08 November 2021

Istituzione di arte ginnastica by Niccolò Abbondati

The Neapolitan fencing lineage is one of the most well-documented and longest-lasting in Europe, arguably rivalling the Liechtenauer, Kreussler, and Destreza traditions. From Marcelli in the 17th century to the Parise at the end of the 19th century, there are around a dozen different authors who wrote treatises in the name of the Neapolitan or southern Italian tradition. One lesser-known treatise from this tradition can be found in  Niccolò Abbondati's Istituzione di arte ginnastica per le truppe di fanteria di S. M. Siciliana ('Institution of the art of gymnastics for the infantry troops of His Sicilian Majesty'), published in 1846. Having recently acquired an original copy of Abbondati's work, it is my great pleasure to be able to share it here today.

The publication comprises two volumes, with the first containing instruction for gymnastics and various physical exercises akin to modern military physical training, and the second containing instruction on horse riding and fencing (both sword and sabre). As the title implies, the material was intended to be used as a textbook book the physical training of soldiers in the army of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.


For the part which most concerns the main topic of this blog, i.e. fencing, Abbondati attributes his knowledge of the art to his master Emmanuele Dumarteau, a famous Neapolitan fencing master of the first half of the 19th century who also taught Giacomo Massei, a founder of the Grand National Fencing Academy in Naples and a mentor of Masaniello Parise.

The most prominent Neapolitan fencing lineages of the 19th century

The sword method greatly resembles that detailed in Rosaroll-Scorza & Grisetti's seminal 1804 work The Science of Fencing, albeit more abridged and with somewhat more modernised terminology, as well as what could be considered the first appearance of synoptic tables in an Italian fencing treatise. Abbondati's book also contains one of the few sabre treatises published in Italy in the first half of the 19th century, and prescribes a peculiar method of gripping the weapon which involves supporting the thumb on the upper quillon in order to better direct the cuts.

Abbondati's passion for gymnastics and physical education would be passed on to his son Ferdinando, who would go on to published several works on gymnastics. Today, Niccolò and Ferdinando Abbondati are considered two of the founding fathers of Italian gymnastics.


References

Sport Aversa, Abbondati, il pioniere della ginnastica ricordato ad Aversa, Caserta News, 23 March 2012, [accessed 8 November 2021], <https://www.casertanews.it/sport/132838_sport-aversa-abbondati-pioniere-ginnastica-ricordato-aversa.html>.

B Florio, Osservazioni critico-apologetiche all'opera titolata istituzione di arte ginnastica dirette ai professori di scherma di Napoli, Tipografia del Reale Ospizio di Beneficenza, Catania, 1856, p. 10.

J Gelli, Bibliografia generale della scherma, 2nd edn, Ulrico Hoepli, Milano, 1895.

'Masaniello Parise', Lo Sport Italico, 6 May 1894, pp. 45.

G Massei, Il XI congresso ginnastico e la sua giuria di scherma: appunti critici, Stabilimento Tipografico dell'Unione, Naples, 1881, p. 10.

A Melina, La nuova scherma mista e la vera italiana, Società in Accomandita A. Bellisario, Naples, 1888.

'Notizie varie', La Formica: foglio periodico di amena letteratura, 30 March 1844, p. 81.

M Parise, Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, Tipografia Nazionale, Rome, 1884, pp. 56. 

24 October 2021

Fechtlehrbuch für Florett und leichten Säbel by Stefan von Kerec

As a graduate of the fencing and gymnastics course at the Wiener-Neustadt school in Austria, Stefan von Kerec (a Germanised version of his Croatian name, Stjepan Kerec) inherited the Italian fencing tradition introduced by Luigi Barbasetti starting in the mid-1890s, which Kerec reproduces in his 1928 book Fechtlehrbuch für Florett und leichten Säbel ('Fencing textbook for foil and light sabre'), published in Leipzig, where he was teaching at the time.

Scans: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1bTxdkViWG5tkSi4FjRzi1Cr9pwS3ermv/view?usp=sharing

Unlike a typical fencing treatise, Kerec's book is not broken down by technique, but rather it takes the form of a structured fencing course, with 179 lessons for foil and 153 for sabre. As would be expected, Kerec's sabre method includes the early teaching of the traditional Radaellian molinelli or geschwungene Hiebe. One feature of Kerec's method that is typically associated with the Hungarian branch, however, is the obtuse angle he maintains between the sabre and extended arm when cutting. The Hungarians employed this technique to prevent stop-cuts to the arm, with a slight reduction to their own attacking distance.

