Wednesday, 9 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.


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, ' 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.

Monday, 24 May 2021

Das Fechten mit Florett und Säbel by Luigi Sestini

Despite spending his whole career as a fencing master in Italy, particularly Florence, Ferdinando Masiello had influence that spread well beyond the borders of his homeland. Aside from his colossal fencing treatise of 1887, this influence also took place through his students, perhaps the most decorated of which being Luigi Sestini of Florence.

Sestini left Italy in the 1890s and founded a club in Berlin, quickly establishing himself as the foremost expert on Italian fencing in Germany, and soon he was rubbing elbows with various military officers, eventually leading to Masiello's method (through Sestini) to be adopted by the German army.

Today I present the Luigi Sestini's treatise Das Fechten mit Florett und Säbel ('Fencing with foil and sabre'), probably published in 1903 (no date of publication listed in the book).


The 247-page treatise is largely a German translation of Masiello's 1887 treatise, with new illustrations and slight changes 'to meet German needs and conceptions'.

In addition to Sestini's influence in Germany, his treatise and teaching method would also come to serve as the basis for the Dutch navy's fencing regulations, which was largely a simplified version of the sabre section of Sestini's treatise, using the same illustrations. A translation courtesy of Reinier van Noort may be viewed here.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Direct cuts in Radaellian sabre

Depending on your definition of a direct cut, your view on how prevalent such cuts are in Radaellian sabre fencing may lie anywhere on a spectrum between 'common' and 'non-existent'.

Although the characteristic cuts in Radaelli sabre are generally considered to be molinelli and coupés, in addition to these the Radaellian authors Masiello, Barbasetti, and Pecoraro and Pessina all describe a another kind of cut they call 'direct cuts'. Masiello defines them thus:

A direct cut is said to be that which is given by making one's own weapon travel the shortest path while it is clear of the opponent's blade.1


When the sabre follows the shortest way—the straight line—to strike your adversary, the blow is called "direct cut."2

Pecoraro and Pessina:

A direct cut is that which, without a circular movement of the point, arrives at the target through the shortest path, when it is not precluded by the opponent's blade.3
These similar definitions on their own would not be at odds with most modern fencing texts; where the differences arise from, however, is in the practical application from some Radaellians. For example, take Masiello's direct cut to the head from the invitation or parry of 3rd:
The hand is turned into third without lowering the elbow, the arm is bent slightly to give greater violence to the blow, and by forcefully extending it again the cut is given in a vertical direction to the opponent's head, and the arm and sabre take the position of the second tempo of the molinello to the head.4

The slight bend which precedes the actual cut is also described in Barbasetti's treatise, including in the direct ripostes. In the eyes of some modern readers, this preparatory movement precludes it from being a true direct cut, requiring a continuous forward movement of the hand from the start to the end of the action. Pecoraro and Pessina, on the other hand, do not mention this kind of preparatory movement:

The direct cut to the head is done in a vertical direction, performing it from the guard of second or third, or from one's own invitation, in a single movement, turning the hand into third position and with speed and elasticity extending the arm, which together with the sabre should end up in the same position as the second tempo of the molinello to the head from the left.5

While this movement is closer to the modern idea of a direct cut, not all agreed that this action alone was satisfactory as a cut. Masiello in particular decried this type of direct cut, saying that since the arm was already extended in the guard, the prescription to extend the arm in the cut was meaningless, and that the arm should be bent first as is commonly done in order to increase the 'useful effect' of the cut.6

One might conclude from all this that direct cuts are a later addition to Radaellian sabre, but on close examination of other treatises in the tradition, we find significant evidence of direct cuts being done since the beginning, even if not explicitly called as such.

One example of this can be seen in the riposte to the flank from parry of 5th. This riposte is included in all the Radaellian treatises, with Masiello, Barbasetti, and Pecoraro/Pessina all listing it as a direct cut, but neither Del Frate nor Bruno specifying what type of cut it is.7 Rossi calls it a riposte by coupé, however, his definition of a coupé merely involving the sabre being brought back before the cut (not necessarily changing lines relative to the opponent's blade) would largely agree with how Masiello and Barbasetti describe direct cuts.8

Similar examples are also found for the riposte to the outside face from parry of 2nd, riposte to the flank from parry of 1st, riposte to the chest from parry of 6th, and the riposte to the head from parry of low 3rd or low 4th, although the Radaellians do not all always agree on what ripostes can be done from each parry.

One reason for direct cuts not being defined in explicit terms may be due to whether the individual author preferred the arm to be bent or extended in the parries.

As previously stated, neither Del Frate, Rossi nor Bruno define direct cuts, yet all three authors prefer bent-arm parries, whilst the other authors who explicitly define direct cuts all prefer more extended parries. If Masiello's aim with bending the arm slightly before giving the direct cut was to 'give greater violence to the blow', such a prescription would perhaps seem unnecessary if the original parry position was sufficiently bent already.

