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Stephen Hand is one of the instructors 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. A condensed
version of this series has appeared in Hammerterz
School of Defence
c/o Stephen Hand
27 Keats Street
This is the first in a series of annotated sections
of Vincentio Saviolo's His Practise. In Two Bookes., a rapier fencing
manual published in England in 1595 and the first such work actually written
in that country (albeit by a foreigner). The annotated instructions are my
interpretation of Saviolo's sometimes rather obtuse descriptions. 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 and Chris Amberger, Editor and Publisher
of Hammerterz Forum, who published the original version of this
It is strongly suggested that anyone attempting to reconstruct rapier play
read Egerton Castle's 'Schools and Masters of Fence: From the Middle Ages
to the 18th Century' in order to get a basic understanding of the rudiments
of rapier play. Despite being over a century old I believe Castle is still
the best historical overview of rapier fencing ever written.
The following glossary of technical terms include those used by Saviolo and
some other contemporary terms considered useful in describing Saviolo's actions.
In many cases more detailed descriptions are to be found in the body of the
text. In all cases the meaning of the term is that used by Saviolo. In some
cases this is at variance with other 16th and 17th century rapier fencing
a circular disengage under the opponent's blade
a rising or straight attack under the opponent's rapier
a downward thrust over the opponent's rapier. In preparation for an Imbroccata
the arm is held vertically with the palm to the right and the rapier angled
down at the opponent's face
An English term used by Saviolo as synonymous with Imbroccata
an angulated attack to the opponents right, normally delivered from a position
similar to modern Quarte
a forehand cut, i.e. from right to left (assuming a right handed fencer)
a backhand cut, i.e. from left to right
a vertical cut straight down
a cut angled downward at 45 degrees
a horizontal cut
a rising cut with the true edge, either angled or straight up (usage differs
slightly from manual to manual)
a slicing cut with the tip of the rapier
Saviolo uses two variants of the Low ward, neither of which he names. The
first one described I have christened the Extended Low Ward. The fencers'
hold the sword arm almost straight angled forwards at around 45 degrees,
palm to the left with their points directed at their opponent's face. In
the second variant of the Low Ward the arm is almost straight, hand by the
right leg with the point directed at the opponent's face.
The sword arm is held vertically upward with the palm to the right and the
rapier point directed down at the opponent's face. The High Ward is not used
by Saviolo on any occasion as an initial ward.
The sword arm is held vertically upward with the palm to the left and the
rapier either held vertically upwards or angled slightly back. The Open ward
is not used by Saviolo on any occasion as an initial ward.
Punta Riversa Ward
The sword arm is held across the body with the palm upwards
A step forward and to the right with the left foot so that the heel ends
up pointing at the target.
A step to the right with the left foot to remove the body from the line of
attack. It can also refer to a step forward and to the right with the left
foot, made immediately after a fencer has lunged. In this way the fencer
can recover forwards while simultaneously voiding his body away from the
Another name for the High Ward. Prima also refers to the hand position adopted
in the High Ward (knuckles up, palm to the right) and it is in that sense
that the word will be used in this series of articles.
Another name for the Broad Ward as used by many masters but not mentioned
by Saviolo. Seconda also refers to the hand position adopted in the Broad
Ward(knuckles to the right, palm down) and it is in that sense that the word
will be used in this series of articles.
Another name for the Low Ward. Seconda also refers to the hand position adopted
in the Low Ward (knuckles down, palm to the left) and it is in that sense
that the word will be used in this series of articles.
Another name for the Punta Riversa Ward. Quarta also refers to the hand position
adopted in the Punta Riversa Ward (knuckles to the left, palm up) and it
is in that sense that the word will be used in this series of articles.
A defence made simultaneously with a counterattack.
A defence followed by a counterattack.
Saviolo's manual is written in the form of a dialogue between the Master,
Vincentio and his prospective Scholar, Luke. We pick up as Luke has just
finished asking Vincentio to begin teaching him.