22. End position of the head cut with a lunge

In addition to teaching in Leipzig, Kerec would be a key figure in promoting fencing in his native Croatia, teaching fencing to various national figures such as Josip Broz Tito, and would go on to publish a second fencing book in 1951 on foil, épée, sabre, and...dussack! You can read more about him here.

24 September 2021

Beppe Nadi and his method

The following is a translation of an article by Giuseppe 'Beppe' Nadi entitled 'How I teach fencing', published in the November 1928 issue of Lo Sport Fascista. In this article the legendary master gives an overview of his pedagogical method, which produced such champions as his sons Nedo and Aldo Nadi, as well as Olympic gold medallists Gustavo Marzi, Oreste Puliti, and Aldo Montano, to name a few.

Some points to note:
  • Students are always taught foil first
  • All foil parries are taught with the hand supinated, as was common by this time
  • Students do lessons and conventional exercises for over a year before they can start bouting, initially only with the master
  • The sabre is taught to be 'guided by the forearm and not the hand'
  • Great importance is given to thrusts in sabre fencing
  • Beppe cares very little for épée fencing, believing that the best épéeists come from competent foilists
With the addition of this article, we are in the fortunate and rare position of being able to follow the pedagogy of four generations of fencing masters through their own writings, starting with Eugenio Pini, then Beppe Nadi, Aldo Nadi, and finally William Gaugler.



How I Teach Fencing

Advice and observations
by Beppe Nadi
Beppe Nadi, the great Livornian master

Fifty years of teaching, innumerable champions, two stars of international fencing—his sons Nedo and Aldo. Here, in brief, are the titles of Beppe Nadi, who here tells you simply, with the Maestro's frankness and competence, what methods he follows and in his famous Livornian school. Advice and observations which equal the most voluminous treatise.


Here in my old age, after half a century with only the sword in hand, I reluctantly take up the pen to respond to the courtesy of Lo Sport Fascista, which asked me for an article on the only topic that I can discuss.

How fencing should be taught is, for many, easier said than done; for me it is instead the exact opposite.

What is needed to have good results is above all a spirit of sacrifice without limits.

It is not enough to live on fencing—living for fencing is necessary if you wish to create students. The method certainly has its importance, but all the methods are more or less good if you teach with passion. I now put forward, without going into too many technical specifics, what I make the student do when the student presented to me knows absolutely nothing about the art.

Whether they are a child or an adult, I place them on guard, paying close attention to the aesthetics, and as soon as I have managed to give them a harmonious position, I start making them do their first advances and retreats, continuing the movements for as long as necessary for their perfect execution.

When the student has already gained a certain confidence in the march, I teach them the lunge, which must be performed perfectly before beginning to study the hand positions. Experience has led me to remove everything that is useless, and the only parries that I teach (in foil, of course, since it is foil, the foundation of all fencing, which I am discussing) are: third, fourth, half-circle, and second. And all with the nails up, without ever turning the hand. From the four positions I begin to make the student perform the glides, ensuring the perfect angulation, then following with the disengagements, then the counter-disengagements, the counter-disengagements with a feint, and the counter-disengagements on alternating lines. The progression is very slow, and my general rule is to not teach the student anything new if they do not perform what has been taught previously with sufficient precision.

The two masterpieces of Beppe Nadi, father and master: Nedo and Aldo.

The students of Beppe Nadi
At the school of Beppe Nadi great champions have arisen who have carried the superiority of Italian fencing around the world. Here are a few of these students: left: Bino Bini, winner of the tournaments in Prague and Ostend, Olympian in Paris and classified third (1st of the Italians) in Amsterdam; top: Gustavo Marzi, winner of the Offenbach tournament and classified fourth in Amsterdam; right: Dino Turio, winner of the junior sabre tournament in Cremona (1927); bottom: Leo Nunes, champion of the United States of America in all three weapons.

