Vincientio Saviolo

A modern translation - work in progress by Rick

© 1996 richard j. orli

Vincientio Saviolo

I. My Approach

I have studied five or six methods from diverse masters, and from them I have learned. I know that certain instructions and firm rule are needed to direct a man to true knowledge. I will now direct you, as truly as I would direct my closest friend, if you will but favor me with your time and attention.

Defense with the sword is little esteemed, though necessary and noble. Fencing is the foundation of the all military arts as it teaches the ways of victory, timing, and observation. Besides, dueling is the way of military men, and what is one to do if challenged?

Many who understand the art will not teach it, and others who do not understand judge the art to consist in their great strength and courage - but they deceive themselves. You are fortunate that you have me as your guide, since not only do I understand the art, but I know how to articulate my knowledge in a way that will build your skills if you apply yourself.

You may have noted that sometimes "professors" of fencing are beaten in fights. To some, this is a cause to doubt the value of study. But, these may not have been real masters of the art after all. Anyway, even if they were masters, anything can happen through fortune, or their quarrel may not have been just. My point again is that, generally, skill and training will pay off.

Many roads to learning are practiced: Rapier and Dagger, Rapier and Cloak, Rapier and buckler; but the Rapier alone is the ground and beginning of the art. The Rapier shows who are the men of arms and honor, and obtains right for those who are wronged. Worn by Nobles, Knights, Gentlemen and Solders, it is the weapon more proper and fit than any other. Therefore, Rapier alone should be learned first.

II. Of the Rapier

I will start with two pieces of advice that you should take to heart. First, some set upon their enemies running or assail them with rage and fury like rams. Both of these sorts for the most part are slain. I urge you to learn control and discipline. Second, I would not advise any friend of mine to rely on the cut (edge of the rapier), because he puts himself in danger of his life. To use the point in a thrust is more ready, and takes less time. Sometimes people even cut deliberately so as not to kill. Bad idea, for in a duel one must kill or die. Use the point, and anything else that will win.

The foundation on which you must build your skills are the wards - balanced ready positions. Many are sometimes taught, but I believe that there are only three essential wards.

Ward 1 - The Open or Long Ward

The first ward on guard is controlled, right foot and hand leading, slightly weight shifted on the left foot, left hand near the chest. The hand, wrist, and elbow should be loose. This ward is illustrated in Figure 1.

Try this exercise:

- The teacher and student stand on guard and engaged in the low line (hand is higher than the point: a neutral parry 7 to parry 7; a neutral parry 4 to parry 4 also works here) by stepping/retiring right, the instructor opens a line to the belly. By stepping right, the student closes the line and opens his attack to the instructor's belly. Continue circling, and the instructor hits with opposition (incarta) in a pressure slide.

- Next the student does the same, and the teacher blocks the thrust with the left hand, passes the right foot back, and cuts to the head with a diagonal blow.

This sequence emphasizes using movement and the hand to both attack and defend.

There are many sorts of times, by which I mean the time of advantage, or a moment of opportunity in circumstances of attack and defence. Two moments of opportunity you should look for from this ward include:

- From 4-4 engagement, close by passing with the left to toe in middle outside of the opponent's foot, making contact and control. Use the left hand to limit the freedom of your opponent's rapier.

- From 4-4 engagement, lunge close with the Right foot leading, pass your left foot by the right, and seize the ward (guard) of your opponent's weapon with your left hand.

Ward 2 - The Short or Close Ward

The on guard position is with the right foot leading, the weapon's guard on or near the hip, the chest toward adversary, and no engagement of the blades. This ward is illustrated in Figure 2.

In this ward you must be sure not to put yourself in danger by carrying your weapon long. Your opponent can strike upon your weapon, and upon you with great speed, and master not only your weapon but you. If, on the contrary, you hold the weapon short, point at his face, you will discourage him and make him afraid. To close near enough to find your weapon, he must come close enough to risk being hit.

I advise all to learn to break trusts with the gloved left hand. But even without a glove, it is better to hazard a little hurt of the hand, and master the enemy's sword, than to give the enemy the advantage by parrying with your sword.

In guard, seek the advantage and go not leaping. When changing from one ward to another, be sure to be out of distance. Attacking out of distance is, however, dangerous.

Many sorts of times of advantage are available from this short ward:

- The essential opportunity is a point attack to face or belly, after subtly moving to just the correct distance, having stolen the advantage little by little.

