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Grappling (abrazare) Training @ AEMMA

The recruit is introduced to grappling or wrestling techniques (abrazare) as described in Fiore dei Liberi's [ 1 ] manuscript. In order to convey the concepts of timing and distance as it pertains to fighting to the recruit, there is no better manner than using the world's oldest fighting style - grappling or abrazare. Grappling is a form of wrestling, which is inarguably, the world's oldest fighting style, where grapplers were depicted on Egyptian wall paintings as far back as 5,000 years ago. However, the Greeks were the ones who put wrestling on the map of the ancient world, making its Olympic debut in 708 BC.

However, initial grappling training begins with a number of contemporary wrestling techniques such as a shoulder hold, neck hold, waist hold, head locks and techniques for breaking out of these holds. This approach offers a simple introduction to some of the fundamental basics of grappling and provides the opportunity for students to become more comfortable with "e;man-handling"e; their training partners and to also increase their comfort with being "man-handled" themselves. These introductory practices also helps to develop a degree of trust with their training partners so that when the more sophisticated Fiore techniques are rolled into training, the students are well conditioned to learn and practice new techniques with their training partners with a higher degree of personal safety.
These skills that are learned form the foundation on which other skills are layered upon, such as dagger and longsword techniques. The student recruit is then introduced to techniques described in Liberi's treatise entitled Flos Duellatorum or "Flower of Battle" written in 1409/1410. It is critical that the student recruit comprehend that the techniques learned during grappling training and the later dagger training, are extremely dangerous techniques! The student must remain cognizant that his/her partner is exactly that, a training partner, and not someone to compete with during the training exercises. In Liberi's manuscript, there are actually very few instances (four instances we believe) in which he refers to the partner as an opponent. The student views his/her training partner in the light of a player (zugadore Italian, a partner in training) or companion (compagno Italian, another reference to a partner in a non-aggressive orientation).

The student recruit at the end of the grappling portion of training will have developed a good understanding and a skills base in the area of guards (positions in preparation to deploy defensive or offensive maneuvers) and begin to develop the concept of timing, distance, judgment and position and their application to fighting. Advanced grappling and throw techniques described in "plays" by Fiore will be explored in later levels of training during scholler training.

The skills developed in this level of development comprise the minimum technical requirements for the challenge of the rank of scholler.

Brief History

Fiore documented in his treatises entitled "Flos Duellatorum" [ 2 ] and "Fior di Battaglia" [ 3 ] a very systematic and complete training treatise for the development of contemporary martial art skills of the time. Fiore recommends that this training system not be used to train thugs, given the techniques are sophisticated and deadly. Thugs would not possess the self-discipline to control when and when not to employ the techniques described. He begins the training program with grappling. Although students of the sword would prefer to begin training with the sword, Fiore reasoned that those students who are committed to learning the way of the sword would remain throughout the earlier levels of training and develop an appreciation of the skills learned and recognize how these skills can be leveraged to longsword or pole-weapons training. Those students that are not cognizant of this leave the program early thus proving that Liberi's system is an excellent built-in filtering mechanism.

In his introduction to the wrestling, Fiore describes what he considers to be the seven main requirements for wrestling. These include:

  1. forteza - strength,
  2. presteza - speed,
  3. rompere - knowledge of breaking arms and legs,
  4. ligadura - knowledge of arms locks (sottana, mezana, soprana) and binds,
  5. ferire - knowledge of striking places with malice such as eyes, nose, under the chin, flank, groin,
  6. mettere in terra - knowledge of take downs and throws,
  7. dislogadure - knowledge of dislocations.
Although these appear in the prologue prior to the abrazare section, they should be considered as requisites for the entire fighting system described by Fiore. The reason for this becomes apparent
when it is realised that abrazare forms the foundation of the entire fighting system. For example, the daga section could be viewed as an extension of the abrazare section. The lessons learned from the daga and from the abrazare form the basis of giocco stretto, or the "close plays", both in armour and out of armour.

Other sources which indicates the importance of its (wrestling/grappling) history can be found in Prof. Sydney Anglo publication entitled "The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe" [ 4 ] (p. 190) who calls Petter's [ 5 ] book "historically speaking, the most important treatise on unarmed combat ever printed... the finest of all wrestling books and deservedly the most famous". It was first published in 1674 and reprinted several times, including one complete plagiarism. The combination of Petter's lucid descriptions, devoid of all jargon, and de Hooge's masterful depiction of pain and violence in the engravings, elevates the book to its position of solitary eminence. It is also probably unique in presenting an effective and complete unarmed combat system in a format from which it would be actually possible to learn.

And finally, another historical reference by Johann Passchen [ 6 ] who writes:

"To the gentle reader,
Wrestling ['Ringen'] is a useful exercitium, and well-known history shows that it was practiced by our forefathers not only for fun, but also in earnest, because it not only improves the condition of the whole body, but so also a weaker person can, by knowledge of this science, and fully trained therein, defend himself against a stronger one, and resist him. As high as it was esteemed by our forefathers, so little is it known in our time, and these days everyone relies on their size and strength, yet they feel in danger when confronted by a smaller man trained in wrestling. These circumstances have prompted me to bring some things to light in this print and coppers. Do not hesitate, lovers of wrestling, to willingly accept this little work by me, which I place in God's care."


Recruit training is scheduled on a rotational basis, in which each class is focused on a particular aspect of Liberi's system, such as grappling one day, dagger the next day followed by longsword training on the 3rd day. The cycle then repeats again. Training for recruits is offered three times weekly. For details on the scheduling for recruit training and fees, click here.

For details on AEMMA's training program, equipment requirements, armoured tournaments info, and ranking system, click on "training" on the navigation bar at the top of your browser window.


  1. Fiore dei Liberi - Fiore dei Liberi of Cividale d'Austria was born sometime between 1340 and 1350 in Cividale del Friuli, a small town on the river Natisone in Italy. According to available information, he had been practicing the art of swordsmanship for 50 years at the time of his writing the treatise entitled "Flos Duellatorum" or "Flower of the Battle". Accounts indicate that he trained in swordsmanship under the direction of the scholar and Swabian Johannes Suvenus (a former scholar of Nicolaus con Toblem). The knowledge and skill he developed under Johane's direction elevated Fiore dei Liberi to a master swordsman of his time.
  2. Flos Duellatorum (Pisani-Dossi MS): F. Novati, Flos duellatorum: Il Fior di battaglia di maestro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco (Bergamo, 1902).
  3. Fior di Battaglia: MS Ludwig XV 13 - J. Paul Getty Museum (codice "GETTY") - the Morgan version of the treatise does not include a section on abrazare.
  4. Professor Sydney Anglo "The Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe", Yale University Press, August 2000
  5. Nicolaes Petter 1674, "Klare Onderrichtinge der Voortreffelijcke Worstel-Konst"Clear Instructions to the Excellent Art of Wrestling"
  6. Johann Georg Passchen 1659, "Vollstandiges Ring-Buch"

Copyright © 2009 Academy of European Medieval Martial Arts (AEMMA)
Released: June 12, 2003 / Last modified: October 16, 2009