When the student starts performing all these actions with a certain speed, I take care to teach them the marching attack, and as soon as I manage to achieve the correct advance and lunge I add to this the most elementary actions, such as, for example, the direct feint and disengagement from all four lines. Progressively, all the offensive actions of fencing will be developed and repeated stationary and marching, paying the utmost attention to aesthetics and precise execution even at the cost of having to repeat the same movement a hundred times.

All this requires eight or ten months of conscientious lessons. In the meantime, the student has already assimilated the counters which he normally practises in the lesson, until the master believes they are the point to do the exercises in front of another more advanced student. The basis of these exercises is the counters. However, I believe it is essential that the master is always present, as the slightest defect must be immediately corrected, and in general the correction is so much more costly when the defect is less recent.

The foil team which won first place at the Antwerp Olympics. From left to right: Abelardo Olivier, Nedo Nadi, Aldo Nadi, and Oreste Puliti, the latter also an excellent product of Beppe Nadi's school.

After about a year of work I normally begin what I would call the second phase of teaching, and that is the 'tempo' and 'controtempo', aiming to give the student simple and clear ideas on the topic, not so much with words as with example and practise.

As the student progresses in the execution of all the movements and in their fencing reasoning, I aim to bring them up to the level of the bout almost without making them realise its novelty. At first it is a few brief phrases of a silent lesson, then a surprise when performing any action, then the freedom of choice of an action, then the true and proper spratico.

Spratico is an old word which means the bout between the master and the beginner. In fact the master must always, in my opinion, be the first to fence with the student, and not once but for three months at least, until the new combatant is moulded in their position and has reached a technical level which allows them to cross blades with another opponent. In choosing this opponent, the master must once more intervene, always giving the beginner over to a strong and correct fencer. As the student progresses, the opponent will change. By now the novice is on the right path. Without neglecting the lessons and by continuing to bout they will gradually reach that fencing strength which all those willing can aspire to. Beyond this limit is virtuosity. Tenacity and talent open doors to the chosen.

THE STUDENTS OF BEPPE NADI
The students of Beppe Nadi are uncountable; dozens of masters produced by his school are spread across the world and an imposing group of amateurs have been triumphant on all the pistes in Europe.
Here are a few of these victors. Left: Giorgio Chiavacci, mayor of Cecina, European champion, Olympian in Paris and Amsterdam. Right: Carlo Anselmi, winner of the Grand Prize in Ostende and the Karlsbad tournament. Bottom: Baldo Baldi, in the winning Olympic sabre team in Antwerp.

So far I have spoken about foil, but I will also mention the sabre, even though the lessons are at first almost perfectly identical. The important thing in all weapons is to give the student a foundation, and only when they have achieved that can they begin specialised study in the discipline they prefer.

The sabre parries which I normally teach are: first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth. The student must perform the thrust from all these positions. The cut is instinctive; everyone can perform it well more or less. What is infinitely more difficult, and also more profitable, is the thrust, which must be given particular attention from the student's very first lunges.

Nadi and the European sabre champion Sandor Gombos after their match in Budapest, won by the Italian 14 to 7.

The greatest difficulty in placing the thrust on target is not on the attack, but rather on the riposte. Thus the necessity of insisting on the thrust before moving on to the cuts, which the student will perform with greater precision the better they have learnt to give thrusts.

The carriage of the sabre is a thing which is not taught with words; example alone gives the student a precise idea of how the sabre must be wielded, with lightness and vigour, guided by the forearm and not the hand.

When this blade carriage has been sufficiently achieved, after the student has carried out all the offensive and defensive actions in the lesson, stationary and marching, in tempo and controtempo, in both sabre and foil, only then can they be placed in front of another student who will proceed at the same rate in the lessons. This is not yet bouting, but conventional exercises which are rather difficult and which serve brilliantly to develop the attack, strengthen the parry, and give the beginners a precise concept of what sabre fencing is.

18-year-old Nedo Nadi crowned winner of the fencing Olympiad (1912) by King Gustaf of Sweden.

For these exercises I advise placing one of the two students at the end of the piste with their left elbow in contact with the wall, the other in front of them. The latter will attack in the simplest and fastest way possible, the other will try to parry without losing their composure, and then riposte while standing firm. Naturally the students will change places often and then change exercises, always in the presence of the master, who must be continually and relentlessly strict in correcting the two students, one of whom will initially have the inevitable defect of starting out of tempo and the other will have the equally inevitable defect of parrying much wider than necessary. Through this system, with time and patience, the two beginners will soon make progress.

