Just a few words on the completion of the Marozzo Dagger Grappling Plays.
These plays are only the beginning, not the end. What do I mean by that? Many things.
Firstly, use these plays that Marozzo described to create new ones; specifically, variations on what he taught. Sometimes we miss a grip, or fail to position a limb correctly, or don't get into the right place, and the technique fails. Sometimes, however, the technique fails not because of an error on our part, but our opponent, being aware and knowledgeable, counters what we are trying to do. We create variations on techniques by 1) simulating failures on our part and 2) having our partners counter what we do. These are an essential part of training. Without variations, we are doing nothing realistic-- only illustrating textbook forms that do little or nothing to provide us with real skills.
Another way of creating variations is to remove the weapon from the technique and restructure the lesson using a different starting situation. Or instead of a dagger, use a short stick. Or an 8-foot long spear. Strangely enough a knife is the one weapon I would caution you against using these techniques with. Combat techniques using a modern knife should be constructed with that weapon's characteristics in mind.
What should these variations be? Well that is where an experienced teacher comes in handy. Hopefully a variation would be something that addresses the situation realistically and safely, and is based on solid grappling concepts such as posture, positioning and interface, force along weak lines vs. centers of rotation, etc. More than that, it would also incorporate the sensibilities of the Bolognese style and draw upon principles already revealed by Marozzo.
Variations are not the only topic of importance. Within any given play there is much that is unspoken. It is as if what matters most are not my words that you're reading, but the white spaces between them.
One thing that went unspoken by Marozzo is the method by which the attacker attacks. It needs to be logical. An attacker would not place himself at unnecessary risk, and would not give up the advantages that his weapon gives him. This means the distancing, delivery of the payload, quality of footwork, the tempo, and the quality of structure all need to be done very well. Speed is a factor that will be adjusted depending on the ability of the trainees; but what I'm talking about is not a variable. It's understanding the factors of attack, and it's very important and needs to be studied and practiced explicitly, apart from the forms.
These dagger plays are self-defense techniques. Marozzo himself said that he was providing these because men of his day were being killed in the streets because they lacked the ability to defend themselves. Marozzo would have therefore assumed a trainee had no knowledge to begin with, and would have provided everything that was necessary within his training hall.
There are three parts to a self-defense technique: 1) survive the initial danger, 2) prevent additional attacks, and 3) finish him. You can't leave out Step 1 (obviously) because that means you're dead. You can't leave out Step 2 (less obvious), because that means your perpetually stuck at Step 1. I say less obvious, because I have seen many examples of so-called martial arts do in fact leave out Step 2 by blocking an attack, then repositioning themselves using a long tempo during which the attacker has to stand there and wait, followed finally by some grandiose, impressive and wholly invalid finishing technique.
1) Survive the imminent danger, by instantly and directly stopping or redirecting what's coming to kill you. If you can't do this realistically and effectively against someone who is intent on succeeding, there is no Step 2. Step 1 is best practiced using drill work at increasingly faster speeds while wearing protective gear.
2) If you don't immediately do something to prevent subsequent attacks, they will come, and you will have to go back to Step 1. This is not sustainable. Either counterattack the attacker un tempo or dui tempi (while they attack you or immediately after you parry their attack).
3) What you did in Step 2 should give you a moment of time, maybe only a fraction of a second, to initiate your "finish" on him by using some technique you have learned. If you wait too long, you will find yourself back at Step 1.
The real lesson in all this is that martial arts don't just exist at Step 3. The problem is that the only step ever depicted in Marozzo's plays is Step 3! He doesn't even suggest how to perform Step 1 in any of his plays, and he doesn't address Step 2 at all. That doesn't mean that he was ignorant of these concepts, and it certainly doesn't mean we shouldn't practice all three steps. To ignore these steps is to ignore reality, and we would be left with nothing more than a suicidal pseudo-martial art, and I would never do that. I have to believe that Marozzo knew all this and incorporated these concepts into his teaching, otherwise he would have been run out of Bologna, and he would not have ended up with such enduring fame as he has.
Why wasn't he more detailed in his book? It's commonly thought that masters didn't include all the details because they didn't want to give away all their teaching methods to their competitors. Also, if he put every necessary detail in his book, then perhaps the intended readers of his work wouldn't think it necessary to seek out his personal instruction (which would have been foolish of course, because the unspoken details would be impossible to learn from the printed page anyway).
The Marozzo Dagger Plays are representative of European grappling methodology as it stood in the mid 16th Century. They can be used as the basis of a fairly comprehensive system of standing grappling if developed in the way I suggest, supporting the idea that Bolognese Swordsmanship is itself a 'fairly' complete and self-contained system of martial arts.
Ken Harding, September 2015
St. Louis Missouri