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The following is a critique of The History of Fencing written by Dr.
William Gaugler, Maestro di Scherma. The critique was written by John Clements and Stephen Hand and posted on http://www.thehaca.com/bookreviews.htm|
Following the critique is Maestro Gaugler's response, which HACA declined to publish.
We trust that you will be able to draw your own conclusions from reading them both.
The History of Fencing: Foundations of Modern European Swordplay
As a sword researcher and active practitioner, as well as an author, I looked forward to this book's release with great anticipation. My review here (for historical swordsmanship enthusiasts) is limited exclusively to *only* the book's first section, my area of particular concern, namely historical fencing methods prior to c. 1700. The rest of the book covering 1700 to present sport fencing is outside my interest and is not reviewed.
My overall opinion is that the historical portion of this is a useful and valuable addition to the subject. Definitely purchase it. First, be aware that this is definitely NOT a martial art book. It is very much a sport fencing history book ...and by no means a complete one. It is clearly not concerned with examining the historical European Masters of Defence as warriors or martial artists. Don't expect any new groundbreaking scholarship or real insightful interpretation either. It is also not a guide to any methods of Renaissance swordsmanship or of any historical European fighting methods that do not directly derive from rapier fence.
The contents of the book's first section consist of some very exciting albeit brief material on Renaissance fencing manuals. The author's overviews of the leading Italian masters of the 1500's and 1600's are the book's greatest value to those interested in historical swordsmanship. Fortunately, translations of several important terms and phrases from manuals are included. It is very sad material like this has not already been made easily available. Of course, an entire book could (and should) be presented on this early historical fencing material alone.
However, for some reason the 16th and 17th century section reads as if still incomplete. It comes across as if we were getting a look only at a professor's lecture notes (...or perhaps a text book for a traditional fencing course). Overall the section left me wanting much more. I found myself wishing for more footnotes on many of the short descriptions of what would seem to be important elements. There is also a lack of accompanying illustrations, which would have made a tremendous difference.
Unfortunately, there is also no mention of any German fechtmeister or of English methods of swordplay. This is a significant oversight. Additionally, despite the strong connection between Medieval and Renaissance methods, the author begins his focus only with the earliest Italian master with whom he identifies to the modern sporting forms, the Bolognese master Achille Marozzo of 1536, and ignores anything prior (it is this classic dismissal of Medieval fencing's sophistication and effectiveness that is now so intolerable to the historical fencing community). Gaugler does not include Di Antonio Manciolino's earlier 1531, Opera Nova, the first surviving printed Italian sword manual, or any German work of the early 1500s, or the 1550 text of the Florentine master Francesco Altoni, a contemporary of Marozzo whose ideas he disputed. The book also does not recognize Frederico Ghisliero's Hispano-Italian style of 1580. No attempt is made either to reconcile or evaluate the differing and sometime contradictory styles of the various Renaissance masters. Instead one gets the feeling they were being minimized in favor of intentionally emphasizing their similarities to later forms (i.e., modern sport fencing).Of course, in all fairness it should be pointed out, Gaugler was concerned not with reconstructing Renaissance swordplay in all its diversity, but in tracing the technical origins of his own modern sport from the rapier.
Inexcusably perhaps, the entire vital element of seizures, grappling, disarms, and use of the second hand or even daggers and bucklers is almost wholly ignored as if it never existed. No attention is paid to why these aspects of sword use became defunct. The reason surely is the author's complete unfamiliarity with their historical application (as such lies entirely outside of modern fencing study and instruction). But as a result is the distinct impression given is that they are somehow "irrelevant".
Not surprising, clear throughout the Renaissance portion of the book is the familiar mistaken theme that Western fencing is a linear development (even "evolution") to some ideal modern sporting form. A secondary premise that there is an unbroken chain of concepts and principals from one to the other is also present. There is no question that in Europe since ancient time there has always been a continual transmission of central ideals and concepts from generation to generation. As technology and societies change, there has certainly always been improvement and refinement as well as modification and alteration upon them. But again, the idea that somehow all this was only leading up to a modern science of epees and foils is a very narrow and tenuous perspective. Given that the author is a professor emeritus of archaeology one would expect him to be somewhat concerned with the social and military conditions under which Western civilian fencing methods developed and divided. Alas, there is no discussion of them and they are entirely absent.
