The Practical Saviolo - Part 5

Journal of Western Martial Art
October 2003

by Stephen Hand

Editor's note: This article was originally published in the Hammerterz Forum, August 15, 1999, Vol. 5 No. 2 & 3 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 fifth and last 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.

The Fourth Dayes
Discourse, of single Rapier.

Entreating how a lefte handed man, shall plaie with one that is right handed.

Luke. After your departure yesterdaie in the after-noone, I was in an honorable place, wher upon occasion of some ielousie of love of certaine gentlewomen two gentlemen of the companie fell at words, and from words to deeds, but they were not suffered at that time to proceede to any further action, nevertheles they gave their faithes the next morning to trie it with their weapons. And so accordinglie they met, and bravely perfourmed their combate: in the execution whereof I tooke great pleasure to be a beholder, not that I had anie delight to see them kill one another, but for another cause, (and that was) to see by experience the truth of that which I have heard manie affirme: and seeing there is so good an opportunity offered, I will entreat you, having troubled you in a great matter, that you will assoyle me certaine doubtes, which I shall demaund of you, and make me rightly understand them, whereby I shall remaine greatly bound unto you.

V. I praie you tell me, what were these gentlemen which fought, and whether anie of them be hurt: after, be bolde to declare to me your doubtes, and I will not faile to resolve you the best I can.

L. Sir, I doubt not of your curtesie, which I have found you alwaies willing to shewe to everie man, but cheefely to your freends: but to tell you the truth, I have forgot the gentlemens names, but this I can well saie, that in the handling of their weapons they behaved themselves very manfullie, neither of them receiving any wound, for they were both very quicke with the rapier to offend, and with their daggers to defend: but the greatest reason that hath led me to be present there, was to see how well they managed their weapons, one of them being right handed, and the other left handed: because I know many of opinion, that the left handed have great advantage of the right, yet I see both doe their uttermost this morning, without any hurt of either partie, and in beholding both the one and the other diligently I could not discerne anie iot of advantage betweene them: therefore you shall doe me great favour, if you discourse unto me, whether the left hand can have any advantage of the right, or the right of the lefte: withall instructing me, both how to defende my selfe from such a one, and how to offend him.

V. Of this question, I have heard many times much reasoning, and many there are indeede which so think, but beleeve me, the left hand hath no advantage of the right hand, nor the right, of the lefte no otherwise than you your selfe finde your owne advantage.

L. Tell me therfore, if you would teach a left hand, how would yon begin?

V. I would teach him first with the single rapier, making him to stand with his left foote forwardes, and that his heele should be right against the middle part of his right foote, & I would put my selfe with my right foot forward, as I told you before concerning the single rapier, & I would that the scholler should hold his sword out at length, that the point thereof bee directlie at my face, and that he holde his swoord hand, as it were in a line, from his bodie, & outwards of my sword towards my right side, passing withal with his left foot towards my left side, putting his rapier under mine, and to give me an imbroccata in the belly, by turning the knuckle of his hand downwards towards his left side.

The left handed scholar is to stand with his rapier-side foot forward. A line through his left foot should pass through the middle of his right foot. Based on previous wards we can assume that the feet are shoulder width apart and at or near right angles, though forming a T rather than an L. The Master stands with his right foot forward. He does not state which ward he adopts, except to say "as I told you before concerning the single rapier". It is assumed that he is in either the short or extended low wards. The Scholar's rapier should be outside the Master's, that is to the left from the Scholar's perspective. The point should be directed at the Master's face and the left hand should be in line with the body. This may mean that the rapier is being held with the hand in quarta, forearm across the body, closing the line against the right hander. This interpretation is reinforced by events which follow.

Saviolo now uses the word passing to refer to a movement by the Scholar of his left foot. The only way the Scholar could pass in the literal sense with his left foot towards the Master's left side is to drop his foot back and to the right. This makes no sense, so it is assumed that the use of the word passing is merely a lazy turn of phrase and Saviolo intends the Scholar simply to step forward and right with his left foot. The Scholar circles his rapier under the Master's with a cavatione and thrusts an imbroccata at the Master's belly. He does this by "turning the knuckle of his hand downwards towards his left side". Saviolo mentions the knuckles once before on p.21R (15R) "in giving the sayde riversa or crosse blowe, let the scholler skilfully turne his Rapier hand, that the knuckle or joynt may be toward the head of the teacher, for otherwise he may give him a slicing or cutting blow, which we call Stramazone:". This passage has been interpreted to mean that the hand is being turned into seconda to close the line against a possible stramazone countercut. In this case then, it would appear that by "the knuckle" Saviolo means the middle knuckle. Carrying this over to the technique at hand, the knuckle is moved downward and towards the Scholar's left side. If the Scholar's hand is initially in terza any turning of the hand will move the knuckle up. Alternatively, if the hand is in quarta as suggested above, the hand can be turned down and to the left, rotating into seconda. As opposition is achieved the hand can be moved up and to the left to maintain opposition.

V. {should be "L") It seemeth that you doo all contrarie to the right hand, because in teaching the right hand, hee useth the stoccata, but the left hand, you make him to begin with the imbroccata. But what will you doo to defend your selfe in the meane time?

V. will avoide somewhat with my body, and with my hand beate downe his imbroccata without my left side, and carrying my right foot after my left foot, give him a riversa at the head.