|V. That which I have promised you I will now performe, therefore
I say, that when a teacher will begin to make a Scholler, (as for me I will
begin with the single Rapier, and at this weapon will firste enter you, to
the end you maye frame your hand, your foote, and your body, all which partes
must goe together, and unlesse you can stirre and move all these together,
you shall never be able to performe any great matter, but with great danger)
I come therefore to the point and say, that when the teacher will enter his
scholler, he shal cause him to stand upon this ward, which is very good to
bee taught for framing the foote, the hand, and the body: so the teacher
shall deliver the Rapier into his hand, and shall cause him to stand with
his right foote formost, with his knee somewhat bowing, but that his body
rest more upon the lefte legge, not stedfast and firme as some stand, which
seeme to be nayled to the place, but with a readines and nimblenes, as though
he were to perform some feate of activitie, and in this sorte let them stand
both to strike and to defend themselves. Now when the maister hath placed
his scholler in this sorte, and that the scholler hath received his Rapier
into his hand, let him make his hand free and at lyberty, not by force of
the arme, but by the nimble and ready moving of the joynt of the wriste of
the hand, so that his hand be free and at libertie from his body, and that
the ward of his hand be directlye against his right knee, and let the teacher
also put himselfe in the same ward, and holde his Rapier against the middest
of his schollers Rapier, so that the point be directly against the face of
his scholler, and likewise his schollers against his, and let their feete
be right one against another, then shall the maister begin to teach him,
moving his right foot somewhat on the right side in circle wise, putting
the point of his Rapier under his schollers Rapier, and so giving him a thrust
in the belly.
||The first ward is similar to Di Grassi's low ward (Di Grassi,
p.20) and the first variant of Fabris' terza ward (Fabris, plate 9, p. 36,
and incidentally a stance which Fabris includes so that he can point out
its weaknesses). The right leg is forward, the weight is on the back leg.
The knees are slightly bent. The arm is held almost straight at approximately
a 45 degree angle out from the body and the hand is held low with the point
at the opponent's face. The two combatants rapiers are crossed at the middle
of the blade. Unlike some later texts the rapiers are flat to flat rather
than edge to edge. It is also not clear whether the blades are actually engaged
and Saviolo makes no mention of engaging the opponent's blade. The fencers'
right feet are in line with one another. This ward shall henceforward be
referred to as the extended low ward. The Master commences with a cavatione,
a circular disengage under the Scholar's blade, simultaneously traversing
to the right and lunging forward to strike his scholar in the belly.
|L. And what then must the scholler doo?
V. At the selfesame time the scholler must remove with like measure or
counter-time with his right foote a little aside, and let the left foote
follow the right, turning a little his bodye on the right side, thrusting
with the point of his Rapier at the belly of his teacher, turning readily
his hand that the fingers be inward toward the body, and the joint of the
wrist shall be outward. In this sorte the saide scholler shall learne to
strike and not be stricken, as I alwaies advise the noble-men and gentlemen
whit whome I have to deale, that if they cannot hit or hurt their enemy,
that they learn to defend them selves that they be not hurt. Then to make
the scholler more ready, the teacher shall cause his scholler firste to part,
wherefore he shall remove with his right foot on the right side a little
in circle wise as the maister did before to the scholler.
|The Scholar takes a small step to the right with his right
foot immediately followed by a larger step to the right with his left foot
so that his right foot is pointing directly at the Master. As he traverses
away from the scholar's attack he should thrust a stoccata (a rising or,
as in this case, straight attack under the opponent's rapier) at his Masters
belly. The Scholar, having learnt the first method of avoiding a stoccata
will now attack as his Master did before, with a step to the right and a
stoccata to the Master's belly.
|L. What then must the maister or teacher doo?
V. At the same time that the scholler removeth his foote, the teacher shall
play a little with stirring of his body, and with his lefte hand shall beat
away his schollers rapier from his right side, and shall remove his right
foot behinde his left striking a crosse blow at the head.
|The Master shall pass backwards, beating the Scholar's rapier
away to his right with his left hand. He then strikes a riverso squalambrato
- a backhand cut to the right side of the Scholar's head. There is no mention
of the master passing forward again as he strikes. A literal reading of the
passage could suggest that the countercut was done on the reverse pass in
single time. However, in reconstructions it is apparent that this is not
possible as the countercut will fall short. The cut must therefore be made
in double time. The next passage reinforces this view as the Scholar's counter
to this cut involves a second forward pass. There is no way this could be
done in time unless the Master's countercut was delivered in double time.
The countercut is made on a forward pass which immediately follows the rearward
pass. The Master will therefore end up back in his initial right leg forward
|L. And the scholler what shall he doo?
