Mendoza on the flail

The Brisbane School of Iberian Swordsmanship is celebrating its fourth birthday by releasing Ron Koks’ introduction to using the Iberian mangual. In it he references two assertions from the Resumen de la verdadera destreza de las armas, en treinta y ocho asserciones (Summary of the true skill of arms: in thirty eight assertions), by Miguel Perez de Mendoza y Quixada (published in 1675).

When Ron was first working on this document, I drew up a translation of Assertion 32, which describes how to use the flail, and how to build it. It’s an early translation that I haven’t taken a second look at, so I place it here with some trepidation. Holler at me in some way if you see a howling error that needs quick correcting. Anything that’s not a footnote that’s in square brackets is an editorial insertion either for clarity, or to indicate why I might have chosen to interpret a word or phrase in a given way. The grammatical conventions are Australian since I wrote it for an Australian.

Happy flailing!

Assertion XXXII

57r – 59r

I would like to mention the forms and paths that should be kept when moving and using the flail. With it you observe the same paths as with the montante, with[1] the exception of the Accidental Movement [forward movement, or thrust], because you cannot attack with the tip of the flail. Instead, use diagonal cuts and reverse cuts. The flail should be governed by both arms, but you should avoid bending the shoulders and elbows too much because the turning of the flail is accomplished through the circling of the wrists, and their four bends, so that the flail balls will not return against you when attacking an opponent. If you do not keep to this doctrine, the weapon will turn on you.

The flail balls should be attached with rivets[2] from the chain, so it won’t shrink[3], and the links should be made of iron or steel, and should be attached to each other with rivets, just like the ones connected to the flail balls, so that they cannot be pulled open, because when in this arrangement, the links can turn and twist but will remain open and not ride up on each other, shortening the chain.

The flail’s use and its doctrines are the same as the montante, again with the exception of never using Accidental Movements that serve to form thrusts, which are useless to this weapon that has no point and is instead a weapon of blunt force.

You can attack with Natural Movements [downward] when the opponent lowers his weapon to the centre, and with Movements of Reduction when[4] your opponent directs his weapon in Remiss Motions [motions away from the centre line]. Attack using cuts and reverse cuts, and half cuts and half reverse cuts, taking the distances necessary to execute these attacks. If up against one opponent, conform your path and disposition to his weapon and his use of it. If up against more than one opponent, your attacks should be with broad circular motions, taking the path that offers the greatest number of opposing weapons, which, when deprived of their violence, must resort to Remiss Movements [off line movements]. When these arms are separated from their centres, take the disposition that they once held and attack them where they are open. Take advantage of distances and various kinds of footwork, which will help in reducing their capacity for any offence they want to make.

First guide your defence to the nearest threats using quick forward steps, maneuvering the flail with the[5] arms to effect those circular attacks. Use lateral steps when your opponents take the medio proporcionado that you had chosen, in order to establish new medios proporcionados, and so on, with your first motion giving rise to the next. If you need to re-establish medios, continue moving as noted above, but use curved steps and not rear steps, and use forward steps in conformance with your opponent’s weapon and footwork.

The dimensions of this weapon conform to the montante. When held, the distance between the hands should be a little less than half a vara[6] and the shaft should be the same thickness as that of a pike, and should have four riveted bands[7] of steel or iron, which [vertically] divide the flail into four parts granting strength and defence, since the bands cannot be cut. But make sure these things are light, to keep the movements as small as possible, and do not sweep the flail behind you, because that will only cause you harm. It is a very robust weapon, and of equal rigor (as I’ve said) to the montante, and its attacks are more dangerous and harmful due to it being a weapon of blunt trauma[8], and executed mostly with Natural Movements. You should place all due care in executing its doctrines, in part because of how difficult it is to master without broad comprehension of using this weapon.

[1] 57v

[2] Tornillos: literally, screws, but in this case means rivets.

[3] Encogerse: Literally, to shrink. I believe this refers to how a chain, when under a lot of torsion, will shorten because the links are not all resting within each other in an open state.

[4] 58r

[5] 58v

[6] A vara is approximately 83 cm long. A little less than half a vara should be about 40 cm.

[7] Listas: related to listón; strips, lengths. I’ve confirmed that it’s metal bands that run vertically along the haft, riveted into the wood. There is a photo of a German halberd from 1620 that clearly shows that kind of metal banding.

[8] 59r

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