But what is also noticeably absent is any detailed examination of the weapons and blade forms that were actually being employed by these various schools and masters. Since when it comes to weapons, the tools used dictate what can actually be done they are certainly significant. What should be of primary interest to historical fencing enthusiasts is the significant and indisputable change in the nature of rapier blades from cut and thrust varieties to an edgeless ideal trusting form. This crucial, vital area is for the most part ignored. Again, this seems another symptom of the modern sporting perspective on the subject as opposed to a martial arts viewpoint. There is no discussion of the differences in earlier military cut & thrust blade forms and their methods in contrast to slender civilian rapiers. That there was an earlier cut and thrust form which existed before, during, and even after the rapier's ascent in civilian dueling can not be discounted. The material also fails to place in proper context the uses of slashes and cutting attacks with such slender blades. No importance is given to wounds and physiology either.
This book by a modern fencer often celebrated as the foremost sport grandmaster in America today, was reportedly meant to replace and surpass that of Egerton Castle from 1884 (the last such work of this scope on Western sword history). However, it is not so much surpassing him as updating him with the same perspective. Once more it's no surprise there is the underlying bias that swordplay only really achieved perfection once it severed all ties to earnest fighting with real swords. Given the ambitious title of "The History of Fencing", one would expect that from the entire 16th and 17th centuries there would be far more coverage of swordsmanship than just Italian rapier methods. But it seems that the subtitle "foundations of Modern European Swordplay" (read as "sporting method") is clearly the real focus.
This is also reflected in the choice of reference material on weapons cited in the bibliography. Surprisingly it includes none of the many important titles by the world's leading sword authority, Ewart Oakeshott, yet it does include the 1961 edition of G. C. Stone's notoriously flawed work (originally first printed in 1933). Ironically, for an expert who has access to original materials in their native languages, Gaugler also cites N. Evangelista's sword encyclopedia, which itself relied on entirely second and third hand sources without offering new research or insights (but then, William Gaugler wrote the introduction to that work and Evangelista was his student). It is even reported that the author's own research into early fighting manuals was begun only failry recently in preparation for writing the book (!).
Clearly, the most significant and profound undercurrent of the book (or the pre-1700 section) is that really nowhere does Dr. Gaugler apparently ever take time out to note that at some point in history fencers stopped really fighting with real swords. He never seems to realize that fencing went from martial to non-martial in tools, intent, and practice --or that the modern sport is a result of this crucial transformation. Thus, the book is really just the history of "fencing techniques in Italian fencing schools" --as only traced back to 1536 with Marozzo. The result in my opinion, is a connect-the-dots kind of fencing history in which anything from Renaissance fencing still familiar to the modern sport form is recognized, selected, and consecrated, while anything else that was eventually discarded or dropped from gentlemanly dueling (often because it was too vicious or lethal) gets ignored, dismissed, and overlooked.
Despite these many shortcomings in the Renaissance fencing section, when viewed in greater context than today's 19th century derived foil, epee, and sabre fencing, students of historical European swordsmanship will find the first portion of this new book very useful. Perhaps some future material from the author will include more indepth study of Renaissance swordplay, devoid of traditional fencing and not processed through the distorted prism of what only can be accomplished with modern sport foils, epees, and sabres.
The History of Fencing: Foundations of Modern European Swordplay
While Dr William Gaugler's The History of Fencing promised to be the long-awaited successor to Egerton Castle's Schools and Masters of Fence, (1885) it has proved a disappointment to the historical fencing community.
My first impression upon opening the book was surprise at the fact that the amount of space devoted to each century seemed to be in inverse proportion to the importance of fencing in that century. There are 29 pages on the 16th century, the same number on the 17th, a mere 19 pages on the 18th century, 205 pages on the 19th century and 148 on the 20th. As well, not only does Dr Gaugler begin, as did Castle (Schools and Masters of Fence, 1885) before him, with Marozzo, but we have only the barest mention of anything that went before. Anyone without a knowledge of the scores of great masters who went before Marozzo, masters whose work Marozzo undoubtedly drew from, could be mistaken for thinking that fencing sprung fully formed from the brow of Zeus (as it were) in 1536.
