Surviving a duel in 30 days

The following is what dall'Agocchie noted as necessary to learn to survive an encounter with sharps.


Lep: I am very satisfied. But, I have some doubts, declare to be about the following: There are many that say that in doing their duty, that there is not much subtlety in this art.

Gio: What do you mean by “subtlety”?

Lep: They say that none feint, none parry (sfallaza), and that none have the tempo of avoidance of the body and similar things.

Gio: They say these things because it is rare to find a person who does their duty without moving in anger, fear or another reason. The intellect is obscure, and for this cause it is not possible to use. But I say to you that when he does not leave defeat in these mishaps and remains, still it will be a little difficult to remain secure.

Lep: But to what end is teaching, if it is difficult to do one’s duty?

Gio: If teaching, that is to say if a courageous person waits on the occasion, so that they see experience in many which is rather timid and fearful. Nevertheless, in doing tricks made well, you will be able to see the occasion of doing one’s duty, not if they can some serve.

Lep: I believe: When one loses the soul consequently they lose the art. But tell me, when one has a question and for shortness of time are not able to impart all of the science of this art in an ordered earth, what in your opinion is good?

Gio: To practice in a single guard and to always parry with the true edge of the sword and to attack with the point.

Lep: And in which guard would one practice?

Gio: In the porta di ferro stretta accompanied with the guardia d’alicorno with the right foot forward. Because all the attacks are principally from one guard and you are able to finish then in another. Still without doing this it is not possible, being that he is not able to throw a punta sopramano that does not use principally this said guard and that he does not finish in the porta di ferro. For this reason is it necessary to serve so.

Lep: What is the cause of having elected the porta di ferro?

Gio: For two causes, first, that one does not have to defend the right side and the other is that this guard is born to great defense and offense. Being that one is able to defend from all attacks with a riverso and offend with a punta sopramano. As the parry with a riverso is more strong and more easy and the attack of the punta sopramano is more deadly and difficult to defend and these are the reasons for this guard.

Lep: Tell me the manner of parrying all attacks with said riverso that the enemy may throw and how to offend with the punta sopramano.

Gio: For this I will tell you the defenses that are possible in the porta di ferro.

Lep: Truly you have mentioned this, but together with the other. Pero se non vi fosse molesto, desiderarei che hora ne ragionaste apartatamente, et che diceste la maniera del difendere con il detto riverso I colpi che il nemico tirar potesse, acció che meglio ne possa divenire capace.

Gio: I will tell you this to please you. I say that in putting the hand to the sword, I want you to be strong in the guardia d’alicorno and as you come close to your opponent push an imbroccata without stepping, which stops in a porta di ferro stretta. This you will do not to attack but to provoke him to attack.

Lep: But what if the enemy does not want to respond?

Gio: Move a little opposite their right side and in that movement return to the guardia d’alicorno and push an imbroccata so he will make a strong response or retire back. In the case where he responds with a mandritto to the head, you will make a small step forward with the left foot, to the right side of the enemy, and in that time parry the attack with a riverso sgualimbro stepping immediately with the right foot and pushing an imbroccata to the chest which returns to said guard. But if the enemy wants to attack with a riverso to the head you will step with the left foot as I have said and defend with a riverso sgualimbro and immediately push forward the right foot and attack with an imbroccata to the flank and the sword will go into the aforementioned guard. But if he responds with a riverso to the leg you will defend with a riverso ridoppio keeping the same order in stepping with the feet, pushing an imbroccata to the face which goes into the previous guard. But when he pushes a punta sopramano you will drive the left foot a little forward opposite his right side and defend with the true edge of the sword. Then you will run forward with the right foot and attack him in the chest with a similar thrust which returns to the guard you want. But in the case that he throws a stoccata to the face you will make a step with the feet as I have said before and defend with a riverso sgualimbro thrusting forward immediately with an imbroccata to the flank and then you will put yourself into the porta di ferro. This is the order of parrying and attacking in dui tempi. I also want you to practice the single time parry and attack which is always made with a step to the right side of the enemy and this I want you to practice well.

Lep: This order is pleasing to me. But tell me, may one practice in another guard?

Gio: On the contrary, one knows when he has the tempo, for all that is necessary. For if the enemy steps a little to your right side one must know when it is strong to change the guard.

Lep: And changing the guard, in which would I want to exercise?

Gio: In the coda lunga stretta because being strong in it one is able to parry all the attacks of the enemy with the true edge of the sword and attack with the thrust.

Lep: I am pleased with the reasoning of the porta di ferro; Not having serious reasoning of this other guard and saying the manner of having parried with the true edge of the sword and wounding with a thrust that this yet to me is a great satisfaction.