- If your opponent does the same to you, attack with the point just as he is advancing his foot.

- Or, attack as he is lifting or moving his hand.

- If the attack is a puncta reversa, pass forward with your left foot, and turn your point in (like parry 3).

- If facing an angled attack (imbrocatta) do a straight thrust (stocatta) to the face while turning your body away, toward the right side, stepping back with the right foot in a half turn (incontata)

- If facing a cut at the leg, carry the leg back circular-wise, and trust to the face.

- If attacked with a slashing attack to the face (stramazone) pass forward with the left, parry 1, angle your blade forward to the belly. Attack followed by your left along his line of remise.

- In response to a cut, trust to the face to force him to shrink back - for otherwise he will be slain or mortally wounded.

- Attack any false attack as the feint is in progress. (note: no advice is given on how to recognize a false attack in time to act on it)

- Dodge any leg blows or point attacks while hitting simultaneously.

- Respond to high wards by getting your point within his guard, and trust (stocatta) or do an angulated attack (imbrocatta).

- When turning do not lead with your feet. By getting close you expose yourself to an attack if you are not thrusting with your point. So, seek to carry your right foot with your right hand.

- If the enemy's point is down and hand is high (trusting toward the belly), keep your point bent toward the enemy, and shift weight on the left side. Beat a belly trust away with the left hand and hit with your rapier. Or, if he goes high, beat it away with the hand, or do an opposition trust (incartata, in modern jargon also a "time thrust")

The defense is also a strong position for the skillful. If your ward is weak, if you fail to carry your foot, hand and body together, and hold your rapier short, he may do this: thrust to your face, watch for your parry, and deceive your parry and hit below. Or, he may try a direct hit, or, a hit with opposition (half incartata). I recommend the following strategies when forced to react to an attack.

If he does a direct thrust which you deem to be false, you should stocatta to his face, shifting suddenly with your left foot, and drawing back the Rapier with the right foot.

If the enemy is slightly to your right, and attacks with a strong stocatta at your face, you may use your left hand to beat the point right while you lunge left in a puncta reversa.

If charged, opponent's point extended, it is best to hit while turning and shifting the body nimbly away.

Make no idle action. Make no passage, nor put your weapon under your enemy unless there is some advantage to it. Those that are overmastered by heat and rage, or who do not take account of their enemy's skill, are blinded and vulnerable.

When facing a valiant opponent, remember that both talent and training are needed to reach great perfection. Don't risk indirect attacks (foins and imbrocattas) against a skilled opponent. Rely on straight fast thrusts instead. In summary, my advice is to:

1) Take the short ward

2) Seek your advantage with time

3) Use sweeps with your left hand to guard against a counter thrust

4) Trust to the right thrust (stocatta).

Ward Three - Puncta Reversa Ward

This Ward is in many ways contrary to the other two. Stand with the feet near together, as if ready to sit down. The right foot is only moderately in front of the left. The Rapier handle must be within the knee, point against the face of your adversary. This Ward is illustrated in Figure 3.

Several moments of opportunity should be watched for with this ward.

Attack with a right thrust (stocatta) lunge. If he shrinks back, shift to the right, bring back your body that his point may miss your belly while you hit with a cut from the left (reversa).

If he angles back (imbrocatta) rotate counter clockwise on your right knee, left hand ready to suddenly find the enemy's weapon.

If you are struck first with a thrust (stocatta), don't try to parry (for he may the advantage). Turn the knuckle of your hand to the right side and let your point be right upon the belly of your opponent. Shift the left foot back, then move the right foot, bend the left foot such that the heel of the left is in line with your right instep, a half pace back. In this way, you may hit without danger.

If he makes a false attack, if you answer him with a counter, and if he continues, turn your body counterclockwise on your knee, but do not shift back with your body or feet (or you will fall within his range and endanger yourself.)

Another variation of this third ward is to hold the sword hand just in front or outside the knee. From this position, if your enemy holds his weapon long you can beat it down and thrust.

III. On Rapier and Dagger

Much the same lessons apply as with the rapier only, so it is necessary mainly to show you how to put yourself in guard with your rapier and dagger.

The first ward is about the same as with the single rapier. The right foot is foremost, the rapier is carried drawn in short, the dagger is at length and straight, bending a little at the right knee, and the heel of the right is a half pace in front of the midst of the left foot.


