The time period was one of intensive fighting.  The Italian Wars raged from 1494 to 1559, and all of Northern Italy was embroiled in frequent battles— not only with other Italians, but from foreign invaders of diverse kinds. The Germans, Spanish, French, and Turks waged war to control the peninsula, and so the Italians must have had combat systems that enabled them to be victorious against all comers, no matter what the fighting method. Venice for example remained unconquered for 900 years. Although firearms were emerging in Europe at this time, they had not yet seen widespread use, and so it was still common to battle with blade and spear.

Bologna, like all the self-ruling city-states of Northern Italy, has a long history of the use of arms.  There were many accomplished instructors of martial arts in Bologna; we know some of their names and that they were specifically granted licenses to operate schools as early as 1390.  To these schools men with money sent their sons, so that they would have superior skills to those who could not afford it.  Some of these masters wrote instructional manuscripts.  After the printing press came to Bologna around 1470, printed books began to appear that contained the martial arts teachings of the time.  Five such books survive to this day, and these make up the basis of what we know as Bolognese Martial Arts.  One of our masters, writing in 1550, said that the martial arts of Bologna were already ancient in his time, and that no one knew exactly how old they were.

The one-handed sword was the centerpiece of these teachings, which was used alone or with shields ranging in size from small to large.  The massive two-handed sword was also taught, as was the use of spear and larger polearms.  One master thought it wise to include teachings on the dagger and fighting with empty hands, because, he said, men were dying in the streets for lack of this knowledge.

Although it was similar to other Northern Italian systems of swordsmanship of the period, Bolognese Swordsmanship stands out due to the amount of instructional material written, the consistency between authors, and the fact that so much survives to this day and can be easily understood.

We have five complete and very detailed primary sources to work from:
Antonio Manciolino (1528)
Achille Marozzo (1536)
Anonimo Bolognese (abt. 1500)
Angelo Viggiani (1550)
Giovanni dall'Agocchie (1572)

As you can see from the images below, Bolognese Swordsmanship encompasses small and large shields, the two-handed longsword, the staff, spear, various polearms, dagger and unarmed combat. The style is elegant, direct, refined, practical and extremely fightworthy. It contains many complex solo forms and two-person forms. Using proper protective gear, we regularly freespar using this system, and competitions take place all over the world.

Although it is not historical, the Bolognese sword system also lends itself well to cane self defense