17 March 2023

Radaelli Under Fire: Urciuoli Stokes the Flames

This is the fifth article in the 'Radaelli Under Fire' series. Click here to return to the introduction and view the other entries in the series.

Despite a growing sense of apathy towards the Radaelli debate among military circles (as seen in the remark from Italia Militare's editor in the previous article in this series) to see an end to the Radaellian question, it seems that there were still those who wished to ensure that Radaelli's school received its full due of criticism. This sentiment is fully visible in the letter translated below, published in the Florentine newspaper La Nazione on the 16 April 1878, and was written by Alfonso Urciuoli.1 At the time of this letter's publication, Urciuoli was an infantry lieutenant stationed at the Brescia recruiting office, and although his signoff states that he was a fencing master, nothing is yet known of his career or involvement within this profession.2

In his short letter, Urciuoli summarises the Radaelli debate so far (although being very dismissive of the pro-Radaelli camp), citing the articles we have already seen and heard mention of such as those by Angelini, Masiello, and Forte, but also mentioning articles by the famous Neapolitan master Giacomo Massei, one Count A. G., and 'several others', which are yet to be uncovered.

Urciuoli's rallying cry for the anti-Radaellian movement culminates in directly calling on the renowned fencing master Giuseppe Perez to give a critique of Radaelli's sword method, a topic which was only briefly touched on in Luigi Forte's articles. As we will see in the next chapter of this series, Urciuoli was not the only person to request Perez's contribution in the debate, nor would his call for aid go unanswered.

Dear Mr. Editor,

Among enthusiasts of the art of fencing an event of some importance has recently occurred, onto which for my part I, thanks to courteous hospitality in the columns of your trustworthy newspaper, would like to draw the public's attention.

The well-known booklet by General Angelini on sabre fencing in refutation of the Radaelli system was welcomed with enthusiasm by all lovers of fencing as a work dictated with rare clarity and supported with very convincing mathematical and physiological arguments. There was a moment when it was hoped that such a valuable work would be worth giving rise to a healthy debate, which would have made way for the intelligent people of fencing to make themselves known; at the same time indicating progress of the noble art which for a long time has been stationary in Southern Italy and degenerated in some northern regions, as General Angelini makes clear in his aforementioned booklet.

As soon as the authoritative work appeared, a great number of letters were sent to this author and many articles were published, all in support of the irrefutable arguments contained in this booklet. Energetic works were compiled by very competent and authoritative people such as Prof. Cav. Massei, Captain Forte, Count A. G. and several others. Unfortunately, however, the accountable opposing side has not shown up. A single article in defence of the Radaelli system appeared written by Mr. Ferdinando Masiello, in issue 9 of the journal Italia Militare,3 but the writer limited himself to speaking at length about himself and to assure the public that the Radaelli system was, in his view, the best among those known so far. With that columnist and master having been invited to support in writing—but with indisputable scientific rules—the veracity of his assertion, as well as to refute just some of the very many criticisms expressed by the distinguished General, he sincerely confessed that he was not able to, with a second article appearing in Italia Militare on the 9 March.4

Therefore in this state of affairs, the long-awaited debate died as soon as it was born. But if in the end this means a complete triumph for General Angelini, it is no less true that it does immense harm to the progress of the noble art, which has among us passionate and zealous enthusiasts. This is why I am urged to make a final attempt by asking scientists in the matter of fencing to resume the charge, but on different terrain, since the first one was fatally exhausted. With the intention of restarting a fight which could promise effective artistic and scientific results, I will mention the opportunity to bring the discussion to the sword fencing invented by Mr. Radaelli.

In order to better achieve the aim I propose, such that it will be necessary to find supporters in those who love the art which I am fond of, I ask my colleague, the eminent Prof. Giuseppe Perez, to take the lead in the critique I briefly mentioned. The reason why I turn to Perez over many other distinguished people is because, aside from being highly reputed among reputable fencing masters, it is he who is designated by the public opinion of our colleagues as the one who could best lead a reasoned debate, strengthened by the excellence of his pen and the factual demonstrations of his skilful sword.

As a good gentleman, Mr. Perez, you who are perhaps the only one in your sphere who has not given your opinion on the matter of the sabre, unfortunately too exhausted, at least this time make your authoritative voice heard, and you will have the approval of all those who sincerely love the true progress of fencing.

