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#1 2006-09-18 11:22:01

franklurz
Maestro di Scherma
From: Mill Valley, CA
Registered: 2006-04-06
Website

One Step Closer to Extinction

As most classical fencing teachers likely know, standard, non-electric blades of Italian architecture for the Italian foil are no longer being manufactured.  However, thanks to Mr. Tom Rockwell, false ricassi of superior quality make blades of French architecture suitable for use in this weapon.  Unfortunately, within the last 18 months or so I noticed that pre-assembled Italian foils sold by my local supplier, fitted with the Rockwell false ricasso, came with blades that were unusually heavy, uncommonly stiff, poorly balanced, and for those with an even marginally developed "tatto di ferro," (sentiment de fer), altogether dead in the hand.  Within the last year I was able to secure a few other French blades which were suitable, but as of two weeks ago I was informed that even blades of this type are no longer being manufactured, by anyone.  Stiff, dead blades of the inferior sort (bearing no identifying manufacturer's stamp), are all that is available in the San Francisco Bay Area to those using the non-electric foil.

I fear the once universally common "standard blade," that is, the lighter, more supple foil blade fitted with the familiar rubber or plastic button, either has, or will soon become a thing of the past. It is difficult to say what explanation there can be for this sad state of affairs, but intuition tells me that those who now fabricate these inferior blades are either ignorant of the characteristics of a good blade, find it too expensive to make them, or no longer possess the artistry required to manufacture them (if they ever possessed it in the first place).  Another possible and by no means unlikely explanation is that the market for superior blades is too small.  Most people being taught fencing today are receiving instruction from a younger generation of teachers who never developed a classical touch for a good blade. Worse yet, today's fencers, fencing foil as it is now done, are in need of neither good blades or the sensitivity of touch required to use them.

The classical fencing community, though it has existed for some time in this country, remains small, ill-defined, disjointed, and uncoordinated.  This latest development brings it one step closer to extinction.  If it is to survive it will have to get its act together, form a national association, codify a body of regulations, and provide for the proper training and certification of qualified teachers.  Only in this way can it grow, command the respect of equipment manufacturers, and see the light of another day.

Frank Lurz

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#2 2006-09-18 14:50:15

Adam Adrian Crown
Maître d'Armes
From: Ithaca, New York
Registered: 2006-04-04
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

No doubt about it in my mind, there's nothing quite like the direct contact of your fingers on the ricasso to provide maximum sentiment du fer. This is why I always preferred the Italian hilt over the French, even when fencing in the "French" manner -- much to the consternation of my French School colleagues.

The blade-quality situation has grown increasingly grim over the past 15 years, to be sure and I haven't heard of anything promising on the horizon.

Your point regarding organization for economic purposes is a good one. Yet, how to go about it? I'm very open to specific ideas on this. It may be like trying to herd cats, but it might also be worth a try.

AAC

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#3 2006-09-18 16:25:49

Linda Wyatt
Prevost d'Armes
From: Danby NY
Registered: 2006-03-26
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Anticipating this very thing, I have, for the past few years, frequently scoured ebay looking for Italian blades and have purchased them when I've had the discretionary money.

The combination has not come up often enough.

For anyone hoping to do the same, be aware, if you are not already, that most people selling blades on ebay have no idea what they are or what they are worth.  They frequently advertise a foil as "Italian" if it says Italy on the blade.  Likewise, they sell foils as French if they say France on the blade.  And if the listing says "epee foil sword," it's almost always a sabre!

I usually search on "fencing" and then, when I have more time, will use "fencing foil" and even "fleuret" an "fioretto."  "Practice sword" has yielded results, but you'll need to exclude a lot of the wooden ones by various names for that to be very useful.

Most of the foils listed won't say anything one way or the other about what they really are, so look closely at the pictures.  E-mail the seller and ask questions or for a description of the handle. (Not the grip- they won't know what that means.)

In the last few years, I have seen around 60 Italian foils sold on ebay, most in  good condition for reasonable prices.