V. When I remove with my foote and lifte up my hand, let the scholler passe
with his lefte foote where his right was, and withall let him turne his hand,
and not loose the opportunity of this blow, which must be a foyne in the
manner of a thrust under his Rapier, and let him lifte up his hand with his
ward that he be garded and lie not open, meeting with his left hand the rapier
of his teacher, and let him not beat aside the blow with his Rapier for hee
endangereth the point and bringes his life in hazard, because he loseth the
point: But I wil goe forward. At the selfesame time that the scholler goes
back, the maister shall play a little, and shifting his body shall breake
the same imbroccata or foyne outward from the lefte side, removing with his
left foote, which must be carried behinde the right, and withall shall give
a mandritta at the head of his scholler, at which time the scholler must
remove with his right foote, following with his lefte, and let him turne
his Rapier hand as I have saide, and that the scholler observe the same time
in going backe as the teacher shall, to the end that his point maye be toward
the bellye of his maister, and let him lifte up his other hand with his ward
on high, that he be not stricken on the face with the mandritta, or in the
belly with the thrust or stoccata. Wherefore at the selfesame time that the
scholler shall deliver the foresaide stoccata to the teacher, the teacher
shall yeelde and shrinke with his bodye, and beate the stoccata outwards
on the lefte side, and shall bring his right foot a little aside in circle
wise upon the right side, & shall give an imbroccata to the face of his
scholler, at which time the saide scholler shal go backe with his right foote
a little aside with the same measure, and shall beate aside the imbroccata
of his maister with his left hand outward from the left side, and withall
shall deliver the like imbroccata of countertime to the teacher, but onlye
to the face, and then the maister shall goe backe with his right foote toward
the left side of his scholler, in breaking with his lefte hand the saide
imbroccata outward from the lefte side, and shall strike a downe right blowe
to his head, because that by beating aside his foyne with his hand, he shall
finde him naked and without garde.
|As soon as the Master passes back and raises his hand (presumably
into the open ward - the rapier held vertically above the head - as described
by Silver (p.87) or the De Guardia alta as described by Marozzo (p.40)) in
preparation to strike, the Scholar shall pass forward with his left leg,
catching the Master's wrist before the blow can descend. He then passes forward
with his right leg delivering a foyne or imbroccata (a downward thrust, normally
over the opponent's rapier, in this case obviously below it). The imbroccata
is no doubt chosen over the stoccata in order to provide a second layer of
protection to the head should the left hand fail to grasp the Master's wrist.
Saviolo states that the Scholar goes back. This is not to be interpreted
literally (which in any case would be at odds with Saviolo's description
of the move as a forward pass). Rather, as pointed out to me by Julian Clark,
it refers to the scholar going back "over the same ground". Saviolo is referring
us back to the description of the forward pass which he made at the start
of the first sentence.
The Master breaks the imbroccata out to his left with his left hand and at
the same time he performs a half incartata. That is he traverses right with
his left foot, taking his body out of the line of attack. Simultaneously
he launches a mandritta, a cut from right to left, at the head of the Scholar
(probably a squalambrato, a cut angled downwards, but possibly a fendente,
a vertically downward cut). The Scholar steps to the right with his right
foot, and again with his left and raises his rapier into a high ward, protecting
himself from the cut. He then turns his hand down and deliver a stoccata
to the belly of the Master.
The Master beats the stoccata away to his left side with his left hand, steps
to the right with his right foot and thrusts an imbroccata at the Scholar's
face. The Scholar passes back, moving his right foot back and to the right
rather than straight back. The Scholar then passes forward and thrusts the
same imbroccata at the Master's face. The Master passes back and to his right
(the Scholar's left) breaking the imbroccata to the left with his hand. The
Master passes forward again, this time cutting at the Scholar's head with
a mandritta squalambrato. Because the Scholar has been parried away to the
Master's left he would be able to raise his blade to block a fendente but
is open to the squalambrato or the tondo (a horizontal cut).
|L. And what then, cannot the Scholler defend him selfe?
V. Yes very easilye with a readie dexteritie or nimblenes, for at 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: and beleeve me,
every man which shall not understand these measures and principles, incurres
the danger of his life: and who so despiseth these grounds which are necessarye
as well for the schoole as the combat, it may bee to his confusion &
dishonour, and losse of his life: wherefore everye one which makes profession
of this art, should seek to learn them and understand them.
|The scholar turns his right foot to the left so that it faces
the master and traverses right with his left foot so that the middle of his
foot is behind the heel of his right foot and his weight is on his left leg.
He then delivers a counterthrust with opposition to the master. The scholar
raises his hand and brings it diagonally across his body to the left so that
it is slightly above head level with the palm upwards (i.e. a punta riversa).
The point will slope downwards towards the master's belly. The scholar
simultaneously parries and counterthrusts. It is important that the scholar
should not step forward in delivering his counterthrust as doing so may take
him inside the arc of the master's cut and leave him unguarded. This is the
end of the first major sequence.
|L. For this matter I am fullye satisfied, wherefore I praye
you proceed to teach me that which remaineth to be taught for this ward.
