The Practical Saviolo - Part 3

Journal of Western Martial Art
May 2003

by Stephen Hand

Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Hammerterz Forum, July 15, 1998, vol.4 no. 3 & 4 and has been substantially updated from what appeared in noted Hammerterz Forum issue. The author has continuously updated his interpretation of Saviolo and has included any improvements made to the interpretation in the current article. Regardless, the article is still substantially the same as it appeared in Hammerterz Forum publication indicated. Get your own copy of Hammerterz Forum Collected, a 8x10 inches, and cerlox bound manuscript containing 364 pages covering the issues published between the Summer of 1994 to the Fall of 1999.

his is the third in a series of annotated sections of Vincentio Saviolo's "His Practise. In Two Bookes." It was originally published in Hammerterz Forum Vol.4 No. 3&4. For those who missed parts one and two, Saviolo published this rapier fencing manual in 1595, it being the first rapier manual written in England. Saviolo's manual is written in the form of a dialogue between the Master, Vincentio and his prospective Scholar, Luke. Vincentio describes a series of exchanges between two fencers which illustrate a range of offensive moves and the correct responses. All the moves described here have been repeated with authentic replica rapiers by members of The Stoccata School of Defence, a process that has resulted in numerous revisions of the original interpretation. I have no doubt that we are still ignorant of some of the subtleties of Elizabethan rapier play but this interpretation will hopefully provide a framework for those seeking to resurrect this style of fencing.

I would like to offer my particular thanks to my fellow instructors at Stoccata, Andrew Brew and Peter Radvan whose help has been invaluable in reconstructing these sequences. I would also like to thank Julian Clark of the Finesse Academie of Fence who provided useful comments on my interpretation, particularly of Elizabethan English, and Chris Amberger, Editor and Publisher of Hammerterz Forum, who published the original version of this article.

Readers are directed to the glossary of terms included in part 1 of this analysis.

We pick up with Vincentio describing techniques possible from the short ward, a variant of the low ward in which the hand is held by the right side, with the rapier directed at the opponent's face.

V. Moreover, when you finde that your enemy holds downe his pointe, and his hand alofte, seeke to stand well upon your garde, that your hand bee ready with your right knee somewhat bending towards your enemy, and your body somewhat leaning on the left side, because if your enemye would give you a thrust or stoccata, hee should come a great deale shorte of reaching your bellye with his poynte, and especiallye he wanting that knowledge, which those have who are furnished with the right skill of this arte.

(Holding downe his pointe, and his hand alofte, could be referring to either a classic high ward as described (for example) by Di Grassi, or the true guardant ward of George Silver. However, there is no compelling evidence to suggest that Saviolo is not referring to a standard rapier Prima (Di Grassi's High Ward) as first described by Agrippa in 1553. Saviolo notes that thrusts from a high ward (i.e. with the hand in Prima) will be approximately 5cm or 2 inches shorter than thrusts delivered from a low ward with the hand in Terza. This is due to the inevitable angle between blade and arm with the hand in Prima)

Wherefore if he give you a stoccata or thrust in the bellye, you must beat it down with your left hand, outward from your lefte side, and withall you maye give him a stoccata or thrust either in the bellye or the face:

(If your opponent attacks you from the high ward, with a stoccata to the belly you should break it down and to the left with the inside of your left hand while counterthrusting with a stoccata to the belly or face. Although Saviolo mentions no footwork associated with the counterthrust in practice it is best associated with a half-incartata. Note that in this instance Saviolo is using the term stoccata to refer to a descending thrust which will strike below the Scholar's rapier, the thrust being classified on the basis of the target, and ultimately the defensive response rather than the angle of the attack)

and if hee make a foyne or imbroccata to your face above your head, you must be nimble with it, and may beate it aside with your hand, the inside outwward toward your left side, or else without beating it by, deliver him a halfe incartata with your poynt, which must be within his, and let it be towards his bellye, so that all these be doone with measure and time.

(If your opponent attacks you with an imbroccata to your face you have two responses. First you can beat it up and to the left with the inside of your left hand, one presumes while simultaneously counterthrusting. It is important to beat the blade aside with your palm, rather than the back of your hand, despite the seeming awkwardness of this maneuver as doing so will give you greater control over your opponent's blade. This seems to work best if your counterthrust is accompanied by a circular pace to the right with the right foot. The second response is to traverse right with your left foot in a half-incartata, while extending your point to strike your opponent in the belly. You should raise your hand in quarta and lower your point so as to oppose the foible of your opponent's blade with your forte.