It's clearly not the best solution to the problem of finding good blades in years to come.  But it's a stop gap measure that can yield results.

Also, as much as I dislike unwired electric blades, we had one student purchase one from Uhlmann a year or two back that was a decent blade.  I don't believe they advertise having any non-electric blades, but I haven't asked them- maybe someone should.  Rumor, for a while, was that they were the recipients of the Italian blade manufacturing equipment formerly used by France Lames.


Linda

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#4 2006-09-18 17:00:38

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

quote -- "If it is to survive it will have to get its act together, form a national association, codify a body of regulations, and provide for the proper training and certification of qualified teachers.  Only in this way can it grow, command the respect of equipment manufacturers, and see the light of another day."

How long after the genesis of said organization will we be facing the mirror image of the USFA?

This is not intended to be a flippant remark, by the way.  I raised a tengental issue to this weeks ago by asking why the current fencing masters do not convene and discuss these matters with one another.  I don't think regular email or phone conversations is sufficient.  Specifically, when you talk about the codification of regulations - setting standards - there seems to be little real interest in doing so.

Also, this is an open question, whether the creation of such an organisation is necessary merely as an economic vehicle to persuade fabricators to make things we want.  If thats true - then what we need is an economic fraternity.  Or wait, thats what the USFA has become.  Setting aside quality fencing for money.

Also, having written about this before (and having just tracked down the same sites) doesn't it strike anybody as insane that people are starting their own organizations?  You've got Rez Johnson and the Traditional Fencing, you've got Walter Green and his CFA or whatever - then theres the AHF and the other international groups.  It seems to me that there are already too many organizations and far too few organizing principles.

Nobody wants another USFA.  or do they...?

Last edited by Akilles (2006-09-18 17:44:46)


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#5 2006-09-19 01:53:59

wleckie
Member
From: Soest, Germany
Registered: 2006-06-24
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Withdrawn--BL

Last edited by wleckie (2006-09-23 01:10:33)


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#6 2006-09-19 15:30:24

schlager7
Member
From: Dickinson, TX
Registered: 2006-07-20
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Could not an umbrella organization be formed simply for the purpose of influencing manufacturers/vendors and not necessarily trying to regiment the various classical salle d'armes? I am thinking of something rather like a collection of small businesses pooling together to get a better deal on insurance and other examples from the business world.


Sabre is theatre.
Foil is art.
Epee is truth.
--attributed to Al Peters

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#7 2006-09-19 15:40:41

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

John,

Possible, maybe.  Probable, ...?  Like I say, the AHF already exists and is trying to do these things already.  But some people won't join that group.  Do we need to form 12 more little orgs just to form a collective?  Focus groups and market research to take to fabricators to proove that there is a market for the products?  Is it data, interest or power?  Who knows.  What we do know is that many groups are forming and these are almost to the 't' driven by the local fencing school that instigates them (AHF = Martinez Academy, TFA = Mississippi Arms, CFA = Salle Green, etc.).  So how do we convince people to participate in yet another org whose intent is to pool the interest of all the others?

I don't think, for example, that we need a new organisation, a la USFA, but rather, terms of agreement among autonomous fencing schools.  A confederation of principles.  One of which could be product, another insurance.  That way nobody has to join anything.  No new entity takes shape.  More of a relational enterprise.

[ by the way - your website is amazing.  chronicling all that history - what a feat!]

Last edited by Akilles (2006-09-19 15:41:55)


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#8 2006-09-20 09:32:58

schlager7
Member
From: Dickinson, TX
Registered: 2006-07-20
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Digression... I understand. I, too, have noted that most of these organizations are grouped around a single fencing school with, perhaps 1-3 other, participating schools. At this rate, the number of potential organizations would appear to max out at a number roughly 1/3 that of the total number of classical salles.