- From here stepping around the left side of the adversary in a good measure gives the advantage, and a good attack is to thrust to the belly beneath his dagger, moving the right foot toward his left side.

- The response is to parry down with the dagger to the left side and thrust to my belly.

- I parry down with the dagger to the left side, step right, and angle attack (imbrocatta) above his dagger.

- He breaks the attack by dagger parry up, circling to my left and imbrocatta above the dagger.

- I beat outward with the dagger to the left side, and attack the belly with a stoccatta, moving right.

- He does the same, stocatta the belly under the dagger, while parrying with the dagger to the left while moving to my left. (Break=parry=ward)

- I must move my body (stepping back with my right foot) to save my face, and parry his point toward my right, and reversa to the head.

- He steps forward with his left foot where my right was, both sword and dagger high and straight, point horizontal, and angled slightly inward.

On the form of the Ward

Note that the dagger is not point up, but straight or slightly down, which is more secure. Be prepared also to firmly close your weapons in a cross if attacked with a stramazone between your rapier and dagger.

Figure 4

On parrying methods

Remember to not endanger yourself by parrying any thrust inward. Beat a thrust with a dagger outward to the left side. However, an angled attack from the right (imbrocatta by a reversa) should be parried inward toward the right side, accompanied with a retreat.

On preparation

I advocate the use of stocatta and imbrocattas to make my scholars apt and ready with rapier, dagger, and foot, so that they may accompany one another in an instant. Study and drill is necessary to perfect this, and to develop an apt and well-formed body. Practice these principles, learning well the time and measure.

On picking the moment to attack.

Don't rush headlong into the first attack without an advantage, for you risk a counter attack. Instead, if you have the skill, gain the advantage in time and measure, and then attack. Do not settle for simultaneous hits. Hit without being hit.

On Retreat

Be ready to retreat (retire) if your enemy has gained the advantage in time or measure. This is not shameful. There is a difference between orderly retiring and running backward.

On Resolution

Having taken weapons in hand, you must show boldness and resolution. Be sure to put yourself well in guard and seek the advantage. Do not leap up and down.

As you approach, do not just leap in. Guard your left well. Attack only when likely to hit, and then resolutely or not at all.

Sometimes facing an ignorant and unschooled opponent is dangerous, precisely because by lacking foresight of danger he will carry out his purpose with resolution.

On the difference of time

After moving right to gain advantage of position,

if his dagger is high,

stocatta under his dagger

If dagger low

stocatta to face

If rapier long and straight and dagger left

pass low on right foot, beat down point of his rapier with dagger, and stocatta under dagger

If rapier short in open ward

puncta reversa with speed

If sword high and point down, 4 ways are possible:

1) Right side in low ward, stocatta

2) Stocatta to belly (falsely and draw an answer) play your body to the left, parry to the right side, and reversa above his sword

3) beat the opponents Rapier with dagger and stocatta at the same time to face of belly. Do not announce your intention to attack with the dagger arm about. Do a straight extension, like a boxing jab.

4) If the point is low, and dagger low, charge to the right side, attacking the face.

If far out and you perceive that he may do a false attack, trust to the security of your ward and do not react to the false attack. But follow him closely, for if he then thrusts resolutely you will be in a position to control his blade while striking.

If the point is too far to your right, use the opportunity to attack to your left (bringing your right foot left of his right foot) thrust under his rapier and run by him (or cut reversa to the throat)

Defending against a charge

If he has the advantage, seek to put yourself in a sure an well balanced ward, and back off staying in a good guard. Respond by covering the line of attack with your dagger of rapier and by turning your body from the line of attack. As you parry, or even as you see his foot first move, attack any open area with a thrust.

Generally, attacks can be parried by your dagger. If attacked to the leg, close by stepping to your left (the left foot passes your right foot) and move in with a dagger parry. By charging, you will master his rapier.


Times include:

- A violent blow at the head should be taken by the rapier, followed by the dagger as a cross. Clap your dagger on his rapier and hit with your point at his face.

- Faced with a furious assault, keep still in your guard, and stop thrust.

- Grabbing the opponent's hilt is advantageous, because you command his sword securely.

- If your point is out at length, and he beats your point aside with his rapier and passes upon you, retire your left foot backward, and in the same instant attack the face of belly with a puncta reversa.

You must practice these specialized thrusts well, so that when occasion requires it you may perform it.