Both illustrations are depicting the same parry, that being parry of 1st, with Rossi's illustration on the left having a fully bent arm, and Masiello's on the right with the arm fully extended.

This does not explain why some did not describe direct cuts from the guard positions, and so it remains a good reminder that although the Radaellians agreed on a greater number of fundamental principles, they nevertheless all had their own preferences and divergences.

To see an example of what these forearm-driven direct cuts may have looked like, one need look no further than Italo Santelli's star pupil, Attila Petschauer, seen here at the start of the video giving a direct cut to the head from guard of 3rd at 0:20, followed by a direct cut to the outside face at 0:24. Many direct cuts as ripostes may be found throughout the video.

1 F Masiello, La scherma italiana di spada e sciabola, G. Civelli, Florence, 1887, p. 408.
2 L Barbasetti, The art of the sabre and épée, E. P. Dutton, New York, 1936, p. 29.
3 S Pecoraro & C Pessina, La scherma di sciabola, G. Agnesotti, Viterbo, 1912, p. 61.
4 Masiello, op. cit., p. 409. The 'second tempo of the molinello to the head' is merely saying that the arm is fully extended forward, edge down, hand at head height.
5 S Pecoraro & C Pessina, op. cit., p. 64.
6 F Masiello, La Scherma di Sciabola: Osservazioni sul Trattato dei Maestri Pecoraro e Pessina, Vice-Direttori della Scuola Magistrale militare di Scherma, G. Ramella, Florence, 1910, p. 75.
7 See synoptic tables in S Del Frate, Istruzione per la scherma di sciabola e di spada del Prof. Radaelli scritta d'ordine del Ministro della Guerra, Gaetano Baroffio, Milan, 1876, p. 58; N Bruno, Risorgimento della vera scherma di sciabola italiana basata sull'oscillazione del Pendolo, Tipografia Novarese, Novara, 1891, p. 238.
8 For Rossi's definition of coupé, see G Rossi, Manuale teorico-pratico per la scherma di spada e sciabola con cenni storici sulle armi e sulla scherma e principali norme pel duello, Fratelli Dumolard, Milan, 1885, p. 168.

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

A modern kardvívás by László Gerentsér

As a change from the usual Italian treatises that are shared here, today I wish to share my own copy of the Hungarian master László Gerentsér's 1944 sabre treatise, entitled A modern kardvívás ('Modern sabre fencing').

Although it is a Hungarian treatise, the system it details is largely Radaellian. As he explains his introduction, Gerentsér spent some time studying under Angelo Torricelli, a graduate of the military fencing masters school and a student of Barbasetti. Gerentsér also makes many references to the treatises of Barbasetti, Salvatore Pecoraro and Carlo Pessina, and Gusztáv Arlow (an early Hungarian adopter and adapter of Barbasetti's method).

In 1967, Julius Palffy-Alpar would state in his own book, Sword and Masque, that Gerentsér's treatise was 'one of the best about the rapidly developing Hungarian saber technique of the time'. Although the Radaellian influences are clear, there are nonetheless many aspects of the treatise that would have been seen as characteristically Hungarian, such as his treatment of the fleche, the preference for guard of 3rd, and the obtuse angle between the arm and sabre when cutting.

Gerentsér's book is an invaluable look into the development of the mighty Italo-Hungarian school, which dominated competitive sabre fencing for a large part of the 20th century. Despite the prominence of the Hungarians in the annals of modern fencing, their treatises are unfortunately rather neglected outside their own country due to the language. It is my hope that by making these sources publicly available, they may eventually be better understood by the community at large thanks to the diligent efforts of a select few.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

1884 Regulations for the Italian Military Fencing Masters School

After a government commission organised by the Italian Ministry of War declared that Masaniello Parise's fencing treatise would become the new regulation fencing text for the Italian army (thus supplanting the Radaellian method), a new national school for training military fencing masters was founded in Rome in 1884, with Parise appointed as its head of instruction.

This school, known as the Scuola magistrale militare di scherma in Italian, replaced the one in Milan which was directed by Giuseppe Radaelli until a few years before his death, with his number one assistant Giovanni Monti taking over the role until the school's closure some time between 1882 and 1884.