Returning to topic... I suggest nothing so involved as an actual organization, association, cadre, sleeper cell, mafia borgata or, even, an umbrella group. What crossed my mind was more like reaching out and, for want of a better term, polling the various fencing schools who share a frustration at not being able to acquire the equipment they desire. What do the various schools really want (in concrete terms)? Realistically, projecting number of users and ability to pay and making a wild guess at a price for a given item, how big is the market for:

a proper dry foil

a proper dry epee

Italian blades (foil and epee)

fencing jackets with buttons

fencing skirt for women

points d'arret

lunette guards

(these are just things I read on-line and are probably in error, but you get the idea)

You might also find that there are a number of, basically, sport-oriented clubs that might share your interests. As I stated, I fence at a USFA/sport-oriented club in Houston. There is effectively no classical fencing along the Texas Gulf Coast. However, as the club I belong to is largely a recreational club (although we have our share of competitors), we can be an awfully heretical bunch on some points.

Once you have an idea how large a potential market you represent, then you can go to vendors or small manufacturers (although that is probably no feasible for fencing blades) and see what they feel they would have to charge to make the venture worthwhile. If needs are small, you can often use a well-established craftsman or artisan. I have a couple of delightful bronze lunette guards my wife made for me. She is a silversmith and so, already had the equipment. It was just a matter of using separate flasks to avoid contaminating equipment used for one metal with equipment used for the other. (The fumes were also a factor. Bronze gives off nasty fumes!). There are likely other small, independent (or semi-independent) craftspeople who would happily step into the void for many items. In the case of foil/epee/sabre blades, I think it might be more feasible to present a forge with the proposition of limited runs, widely spaced in time, so as not to detrat for their more profitable sports lines.

The point is, you do not need an organization, you just need to organize accurate data and start shopping it around. It also helps if this is done by someone who knows the milieu and who to poll.


Sabre is theatre.
Foil is art.
Epee is truth.
--attributed to Al Peters

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#9 2006-09-20 10:53:03

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Right.  I agree.  And tried to say so earlier. 

In fact, we have tried this a number of times over the years.  Sometimes successful, other times not.  The Negrini/Radelli sabre thing worked (almost - if you notice they have maded small changes here and there over the years now).  We recently approached one of the forges about blades and we thought we had made significant progress until the idea made its way far enough up the chain of command that it was dropped immediately.

There are a number of individuals who are out there trying their hands at clothing.  From what I have seen the initial product will cost approximately 50% more than what we are accustomed to.  Then again, we are accustomed to crap anyway.  I have no problem with paying for quality product.

Masks were raised as a possible chink in our plans here on this list a while back. Don't have many ideas about that myself.  Although, I have seen and used the masks that Robert MacPherson makes and I would love to have a few of those - maybe he could adjust them for sabres, too?

I'll try to dig up the info with the blade effort.  I think Alexis has most of that correspondence.

The PdA's however are available in spades.  Either from Tom Rockwell/American Fencing or Dennis Graves.

I don't like the term 'dry'.  I think what we want, rather than a 'dry epee' is a proper dueling sword.  Similarly, we want properly forged foil blades.

Sometimes, as in our recent case, with the larger forges, you need to guaruntee a limited run to cover their costs.  This is where multiple salles participating in the project comes in handy.  I think Maestro Sullins coordinated some of this with the sabre project.

Again, I have no need for new orgs.  Please reread the OP.

Oh - and BTW - I have nothing against sports fencers (except bad fencing).  I was trying to limit my remarks to the USFA.  As an NGO and a promoter of fencing in this country it is a miserable failure and needs determined surgery.


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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#10 2006-09-20 13:26:22

wleckie
Member
From: Soest, Germany
Registered: 2006-06-24
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Withdrawn--BL

Last edited by wleckie (2006-09-22 23:47:34)


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#11 2006-09-20 16:37:46

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

I think you are thinking too much, but thats not a crime.  Let me explain.

First, people are already doing this.  Fencers of the traditional bent (thats important because there is really nothing a sport fencer can do to tweak the equipment unless he owns a CnC machine and has a degree in polymer dynamics and fabrication) are dissatisfied with all the gear.  So what happens?  Everybody gets to work.  Its pretty cool how talent solidifes around a common goal.  Seamstresses, carpenters, armorers and cutlerers, all working to improve the collective experience.  The only thing that nobody has been able to work out yet - and I mean nobody because I talked with Deni Graves about this only a few months ago - are the damn blades.