King Albert of Belgium awarding a prize to
Nedo Nadi, winner of the fencing Olympiad
in Antwerp (1920).

In sabre fencing, as in foil fencing, I believe in being able to give great importance to attacking speed, and therefore I cannot stress enough the importance of making the student try to achieve as much acceleration as possible at normal measure and even at a slightly extended measure. Also in sabre the procedure of leading the novice to the bout is the same as said previously for the foil: silent lesson, surprise, spratico with the master, first bouts with stronger fencers, and finally the real thing.

* * *

I cannot and do not wish to talk about the duelling sword [épée], because it is better if I say straight away that I do not know exactly what it is. Very rarely I have seen it done well, but unfortunately the fencers on the piste were in this case two foilists; many other times I have seen it done very poorly, and then they have told me that they were the so-called pure épéeists. If this is an evolution of fencing, I confess that I have been left behind and I hope nobody will blame me.

Instead of speaking of what I do not know (but what does it say that I count among my students more than one exceptional épéeist?), it would be better if I now give a small self-examination.

As a fencing master it would be ridiculous if I were to act modest because of my results, but if I direct this praise on myself it is also right if I tell you that on the piste I am the strictest, the most annoying, the most fastidious, the most short-tempered of teachers. I have been blamed for this and I acknowledge my fault, but if there is anyone today who appreciates my uninterrupted work for over 50 years, including Christmas day and Easter, I must also be forgiven for my bad temper, which I acknowledge and am the first to deplore. However, without this trait, Italy—I say for the first time with a certain pride—would certainly have had fewer fencers.

Fencing has given me as much deep satisfaction as an art can give to an artist. In this city of Livorno, which I have been in love with since my childhood, every drop of my sweat has made a fencer blossom. My students have spread throughout the world and now that I am old, but thanks to God still strong and thriving, I continue always without even thinking that one day, alas, I will inevitably be interrupted.

This thought is sad enough to hold back my pen, but even when I will be forced to abandon the piste, the memories will give my mind the same joy which my industrious life has given. And my masterpieces—Nedo and Aldo—will even smile at my fatal passing.

BEPPE NADI

10 September 2021

Now Available: Giordano Rossi's "Sword and Sabre Fencing"

After several years of on-and-off work, I am very excited to announce that my translation of Giordano Rossi's 1885 treatise Theoretical-Practical Manual for Sword and Sabre Fencing is at last available for purchase.

This treatise was the first to be published after the death of Giuseppe Radaelli, with the sabre method largely being an expansion of that published by Del Frate in 1876. I cannot recommend this book more highly for those who have even a passing interest in Radaellian fencing.

This publication would likely never have happened without the kind help of Jherek Swanger and Harry Ridgeway, so my heartfelt thanks to those two gentlemen.

To make the shipping cost more worthwhile, consider also grabbing a copy of Harry's excellent translation of the 'Pseudo-Peter von Danzig' manuscript Cod.44.A.8, also available on Blurb.

08 August 2021

Changed in translation: modifications to the Parise sabre method

The controversial yet highly influential treatise by Masaniello Parise entitled Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, first published in 1884, was considered by many both in and outside of Italy to be the bible of Italian fencing. His work was translated at least twice in his life time, the first one being a Spanish translation in 1896 published in Argentina in 1896;1 the second was an abbreviated German translation of the 1904 version (5th edition) of Parise's treatise, carried out by Arturo Gazzera and Jacob Erckrath de Bary and published in 1905.2

While the Spanish publication was a full and faithful translation of the 1884 edition, including the original illustrations, on close inspection the German translation is seen to deviate in certain areas from the 1904 edition it claims to be translating, most significantly with regard to the sabre instruction. This article is a discussion of the most noteworthy of these modifications and what they mean for the historical practice of the Parise method.