V. When the maister will make his scholler readye, hee shall practise him
to be the first in going backe, by removing his right foote a little aside
in circle wise, as before his maister did to him, and let him with great
readines thrust his Rapier under his teachers, and give him a thrust or stoccata
in the belly.
|The Scholar should disengage with a cavatione, simultaneously
stepping forward and to the right with his right foot and thrusting a stoccata
at the Master's belly.
|L. What then shall the teacher doo?
V. He shall shift his body a little, and shall beate the stoccata or thrust
outward from the right side, and shal remove with his right foote, which
must bee conveied behinde the lefte, and shall strike a rinversa at his schollers
head, as before: and further, to the end his scholler may have judgement
to knowe what fight meanes, with measure and time, hee shall teach him to
give a mandritta, and to know when the time serveth for it.
|Simultaneously the Master shall pass backwards, beating the
stoccata away from his right side with his left hand and raising his hand
into the open ward. He shall pass forward striking a riverso squalambrato
at the head of the Scholar. This is the end of the second sequence)
|L. What I pray you, cannot every one of himselfe without
teaching give a mandritta?
V. Yes, every man can strike, but everye man hath not the skill to strike,
especiallye with measure, and to make it cutte: and heereupon you shall see
manye which oftentimes will strike and hitte with the flatte of their Rapier,
without hurting our wounding the adversarye: and likewise many, when they
would strike a downe-right blowe, will goe forward more then measure, and
so cause themselves to be slaine. Wherefore I saye, when the maister and
scholler shall stand upon this ward, and that the point of the schollers
weapon shall be against the face of the teacher, and the pointe of the teachers
weapon nigh to the ward of the schollers Rapier, and that it be stretched
out, the scholler shall remove with his right foot a little aside in circle
wise, and with the inside of his left hand barrachet wise shall bet away
his maisters Rapier, firste lifting his above it, and let the lefte foot
followe the right: and let him turne skilfully his body, or else he shall
be in danger to receive a stoccata either in the face or bellye. Therefore
hee must take heede to save himselfe with good time and measure, and let
him take heede that he steppe not forward toward his teacher, forso hee should
bee in danger to be wounded: but let him go a little aside, as I have already
|If the Scholar is in a correct ward and the master has his
rapier too low then the Scholar should step forward and to the right with
his right foot, simultaneously raising his rapier into the open ward and
striking the Master's rapier aside to the left with his left hand. He then
traverses forward and to the right with his left foot in a half-incartata
behind his right foot.
|L. Me thinkes the maister is in danger, if the scholler at
this time keepe measure.
V. If the maister stoode still, hee should bee in danger, but when the scholler
shall give the mandritta, the maister must shifte a little with his bodye,
and shall remoove with his right foote, which must be carried behinde his
lefte, and shall strike a riverso to the head, as I saide before, when I
began to speake of stoccata.
Furthermore, the Scholler maye likewise give a mandritta at the legges, but
it standes upon him to playe with great nimblenes and agilitye of bodye,
for to tell the truth, I would not advise anye freend of mine, if hee were
to fight for his credite and life, to strik neither mandrittaes nor riversaes,
because he puts himselfe in danger of his life: for to use the poynte is
more readie, and spendes not the lyke time: and that is my reason, why I
would not advise any of my friends to use them.
|The Scholar strikes a mandritta squalambrato at the Master's
head as he makes the half-incartata with his left foot. The Master passes
back with his right leg into the open ward and then passes forward striking
a riverso squalambrato at the Scholar after the Scholar's cut has gone past.
Alternatively the Scholar may strike a Mandritta Tondo at the Master's thigh
which the Master will deal with in the same fashion. This is the end of the
|[section on honour deleted]
|V. I will verie willingly, but I praie mislike not that I
have somewhat digressed from the matter which wee were about, for I have
spoken these few words not with out cause, but now I will go forwarde with
that which remaineth. Therefore I saie, when the master and scholler stand
upon this ward, and that the point of the schollers weapon is towarde the
face of the teacher, and the point of the masters without the bodie of the
scholler toward the right side, both of them being upon this ward, the scholler
must bee readie and nimble to remoove with his left foote, that the point
or ende thereof bee against the middest of his masters right foot, turning
his Rapier hand, and that his point be in imbrocata-wise above his teachers
Rapier, and that his left hand bee toward the ward of his teacher: and let
all this be done at once, by which meanes the scholler shall come to have
his masters weapon at commandment, and if it were in fight, his enemies.
||The Scholar shall pass forward and to the left with his left
foot so that the point of this foot ends up towards the middle of the Master's
right foot, i.e. facing to the right. The left hand shall grasp the Master's
hilt and the rapier shall be raised into a high ward.
|L. This plaie which now you tell me of, me thinkes is contrarie
to many other, and I my selfe have seen many plaie and teache cleane after
another fashion, for I have seene them all remove in a right line, and therfore
you shall doe mee a pleasure to tell mee which in your opinion, is best to
use, either the right or circular line.