So craftsmen making limited higher quality product, yes.  Jackets that fit and look good, weapon components that are historically correct, well balanced and quality construction that doesn't peeter out on you, these are desireable, yes?  So we sacrifice a bit on the blades for now.  And I am not sure what you have in mind about Tom's false ricasso - I'll let you clear that one up yourself - because if there is one thing I am sure of its the collective appreciation all CFers have for the work Tom has done.  These are not "jerry-rigged" by any stretch of the imagination.  These are quality machined parts.  In fact, the only product of Kevin and Tom's brainstorming that I have had a problem with is the french foil conversion piece.  That just needs more time and its pretty ambitious anyway.

Trade union. Who knows.  Buying power, maybe.  What if we find a smith in the Canadian Rockies who would be happy to run quality blades to us?  is individual buying power better than a collective? or vice versa?

Anymore, it is obvious that quality instruction demands quality tools.  So we put that responsibility on the student.  Do we turn them away?  Of course not.  In fact we continue to make student grade equipment available to anybody who needs it.  But we also make sure that "student grade" is exactly what the mind conjurs up.  If they learn adn train ahrd and stick to it my peasly 20 years of fencing experience tells me that the new fencer will buy the upgrade.  Besides, look at how ridiculously inexpensive fencing is!

A simple comparison:  if I want a quality naturally indigo died 100% cotton keikogi for Shindo Muso ryu Jo I can get one from Japan for about $125 plus shipping.  Gets to my door in less than 2 weeks and the quality literally bleeds off onto my skin.  I can't get a quality fencing jacket ANYWHERE.  Nobody makes them.  Sure I can get a selction of jackets from various vendors between $50 and $100.  My point is if I have the choice of a quality product I will go where I need to get it and I will pay an extra $25-$80 to get it.  I could be using my truly "jerry-rigged" Italian foils (the best component of which would be Tom's false ricasso and his custom grips and pommuls he would make for me), but I can also pick up my beautiful hand-made Deni Graves foil that cost about $90 more.  Better metal, better construction, better balance and better performance.

But still, I know that the blade will end up in my garden supporting tomatoes.


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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#12 2006-09-21 01:10:06

wleckie
Member
From: Soest, Germany
Registered: 2006-06-24
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Withdrawn--BL

Last edited by wleckie (2006-09-22 23:49:51)


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#13 2006-09-21 08:13:50

LimerickArms
Member
From: Limerick
Registered: 2006-09-20
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

With regard to the sourcing of blades more suited to what we practice, while I don't know what happened to the forge that produced France Lames italian blades I do know what happened to their other forge.
Oddly enough the facility was not broken up in the liquidation of France Lames but sat mothballed for some two years before it was picked up by a member of the family that owns Prieur. He was able to re-employ many of those who had worked there previously, some of which have three generations of connection with the facility.
Chevalier d'Auvergne, as it is now known, has two streams of business. One producing foils, epees and sabres for Prieur and the other producing swords for the army and navy. They produce the swords presented to the members of the french academy.

I approached Chevalier d'Auvergne over a year ago to produce french foil blades more suited to my needs and less like ram-rods. It is very difficult to encourage subtle fingerplay in your students when there is a burdensome mass in the foible. Chevalier d'Auvergne were quite willing to entertain my request. Their preferred minimum order size was 50 but we happily reduced this to 40 without incurring too much additional cost. At the end, including shipping, the blades cost 28 euro each, and I am quite happy with them. They are not perfect, there will be modifications if I commission a second batch, but they are far better than anything else available in the market.

www.chevalierdauvergne.com

Regards,
Neville Gawley
Limerick School of Arms

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#14 2006-09-21 10:17:12

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

The true ricasso is not the way to go in its present form.  It took me 11 years to make that choice personally.  I would love to hear what our Italian masters have to say about it.  The fact is the way that Italian blades are currently made they are completely inferior to the French blades.  Completely.  Not just in one little aspect.  But entirely.  They are not worthy of staking my tomatoes.

