Monday, 21 January 2019

The Parise-Pecoraro Method (Part 1)

By the time Jacopo Gelli published his booklet Resurrectio in 1888, he claimed that the cavalry application of Masaniello Parise's sabre method had already been rejected twice by the Ministry of War, and that he was asked to rewrite it for the third time.1 One year later a commission led by Prince Amadeo I, Inspector General of the Cavalry, again rejected Parise's method.2 However, contrary to what I have theorised previously, this was not the end for his sabre system. With the help of Salvatore Pecoraro, a star Radaellian maestro, Parise was able to modify his method such that the Ministry of War finally accepted it and rolled it out to all cavalry and artillery regiments.

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:
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.
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
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

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.
9 ibid.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

The founding of Radaelli's Scuola Magistrale

Here I have collected a few excerpts relating to the founding of what became the Scuola Magistrale in Milan, directed by Giuseppe Radaelli, starting with the first "special courses" in 1868 up to its official founding in 1874.

L'Emporio Pittoresco, 10-16th January 1869, published in Milan:
"In recent days at the depot of the Lucca Lancers, stationed in our city, a fencing course has been opened for lower officers of the army in order to provide the army with distinguished instructors.
We praise the minister of war highly for having founded this school and we commend the choice of city, because Milan and Naples are the sole population centres in Italy where this science, so useful and beneficial for the physical and moral development of the youth, is cultivated. The distinguished Maestro Radaelli has taken on the commitment of this teaching with the system he used in his well-known fencing hall."

Annuario Militare del Regno d'Italia, published on the 3rd February 1869:
"Special point and sabre fencing courses.

In order to provide the army corps with able fencing masters, and through this promote in these corps the good principles of this art, 3 special courses were founded, one in Milan, under the management of the territorial cavalry command, for NCOs, corporals, and soldiers of the cavalry regiments and those of the field artillery; there the course will last 2 to 3 years.
One in Modena, at the Military School of Infantry and Cavalry, for 25 infantry and Bersaglieri NCOs; and another in Parma, at the Normal School of Infantry, for another 25 infantry NCOs. The duration of these two courses was fixed at around 9 months, that is from the 1st November 1868 to the 31st July 1869; and it is understood that after this course the same number of NCOs will be called until all the corps have fencing masters.
Those who have successfully completed the course will be issued with a license, by the Ministry of War, as military maestri for point and sabre fencing, and as such they will be recognised and adopted in their respective corps.
Similarly the Monferrato Light Cavalry Regiment was charged with teaching four low-ranking military men of each of the light cavalry regiments in a special method of handling the sabre both on foot and on horseback, which will then have to be adopted by all the cavalry regiments of the army."
The same text lists Cesare Enrichetti as being the "Maestro for fencing" at the Modena military school, having attained that position on the 28th January 1865. It also lists as "Assistant maestri for fencing" Antonio Tinti, Alessandro Pavia, Felice Defilippi, Regolo Luppi, and Achille Tinti. A fencing master is not explicitly listed for the Parma normal school.

Annuario Militare del Regno d'Italia, published on the 3rd February 1870:
"Special course on sabre handling and fencing with the Monferrato Light Cavalry Regiment.

In view of the good results obtained by the special course on sabre handling and fencing, which took place last year with the Monferrato Light Cavalry Regiment for 4 NCOs, corporals, or soldiers of each light cavalry regiment, the same course was renewed for the same number of NCOs, corporals, or soldiers for each regiment of lancers.
The course began on the 16th November 1869, and should end on the 30th April 1870."
A notice in this text states that the Parma Normal School of Infantry is now the "Central School of Shooting, Gymnastics, Fencing for the Infantry", and lists Cesare Enrichetti as its head fencing master. The "Maestro for fencing" at the Modena Military School of Infantry and Cavalry is listed as Agostino Gioberti. The same Gioberti was listed as just an instructor in the previous year's Annuario Militare for the Parma normal school, so it seems like a safe assumption that he was initially directing the special fencing course at Parma from November 1868.