In thanking the editor for wanting to give authority to these lines of mine by welcoming it in your rightly directed newspaper, I am grateful of the honour to declare myself

Your humble servant
Fencing Master


1 Alfonso Urciuoli, 'Comunicazioni del Pubblico', La Nazione, 16 April 1878, 3.
2 Annuario Militare del Regno d'Italia 1878 (Rome: Carlo Voghera, 1878), 414, 473.
3 Translated here in part 2, 'Masiello on Defence'.
4 Translated here in part 4, 'Masiello's Final Word'.

10 March 2023

Radaelli Under Fire: Masiello's Final Word

This is the fourth article in the 'Radaelli Under Fire' series. Click here to return to the introduction and view the other entries in the series.

In previous years criticism of the Radaelli method had received some public responses in the military press, but as 1878 dragged on it seemed that nobody else would come to the aid of Masiello. Forte's articles added pressure in this regard with criticism of Radaelli's sword method alongside comments on sabre, drawing on a storied tradition which Masiello himself had been a proud practitioner of early in his career: the Neapolitan school of fencing. On the 9 March 1878, for one last time Masiello takes up his pen to provide some closing remarks to the Radaellian question.1 The full translation can be found below.

The fact that this debate had been dragging on for some time now is demonstrated by the editor's preface to Masiello's letter, published again in Italia Militare, which expressed a 'desire for this debate to end by now, since we think the arguments for and against have been dealt with widely enough.' Masiello notes at the beginning that Angelini had written an article in early February inviting Masiello to respond directly to the arguments put forward against the Radaellian method; however, with a similar attitude to that shown by Italia Militare's editor, Masiello sees nothing new in Angelini's arguments. He asserts that Angelini's supposed 'scientific' arguments were in fact personal opinions of a practical nature, and that scientific arguments had already been provided by others with greater authority than he, including those who had represented commissions from the Ministry of War.

Despite his reluctance to engage with Angelini's booklet, Masiello does point out how Angelini constantly referred to Del Frate's 1868 text on Radaelli's method rather than the newer, corrected 1876 version, as the earlier version provided a more convenient punching bag for criticism. Additionally, Angelini's anecdote about a friend of his who is able to break a sabre by swinging it in the air is mocked as being solely a demonstration of a flat, useless cutting action. The letter ends with Masiello confessing his 'ineptitude' to provide a competent and comprehensive rebuttal to the critics, mentioning the recent remarks of Luigi Forte. It is perhaps this incident which, almost a decade later, would prompt Masiello to spend so much time on mathematical proofs for the method detailed in his own treatise, thus pre-empting those who might wish to question its merits.

Mister director,

I interest Your Lordship's exquisite courtesy in wishing to make room, in your esteemed journal, for the following few observations which I deem appropriate to publish in response to the article by General Achille Angelini, inserted in no. 17 of this journal with the title: Observations on the handling of the sabre, Radaelli system.

General Angelini, in his work on the topic in question, says in the preface, on page 6,2 these exact words: 'The field was already largely harvested; since the question, on the scientific and mathematical side, was discussed with greater ability and clarity by others, all that is left for me is to deal with the practical side in precise detail. I will establish comparisons and cite theoretical-practical examples.'

In accordance with these words, throughout his dissertation he kept himself, in my view, in the purely practical field, citing examples and making comparisons, and I, in my reply, also mentioning that others had discussed the matter scientifically, refuted the criticism with practical reasoning and by citing well-known facts as proof of my proposition. Now the General invites me again to discuss the matter scientifically, almost meaning to say that he has discussed it from this point of view.

I am very sorry that I cannot satisfy my opponent's wishes, for the following reasons:

  1. Because in my view I do not consider that the principles and the ideas expressed by him on the topic are to be considered scientific, but rather his own opinions which I can respect only as such and not otherwise;
  2. Because he has already touched on the truth by judging my pen incapable of saying how strong I feel to express and prove otherwise.3
  3. Because by dealing with the matter scientifically, I could only repeat, and poorly, what was already said at length and very well by various others who had to discuss the matter from this point of view, both as members of commissions from the Ministry of War, appointed precisely to judge the Radaelli fencing system scientifically before adopting it for our army, as well as to support disputes in our military journals on the subject in discussion.

