Joachim Meyer and Giovanni dall’Agocchie were both fencing masters during the sixteenth century. Meyer published his combat treatise in 1570, and dall’Agocchie published his own just a couple years later in 1572. Both masters taught the use of the sidesword—although Meyer called it a rapier, and dall’Agocchie simply called it a sword.
This article will compare the fencing styles of these two masters to discover their similarities and differences.
First, we’ll compare the building blocks—the postures and basic actions—of each master’s style.
The basic stances in both systems are nearly identical. Neither master offers much by way of helpful details concerning how to stand, but Meyer’s treatise does contain several images from which we can draw clues. Dall’Agocchie’s treatise contains no such illustrations, but we can reference those of other Bolognese masters. Overall, Meyer’s stance is wider and lower. Perhaps the most significant difference is that dall’Agocchie allows for either foot to be forward, while Meyer insists that the right (or dominant) always leads.
The Bolognese sidesword tradition, of which dall’Agocchie is a part, often features a grip in which the index finger is wrapped around the true-edge quillon, protected by a finger ring.
Meyer, on the other hand, based on the illustrations in his treatise, seems to only ever use a simple handshake grip.
|Straight High Guard|
|Right High/Wrath Guard||Guardia Alta|
|Left High/Wrath Guard|
|Guardia di Testa|
|Right Ox||Guardia d’Entrare|
|Left Ox||Guradia di Faccia|
|Right Irongate/Plow||Coda Lunga Stretta|
|Coda Lunga Alta|
|Coda Lunga Distessa|
|Left Irongate/Plow||Porta di Ferro Stretta|
|Porta di Ferro Cinghiali|
|Porta di Ferro Alta|
|Side Guard||Coda Lunga Larga|
|Change||Porta di Ferro Larga|
|Right Middle Guard|
|Left Middle Guard||Guardia di Sopra il Braccio|
|Left Middle Guard||Guardia di Sotto il Braccio|
The selection of guards from each master is similar. Most postures have a rough equivalent, and those that don’t are mostly just subtle variations on one of the guards in the other system.
There’s certainly room for debate over how I’ve chosen to translate the guards between masters. While some might match right ox with guardia d’alicorno, I’ve chosen to match it with guardia d’entrare instead. This is due to guardia d’entrare’s more forward position, and its symmetry with guardia di faccia, dall’Agocchie’s nearest equivalent to left ox.
Meyer’s left middle guard could conceivably be either one of guardia di sopra il braccio or guardia di sotto il braccio. A high guardia di sopra il braccio could potentially translate into Meyer’s left high or wrath guard.
Although dall’Agocchie doesn’t explicitly define a guard like longpoint, that posture does exist in his system, if only because one cannot execute a fully extended cut or thrust without passing through it—and that is exactly the definition of longpoint in Meyer’s system.
To Wait in a Guard or Not?
Meyer makes it clear that you shouldn’t linger in a single guard (except straight parrying or irongate) for any length of time, instead using the guards as checkpoints within strikes or as invitations against timid opponents. Dall’Agocchie, on the other hand, seems to favor settling into a secure guard and not leaving it without reason.
|Increase Forward||Increase Forward|
|Increase Backward||Increase Backward|
|Gather Forward||Gather Forward|
|Gather Backward||Gather Backward|
|Triangle Step||Triangle Step|
|Double Triangle Step|
|Broken or Stolen Step|
Footwork across the two systems is identical, with the exception that dall’Agocchie doesn’t explicitly define the double triangle step or broken/stolen step; they simply appear in his descriptions of various plays.
It should be noted that while Meyer’s larger system does includes passing steps, this is primarily for the longsword and dussack; with the sidesword, the right (or dominant) foot is always forward.
|High Cut||Mandritto Fendente|
|High Cut||Riverso Fendente|
|Wrath Cut||Mandritto Sgualimbro|
|Wrath Cut||Riverso Sgualimbro|
|Middle Cut||Mandritto Tondo|
|Middle Cut||Riverso Tondo|
|Low Cut||Mandritto Ridoppio|
|Low Cut||Riverso Ridoppio|
|Half Wrath Cut||Mezzo Mandritto|
|Middle or Low Thrust||Stoccata|
|Middle or Low Thrust||Punta Riversa|
Meyer’s complete list of cuts is actually more extensive than dall’Agocchie’s, but that’s slightly misleading. Meyer only defines four broad types of cuts, and the rest are simply named based on the intended target or which edge is used. To keep the comparison table sane, I’ve only listed Meyer’s four main cuts.
While dall’Agocchie divides cuts based on which side they originate from, Meyer names cuts the same regardless of whether they come from the left or right.
