Mair’s Sickle fight 4: Supera et Inferna Incisio

From the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. The beginning of the written play. This play seems to start in media res.


Translation by Rachel Barkley

An incision from above and from below

By this rationale, accommodate yourself against the enemy. You should take up this position, you standing straight up with the shins equal. You should hold the raised sickle with the right hand with an arm straight up following[1] the head, you will apply the left hand to your left thigh[2] at the same time.  From this position if you are pressed on the right inside, you should plough up the head of the enemy with the sickle.

If he uses the same against you, you placing forward the right foot both holding the sickle with the right hand and next to the positioned foot, applying the left hand to the left thigh, with your raised sickle you should move back his incision, you turning your left side. Thence you pursuing with the left foot, scratch the enemy’s fixed right foot.

But if he reaches so that he grazes you by the same reasoning from below, you should seize his right elbow on the outside with the left hand. You should draw up yourself turning[3] and if you should apply the sickle to the enemy’s right shoulder, you should defeat him utterly by ploughing him up.


[1] “Behind”

[2] Art shows hip.  Latin word used is femur, femoris which means “thigh.” In this case, “thigh” could be used to loosely designate “that general area between your knee and navel. Femur is where we get the  phrase “femoral artery”, a part of the body you want to keep intact during this sort of fighting.

[3] Recover while rotating to the left


Interpretation by Owen Townes


NB: This play seems to start mid-action, for reasons to be discussed below[1].  The initial positions below are from the initial guards of previous plays, and the first action and counter-action are the transitions to the depicted start, noted.

Right foot forward
Sickle over Right shoulder
Left hand extended to guard

Right foot forward
Sickle over Right shoulder
Left hand extended to guard


Diagonal onside to Patiente’s exposed Right knee
End near Agente’s Right foot

Withdraw Right foot next to Left foot
Raise sickle above head

Strike down on Agente’s head

Deflect to Right
Rotate torso to Right
Step in with Left foot and strike Patiente’s Right foot

Grab Agente’s Right elbow from outside with Left hand
Rotate to Right side[2]
Strike Agente’s Right shoulder with a descending offsid

Observations and Notes:

[1]The initial guard depicted, feet together, arm over the head, has no analog that I can find in other forms.  The Guardia Alta of the Bolognese school comes closest, but even so in that guard the feet are offset, to provide for motion and power generation, and a buckler is present to protect the torso while the sword is so far out of presence.  The guard here depicted would require an action of the foot to then enable motion and power generation, meanwhile leaving the lower body entirely exposed and at relatively close range and with the other fighter (“Agente”) prepared to strike.

Agente, meanwhile, is in a horrible guard to start a fight from, but one that makes clear sense as the result of an attack (possibly lunging).

Given the frequency of the “strike to the leg/slip the foot and counter-strike” action/counter-action in period manuals, this would be Mair’s illustration of the same for his sickle fight.

[2] This action should deflect the attack across the body (timing and measure are essential to avoid a cup-check), and pull Agente off balance to your right side

2 comments to Mair’s Sickle fight 4: Supera et Inferna Incisio

  • […] Mair’s Sickle fight 4: Supera et Inferna Incisio – Wherein Wistric is pretty sure PHM forgot something very, very important. […]

  • Wistric

    So when we got to this, Ruairc had a hard time understanding why Patiente’s counter to an attack at the leg was not simply to thrust his sickle forward in the tempo of the attack. This makes perfect sense to a fencer: someone goes for your foot, stab them in the face, let their dead corpse slump to the ground as you hobble off with the women and the moneys. We actually made him hold his question until we were done with the rest of the night’s work, and then he said, “But really why can’t that just happen?” So I we did that, him attacking my foot and me swinging my sickle down while withdrawing my foot. I thought he would not be leading with his head. He thought I’d stop the shot. After we patched the scratch on his scalp, I then was left in the position of explaining why his wound did not demonstrate that he was right.
    I’ll try to lay it out here, too: His wound was a small hit, with the (dull, plastic) tip of the sickle to his hairline. It was at the limit of my extension and power (since my body was mostly involved in pulling back my leg) and a lot of the blow came from his forward momentum (“Really, I just stuck it out there and he ran onto it, mom!”). Also, the point was curving backward: Hold a sickle extended at shoulder level, see where the point points.
    A sharp point might have caused more of a cut, might have gouged his skull, but even with the collision that happened, I don’t think it would have really done any more damage. It took a few seconds for the blood to start to run, which means Agente, so wounded, would have a few seconds to be really pissed off and, oh yeah, have his sickle around Patiente’s leg, before he suffered impaired vision. Patiente would lose that situation, badly.

    Instead, by withdrawing the foot and raising his sickle, Patiente guarantees Agente comes up short and tenses all of his core muscles and arm. The strike that comes down is a wood cutter’s blow, the same strike those karate guys breaking cinder blocks throw, and its energy is directed through the point into the top of Agente’s skull. We’re starting to realize that any “ploughing up of the head” involves scrambling their brains with your blade. We were trying to figure out, in one, if the sickle tip entered at the base of the skull near the neck and lodged against the inside of the cheekbone, would it a) rip the skull from the neck, b) break open the cheek bone and slice out, or c) pull the entire person (corpse at that point) in the direction of the force applied (the blow was an across the body swing that could follow through with a full rotation of the hips and shoulders and traverse 270 degrees, 180 of that with a human head attached).

    Fun, eh?

    It almost makes the rest of this kind of boring:

    Agente’s counter to Patiente’s downward strike seems to be better as an offside. Since Agente’s block and deflection will be rising up and to the right, Patiente’s arm will end up high and his body weight forward, meaning a shot delivered from his right side, slightly behind, will be very difficult to defend against. Coupled with the step in with the left foot, this also sets up for a good bit of rotational power in the follow-through.

    From here Patiente’s block to the outside of the right elbow makes a good bit of sense. It stops the shot from connecting. What we still haven’t figured out is whether or not his feet are still side by side, straight up and down. Because that shit? That shit is stupid. We think a step in with the Left foot would help. It would accomplish a couple of things: Stop Patiente’s forward momentum (which Agente exploited in the move before), and provide more access to the back of Agente’s shoulder. The offside then can connect with the shoulder, even under the shoulder blade or into the armpit, and the follow-through would rip the sickle upward through whatever it was caught on, or if the bone and tendon wouldn’t part, pull Agente along in excruciating pain.

    And that, lords and ladies, is why this is an art: It brings beauty and grace to the Society.

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