Without treating the matter scientifically, however, in my rebuttal I could touch on a few points so as to make the weakness of the argumentations in the aforementioned booklet stand out even more clearly. I could first of all note why General Angelini, in undertaking to criticise a system which is represented by an instruction, has taken the old 1868 edition instead of the one published in 1876, notably corrected and enriched with further clarifications, primarily in those points which were the subject of his main criticisms. I could note that the citations he made about our instructions under consideration are partly erroneous and partly incomplete, and therefore devoid of a basis for logical and rational arguments. I could note that, in the examples he offers us in support of his ideas on how to wield and rotate the sabre, there is one so contrary to every principle of good handling of the sabre itself that this alone is enough for people knowledgeable on the topic to judge how erroneous his ideas are on the application of force and the articulations of the arm and hand in wielding the sabre in fencing. The example which I allude to is the one cited on page 13 of his booklet,4 where he says that when one of his friends grips the sabre and puts it in motion as he wishes, he rotates it with such force and violence as to make the blade bend into a hook towards the point. Allow me to exclaim: good heavens, no! Can these movements even be called cuts? These movements are what are commonly called flat hits, harmless movements which happen by gripping and rotating the sabre just as General Angelini wishes, never with the Radaelli system.

In fencing, cuts are performed with the edge and not the flat, and then they are powerful; then they can be directed well, and it is this purpose which the system I advocate achieves. But even if I had broadened the scope of my rebuttals, what purpose would we have achieved with our discussion? In my opinion none. In fencing, words can only apply to those who are highly intelligent in the subject being discussed, and even in this case the ideas must be explained with the greatest simplicity without trying to find in the complication of the ideas themselves that darkness or flexibility which is appropriate in all matters that are difficult to resolve.

Therefore I, not at all offended by the doubt expressed by Gen. Angelini in the last part of his article, i.e. that I could purely be a strong fencer and not a good master and skilled writer, and by frankly confessing my ineptitude to properly express in writing those ideas on fencing which I hear clearly and precisely in my mind, I nevertheless always present myself ready to debate verbally and practically on the matter in question, in order to thus demonstrate to the judges who will be called to give their verdict that the masters of the school I advocate are not only strong fencers, but that they also know how to give a well-reasoned and profitable lesson, and that it is precisely by virtue of the rationalism of the school that there are real results which everyone, partisan of said school or not, acknowledges and respects.

So in concluding these final notes on the dispute discussed here, I will take the liberty to recall that if I was not able to properly explain my ideas, I never failed to support them with factual proofs; that I have always declared that every noble competition proposed to them with other schools will be welcomed with celebration by the proponents of the Radaelli system—both to debate the quality of the system, as well as to give fencing lessons and to bout; and that it helps me to hope that such a declaration cannot fail to be welcomed by anyone as a very favourable conclusion for the fencing system advocated by me. It is a consequence of the ideas explained so far that I ask the exquisite kindness of Captain Cav. Luigi Forte, director of the Catania stallion horse depot, to also accept what I said so far about Radaellian fencing, also as a reply, where applicable, to the articles on the same subject he published in issues 24 and 25 of Italia Militare.

I have faith that he too will judge the proposal I made to be the most suitable and appropriate for resolving the questions in respect to which, as I said, words and written reasoning too easily deviate from that path which leads directly to knowledge of the truth, without the encumbrance of those excessive theoretical principles and those flexible phrases which do not always conform to true reality.

Fencing master at the Turin military academy


1 Ferdinando Masiello, "Corrispondenze," l'Italia militare: giornale delle armi di terra e di mare, 9 March 1878, 2.
2 TN: See pages 3 and 4 of this translation.
3 See the last part of his aforementioned article.
4 TN: See pages 10 and 11 of this translation.

25 February 2023

Radaelli Under Fire: Luigi Forte

This is the third article in the 'Radaelli Under Fire' series. Click here to return to the introduction and view the other entries in the series.