To add to this we are told in the Preface that "Since all contemporary schools of fencing in the western world are derived from Italian and French sources, focus in this work is on treatises published in those countries. Rapier play in the other two early schools, the German and the Spanish, in fact, closely resembles the Italian model." (p. xv) Quite apart from the fact that this statement has taken us from The History of Fencing to "The History of Those Bits of Fencing From Which Modern Sport Fencing is Descended", the statement is wrong. While German rapier play drew heavily on Italian, Spanish did not. In fact the teachings of the Spanish school of rapier play are remarkably different to those of the Italian, as anyone who has studied both will attest.
The main body of the book is separated by century; I'm not sure why as it introduces artificial boundaries within reasonably static periods of fencing and fails to recognise the true periodisation of fencing history, that is by weapon.
On the subject of weapons, one would expect in a history of fencing to see at least some discussion of the weapons, how they changed and how these changes affected fencing styles. Instead in the first chapter we are limited to the following "The simple type of rapier shown in the illustrations to Achille's text has a short grip, large spherical pommel, crossbar, and long, slim straight blade that tapers to a point." (p.2). In the second chapter we receive another tidbit "It should be noted that the author is one of the first Italian masters to mention in his text both the practice rapier (smarra) and the foil (fioretto). The introduction of the lighter practice weapon, that is to say, the foil, is, of course, important, since it contributed to the development of the fast and complex fencing technique we employ today..." (p. 47). Later on we are told that "In many respects Francesco's Regole della Scherma represents the final major work on Italian rapier play. Within a century modern Italian foil technique is taught in virtually all fencing schools from Milan to Palermo." (p.56) Yet at no point have we been told what a rapier or a foil is. Anyone unfamiliar with historical fencing will almost certainly assume that the word foil refers to the modern sport fencing implement. A rapier foil is a quite different beast to a modern foil. Dr Gaugler should know this, and should have been aware of the confusion the name would cause.
Throughout The History of Fencing there seems to be an almost conscious effort to avoid the issue of weapons and their effect on style. Without examination of the physical characteristics of the weapons, many of the developments in fencing style seem inexplicable. In this sense the book is a retrograde step from Castle's Schools and Masters of Fence (1885), which, despite criticising the use of long, heavy rapiers, at least correctly identified the limitations that a weapon heavier than a modern foil or epee placed on the practicality of certain techniques. A reader unfamiliar with even the basics of fencing history could be forgiven for believing that the weapons used in fencing have remained fundamentally the same since 1536.
Within each chapter are sections on individual fencing masters. The basic teachings of each master are summarised. A great deal of this material is useful, particularly as much of it comes from untranslated Italian manuals. However, the material from each manual is treated in isolation. Only rarely are techniques compared with those of other masters and interpretation of any kind is rare.
The one occasion on which Dr Gaugler ventures into analysis is in the section on Camillo Palladini (pp.10-15). Dr Gaugler interprets a fencing phrase. He states... "When the weapon has been drawn from the scabbard to form the first guard Palladini recommends crossing blades on the outside; and, as the opponent moves to thrust in the low line, the point of one's own weapon should be dropped, and a beat in second executed, succeeded by a thrust to the adversary's chest, while stepping forward with the left foot. Two phases of the action are shown in drawings. In the first illustration both fencers are depicted on guard with swords crossed, points up; and in the second, the action is shown completed with one fencer having run the other through. Today we would describe this action as a beat in second in time (hand position in second) and thrust to the outside low-line with a cross-step forward." The two illustrations in question do not appear in the book but they are included (alongside the identical text) in an article by Dr Gaugler in the In Ferro Veritas Online Journal Vol.1 No. 3. The first illustration show the two fencers in a low or terza ward with rapiers crossed. The second illustration shows the losing fencer having dropped his point and commenced a disengage to the inside line. The victorious fencer has his hand in seconda (palm down), his forte against the forte of his opponent, his left leg forward and his point in his opponent's belly. My first reaction upon seeing this was to ask "If this is indeed as a result of a beat then why are the two blades in contact?" A beat "succeeded" by a thrust is also a defence in double time, the beat being one time and the thrust being the second. Double time defences are extremely rare in rapier fencing and are almost never used where a single time defence is possible. Based on the data available to me I made my own interpretation of the technique.
