The Practical Saviolo - Part 4

Journal of Western Martial Art
August 2003

by Stephen Hand

Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Hammerterz Forum, July 15, 1998, Vol. 5 No. 1 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 fourth in a series of annotated sections of Vincentio Saviolo’s ‘His Practise. In Two Bookes.’ It was originally published in Hammerterz Forum Vol. 5 No. 1. For those who missed part 1 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. 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.

Luke has just asked Vincentio to teach him the third ward, the Punta Riversa

V. I have alreadie shewed you of that importance & profit the two former wardes are, as well for exercise of plaie, as for combat & fight, if a man will understand & practise them. Now also perceiving you so desirous to go forward, I will not faile in anie part to make you understand the excellencie of this third warde, which not withstanding is quite cótrarie to the other two. Because that in this you must stand with your feet evé together, as if you were readie to sit down, and your rapier hand must bee within your knee, and your point against the face of your enemie:

(The description of Saviolo’s third ward is quite confusing, even by his own standard. It is clear that the illustration on page 30 is not of this ward. At first I assumed that standing “with your feet evé together, as if you were readie to sit down” meant standing with your feet side by side, both facing forward. This is clearly not a practical fencing stance. An examination of illustrated manuals reveals no ward in any of the manuals from Italian Masters in which the feet are side by side, both facing in one direction. However, the fencers in Girard Thibault’s Academie de l’Espée (1628), a manual of Spanish rapier play, come on guard with both feet side by side and facing in the same direction. This direction is not, however, at the opposing fencer, but rather, at 90 degrees to the left of this direction. The rapier arm is extended towards the opponent and the head is turned to face over the right shoulder (fig.1). If this is indeed the stance that Saviolo intended, it should not come as a surprise to find Spanish technique. Castle in 1884 identified a particular use of the incartata by Saviolo as being a move of Spanish origin (pages 81-82). The author has noted very close similarities between several parts of this interpretation and the interpretation of the Spanish style of Narvaez (whose first manual appeared in 1600) made by Maestro Martinez of New York. A stance similar to this is seen on page 50V at the start of “The Thyrd Dayes Discourse, of Rapier and Dagger.” (Fig.2) The feet are shoulder width apart and are a little splayed, the angle between them being approximately 450. This is the stance considered most likely to be what Saviolo intended.

An alternative placement of the feet may be similar to that shown in plate 15 on p.42 or plate 16 on p.43 of Fabris (1606) (Fig. 3). These two wards are variants of quarta, Fabris’ equivalent to Saviolo’s punta riversa. The right foot is directed at the opponent. The left foot is directed approximately 30 degrees to the left of the right foot and the heel of the left foot is placed directly behind the heel of the right foot. Placing your feet in this position prior to sitting down gives you control, you are able to place yourself into your chair, rather than simply flopping into it. You are also able to maintain an erect body posture, something which is far more important with points and stays than with modern clothing. The body may be bent forward as in Fabris’ illustrations but need not necessarily be so.

While there may be some doubt about the foot placement, there is none about the placement of the weapon. The forearm is held across the body with the palm facing up (quarta position) and the blade is directed at the opponent’s face.)

and if your enemie put himselfe upon the same ward, you may give a stoccata at length betweene his rapier and his arme, which shall bee best performed & reach farthest, if you shift with your foot on the right side.

(Against someone in the same ward you may thrust a stoccata at the right side of the chest by stepping forward and to the left with your right foot i.e. on the right side of your opponent. When the thrust lands, your right foot should be directed towards your opponent, i.e. about 60 degrees to the right. Failure to do this correctly will result in poor point accuracy as your point will tend to go in the direction your foot is pointing. If you are in the correct stance and you direct your right foot correctly your feet should end up at right angles. Note that there is no mention of the weapons being engaged. The techniques described below were tried with and without rapiers engaged and worked better if the start position was with rapiers threatening the opponent’s exposed outside line. Note that Saviolo calls this thrust a stoccata which suggests that it is not the typical angulated thrust in quarta, the punta riversa, that would be done from this ward. The thrust may be with the hand turned into seconda to close the outside line against the opponent.)