It is important with all counterthrusts with opposion to concentrate on the thrust, not on the simultaneous parry. If your point fixes on your opponent and your hand and body are in the correct positions then opposition will be created. If you concentrate on creating opposition at the expense of the attack then you will suffer from poor point accuracy. If the point fails to fix, the opposition created against your opponent's attack will be weak.)

But if you finde your enemye with his poynt downe, you must stand upon a lowe ward and carrie your body very well, leaning upon the lefte side, and when you have got him within your proportion, you may give him a stoccata or thrust, either in the belly or the face, and you are safe from his pointe: for if he will make a stoccata to you, if you have skill to beate it aside with your hand, & to answere him again, you must needes hit him. And if he give a foine or imbroccata, you may reach him the incartata, as before I have tolde yon.

(Leaning upon the left side probably means that your weight is largely on your left (rear) foot. A "lowe ward" could mean one of two things. It could simply refer to one of the first two wards. A similar ward was referred to by Di Grassi (1594) as the Low Ward (p. 19V). Alternatively it could mean that your stance is lower. I prefer the former explanation. Saviolo is saying that you should remain in your lowe ward rather than conforming to your opponent's ward. The Scholar delivers a stoccata to his enemy's face or belly. If the opponent replies with a stoccata the Scholar breaks it out to the left with his hand and delivers another stoccata. If your opponent replies with an imbroccata you may reply with a half-incartata. Saviolo says incartata but he also says "as before I have tolde yon". The previous move was a half-incartata against an imbroccata. The tactical circumstances are identical here and if the Scholar was to use a full incartata he would bring himself too close to his enemy, reducing the time available for the counterattack and not giving himself enough room to strike. Therefore it is thought that Saviolo is simply being sloppy in using the word incartata when he means half-incartata.)

L. You have done me a great pleasure, and I know it will stand me in great steed if I should have occasion to fight, to knowe these times and proportions, which are to be observed: but I pray you tel me if one, who is skilfull and valiant should assaile me, whether this ward be good to be used in fight, or else whether I also should strike and answere him with the same?

V. If you will do as I will advise you, I saie it is verie good either to assaile anie, or to tarrie and watch your advantage, if you have skill to stand upon it, & to carrie your foot, hand and bodie together, holding your Rapier short, and that your point bee towarde the face of your enemie. For if your enemie have skill in fence, and should not finde you to stand surely upon your gard in this assault, he might deliver a straight stoccata to your face, not purposing fully to hit him, which if you should breake with your Rapier, he might put his under yours, comming forward aside toward your right hande, and might give you a stoccata in the face.

(The Short Ward is useful in true fight but if your ward is incorrect your opponent may thrust a stoccata at your face that you may be tempted to parry across to the left with your blade. If you do so then he will be able to perform a cavatione under your rapier and thrust home to your face.)

Moreover, putting the case that your adversarie were skilfull and cunning in fight, and you not much acquainted therewith, if he should not find you upon a sure ward, he himselfe being in proportion, and finding your pointe without his belly, he might reach you a stoccata in the belly, or an halfe incartata, especially if he know in fight how to use his bodie.

(If your point is directed off line, to the left of your opponent's belly (your right) then he may be able to strike you. He may do this with a stoccata delivered on a slope pace forward and right or he may use a half-incartata with some forward component. Whichever technique is used the hand should be turned into quarta and the line of attack should be closed. )

Besides, in these assaultes, when he is without your right side with his right foot, hee might offer a stoccata from the outside of your weapon, and if you breake it with your Rapier, hee may pull his point under yours, and withall remove toward your left side with his right foot, and give you a stoccata in the belly, turning skilfully his Rapier hand, so that his fist bee toward his left side.

(If your opponent's right foot is to the right of your right foot then he may thrust a stoccata at your right side. Under normal circumstances he would have to step to the left and attack with his hand in quarta, i.e. with a punta riversa in order to get around your point. However, because he is standing to your right the angle is such that he can directly attack your right side with a stoccata, rather than having to use a punta riversa. You may be tempted to parry your opponent's stoccata with your rapier. If you do he may perform a cavatione under your parry, simultaneously stepping to the right with his right foot and striking you in the belly with a stoccata. In delivering this stoccata your opponent's hand should be pushed to the left. His blade should be angulated inwards to the right in opposition to your rapier.)

Also if you should deliver a stoccata to your enemie, and that he should breake it with his Rapier, immediatly you might remove with your left foot, your left hand, waiting on the weapon of your enemie, and give him an imbroccata or foine under or above his Rapier, and may be master of his weapon.