So the option is to use the French blade with false ricasso (which by the by is not a barbarism of the weapon furniture).  Tom's false ricasso is so well made that it literally becomes part of the blade and inhances the tatto d ferro.  To dismiss it wholesale and say that "anyone who comes in with a false ricasso on a foil blade will be politely told to phone Uhlmann or Allstar if they don't want to shell out the euros to Negrini." - well, isn't that just your brand of snobbery?  Why would you recquire people to use inferior products?

And yes, different goals. I want to fence.  Or at least I used to.  I want serious training partners who want to work and spend time understanding fencing.  I want a group of dedicated people to rely on - not only so that I can train but so that they develop confidence in their abilities and can maintain them.  Its the people. [and thanks for the compliments about Turners, but remember that the CFS has been working with Turners since around 2002. look for us next at the national and international Turner exhibitions]

You say your goals are to "draw beginning fencers to change the fencing scene here, with all that implies for organizational, financial, and other requirements."  Very different.  Very different indeed.

As for my intentions, I don't think you understand them at all.  Also, they are not mine alone.  Exclusivity - no freakin chance, pal.  Not when you give everyone the same chance.  Thats a problem of arguing from theory instead of the experience.  For example, I asked Deni Graves to send me a showpiece Italian foil.  Not because I'm a snob, rather, I knew that I could introduce his craftsmanship to a larger audience and I wanted an excellent representation of his work.  I showed the foil to fencers and let them handle it and you could see the lights go on inside them.  Remember when I made you your first pair of 30 inch foil blades completely rebaited, Bill?  Remember how delighted you were and how you wrote articles about them?  The physical change in contact and expression of your individual fencing became inhanced through that blade.  And in the same way these fencers who had been using inferior weapons had a moment when they realized that it all really does make sense. Like trying to figure out sabre technique with those car antennaes.  When you have the chance to use a more suitable heavy dueling sabre all of a sudden sabre techniques start to make sense.

Anyway, to date, five people have upgraded their weapons, voluntarily.  And it shows in their fencing.  The lesson is that if you only present the lowest common denominator to your students thats what they will aspire to.  And they will keep coming back wearing jeans and shorts.  They will look good in drills at some point but they will rarely develop the kind of empathy with the weapon and its technique until the weapon can actually perform its function.

But I am biased.  In my work with the microcirculation and second order arterioles I cannot take stock scientific parts.  Some people try to.  Instead I microforge all my own glass to exact micrometer dimensions and in the geometries that will actually work.  Thats science.  Developing and perfecting the tools to perform the job and inhance knowledge.  I see fencing as a science and not a philosophy.  So the tools are rather significant.  And the process we come to understand and use them is scientific.

PS - forgot to to tie this in to the theme of the OP.  My observation about the potential extinction we face is related to this lower common denominator factor in increasing fencing.  We have seen it happen to traditional Japanese arts here in the US and to a degree the USFA has already hammered away at fencing.  All we need now is some kind of franchising to be established and... oh wait, thats happening too.  We need to maintain quality throughout and deal a little less with the missionary zeal.

The reason that the koryu ("classical" Japanese martial arts) have not been subject to this Americanisation is due precisely to the functional limitation of their availability.  You cannot walk into the strip mall Tracie's karate and take a class in Yagyu Shinkage Ryu.  The teacher of this school of ken - if there even is one in your area - is not going to advertise or even have a place to practice other thanhis own home or tucked away in a local park.  He will not charge an isntructional fee if you do find him.  And he is most likely not going to take you as his student for the first 8 years you know him.  He is also not going to have more than 2 students - usually only one.  And the demands are severe and 100% voluntary.  Thats how the koryu are surviving intact in foreign soil.  Fencing is ubiquitous and its getting very silly.  The reigns need to be tightened.

