Friday, 10 February 2017

Radaelli's Guard of 2nd

Today we shall be looking at Radaelli's Guard of 2nd, and some pieces of information that might provoke some thoughts on how we interpret it.

The illustration of the guard of 2nd provided in Del Frate's 1876 text Istruzione per la scherma di sciabola e di spada del professore Giuseppe Radaelli is as shown:

(Image extracted from C. Holzman's "Art of the Dueling Sabre")

Del Frate does not provide a written description of the guard in this text, but the illustration is quite clear in showing the hand at about shoulder height, with the point around chest height (which may be lower towards the opponent's flank depending on the curve of the sabre). In the third section of Chris Holzman's The Art of the Dueling Sabre, he states the same thing, with the addition that the hand be slightly outside the body.

Del Frate's 1868 text Istruzione per maneggio e scherma della sciabola (translation available on this blog) also shows a similar position for this guard, albeit with the point at the height of the flank:

However, Del Frate does actually provide a description of the guard in this text:
In this guard the hand should be placed at the height and in the direction of the chin, the point at the height of the flank, with the blade across the body so that the point extends about one palm beyond the left flank, and the edge slanted to the right.
This description would bring the hand higher than what is shown in both these plates, and further to the left than what Holzman suggests. Thus the recurring question of whether the description or the illustrations are more accurate in describing the position arises.

There are other examples of differences between description and illustration in Del Frate's works, but the other example that will be shown here is that of his guard position in the spada section of the 1876 text:

(Image extracted from C. Holzman's "Art of the Dueling Sabre")

Compared to his description of this position (translation also by Holzman):
The right arm is semi-extended forward, and the sword forms a straight line with the forearm. The point is held at approximately head height, and the hand is at the height of the chin. The point, hand, and shoulder should be in a straight line.
Note that he again states that the hand should be at chin height, yet the illustration shows it at what appears to be shoulder height. The detailed nature of this description leads me to believe that he did not simply mean "shoulder" when he said "chin", as the hand would no longer follow the straight line he describes with the point and shoulder, which also cannot be seen in the illustration.

As for Radaelli's students, it seems that some opted to hold the sabre lower for their 2nd guards, like Giordano Rossi (1885):

The right arm is extended, at the same time turning the edge of the sabre diagonally up and to the right, with the grip at the height and in the direction of the right breast; point at the height of the knees, the arm naturally outstretched.
Ferdinando Masiello (1887):

In the assault, however, the guard of second is more useful, which entails holding the hand at the height of the breast and the point directed at the opponent’s flank.
Whereas Luigi Barbasetti (1936) held the guard at shoulder height, albeit with a slight forward lean:

For the guard of Seconde, direct the point toward your opponent's hip, the sabre in line as an extension of the arm, the cutting edge of the blade in a diagonal line to the right.
With Salvatore Pecoraro and Carlo Pessina (1912) we see a similar case to that of Del Frate, with the photo showing the hand at around shoulder height, but the description instead stating for it to be at the height of the breast:

(Image and translation extracted from C. Holzman's "Sabre Fencing")
The guard of seconda differs from that of terza through the position of the hand that is held at the height of the breast with the point of the sabre directed to the opponent's flank, the edge to the right and diagonally upwards.
The fact that this is an actual photo instead of an illustration most likely removes the possibility that the depiction doesn't match up due to the fault of an illustrator. Therefore it may be that the images are more accurate than the descriptions in this case.

If we look at an example of a contemporary system outside of Italy, for example John Musgrave Waite (1880), his depiction seems to match Del Frate's, and the description he gives matches his own image well:

Move the sword-arm to the front until the hand is directly opposite the hollow of the right shoulder, bend the elbow slightly and raise it, sink the wrist, and turn up the middle knuckles and edge of the sword. Advance, and lower the point until it is nearly opposite and level with the left hip. [...] When this guard is properly formed, the upper knuckles and elbow are level and in line with the shoulder.