(If you make an extension as if to deliver a stoccata to your opponent's belly or chest and he attempts to parry it across to his left with his blade - basically a parry quarte - then you can pass forward with the left leg, simultaneously withdrawing your rapier into seconda (a similar position to Di Grassi's broad ward (Di Grassi, 1594, p.19R but with the hand close beside the head). The withdrawal should be sufficient to avoid your blade being parried. From this position you will be able to offer opposition to the riposte made by your opponent. As he extends his arm you can grab his hilt with your left hand and then thrust him through the body with a powerful imbroccata above or below his rapier.)

But if your enemie strike a mandritta at the legges, if you strike it by with your weapon, he may give you a venew either by stoccata or imbroccata.

(Parrying a mandritta to the legs is to be avoided because your opponent could continue the attack by passing forward with his left leg and thrusting with a stoccata or an imbroccata. Against a mandritta to the legs there are two wards that could be used. The first is the bastard guardant ward of Silver. The hand is rolled so that the palm is facing to the right and it is raised to a position in front of the left shoulder. The arm is across the body at neck level and the blade is held vertically downward, usually with the point angled slightly to the rear. The second ward is a combination of a modern guard of septime (hand in quarta, point forward and down) with a half-incartata (a septime guard without the accompanying lateral movement being too weak against a rapier cut). Whichever of these two wards you use, if your opponent passes forward with his left leg he will be able to grab or beat aside your hilt or bind your arm in one of several ways described more fully by George Silver in his chapter on grips in Bref Instructions. He will simultaneously draw back his rapier in preparation for a powerful thrust.)

Therefore it is not good for anie man to use these things prescribed, because, as I have alreadie sayd, he had need to understand well his times & proportions, and to know howe with skill to shifte and move his bodie, & to be readie and nimble as well with his foot as hand, otherwise, by his owne meanes he may be wounded or slaine: so that he had need to bee verie cunning and perfect in these matters, whereupon many good masters do practise their schollers in these assalts to make them readie. But I will let them passe, and will satisfie you concerning the skil of this ward, which you have required to know. Therefore I saie, when you shal stand upon this ward, and that you be assailed and sette upon, keep your point short, that your enemie may not finde it with his, and look that you be readie with your hand, and if he make such a false proffer as I spake of before, you being in the same ward & in proportion, may with great readines put a stoccata to his face, shifting sodainly with your left foot, being a little folowed with the right, and that sodainly your Rapier hand be drawen backe.

(If you hold your point well back you deny your opponent the potential to engage your blade. The false proffer that Saviolo spoke of before was a stoccata in the inside line followed by a pass forward with the left leg and a hilt grab (page 26R(20R), last par. "Also if you should deliver a stoccata to your enemie, and that he should breake it with his Rapier, immediatly you might remove with your left foot, your left hand, waiting on the weapon of your enemie, and give him an imbroccata or foine under or above his Rapier, and may be master of his weapon."). If you pick this as being a feint, designed to draw a parry from you then you can ignore the extension, or better, shift your hand slightly to the left, as if starting a parry-quarte. The latter will make your opponent more likely to complete his forward pass. As he passes you should avoid the hilt grab by stepping back and to the right with the left leg, immediately followed by the right and thrusting a stoccata at his face.)

But if he should give a stoccata to your face with ful force from your rapier side outward, you may a litle shrink with your bodie & beat his point with your hand outward from your right side toward your weapon, & withall you may strike a riversa.

(If your opponent launches a genuine stoccata attack to your face from the outside line you should lean back your body and break the thrust away to the right with your left hand. Simultaneously you should strike a riversa at your opponent's face or rapier hand with your blade below your left hand parry. You will find that as you perform this move your left foot will turn so that the toe is facing your opponent.)

Furthermore, if he should pul his rapier within at the same instant, to be more sure, you must carrie your right foot a little aside toward his left hand, and with great readines of countertime you must put a thrust or stoccata to his face, turning your hand most nimbly.

(Another variant of the same attack. Your opponent extends in the outside line and then switches to the inside line with a cavatione. You should respond by stepping to the right with your right foot in a circular pace and counterthrusting to his face in terza or quarta with opposition.)

So also in such like assalts if your enemie shuld come to strike down right blows or riversi, do as I have told you before, in moving your hand with great readinesse, and finding your time and proportion. Wherefore I hold this Ward to bee verie good, as well to assaile, as for to tarrie and watch for an advauntage. And you must especially take heede that you put not your selfe in danger, because if your enemy should finde you without your sword at length, beeing nimble & strong, striking upon your weapon, he might make a passage with greate speede, and make himselfe master as well of you as of your weapon, and put you in daunger of your life.