What I present here today is a translation of the official regulations which laid out the structure of the training at the new fencing masters school in Rome as well as the roles and responsibilities of the various personnel assigned to it. This Act no. 123 was issued on the 27 June 1884, and was published in the official Italian military journal Giornale Militare on the 4 July.1 At the beginning of the following October the first 'conversion' courses began at the school, in which all fencing masters employed by the military would be taught the new official method.2

Internal service regulations for the military fencing masters school


1. The military fencing masters school was instituted with the aim of propagating the instruction of Italian sword and sabre fencing in the army, with uniformity of method and in conformity with the official treatise approved by the Ministry of War.
2. The treatise, according to which the teaching must be conducted, is that compiled by Mr. Masaniello Parise and which has already been examined and selected by a special commission delegated for this purpose by the Ministry itself.
3. Under the high dependence of the command of the IX army corps (Rome), the direction of the military fencing masters school is entrusted to the commander of the 6th cavalry brigade.
4. Called to the military fencing masters school are the non-commissioned officers who were put forward to hold, after passing the required exams, the post of fencing instructor.
5. As an exception, civilian masters and non-commissioned officers already appointed as fencing instructors may be called to the school to acquire practical knowledge of the method developed in the prescribed official text.

School structure

6. The military fencing masters school is composed of:

  1. A senior director, whose functions are carried out, as said in no. 3, by the commander of the 6th cavalry brigade;
  2. A deputy director;
  3. A technical director;
  4. Three assistant masters to the technical director;
  5. A junior supervising officer of military personnel and secretary of the Directorate-General;
  6. A number of candidates attending the courses at the school, determined on a case-by-case basis by the Ministry;
  7. Three official orderly soldiers.

The senior director

7. The responsibility of the senior director is the supervision of discipline, instruction, and administration of equipment in the school's charge.
8. On consultation with the technical director, he compiles the timetables and invigilates their continuous adherence.
9. Leaving the full responsibility of the results of the teaching to the aforementioned technical director, he maintains high supervision of it and makes sure that said teaching is successfully imparted and in accordance with the chosen treatise.
10. With regard to the personnel permanently or temporarily assigned to the school, all the duties prescribed in Chapter VI of the regulations of military discipline will be honoured.
11. If the conduct or behaviour of any of the civilian personnel assigned to the school leaves something to be desired, after a warning the senior director will refer him in writing to the Ministry of War, formulating concrete proposals regarding the punishments to be applied.
12. If any of the military personnel commanded to attend the courses at the school do not meet the requirements of good behaviour, discipline, and attitude towards the art professed in the school, after hearing the technical director's opinion regarding this person's attitude, [the superior director] will immediately send that person back to their own corps, giving notice of the measure taken to the Ministry of War through the command of the IX armed corps (Rome).
13. The position of deputy director is held by the commander of the cavalry regiment, which has its headquarters in Rome.
He assists the senior director in carrying out the functions assigned to him by these regulations and according to the orders which will be given by him.
14. In the absence of the senior director, the deputy director will take over in the supervision of discipline, instruction, and administration of the school without, however, as far as possible, bringing substantial change to the rules established by the senior director whose place he is taking.

The technical director

15. The direct responsibility for the teaching and the direction of the same teaching, for the artistic side, will be assigned to the technical director, except always with the high supervision of the senior director.
16. He will be obliged by the aforesaid director to scrupulously conform the teaching to the rules of the Italian school of fencing, given in the above-mentioned treatise, and to the highest standards of perfect chivalry.
17. He proposes to the senior director the allotment of instruction hours and the division of the candidates attending the courses at the school into sections.
18. He resolves any technical doubt which arises in the candidates in conformance with the principles established by the treatise.
19. He directs the lessons given by his assistants, giving lessons himself where he sees fit.
20. He indicates to the supervising officer the required equipment or repairs, to submit the requests for approval by the senior director.
21. He keeps a current register of the individuals admitted to the school and fortnightly he assigns, to each of those on the register, a numerical classification score between 0 and 20.
22. He proposes to the senior director the expulsion or dismissal from the school of those candidates who prove deserving of such due to bad behaviour, indiscipline or ineptitude in fencing.

The technical director's assistants

23. The technical director's assistant masters have the task of giving the lessons to school's candidates, according to the rules established by the treatise and according to the other prescriptions which said technical director believes best to issue.
24. The highest ranked or oldest of the assistants substitutes the technical director in case of absence and assumes all his obligations and responsibilities.
25. During the time he holds this position, the assistant master who temporarily replaces the technical director cannot make any changes to the method followed by the director. It will instead be his constant care that said method undergoes no alteration of any kind so that the necessary and perfect unity of direction is maintained at the school.
26. The assistant masters are entitled to a month of annual leave to be enjoyed in the months of August or September at their choice, provided one of them is always present at the school headquarters. This leave will be granted by the senior director.
27. When special needs require their absence from the school for a few days, they will ask the senior director, through the technical director, and comply with the decisions he makes.
28. All reprimands and criticisms on the behaviour and conduct of individual candidates at the school by the assistant masters must be made to the technical director, who will in turn refer them to the senior director.