My interpretation of the sequence was that the victorious fencer had counterthrust in single time, doing so in seconda in order to provide opposition to his opponent's initial thrust. The losing fencer had thrust and the victorious fencer simultaneously counterthrust with opposition while passing forward and to the left with the left leg (this takes him outside the line of the losing fencer's attack). An almost identical sequence is described by Vincentio Saviolo in his manual of 1595 (page 20 verso (also 14 verso - some of the pages, including this one, are double numbered). Saviolo described the technique as an "imbroccata in the manner of a stoccata" or in other words a blow delivered with the hand prone, nevertheless striking below the opponent's rapier hand. I have successfully used this defence in many rapier bouts and consider it far better than the variant suggested by Dr Gaugler.
Now just to complicate matters, I sent some of my thoughts to Dr Gaugler. Apparently he was greatly offended by my tone which is a pity as Dr Gaugler has much to contribute to any discussion of rapier fencing. Anyway, Dr Gaugler replied, stating amongst other things that what Palladini intended was indeed a beat and he included the relevant passage in which Palladini does indeed use the Italian term for a beat, battere. It looks as if his interpretation was correct. This however leads me to another question. This sequence is the only rapier fencing sequence described by Dr Gaugler. Why has he chosen one so uncharacteristic of rapier fencing as a whole and more importantly, given that he chose so uncharacteristic a move why didn't he see fit to state that it was uncharacteristic?
This brings me to another point. While Dr Gaugler has a great many useful quotes from rapier fencing manuals it is immediately apparent to anyone familiar with the rapier that he has ignored or misinterpreted many techniques not still used in modern fencing. Taking, for instance Fabris (1606), Dr Gaugler appears to cover the contents of each chapter in some detail, but does he? Principles and techniques still used in modern fencing are dealt with competently. However, in chapter six we come to a principle that is quite different to modern sport fencing practice, that of defence in single time. Fabris spends most of the chapter telling us how simultaneous defence and counterattack is more effective with a rapier than a modern fencing style parry-riposte. Fabris' preferred method of single-time defence is the counterthrust with opposition, a counterthrust which closes the line of the attack, simultaneously parrying an opponent's attack and striking him. Dr Gaugler summarizes the bulk of this chapter in one sentence, in which he demonstrates that he has misunderstood what Fabris was teaching. "In this chapter he also remarks that `it is better to parry and riposte at the same time;' in other words, the riposte should be immediate." (p.33). Dr Gaugler has translated the word ferire to mean riposte which is odd since it is clear from the use of the word earlier in the chapter that Fabris intends it to simply mean `hit'. In his own Dictionary of Universally Used Fencing Terminology, Dr Gaugler defines a riposte as "the attack that follows the parry" (p.52) and goes on to say that the riposte may be immediate or delayed. So clearly Dr Gaugler assumes that Fabris is recommending a modern-style parry-riposte despite the fact that the bulk of the chapter is explaining exactly why Fabris thinks that this technique is flawed. In chapter eight Fabris tells us about parrying with the hand. Dr Gaugler makes no mention of this. In Chapter 13 Dr Gaugler translates the word passare as advance rather than pass. This is despite the term being defined as a pass in the English language manual Pallas Armata (1639). A pass of course is a foot movement where one foot moves past the other, as in a normal walking motion. It is as fundamental to rapier fencing as the lunge is to modern sport fencing. Part Two of the manual, dealing with rapier and dagger and Book Two, discussing for the most part advanced uses of thrusts with opposition are not even mentioned. The uninformed reader would have no way of knowing that Fabris' manual contained anything other than an incomplete collection of imperfectly explained modern fencing techniques.
So much for Fabris. Other authors, like Saviolo (who I have worked with extensively) contain so many techniques foreign to modern fencing that Dr Gaugler simply glosses over their works. In the three pages which Dr Gaugler devotes to Saviolo he doesn't progress past describing the first ward and mentioning that Saviolo advises against the use of cuts. Most of the three pages consist of quotes from that great opponent of rapier fencing, George Silver which is like summarizing a book by Robert E. Lee and only including quotes from Ulysses S. Grant.
The greatest fault that I find in the first two chapters of Dr Gaugler's book are the omissions and the message that those omissions will send to people with an interest in rapier fencing. While these omissions do not constitute mistakes as such, I believe the failure by Dr Gaugler to adequately describe the fact of, and the reasons for those omissions constitutes a grave error.