Gio: When one goes in the coda lunga stretta against the enemy and he throws a mandritto to the head, one is able to parry in the guardia di faccia making the left foot push the right forward. In the same time push a thrust to the face and immediately return to said guard. But when he turns a riverso to the head, one is able to go into the guardia d’entrare while stepping a little forward with the left foot and all in one time thrusting forward the right [foot] and push a thrust to the chest. Then put yourself into the aforementioned guard. But if he responds with a mandritto to the leg one is able to throw it [the leg] back a little and push in that instant a thrust to the face and immediately return to the previous guard. But in the case that he pushes an imbroccata, one is able to parry with a mezzo mandritto and immediately thrust forward a punta riversa to the chest while making the left foot follow the right and immediately return to a reasoned guard. But when he throws a punta sottomano one is able to defend with the true edge of the sword turning well the body behind the right side (incartata) and attack with a punta riversa or go to encounter the enemy’s sword with the forte of the true edge turning well the body as I have said and in that time push a thrust to the chest accompanied with a riverso which returns one to the coda lunga stretta. These are the orders of being able to exercise in the aforementioned guard.

Lep: In how much time does it take one to learn this manner of parrying with the true edge of the sword and attacking with the point?

Gio: To some it may come quickly and to others late. Nevertheless I believe that one may learn this in one month or a little more.

Giovanni dall’Agocchie, pages 32-34


Dall’Agocchie maintained that a person could learn enough in a month’s time to survive an encounter with sharps when doing their duty. He claimed that all a person would need to learn was two guards (with a third added if time allowed), one parry and one attack. The principles outlined in this section of dall’Agocchie’s treatise is a forerunner of a part of Capo Ferro’s later treatise on the use of the rapier. This also meshed quite nicely with the theory taught by Viggiani, who preceded him (to be discussed later). To quote from the last page of Capo Ferro’s treatise:


Wanting to put an end to this, my work, it does not seem to be to be out of place to seal it with this brief discourse of mine, which consists only of demonstrating the virtue and the action of the guards of prima and quarta, discovering in prima the offense, and in quarta the defense, the beginning and end of whatsoever honored scheme; considering that quarta defends against any blow, resolute or irresolute, and prima offends the adversary, accordingly it is necessary to say (for the two to be faithful companions) that the beginning of the one is the end of the other, and thus, without beginning and end they evade beginning and ending, since the prima begins from high and finishes in a somewhat low quarta, and this is for two reasons. First, because if the adversary throws a thrust or a cut, passing somewhat with the left foot, in parrying with a riverso toward the right side of the adversary, advancing the right foot, one can strike with an imbroccata in the chest, and by such an end, one returns into the guard of quarta. Second, because the adversary cannot offend if not to the right side, which can easily be defended with an ascendente from the said quarta, demonstrating nonetheless in these actions boldness in the face, the eye quick to recognize the uncovered and covered parts of the adversary, strength and speed in the legs, arms, and hands, quickness in parrying and striking, and agility in the body; and this is the nature of the guards of prima and quarta*.”

(Translation provided by Swanger/Wilson)

Another master who taught similarly was Angelo Viggiani. Viggiani was a Bolognese instructor of fencing. However, he was not a fencing master. In his book Lo Schermo he outlined a system that simplified the prevalent system being taught in Bologna in the Dardi tradition, simplifying the numerous guards of the Dardi tradition down to seven and applying a simple notation to them. If the hand was high it was offensive, if it was low defensive. If the point was in the direction of the opponent if was perfect and if not it was imperfect. He used the roverso (revescio) as the defense and a form of the imbroccata as the offense. His system was meant to be learned quickly. However, I do not believe that his system has any major technical advantages over the Dardi system as the basic core elements are similar.

The following drills illustrate the techniques dall’Agocchie thought were required to survive a duel with only 30 days to prepare and serve as a perfect way for modern students to develop a basic repertoire of techniques with the sword. The drills provide the responses to the primary attacks that may be made. Practice these carefully and precisely, as it will instill not only technique, but an understanding of timing, distance and rhythm.

The student will always start in the guardia d’alicorno for these drills. The links provided in the drills are of video helping to illustrate the movements.



Start in the high guard. Cut mandritto sgualimbro to head

Parry with a riverso sgualimbro while stepping slightly forward with the left foot. Make an intagliata with the right foot while thrusting the master with an imbroccata.



Start in the high guard. Attack with a riverso sgualimbro to the head.

Step with left foot and parry with a riverso sgualimbro. Step forward with right foot and make an imbrocatta to the flank.



Start in the high guard. Throw a riverso sgualimbro or tondo to the leg.

Step with left foot and parry with a riverso ridoppio. Step forward immediately with the right foot and push an imbrocatta to the face.



Start in the guarda d’alicorno. Push a punta sopramano (imbrocatta) to the face. (over the sword)

Step with the left foot slightly to the left and put the true edge of the sword to the incoming sword and while stepping forward with the right foot thrust to the face.



Start in the porta di ferro stretta. Throw a stoccata at the student’s chest.

Step with the left foot to the left and parry with a a riverso. Step with the right foot while immediately pushing an imbroccata to the flank.