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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 8, 2009

Saviolo: Part II: Practical Elements


This is part II of my blog on the subject of Vincentio Saviolo. With the background set, and the principles in place, it is now possible to delve more deeply into the system which was developed by Saviolo. It is important that the principles are laid out first and understood in order to understand the practical side of the system. There will be elements that will be left out of this discussion as they serve no purpose in going into them in detail in the discovery of Saviolo's method of fence. Thus it will be those elements which are essential to his system that the detail will be centered upon.

Externally Saviolo's system is simple, but when you examine it in more detail, the hidden complexities emerge. As with the previous part it is important to start with the principles, or in this case the basic elements before moving on to the more complex aspects of the system. First is starting with Saviolo's wards.

The first ward the Saviolo teaches is a teaching ward, simple as that. It is designed to place the student in the correct position in order that they have all the elements in place. This is important as it places the student in the correct position for applying the techniques that follow.
“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:”

Without teaching this ward the student will be unprepared to perform the following wards and to understand how they are used. Once the student is able to place himself in the correct position, it is then possible to move on to the combat ward which Saviolo advises for use in combat. Once again, it is important to stress that the first ward is purely a teaching ward and designed to teach the student the correct position for their body.

The second ward is Saviolo's combat ward. This is the one that he advises for use in combat against an opponent. It should be noted that this ward carries through many of the same elements as found in the teaching ward, thus it can be seen that one is based upon the other. If we examine Saviolo's description of his second ward, these elements can easily be seen.

“Therefore if the maister desire to make a good scholler, let him begin in this sorte, causing his scholar to place his right legge formoste, a little bending the knee, so that the heele of his right foote stand just against the midst of his left foote, holding his swoord hand close on the outside of his right knee, with his swoorde helde in shorte, least his adversarye should gaine the same, ever keeping the poynte directlye on the face or bellye of his enemye, and the maister shall dispose of him selfe in the same manner, as well with his foote as with his poynt.”

As in the first ward the right, or sword side leg is placed forward, with the knee bent slightly. This is the same as the teaching ward. This is the same with the position of the feet and demonstrates how the first ward teaches the student where to place themselves. The hand position with the weapon held in close and the off-hand extended means that it is the off-hand that will be used for the primary defence against the opponent rather than the use of the sword. The withdrawal of the weapon also denies the opponent blade engagement from the out-set. As with many of the masters, the point is directed against the opponent in order to threaten them and also to place in in a posiiton to attack. This is Saviolo's primary combat ward.

The third ward has two purposes, and it is important to realise them in order to be able to use the ward properly. The primary reason for the third ward is in order that the combatant is easily able to perform a lunge, or stoccata at length as Saviolo calls it. From this position, the combatant is also prepared to perform a punta riversa. This is a ward in the truest sense as it is a position from which an attack is made rather than a static defence. In many ways this position should not be adopted but moved through.

“I will not faile in anie part to make you understand the excellencie of this third warde, which notwithstanding is quite contrarie to the other two. Because that in this you must stand with your feet even 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: 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.”

This ward differs in its foot position from the other two as they are quite close together. The hand position is very similar to the previous two wards as it is withdrawn in order to deny blade engagement from the enemy. The position of the feet clearly demonstrate that it is a preparation for the use of the back foot to push the combatant forward in the performance of an attack. Saviolo's "stoccata" at length" will be discussed in more depth in a later section of this part.

Saviolo's system is entirely based on the use of the sword in conjunction with the off-hand. All of his techniques are based on the premise that the hand is the primary defence against thrusts, and the sword is more of an offensive object rather than defensive. This particular idea transfers and follows through to his rapier and dagger which follow the same principles, using the dagger in the off-hand as defensive and the sword as offensive in most situations. The entire system revolves around the use of the off-hand parry, void with movement off-line and the stoccata in offence against the opponent. Clearly the only difference in the use of rapier and dagger is that there is a dagger in the off-hand. This results in a system which, from the outside, is extremely simple. This simplicity of purpose is demonstrated in the forms of attack also.

In offence while the stoccata is the primary attack, there are others. In Saviolo's system the attacks are simplified to four thrusts and three cuts. This makes for a very simple system. To start with the cuts, there are three, the mandritta, the riversa and the stramazone. The mandritta is an attack which, for the right-hander, is delivered against the opponent's left side. The riversa is the reverse of this and is delivered agains the right of the opponent. Saviolo does not discriminate amongst the angles at which the blow is delivered, merely the direction. The stramazone is a cut delivered with the tip of the weapon, and there are no directions supplied. In this the reader is left to make their own decision as to where the blow should be delivered against the opponent.