The Master should use the same defence discussed on page 15R (9R). For a detailed discussion of that, refer to the first section of this analysis. The right foot should be passed back behind the left and the hand raised into an Open Ward. Simultaneously, the Scholar's rapier should be broken down and to the left with the left hand. This is the opposite direction to the hand break in the earlier section. Presumably it is done to place the Scholar in the same relative position as the right-handed Scholar in the earlier variant. In either case the rapier is beaten towards the attacker's inside line. The Master will then pass forward striking a riversa (fendente or squalambrato) at the Scholar's head.

L. What shal the scholler doo in his defence, both to hurt you and save himselfe?

V. He shal doo quite contrarie unto him that is right handed, because the right hand, when I offer him a riversa at the head, passeth with the left foote, and giveth me the imbroccata under my rapier, but the left hande, whilest I go backe with my right foot, and that I lift my rapier to give him the riversa, he swiftly passeth with his right foot before his left, and giveth me a stoccata, lifting his hand from behinde:

In the equivalent technique involving two right-handed fencers the right-handed Scholar passes forward with the left foot, catching the descending wrist and delivering an imbroccata under the Master's (still raised) rapier. The left-handed scholar, "quite contrarie" will thrust a stoccata while passing forward. The phrase "lifting his hand from behinde" could refer to either hand. The right hand will be behind the left at the start of the pass so the intention could be that the Scholar bring his right hand forward and catch the Master's wrist as the riversa descends. However, with two right-handers the left hand catches the right wrist which is directly in front of it. A left-hander attempting to catch the right wrist with the right hand will have to reach across his body and consequently will not be able to reach as far. Therefore the left-handed Scholar will have to be closer to the Master for the technique to be successful. When attempted, it was found that not enough distance could be gained with a single pass to successfully complete the grip. Therefore it is presumed that this is not what Saviolo meant by the phrase "lifting his hand from behinde".

At the end of a pass forward to a right-leg forward stance the Scholar's left hand will be behind the body so the intention of "lifting his hand from behinde" may be for the Scholar to lift his left hand. A riversa to a left-hander is equivalent to a mandritta to a right-hander and on pages 15V-16R (9V-10R) Saviolo describes a defence by a right-hander against a mandritta which involves lifting his hand, " the same time that the maister shall give the saide mandritta, the scholler shall doo nothing else but turne the pointe of his foote toward the bodye of his maister, and let the middest of his left foote directly respect the heele of the right and let him turn his body upon the right side, but let it rest and staye upon the lefte, and in the same time let him turne the Rapier hand outward in the stoccata or thrust, as I have given you to understand before, that the point be toward the bellye of his maister, and let him lifte up his hand and take good heede that hee come not forward in delivering the saide stoccata, which is halfe an incartata, for how little forever hee should come forward, he would put himselfe in danger of his life".

The hand is raised and turned into quarta providing opposition to the riversa. Despite being performed with the hand in quarta, the thrust is a stoccata because it is in the inside line. Saviolo clearly subscribes to Dall Agocchie's definition of the stoccata and the Punta Riversa that the former is the thrust under the hand and the latter the thrust from the left (Giovanni Dall'Agocchie, Dell'Arte Discrimia Libri Tre, 1572, p8V). The anonymous author of Pallas Armata (1639) stated it more categorically "The Quarte is for the most part used at the inside of the Rapier, yet sometimes without over the right arme, and then the Quarte is called Riversa, as having changed her nature and propertie, because shee onely ought to be used within" (p13) .

Two footwork variants were found to be practical. A straight pass forward better fits the text but carries the body directly towards the attack, interposing it somewhat between the two blades. This makes the thrust with opposition difficult, as the arm position is cramped. What was found to be extremely practical was a counterthrust with a full incartata. The incartata carries the body away from the incoming attack and consequently the arm position for the counterthrust is far more natural. Technically speaking a full incartata is a form of pass, with the rear foot moving forward past the front foot and thus matches Saviolo's description. However, at no other time does Saviolo refer to an incartata in this manner. Therefore, even allowing for Saviolo's flexible use of terminology in places, there must be some doubt as to the precise footwork he intended to accompany the raising of the hand into quarta.

& so in the passataes which he shall make, standing with his left foote forward, and passing with his right foot to strike his enemie, whereas the right hand passeth with his left foot when he giveth a stoccata to his enemie, the left hand cleane contrarie, in passing gives the imbroccata to his enemie: & wheras the right hand shall give the imbroccata, the left hand quite contrarie shal give the stoccata, and that which I saie, is for the left handes instruction against the right.

Saviolo gives a general rule here. In any instance where a right-hander would pass forward with his left foot and thrust a stoccata a left-hander should pass forward with his right foot and thrust an imbroccata. In any instance where a right-hander would pass forward with his left foot and thrust an imbroccata a left-hander should pass forward with his right foot and thrust a stoccata.

But noew I will speake no further of this warde, for so much as no other thing foloweth but that which I have told you alreadie concerning the first warde of the single rapier, and I will declare unto you the warde of the rapier and dagger, both to instruct the lefte handed how to deale against the right hand, and how the right hand ought to behave himselfe against the lefte hande, which shall be our next discourse. And for this time I praie you pardon me, having occasion to go a little way hence, to take up a matter betweene two of my friends, upon certaine differences happened betweene them, & by and by we will meet againe.

" other thing foloweth but that which I have told you alreadie concerning the first warde of the single rapier,..." In other words all the other techniques previously described are unchanged for a fight between left and right handers. Whether or not this is true is unknown without practicing each technique, but we can assume that at very least the majority of techniques are unaltered by the presence of a left-hander.

This concludes this series on Saviolo.


  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

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

The Stoccata School of Defence, URL =

Journal of Western Martial Art
October 2003

EJMAS  Copyright © 2003 All Rights Reserved