In the Ministry of War's act no. 251 from the 6th December 1874, published in Giornale Militare, the Scuola Magistrale di Scherma in Milan is officially founded:
"1. In the Milan military district a Scuola Magistrale of fencing has been founded in order to train NCO fencing instructors and assistant fencing instructors for the Army.
2. The direction of this school will be entrusted by the general commander to a brigade commander of the Milan garrison, and the instruction will be given by the professor of fencing Mr. Giuseppe Radaelli.
3. Both the students sent to this school and its required personnel will remain active in the corps to which they belong, and during their stay at the school they will be included in the Milan district."

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Translation - Brevi note sulla scherma di sciabola per la cavalleria by Jacopo Gelli

Only a month before the report from the 1889 commission that rejected Masaniello Parise's sabre method for the cavalry headed by Prince Amedeo I, Duke of Aosta, Jacopo Gelli published a booklet addressed to the same man in the hope of having Radaelli's method officially reinstated in the cavalry. Below you may find the transcription and translation of this essay.


Many of Gelli's arguments here we have already seen in his article La scherma italiana nell'esercito which was published a year later, but with less fluff in between the good points. The booklet discusses the current state of fencing in the Italian army in which the Parise method is that officially adopted by the army, yet the Radaelli method is still being taught to all cavalry regiments "unofficially".

Gelli calls on the Duke of Aosta, also Inspector General of the Cavalry, to reinstate the Radaelli method officially and even dissolve the current Scuola Magistrale in Rome, which Gelli argues is too expensive for its own good, comparing its costs to the two schools that preceded it, the schools of Milan and Parma. Gelli proposes that the Rome school be split into two separate schools, a school for the sword and a school for the sabre, which he nominates Ferdinando Masiello to run, presumably leaving Parise to run the sword school.

Whether or not the Duke of Aosta ever read this essay I cannot be sure, however it was only one month later that the aforementioned commission he presided over voted to maintain the teaching of Radaelli's method in the cavalry.

Monday, 5 November 2018

The 1889 Rome Fencing Tournament

Beginning with the 1881 fencing tournament in Milan, fencing tournaments were being held in Italy with ever growing frequency throughout the 1880s. Fencers saw it as a way to prove their abilities and the merits of their particular fencing school, the best example of this being the rivalry between Radaellians and proponents of the Neapolitan school.

In a similar fashion to the aforementioned 1881 tournament, the 1889 International Fencing Tournament in Rome was not short of drama relating this fierce rivalry. In an 1889 article from the magazine Caccia e Corse, the pseudonymous writer "Cartoccio" gives their account of this tournament, with all its ups and downs. Below you may find my translation of this article and an illustration of the tournament by Dante Paolocci, from an issue of L'Illustrazione Italiana.


The scandal at this tournament was due to the fact that the Radaellian faction in the tournament's jury felt that several of the other jurors were giving unjust scores to famous Radaellian fencers such as Salvatore Pecoraro and Carlo Guasti. The dispute boiled over until the Radaellian faction resigned from their positions in the jury, almost causing the end of the tournament. Nonetheless the remaining jurors continued on with the tournament, but certainly not with smooth sailing.

A year later in his article Italian Fencing in the Army, Jacopo Gelli opens with his judgement of 1889 tournament:
"The national fencing tournament of November 1889, in Rome, has proven once more that the teaching of fencing is far from being uniform in Italy. In fact, that tournament has clearly proven that a powerful trend opposes and rejects the official method imparted at the Scuola Magistrale in Rome. It confirms the cry viva Radaelli uttered by the audience during a solemn exhibition at the aforementioned tournament, in front of a jury nominated more to prop up the staggering Scuola Magistrale (with its method), than to judge the skill of the fencers."
It is important to note here that Jacopo Gelli was in the jury for this tournament, and was one of the 10 members that resigned in protest.