Following Masiello's short and perhaps underwhelming response to Achille Angelini's criticism of Radaelli's sabre method, another military officer, Captain Luigi Forte, saw this exchange as an opportunity to provide his own refutations of Radaellian principles and Masiello's statements in their defence. Forte's response was originally published over two issues of L'Italia Militare, but that same year it was also released in booklet form with the title Sul metodo di scherma Radaelli ('On the Radaelli method'), a copy of which can now be found in the Corble Collection at KU Leuven.1

***Click here to read the translation***

In 1878 Luigi Forte was a cavalry captain in charge of the Catania stallion depot, one of several locations around Italy dedicated to breeding horses for the Italian army. Forte's authority on the subject of fencing was as an amateur, but one who had been raised in what he calls the 'true classical school of fencing' in his native Naples, where he was born on 29 October 1830. As a teenager he volunteered in the Royal Guard of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, receiving an officer's commission shortly after the proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861, soon transferring to the Catania stallion depot. Here he would stay for the majority of his career, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant colonel in the reserve army.2

Forte draws on his own fencing experience in the Neapolitan school (as well as acknowledging the authoritative treatise of Giuseppe Rosaroll-Scorza and Pietro Grisetti) to criticise not just Radaelli's sabre theories, but also those for the sword—the only author in this series to do so. It is clear he is referring to Del Frate's 1876 book when dealing with Radaelli's sword material, but curiously like Angelini he instead relies on the 1868 version when it comes to sabre, at least when referring to the illustrations. In Forte's view, the method outlined in the Del Frate texts pales in comparison to the established fencing traditions of Southern Italy, which he refers to with terms such as 'true Italian fencing', 'the true science of fencing', and 'true classical Italian fencing'.

These are, of course, all purely theoretical arguments, based entirely off Del Frate's texts and without any mention of having personally witnessed Radaellian fencing. This should not be cause to dismiss Forte's opinions, but is worth considering how writings such as these may have influenced some to form unfavourable views of Radaelli's method before ever seeing it in action, keeping Radaellians always on the polemical back foot.


1 For the original publication, see Luigi Forte, "La scherma metodo Radaelli," L'Italia Militare, 23 February 1878 & 26 February 1878.
2 Jacopo Gelli, Bibliografia generale della scherma (Florence: Luigi Niccolai, 1890), 108. See also the ministry of war's yearbook, Annuario Militare, published by Carlo Voghera, to track Forte's promotions and postings.

01 February 2023

Radaelli Under Fire: Masiello on Defence

This is the second article in the 'Radaelli Under Fire' series. Click here to return to the introduction and view the other entries in the series.

Although Angelini's critique did not manage to foment radical reform of the army's fencing instruction, it did not go unnoticed within the fencing community. After many months had passed since its publication, one Radaellian at last decided that Angelini's affront could not remain completely unanswered. On the 19th of January 1878 in the military newspaper L'Italia Militare, it was Ferdinando Masiello who first stepped up to the plate to defend Radaelli's school.1

Masiello was not yet the vocal and fervent critic of the modern Neapolitan school that he would be known as starting in the late 1880s, but by 1878 he was already a well-regarded competitor and teacher as well as someone who had only learnt and been won over by the Radaellian method less than two years prior. His broad experience and professional achievements thus made him the ideal public spokesman for Radaelli's school.

In the article below, Masiello gives an overview of his professional background and how he came to be eventually convinced of the superiority of Radaelli's sabre method. He gives little in the way of refutation for Angelini's assertions, deeming them blatantly flawed and biased, but instead focuses on verifiable facts, with the genuine conviction of someone who had both witnessed and played a part in the school's achievements.

The Radaelli sabre fencing system

Mr. Achille Angelini (a retired general) has just published a work entitled Observations on the handling of the sabre according to the Radaelli method, where he censures said method and the relative regulation instruction.

Overall, General Angelini's work includes many of the observations on the subject which were published in 1876 in the newspaper l'Esercito by Lieutenant colonel Doux of the Piacenza cavalry regiment, which Captain Del Frate responded to with as many articles published in the newspaper l'Italia Militare, as well as part of the observations also published on the same topic in 1877 by Colonel Gnecco, and to which responded Colonel Costa-Reghini of the Novara cavalry, Colonel Rodriguez of the Monferrato cavalry regiment, and fencing master Paolo Cornaglia.

So, I will not abuse the kindness of those who are interested in the matter in question by refuting the cited work again and directly, because I would only be repeating arguments and facts already explained in a clearer and more convincing manner by other talented experts and partisans of the Radaelli fencing method.

However, since I have the fortune of deeply understanding the aforementioned school of fencing and thus have a profound conviction that it marks true progress in fencing, in general and mainly for sabre, in homage to the truth I feel obliged to seize the favourable opportunity of the publication of the work in question in order to express my appreciations in favour of the Radaelli school.

