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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Saviolo Part I: Principles


First, I must offer an apology to all my modern and classical fencing readers as this particular blog is more aimed at the Renaissance fencer in the readership. Saviolo is a master of particular interest to myself as his method appealed to me. I will be presenting in this blog some of the research that I have made on Saviolo giving some information about his method and how it was applied. Various points will be made about this particular system which will be of interest to various people, and I hope that the information present will be of interest to my various readers. All of the references in this blog come straight from Saviolo's treatise.

Vincentio Saviolo is a master of the Renaissance period, more specifically he is one of the Elizabethan period. He taught in London and held a school at Blackfriars, which is on the south bank of the River Thames. Of especial note is that the same region held a theatre which was sold to William Shakespeare. Of particular interest to me is that the chap who sold the property to Shakespeare was a chap named Henry Walker. Saviolo published his own Treatise "His Practice in Two Bookes" in 1595, and his name is present in the works of George Silver who was a contemporary of Saviolo.

Saviolo's treatise is a composite treatise encompassing principles from three different schools of thought brought together to form a single system. This in and of itself makes Saviolo's technique interesting and of note to the Renaissance fencer. The treatise and the information contained within is presented as a discussion between a master and his student. In this particular case it is Saviolo talking with his student Luke. Unlike many manuals the principles are not presented singularly but are presented within the text as a practical representation of what a person should do against their opponent. There are some which are elicidated simply, but for the most part they are within the discussion between the master and the student.

The three schools of thought from which Saviolo draws his information are the Italian, Spanish and German. Each one of these is used for a particular application and then are combined together to form the overall system. The Italian school is present in Saviolo's use of the thrust, and more to the point, the dominance of the thrust over the cut in the use of the rapier. The footwork is primarily circular in order to gain an advantage over the opponent due to the angle of one opponent to another, thus presenting principles present in the Spanish school. Finally, the method of cutting presented by Saviolo is designed to defeat the opponent while defending at the same time and also before the opponent has time to respond, thus presenting elements from the German school. This makes for what should be a very complex system. Externally the system is quite simple, but internally once deeper reading is made of it, the hidden complexity within the system is exposed.

In order to understand both the simplicity and complexity of the system presented by Saviolo, it is first important to examine the general principles upon which the system is based. The first of these principles is about entropy and emotional control. Entropy is using only the amount of energy that is required in order to achieve an objective, in this particular case it is to defeat the opponent.
“this I would advise you, when you would make these passages, or put your weapon under your enemies, that you doe them not in vaine nor without some advauntage.”
This passage states that the combatant should not perform actions without gaining some advantage over the opponent. The energy of the combatant is thus maintained and not used for actions which would not gain him some advantage. In achieving this particular principle, the combatant will have a larger store of energy and thus will be able to last longer against the opponent than if he used energy to perform actions which did not achieve something. One place where this can be present is in the use of fury in order to defeat the opponent, thus Saviolo warns against this.

“Wherefore as well in this ward as in the other, take heede that you suffer not your selfe to bee blinded and carried awaie with rage and furie.”
When a combatant is enraged, they lose the ability to reason and thus make decisions to their advantage. This particular aspect will mean that control is lost over the use of the weapon and thus over the situation and this can easily lead to the combatant being struck by the opponent. It is important that the combatant go into the combat "cold" and not be taken away by anger or similar emotions in order that they are able to maintain control over themselves.
“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.”
To strike and not be struck is the principle on which all fencing is based, and in the case of a real combat using sharp weapons it is of great importance. Saviolo is instructing the combatant to ensure that if they are not able to strike their opponent without being struck themselves then they should not attack. This is a principle of great importance to all fencing, and is what we should all base our fencing upon. It is not optimum for the fencer to strike the opponent while being struck themself. Thus the guard against the opponent should always be maintained, even in offence. It is no suprise that this particular principle is present in Saviolo's treatise.
“Moreover, you must observe just distance, which is, when either of you stand in such place, that stepping forward a little, you maye reache one another,”

All forms of fencing are based on two basic principles, timing and distance, and neither can be denied. In all cases the correct distance between a combatant and their opponent must be observed. In the case of Saviolo, this correct, or "just" distance is a distance at which the opponent may be struck with only a simple movement of the feet and an extension of the arm. This particular distance is common amongst fencing treatises. Saviolo cautions against the combatant coming too close to the opponent as well, and then makes note of another important principle which will be discussed next.

“Moreover, hee must beware of coming too much within his just distance, because if he hit his adversary, hee may bee hitte againe by his adversarye: wherfore I will teache you how to offend and defend in the same time.”
Timing is the other half of the equation so to speak. Distance and timing work both separately and together and the ignorance of either by the combatant is done at their peril. Saviolo discusses time throughout his treatise, but is never particularly specific about what each time is and how it functions. He presents the elements of time as part of the description of the execution of the action he is describing. This is an important note to make as it demonstrates how important principles may be hidden within the text when not explicitly presented.
“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.”
With the essential more academic principles of Saviolo's system presented, it is now possible to move on to more practical matters with regards to the information which is presented in his treatise. Not all of the practical elements will be presented as some of them are taken for granted and do not really aid in this particular discussion. These more practical elements of Saviolo's treatise will be left for Part II of this discussion which will be presented in my next blog, along with a final wrap-up of the information which has been presented over both.



Saviolo, V. (1595) His Practice in Two Books