The supervising officer

29. The direct disciplinary supervision of military personnel assigned to the school is fully devolved to the junior officer assigned to the school.
30. He therefore exercises the aforementioned powers according to the Regulations of discipline and subordinate to the senior director.
31. He has free access to the fencing halls in which, even during instruction, he exercises disciplinary supervision without, of course, hindering the progress of said instruction in the slightest.
32. He ensures the delivery of all equipment entrusted to the school and keeps the register up to date.
33. On direction from the technical director, he compiles the requests for new equipment or repairs to existing equipment in order to then submit them for approval and signing by the senior director.
34. He must be present at the beginning of every instruction in order to verify the participation of those admitted to the school, make note of absences, and the reason for the absences, which will in turn be reported to the technical director.
35. The dress standards, order in the chambers and fencing halls, and general behaviour of the soldiers assigned to the school will be the particular subject of his care and his responsibility.

The candidates attending the courses at the school

36. In each year some non-commissioned officers who aspire to become fencing instructors are admitted to the school, the number of which being determined each time by the minister.
37. These non-commissioned officers will be drawn from bodies of troops proportionately to the need of each arm.
38. The proposals for admission to the masters school will be made by the corps commanders, taking into account, for those coming from educational departments, the note of the student's special aptitude for fencing made by the commanders of said educational departments.
The proposals will be directed to the Ministry of War (Directorate-General of conscripts and troops), and the number of requests must be greater than the number of admissions in order to be able to choose, through examination, the people most suitable for the purpose.
39. The non-commissioned officers who are called to attend the courses at the masters school in order to then obtain the appointment of fencing instructor, as soon as they have arrived at the school, will be subjected to a practical examination in the presence of the senior director, deputy director, and technical director in order to verify their fencing aptitude. Those who are sent back in this examination will be made to return immediately to their corps by the senior director.
40. As an exception, non-commissioned officers already provided with a military fencing instructor's licence may be called to attend the school's courses, with the aim of verifying if they know and profess perfectly the instruction method established by the Ministry.
41. With the same intention, civil fencing masters dependent on military administrations may also be called to the school.
42. Those admitted to the school are divided into sections in accordance with the rules which will be given by the senior director, on the advice of the technical director.
43. The highest-ranking or the most senior of each section will be its leader with respect to discipline and internal services.
44. In the fencing halls, those admitted to the school must maintain the behaviour, courtesy, and deference to the directors and teachers which is dictated by the feeling of duty and by the profession of an essentially courteous and knightly art.
45. Those who, through their conduct, character or incompetence, prove to be less suitable for the role of fencing instructor will be immediately expelled or discharged from the school.
46. With respect to discipline, the military personnel assigned to the school are directly under the junior supervising officer, to whom should be directed all questions and complaints which the individual wishes to be addressed to the senior supervisor.

The official orderly soldiers

47. The official orderly soldiers attend to the cleaning and care of the premises and, if necessary, the preparation of the canteen for the non-commissioned officers assigned to the school.
48. Through daily shifts, one of these soldiers will be assigned to the care of all the premises belonging to the school and may not leave or be distracted for any reason.
49. Another of the aforementioned soldiers must remain in the vicinity of the fencing halls throughout the whole period of instruction, at the disposal of the technical director and supervising officer.
Said soldier must ensure that the fencing halls are opened in a timely manner and arrange for their closure according to the orders given by the technical director and supervising officer.
50. The third of these soldiers may, if necessary, be assigned to the preparation of the canteen for the non-commissioned assigned to the school. If he is not assigned to this service, he will join the other two in carrying out their duties.

The courses and lessons

51. The course of instruction at the military fencing masters school normally lasts two years for those aspiring to become military fencing instructors.
Possible courses for civil fencing masters and non-commissioned officers who have already obtained a military fencing instructor licence will have a duration determined by the Ministry on a case-by-case basis.
52. Lessons will begin on the 1st October of each year and will finish on the 31st July the following year.
53. On each working day, the instruction will last for a total of six hours, three of which being before midday and three after.

Disciplinary rules for the fencing halls

54. The weapons, masks, and gloves required in the fencing halls may not be used without the presence of the director or teachers.
55. It is forbidden to fence sword or sabre without a mask, glove, and duck canvas underplastron,3 so as to avoid any unpleasant mishaps.
56. If a piece of fencing equipment breaks during a lesson or bout, the teacher whose presence it occurs in will communicate with the director for the appropriate replacement or repair requests.
57. Replacements and repairs of equipment broken or ruined during instruction will be paid for by the school. If instead the damage is produced by negligence or in the absence of teachers, it will be paid for by the one who caused it, and if the culprit cannot be found, the damage will be shared between those admitted to the school.
58. Since it is the technical director's responsibility for the teaching and its results, the students owe him their absolute obedience and deference in the fencing hall, and similarly they owe obedience and deference to the assistant masters whom they receive the teaching from.
59. In the interest of the instruction, the very best behaviour is required in the fencing halls.
60. If the senior director of the school or another military authority superior to him are present in the fencing halls, the technical director will suspend the instruction, which will be resumed only on invitation from the senior director or the above-mentioned authority.
61. Any discussion of the various fencing methods which have existed in Italy until now are absolutely prohibited, as are all comparisons. Everyone must therefore keep in mind that the school was instituted with the sole aim of propagating throughout the army knowledge of the method chosen by the Ministry.
62. Any doubt or controversy which arises in the fencing halls will be resolved by the technical director or whomever takes his place.