(If your rapier point is directed off-target and your rapier is extended out from your body then a competent opponent will be able to beat your point aside (He may do this in a number of ways. He may beat your point aside to your left with his left hand or with his blade. The most effective way to beat with the blade is to place your hand two-thirds of the way up the blade and to use the extra leverage to smash your opponent's blade out of the way and then rapidly bring your blade back on line. In each case the beat should be accompanied by a pass forward with the left leg in order to close distance.) close with you and take control of you or your weapon, taking the grip of the arm or your hilt.)

Whereas contrary-wise, when you doo holde your Rapier shorte, as I have tolde you, and that your pointe is towardes his face, you make him afraide, especially when hee comes forward with his hand and bodie to finde your weapon with his, he must needes come so farre that you maye easily hurt him without being hurt. Besides all this, if your enemy should come to deliver a stoccata, imbroccata, mandritta, or riversa, you have great advauntage, for hee cannot so readily strike, nor with such suretie as you may.

(If your rapier is held short and the point is towards your opponent's face, then to beat your rapier aside (as detailed above) he must move a long way forward before he is past your point. This gives you ample opportunity to counterthrust without risk to yourself. You also have the advantage of being able to deliver a strong counterattack if your opponent attacks you with one of the normal thrusting or cutting attacks.)

L. But I pray you tel me this, if mine enemie should charge me with his weapon at length, as putting forth halfe his weapon in his ward, must I answere him with the like?

V. This warde truely is verie good against all other wards in my opinion, especially if you knewe howe to charge your enemy, & to find time & proportion to strike knowing how to turne and shift your bodie as well on the one side as the other, and understanding the skill of fight, and beeing most nimble, you may aunswere him with it. But yet I would have you to marke and consider well in what sorte your enemie behaveth himselfe, and howe hee holdeth the pointe of his weapon: if that you finde him holding his pointe alofte, that it bee above yours, when that you holde it right against his face, you must seeke to winne grounde a little wyth your right foote before you remoove, and your hande must be nimble and readie, & at that verie instant make three times with your feet at once, moving a little with your right foot, a little with your left, and againe a little with your right. But this must proceed from very great skill and knowledge, for if your left foot tarrie behind, he may give you a pricke in the face or in the belly, or a cut upon the legges. Wherefore you must so come forward with your right foot at once, that you may have the weapon of your enemie with your hand, and your point towards his belly.

(Holding his point aloft? This could mean the open ward or simply that his point is over yours and is directed above your head, i.e. off target. The latter is probably what is intended. The three steps are not described in any detail, the only hint is that Saviolo says "you must seeke to winne grounde a little wyth your right foote before you remoove". This is reminiscent of the following passage on page 14V (21V) "the scholler shall winne ground a little with his right foote, beeing mooved somewhat aside, and withall let him remove with his left foot, that it be toward the right foot of the teacher", interpreted as a slope pace forward and left with the right foot followed by a circular pass forward and left with the left foot. The third foot movement is not described but must be either a pass or an incartata (half or full). Of these, only the full incartata seems to work in reconstructions.

Saviolo warns that if your foot movements are not quick enough your opponent will be able to "give you a pricke in the face or in the belly". He may do this simply by dropping the point of his rapier. Therefore it is vital to complete your pass quickly to get past the point. Saviolo also warns of "a cut upon the legges". Your right thigh is open to a riverso squalambrato between the end of your first step and its removal in the incartata. As you pass forward you should attempt to grip your opponent's hilt with your left hand. This will be made easier if he is extending his arm to counterattack you. As you perform your incartata you should pull his hilt forward, which will steady you and pull him off balance while simultaneously thrusting him in the face, chest or belly with an imbroccata delivered from a broad seconda ward.)

So that as you see, many & verie many things may be performed by this ward, if, as I have sayd, one be skilfull and nimble. But this I would advise you, when you would make these passages, or put your weapon under your enemies, that you doe them not in vaine nor without some advauntage. There are many which oftentimes by chance and hap, doe many things in fight, of which if a man shoulde aske them a reason, they themselves know not how they have done them. And sometimes men verie sufficient and skilfull at their weapon, are hurt, either by their evill fortune, that they suffer themselves to bee carried awaie and overmastered too much with choler and rage, or else for that they make no account of their enemie. Wherefore as well in this ward as in the other, take heede that you suffer not your selfe to bee blinded and carried awaie with rage and furie.

