Well I tested out some of Saviolo’s style last night. I worked on the following aspects:
- High: Prima& Unicorn
- Low: Right and Left
- Hand parries
- Compass steps
- Punta Riversa
- Fendente Stramazone
I am not a Saviolo scholar, I just worked on it a bit and am attempting to put what I read into practice. Some of this may be wrong or I may have been preforming them wrong, but that’s just part of learning.
First the big one:
Note 1: he doesn’t seem to stay in any ward for any length of time, these are not stationary things but transitional. Each ward is part of an attack and you should be in it no longer than needed to make your attack. That being said I often spend a bit more time in each ward as I’ve been trained with guards rather than wards.
Note 2: these assume that you are in a standard right foot forward stance, legs spread shoulder width apart (can be a little further than that if needed), weight slightly to rear leg.
Saviolo seems to have two high wards one which I’ll call Prima as that’s what I’ve always called it, and there seems to be a similar but different one which is also not named (he doesn’t use high ward all that often) but dall’Agocchie called it d’alicorno or Unicorn. Here are the guards as I understand them:
Prima: Arm extended forward at head height palm facing right, tip aimed at opponents neck, and slightly angled across your body
Unicorn: Arm extended forward at head heigh palm facing left, tip aimed at top of opponents head (so it sticks out like a unicorn’s horn) slightly angled across your body.
Saviolo has two main low wards one left and one right. His main ward is the right side one.
Right: Sword held at arms length towards your knee on the right hand side of it. Blade angled 45 degrees up, and it should reach about to your neck line at the 45 degrees. It is aimed at your opponents face, and slightly angled across your body to the left.
Left: Exactly the same as the right one, but on the left of the knee and angled slightly to the right.
I fought first against Tir Righ Standard, then against English style backsword, then against Spanish style.
Against Tir Righ Standard Unicorn and Low Left are useless. They are too slow to be effective. That may be why they are such minor wards. You can not thrust or cut effectively from either ward if your opponent is using Tir Righ Standard. Prima seemed marginaly efective, but I understand why Saviolo only has his students use it when your opponent is in a high guard. It is much more efective against a high guard than anything else. Low Right was passable. Each time I use it it seems to be more and more effective. I did run into the issue that when my blade is at a 45 degree angle it only comes up to my chest. I seem to be lacking a few inches compared to what he was using. But still in combination with fast voids and a lot of hand parries it was effective at stopping my opponent from controlling my blade, while at the same time decreasing the amount of time I needed to make an attack. I think it may be about as effective as most refuse wards, and similar in effectiveness to demi-refuse (which I now know has an actual Italian name that I can’t remember).
I think that I need to do more work on the Low Right ward, especially after I get my new blade. I think that it may be an effective ward for me to use with some practice. It is however a lot more active than my previous guards.
Versus English Backsword was a completly different kettle of fish. Suddenly all four wards were effective. My opponent couldn’t dominate my blade in the low wards, making both of them very effective. Low Left was effective for when my opponent was in a low ward himself, as I was not only able to stop him from dominating my blade, which his heavier one was wont to do, but I had a perfect place from which to throw a Punta Riversa after voiding left. Prima became a very defensive ward as I had a way of deflecting my opponents blade and thrusting all at the same time, and combined with hand parries to the side it was viciously effective. Unicorn ward also shone, as my opponent wanted to take controll of my blade, but every time he attempted to do so I was able to void and strike at the same time, often with cuts or thrusts to the face and neck.
Considering that Saviolo’s students would primarily be facing that style of English sword fighting I think that his style is perfectly designed to withstand and decimate an English swordsman.
Versus Spanish was interesting because my opponent has only been practicing it for about six or seven months, though he’s getting quite good. Because he enjoys the wrist cuts it was effective again. I found that the low wards weren’t as effective as my opponent was almost always in high ward, but I found both high wards to be very effective at luring out my opponent, allowing me to void and strike, or parry and strike. The biggest issue was closing, as the Spanish style allowed him to reset quickly after his attacks and it was difficult for me to make my attacks fast enough to take advantage of his openings. I think that the jury is still out on the use of Prima and Unicorn versus Spanish style, but I will bring it out the next time I fight an opponent who uses that style just to try it out. I think it could be very effective with enough training.
This was the core of my practice. I spent the first 45 minutes working on voids with Don Godfrey. He was nice enough to try to skewer me in slow work while I attempted to void and attack. Saviolo’s insistence that the void and hand parry are more effective than blade parrying makes logical sense – why tie up your way of killing your opponent – it doesn’t work as well for me. I often had to get a blade parry in there, or at least make my attack in such a way that my opponent’s best line of attack is cut off. The most effective voids were to my left, and the ones to my right were less effective. I found that voiding back was often safe, but didn’t improve my fighting situation at all, while my voids forward (always on the angle, as Saviolo has some firm things to say about going straight in) were the most effective ones. I found that a slight step forward and left followed by an angled step with my left was the most effective void.
Voiding became even more important versus English Backsword as my opponent could easily go right through my ward and into me. The rapier just doesn’t have the mass needed to stand directly against that. This could be the exact reason why Saviolo focuses so much on the void rather than the parry.
Voiding versus Spanish was interesting as both styles were essentially responsive rather than aggressive. I found myself making feints followed by a void in an attempt to close and strike. Again, I think that I need more practice at this before making any judgement.