Moreover, if you would deliver a long stoccata, and have perceived that your enemie would shrinke awaie, you may, if you list, at that verie instant give it him, or remove with your right foot a little back toward his left side, and bearing backe your bodie, that his point may misse your bellie, you maie presentlie hit him on the brest with your hand or on the face a riverso, or on the legs:

(If you intend to attack with a long stoccata* and your enemy telegraphs his intention to traverse sideways and counterthrust you have two options (note that Saviolo does not explicitly state that your opponent counterthrusts but I have assumed it for two reasons, Firstly, not to counterthrust is to commit a grave error and would be grossly incompetent. The things Saviolo is likely to omit are the most obvious things that he would take as read, of course you counterthrust as you traverse! Secondly, the line in the same paragraph “that his point may miss your bellie” only makes sense as a counterthrust made by your opponent as he traverses.) The first option is to direct your attack where he will be once he has completed his traverse. You may do this because you have observed this reaction to a previous move or you may partially extend, prompting your opponent to make the traverse before altering your line of attack and completing your extension.

The second option is to feint an attack by extending your rapier. Your opponent, believing this feint to be your true attack will traverse. Against a thrust delivered from the Punta Riversa Ward he will inevitably traverse left, probably with his left foot, but possibly with his right. As your opponent traverses left he will drop his point in order that you should run onto it as you complete your attack. As he does this you can step forward and to the right with your right foot. You should also bend at the waist in order to refuse your belly from his point. As you make this move you can deliver one of three attacks. The first “you maie presentlie hit him on the brest with your hand” is difficult. It is hard to see how enough distance can be gained to reach your opponent’s chest with your hand. Alternatively Saviolo may simply be referring to a thrust, probably a straight stoccata. The other two attacks are more easily interpreted. If you turn your hand into seconda you can oppose your opponent’s counterthrust and thrust to his face. Alternately you can do a reverse cut to his right thigh.

* Long Stoccata: This is a term not previously used by Saviolo and may very well refer to a lunge. Compare the term with Giganti’s Stoccata Lunga (1606) thought by some to be the first true description of a lunge in rapier fencing.)

but if your enemie would at that time free his point to give you an imbroccata, you may turn your bodie upon your right knee, so that the said knee bend toward the right side, & shifting with your body a little, keepe your left hand ready upon a soddaine to finde the weapon of your enemie, and by this meanes you may give him a punta riversa a stoccata, or a riversa, to his legs.

(The key to understanding this passage is knowing what Saviolo meant by “at that time”. The two possibilities are that this passage follows directly on from the previous or that Saviolo is referring you back to the start of the initial passage when you are preparing to deliver your long stoccata. I consider the latter to be more likely as the former possibility results in an unwieldy and improbable sequence of fencing moves.

Your enemy frees “his point to give you an imbroccata”as you prepare to deliver your long stoccata. As he is responding to an extended rapier this is probably a similar move to the one described by Saviolo on page 20V (14V) as an “imbroccata in manner of a stoccata”. To recap, the Master’s rapier was extended towards the Scholar. The Scholar took a step to the left with his right foot and then passed forward with his left, dropping his point and thrusting with opposition in seconda. In this move your enemy need not step to the left as his rapier already threatens your inside line. To combat this attack you must pivot your body on your right leg. This pivot must be to the left “so that the said knee bend toward the right side”. As you pivot you must be prepared to beat your opponent’s blade away to the right with your left hand. You should pivot far enough so that you are in line to deliver a punta riversa or a stoccata to any part of your opponent’s body or to deliver a riverso tondo to his right thigh. The last two attacks should be delievred with a cavatione underneath your opponent’s rapier.)

But to perform these maters, you must be nimble of body & much practised: for although a man have the skill, & understand the whole circumstance of this play, yet if he have not taken paines to get an use and readines therein by exercise, (as in all other artes the speculation without practise is imperfect) so in this, when he commeth to performance, hee shall perceive his want, and put his life in hazard and jeopardie

(Go back and re-read that last paragraph, it’s important!).

L. But tell me I pray you, if my enemy should firste strike at me, how may I defend my selfe?

V. If your enemy be first to strike at you, and if at that instant you would make him a passata or remove, it behoveth you to be very ready with your feet and hand, and beeing to passe or enter, you muste take heede when hee offereth a stoccata, that you doo not put it aside with your weapon, because if hee should finde you in good time and measure, you could not so readilye put it by, as hee should be readye to give it you.

