Through various articles published in the fencing magazine Scherma Italiana (scans available here thanks to Biblioteca Centrale Nazionale di Firenze) we are able to catch a glimpse of when this new method was adopted and how it was received by the editor of the magazine, who was none other than the fervent Radaellian devotee Jacopo Gelli.
The very first issue of Scherma Italiana (published 15th January 1891) contains the following report that Parise has revised his system with the help of Salvatore Pecoraro and Carlo Guasti:
The Ministry of War has called all the fencing masters of the mounted regiments to the Scuola Magistrale ad audiendum verbum3.
It is about the approval and installation of a new fencing method for mounted forces carried out by Cav. Parise, in union with the Radaellian maestri Pecoraro and Guasti.
We are very pleased by this event, because it is more proof that our (often harsh) criticisms of the method taught at the Scuola Magistrale were more than justified.
For this act we praise the Ministry of War and Mr. Parise, who by changing their minds about many defects found in its method have sacrificed self-esteem and self-interest for the good of the art.
That is good; bravo Mr. Parise! We will read the new work, and if it so deserves we will be as equally giving of praise as we were full of disapproval towards your method which we considered too imperfect.4
This new method seems to be the end result of two years of experimentation on the part of both the Scuola Magistrale and the Ministry of War. Five months after Parise's method was rejected by the commission, the Ministry of War began publishing an experimental version of the Italian cavalry regulations volume 1, which contains the cavalry sabre exercise.5 In January 1891, these experimental regulations were replaced with the new version of the cavalry regulations, this time presumably with Parise's updated and now officially-approved cavalry sabre method.6 Scherma Italiana was closely following the roll-out of this method via other publications. In the next issue at the end of the January they republished the following excerpt from the newspaper Esercito e Armata:
Among the honours of the Order of the Crown of Italy granted recently on the occasion of the new year, on proposal by the Ministry of War, were two who, according to us, deserve to be specially noted for their significance.
They are the appointment to Officer of Cav. Masaniello Parise, director of the Scuola Magistrale, and the appointment to Cavaliere of Maestro Salvatore Pecoraro, also assigned, as vice-director, to the same school.
These two names certainly need no special introduction; they are well-known as two talented champions of Italian fencing.
But as we were saying, the two honours just granted to them deserve to be specially noted, and indeed, as far as we know they would be the well-deserved reward for a new important work completed by Cav. Masaniello Parise, with the assistance of Maestro Pecoraro.
It is well-known how for a long time new regulations for the handling of the sabre in the mounted arms were in discussion, regulations that had never been able to be brought fully to its positive conclusion due to difficulties for reasons of a varied nature and which are unnecessary to note here.
These difficulties would now finally be resolved, accepting some important and very useful proposals made by Cav. Parise, and therefore said regulations can be said to be of imminent publication.
Moreover, the new proposals were supported by a long, detailed, and practical experiment performed in Rome, in the Macao barracks, with men of the Foggia cavalry regiment and under the personal direction of the appointed gentlemen.
The results obtained were excellent in every respect, and the proposals were fully accepted fully with applause by the competent Commission that had to examine them and today can now be said to be an accomplished fact.
At the final demonstration, in addition to the aforementioned Commission, His Excellency General Corvetto, Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of War, also attended; the general appeared very satisfied with the new method of sabre handling and directed lively and deserving praise towards maestri Parise and Pecoraro, who now, in their honours just obtained, have confirmed the importance that the Ministry of War has rightly given to the their work, and from which a great benefit will be derived for the instruction of sabre handling in the mounted forces.7
Thus we see that another commission has now approved Parise's modified sabre method, after a supposedly lengthy practical trial with the Foggia cavalry. In an issue from the following month, Scherma Italiana republishes an article from the newspaper Esercito Italiano which confirms many of these details and even speaks very favourably of the new method:
In the next part we will read the rest of Scherma Italiana's articles on this subject, including a letter from Salvatore Pecoraro himself.
As we have announced, the Ministry of War has recently published the 1st volume of the Regulations of exercises for the cavalry, Regulations which must be considered definitive and which will therefore replace what was adopted last year by way of experimentation.The writer of this article is anonymous, however the comments from Scherma Italiana, written under this article by one "M. O.", state the belief that the author belongs to the Scuola Magistrale. In spite of this author's calls for "reconciliation" between Italy's fencing factions, M. O. claims that Scherma Italiana has received letters from maestri at the Scuola Magistrale stating that there was "unofficial order" that its staff are not allowed to read Scherma Italiana due to Jacopo Gelli being its editor.9
Meanwhile, with the publication of the 1st volume, the matter of sabre handling on horseback especially has remained resolute, for which there has been adopted a more practical and more rational system, not to mention more in harmony with the true purposes that that important exercise must be directed to.
In the past, it is well-known that sabre handling on horseback was based on a system that, if it had its merits, it nevertheless had a serious defect, which is that the soldier was taught sabre play almost completely the same as that which was taught in the fencing hall, therefore play which could not then respond completely to the various requirements of sabre handling on horseback.
Nor should it then be overlooked that the old system required a longer teaching method, the execution from the mounted position having to be preceded by numerous instructions with the soldiers on foot, intended almost exclusively to teach those famous molinelli accompanied by large back and forth movements of the body, which could be better described as gymnastics rather than fencing.
The new system of sabre handling instead teaches the soldier, up until the last moment, movements that could and should then be executed from horseback, accustoming him to actions which, while they cannot but greatly develop the muscular force of his arm, are then immensely effective from the point of view of the potential of the blows, which are not stopped during the action, but this is carried out entirely and in a complete manner.