So that my convictions and my remarks may be more suitably appreciated, it is necessary that I start by saying that I was born in the southern provinces and I have attended the best schools of Neapolitan fencing; I have formed my own particular fencing system suggested to me, so to speak, by the instinct which directed me to the study of this favourite art of mine; I am a non-commissioned officer in our army, having done a regulation fencing course at the Parma school, graduating first in my course and then staying there for a year as a master teacher;2 I have done a year-long course at the Milan fencing master's school (Radaelli method) when the ministerial order was made that every fencing master who wished to continue in the same position had to learn the new Radaelli system; I had the fortune a few months ago to achieve a promotion by selection to civil fencing master in the army; I have competed in the fencing competitions in almost all the gymnastic congresses held in our country with the good luck of always achieving first prizes; finally, I too was an opponent of the fencing method in question when I did not understand it or had an inexact and incomplete idea of it.

Therefore my convictions on the excellence of the Radaelli fencing system were born from the theoretical and practical study I did of the system and from the full agreement which I found between my ideas on fencing with the fundamental principles of the above-mentioned school, and primarily on the method of using the articulations of the arm and hand to be able to move the blade and direct it with greater force, precision, and flexibility. It was during the year of my course at the Milan school that I realised that I have always instinctively followed the same fencing principles as the Radaelli school; it was there that I found said principles ordered into a perfect system. Proof of this is the fact that as I myself saw that Radaelli's students were instructed according to my principles, so too Radaelli himself had to ask me who had taught me his system, because I fenced exactly like his best students.

My convictions were again born from the fact of having seen for myself the brilliant results which the new fencing system yielded with the students of the aforementioned master's school, in which excellent instructors and strong and brilliant fencers were and still are produced.

I could also be mistaken, but I consider that all those who strive to fight the Radaelli fencing system cannot help but fall into erroneous remarks and judgements, both because they wish to fight a school and a teaching method which they do not know or know too imperfectly both theoretically and practically, and because—perhaps even with the intention of making a conscientious opposition—they do not realise that their spirit is overwhelmed by preconceived ideas which do not allow them to see the truth and primarily by a certain feeling of pride, offended by the fact that a new school is replacing the old and with this also the merit of its followers.

In fact, General Angelini expresses the above-mentioned sentiments without reticence, openly stating that he and his friends of the old school are worried and disturbed by the idea that the Radaelli school may shortly have prevalence over all others.

In this regard it seems obvious to me to note: if the lively opposition from the opponents of said school was made solely with the good of the country in mind and not through individual interest and pride, how can the idea of its growth worry them? Or the school I support is based on false and irrational principles, as Angelini's work claims, and then there is no doubt that it will fall on its own, because nothing can resist without solid foundations; or, on the contrary, the school is based on wise principles and fruitful with excellent results, and so then why should its growth be worrying if this fact can only be considered an advantage and a new glory for our country?

So, in my opinion, as long as the opponents of the Radaelli school are improperly informed both practically and theoretically about the system which they try to fight, and as long as they do not shed those prejudices which are the prime enemies of progress, not only must they be considered incompetent judges, but indeed in my opinion they will always be, I repeat, powerless to achieve their desired goal.

Angelini's work tries to prove primarily that the sabre fencing principles of the Radaelli system are erroneous both for sabre fencing properly speaking and for the handling of the sabre on horseback, and additionally also the rules written in the fencing text for the relative teaching. Nevertheless, with these principles and with these rules, sabre fencers emerge from the Milan master's school who are so powerful that they do not fear opponents of any school and who always voluntarily accept any noble fencing competition; who achieve first prizes in gymnastic congresses; who are very talented instructors; who earn the public's favour not only through their skill, but through the pleasant and brilliant manner in which they fence; who are praised unreservedly even by the same best masters of the old school; who wield the sabre on horseback in an admirable manner and who, in short, give all the most convincing factual evidence that the Radaelli school of fencing and its written rules are fruitful with the best possible results; finally, the Radaelli school of fencing, so criticised by General Angelini, was awarded with a 1st grade gold medal at the 8th gymnastics congress precisely due to the number and talent of its students taking part in the fencing competition at the congress, where the two first prizes both in sword and sabre were awarded to two students of the school in question.

Nor will I dwell longer on a subject which I believe has already been talked about enough and perhaps even too much; I will permit myself only to add that today, to fight the school in question, it seems to me that the sole suitable weapon can only be that of presenting another fencing school that is better than that which one is trying to demolish, both in its principles and in its teaching method, as well as its results. This alone would be in my opinion the best, the most noble, and the most beneficial opposition, without fear of being accused as an enemy of progress and its benefits.

