It is no secret that I enjoy the I.33 manuscript. However, given the barrier in interpreting the art and text and the fact that medieval sword and buckler is not as popular in HEMA, I.33 is a relatively unknown system outside of the primary practitioners of the source. This has led to several HEMA practitioners having misconceptions about I.33.
Today, we will dive into the two most common misconceptions about I.33 The first is that the techniques are not martially valid, and the second is that I.33 is an incomplete system. By tackling both misconceptions, I hope to clear some barriers for those interested in studying I.33.
Are I.33 Techniques Martially Valid?
For many people interested in swordsmanship, the idea that the system they are learning is ineffective can be a significant detractor to keep someone from learning a specific system. Unfortunately, the techniques in I.33 have been seen as techniques that cannot be used for self-defense. This generally seems to be due to I.33’s system looking different than other sword and buckler systems. In Dr. Sydney Anglo’s The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe, he states in regards to I.33 that “the constrained sword and buckler fighting taught by the priest to his disciple does not look remotely as efficient as the free-flowing, better balanced techniques later expounded by Talhoffer and Marozzo.”
When reading I.33, one must look at the manuscript as a collection of techniques the fencer gains when they pair their sword with the buckler. Very few of the I.33 techniques work without the assistance of the buckler. When the buckler is paired with the sword, the fencer can perform longer binding actions and deliver more attacks from the wrist and elbow than with equivalent singlehanded sword systems like Lechuchner’s messer.
Talhoffer’s manuscript differs from I.33 by showing how to perform messer attacks and grapples when the buckler is present. Talhoffer first shows techniques that highlight this with just the messer, followed by a section showing the same techniques but with a buckler instead of a bare hand for the displacements. In a way, Talhoffer’s system is more like a sword with buckler than sword and buckler since the off-hand is optional for the techniques.
In the context of the Bolognese system, I.33 is a hyper-focus on the concept of the narrow play or “gioco stretto,” where two fencers’ bind their swords, but neither has the advantage. The narrow fight is a minor part of the overall Bolognese sword and buckler system. However, Marozzo (a significant source for the Bolognese sword and buckler system), in chapter 162 of his Opera Nova, states that the fencer who knows both the narrow binding-like plays and the more flowing cuts and thrusts from what I.33 would consider wards, will control the fight. Furthermore, Marozzo taught the narrow plays separately from the wide plays and charged seven pounds for each class. So, even Marozzo sees the validity in the more bind-centric plays that I.33 offers.
Is I.33 an Incomplete System?
Periodically, commentators on I.33 will state that it is an incomplete system. New sword and buckler fencers looking for a source to study are generally directed towards Bolognese sources because of the inclusion of footwork, sword grips, and other fundamental aspects of swordsmanship. Others have stated that to get the most out of I.33, fencers must draw from other sources to learn swordsmanship fully.
However, I.33 does contain enough techniques and a mindset to approach a sword and buckler fight that can make a sword and buckler fencer competent should they have to defend themselves with the weapon. While I agree that the Bolognese sources are more accessible for beginners to learn from, I think the appearance of I.33 being incomplete comes more from comparing it to other systems and noting the differences than it does from the number of techniques in the manuscript.
Talhoffer and Bolognese sword and buckler utilize cuts and thrusts without the assistance of the bind. This is notably excluded in I.33. However, from the perspective of I.33, I believe the techniques illustrated and defined are specifically designed to counter the more free-flowing Bolognese and Talhoffer styles. I.33 chooses to siege, a specific position to provoke the opponent out of their starting position. The opponent will either enter the bind, retreat or do nothing. Throughout I.33, those three outcomes of sieging the opponent are discussed.
So, while it is accurate to say that I.33 does not include cuts and thrusts from the basic wards like Talhoffer and the Bolognese sources do, it is not accurate to say that the exclusion makes I.33 incomplete. Instead that I.33 chooses to deep-dive into one area of the fight because it values the other style of fighting less.
However, it is worth noting that I.33 does have some missing pages, particularly on the use and counters of two wards, fifth and sixth. Fortunately, later sections in the manuscript show how to combat thrusting positions like fifth and sixth, so while the complete set of techniques is incomplete, there still exist enough techniques to counter thrusting wards.
Though I believe I.33 is a complete system and can stand on its own, cross-training with other weapons does help HEMA practitioners. My class covers Lechuchner’s messer, I.33, Talhoffer, Paulus Kal, and Lignitzer. All of the fencing masters bring their unique style to the medieval swordfight that benefits a well-rounded sword and buckler practitioner. For more data on cross-training in HEMA, I highly recommend the article on the topic at SwordSTEM.
I.33 is a unique manuscript that focuses on a series of techniques a fencer can do with the assistance of the buckler. The system focuses on the fight's mindset and choosing to bind and secure the opponent’s weapon before moving in to attack.
However, not all sword and buckler systems approach the fight similarly. The Bolognese sword and buckler system prefers to keep the sword fluid and to move to find openings. Talhoffer similarly will move the sword to close on the opponent while utilizing messer-style attacks. This is the same as other fencing systems like Fiore and Lichtenauer differing.
Being different and excluding some techniques other systems include does not make a system incomplete or ineffective. The authors of these sources had to choose what to include and what not to include. So for those that pick up I.33 and think the art style and the Latin text are cool, dive in and start learning about this effective and complete sword and buckler system. You will not regret it.