(If you are in the Punta Riversa Ward and your opponent thrusts at the right side of your chest with a stoccata you may be tempted to break the point aside with your rapier. If you attempt to do so your opponent will be able to pass his point underneath your parry with a cavatione and complete his thrust, striking you in the chest on a slope pace forward and left. Your opponent will keep his hand in quarta throughout, providing opposition.)

But when that hee offereth the saide stoccata, be readye to turne the knuckle of your hand toward your right side, and let your point be right upon the bellie of your enemie, and let your left foote accompanie it in such sorte, that the pointe thereof be against the right foot of your enemie, and let your right foot follow the left, that the middest thereof be straight against the heele of your left, the one being distant from the other, halfe a pace, that you may stand more sure upon your feete, and be more redy to perform al things which shal be required.

(If you are in the Punta Riversa Ward and your opponent thrusts a stoccata at the right side of your chest you should pass forward and left with your left foot, your foot traversing through an arc of approximately 225 degrees (i.e. ending up facing 45 degrees to the right of your original line, with your left foot leading). This circular pass should take you well to the left. If it is too linear then you risk being struck as you close distance. The left hand should be in position to parry any thrust below the rapier out to your right side.

You should then step forward and left with your right foot, placing it half a pace behind your left. This will take your chest out of the line of attack. Simultaneously, you should turn your rapier hand into seconda and strike him in the belly, preferably by closing the line and creating opposition against your opponent’s blade. This in fact has the effect of parrying your opponent’s attack. The seconda ward formed should either have the hilt high and point low or vice versa. Forming a ward with the blade horizontal greatly increases the vulnerability to the parry being deceived by a cavatione. Where this technique differs from “put(ting) it aside with your weapon” (see the first part of the same paragraph) is that in the second alternative you move to the left, rather than your rapier moving to the right.)

L. But tell me I praie you, whether this warde may serve me to any other purpose, then for this stoccata

V. If you minde to deliver a stoccata like to the before mentioned, you must win ground with your right foot, toward the right side of your enemie, and as you finde the time and measure, give him a stoccata either in the belly or in the face, and if your enemie shrink at that time that you deliver your stoccata, it stands upon you to be most readye and nimble, shifting with your bodie and weapon, and somewhat with your right foote, a little aside towards the right side of your enemie, turning readilie your bodie and knee upon your right side, so that your enemie himselfe shal come with his bodie upon your pointe, and the more furious he commeth, the greater danger shall he incurre, because he cannot helpe nor recover himselfe. But remember to thrust alwaies at the face, if you may, for therby you shall better save your selfe, and have the greater advantage.

(Just as from the Low Ward you moved forward and to the right as you delivered a stoccata, so from the Punta Riversa Ward you should move forward and to the left to deliver a stoccata or a punta riversa to the right side of your opponent’s body or face. Step forward and to the left with your right foot, thrusting a stoccata at your enemy’s belly or face. Your opponent will counter by traversing left with the left foot (which will make his body shrink a little away from you) and counterthrusting to the face in seconda to create opposition. You shall counter this by traversing circularly forward and to the left with your left foot and counterthrusting to your opponent’s face as he counterthrusts at you. You may add a half or full incartata after the circular pass.)

Moreover, if your enemie should make a false proffer, or deliver a little stoccata, to the ende to procure you to answere him, that presently hee might make you a passata or remove, if you be in good proportion and measure, if he thrust at you, answere him, and if you will you may give it him full and home, or somewhat scant and with great agilitie, whilest he maketh his passata or remove, turn readie your bodie with your knee, but yet upon the right side, and take heede you shift not with your feete at this time, but onelie turne your bodie, as I have tolde you, otherwise you should be in danger of your life, how little soever you shrincke backe: and therefore I advise you to beware that you goe not beyonde that which I have taught you.

(Your opponent may try to tempt you into a counterthrust in two ways. Firstly he may make a “false proffer”, an extension of the blade not accompanied by a step forward. Secondly he can “deliver a little stoccata”, or in other words a thrust accompanied by a step forward but delivered in such a way as to deliberately fall short. In both cases the threatened target must be the exposed outside line. If your enemy delivers “a little stoccata” you should counterthrust vigorously in seconda with opposition, stepping forward to do so if need be. If your enemy makes a “false proffer” then you must make your own “false proffer” extending your blade and thrusting “somewhat scant and with great agilitie”. Your enemy believing your thrust to be a true counterthrust will pass forward and to the left. You may counter this by turning your body to the right, sharply drawing back your rapier arm in seconda so that your enemy will run onto your point.)