While there are some substantial differences between 1904 and 1884 editions of Parise's treatise, the most significant of which being the change from wrist-based to full-arm molinelli as a concession to the Radaellians, an analysis of the differences between these two editions is outside the scope of this article, thus what follows here is strictly a comparison between the original 1904 Parise treatise and its German translation by Gazzera and Erckrath de Bary. This comparison is by no means 100% thorough, so if the reader finds any discrepancies not mentioned here which could be considered significant, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Arturo Gazzera, c. 1902

Before we examine the treatise, however, it is important to consider who the translators were so that we may have a greater understanding of where these changes may have originated from in the first place. Unlike the translator of the Spanish version, Arturo Gazzera was a graduate of Parise's military fencing masters school in Rome, where he was a student of the celebrated Radaellian master Carlo Guasti. Graduating at the top of his class, Gazzera would eventually spend some time teaching at the school himself, but would leave the army in 1896. He spent a few months teaching alongside Barbasetti in Vienna, then taught sabre at Károly Fodor's fencing hall in Budapest before eventually moving to Offenbach am Main, Germany, in 1899. It is here that Gazzera would remain for the rest of his life, quickly becoming one of the most prominent fencing masters in Germany.3

Among Gazzera's earliest students was the prominent sportsman Jacob Erckrath de Bary. Having spent time in Milan in the late 1880s, Erckrath de Bary became enamoured with Italian fencing, and remained an avid promoter of which on his return to Germany, where he was the president of the Offenbach Fencing Club for several years and a decorated student of Gazzera, whom the club hired to teach there. Erckrath de Bary claims it was his idea to translate Parise's great work into German, with the help of his master. At the 1906 Intercalated Olympic Games Erckrath de Bary won a gold medal as the German sabre team's captain.4 Erckrath de Bary would continue to be one of the greatest advocates for the growth of fencing in Germany, serving as the first president of the Deutscher Fechter-Bund (Germany's national fencing organisation) and representing Germany in the International Fencing Federation (FIE) for over 20 years.5

Jacob Erckrath de Bary

The beginning of Gazzera and Erckrath de Bary's translation, aside from omitting Parise's dedication to his uncle and master Raffaele Parise and greatly shortening the historical summary, the translators also omit the Fambri report for the government's treatise commission; a report which gave a flawed and biased indictment of the Radaelli sabre method and justified the selection of Parise's treatise as the new regulation fencing text for the Italian army.6 Many smaller omissions and abbreviations of the original text can be found throughout the translation (the original is 420 pages long, whilst the translation is only 160), such as most insignificant footnotes and some longer paragraphs, but this report is by far the largest section of the original to not be included. On its own this particular omission may seem of little significance, but as we shall see, the changes later on in the translation give an indication of a deliberate attempt to alter the reader's perception of Parise's system, particularly in comparison to the Radaelli system.

The foil (/sword) section is largely unmodified, although a few differences are worth mentioning. The first minor technical divergence can be seen in the guard position. While the Parise illustrations show the front knee slightly further back towards the heel of the foot, thereby producing a subtly rear-weighted guard, the photos from the German translation depict a typical even-weighted guard, with the front leg more perpendicular to the foot. We also see a slight forward lean in the torso of the Parise illustrations which is not present in the German version. This torso lean is something that Parise only explicitly mentions in the sabre section,7 but not in foil, despite being noticeable in the illustrations for both weapons.

Left: Parise (1904)
Right: Gazzera & Erckrath de Bary

The descriptions of the lunge, advance, and retreat are correspond closely with the 1904 Parise text, but the German version also adds in the balestra:

To be able to perform an advance and lunge together in two movements, a short jump forward is done with both feet at the same time, after which the legs must be found in the guard position and then the lunge immediately follows. Note: The movement must be carried out as quickly as possible without any pause between the jump and the lunge. To achieve this the jump must be short.8

The last alteration to the foil section worth mentioning (although insignificant) is in the notes on binding the weapon to the hand. In the original text Parise details three different methods of binding the weapon using a 1.5 m long ribbon or cord, while the German translation omits each of these descriptions and merely says that while the 1.5 m cord methods are still used in Italy, the practice is gradually being replaced with the use of a simple wrist strap which the pommel is inserted into.9 It is these wrist straps which soon become ubiquitous in Italian foil fencing until the widespread adoption of anatomic grips later in the 20th century, although they are still popular among some classical fencing traditions today. The wrist strap can be seen in the video at the end of this article.

