Sunday, 11 December 2016

Who is Giuseppe Radaelli?

As this blog will have a large focus on the Radaellian fencing tradition, I thought it might be useful to give a little background on Radaelli himself by providing my own translation of Jacopo Gelli's biography of the man in his bibliographic compilation "Bibliografia Generale della Scherma"1 from 1890:

"Giuseppe Radaelli has not written any works of fencing, but he has dictated, as noted by the works published by Del Frate.
Therefore, not as author, but as inspirer and creator of the works under the fencing of his method, Radaelli is entitled to a distinguished place in a fencing bibliography.
For several years to date, there remains a lively controversy around the fencing system of Radaelli, in which swordsmen, noblemen, and intellectuals alike have taken part.
With compelling arguments the admirers defend Radaelli's system, which brings the pivot point to the elbow rather than the wrist as formerly practised.
After a few years of teaching and wonderful success: having created a large number of maestri, who have spread his theories throughout Italy, and especially in the army, with excellent results; the Ministry of war, following the trend of opponents, ordered the Radaelli method to be discarded and replaced with that of Parise.
Nevertheless, the Radaellian system always achieved an undisputed supremacy over the other systems, and nobody could ever deny the superiority of the Radaellian theories in the greater security and power in the cut, and in the precision of the blows striking with the edge and not the flat, which nearly always happened before.
The theories of Radaelli, somewhat modified by Masiello, still serve as the basis of instruction of Italian gentlemen, free from any subjection to military discipline, and we firmly believe that nobody can oppose the slow but steady progress that the pure Italian system derived from Radaelli - represented by Masiello, Ruglioni, Varrone, Pecoraro, Arista, Ciullini, Pini, Rossi and many, many other excellent maestri and fencers - makes daily.
In the meantime we note that the cavalry of the Italian army, after some time of uncertainty and unsuccessful trials, is back to old method of Radaelli for the handling of the sabre, abandoning what Parise properly2 adopted.


Giuseppe Radaelli was born in Milan in 1833 and died there in 1882.
Under the intelligent direction of his brother, Bonaventura Radaelli, who held one of the more reputed fencing halls in Milan, the great sabre maestro had his first fencing lessons. However, their differing opinions with regard to fencing obliged him to leave his brother and take refuge in Turin. Along the way in Monferrato he became acquainted with Captain Avogadro di Novara, also a passionate fencer. Knowing Radaelli to be an excellent fencer, he took to protecting him, and introduced him to many officers, his colleagues, who were intellectuals in relation to fencing.
At that time in Piedmont, a Genovese man named Cavalli enjoyed a great reputation as an undefeated sabreur. Captain Avogadro and Lieutenant Del Frate decided to test their protégé against the Genovese champion, and for this reason they took him to Genoa.
There in Cavalli's hall the two maestri faced off, and Radaelli was left the victor.
This success attracted the attention of the intellectuals to Radaelli's method of sabre fencing.
As a result, the great Radaelli hall opened in Turin, populated by gentlemen of Piedmont, officers, and civilians.
At the outbreak of the glorious war3 in 1859, Radaelli enlisted in the Monferrato cavalry, with which he campaigned. Following this, Colonel Avogadro of the Monferrato regiment was residing in Lodi. To there Radaelli went, and opened up a fencing hall, which closed not long afterwards so that he could follow his regiment and his mentor to Santa Maria in Capua (1864).
In the meantime, Radaelli's theories of the “main pivot at the elbow” had travelled far, and on the unanimous opinion of all the regimental commanders and cavalry generals, the Ministry of War ordered that three officers from each regiment learn from the system's creator, in order to then spread it amongst the regiments.
However at the opening of the campaign of 1866, Radaelli returned to being a soldier in his Monferrato, as he called it, and after completing that, followed the regiment to Parma.
In 1868 he returned to Milan, alongside his brother.
Meanwhile, after the favourable opinion expressed by a commission of senior officers in 1869, the Ministry opened the Scuola Magistrale of fencing, under the direction of Radaelli. This school produced eminent fencers, and among them in 1875 were Rossi, Pecoraro, Moccagatta, Guasti, Stignani, Arzani, Caiciati, Scarani, Bosio, Toziani, Arista, Corsini, Botti, Saccenti, Fabbi, and others.
He fell ill for the first time in 1878 and did not recover until his death in 1882, mourned by those he had known and by all those lovers of the truth and beauty in the art of fencing who had learned his system."

1 The full text can be found here
2 "decentemente adottato" - Not sure what is meant here
3 The Second Italian War of Independence

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