To start with I find the title of this book misleading. On the one hand we have 'The History of Fencing' and on the other we have 'Foundations of Modern European Swordplay'. Putting both of these statements together suggests to me a work which describes the history of fencing and which draws special attention to the roots of modern practice. In fact Dr Gaugler's book does not do that. He describes selective parts of the history of fencing, down to the level of describing only those aspects of an individual master's work relevant to modern practice and ignoring the rest, thus leaving the uninitiated with a completely false picture of what that master's style was like. Even if Dr Gaugler had once said that there were other principles and techniques not relevant to modern fencing and hence to his thesis; but he doesn't. For all he says one could assume that nothing different to modern practice existed; and that's just it, people will assume that. People looking for an excuse to think that rapier fencing was simply a dumbed down version of modern fencing will find nothing in this book to suggest that their view is not entirely valid. One single line saying that material not relevant to the thesis was being ignored would have sufficed but now those people who do poorly researched historical fencing have a work by an eminent man which appears to defend their ahistorical practices.
In his Preface Dr Gaugler states that "I have selected works that, in my opinion, will best help the reader follow the evolution of fencing theory and practice in those two schools." (French and Italian) (p.xv). As Dr Gaugler has not adequately described fencing theory and practice in the Italian rapier school (if it can be described in such a monolithic fashion) then he has failed to do what he said he would. He also says that "I have sought to provide the reader both with insight into technical matters, and if possible, a flavour of the historical period in question." (p.xv) By ignoring those techniques unique to the rapier 'period' Dr Gaugler has failed to give any flavour of the period.
Historical Fencing is a discipline struggling to be recognised as a legitimate pursuit. The vast majority of its practitioners, while well meaning, have little experience and have no access to competent tuition. These people are in desperate need of authoritative secondary source material to assist them. If secondary sources give an inaccurate or biased picture of historical fencing systems this information will be used by those enthusiasts who sadly know no better and historical fencing will be the worse for it. Unfortunately, by omitting material critical to a proper understanding of the rapier and by virtue of the errors present in the material that is included in The History of Fencing Dr Gaugler has, in my opinion, done historical fencing a disservice, by reinforcing the preconceptions that many aspiring historical fencers have about the rapier.
Reviewer Stephen Hand is one of the instructors at the Stoccata School of Defence in Sydney, Australia. The school teaches rapier and sword.
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In reference to the reviews of my book, The History of Fencing: Foundations of Modern European Swordplay (Laureate Press, 1998) by Messrs. John Clements and Stephen Hand: I appreciate the apparent interest in my publication among members of the HACA. I had indeed hoped that my modest contribution to fencing literature would reach a fairly wide audience of readers beyond those preparing to teach fencing. The text was originally written specifically for the USFA Coaches College at the request of my good friend and colleague, Maître Alex Beguinet. The History of Fencing, along with my Dictionary of Fencing Terminology, has now been translated into Italian and will serve as a text for prospective Italian fencing masters. The Science of Fencing has already been available in both German and Italian editions for many years.
In my view, anything that is published is open to a reviewer's criticism, and often the author can learn from this. Certainly, despite my efforts at accuracy in interpreting fencing texts of the past there is the possibility that archaic language could have been misleading. Just as we must be cautious in our interpretations of expressions found in Elizabethan English, so, too, should we be careful in reading Italian of the same time period. Translation with only a dictionary in hand is not enough, it takes first-hand experience with the living language, and especially, in this case, Italian fencing terminology. I think that this is where the difficulties lie, and since my Italian readers have raised no objections of the sort brought forth by Messrs. Clements and Hand, I suspect that the problem lies in their knowledge of Italian and French.
In this respect, I note that Mr. Clements, in his book, Renaissance Swordsmanship (p. 36), attributes the invention of the "metal-mesh fencing mask...in the late 1800s" to "the French master La Boksshire." He must mean La Boëssière's father in the 1700s (my History of Fencing, p. 93). And he lists in his primary sources (p. 141) works published in 1610 by "da Cagli, Italy," and "Ridolfo Capo Ferro...." He seems to have made two books out of one, since Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli, as his name indicates, evidently came from the town of Cagli.