As we reach the sabre section, it is here that we see the differences becoming more significant and indicative of Radaellian influence. To begin with, let us compare the descriptions of the method of gripping the sabre:

Italian German
The sabre is gripped in the full hand, but with the thumb based along the knurled part of the grip a centimetre away from the guard, and the four fingers closed around, with the little finger resting against the end of the guard, so that the upper extremity of the grip protrudes somewhat underneath the little finger. To grip the sabre well with minimal use of force, and without it sliding in the hand, it is necessary for the handle to perfectly match the concavities formed by the position of the hand, and that the thumb does not impact the guard, and that the upper part of the grip is slightly curved, so that the little finger can easily lean against the guard. In this manner the grip will not turn in the hand, the fingers will be able to rest, and the rotations which follow the cuts will be facilitated. With the sabre gripped like so, the normal position of the wrist will as a result make a noticeable angle with the outside of the forearm. The sabre is gripped with the full hand, the thumb lying on the roughened part of the backstrap, and the four fingers enclose the grip in such a way that the little finger lies on the curved part of the grip. The thumb should not collide with the guard.

Demonstration of the sabre grip, added to the German translation

While the text of the German edition resembles a summary of the original, the accompanying photo (which was not included in the original Italian edition) shows a grip more akin to the Radaellian method, with the little finger not resting against the bottom of the guard as Parise describes, although the hand does appear to be slightly further down the grip than what Radaellians such as Masiello and Barbasetti depict. Nevertheless, the grip shown in the photo is more similar to the Radaellian method than the Parise method.

In the guard position, the same difference in body weight positioning noted in the foil section is also apparent here, as well as the German version showing a more extended sword arm, the elbow not resting against the flank.

Top: Parise (1904)
Bottom: Gazzera & Erckrath de Bary

The German version also removes the mention of a slight forward inclination of the torso in the guard position:

Italian German
Whether in guard of third, or of first, the body will naturally come to be slightly forward, but perfectly balanced, so as to be exactly centred between the two heels. Whether one is in the first or third guard, the body's centre of gravity must always be in the middle between the two heels.

Yet somewhat unsurprisingly it is in the descriptions for the molinelli that we find the strongest indications of Radaellian influence. Only the first sentence of the definition changes, with a small but significant change of word order (emphasis added):

Italian German
Molinelli are those rotational movements which are performed with the sabre, and which are based principally on the wrist, with assistance from the elbow, in giving blows with the edge in all directions. Molinelli are those movements performed with the sabre, which are based principally on the operation of the elbow and the slightest assistance of the wrist. They can be performed in all directions.

Although the subsequent descriptions for the individual molinelli (discussed in some detail here) are the same in the German translation, this small edit on the part of the translators does actually make the definition match more closely with the practical execution of the molinelli than the original Italian does, as the actions involve the full range of motion of the elbow and very little wrist movement. Nor could this be interpreted as a mistake on the part of the translators, as they also add the following to the note at the end of section 21:

Note: The teacher will make sure that when performing these molinelli, the thumb never leaves the back of the grip, the rotation of the blade itself is performed with proper use of the elbow and the least possible assistance of the wrist, completely excluding involvement of the shoulders.10

While the translated descriptions of the exercise molinelli correspond closely with Parise's text, the descriptions of the practical cuts in the subsequent sections remove the sole defining feature of Parise's cutting mechanics, that being the 'recovery swing'. Let us look at the descriptions for the cut to the head as an example:

Italian German
The cut to the head is performed with a single movement; that is, from guard of third, by extending the arm forward, the hand in third position at shoulder height and the point of the blade above the opponent's head, so as to form an obtuse angle with the arm, with the edge towards the ground; the sabre is lowered decisively in a vertical direction until at the height of the flank, at the same time extending the left leg, without moving the sole of the foot from the ground, and driving the right foot forward, gliding along the ground for one foot length but without dragging it, so that the knee ends up perpendicular to the heel. After which one returns to guard, describing a circular arc, making the sabre go back up with the point hugging the left shoulder, at the same time the left leg is bent, bringing the weight of the body onto it and immediately placing the right foot in its starting position, accentuating the movement with a light beat of the foot. The head cut is performed in one movement and from guard of third. One cuts out to the right side and strikes with a quick movement, extending the arm, edge down towards the opponent's head, lunging at the same time. One then takes the shortest path to guard of third.

