Friday, 20 March 2020

Translation - Lezioni collettive di spada e sciabola by Eugenio Pini

Eugenio Pini is one of the most famous names in modern Italian fencing history, perhaps second only to Aldo Nadi. He was undoubtedly the first modern Italian fencing celebrity, with his name being known across Europe thanks to his high-profile fencing exhibitions, duels, feuds, and not least his renowned fencing club in Livorno, which produced many champions, the most prominent of whom being Giuseppe "Beppe" Nadi, father of Aldo and Nedo Nadi.

Before he was quite so famous, while employed at the Royal Naval Academy in Livorno, Pini wrote a short book detailing his method of group instruction for fencing, according to the regulation method of the time (Parise 1884). It is this valuable and interesting work which I wish to share with you all today, which is entitled Lezioni collettive di spada e sciabola ('Group sword and sabre lessons'), published in 1891 in Milan.


With very little in the way of technical notes, this booklet is more of a pedagogical guide for trained fencing instructors. Although individual lessons were the more popular method at the time for imparting technical skills (at least in the initial phases of learning), Pini's text provides a valuable insight into how skilled fencing masters would impart lessons to groups without compromising the quality of their teaching in doing so.

With reference to Parise's regulation treatise, Pini divides his curriculum into 5 years (the same length as an officer's course at the Royal Naval Academy), with the first four years of which being devoted almost entirely to sword fencing. Here is a summary of each year of the curriculum:

1st year

Instruction begins with sword fencing only. Students learn basic footwork, simple attacks, simple parries, circular parries, disengagements and counter-disengagements, and feints.

2nd year

The instructor transitions to doing individual lessons with the students, who practise among themselves when not taking a lesson.

3rd year

The instructor continues in the same manner as in the second year, but also begins slowly transitioning only the most capable students into bouting, which they will be allowed to do in the last months of the year.

4th year

The instructor will continue perfecting the students' fencing individually, still only allowing the best students to bout between themselves and with the instructor. In the last months of the year, students will begin learning the fundamentals of sabre fencing through group exercises

5th year

Students will receive individual sabre lessons, whilst the rest practise among themselves through exercises and bouting. All the while, the instructor will keep a watchful eye on the students, correcting and guiding them to becoming skilled and courteous fencers.

Sunday, 23 February 2020

La Scherma della Sciabola e del Bastone a Due Mani by Alberto Falciani

Seeing as it has been a while since I have made public any original fencing treatises, I thought I should get around to completing a transcription of Alberto Falciani's La scherma della sciabola e del bastone a due mani ('Fencing with the sabre and two-handed stick'), published in Pisa in 1870.


As the name implies, this treatise is devoted to both sabre and bastone, the latter being the practice of fencing with two-handed sticks, which was quite popular in the middle of the 19th century, before going out of fashion around the time this treatise was published.

Although it contains no illustrations, the language is clear and simple enough for them to not be required, such as the description for the typical northern Italian lunge ('... the right breast is almost directly above the right knee').

Thanks to Biblioteca Universitaria di Pisa for providing the scans for this transcription.

Friday, 17 January 2020

The 1892 Genoa Fencing Tournament

In this first post of 2020, I bring a translation of another detailed fencing tournament report, this time from 1892 Genoa. Published with the title Torneo Internazionale di Scherma, Genova 16-24 Giugno 1892, this report was written by the tournament jury's speaker, Giuseppe Nini, a well-regarded lawyer and amateur fencer from Rome. Below you will find links to my full translation of this text and a transcription of the original Italian. In addition, I have also provided a translation of a second report on the same tournament from the magazine Baiardo (more on that below).

The rules and format of the Genoa Tournament are very similar to previous tournaments discussed on this blog (see Milan 1881 and Bologna 1891), with the variation here that the classification of the fencers was conducted at the same times as the 'pool' competition, the intent of which being to both prevent the artistic degradation generally observed in the pools and to prevent the overly 'conventional' fencing associated with classification bouts.

The most interesting aspects of the report are contained in the jury's observations of the fencing, which show many parallels to lamentations within the historical fencing community today, such as recklessness, frequent double touches, and lack of control of the weapon.

The report from Baiardo (scans available through here) was published over three issues (1892/06/20, 1892/07/08, and 1892/07/20) and written by Giovanni Battista Marazzo. This report gives more of an outsider's perspective as opposed to Nini's report, which was compiled by the members of the Jury.