Beyond these minor difficulties with language in his own work, there are also serious misconceptions and errors in the reviews of my book by both Messrs. Clements and Hand, and these could only confuse the reader, and cause him or her to question my ability to undertake this work. Mr. Hand goes so far as to say that in his opinion I have "done historical fencing a disservice by reinforcing the preconceptions that many aspiring historical fencers have about the rapier." What I may have done, and quite inadvertently, is contradict what he believes to be the true art of the rapier, and what he probably teaches his pupils as gospel.
I shall deal only with the salient points in the two reviews. In my estimation the work that has been done to reconstruct rapier technique, and rapier combined with dagger etc., is valuable. The same holds for efforts to understand use of the staff arms. However, I believe that such work must be based on use of original texts. I deliberately chose to confine my book to the single sword, or as Camillo Palladini put it, the "queen of arms".
Now, first, Mr. Clement's criticisms: although I am familiar with the major texts of the German and Spanish schools, I did not include them in my publication, which in dealing with select publications from only the Italian and French schools already brought the volume up to just under 500 pages. But I did not omit names of Marozzo's predecessors, Fiore dei Liberi, Neppo Bardi, and Guid'Antonio di Luca, nor did I ignore other arms. They are mentioned regularly (my History, pp. 16, 10, 15, etc.). And Renaissance masters are in agreement that the single sword must be taught first.
The method of fencing I teach, and that is still taught generally in Italy, is based entirely on dueling practice. My first master, Aldo Nadi, fought a duel, and so did a substantial number of fencers of his generation and earlier, such as Eugenio Pini, and Agesilao and Aurelio Greco. What they learned to do with the épée and sabre enabled them to survive. Our fencers are trained to employ counterattacks, countertime, and the feint in time with the épée, and to push and pull cuts with the sabre à segatura (my History of Fencing, p. 44). They know how to dominate the opposing steel, have a range of actions on the blade, and a number of counterattacks that exceed anything normally encountered in today's competitive fencing.
Until recently, the term "sport" fencing did not exist. And I share the dismay that many fencers feel about contemporary competitive fencing. However, a distinction is important: Italian swordplay of the Scuola Magistrale is derived from use of edged weapons. The very design of the Italian foil and épée is based on the rapier prototype. Moreover, the Roman-Neapolitan system of pedagogy reaches back, through Rosaroll and Grisetti, Parise, and Pessina and Pignotti to the eighteenth century, and perhaps beyond. If you want to comprehend how the variety of counterattacks and their contraries are correctly used, you must learn the method of the Scuola Magistrale. Like my Italian colleagues, I believe that anyone wishing to practice and teach rapier technique should first complete at least one year of fencing instruction in the system of the Roman-Neapolitan school.
I have some knowledge of the social and military conditions of the Renaissance, since I originally began as a Renaissance scholar, and am familiar with primary sources. See, for instance, my article, "Observations on Botticelli's 'Calumny of Apelles,'" il Vieusseux (gennaio-aprile 1994) pp. 7-30. And I have had an interest in edged weapons since childhood, and have seen many of the major arms collections here and abroad, beginning with the one in the George F. Harding Museum, Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum, New York, and then later, during my many years of travel, the Villa Stibbert Collection outside Florence (where I also took our students in 1990), the Armories of the Tower and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Warwick Castle, the Armeria Real in Madrid, the Neue Burg Collection of Arms and Armor in Vienna, and the Topkapi Sarayi Collection of Arms in Istanbul. In my forthcoming book, The Tomb of Porsenna at Cluseum and Its Religious and Political Implications (Laureate Press 2001) I deal with the question of Etruscan and Lydian arms in the endnotes.
My History of Fencing mentions weapons only when they are discussed in the texts themselves. Wounds and physiology are appropriate in another kind of publication, and these areas are best left to my colleagues with medical knowledge, Maestro Frank Lurz and Dr. Gregory Hicks. Both George Stone's Glossary and Maître Nick Evanglista's Encyclopedia contain valuable information and deserve attention. I would have been honored to count Maître Evangelista among my students; he was, however, the pupil and then assistant to Maître Ralph Faulkner, who taught the method of the French school. This information can be found in Maître Evangelista's, The Art and Science of Fencing (Masters Press, 1996) pp. 23-30.