Hand parries rather than blade parries makes a lot of sense on paper. If you want to thrust into your opponent, why bring it even slightly off line to move his blade when you can instead step aside and push his blade with your hand then stab him at the same time. In practice however, it was just as common for my opponent to coupe over my hand to try to continue his attack, hence the need for the void. In general though I think that increasing hand or dagger parries and decreasing blade parries may be the way to go as it allows a faster attack without needing to adjust from a parry.
Against Backsword however the hand parry can be dangerous. The void is the main method of surviving, with the hand parry just there to aid you. The biggest thing to remember is that the void has to come first, and the hand parry is there after the blade has missed. If you put your hand there first you’re likely to get it smacked. Also, one should not attempt to hand parry a Fendente Stramazone even with practice blades. The falling blade has a lot of mass and will hurt like the dickens. With live steel the opponents blade would probably still go through your hand and right into your face. A better move is to void to the side, then thrust while pushing his hilt out of the way. Also, my hand still hurts, feels like I’ve got a bruise on my low knuckle. Next time I think I’ll use either my mail glove or catspaw to parry with. Or just use a buckler.
I didn’t do hand parries versus Spanish, but instead used a dagger.
Yes I know he doesn’t refer to them that way, and calls them stepping “circle wise” instead, but Compass steps is still how I think of them. They are starting to feel a lot more natural, even the right side one. I’m finding it easier and easier to make an attack while stepping behind me to the right, which has turned out to be a lot less awkward than it sounded. I’m finding that the small adjustment step first really helps. With a small step left or right I seem more able to make my compass step with my left foot in the proper direction. I’m not sure why it works, but it does, so I’m going to keep doing it.
I found that I was using Compass steps even more against English and Spanish than I was against Tir Righ Standard. Perhaps it’s that against English a good chunk of my brain is focused on not being where the sword is going or it’s going to hurt, and with Spanish because my opponent is already moving it makes it natural to be moving, and even to alter direction to make an attack. This is something that I want to work into my practice every time.
I’ve been trying to learn the names of different thrusts. I found that Saviolos simple three thrusts are very effective depending on the situation.
Imbroccata: Thrust from above your opponent’s rapier – seems to be normally from a high ward, as it is more correctly a donward falling thrust.
Stoccata: Thrust from below your opponent’s rapier – seems to be everything from a thrust from low ward all the way to a Tir Righ Standard thrust are all called Stoccatta, as long as it’s made with the palm to the left or down. It is essentially any uprising thrust, but it includes a straight thrust from a middle guard.
Punta Riversa: Thrust from Quarta – or any thrust with your hand palm up. Primarily thrown from Quarta.
Moving from a Prima or Unicorn into an Imbroccata, or rolling down into a Stoccata feels natural. Thrusts are thrusts, and learning to make them from a different angle doesn’t change that. Making a Stoccata or Punta Riversa from a low ward is simple, as Saviolo travels through Quarta to make his Punta Riversa, and travels close to Terza for his Stoccatas. So it was essentially just a small step from what I was doing before.
As for cuts, Saviolo doesn’t recomend them. However, they were very useful when fighting against the English style, as most of the voids are far enough out that a quick cut is a closer attack than a thrust. Most of my cuts were made to the head, shoulders, or torso. Just a note on cuts, I originally thought that a Stramazone referred to a vertical true edge cut coming from the top, but have since discovered that it’s actually a slashing cut, so technically all SCA cuts are stramazone cuts. The big thing to remember is to make all cuts true edge.
That was a fun practice session. I think I’ll do a bit more work on Saviolo. It seems that his style could be a good fit for me. My goal is to try out, and give a good try to, a number of period styles. I started with Saviolo because I find that deGrassi’s focus on the broad ward is a major weakness in SCA rapier. I think that because SCA rapier is closer to small sword and clasical fencing than to the earlier rapier masters that using someone like deGrassi for more than the basics could be a mistake. I am attempting to learn the styles that were used in England first, as that is my persona – even if all rapier combat is outside my persona’s time period (1530s). My persona would likely be more at home with backsword or side sword than a rapier.
My next plan I think will be to try out Swetnam. Being even later I think that his work might be a good fit in the SCA. Once I’ve looked at Swetnam, and probably at the little bit of Silver’s rapier fighting, I will move on to the Italians. I already know that I’m a fan of dall’Agocchie, and I hear good things about Giganti, so looking at those two might be a good way of seeing two forms of Italian rapier separated by a good chunk of time, similar to looking at deGrassi, Saviolo, and Swetnam and comparing how they change.
Don Samuael McTavish · November 18, 2011 at 12:30 am
I liked reading your article here. I first picked up Saviolo in 2000 and found that the stances and concepts lent well to the SCA fight. I concluded the same as you had that the broad ward was a great ward to use in order to keep the other guy from getting onto your sword. Further, I could not agree with you more in terms of hand parries. The hand is not a meat shield.
In closer study of Saviolo and how it relates to the Bolognese schools of fence, you’ll probably find that it complements quite well. There are clear indications in his work that he borrows much from that (in cutting, and paces), and he also borrows heavily with Spanish as well. In all, he had to take different styles and put them together for an approach that would be good against a wide variety of fighs that you’d find in England. Not much removed from a typical SCA fencing style (which to say the nicely, is randomly assembled). Also, since it does not rely on long lunges it works well with fighting in muddy ground full of rocks and gopher holes.
Try the dagger stuff out too. If you apply the same mindset with the dagger as the offhand, you’ll find your fight will improve by leaps. Saviolo’s style really shines here when a dagger is added. Also, don’t neglect a basic understanding of Spanish and Historical Italian styles. Since his fight pulls greatly from them, it may help fill in some blanks.