Examinations and final exhibition

63. At the end of every school year, in front of a special commission appointed by the Ministry, theoretical-practical examinations will take place which serve to classify the candidates.
64. Individuals who do not pass the aforementioned examinations, and who do not compensate for the deficiencies reported in them with an average fortnightly score reported throughout the year, will be discharged from the school.
65. The final classification score of each course year will consist of the score reported in the aforementioned examination and the average score for the year.
66. The classifications are given by numerical marks from 0 to 20.
67. To pass from the 1st to the 2nd course year, each individual must have a final classification score of no less than 12/20.
68. To receive the military fencing instructor licence, those admitted to the school must have achieved a final classification score in the 2nd course year of no less than 14/20.
69. With the examinations complete, on a day determined by the senior director a final grand exhibition will take place, with the primary authorities being invited and which will, depending on the means and premises available for the school, be given the greatest possible solemnity.
70. Provisions for the arrangement and preparation of this grand exhibition will be given by the senior director, who, where he deems it appropriate, may also allow masters and amateurs not belonging to the school to take part.
71. The Ministry of War reserves the right to allocate one or more prizes to be distributed to the best fencers participating in the exhibition.
72. The aforementioned prizes will be awarded by the special jury appointed by the Ministry of War on the advice of the senior director.


73. Every quarter the technical director must make a summary report in writing to the senior director on the course of the instruction and the progress of those admitted to the school.
74. At the end of the year, this report must be as detailed as necessary to give an exact and perfect conception of the development and fruits of the instruction.
This annual report will be sent through the commander of the IX army corps to the Ministry of War by the senior director, who will add his own observations.
75. The senior director—whether for technical reasons, disciplinary reasons or anything other reason—will send to said Ministry all other reports which he deems appropriate along with the others.

1 'Regolamento di servizio interno della scuola magistrale militare di scherma', Giornale Militare, 4 July 1884, pp. 453–61.
2 'Corsi eventuali presso la scuola magistrale militare di scherma', Giornale Militare, 3 October 1884, p. 757.
3 TN: 'petto di tela olona' — Also known as cotton duck, this is tightly-woven canvas which was commonly used for sails.

Saturday, 23 January 2021

The Parise-Pecoraro Method (Part 3)

In parts one and two of this series we looked at the political background of Masaniello Parise's sabre method in the army and how there was mounting pressure from within the Ministry of War for reforming it. This reform took place over several years and the resulting method was eventually accepted in 1891 thanks to the assistance of the Radaellian master Salvatore Pecoraro.

Although the new method had been taught to all regimental fencing instructors by early 1892, it was not until January 1896 that a new edition of the cavalry regulations would be published reflecting these changes.1 The original scans of volume one, containing the sabre instruction, may be viewed here. A translation of the relevant sabre section may be found in the link below.


For those who have read the 1873 cavalry regulations, the new material will appear noticeably simpler, with the general on-foot fencing instruction having been removed, leaving only the come a cavallo or 'as if on horseback' instruction. For the sabre, the traditional Radaellian exercise molinelli and coupés are completely absent, and the parries have been reduced in number and most are renamed.

While the new cutting mechanics in these regulations are a departure from the Radaellian method, they do on the other hand closely resemble Parise's revised molinelli as detailed in the fifth edition of his treatise, which was not published until 1904.2

Unlike in the first edition from 1884, where the molinelli were based almost entirely on wrist rotation, keeping the arm extended, the fifth edition gives starting positions for the molinelli with an almost fully bent arm. The resulting cuts are therefore a much wider, more sweeping action than Parise's first conception of the molinelli, but still not quite what the Radaellians were advocating—more an amalgamation of the two methods.