Moreover, if you can win ground on the right side of your enemie, and become master of his sword, you need not thrust a stoccata, but rather passe on him with your point above his sword, turning wel your hand as in an imbroccata, or else give him a stoccata by a sincture, under his swoord hand, which is sooner done, remembring to passe forward with your left foot toward his right, and so let your right foot follow your left:

(Saviolo turns the tables here, telling you how to correctly perform the attack planned and poorly executed by your opponent in the previous passage. You should win ground on your enemy’s right, that is you should traverse left, opening the outside line of your opponent to attack (and yours if you maintain your ward). You must also “become master of his sword”, i.e. control it. There are two techniques described here and you become master of his sword in a different fashion depending on which technique you use. In the first option you must control your opponent’s sword before you make any forward motion with the feet. This rules out a gripping of the hilt such as described previously. In order to control your opponent’s blade at normal fencing distance you must do it with your own blade. The most obvious method is to extend your rapier in seconda, engaging, or at least closing the line against your opponent’s blade which is still in the punta riversa ward. Once you have done this you can safely pass forward, striking your opponent in the chest or face with an imbroccata while maintaining opposition. This option seems best suited to a situation where your point commenced to the left of your opponent’s, that is, you were neither engaged nor closing the line against eachother.

The second option is “a stoccata by a sincture”. The word sincture means encirclement so I believe this to be a special form of cavatione in which your blade is circled underneath your opponent’s, raised on the opposite side and the opponent’s blade is engaged in the opposite line to that which your blade was originally in. In this case your “stoccata by a sincture” must make you “master of his sword”. The footwork accompanied by this move is a pass forward and to the left with your left foot followed by a half-incartata with your right foot, the traverses suggesting that you will be threatened in the outside line, if only momentarily, while performing this technique. Your sincture must either be from inside to outside or the reverse. Given the footwork, the former is logically what is intended by Saviolo. This implies that you commence the technique either engaged in punta riversa ward or at least with you and your opponent closing the inside line against eachother. After winning ground to the left you circle your blade under your opponent’s (“under his sword hand”), engaging him in seconda, closing the outside line and simultaneously thrusting a stoccata to his face or chest. Note that this thrust is a stoccata because it rises slightly, as opposed to the previous thrust which is angled slightly downwards. As you perform this sincture and thrust you pass forward and left with the left foot, followed by a half-incartata with the right foot. On the pass the left foot should be turned inwards so that it is facing towards your opponent and your right foot should be brought in behind your left in its new orientation.)

but beware in any case that you never passe directly upon your enemy, for endangering your life.

(Never pass straight forward towards your opponent’s point)

If your adversary thrust directly to your face within measure, answer him with a stoccata, in the same time that he lifteth up his hande, but if you bee out of distance, answere not, for then you put your selfe in danger.

(If your opponent is in distance and thrusts you must immediately counterthrust. Alternatively, if your opponent thrusts at you from out of distance, he is probably trying to draw a counterattack. Do not oblige him) And when your enemie offereth a stramazone or back blowe, receive it on your sword very readilie, turning your pointe, and passing speedly with your left legge, as before taught:

(If you are both in the punta riversa ward your opponent may be tempted to cut at the right side of your face with a stramazone. You should pass circularly forward with the left leg, turning your hand into seconda and counterthrusting with opposition. Bracing the blade with the left hand is useful if the blow is powerful.)

but if he make a punta riversa, breake it with your lefte hand toward your right side, and give him another: (If you are both in the punta riversa ward and your opponent thrusts a punta riversa at you then you should parry it to the right with your left hand and give him a punta riversa in return, simultaneously traversing left with either the left or right foot)

and if he use any sincture or false thrust, answer him not. Now if your enemie hold his sword out at length, and you perceive his point to be anie whit without your bodie, especiallie on the left side, you must charge him, being readie with your lefte hand