Dall’Agocchie’s tramazzones can be described in Meyer’s system as a false-edge wrath cut performed with the wrist, followed immediately by a true-edge wrath cut from the same side. One may also compare them to Meyer’s circling or running off.
Both masters treat parries mostly the same. The only real difference is that Meyer gives his parries unique names, while dall’Agocchie simply describes them using the names of the cuts and the movements of the body.
The following comparison table is a little messy, since dall’Agocchie’s cuts can correspond to many of Meyer’s parries, and vice versa, depending on where and how they’re used.
|Slicing Off||Mandritto Sgualimbro|
|Slicing Off||Riverso Sgualimbro|
|Taking Out||Falso Dritto|
|Taking Out||Falso Manco|
|Striking Out||Mandritto Tramazzone|
|Striking Out||Riverso Tramazzone|
|Slicing Off||Mezzo Mandritto|
|Setting Off||Punta Riversa|
|Going Through||Mandritto Tramazzone|
|Going Through||Riverso Tramazzone|
Although Meyer’s going through may not be identical to dall’Agocchie’s tramazzones, they both work by moving to the opposite side of the opponent’s blade before parrying.
The key difference between a tramazzone used as a striking out and a tramazzone used as a going through is timing. When striking out, you parry the opponent’s blade with the first downward twirl of the tramazzone. When going through, you parry at the end of the tramazzone. Of course, going through should be a much tighter motion than a typical tramazzone.
Both masters advise triangle stepping away from the attack while parrying.
Next we’ll compare how the two masters arrange the basic components within their systems. This framework provides a high-level view of the fight.
Overall, Meyer presents a far more detailed and explicit framework than dall’Agocchie, incorporating several elements into his treatise that dall’Agocchie doesn’t address:
- The simplified division of the combatant into four openings
- How to respond to different levels of pressure in the bind
- The organization of strikes by intent/purpose
Meyer breaks a fight down according to the distance between two fighters. The onset is the moment when they first come within striking range, the middle is when the they are close enough to hit each other, and the withdrawal is when they retreat out of striking range.
Dall’Agocchie doesn’t talk much about distance, but from what little he does say we can assume he uses the traditional Italian concepts of measure. When you’re in measure, you are close enough to hit your opponent, and vice versa when you’re out of measure. Being in measure is further divided into the wide and narrow measure, wide meaning you can strike with stepping, and narrow meaning you can strike without stepping.
|Withdrawal||Out of Measure|
While both masters devote a section of their treatise to the concept of time in a fight, their approaches are very different.
Meyer’s view of time revolves around the idea of initiative; who is acting first, or before, and who is simply responding, or acting after. One can reverse the roles by acting instantly, or in a narrow moment of opportunity.
Dall’Agocchie’s concept of time can be thought of as a zoomed-in view of Meyer’s instantly. Dall’Agocchie defines several key moments, or tempi in which one may safely launch an attack.
It should be noted that dall’Agocchie’s use of several of the tempi is analogous to Meyer’s chasing, a technique for striking an opening while avoiding a bind.
Finally, we’ll compare how each master goes about applying their framework.
Once again, Meyer goes into far more detail, providing:
- A handful of simple rules to guide nearly every stage of the fight
- A detailed breakdown of the types of opponents you might encounter, and how to defeat them
The greatest similarity between the two masters’ tactics is an emphasis on provocation as an opening action.
The idea of provoking the opponent to draw them out of a safe position is important in both systems, although each master’s approach is slightly different.
Meyer calls any action that draws out the opponent a provoker. Once the opponent has taken the bait, Meyer says to take away the opponent’s response with a parry, or taker, as a separate action. Above all, provokers must be deceptive; deception is a central element of Meyer’s strategy.
Dall’Agocchie’s provocations revolve mostly around striking the opponent’s blade. This can be thought of as combining Meyer’s provoker and taker into a single action. Although dall’Agocchie does describe some deceptive feints, most of his provocations seem to be more about constraining the opponent instead of tricking them.
Once you strip away the differences in terminology and organization, the fencing methods of Joachim Meyer and Giovanni dall’Agocchie are very similar. Viewed in action, the two styles would, for the most part, be nearly indistinguishable. Most of the differences lie in how the combatant thinks about the fight.
This shouldn’t be very surprising, since Meyer likely learned the sidesword from Italian masters and translated it into the German longsword system.
The greatest observable difference in combat technique would likely be dall’Agocchie’s use of passing steps. At a higher, theoretical level, Meyer’s art seems more developed as a complete system, while dall’Agocchie’s feels more like a collection of techniques with some advice here and there on when and how to use them.