Each system proposed by a theorist or practitioner is founded on some basic principles. The understanding of these principles is what the system is founded upon. Aside from the typical theoretical elements such as time and distance, there are also some foundation practical elements which are the keys to understanding the system which is being presented. These practical elements will appear and reappear throughout the system which is being presented. In the case of Giacomo di Grassi and His True Art of Defense (1594), these foundation practical elements are found in his wards and his footwork.
In di Grassi’s opinion the ward is a position in which a person may withstand the attack of the opponent, or may perform a simple action from them in order to defend himself. Its second purpose is a place form which to launch an attack against the opponent. This action should be simple enough to cover all parts of the body from the correct ward, and a large action means an inefficient ward. Thus the ward must be formed properly. The ward is a place to settle after an action in order to consider his next action, or in expectation of the opponent’s action against him.
The foundation weapon for di Grassi's system is the single sword, as is found in many manuals. He uses the single sword in order to depict all of the basic forms which will be presented throughout the following forms. For the single sword there are three wards. Neither in di Grassi’s opinion need there be any more, “for that one onlie ſtraight line, which is the ſword, maie not couer, defend and eaſilie offend after anie other maner.” The three wards of which di Grassi speaks are the High Ward, Broad Ward and Low Ward. These are the positions from which the fencer will start and therefore are the foundation from which things are learnt.
Even within this foundation there is another foundation element to be found, and that is the basic form of the wards. Each has the right foot forward, the body straight, knees bent and left arm extended toward the opponent. The feet are shoulder-width apart and the left side tends to be more toward the enemy in order to reduce the profile. What should be noted is that there is also an option available for the right foot to the rear rather than forward.
The High Ward
The High ward is formed from the drawing of the sword from the scabbard, just like Agrippa's first ward. It is also called the first ward as in Agrippa. In di Grassi's opinion this only just qualifies as a ward due to its open position, however used correctly it can defend the whole person. In order to achieve this, the point of the weapon must be turned downward toward the opponent. Thus the ward is formed with the arm high from the shoulder with the knuckles of the sword hand high in first position, however the point of the weapon is not parallel to the ground nor horizontal, it is obliquely positioned, pointed downward toward the opponent.
From this position he states that the fencer should gather his hind foot to his forefoot, and make a thrust "above hand" or as an imbroccata, with the hand in first position at the enemy. In this as in all the other wards a line should be drawn from the point of the weapon toward the enemy, this may be bent in order to strike another part, but the point should follow this line directly against the opponent. The point must be pointed downward at the enemy, lest he pass beneath it and strike the fencer before it descends, however it should also not be too low, or it may be beaten off by the opponent's sword. From this position the fencer may also beat off the opponent's weapon downward using the force and create an opportunity to strike.
The Broad Ward
The Broad Ward is the second ward, it is called "broad" because the arm is stretched wide from the right side. It is important that the arm is stretched directly perpendicular to the shoulder. This position would seem to give the opponent an opportunity to strike, but while the arm is wide from the body a straight line to the opponent is still present. The point of the weapon must be pointed at the opponent, and pointed toward his left side in order to be more easily able to strike and defend. If the point is left straight from the hand, the fencer is much too open and may easily be hurt by the enemy, with the point inward, it may defend the body.
The Low Ward
The Low Ward or lock ward is the strongest and most sure of any of the wards. It is the easiest to stand in and may most easily defend and offend. It is formed in many ways by many different teachers, many readers will know this ward as third or terza. In di Grassi's case, the arm should be places directly down from the shoulder toward the knee, but on the outside of it. The point should be somewhat raised and bearing toward the left side of the opponent. From this position it is easy to defend and easy to thrust.
Moſt great is the care and conſiderations which the paces or footſtepps requier in this exerciſe, becauſe from them in a manner more thẽ from anie other thing ſpringeth all offence and defence.
Footwork is the key to di Grassi's system from it comes all offence and defence, as will be noted in the writings of the author. Very rarely does di Grassi describe or indicate any movement without some consideration of the movement of the feet. In this however, it is always controlled and purposeful, using as little time in the motions of the footwork as possible.
The body should be stable with the right shoulder toward enemy to make a smaller target. It should be bent backward rather than forward, being away from danger and it should be kept firm and stable regardless of the movement made. The body should be kept stable in its ward rather than bending and changing as this takes time this motion of the body is directed by the head as with all motions.
The idea of stability presented in the movement and positioning of the body is further enhanced by di Grassi's advice with regard to the actual step itself. He states that the fencer should step comfortably to ensure no chance of falling, and this should be a self-managed length of step. The length of the step should be natural to the combatant, not lengthened or shortened to match the opponent. The movements will seldom be straight.
The Whole Pace
The Whole pace is to take the hind foot from behind and place it before the fore foot, keeping the fore foot still in the motion.
The Half Pace
The Half pace is to take the hind foot close to the fore foot, or the fore foot backward to the hind foot. This motion may be extended by moving the same foot forward or backward. This may be straight or crooked in the motion.
The Retreat step is made straight backward, “back pace is framed more often straight than crooked”.
The Slope or Crooked Pace
The Slope or Crooked is made with the hind foot going forwards but crossing as it goes forward, out of straight line. Diagonal step made by the rear foot.
The Compass Pace
The Circular or Compass is made by making a circular movement with either fore or hind foot to the left or the right. This will move the body to the left or right dependent on the side moved to. The combatant may compass forward or backward.
The information which has been presented is the essential practical parts of the system which is presented by di Grassi. The actions of the cuts and thrusts are also important, however their actions, for the most part are common knowledge. The actions and positions which have been presented here form the foundation of the system, as it will be noted that if weapon forms using the sword accompanied by another device are read, it is the same footwork which is used and also the same wards. These have been presented here for a greater understanding and increased familiarity with these elements.