V. I will tell you, when you stand upon this ward, if you remove in a right
line, your teacher or your adversarie may give you a stoccata either in the
bellie or in the face. Besides, if your master or your adversarie have a
Dagger he may doo the like, hitting you with his dagger either in the belly
or on the face, besides other harms which I list not to write. And therefore
to proceede, I saie, that in my opinion and judgement, it is not good to
use the right line, whereas in remooving in circular-wise, you are more safe
from your enemie, who cannot in such sort hurt you, and you have his weapon
at commandement: yea although he had a dagger hee coulde not doo you anie
|The reason the Scholar passes forward and to the left in
the previous move, moving his foot in a circular motion is to avoid being
struck with a stoccata, which would be possible if he were to pass directly
|L. But I praie you tell me whether the master may save himselfe
when the scholler makes this remove uppon him in circular wise, without being
V. When the scholler removeth with his left foot, the master must steppe
backe, but yet in such sorte, that the lefte foote be behinde the right,
and that he remove to the right side, and shall strike a mandritta at the
head of the scholler, and whilest the master shifteth with his foot and striketh
the mandritta, at the selfe same time must the scholler bee with his right
foot where the teachers was, being followed with his lefte, and shall delyver
a stoccata or thrust in his masters belly, turning his bodie together with
his hand on the lefte side, and lifting his hand on high, to the end the
master may in striking hit his Rapier, and withall shall strike at the teacher,
at which time the teacher must remoove with his right foote a little aside,
followed with his lefte, and shifting a little with his bodie, shall beate
outwarde the thrust or stoccata of his scholler, and shall deliver an imbroccata
to his scholler, as I have tolde you before in the beginning.
|The Master must step back and to the right with his right
foot. This step should only be a short one, enough to draw his hand back
out of distance of the Scholar's grip. Simultaneously the Master shall raise
his rapier into the open ward. The Master shall then traverse forward and
to the right with his left foot in a half-incartata, simultaneously striking
a mandritta squalambrato at the Scholar's head. The Scholar must pass forward
with his right foot and then traverse right with his left foot in a
half-incartata. Simultaneously with the first step he must thrust a stoccata
at the Master's belly, raising his hand into a punta riversa position to
create opposition to the Master's mandritta (this move would probably be
described by other masters as a punta riversa or even as a counterthrust
in quarta). As his cut is warded the Master must beat the Scholar's stoccata
to the left side with his left hand. He shall step to the right with his
right foot, and raise his rapier into a high ward. He then traverses forward
and to the right with his left foot in a half-incartata striking the Scholar
in the chest with an imbroccata. This is the end of the fourth sequence.
Di Grassi, Giacomo. 1594. His True Arte of Defence, London
Fabris, Salvator. 1606. De lo Schermo Overo Scienza D'Arme, Copenhagen
Marozzo, Achille. 1536. Opera Nova, Bologna
Saviolo, Vincentio. 1595. His Practise. In Two Bookes, London
Silver, George. Unpublished. Brief Instructions Upon My Paradoxes of
Defence. in Mathey, Col. Cyril G. R.(ed.), 1898. Works of George
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Saddle, Lance and Stirrup: The Irish/Roman Connection
The Naked Truth |
If I Had a Hammer
The Sabre's Edge |
Swordfight at the OK Corral
How to Defend a Monopoly |
A Propos d'un Accident
The Dubious Quick Kill part 1 |
The Dubious Quick Kill part 2
Review and Commentary |
Duels with the Sword |
Starting with Foil
Liancour's Tercentenary |
The Manuel d'escrime of 1877 | The Military Masters Fencing Program
Analysis of the Patton Fencing Manual |
The Red Court
Fencing's Royal Connection
| The Practical Saviolo part 1 | Saddle, Lance and Stirrup
Demystification of the Spanish School 1 |
Demystification of the Spanish School 2
Demystification of the Spanish School 3
A Brief Look at Joseph Swetnam
| Ithacan Retains Title | Third Time's a Charm
Cross-Training Not Cross-Purposes | Riposte Direct | Use of the Word "Sparring"
Chivalry Makes a Come-back | Teachings of Marozzo |
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