With the construction methods of the buckler project showing consistent durability, it is now time to push the envelope. The D.3 buckler was designed to reduce overall weight by reducing the thickness of the buckler from .5” to .25”. A better rawhide liner will also be used for this buckler to improve impact resistance over the rawhide bones that were used in previous D bucklers for the project.
Most of this post was written prior to the buckler failure. The second half of this post (indicated by the part 2 in the title section) begins the post-break research portion of the D.3 Buckler.
Throughout the construction, parts of the buckler were measured to understand better where the weight came from. The results of these measurements are shown at the end of this section.
This buckler followed a similar construction method as the previous bucklers. First, the planks were cut and then overlayed to make the face of the buckler. Walnut boards were used for this buckler mainly because it was available in .25” thickness.
Little project wood boards were used to create a handle solution for this buckler. Layers of the little boards were overlayed to add some amount of structure. The little pieces were then glued together and allowed to cure before attaching to the face of the buckler.
Once the handle was glued together, it was then glued to the buckler face boards.
Next, the boss and liner were attached to the wooden structure like prior buckler constructions for this project. The rawhide was soaked and then fitted around the edge of the buckler and tacked down. Clenched nails were used to secure the boss in place.
The buckler was then covered in a layer of wood glue to provide resiliency. This was a change done for this buckler because prior constructions oiled the wood.
Once the liner had dried, the buckler was weighed.
Wood body: 266 gr
Handle 45: gr
Boss: 523 gr
Without liner weight: 860 gr
Final weight: 981 gr
The buckler withstood sparring against a messer, a longsword, and another sword and buckler. Similar to previous bucklers, this buckler took the hardest hits by the messer, and while some of the nails came loose, the clenching prevented the nails from being freed.
This buckler has been my buckler for nearly 3 months (roughly 30 classes) with very little damage. The nails on the boss had to be replaced due to impact on the boss, but even when the bucker was down to two nails, the boss stayed in place and lived to make it to the end of a practice when repairs could be done.
Tacks for the liner have come off, but the hardness of the liner has secured it in place. Near month 2, the overlapping section of the liner was pulled up while sparring. The liner was not destroyed and later glued back down to secure it.
Interestingly, wood under the liner has been chipped away. Instead of cracking a board, these chips have just slowly been whittled away with time. This seems to be a testament to the quality of the liner and how a good liner can make a difference in the survivability of a buckler.
I am stunned that the lego-brick style handle has survived but I believe that shows how much impact force the rest of the buckler mitigates. The light weight of the buckler also allows for good positioning in the later parts of a sparring match when fatigue is setting in.
Failure (Beginning of Part 2)
After just over 4 months, the buckler suffered a major failure. A plank cracked near the top of the buckler. This is the section where most of the impact force from descending cuts was received on the buckler. After the sparring match when this occurred, the top section felt loose which seemed to indicate both layers of the planks had been compromised.
After the crack occurred, I sparred with the buckler one more time (first to 10 points) to see if the failure would prevent the buckler from being able to complete the match. To my surprise, the buckler was able to finish the sparring match. I believe this is a testament to how much work the rawhide liner does at cushioning impact force on the wood itself. However, even though the buckler successfully did its job, sections of the plank where the crack occurred had clearly broken loose and were only held in place by the liner.
The loose pieces were removed to inspect the damage.
As I had suspected during sparring, both layers of the planks were broken, which compromised the structure. Interestingly, the nail on the opposite side of the buckler from the broken planks was torn off and the wood cracked. This could have been unrelated or the boss transferring impact force differently.
Could the buckler still perform? Maybe if I changed which side was on top. However, at this point the buckler was fighting for its life. It was time to retire it from this research project. Or was it?
Field Repair Test
Some of the bucklers in The Book of the Buckler feature what appears to be reused wood from other bucklers. A rough field patch may be sufficient to get more life out of the buckler. In the spirit of reusing wood that I already had lying around, the broken-off pieces and the lego-brick style would be used for the handle would be used for repair.
I started with patching the broken areas with smaller wood planks that I could shape to fill the broken areas. Next, some of the broken wood and more of the smaller plank were applied to the back of the buckler to provide some structural support to the broken section. This was done if more cracking had occurred that was not identified. Finally, new planks were placed where the nails go since the planks in those areas had been worn and could use more friction to hold the nails in place.
The repair was only put through durability testing due to the more compromised state of the buckler as a whole. The repairs were able to survive multiple rounds of sparring without issues. The small plank in the bottom left of the back-view was split during construction and not during sparring.
However, while the bucker was able to perform, there was still some looseness in the section that had failed. This was likely due to the broken sections warping and not aligning as well as initially, even with the structural boards added.
Ultimately, while the repair "worked", it seems more likely that the good planks would be preserved while the overall wooden structure would be remade while still re-using the boss, liner, and possibly the handle.
Today, we have the wonderful opportunity to sit down with Betty, the artist behind Blade and Swords. In this interview, we discuss how Betty became interested in art and her journey into HEMA. We also discuss our passion for sword and buckler and her latest project, Ultima Custodia. The book is available for purchase via email or form from her main site, Blade and Swords.
I want to thank Betty for taking the time to do the interview. The opportunity to discuss I.33 and art with you was an absolute pleasure and showcased to me and the viewers your level of passion for the topics.
Betty also took the time to make me a work of art that features my club's logo and a sword and buckler fencing rabbit. My club and I are incredibly grateful for this gift and hope to showcase it in the future!
More about Betty and Blade and Swords