L. I perceive verie well that the secrets of this noble arte are verie great, & that with great travell and paines a man must come to the knowledge and skill both to rightly understande and practise it, for otherwise I see, that by verie small errour a man comes in daunger of his life. But I praie you instruct me somewhat farther, as if at this present I were to undertake a combat with some valiaunt man in defence of my credite and my lyfe.

V. In truth the secretes which are in like fightes are such, that unlesse one have a skilfull man in this science to instruct him, and that loves him, he shall never come to the right understanding of them. There are manye which will thinke they knowe inough, but most commonly are deceived; and others there are which the master or teacher loves, and shewes them faithfullie all that he can, and yet they can never come to anie greate matter in this science, but they who are framed of nature as it were, both in respect of abilities of bodie and minde fit to learne this arte, if they use the help of a skilfull teacher, come to great perfection. And these abilities are the gifts of God and nature, wherefore as in others, so in this worthie arte you shall finde some more apt than others, and especiallie to give a right thrust or stoccata, which is the chiefest matter of all. For all the skil of this art in effect, is nothing but a stoccata: wherefore if you shall have occasion to fight, I could wish you to practise this short ward, and to stand sure upon it, & to seeke your advauntage with time, which when you have found, give the stoccata withall, somewhat moving your right foot, and at the same instant draw back your left, & let your rapier with your bodie shift upon the left side, because if your enemy be cunning, he may sodainly aunswere you with a thrust, and beate aside your weapon, and therefore if you minde, to give a right stoccata, there is no other waie to save your selfe from harme. But if your enemie bee cunning and skilfull, never stand about giving any foine or imbroccata, but this thrust or stoccata alone, neither it, also, unlesse you be sure to hit him: suffer your enemie to doo what he list, onely stand you upon a sure ward, and when you finde opportunitie and time, deliver the stoccata, and shift with your foot. And this also you must marke, that sometimes it is good to give the stoccata to the right side, which must bee doone when your enemies right foot is over against yours, and sometimes to the lefte side. Wherefore when you will deliver a stoccata to the right side, see that you go not aside with your foot, but give the thrust, and then shifte backward with your left foot, as also when you deliver your stoccata to the left side, you must shift aside with your right foot. These things must be knowen & much practised.

(Saviolo advises anyone called upon to fight in earnest to stand upon the short stoccata ward, bide his time and to await the perfect moment to deliver a stoccata. He advises against using imbroccatas or any attack other than the stoccata.)

But if your enemie use a mandritta or riversa, you have had instructions already how to behave your selfe. There are many other secrets of this ward which cannot be written nor be made plaine or sufficiently expressed to bee understoode. And that it is so, many Gentlemen can witness, who although they had seene me doo, yet coulde neither understand nor practise them untill that I shewed them the waie, and then with much adoo and verie hardly. Therefore I thinke I have spoken inough concerning this ward: and if you can perfourme all that I have tolde you, it will suffice, & this our discourse may pleasure many, which take delight to understand and learne these things: but if they will repaire to the teachers of the arte, they shal better and more fully understand and conceive of all, because both knowledge and practise is required.

L. I would thinke my selfe happie, Master Vincent, if I coulde remember and perfourme all which you so courteouslie have imparted unto mee of the former fight, and as farre as I maie, I wyll doo my diligence to practise that which y ou have taught, but having found you thus friendlie and readie to shew me what favour you may, I am emboldned to trouble you farther, and your curtesie hath increased my longing & desire to know more in this matter, and therfore I praie you make me understand the other kind of fight which heretofore you have tolde me of, and you call it Punta riversa.


  1. Di Grassi, Giacomo. 1594. His True Arte of Defence, London
  2. Fabris, Salvator. 1606. De lo Schermo Overo Scienza D'Arme, Copenhagen
  3. Marozzo, Achille. 1536.Opera Nova, Bologna
  4. Saviolo, Vincentio. 1595. His Practise. In Two Bookes, London
  5. Silver, George. Unpublished. Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defence. in Mathey, Col. Cyril G. R.(ed.), 1898. Works of George Silver, London

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About the author: is one of the International Masters at Arms Federationinstructors of The Stoccata School of Defence, a group formed to re-create western swordplay as practiced in fencing schools of the late middle ages and the Renaissance. All swords and rapiers used are blunt, but otherwise accurate replicas of surviving examples. In recognition of his research and practice in the English Sword and the mixed school Elizabethan Rapier, the International Masters at Arms Federation (IMAF) designated Stephen Hand as an Acknowledged Instructor for those weapons. For more information, or to discuss this article please contact:

The Stoccata School of Defence
c/o Stephen Hand
8 The Boulevarde
Epping, NSW, 2121

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Journal of Western Martial Art
May 2003

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