Saviolo uses four thrusts, two which are simple thrusts, and two which require the use of footwork. The two which are simple thrusts are the stoccata and the imbroccata. The stoccata, Saviolo's preferred attack, is delivered against the opponet from a low position to a high position. This means that this is a rising thrust. It is usually delivered below the opponent's hilt, but its targeting is not restricted at all. The imbroccata is a descending thrust, as such it is delivered from a high position to a low position. This is usually delivered above the opponent's hilt, and the most likely targets are the head and upper body, though the targets are, once again not restricted. The punta riversa, like the riversa as a cut attacks the right side of the opponent. This is performed with a sloping step forward and to the right of the opponent. The other thrust with movement is the long stoccata.

“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.”

The long stoccata, or "stoccata at length", or lunge is an explosive extension of the arm and body designed to quickly deliver the point of the weapon against the opponent when at increased distance. This particular technique allows the combatant to strike the opponent at longer range than with just using the simple stoccata. This is a technique which needs to be delivered suddenly and without warning.

“if you would deliver a long stoccata, and have percieved that your enemie would shrinke awaie, you may, if you list, at that verie instant give it him,”

This is a technique which until very recently was thought to be restricted to the treatises of later period masters such as Giganti and Capo Ferro. Clearly the technique is clearly demonstrated in Saviolo's treatise. This leads on to the advanced techniques which are present in Saviolo's treatise but not explicitly described.

The beat parry and beat attack are forms of swordplay which are considered either very simple or very advanced, depending on who is discussing them. Saviolo uses the beat parry in many instances in order to both defend and also create an opening in the opponent. The best example of this is as such;

“when you finde his point long, you maie breake it aside with your swoorde,”

This is essentially Saviolo stating that if they give you their sword by extending it toward you, you should beat the sword to the side. This simple technique opens the opponent up to an attack. While the technique seems simple as just smacking the opponent's blade away, there is some care that should be taken in its performance.

“let him beware that he doo not beate aside his teachers weapon toward the point, because he shoulde be in danger to receive a thrust or stoccata either in the face or belly.”

What Saviolo is saying is that you should not beat the opponent's sword too close to the point because this will not have as great an effect as beating it lower on the sword. He actually states that the beat should be done against the opponent's weapon toward the tip, but not too far up. This demonstrates a clear understanding of this particular technique. The other advanced techniques take a little more interpretation on the part of the reader.

It has been claimed by some that Saviolo's system is extremely simple and that he does not use any advanced blade techniques, merely relying on beating the opponent's sword out of the way or waiting for the opportune moment to strike. This is actually quite false and if the treatise is read properly it will be noted that there are more advanced techniques of the blade present.

“but rather passe on him with your point above his sword, turning wel your hand as in an imbroccata,”

This is a clear description of the use of a bind. The sword is passed over the opponent's blade and then the hand is turned downward against the opponent's blade. The simple blade contact along with the turning motion would result in the control of the opponent's blade and thus a bind against the opponent's sword. Another example of an advanced technique present in Saviolo's manual is the pressure glide. This technique, as with the bind, is not explicity demonstrated or presented, merely the technique is within the text leaving the reader to interpret what Saviolo is saying.

“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.”

Both elements of the pressure glide are present in this description. First, there is the thrust pushing toward the opponent, and then there is the contact of the blade with the turning of the hand to increase the pressure on the opponent's blade. This turning action of the hand and wrist results in a displacement of the opponent's blade and thus an opening in the opponent's defence, the exact reason for the performance of a pressure glide and the exact method also. This demonstrates the complexity of Saviolo's techniques which are hidden within the simple system which is immediately present.

There are three schools of thought present in Saviolo's treatise, the Italian, German and Spanish. It is only through the combination of the principles of each one of these schools that we are able to understand the manual in its entirity. Each one of the elements present enhances the system and allows it to deal with different approaches. It is also important to realise that the system is based on those principles highlighted in the first part of the discussion and without these founding principles it is impossible to understand what Saviolo's aim was and how he meant to achieve it through his system. Each one of these principles adds something to the system and allows it to be complete under the theory which surrounds fencing. It is important to understand these principles in order to completely understand the system.

The practical elements which have been highlighted in this part describe a system which is based on some very simple techniques for the base elements of the system, but these hide the complexity which is somewhat hidden within the system. In this way Saviolo's system is complexity within simplicity. The basic elements need to be understood first in order to realise what the system is based upon, only then is it possible to apply the more complex aspects of the system in a combative situation.

This discussion of Saviolo's treatise, the practical elements anyhow, has been designed to highlight the system which was developed by Saviolo and presented in his treatise. Further to this it is important that the main understanding of the system can only really be gained by a study of the period manual itself. Secondary sources, such as the information supplied here, can assist with this understanding, but only through reading the manual itself is it possible to really understand the system. This blog has been designed to introduce this particular manual to the readership in order that a better understanding of Saviolo may be gained.



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