The Modified Passata-Sotto
Let’s talk about the multifaceted and versatile modified passata-sotto, as used in the Comtech Bowie Method. The term passata sotto is Italian and directly translated means "passed under". The Wiki page on fencing terms defines the passata sotto as -
"An evasive action which is initiated by dropping a hand to the floor and lowering the body under the opponent's oncoming blade. Often accompanied by a straightening of the sword arm to attempt a hit on the opposing combatant."
John Styers in his Marine Corps treatise "Bowie Knife Fighting" defines the passata sotto as "Another means of getting your blade into your opponent, other than the direct manner from the guard position, is to perform a passata sotto in which you merely BEND THE TORSO VERY LOW and to the LEFT from the guard position. Thrust directly into the LOWER RIGHT CHEST or ABDOMINAL AREA of your opponent. This is (an offline) attack against an opponent who raises his right arm high in his attack, or otherwise exposes his lower right side. In some instances a left step may accompany the attack."
Is the technique defensive or offensive in nature? It’s both really. Defensively it uses a plane not often used, the vertical, causing them to over commit. As an Attack by Drawing or part of a Progressive Indirect Attack it's offensive nature can shine. The Comtech Bowie method took a little used technique from classical fencing, mated it with the unique design characteristics of the bowie and threw the doors wide open on the possibilities.
Generally the modified passata sotto does not touch the ground with the live hand. There is no need to. A long sword creates balance issues necessitating the third anchor but in bowie fencing we have no such balance issues with the blade and something much more fearsome to worry about. A counter with a bowie is much faster than a sword in this situation. The business end of their sword is behind you and requires more time to reset and strike. The bowie can strike from almost any position it finds itself in and with your live hand on the ground leaves you wide open and anchored in one spot. Bending the knees and the waist together creates a stable base which you could easily defend or get out of the way.
Another modification due to the bowies unique design is the ability to bind the other weapon, much preferable than just entering off the beat or truly passing under. As a knife fighter we have the edge to worry about and with the bowie with have the clip and that pesky backcut too. Much better to occupy that weapon by binding it, checking it or destroying it. On a properly made bowie the forward curved guards, or devils horns as some call them, disarms are a valid option.
There are generally three positions for the modified passata sotto and a forth modification for those of you without the physicality to perform the first three, as well as many set ups and scenarios not seen or available to other weapons. Ill cover these in depth in a future article so for now stick with the description Steyers gave above and use that as a starting point and discover what this technique can offer.
If you would like to learn this technique first hand and experience it for yourself there is a seminar September 9/10 at Comtech on the Big 3 – The Bowie, Arkansas Toothpick and Kukri. This technique will just be one of many that will be discussed in depth, taught and then applied.