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Istruzioni per la scherma di sciabola by Arnoldo Ranzatto

Today I bring you scans of another Italian sabre treatise, this time it is Istruzioni per la sciabola di sciabola ("Instructions for sabre fencing") by Arnoldo Ranzatto, first published in 1885 in Venice, however these scans are of the third edition, published in 1889.

Scans: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1R_KghiF8aZT8b3D0eGm1gTGDh8yqCVgZ

Although this is a non-Radaellian sabre treatise, it is interesting to see some Northern Italian characteristics, such as the forward-leaning body in the lunge, the use of both simple sforzi and sforzi di cambiamento, and parry of 7th (as opposed to e.g. "ceduta di sesta", as Parise calls it).


His system does not use molinelli, but still uses the wrist as the main point of rotation, and his chosen guard is the same as Parise's guard of 3rd. He also has a short section at the end on rules for the duel.

Thanks to Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze for providing the scans.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Parise's Method is Rejected

As mentioned in my previous article, on the 11th June 1889 Lo Sport Illustrato reported on the verdict of a commission headed by the Duke of Aosta, Prince Amedeo I, who was at the time Inspector General of the Cavalry. Here is the brief article in question:
"Cav. Masaniello Parise, winner of the competition announced by the Ministry of War in 1882 and Director of Scuola Magistrale Militare in Rome, presented as a practical application of his treatise an instruction in the handling of the sabre for the cavalry.
The Commission presided over by HRH the Duke of Aosta, Inspector General of the Cavalry, has voted against Cav. Parise's instruction, declaring itself in favour of keeping that which is in force, which is informed by Radaellian principles.
We will now see how the maestri of the cavalry and artillery regiments will act, given that at the Scuola Magistrale in Rome they officially teach a sabre system which cannot be implemented in practice in the army."
Thus we have yet more evidence that Radaelli's method was not only still in force in the cavalry in 1889, five years after Parise's sabre method became regulation, but that it was explicitly endorsed by Prince Amedeo, the Inspector General of the Cavalry.

As we will see in a future article, however, Parise did not give up on trying to implement his sabre method in the cavalry despite the fact that his implementations had been rejected multiple times.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Translation - Italian Fencing in the Army by Jacopo Gelli

One of Radaelli's most ardent defenders, Jacopo Gelli, wrote many articles throughout his career in defence of Radaellian principles. Here is one such article from 1890 entitled La scherma italiana nell'esercito ("Italian fencing in the army"), first published in the Florentine newspaper Esercito e Armata. The article was published over 6 issues, the first being on the 30th March, and the last on the 28th April. I have provided here both my translation and transcription.


Unlike Resurrectio, this article is not in response to anyone in particular, but more his attempt to take a critical stance against Parise's method being taught to those who may have to use their sabre in combat, namely the cavalry. He deems it flawed in almost every way, and not conducive to making cavalrymen "masters of their weapon", as the Radaelli method supposedly does. He takes particular issue with a (paraphrased) quote from Parise's treatise saying that "force is the prime enemy of fencing", which he believes to be a detrimental attitude for the cavalryman.

In classic Gelli fashion, he reaches a fervent climax towards the end where he describes the spectacle of the 1889 national fencing tournament in Rome, commenting on the ridiculousness of seeing all the promising young fencers having to bind the weapon to their hand in the Neapolitan style just to be able to use it:
"Do you not think that in war or on the ground of a conflict, (there are many possibilities in life!) if you do not have the hand ready to grip the weapon — to control it, to guide it powerfully in offence and in defence — you succumb?!...
Do you not think?... Do you not feel the blush of embarrassment go to your face when in the presence of an… indulgent audience, you ask the opponent for time to secure the sabre to your hand?!... Do you not blush?!... I feel sorry for you poor young men, but I do not condemn you!"
Another point of interest is Gelli mentioning an article from an 1889 issue of the magazine Lo Sport Illustrato which talks of an official commission repudiating Parise's sabre method and endorsing Radaelli's. I hope to acquire this article and present it to you in the near future.

Thanks to Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze for providing me with the scans of the article.