Last edited by Akilles (2006-09-21 10:47:48)


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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#15 2006-09-21 16:23:01

wleckie
Member
From: Soest, Germany
Registered: 2006-06-24
Website

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

Quoth Akilles: "Fencing is ubiquitous and its [sic]  getting very silly.  The reigns [sic] need to be tightened."  I've read this kind of rhetoric before, but not in the context of fencing.  It needs a disease metaphor to be really scary. This is definitely a first.  But I definitely get it.  We are explicit here about our commitment to Enlightenment values, David.  I'll take my enthusiastic beginners any time, with all our struggles to be the best we can.

Bill

Last edited by wleckie (2006-09-21 16:34:40)


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#16 2006-10-03 13:34:22

RHogg
Member
Registered: 2006-04-03

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

I think a lot could be done even without an equipment-oriented fencing consortium.  We just have to be a fencing community.   A number of companies have already shown some willingness to cater to our needs, and as time goes on they do more and more for us.  American Fencer's Supply comes to mind first.  What we need to do is all agree to bug the hell out of these retailers, so they have a notion that there's a market for this stuff.  It's OK if it costs more than their FIE stuff, if that's what they need to make it cost effective -- as long as it's the quality we need.

For blades, I think Chev. d'Auv. is the best shot. All they need then are the prototypes to work off of, and our Irish colleagues have already started them off with that as far as french foils go.

If can we get them to set up a preorder system, then no one person necessarily has to buy a million blades at once (though schools would have the option to buy as many as they want).  We just need a minimum number of people willing to sign up in advance, and a coordinator with good vintage blades willing to loan them as a prototype.

We could start with French foils, if Neville would be willing to help us with the specs. and those modifications.  Then, once the forge sees this whole thing working, they'll be more open to further experimentation...

Or we could start with Italian -- whatever floats people's boats!  Then move on to dueling swords...


==)---------------------

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#17 2006-10-04 02:57:30

Jeremy Tavan
Member
From: Palo Alto, CA
Registered: 2006-09-26

Re: One Step Closer to Extinction

This is my first post here, and while usually I treat online bulletin boards as read-only media, I have a couple thoughts on this subject that I'd like to put out there and get some feedback. As I'm still a fairly new fencer, I'll still read a lot more than I type, but here goes...

Akilles wrote:

The true ricasso is not the way to go in its present form.  It took me 11 years to make that choice personally.  I would love to hear what our Italian masters have to say about it.  The fact is the way that Italian blades are currently made they are completely inferior to the French blades.  Completely.  Not just in one little aspect.  But entirely.  They are not worthy of staking my tomatoes.

So the option is to use the French blade with false ricasso (which by the by is not a barbarism of the weapon furniture).  Tom's false ricasso is so well made that it literally becomes part of the blade and inhances the tatto d ferro.

I have not fenced with Tom's false ricasso weapons. I have handled one epee and one foil with his false ricassos, though, and they don't really seem like a long-term solution. They seemed quite a bit bulkier than would be comfortable, though well-made. Please correct me if I'm wrong or if it's irrelevant, but because the French tang must pass through the false ricasso, the false ricasso must of necessity be thicker than the tang, and the end result is what felt like a big chunk of metal in the hand. I would think that this would coarsen the delicacy of one's fingertip motions. Is this not the case in practice?

I would certainly be delighted to see some high quality non-electric foil blades show up on the market, though I will leave the specifications up to those who have experience with a broader range of blades. Until then, I'm reasonably happy with my (non-wired electric) Uhlmann Italian blade. It's vastly better than some of the other cheaper Italian blades I've seen recently, with their ramrod-stiff and heavy dead weight and sharp edges.

Edit: The Fencing Post does not have Italian epee blades to sell at this time, though they hope to convince a German manufacturer to produce some in the coming months. Also, an English friend of mine informs me that Leon Paul epee blades are unique in the industry in that the tangs are welded to the blades, rather than forged together. It seems possible that they might be able to cast a tang/ricasso segment in the Italian style and weld it to their standard blade. What this would do to the feel of the weapon is beyond me, but it sounds like a much lower barrier to entry than finding someone to forge them special.

Last edited by Jeremy Tavan (2006-11-24 14:06:00)

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