Turning now to Mr. Hand's criticisms, Spanish troops were stationed at Naples in the thirteenth-century Castel Nuovo (where I took my fencing master's examination). And they, very likely, made an impression on the Italian swordsmen, and in turn were influenced by the Italians. There is, in fact, a tradition in Naples that the Neapolitan system of swordplay contains some Spanish elements. When I have asked my Neapolitan colleagues what these elements are, they are at a loss. But we do know from Francesco Marcelli, Regole della Scherma (1686), whose father, Titta, taught in Naples, that he was familiar with the principal publications by Spanish masters, and that he knew some Spanish fencing terms (my History of Fencing pp. 45-56). And despite the circles with footprints, which continue to be found in Spanish treatises as late as Manuel Antonio de Brea's Principios Universales (1805), Spanish swordplay, like all fencing, had to be based on the same fundamental actions: the straight thrust, the disengagement, the glide, the simple parry, the simple riposte, the beat, the renewed attack, and the arrest. This same material still appears later in the century in Antonio Alvarez Garcia's Manual de Esgrima (1887).
The curious notion that fencers of the old school relied chiefly on counterattacks is a misconception. Counterattacks depend on the actions they oppose. The synoptic tables in my Science of Fencing show clearly which simple and compound attacks can be opposed with counterattacks in the first, second, or third movement. In simple attacks, that is, attacks consisting of one blade motion, only glides can be met with counterattacks, because blade vibrations sensed in the ricasso give advance warning of the attack. By way of examples, the glide to the inside high and low lines can be opposed with the inquartata, and the flanconade in fourth can be countered by the imbroccata. But straight thrusts and disengagements provide no warning, and therefore must be countered with the parry and riposte. An arrest or time thrust would very likely result in a double hit, which no skilled swordsman would risk.
Marozzo already indicates the necessity to parry and riposte (my History of Fencing, pp. 2 and 434). The word ferire was used in the past both to designate an attack and a riposte. If it followed the word "parry", it was a riposte. Fabris (1606) Book One, Chapter Six, is chiefly concerned with criticizing those who draw the arm back to gain greater force in the thrust, and in the same chapter (p.16) says "meglio è parare e ferire in tempo medesimo", which is translated in the Italian and German edition of 1713 as "besser...in einem Tempo zugleich pariren und stoßen". Even today the German word for riposte is either Riposte or Nachstoß, that is, to thrust after, meaning after the parry (see Karl Kerstenhan, Florettfechten, [München, 1978], p. 220).
Only if you had taken lessons from a variety of Italian masters would you know that a principle of the Italian school is to riposte immediately after the parry in such a way that the parry and riposte blend into one another, and are seemingly delivered in one motion or the same tempo. It was the later French school that stressed clear-cut separation of parry from riposte. The Italians, however, have always been conscious of the danger in delaying the riposte. In my Science of Fencing (p. xxv) I quote Aldo Nadi in reference to his brother's parry-riposte. He says: "For as soon as [the adversary's] blade was found, the riposte followed with lightning speed...." Indeed, every Italian master I worked with said that the riposte must arrive come un fulmine, like a thunderbolt. That is what the passage in Fabris means. If he had intended to speak of a counterattack, then he would have specified the type of counterattack as Francesco Marcelli does when he discusses body evasions (my History of Fencing, pp. 53-55).
This brings us to Chapter Thirteen and the question of passare. Here, too, knowledge of Italian fencing terminology is vital. The title alone indicates that Fabris will tell us what a thrust with lunge (ferire à piede fermo) is, and what passare signifies. In the first instance he says that the right foot is carried forward toward the enemy, and in the second, that both feet are carried forward (...si porta inanzi tutti dui li piedi....). The German translation of 1713 says the same thing (...mit beiden Füßen fort....). Passaggiare in Italian means to walk. And Ridolfo Capo Ferro (pp. 30-31) states that many and varied are the opinions of masters regarding walking (read advancing) with the weapon in hand, but he observes, "according to my judgment" one always moves the left foot accompanied by the right in a straight line, so that "one foot must chase the other, forward, as well as backward" (...vn pie deue cacciar l'altro, si innanzi come adietro....).
By this he means that the feet should not cross as in a normal walking step, but should move as when we step forward in modern fencing, maintaining, as we advance, the proper spacing of the guard position.
My hope is that my History of Fencing will prompt individuals interested in swordplay of the past to read the original texts, to be guided by their predecessors, and to draw on the vast fund of information that has been transmitted to us over the centuries and can still be found in living form in the theory and practice of the Scuola Magistrale.
Dr. William M. Gaugler
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