A beautiful discourse on the single sword
translated by Tom Leoni

Written by the late Paternoster

Of Rome

First off, it is the common opinion of all swordsmen that there are four guards. These guards, named after their consecutive order, can be reduced to two: we can join the prima and the seconda into one, and the terza and Quarta into another.

Now, being in guard consists of two things: the placement of the body and the placement of the sword. From this, we can say that the terza is the most perfect guard, and the one in which all the principles of good fencing are better expressed. So, what we say on the terza can be applied in part to the other guards.

To place the body in guard, let your body be quite curved, with your left flank and your head resting and leaning over the left leg. The left knee needs to be bent, and the left arm lifted in a half-circle near the face. The right leg should be either extended or just slightly bent, and the two heels in line with each other. You will only be showing the opponent your right flank, which is covered by your right arm, well extended down and slightly advanced over the right thigh.

Hold the sword with the point slightly higher than your hilt and directed to the opponent’s right shoulder. Form a small oblique angle towards the inside, which is ideal for going to either side of the opponent’s blade.

Striking consists of four elements:

  1. the movement of the arm
  2. the movement of the hand
  3. the advancement of the foot
  4. the voiding with the body

The judgment of these four elements leads to all the techniques, the blows and the stoccatas that can be done. We will stop at these and leave out the mandritti, riversi, and stramazzoni, since the stoccata is the most beautiful and the most essential part of sword alone.

The stoccata can be divided into five fundamentals:

  1. the inquartata or quarta
  2. the terza
  3. the passata underneath
  4. the beating and entering
  5. the quarta above the opponent’s sword.

The quarta is performed by first advancing the hand and the true edge, and then turning it to the inside when you are close to your target. Advance smartly with your right foot, voiding by pushing your right shoulder forward and your left shoulder backward. Step back with your left foot in order to perform this technique better. Keep your arm well extended so that your hand is shoulder-height, and it aims towards the opponent’s right shoulder. I will omit other secondary considerations.

The quarta of left foot is performed as the one of right foot: the movements of the sword, the turning of the body is the same, except for the fact that the left foot passes forward instead of backward.

The opportunity to perform these quartas is when the opponent presents an opening to the inside.

The terza is performed by advancing first the hand and the right foot, turning the wrist to the outside. Keep the arm well extended so that it reaches forward carried by the right foot. The body should be sideways, with the right shoulder always forward and the left backward, so as to limit the opponent’s gripping you. You will be equally covered to the inside and the outside, unless the opponent performs a cavazione1 or comes in contratempo.

The passata underneath is done with the terza. I have no other special instructions except that you should lower your body smartly to the outside and lower the point of your sword slightly to the inside. This technique can be performed to both sides and with either foot. Sometimes, you could also lower your body when the opponent comes at you with great resolution.

The beating and entering is also performed in terza, and there is nothing more to this than the following caveat: be careful that the movement of your left hand as it goes to the beat does not cause the opponent to withdraw with his arm straight.

The quarta above the opponent’s sword is performed like the ordinary quarta, save that one is performed to the inside, the other to the outside. This is how you should execute it: upon an extended guard or a slightly advanced terza, pull your wrist slightly to the outside and your point to the inside.

Now that I have spoken of the five manners to deliver the stoccata in the most essential manner possible, I will go on in the same way to describe the measure in which to deliver the said attacks, and the way in which to gain the measure.

Measure is nothing else but the distance from which the two opponents can reach one another by means of a single step. There are only three kinds of measure:

  1. just measure
  2. narrow measure
  3. distant measure

Just measure is when the two opponents can reach one-another with a step. Narrow measure is when you can reach the opponent by only extending the sword, or at most with a natural half-step. Distant measure, which I have listed third, is when the two opponents cannot easily reach one-another with one step, but have to perform first a half-step, then a full one. In this consist all the stoccatas listed by Paternoster, which he calls playing of resolution and speed, eliminating any hesitations.

The measure, any measure, is gained in four ways of performing the step. These are called respectively:

  1. advancement of the foot
  2. approach of the foot
  3. conjunction of the foot
  4. chasing of the foot2

The advancement of the foot is when you find a straight and just pace, and you gain the measure by advancing the right foot forward followed by the left in the same (or similar) proportion.

The approach of the foot is when you are in a wide step and you cut the step in half by pulling forward with your left foot in order to then proceed forward with the right.

The conjunction of the foot is when you are in a just step, and you join the left foot to the right in order to then have room to move the right foot forward.

The chasing of the foot is when you are in a wide step and you pull your left foot near the right, chasing the right foot forward of where it was.