Assuming the fencer has a good, upright posture when on guard, Waite's description of the right hand being "opposite the hollow of the right shoulder" seems analogous to Del Frate's 1868 description of being in the direction of the chin. I will leave it up to the reader to decide how they believe Radaelli intended the guard to be held, but from comparing all these examples, my personal conclusion is that Radaelli's guard of 2nd most likely had the hand around the height of the shoulder and opposite or slightly to the left of it, with the point opposite or just outside of the opponent's flank.


Barbasetti, L. (1936). The Art of the Sabre and the Épée. New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.

Del Frate, S. (1868). Istruzione per maneggio e scherma della sciabola. Florence: Tipografia, litografia e calcografia La Venezia.

Del Frate, S. (1876). Istruzione per la scherma di sciabola e di spada del professore Giuseppe Radaelli scritta d’ordine del Ministero della Guerra. Milan: Litografia Gaetano Baroffio.

Holzman, C. (2011). The Art of the Dueling Sabre. New York: SKA SwordPlay Books.

Masiello, F. (1887). La scherma italiana di spada e di sciabola. Florence: Stabilimento Tiopografico G. Civelli.

Pecoraro, S. and Pessina, C. (2016). Sabre Fencing (C. Holzman, Trans.). Raleigh, N.C.: Lulu Press (Original work published 1912).

Rossi, G. (1885). Manuale Teorico-Pratico per la Scherma di Spada e Sciabola, Milan: Fratelli Dumolard Editori.

Waite, J. M. (1880). Lessons in Sabre, Singlestick, Sabre & Bayonet, and Sword Feats, London: Weldon & Co.


  1. One thing I would suggest is to keep in mind that the 68/9 Del Frate (p52) specifically notes it is the guard of "seconda, piuttosto alta", or seconda rather high. So that is "seconda alta" rather than seconda proper. Regardless, hand height anywhere between the shoulder and chin is fine. As to side to side position, note what the description says - blade across the body so that the point passes about a palmo beyond the left flank, point at the height of the flank, the edge oblique (diagonally upward) to the right. That tells us the blade goes across the body a bit probably as a result of the higher hand position and the curve of the blade... but, the next paragraph really tells us more... 'In questa posizione noi avremo i vantaggi di aver l'avambraccio abbastanza parato, di poter correre a tutte le parate con un piccolo movimento d'avambraccio..." 'In this position we will have the advantage of having the forearm sufficiently covered, of being able to run to all the parries with a little movement of the forearm...'

    The 'sufficiently covered' is the key here. If the right hand is placed on line with the right shoulder, the forearm is maybe ok, but still somewhat vulnerable . If it is placed a fist width outside the shoulder, it is pretty well protected. If it is placed to the left/inside of the shoulder, it is terribly exposed. As a general rule, any instructor in the living tradition will always correct the guard of seconda to sit on or outside the shoulder. One can absolutely let it drift to the inside, as a slight invitation in 1st, but that is what it is.

    1. These are all very good points, and I can't fault your logic at all, I think I just see what Del Frate writes in a slightly different manner.

      He mentions in the first section of the same manual a guard that is preferable for the bout ("vedremo poi più avanti qual guardia sarà da preferirsi, quando si passerà agli esercizii preparatori per l'assalto"), which I can only assume is referring to guard of second, which he only describes as was shown.

      Since Del Frate is referring to his description of having the hand in the direction of the chin when he says "we will have the advantage of having the forearm sufficiently covered", he seems to think that it is sufficient enough in protecting the forearm. Waite says the same with his hand slightly to the left of the right shoulder: "...when properly formed, it protects the arm and body from all cuts".

      Thanks very much for your take on it though, this gives me more to think about.

  2. From a practical standpoint:

    If you're my opponent, please do let that hand drift inside on guard in seconda. I will like it very much.

    The thing to remember is that guard positions are supposed to actually close a line. 2nd guard closes the outside line, and invites on the inside high line and to the head. This makes your opponent's possible actions more predictable. If you leave yourself sort of inside, between the lines, you also greatly expose yourself to a feint (particularly to the arm) into what should be an otherwise closed line; in that case, if you're exposed where you're supposed to be closed, the guard doesn't meet its stated goal, and thus isn't really a guard position.