Unlike Parise's original text, the cuts in the German translation do not prescribe any angle between the sabre and forearm, and the recovery to guard is not accompanied by the follow-through swing as practised in the exercise molinelli, but instead it advises to take 'the shortest path' back to the guard position. These same changes are reflected in the other cuts aside from the cuts to the chest and abdomen, where the reader is told to make a slicing motion back to guard, as per the molinello to the inside face.

This is the last significant change apparent in the German translation, with the rest of the sabre material corresponding closely to the original text. The sabre method detailed in the book is still clearly Parise's despite the modifications to the cutting mechanics, but the fact that said deliberate changes exist at all (in what one would expect to be a simple translation from the Italian version) is likely indicative of a difference between the theory of Parise's method versus its practical application among the students of the military masters school. Indeed the renowned Radaellian masters Pecoraro, Pessina, Guasti, and Barbasetti were all assistant masters at the school during Gazzera's time there, with not all being as equally devoted to teaching the official method.11

It is unclear if the changes seen in this translation reflect what was actually being taught at the military masters school in Rome or rather Gazzera's own personal method, but regardless of their origin they are nevertheless part of a noticeable trend among the graduates of the military school, which many contemporary commentators attributed to the influence of the aforementioned Radaellian masters. A discussion of these divergences on a broader scale will be a topic for a future article.

I will leave the reader with a wonderful video of Arturo Gazzera's most famous student, Helene Mayer, giving a demonstration of Italian foil fencing. Things to note are the nails-up parries of 3rd and 2nd (given as 6th and 8th), the addition of the French parry of 7th, and her use of coupés, all of which showing how Gazzera's system would naturally continue to diverge from Parise's as time progressed and as the needs of modern fencing required.



1 M Parise, Tratado de esgrima teórico-praticó, trans. S P Ponce, Julio Ghio, Buenos Aires, 1896.
2 M Parise, Das Fechten mit Degen und Säbel, trans. A Gazzera & J Erckrath-de Bary, n. p., Offenbach am Main, (1905). The original does not give a year of publication, but the news of its publication in the Austrian magazine Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung, 9 April 1905, p. 363, gives a likely candidate of 1905. For clarity, further citations of this work will use only the translators' names.
3 'Tre Campioni della Scherma Italiana', La Stampa Sportiva, 2 November 1902, p. 11.
4 'La Confession d'un Escrimeur', Le Rappel, 22 July 1908, p. 3.
5 M Schröder, Deutsche Fechtkunst, Georg Koenig, Berlin, 1938.
6 Radaellian commentary on this report may be found here and here.
7 Parise, 1904, p. 270.
8 Gazzera & Erckrath-de Bary, p. 12.
9 id., pp. 98–99.
10 id., p. 111.
11 Barbasetti left the school in 1892, Guasti in 1893.

23 July 2021

Das Stossfechten italienischer Schule by Rudolf Brosch

As an early student of Luigi Barbasetti after his appointment to the Austrian military school at Wiener Neustadt 1895, Rudolf Brosch quickly established himself as one of Barbasetti's top students and soon became assistant instructor at the school alongside his master. Along with Heinrich Tenner, another star pupil of the Wiener Neustadt school, Brosch would assist in translating Barbasetti's manuscript of what would be published in 1899 in Vienna as Das Säbelfechten ('Sabre fencing'), which would serve as the military's new sabre textbook.

The sabre book would be followed a year later by Barbasetti's Das Stossfechten ('Thrust fencing'), an equally impressive although less influential treatise on foil fencing, but this text was not be translated by Brosch. In fact just one year later Brosch would publish his own foil treatise entitled Das Stossfechten italienischer Schule ('Thrust fencing of the Italian school'). Although no publication date is listed in the book itself, a review in the Austrian sporting magazine Allgemeine Sport-Zeitung from 21 July 1901 provides a reliable year of publication. Below you may find a PDF of my own copy.

Scans: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1f2rCkCX8wE1XHeSC0iUgcHcvRtBxAODi/view?usp=sharing

Although an in-depth comparison of the differences between Barbasetti and Brosch's treatises deserves its own article, it can be noted how Brosch prefers a slightly forward-weighted guard position (as opposed to Barbasetti's suggestion to be slightly rear-weighted), performs parry of 3rd with the nails up, and that his teaching progression on pages 118-9 differs from the structure of Barbasetti's treatise by introducing the parries earlier and blade actions later.