As is fairly usual for this period, commentators didn't shy at the opportunity to bring fencing politics into the discussion of the tournament. Most notably here, in both the Nini and Baiardo reports, were feelings of dissatisfaction with the quality of many of the fencers. The following short article entitled 'Impressions on the Genoa Tournament' published in Baiardo on the 20th August 1892 places the blame squarely on the Scuola Magistrale and Masaniello Parise, its director:
From the progress of the aforementioned tournament, I have once again brought back the conviction that our youth show a high aptitude for the noble art of fencing, and it is with true regret that I came to realise that a sufficient benefit cannot be drawn from these aptitudes, the official system being the main cause.
This is not the first time that I am obliged to note how this system satisfies neither the reasons of the art, nor its traditions, nor even the nature of Italian youth, of which the Army is the prime champion.
It is a strong conviction, as I have already stated a thousand times, that the talents of agility and strength which nature has endowed the Italian people with cannot be usefully cultivated with the regulation method.
This opinion of mine, which, even if it is wrong—which I do not believe to be the case—certainly comes only from artistic and scientific considerations.
Let us hope that Parise, the one in charge of directing the Army’s fencing, may one day change his mind and bring our art back to its ancient splendour.
Bruto II
Bias against fencers from the Scuola Magistrale had been predicted by some when it was revealed who was elected to the tournament's jury, with an article from Baiardo published on the 8th June 1892 (prior to the tournament taking place) stating '... just as the Turin Tournament was said to be Enrichettian, that of Bologna Radaellian, that of Rome Neapolitan, that of Palermo Cipollian, thus the formation of the Jury for the Genoa Tournament was called anti-Parise.' The same article also claims some fencers from the Scuola Magistrale intended to boycott the tournament for this reason, but did not expect many to actually do so.

Special thanks to Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze for providing the scans of Nini's tournament report.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Codice del Duello by Conte di Chatauvillard

The scans I present to the reader today are not directly to fencing, but nevertheless pertain to a topic quite relevant to all those practising the use of arms in the 19th century, i.e. the duel.


This book, published as Codice del Duello ('Duelling Code') in 1864 in Naples, is a partial translation of a French text from 1836 entitled Essai sur le Duel by the Count of Chatauvillard. The text was quite popular in the 19th century both within and outside of France, often cited in discussions regarding duelling codes.

This Italian translation is only the duelling code from the original French book. The translation is credited to Eugenio Torelli.

Note that there is an error with the page numbering after page 88, where the next numbered page is labelled 99.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The 1902 Grand International Fencing Tournament in Turin

Jumping slightly ahead of the previous tournaments we have seen, the regulations I present to you today are from a tournament that took place in 1902 in Turin. The regulations are taken from an issue of Rivista Moderna, Politica e Letteraria published on the 15th May 1902 (scans here).

The most notable addition to this and other Italian fencing tournaments in the first decade of the 20th century is the épée de combat. With clear French influence, the duelling sword had not yet fully been accepted by the Italians as a third weapon separate from foil and sabre in the same way as the French, however, in the years following this tournament Italy would see a steady rise of interest in this weapon, with the adoption of special rules and weapons for 'fencing on the ground' in the military and Parise's 1904 publication Scherma da Terreno, detailing his duelling sword and sabre system.

The rest of the regulations still retain the same characteristics of tournaments from the previous decades, with foil and sabre being judged on subjective criteria as well as touches scored and received.

Grand International Fencing Tournament

Here are the conditions which will regulate the grand international fencing tournament, which will take place in Turin at the end of May, under the patronage of the Duke of Aosta.

Conditions of admission

Article 1. On the occasion of the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative Art, an International Fencing Tournament will be held in Turin at the end of May and the beginning of June. Except for the competition with the duelling sword (épée de combat), foreign and national maestri and amateurs will be admitted to the tournament in distinct categories; the examinations will be the same for the two categories.  Art. 2. Those who, despite not teaching the art, have obtained a licence from the Scuola Magistrale in Rome, the National Academy in Naples, or any other private technical Commission, will not be considered as amateurs. The same for those who are known to practise the profession of teaching fencing, even without a licence. The Jury will have full power to decide on the matter. Fencers younger than 17 years old will not be admitted to the tournament.


Art. 3. The tournament will comprise of: a) classification bouts; b) foil and sabre competitions (pools); c) competition with the duelling sword (épée de combat pool); d) due grand exhibitions.