One of these steps is not enough if the opponent retreats at your first move, both when you play in a large space and when you are gaining the narrow measure. Therefore, it is sometimes necessary to perform one or two steps after the first one; only, be advised to not perform two identical steps one after the other.

Along with all the ways to place the feet, it is necessary to advance the sword a little, and to keep an eye on that of the opponent. This way, you will never be surprised and you will be able to strike in contratempo to your advantage. I do not approve of the dragging or sliding the foot: this is an awkward and clumsy way to proceed.

We must now speak of the practice of the stoccatas, first of which the quarta, since I have listed it before the others.

The quarta is used when the opponent is open to the inside, and it is performed with either foot and from all measures, depending on the distance between you and your opponent. There are other considerations that I will omit for the sake of brevity.

As you use the terza, the quarta or the passata underneath, you should be careful to attack if you see that your sword is underneath the opponent’s; in this case, if you do not want to break measure, you may pull back with your body. This way, you can raise your sword from underneath your opponent’s and place it at the same height as his, after which you can attack.

In order to make this attack and all the others succeed, use as much speed as you can to steal the tempo from your opponent.

On counterstrikes

Now, in order to thwart the confusion of all the contraries that can be proposed on the subject of tempi in swordsmanship, I say this. An assault conducted by two opponents who want to attack with resolution but with judgment, and who are in a reasonable measure, can only admit three tempi. (That is, unless the two opponents wish to just brawl and attack one another without passing, and pulling back with their bodies. In this case, I admit that there may be countless tempi with as many contraries. But this is more brawling than fencing, and it is done primarily by people who want to show off their knowledge instead of proceeding with resolution, taking the tempo and striking.)

  1. So, the first tempo on the list of those that can be performed in an assault with resolution is the contratempo. This is when your opponent comes at you and you go at him.
  2. The second is when your opponent comes at you and you perform a cavazione.
  3. The third is when your opponent performs a feint and a cavazione, and you respond with a contracavazione.

In this last case, when your opponent performs the feint and the cavazione, it would be a great mistake for you to perform a cavazione followed by an additional cavazione. You would be in fact losing time. But I will not speak of this instance, one I should reserve for a larger treatise.

In order to take the tempo in the contratempo, you should pay careful attention to when the opponent begins the attack. Then beat him in speed and reach, launching a more advantageous thrust. Towards this goal, it is important to remark that when you perform a contratempo in quarta or terza, you should carry the sword higher than that of the opponent.

It is of great advantage to be able to take the tempo and meet the opponent when he steps forward to find the measure, that is, as he tries to approach you. Here, you should judge if is positioning himself to strike at you right away or if he is just trying to get closer; this, I admit, is a difficult thing to judge.

[...]3, who for the most part do not know what they should do, make a great show of resolution, thinking that they will put the opponent into confusion and gain an opening for their sword. However, they do not succeed, and they instead remain confused and uncertain as to what to do next. This often happens to old scholars who have a little practice.

Now, if you do not wish to use the contratempo, and your opponent does not come at you with a cavazione, a hand-beat or a passata underneath, you should parry with the sword, as a general rule.

All the stoccatas coming to the inside should be parried by turning the wrist to the inside, as if forming a quarta. All the stoccatas coming to the outside should be parried by turning the wrist to the outside; to the outside, you can parry with or without an advancement of the foot. If you want to do so with an advancement of the foot, I consider it better to move forward with the left foot, since you will be more apt to avoid the grips to which everyone missing a stoccata recurs.

In order to guard yourself against the grips after your parry, you should yourself go to grips, withdrawing your right arm so as to make it safe against the opponent’s hand. As he reaches forward, he will give you the tempo and the occasion to strike him; parry accompanied by the right foot, so as to better free your sword and make good use of it afterwards.

Another mode of parrying is what we call cutting the sword. This is done before the start of your attack of quarta: turn your wrist in terza and push the opponent’s sword down to the outside of your right hand.

As far as grips, the best are those that reach the opponent’s right wrist, or those that hold the opponent’s sword entwined between your arm and your left flank. Now, before going to grips in the course of an attack of quarta, terza or passing underneath, you can throw your opponent a stramazzone, a mandritto or a riverso (high or low). And after releasing the said cut, make sure you withdraw your arm (that is to say your sword) and go to the grips as described.

All the manners of grips to the body and the neck are more the subject of wrestling, as is tripping someone using your leg. However these should not be overlooked even with a weapon: they are in fact good for those who possess strength and have the wisdom to use it.


1 Paternoster uses Sfalsata (Fr. esfalser). The same as a cavazione.

2 This is the same as the typical Italian "cacciar di piede" or gathering step.

3 At the end of page 65, one line of the text is unreadable.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11