A very brief history of the Verdadeira Destreza in Portugal Thursday May 5th, 2016 – Posted in: Destreza Comum, Verdadeira Destreza – Tags: Carranza, Diniz Cabreira, Figueiredo, Godinho, Manuel Valle Ortiz, Portuguese Destreza, Thomas Luiz, Verdadeira Destreza
«A very brief history of the Verdadeira Destreza in Portugal» by
Manuel Valle Ortiz, Denís Fernández Cabrera
Santiago de Compostela: AGEA Editora, 2016.
Destreza literally means “skill” or “expertise” in both Spanish and Portuguese. However, in the context we are studying it also meant specifically “the skill of the sword” and destro or dextro (a “skillful person”) would be equivalent to our modern term “fencer”. In contrast, the term esgrima (the modern word for “fencing” in both languages) had very negative connotations in those centuries.
Notably, in the Iberian Peninsula between the XVII and XVIII centuries the dominant fencing school —which favored a rationalist, constructivist approach, using strictly formal logic and geometry to build its fenencing architecture— was called Verdadeira Destreza e Ciência das Armas (literally meaning “the True Skill and Science of Weapons”) or simply Destreza. In contrast, the fencers who did not heed the instructions and mandates that the masters of the Verdadeira Destreza taught were labelled as dextros vulgares or dextros comuns. (“vulgar”, “lay” or “common” fencers) These common fencers were, at least partially, descendants of earlier tradition(s) which were erradicated by the Verdadeira Destreza officially promoted from the Castilian crown. The known treatises of Destreza Vulgar (Pedro de la Torre, Francisco Román, etc.) that once existed were lost, with the notable exception of Godinho’s Arte de Esgrima (recently published in critical edition by AGEA Editora).
This Verdadeira Destreza system was created in the late sixteenth century by the Sevillian Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza, who in his book Filosofía de las armas y de su Destreza establishes a set of principles that will be incorporated in various forms in many of the fencing treatises that in the Iberian Peninsula will be written until the nineteenth century.
The very Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza had relationship with Portugal, participating in 1582 in the process of annexation of Portugal to the imperial crown of Philip of Habsburg (which would become Filipe I of Portugal) in the Algarve campaign as captain-general (field marshal) of cavalry under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia. He received a Commendation of the Order of Christ, using since then the title of Comendador. There are also several witnesses, not confirmed, that mention him as fencing master for King Dom Sebastião.
In any case in Portugal, as in other peninsular kingdoms, there was a system for granting Fencing Master titles through a public office: the Grand Master (Mestre Maior), appointed by the King. At the end of the sixteenth century and early seventeenth the curriculum for the Fencing Master examination was, if we take Godinho’s Arte de Esgrima (1599) as reference, closer to the common fencing.
We know of several works grouped in the Manuscrito de Coimbra (last third of the seventeenth century, published as Destreza das Armas in our classical collecion) which deal with Verdadeira Destreza, including Las Cien Conclusiones (originally written in 1608) and Modo Fácil y Nuevo (1625), both written by Pacheco, and the Método de enseñanza de Maestros (1639), by Diaz de Viedma —all of them translated into Portuguese and attributed to Luis Seixas da Fonseca, without mention of their true authors.
The first originally Portuguese text that we know which belongs, without doubt, in the Verdadeira Destreza is Oplosophia, by Diogo Gomes de Figueiredo, written in 1628 but never published. This work shows a profound influence of Carranza’s teachings, in contrast to the theory and practice of Pacheco followers.
The Tratado das Lições da Espada Preta, by Thomas Luis (1685), contains a number of materials using Verdadeira Destreza terminology, but is overall quite eclectic regarding technique. It also adds some instructions regarding behavior in fencing salles for students and teachers, customs, and some anecdote.
In the late seventeenth century or early eighteenth century we can date a manuscript known as Lições de Marte which has no date or author. The content is essentially a very clear and easy to read glossa on Pacheco’s Nueva Ciencia (1672, posthumous work).
Bound in the same volume as Lições de Marte we found the Manuscrito da Espada, which can be datted approximatedly to 1676. It gathers 64 techniques, or feridas, described with their counter-techniques. It shows a heterodox mixture of Verdadeira Destreza and resources belonging into the common or vulgar fencing.
Another work that also belongs to the Verdadeira Destreza is the manuscript 1768 titled Compendio dos Fundamentos da
Verdadeira Destreza attributed to José de Barros Paiva e Morais Pona. It is actually a translation of the Compendio by Ettenhard (1675).
Finally, in 1774, Espada Firme by Martin Firme blends new concepts imported from from French fencing, although the terminology and basis of Verdadeira Destreza are recognizable.
It is not until the books published in the nineteenth century that all trace and memory of the Verdadeira Destreza finally disappears.