Classification bouts

Art. 4. For both foil and sabre, each competitor must sustain two classification bouts, with two different opponents.
The Jury will classify each fencer with points from 1 to 20, up to one decimal place, and the average of the points obtained in the two examinations will constitute the order of classification.
Art. 5. Those who receive a classification of less than 14/20 in the first examination bout will not be granted a second.
Art. 6. The first eight classified in foil and sabre (maestri and amateurs) will take part in a third classification round (see art. 10).
The merit points received in the bouts of the third round will be averaged with those obtained in the previous bouts and will establish the definitive classification for the allocation of special prizes as per art. 16.
Art. 7. In the classification bouts, the Jury will take into account: a) efficacy; b) the chivalry of the fencer and his spontaneity in declaring the blows; c) composure in guard; d) variety of actions; e) the artistic concept which guides them.
It will be in the Jury’s power to inexorably exclude from the competition those who do not declare aloud the blow they receive to any part of the body with the word: toccato!
In the foil bouts, valid blows will be considered all those given with the point from the clavicle to the iliac crest, including the arm when it covers the chest. Blows to any part of the body will also be considered valid whenever the natural target is otherwise hidden from the opponent’s blade. The double touch will always be judged against the one who provokes it, with the exception of the competition with the duelling sword. The fencer who causes three double touches in a bout will be excluded from the competition. The simple disarm not immediately followed by the thrust or cut will not count as a blow. The Jury’s verdict is final.

Foil and sabre competitions
(Elimination pools)

Art. 8. All competitors who have at least 10 classification points may compete in a competition (pool) in the respective weapon, to two blows with the foil and three with the sabre. These competitions will be subject to the customary rules.

Competition with the duelling sword
(Épée de combat pool)

Art. 9. This competition is reserved to fencers (maestri and amateurs) who achieve a classification of no less than 18 points in the foil bouts. Only foreign competitors may enter this competition without restriction.
In this competition the following rules will be observed: a) The opponents will be placed on guard by one of the field judges such that with their arms extended, the points of the swords are about forty centimetres from each other; b) the competitor who is touched must stop. At the command of halt! given by the director of the combat, the two opponents must stop immediately; c) the competition consists of a single blow; d) blows will be considered valid on any part of the body; however, blows which touch the chest will count for double; e) in the case of a double touch, a blow will be counted for each fencer, two if to the chest. If, according to the field judge, there was a considerable time interval between the two blows, or a considerable difference in length between the two lines where the blows were directed, only one blow will be considered good; f) in cases where corps-a-corps threatens the character of true combat with the sword, the director of the bout will interrupt it. One must always bout with the same hand during the same bout; g) in all phases of the combat, it is prohibited to make use of the non-weapon arm or hand to parry or deviate the opponent’s weapon, or to fight in any other way; h) the blow given to a disarmed opponent will not be valid if, between the disarm and the thrust, there is a long enough time interval that the blow can be withheld. The fencer will be considered touched if he breaks this prohibition; i) the duration of the bout is fixed at a maximum of 15 minutes. After 5 minutes have elapsed, 2 minutes of rest may be allowed. If at the end of 15 minutes no result has been obtained, both fencers will be considered touched; j) lost ground will not be given back, and he who crosses the established limit with both feet will be considered touched. However, the director of the combat will warn the competitor when he is two metres from the limit; k) the gloves must be white, or a very light colour, but not padded. The leather must be strong and very thick. The cuff must be soft, unvarnished, and close-fitting to the arm up to the elbow; l) the marker button should not be considered capable of undoubtedly giving a mathematically correct and decisive result in every circumstance; it is intended to assist the judges in their deliberations, which are all the more delicate because a single thrust attributed wrongly can cause a fencer to lose a ranking he would be legitimately entitled to. The members of the Jury will therefore retain full and complete freedom of deliberation on the blow to be judged; m) depending on the number of competitors, the Jury will decide if this competition will take place by means of elimination bouts or by partial round-robins followed by a final round between the winners.

Grand exhibitions

Art. 10. The tournament will end with two grand exhibitions, in which the following will take place: a) the bouts of the third classification round, as per art. 6; b) the deciding bouts of the last pair of the foil competition of each class (maestri and amateurs); c) the deciding bouts of the last pair of the sabre competition of each class (maestri and amateurs); d) the final bouts of the last two pairs of the competition with the duelling sword.
The two exhibitions will be held on different days, and the bouts will be distributed evenly, alternating maestri and amateurs, foil and sabre.