(If you are both in the punta riversa ward but your opponent has his point extended and off line to your left then you should step or pass forward as quickly as possible, parrying his rapier with your hand, barrachet wise and doing whatever attack seems best)

so that finding his point any whit high, you shal falsefie with your sword hand under his Swoorde, passing forward with your lefte foote in the same instant, still following your enemie without retiring, for so you shall be commaunder of his Swoord, and may use him at your pleasure: but remember to be very redy, for you must make but on time, & take good heed that you stand not stil in doing this, for so, if your adversary have any skil, he may greatly annoye you, either with thrustes or blowes. And oftentimes your enemy will give such advantage of purpose to have you passe on him: therefore you must well understand what you doo. (If you are both in the punta riversa ward and your opponent’s point is off line over your head you should pass your point under his with a cavatione and do a circular pass forward with the left leg, thrusting at him in seconda with opposition. The opposition must be in place before coming into distance or you risk being thrust in the face)

L. I praie you is this all the use of that ward?

V. When you perfectlie understand your weapons, it maie serve you otherwise, so that you hold not your swoord hand within your knee, for if you finde your enemie to beare his swoord long, being in distance, you maie sodenlie beat it aside with your swoord, and withall give him a stoccata in the bellie, which must bee done all in one time, speedilie turning your bodie on the right side, or else retyring with your right foote toward the right side of your enemie:

(If your opponent is in the extended low ward while he is in distance and you are in the punta riversa ward you may beat his rapier aside with yours, simultaneously striking him with a thrust in seconda or terza. This should be accompanied by a circular pass forward and to the left.)

otherwise, if you stand upon it, as manie doo, you might much endanger your selfe thereby, for if your adversarie being furious, should passe on you in the same time, hee might put your life in jeopardie:

(If you are in the punta riversa ward and your opponent is in the extended low ward he may pass forward, thrusting at you with opposition in seconda or terza.)

but by the agilitie of the bodie, it is easilie to be avoided: and againe, when you finde his point long, you maie breake it aside with your swoorde, and give him a Stramazone, or a riversa to the head,

(If your opponent is in the extended low ward and you are in the punta riversa ward you may step forward, turning your hand into seconda and cutting with a stramazone or a full riversa to the head. The hand should be held well to the right so that the cut simultaneously beats aside your opponent’s, creating opposition.)

but with readines of the bodie, or you maie thrust a stoccata, either to the bellie or face: and if your enemie offer to breake it with his swoorde, and if he breake it above, falsefie againe underneath his swoorde, or if you be readie with foote and bodie, you maie passe on him whilste he breaketh your fincture with his sword, fastning your left hand on the hiltes of his swoord, and you maie give him a stoccata, either direct, or with a rinersa: but looke that you laie not holde of his arme, for if your enemie perceive it, hee maie change his Rapier sodainly into his other hand, & so have you at a great advantage, & therfore I teach you to laie hold on the hilts, because you have then commanded his sword surely:

(Alternatively you can turn your hand into terza and thrust a stoccata at either his belly or face. If he attempts to parry you in the high line you should perform a cavatione under his parry and continue the attack – if you thrust low and he attempts to parry you in the low line you can cut over and continue the attack. Alternatively you may allow him to parry your rapier and while your blades are crossed, pass forward with the left leg and grab his hilt. You may then thrust him with a stoccata or a punta riversa.)

and if your enemie finding your point out at length, would beat it aside with his rapier, to passe uppon you, retire your lefte foote a little backward, and with greate promptnesse in the same instant, falsifie with a riversa either to the face or bellye, of which kinde of thrusts you shall often have use, but you must be verie readie and well practised therein therefore you must labour it, that when occasion require you may performe it.

(If your point is outstretched and your opponent tries to beat it aside with his rapier so he can pass forward you should step backwards with your left foot, retiring your body away from his thrust. You should perform a cavatione under his rapier with yours (a false), striking your opponent with a punta riversa in the face or belly.)

This is the end of Saviolo’s discussion of the single rapier. In the concluding article of this series I will examine the general principles of Saviolo’s system of fencing and compare them with those of other prominent rapier fencing masters.


  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. Brogna
  6. Saviolo, Vincentio. 1595. His Practise. In Two Bookes, London
  7. Silver, George. Unpublished. Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of Defence. in Mathey, Col. Cyril G. R.(ed.), 1898. Works of George Silver, London

Hammerterz Forum Collected is available for purchase. It is a 8x10 inches, and cerlox bound manuscript. It is 364 pages covering the Summer of 1994 to the Fall of 1999, the complete print run. Click "here" for more details.
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
August 2003

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