In principle the Radaelli school of fencing marks a true progression in the field of fencing, and Radaellian sabre fencing is in my judgement not only the best I know of, but it is unique in its merits and in its results, and there is no other that compares to it.

The teaching method of Maestro Radaelli has an essential quality of not only making talented fencers, but also very skilled instructors. The instructional text for the system in question written by Captain Del Frate fits so well into the spirit of teaching and the ideas are so well-developed and ordered that it is to be considered an excellent guide for those who wish to educate themselves in the fencing system it propagates, and it was quite rightly awarded with the highest-honour gold medal at the 7th gymnastics congress in Rome.

This explicit declaration of mine in favour of the Radaelli fencing school can be accepted by all as a homage to the truth, and I am very fortunate to be able to enter into ranks of those who, with their common sense, their work and noble constancy, are powerfully influencing the development of this school which, I repeat, is a true progression in the noble art of fencing.

Fencing master at the Turin military academy


1 Ferdinando Masiello, "La scherma di sciabola sistema Redaelli," l'Italia militare: giornale delle armi di terra e di mare, 19 January 1878, 3.
2 TN: 'maestro insegnante', i.e. a master who trains other masters.

18 January 2023

Radaelli Under Fire: Achille Angelini

This is the first article in the 'Radaelli Under Fire' series. Click here to return to the introduction and view the other entries in the series.

The Radaellian method had several high-profile opponents in its heyday, and even among them General Achille Angelini was a particularly tenacious one. Veteran of all three Italian Wars of Independence, friend and aide-de-camp of King Vittorio Emanuele II, and notable duellist, by the 1870s Angelini had lived remarkable life. Known for his temerity and unshakeable patriotism, the 'cavalier without fear' made many friends and enemies throughout his long career, with the use of arms in all contexts being being a recurring topic in his work.1 The first booklet in this series we will be looking at was written by Angelini, published in 1877 under the title Observations on the handling of the sabre according to the Radaelli method [Osservazioni sul maneggio della sciabola secondo il metodo Redaelli].

***Click here to read***

The scans of the original book can be found here through the Corble Collection at KU Leuven, along with hundreds of other rare fencing-related texts.

Focusing solely on sabre, Angelini’s booklet would quickly become the most widely cited critique on Radaelli's system, and was the only one cited in the 1884 report on the notorious anti-Radaellian fencing treatise commission, which was also chaired by Angelini himself. Comparing said report with this booklet, it is clear how much the views of the rest of the commission were influenced by Angelini's writing, as seen in their statement that Radaelli's system teaches to grip the sabre 'with great an incessant force', a prescription entirely fabricated by Angelini.2

Although Angelini states at the beginning that he had read Del Frate's 1876 book on Radaelli's system, Istruzione per la scherma di sciabola e di spada, he makes it clear that he did not consider the differences between this book and the 1868 version to be significant, and as such most of his quotes are taken from the earlier edition. In addition to citing Del Frate's book, Angelini also directs criticism at material taken from the 1873 cavalry regulations, which contain a cavalry-focused adaptation of Radaelli's method. It is unclear whether or not Radaelli was involved in writing these regulations (although Angelini takes it for granted that he was), but that did not prevent Angelini from giving him the blame for all the faults he finds in them, including criticisms for techniques and advice—such as the sweeping semi-circular parries and the maxim to focus on attacking rather than defending—which can be found in much earlier (pre-Radaellian) versions of the regulations, such as the 1853 Piedmontese cavalry instructions.

In addition to writing a very popular duelling code in 1883, Angelini would later resume the offensive against Radaellian fencing after reading Masiello's 1887 treatise, in which the author vehemently denounces the treatise competition and the modern Neapolitan school as represented in Masaniello Parise. When Angelini states at the end of his 1877 booklet that the only thing that would convince him to change his mind is arguments from Radaellians based on 'defined mathematical rules', as he professes to have given (a desire echoed by other critics of Radaelli), this may have influenced the way Masiello would later write his own treatise, which contains numerous mathematical discussions to justify his particular brand of Radaellian fencing. Judging by the statements in Angelini's second booklet, however, he did not find Masiello's proofs sufficiently convincing. In this second critical work, entitled Final word on the revived Angelini-Masiello matter and published in 1888, Angelini felt compelled to respond to the denunciation of the commission he presided over by largely restating the points he made in his 1877 booklet, also adding a summary of Masiello's 'contradictions' of what is written in Del Frate's Radaellian texts.