Art. 11. The competitions will be directed and judged by a Jury composed of select fencers, if possible from the various nations and main regions which give the greatest contribution to the tournament.
The Jury will elect: 1 President; 1 Vice-President; 1 Secretary.
The attributions of field judges will be free of foreign maestri, and they will be nominated by the tournament’s organising Committee.


Art. 12. The Committee puts at the disposal of the Jury the following prizes: 50 gold medals and 50 silver, which will be awarded by the Jury more or less equally to both classes (maestri and amateurs).
Art. 13. Each competitor who receives an average of no less than 17 points in their two classification bouts will be given a gold medal certificate.
Similarly, all those who receive a classification less than 17 points and no less 14 points will be given a silver medal certificate. Other certificates will not be granted.
Art. 14. The available gold and silver medals will be awarded along with their corresponding certificates by order of classification ranking.
Those who earned a medal of the same class for foil and sabre will only be given one, along with a special distinguishing mark.
Art. 15. A single certificate for each fencer will contain all the information relative to the classifications and special prizes obtained.
Art. 16. The special prizes are divided as follows:
Maestri — Foil 1st Prize: 1000 lire — Foil 2nd Prize: 500 lire — Foil 3rd Prize: 200 lire — Sabre 1st Prize: 800 lire — Sabre 2nd Prize: 400 lire — Sabre 3rd Prize: 100 lire.
Foil competition (Pool) — 1st Prize 500 lire.
Sabre competition (Pool) — 1st Prize 300 lire.
Amateurs — The prizes for the amateurs, in similar proportion to that followed for the maestri, will consist of artistic objects, the list of which will be published shortly together with the exact date of the tournament and the list of jurors.
Competition with the duelling sword (Épée de combat pool) — In this special competition, as per art. 9, the only prize consists of an artwork and 200 lire.

Weapons and clothing

Art. 17. The weapons admitted to the tournament are: the foil, Italian and French; the sabre; the duelling sword (épée de combat) for special competition.
The length, width, and weight of the weapons cannot exceed a maximum and minimum corresponding to customs.
In case of doubt, the Jury will decide.
The use of the ligature is allowed.
For the foil competitors, a white jacket and a close-meshed mask are prescribed.
For the sabre competitors, a gauntlet, or small glove with an elbow guard, and an appropriate mask are prescribed.
For both weapons, a sailcloth plastron is required.
Only the duelling swords will be provided by the Committee, and they will be equipped with a marker button. The use of one’s own weapon will be allowed, provided that it conforms to the regulation model, as per art. 17.


Art. 18. The registration fee is fixed at 10 lire for maestri and 15 lire for amateurs.
Fencers coming from abroad are not exempt.
The registration pass will give the right to a railway discount, as well as all the other facilities that the Committee of the festivities will obtain in order to make the competitors’ stay in Turin more pleasant.
Registration applications must reach the secretary’s office of the Committee for the International Fencing Tournament, via Bellezia 4, Turin, no later than the 20th May, and be accompanied by the registration fee. In the registration application, one must indicate the weapon, or weapons, which one intends to compete with in the competitions.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

La Scherma di Spada by Alberto Cougnet

Today I present to my readers a book from my own collection: La Scherma di Spada by the sports journalist and amateur fencer Alberto Cougnet. Published in 1894 in Reggio nell'Emilia, the text is an essay discussing the differences between the Italian and French schools of sword fencing. Below is a link to a PDF of this text.


As may be seen on the title page, it seems that Cougnet was awarded a silver medal for this book at the Genoa Sports Competition in 1892.

Cougnet begins by discussing the origins of each school, then moving onto the differences between the weapons, the terminology, technical differences, and so on.

Whilst it does not provide much new insight to the modern reader on fencing of the time, it does present an interesting point of view on foil fencing in the last decade of the 19th century, not long before many of the distinguishing characteristics of each school began to gradually blur or disappear.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

The 1886 Varese Fencing and Gymnastics Tournament

The tournament regulations I present to you today are slightly out of the ordinary, due to the fact that they also contain regulations for the gymnastics tournament that was being held on the same occasion in Varese, which was during the 1886 Agricultural and Industrial Exhibition.

The regulations for the fencing tournament will look very familiar if you have read any of the previous regulations I have translated, but the gymnastics regulations provide a fascinating insight into competitions for an often-neglected part of 19th century physical training which was very commonly done alongside fencing.

I have done my best at translating the technical terms in the gymnastics section into their modern equivalents, but I am by no means an expert on this topic, so take it all with a grain of salt.