For example, the 'blow to the head from the right' is described in the following manner:

Blow to the head—FROM THE RIGHT (3 tempi)
1. Raise the sabre and bring the hand to the height and a palm away from the right temple with the blade diagonally to the rear and the edge turned up.
2. Extending the arm, violently give a cut in a diagonal direction from one’s own right shoulder to the left flank, with the body accompanying the movement of the arm, letting blade continue its path until its rotation is complete and the hand ends up about a palm away from the left temple with the blade diagonally to the rear, edge up.
3. Retake the guard position.3

Comparing this to the 1904 version of Parise's descending molinello from the right, the similarity is immediately obvious:

The descending molinello from the right is performed in two movements:
First, from guard of third the sabre is raised, carrying the hand, turned to third-in-fourth, up to the height of the right temple and about a palm away, with the blade diagonally to the rear;
Second, keeping the same hand position, the cut is given violently in a diagonal direction, and then by turning the hand into second-in-third the sabre is brought back, passing close to the left shoulder, describing a circular arc with the point to come back on guard.4

The resulting cut ends up like a combination of Radaelli's coupé and the recovery molinello used in Parise's original sabre method. The blows to the face bear more resemblance to Radaelli's molinelli to the face, but with the same Parise-style recovery motion to come back to the guard position.

Due to the extreme similarities between the descending and horizontal molinelli in the fifth edition of Parise's treatise and the cutting exercises in the 1896 cavalry regulations, as well as the fact that the changes detailed in these regulations were supposedly introduced to the whole army by early 1892 (see part 2), it seems rather safe to assume that the new molinelli exercises were being taught at the fencing master's school as part of the revised system for at least 12 years before the publication of the fifth edition of Parise's treatise in 1904, and that at least some of the changes shown in it were reflective of Pecoraro's influence (and the influence of other the Radaellians employed at the school at various points in time) on the sabre method practised at the school.

As mentioned above, there are two fewer parries than in the 1873 and 1885 regulations, removing the regular extended parries of 3rd and 4th in favour of keeping only the low versions. In addition to the 'semicircle' parries, which are unchanged, the remaining parries now have descriptive names instead of the traditional numbering:

  • Forward (analogous to parry of 1st)
  • To the right (low 3rd)
  • To the left (low 4th)
  • High right (5th)
  • High left (6th)
The theoretical and tactical foundation of the method is still wholly that of the preceding Radaellian method, echoing the main requirements of the blow as power, length, and direction. The last part of the sabre instruction contains the following tactical advice for the soldier:

Attack instead of defending;
Favour blows with the point, because they are more effective and more difficult to parry;
As much as possible direct the cuts to the face and the left hand;
Attacking from the front, try to always have the opponent to the right;
Do not let them gain you on your left side;
When following a cavalryman, place yourself to his left.

The first point, that being to focus on attacking rather than defending, is something that was heavily criticised by Achille Angelini in his critique of the Radaelli method, and was even mentioned in the report of the commission which decided in 1883 that Parise's treatise would become the new official method for the Italian army.5

The 1896 cavalry regulations may not have been the full triumphant return of the Radaelli method that the his disciples had hoped for, but it is a clear indication that the original Parise sabre method was considered insufficient by those in the cavalry, who were by this point the only arm that were expected to use their sabres on the battlefield. Just like how pressure from the Neapolitan school of fencing had overcome the incumbent Radaelli method in the early 1880s, the same change had now been experienced in the opposite direction, albeit to a lesser degree and with no fanfare.

1 Ministero della Guerra, Regolamento di esercizi per la cavalleria, vol. 1, Voghera Enrico, Rome, 1896.
2 M Parise, Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, Casa Editrice Nazionale Roux e Viarengo, Turin, 1904, pp. 284–6.
3 Ministero della Guerra, op. cit., pp. 30–31.
4 Parise, op. cit., p. 285.
5 See P Fambri, in M Parise, Trattato teorico-pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola, Tipografia Nazionale, Rome, 1884, p. xxiii.

Sunday, 20 December 2020

Italian Fencing Visits London

Left to right: Italo Santelli, Agesilao Greco, Masaniello Parise, Vincenzo Drosi, and Angelo Torricelli.

In 1892, at the invitation of the British government, Masaniello Parise and a delegation of four fencing instructors from the military fencing master's school in Rome were sent to England in order to give demonstrations at London's annual military tournament.

Although it was not strictly Radaellian fencing being showcased at the 1892 military tournament, the demonstration did reflect the growing interest in England and most of Europe around Italian fencing, particularly with regard to sabre, which began in the late 1880s as seen with Francis Vere Wright and his 1889 partial translation of Masiello's sabre treatise1 and culminated with the publication of the 1895 Infantry Sword Exercise, making Masiello's sabre system regulation for the British army.2

The appearance of Italian fencing masters in England was at the request of the English government themselves, who also covered every expense the Italians would incur in their travels (much to the disgust of some commentators, who believed that such an offer should have been refused on the grounds on national pride).3 The delegates chosen by the Italian Ministry of War were considered by many to be among the finest young graduates of fencing master's school: Agesilao Greco, Italo Santelli, Angelo Torricelli, and Vincenzo Drosi.