09 June 2021

'Causerie' by Enrico Casella

Towards the end of the 1880s, the new developments in Italian sabre fencing were beginning to gain notoriety outside of Italy, in part due to the increased amount of formal interaction between fencers of other countries, but also due to Italian fencers leaving their homeland and settling elsewhere.

This month I present a translation of parts 1-6 of a series of articles by one such emigrant, Enrico Casella (here going by the French version of his name, 'Henri Casella'), entitled 'Causerie', published in the French fencing magazine L'Escrime Française from 20 September to 5 December 1889. Continue reading for more background on Enrico Casella and the articles in question.

Translation: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1OjfK_rkL_HgzE2fZiunRCshxo-fuFKcD/view?usp=sharing


By the mid-1880s, journalist Enrico Casella had achieved great fame in his native Italy as a champion Neapolitan amateur fencer, having learnt under the Neapolitan masters Felice Stellati-Dumarteau and the great Giacomo Massei.1

After many successful appearances in fencing circles throughout Italy and France, Casella's fame would soon spread to South America, where he resided for a couple of years, founding the Cosmopolita newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, spreading his tradition of Italian fencing among Brazilian aristocrats at the same time. He received more international attention in 1885 due to a dispute with the eternally-offended duellist Athos di San Malato, eventuating in one of the several duels that Casella would have in his lifetime.2

Following a fencing tour through various countries in Europe, as well as residing for a short time in the USA, Casella settled in Paris, where he worked as a correspondent for various French and Italian newspapers, even getting himself mixed-up in the infamous Dreyfus affair at one point.

Although Casella would quickly come to consider France as his home, he nevertheless remained a staunch advocate of Italian fencing, particularly of his own Neapolitan school. Despite this, early on in his 'Causerie' articles he firmly establishes himself in opposition to the 'modern Neapolitan school' as represented by Masaniello Parise at the Military Fencing Masters School in Rome and Almerico Melina at the National Academy of Fencing in Naples. With his typical colourful language, Casella gives a damning appreciation of Parise's ability as a fencer and master:

Mr. Masaniello Parise belongs to a family of fencers who all had greater or lesser merit, a few even had a lot, but who all indistinctly never had a natural gift for teaching. Masaniello could therefore not escape this fatal law of inheritance. He has just the right amount of physical means to provide a correct fencer; no more than that. His artistic intelligence is more limited. He has always had rather questionable bouts, and wrote a treatise on Fencing of the future which posterity will surely appreciate, but which we humble mortals have not understood a word of.

But perhaps more interestingly for those who concern themselves with Radaellian fencing, he also speaks very favourably of the modern Radaelli school, saying that compared to the Neapolitan sabre school, '...it must be admitted that the Radaellians hold the high ground'.

He also gives a brief and rather humbling account of Giuseppe Radaelli admitting that his ability as a foilist was limited:

When Radaelli was alive, I went to Milan to meet him. He was a 'good fellow', not the least bit pompous, but he knew nothing at all about foil lessons. Moreover, he did not hide this, and his only concern was the sabre. I remember one day very well when I was fencing in his salle with Marquis Fossati, he 'begged' me not to watch what he was doing, foil in hand, with one of his students.

This account gives yet more proof that Radaelli's main concern was the reforming of sabre fencing, with the teaching of foil most likely being something that he felt obliged to do by the 'classical' faction of Italy's fencing community.

Aside from these valuable insights into the world of Italian fencing in the late 1880s, Casella's articles are made even richer due to the fact he was writing for an audience that was largely ignorant of Italian fencing at the time, and so despite the various pop-culture references Casella makes, the articles can still be informing for those who have little to no appreciation of Western European fencing in the late 19th century.

I must give my sincere thanks to François Perreault for his proof-reading, and helping me to decode some of the more colourful turns of phrase employed by Casella. Scans of the original copies of L'Escrime Française may be found here, courtesy of the archives of the Fédération Française d'Escrime.


1 CM De Vaux, Le sport en France et à l'étranger, J. Rothschild, Paris, 1899, p. 283.
2 'The Prince of Fencers', Baltimore Sun, 28 March 1886, p. 9.