencing is the precepts of defending oneself well with the sword; its form, and the order is the truth of its rule, always true and infallible.
  23. But it is time at last, that gathering all up, which heretofore we have said in brief words, we come to lay the foundation of this discipline, which is its true and proper definition, following the rule from which we will guide and direct the rest of all its precepts.


    1. Self-preservation is the prime goal of natural creatures. Man is most gifted in self-preservation because he has hands. Hands and self-preservation naturally lead to arming oneself for defense. The sword is the most noble way to be armed for defense.
    2. Those who recognizing the valor of swordplay are drawn to military profession. The discipline of swordplay is a part of the military realm.
    3. "Fencing" and "defense" have the same root word in both Italian and English and also share the same core meaning of "defense". Fencing is pursued out of our motivation to preserve ourselves and our countries.
    4. Defense is the goal of fencing. All offenses must be made through defense.
    5. Fencing has four parts: Reason, nature, art, and practice.
    6. Through reason we understand that we must defend ourselves, enact our will to defend ourselves, and understand how to defend ourselves.
    7. Promote agility, vigor, and quickness in your body.
    8. Nature gives us the pieces, space and environment to create a perfect ordering of these pieces -- art.
    9. The unchangeable truths of nature are ordered by art to create the science of defense.

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