These fencers may not have (yet) had the international reputation of masters such as Salvatore Pecoraro and Carlo Pessina, who were under the employ of the master's school, but they did represent the new generation of fencers intended to rival the champions of the old Radaelli school (despite their instructors being those very same Radaellians).

The first exhibition took place on 23 May in the Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington:

Whether in honour of the regular soldiers, who for the first time this year made their appearance in mounted combats and competitions at Islington yesterday, or by way of giving cordial welcome to the Cavaliere Parise and to fencing instructors of the Italian army, some thousands of spectators assembled in the Agricultural Hall yesterday afternoon. Among them were Prince Edward of Saxe-Weimar, Count and Countess Tornielli, accompanied by members of the Italian Embassy, the Turkish Ambassador, Rustem Pacha, the Greek Minister, the Duke of Westminster, General Hamett, and several colonels commanding regiments whose chosen representatives were to take part in the competition. They watched every event with appreciative interest, and the Duke of Westminster—a celebrated horseman in his day—was especially demonstrative in his admiration of the Musical Ride in which the 17th Lancers display more and more smartness every day. When Lieut.-Colonel Parise—who is the Colonel Onslow of the Italian Army—appeared with Sergeant-Majors Greco, of the Government School at Rome, Santelli of the Grenadiers, Drosi of the 6th Infantry, and Torricelli of the Savoy cavalry regiment, they were heartily cheered, and the dexterity of the four swordsmen with foil and sabre justified all the expectations that had been formed. The prolonged fencing bout between Sergeant-Majors Greco and Santelli was marked by many brilliant passages of arms, and it is a pity that some people among the assembled crowd who could not understand the subtle art of such swordsmen gave expression to a desire for something more exciting.4

The main event, however, happened a week later on the 30th:

Then the fencing instructors of the Italian Army, directed by Lieutenant Colonel Parise, gave a special display of fencing and swordsmanship, designed chiefly to show the importance of the foil as a commencement of training in swordsmanship, inasmuch as it is by the use of the foil that a thorough knowledge of distance, time, and speed is acquired. Colonel Parise explained in French, at some length, the modes of training in the Italian Fencing Schools, for which, he contended, that it was both simpler and more scientific than the methods usually approved of in other countries. He subsequently, with Sergeant Major Greco and Sergeant Major Torricelli, gave practical illustrations with foil and sabre of the Italian style. It was seen that they use a convex shell for the hilt, as a means of diverting a thrust, as, because of that form, a very slight movement of the hand or arm turned aside an opponent's point. Another detail was that while 'en garde' the weight of the body should be evenly distributed between the two legs, instead of placing too much weight on either, and that the arm should be slightly bent instead of straight. He said that advances were better made by short steps than by a long stride. Comparing the Italian practice with that of the French school, he explained that whereas the Italians only use four 'parades' the French use eight. In his country the movements were made, not so much by wrist action, as by a turn of the arm. Another point of some interest was that instead of parrying a cut they returned in certain cases a thrust depending upon the element of time to render their opponent's attack valueless. Somewhat similar observations were made by Colonel Parise prior to engaging with Sergeant Greco in a bout of sword v. sword. The exhibition of swordsmanship was concluded by showing the Italian system of cavalry sword exercise, which, however, did not seem to have the same merit as the really excellent system of training for the exercises of the infantry.5

Ignoring the journalist's apparent slight confusion between the foil and sabre demonstrations, it would no doubt have given any Radaellian observers back home some smug satisfaction at the comments made regarding Parise's cavalry sabre system (also repeated in several other English newspapers), which had only recently been approved by the Italian Ministry of War after years of modification.

The Italians also took a visit to the fencing club in St. James' later that same day, and took a visit to the Aldershot school on the invitation of General Evelyn Wood three days later, followed by lunch at the house of Colonel Fox. On the following day, Colonel Tully presented the Italians with a silver cup on behalf of Prince Edward, as well as commemorative silver cigarette cases to each of the four young masters.6

Despite the warm reception they received throughout all their visits and public appearances, the apathy towards the Italian fencers among a certain percentage of the public during the exhibitions did not go unnoticed by journalists. In a rather scathing indictment of the British public, an Italian magazine stated that the Italian masters chose a bad audience to display their talents to, claiming that 'in England, except for Egerton Castle, Captain Hutton, and the two French masters who teach in London, we believe there are less than ten other people capable of distinguishing a disengagement from a direct thrust or a coupé from a feint by glide, or even from a traversone'.7

The reaction among the Italians was nevertheless largely positive, even from the factions opposing Parise and his supporters, although there was of course some disappointment that the Ministry of War had not sent some renowned representatives of the Radaellian school such as Pecoraro, Arista or Rossi.