And the practical results that were had during a long experiment carried out in Rome by the Foggia (11th) Cavalry Regiment, under the personal direction of Cav. Parise, director of the military Scuola Magistrale of fencing, and Cav. Pecoraro, a maestro teaching at the same school, as well as the technical Commission delegated by the Ministry of War to the examination of the new system of sabre handling on horseback, clearly proved all the merits of the system and how this is perfectly in harmony with its mission.
Following this experiment was a good course of instruction which the fencing NCOs of the cavalry regiments were called to, a course which was also carried out under the direction of Cav. Parise and Maestro Pecoraro and which will lead to the consequence of having in practice uniformity and regularity in the application of the new system.
We firmly believe that the new sabre handling will quickly bring excellent results in the instruction of our cavalry trooper, who, thus ceasing to cut the air, as General Boselli so appropriately expressed in his recent study on the cavalry arm, can be trained a fencing exercise that is very rational and therefore more suited to everyone’s intelligence.
And since we find ourselves on the topic, we want to add a few considerations which are especially recommended by all the comments contained in a letter by Mr. A. B., a letter that we published in a previous number of our newspaper through that spirit of impartiality which we did not want and never want to avoid, but nevertheless could, especially for a few assertions, lending themselves to a less exact interpretation of what we believe on the subject and moreover what would be in contradiction to what we have written and cited on other occasions.
And first of all we should stop at the remarks that Mr. A. B. intended to direct to the military Scuola Magistrale of fencing and to the system that is currently taught there. However apart from the fact that a similar discussion does not seem to be able to lead to some result, given that the current method of teaching fencing in the army was approved by the Ministry of War, which proves with facts of giving more importance and greater consideration to it every day, after having been supported by a unanimous and favourable opinion of a Commission composed of people very competent in the art; we believe that it is precisely the desire to persist in discussions of such a nature that will take us further and further away from the result that Mr. A. B. shows to desire so much, from the day in which “the intellectual forces of Italian fencers no longer intent on fighting, are more usefully used in the progress of fencing”.
And it is precisely because this fact, which we desire no less, may soon come true when we promised ourselves to never bring the discussion of such a matter into the field of personalities, convinced that a similar discussion can only greatly harm the prestige and worth of Italian fencing.
They therefore set aside comparisons of facts and names, which, whilst not appropriate, could not then hold up in the practical field, and before judging the results of a method of teaching which certainly never failed the test, whatever it was, one at least begins by saying that these results are mature and that with time the champions of that method can develop and fortify themselves, as did those people belonging to other methods and whose names are now put forward whenever one lowers oneself to those comparisons which we will never deplore enough.
And if the authors of these comparisons then questioned their conscience again, they would be convinced of a fact that we have been convinced of for a long time now, and that is that all the names that are currently referred to as fruits of an excellent teaching method were in practice so attached and persuaded of such excellence that from person to person they ended up moving away from it, some more, some less, and today it may well be said that each of those names is considered the head of a system and school, and who in practice have ended up fighting each other because of their different dogmas, which has made tireless proponents.
Oh! what would not be gained by that strong and noble art, which all the talent champions, which today Italy has the fortune of counting, continually fight for, if this conflict, rather than being intended to come down on each other to the detriment of everyone and the art, was instead the result of all the forces united together with the supreme intention of giving to Italian fencing that position of honour that it is well entitled to!
And this truly favourable and important result can only be obtained when it can be said to be an accomplished fact that reconciliation which some time ago was attempted here in Rome, a reconciliation which, we are certain, will be full and complete if all those who must give their contribution can and will sacrifice even some of those concessions, which will honour those who do and without whom we can never even talk to each other about this desired and much necessary reconciliation.
This is the field upon which all the forces of Italian fencers, and especially those who merit and fortune gave a very honoured and triumphant journey, must today be brought together.
And on this field Esercito Italiano will certainly never deny its approval for all those who can and will effectively strive to achieve the goal they mean to achieve. And it is in this consideration that we are pleased when the Ministry of War, with the honours recently granted to Cav. Parise and Maestro Pecoraro, has shown once again that it knows how to suitably appreciate the large contribution that they have always given and give to the development of fencing in the royal army.8
In the next part we will read the rest of Scherma Italiana's articles on this subject, including a letter from Salvatore Pecoraro himself.
1 J. Gelli, Resurrectio: Critica alle osservazioni sul maneggio della sciabola secondo il metodo Radaelli del Generale Achille Angelini, Tipografia Editrice di Luigi Niccolai, Firenze, 1888, p. 48.↩
2 'Scherma', Lo Sport Illustrato, 11 July 1889, p. 334.↩
3 "to hear the word"↩
4 Scherma Italiana, Notiziario, 15 January 1891, p. 6.↩
5 E. Bertolè-Viale, 'Regolamento di esercizi per la cavalleria', Giornale Militare: Parte Prima, Pubblicazioni Militari, 7 December 1889, p. 698.↩
6 E. Bertolè-Viale, 'Regolamento di esercizi per la cavalleria', Giornale Militare: Parte Prima, Pubblicazioni Militari, 10 January 1889, p. 1.↩
7 'La scherma nell'esercito', Scherma Italiana, Notiziario, 31 January 1891, pp. 14-15.↩
8 M.O., 'La scherma nell'esercito', Scherma Italiana, 28 February 1891, pp. 28-30.↩