That same year, prolific author Jacopo Gelli responded to this in turn with his own booklet, a point-by-point response to Angelini's critique written in a tone that could at times be described as exasperated, but is overall a good demonstration of how the issues Angelini described in Radaelli's sabre method were often based more off bad readings of outdated material rather than what was actually being taught at the time.


1 A. M. Adamoli-Castiglioni Branda, Cenni biografici del generale Achille Angelini (Florence: Bernardo Seber Successore Loescher, 1900).
2 Paulo Fambri, "Relazione," in Masaniello Parise, Trattato teorico pratico della scherma di spada e sciabola: preceduto da un cenno storico sulla scherma e sul duello, (Rome: Tipografia Nazionale, 1884), i–xxxv.

11 January 2023

Radaelli Under Fire: Introduction

To the followers of Giuseppe Radaelli's method, it should not have been too great a surprise that they would be met by fervent opponents even off the piste. The fact that this new method directly challenged established traditions, and even boasted that this lack of tradition was one of its virtues, could only be more confronting when combined with the national authority Radaelli's school was given in 1874, becoming the centre of fencing education for the Italian military. Due to the privileged position this school occupied, from 1874 onward its graduates and the method they propagated came under ever greater scrutiny: the success or failure of the Radaellian method had now become a matter of national pride.

After the fencing competition at the 1875 Siena Gymnastics Congress, we saw how one commentator was left with a poor impression of the Radaellians' foil fencing but saw good potential in their sabre, albeit 'not devoid of certain flaws'. It was the subsequent year, though, when criticism towards Radaelli's method appeared more frequently from those in military circles, appearing in the military journals Esercito and Italia Militare, followed by four booklets published over four years criticising all aspects of Radaellian fencing, both theory and practice. The booklets, written by Achille Angelini, Luigi Forte, Giuseppe Perez, and Giovanni Pagliuca, caused significant damage to the reputation of the Milan fencing master's school and ultimately contributed to its downfall after the treatise competition of the 1880s.

In this series, 'Radaelli Under Fire', over several months I will be publishing translations of each of these fascinating booklets along with some contextual background on the work and its author where possible. We will see exactly what it was about Radaelli's teachings that some found so objectionable and what their suggested alternatives were, as well as to what degree the critics agreed with each other in these areas. Links to each article in the series will be posted below as they are released on the blog.

Part 1: Achille Angelini

Part 2: Masiello on Defence

Part 3: Luigi Forte

Part 4: Masiello's Final Word

Part 5: Urciuoli Stokes the Flames

27 December 2022

Sportfechten by E. von Ciriacy-Wantrup

With 2022 drawing to a close, I thought I would end the year by sharing one last text from my collection. This curious 78-page book entitled Sportfechten ('Sport fencing') was published in Leipzig and Zürich, likely during the 1920s.


Very little is known about the author of this book, E. von Ciriacy-Wantrup, and so far I have been unable to even determine his first name. What is known, however, is that he was an Oberleutnant (first lieutenant) serving in the 99th infantry regiment of the German army in 1909 and that he taught fencing at the Dresdner Fecht-Club and the Officer's Fencing Club.

Ciriacy-Wantrup (left) posing for the camera at the 1909 officer's tournament in Dresden.

Ciriacy-Wantrup's system is clearly Italian-derived, as exemplified by terminology such as 'Kavation ins Tempo'. The book is less a treatise and more a collection of general fencing advice about the various techniques. The advice is generally weapon-agnostic, although he dedicates about 10 pages to specific advice on the épée, which he says is 'undoubtedly the most difficult [kind of] fencing' and should only be taken up after mastering foil and sabre. Two of the six photos in the book feature the famous amateur champion and Olympian Erwin Casmir, with the captions stating that he was a student of Ciriacy-Wantrup at the time.

Throughout the text, the author emphasises that he values precision of execution over speed, especially in the early stages, which is reflected in his recommendation that students should have 'complete confidence' in their footwork before they are allowed to grip a weapon. These somewhat rigid views appear to be in response to what he observes as a general decline in interest for fencing in Germany at the time of publication.

Ciriacy-Wantrup (seated), 1914