Having seen the British perspective on Italian fencing as shown by Parise and his party, the Italian magazine Baiardo soon after received the following letter from a correspondent in London giving an Italian perspective on British fencing:

I hasten to reply to your letter by telling you what you asked for in a few words.
The expectations of seeing four Italian masters fence were immense, so much so that there were no empty seats on that day at the racecourse.
After having done the first demonstrations with the sabre, they received congratulations in abundance, and from what I understood the audience were surprised to see that the Italians acknowledged the blows they received, and surprised to see them fence with only a mask and glove, since the English strike wildly,8 being in the habit of covering themselves with huge masks, double-layered protection,9 leather jackets, and a cushion fitted to the right leg, since they also strike at the legs.
In bouting, the English take the measure such that the points of the blades touch the guards, then they take a step back and place themselves on guard. To attack, both opponents take a step forward, and without any study they cut at the same time, such that for them a double touch is always the order of the day.
On what basis the jury judges these bouts, embellished with doubles, without ever seeing a clean cut, I just cannot understand; nevertheless, they were quite rightly surprised to see the Italian masters bout without even the slightest double, constantly maintaining measure.
For the sword, I will tell you that what most impressed the English was their fencing in-line,10 something that the English do not do, using the sword in a similar manner to the sabre.
Greco then also enchanted the audience with his quick and secure parries, his immense attacking speed, and the suddenness in the execution of his actions.
Our fencers also went to test themselves at the Fencing Club and bouted with the amateurs there (partly less incorrect than the fencers seen at the tournament), and even there the English were impressed with the handling of both the sabre and sword through their powerful attacks, the speed of their parries and ripostes, the remises, as well as the continuous inchiodature11 (!), as soon as they moved to attack.
While Santelli of the Grenadiers fenced sabre with one of these amateurs, I heard one of them say a sentence in English which, translated literally into Italian, would be ‘By Jove, I have never seen a fencer of this strength!’ and stated earlier that in 10 minutes Santelli would have dealt about forty cuts over his whole body.
With Greco and Drosi then bouting each other, everyone stood with their noses in the air and mouths wide open on seeing them fence, and for every blow they all exchanged glances in approval of what they saw.
On the penultimate day Cav. Parise and Greco, in the presence of 300 spectators (all invited for this demonstration), presented themselves on the piste to demonstrate the Italian method.
Parise explained the actions in French, and with mathematical precision Greco produced them.
In this demonstration there were the usual compliments and felicitations for their manner of giving lessons, for the precision of their movements, for the speed of their actions and also for their manner of advancing on guard—that is, the step forward and lunge, the pattinando.
On the same day Torricelli of the 3rd Cavalry appeared, doing demonstrations of sabre on horseback according to the Parise method, and I will also say that this bold and powerful young man received the most lively and enthusiastic part of the huge applause.
From exercise to exercise Torricelli came to the charge, in which the vehemence of his cuts aroused another salvo of applause, which was repeated resoundingly for his last exercise in which, with the sabre fixed against the target, the sabre was literally bent in two.
I will now end this letter of mine, in which I was not interested in writing what either the Daily Chronicle or the Standard already told the Italian press, since at this point they are things that everyone knows, assuring you that both Greco and Torricelli were eagerly asked to stay in London to teach Italian fencing, an invitation which Greco declined for various reasons which do him the highest honour; as for Torricelli I do not know the answer, but here in London it is hoped that he will accept and we Italians will then have the pride, as we have in past centuries, to see our masters teach the handling of arms to other nations.12

For the partisans of the Neapolitan school of fencing, the Italian demonstrations in London would have served as some amount of vindication for the master's school in Rome, whose image had taken a hit as a result of the reforms to Parise's sabre method forced upon it by the Ministry of War over the previous years.

1 F Vere Wright, The broadsword as taught by the celebrated Italian masters, signors Masiello and Ciullini of Florence, W. H. Allen, London, 1889.
2 Infantry sword exercise 1895, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, London, 1895.
3 See l'Italia del Popolo, 21–22 May 1892.
4 London Daily News, 24 May 1892, p. 6.
5 London Evening Standard, 31 May 1892, p. 3.
6 Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 11 June 1892, p. 476.
7 Scherma Italiana 2 July 1892, p. 52.
8 'da orbi' — Literally 'like blind men'.
9 'corazze doppie' — For the Italians, a corazza was a tough, generally tightly-woven fabric which served as an extra layer of protection and padding for the fencer's dominant side. It served a similar purpose to what a modern under-plastron is used for in fencing today.
10 i.e. the typical Italian guard position of keeping the arm almost fully extended at all times.
11 Literally 'nailings' or 'nailing-downs', this term is likely referring to the Italian preference for counter-attacking, particularly in sword fencing.
12 'Come tirano gl'inglesi', Baiardo: periodico schermistico quindicinale, 8 July 1892, pp. 25–6.