    Best of luck!

    P.s., how did you find the 73 cav regs? I've been looking for book 1 for a while, though I've found book 3. Also, did you notice if they had any early 1850s editions? I've been trying to find the Royal Bulletin that Caccia cites for how to grip the sword and draw the sword (since he cites by section but fails to quote it, I'd like to include that in my Caccia translation).

    If you're not planning on publishing the 73, I'd probably think pretty hard about translating the whole thing and publishing it. I'd like to push something out to overcome the 'Italian sabre isn't military sabre" nonsense in the community. I can't think of a better method than reprinting/translating the full military manual. The stripped down nature might better appeal to people in the community (most of them) who can't think past first intention simple attacks.... :D

    1. I found the 73 manual just through searching library catalogues, which was spurred on after seeing one of Angelini's quotes from Gelli's "Resurrectio". I then ordered the scans myself from Bibliotecha Statale di Cremona. I'll be publishing the scans on this blog very soon.

      I haven't found an edition of the regolamento from earlier than 1869, but the Ministry of War did publish "Istruzione pel maneggio della sciabola" in 1853 (catalogue link:, but I haven't obtained the scans.

      If you need any more information, I've put my email address in my Blogger profile, so feel free to contact me.

    2. I have the end article of that series (I think - or at least Angelini intended it to be) called "Ultima Parola..blah blah blah'. I think it was published in some sort of pamphlet. I don't have a great copy of it, but its mostly readable. I'd forgotten about it. I'll try to get it scanned and upped soon. I've also got an odd little piece that came in the scans of my copy of the 68/9, which is the full article on the proposed grip updates, but I don't think/know if it was actually part of that book, or something that just got stuck in it. Maestro Toran has a copy of the 76 Del Frate with handwritten student's notes inserted on pages between the book pages. I'm trying to get him to cough that up, but its not been scanned and he's very busy... I'm hoping they might shed more light on how things changed, as I know there was rapid change (see, e.g., Rossi's changes to the sforzi di cambiamento while leaving everything else alone, more or less).

    3. Oh cool, I'd love to see that. Gelli responds to it in Resurrectio, but he seems to make out that Angelini basically restates what he said in "Osservazioni sul maneggio ...", seemingly not having changed his (stubborn) views. What's interesting about Angelini's quoting of the 1873 manual is that he states it as being written by Radaelli. This is probably false of course, but it at least supports the connection between that manual and the Radaellian method.

      That copy of the 76 manual seems particularly interesting, does he know who the student was? I'd be interested to see what changes were made post-76 by Radaelli and what changes were individual (such as guard of 2nd being held at chest height in Rossi's and Masiello's systems; did they choose that independently or was it a later change of Radaelli?).

  3. Not a clue as to who the student was, or what the circumstances of the notes are - just that they're there. I've seen a bad cellphone photo of a couple pages, but unfortunately they were just too blurry and too far away to make anything out from them. I'm hoping that once Maestro Toran gets around to wanting to finish up the Caccia translation (going to be an English translation + Italian language edition, with the proceeds going to the museum) I can get him to take some better photos of all of those pages, so I can get them translated. If they're anything of any substance they could be quite neat.

  4. Hello, I don't know if you monitor comments on posts this old, but I had a question about this version of seconda. I've had two different instructors who are certified in a living tradition tell me that this guard has largely fallen out of favor in modern classical saber. I don't know if you take part in academic classical fencing, but I found that strange. Virtually everything else I've learned from them can be found in Barbasetti's manual, with this exception. I actually find high seconda to be the most useful to start with, so I find it strange that it would be disused. They tend to favor tierce and quarte as their primary guards instead. Has anyone else experienced this?

    1. Unfortunately I don't really have any interaction with the classical fencing community, so I can't confirm or deny your observations, I can only hypothesise that it's because guard of 2nd is more tiring to maintain. It might also be due to a preference for Parise-style push cuts, which are made easier by the retracted 3rd guard.

      Chris Holzman would probably have better insights, if you haven't had a chat with him about it yet.