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#1 2006-04-09 12:15:35

Gio Rapisardi
Magistro Re - Istruttore Nazionale ANS
Registered: 2006-04-05

Pistol grip... and the other grips

I quote the two messages that started this discussion

Adam
"...Ever see a real sword with a “pistol grip?” Me, neither. That’s one reason why
     we don’t permit them."

Gio
"...About pistol grip, well, I have an original catalog of 1933 of Negrini (fencing supplier since 1897) with the pistol grip for duelling epees: it was a modern grip, so not so much used by the fencers of that time, but someone used it for real fight."

Adam
"...My own teachers’ view was that the “pistol” grip was allowable as far back as the 1920’s for fencers who had a physical incapacity that prevented them from using a standard grip.
I’ve never heard of anyone – or ever heard of anyone who’d heard of anyone – who used such a grip in a real situation.  I can see two problems: 1) I’d guess it isn’t something you’d be wearing as a sidearm, so it would be a weapon for “special occasions” only. 2) that brings up the matter of dueling weapons being “matched” so as to provide no advantage/disadvantage. The parties could agree to use whatever weapons they prefer, I suppose. But who would willingly inflict or accept an “unfair” advantage/disadvantage?
Anything’s possible, but it seems to me to assail plausibility just a bit.
If it DID occur, I would very much like to verify that, who, when & where. I think it’s important that out information be correct and complete as possible. I have a few old catalogues and none of them feature such a grip. It would be great if you could dig up that catalogue and maybe an illustration of the grip.
That said, given the paucity of references to it, I would suspect it was still certainly the oddity and not the rule. Would you agree?"

Voilà my reply, starting by a point that for me is sensitive, the quoting of the sources. The catalog is the n° 33 of L. Negrini & figlio, now better known as Negrini Fencing Line (www.negrini.com), surely published in the period between 1921 and 1945 (there are explicit references to the fascism government) and the pisto grip epee de combat (spada da terreno) are the n° 113, 114, and 115 of page 21 of the catalog, respctively the model San Malato (113), Visconti (114) and Triolo (115). In the website of Negrini I suppose it's possible to ask an electronic copy of this document.

In the period of the development of pistol grip the sidearm was no more used and dressed by gentlemen and the couples of duelling weapons were kept in a case (anyway what would prevent to use a pistolgrip epee as a sidearm?). Following the chivalry code procedure, each duellist had to bring his couple of weapons (epees, sabres or pistols) and on the terrain the four seconds choosed wich couple to use (we have to remember there have been real duels fought in base of the chivalry code until about the '50, so as the pistol grip became a practice system to be more precise in the touche, the fencers that had to fight started to use it, in the very last years of duel's life).

But the new question is: why the pistol grip? And why right now the pistol grip took the place of the italian grip, but not of the french one (I think to sport epee fencers)?

Before to give my analisys I would like to have your opinions

Gio

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#2 2006-04-10 06:36:32

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

Re: Pistol grip... and the other grips

Thanks for citing that Negrini catalogue. Perhaps I could impose on you to contact them and see if they have a copy of it that we could post? I'm pretty sure you're Italian is better than mine!  :)

Why the pistol grip? Good question.
We've already mentioned it's use as a "crutch" by persons with a physical disability. I had an older student a while back who had very difficult arthritis in her hands. The pistol grip allowed her to manage the blade well; the French and Italian were extremely difficult for her. I have no objection to that kind of use.

Also,  let me say that, as is the case with the electrical scoring machine, the pistol grip, in and of itself, does not prevent you from fencing correctly. A skillful fencer can fence well with a pistol grip, or any other kind of grip. Or with a baseball bat, for that matter. 

So what perceived or real advantage(s) does it seem to afford?   One comes to mind immediately: you are much less likely to be disarmed. Personally, I've never been disarmed while using an Italian grip (I don't use a wrist strap) and have only rarely lost a weapon with a French grip.  This is of some real-world concern, though.  Note the cavalry use of a sword-knot to keep the sabre bound to the hand.

Users cite it as a "stronger" grip.  Detractors claim it renders fine bladework impossible. Both are correct. Certainly a "fist" is stronger than the more open hand of the French or Italian grips.  But how much strength is needed? And what's the cost?  One possibility is that the "fist" creates greater internal tension and results in less external sensitivity. Could this be a factor in the broken-blade injuries in which the pistol grip seems to be a frequent factor? Does the grip render the user less able to feel the change in balance when the blade breaks and more likely to hit the opponent with the jagged end? It's a possibility we shouldn't overlook.

Further, if the grip is mounted as it usually is so the the user fences with the thumb at 12 o'clock, the use of the fingers to direct he blade is inhibited and replaced by the use of the wrist.
In the supinated or semi-supinated positions of the French and Italian weapons, there is maximal ability to use the fingers providing both great finesse and sensitivity.
Note that a fencer who LACKS skill would find the pistol grip would enhance the only tool at his/her disposal --  strength -- and that fencer wouldn't notice any loss of fingerplay or sensitivity because he/she doesn't have it in the first place.  Also it would be a fine "short-cut" for "coaches" who don't know how to cultivate hand-skill or don't have the time to do it.
No wonder this grip is a favorite of those who want to win and win in any way possible, by substituting power and speed for skill. Strength and speed are often native attributes and can be developed relatively quickly -- skill is never "born" but is always artificially cultivated and takes a long time.

One other consideration that suggests itself to me comes from combat pistol shooting.
The traditional target shooting stance is often inadequate for street situations due to the psycho-physiologocal effects of the "adrenalin flood" that normally accompanies such high-risk events. Many police trainers have adopted a different stance in order to take this into account.
One of the common effects is the loss of fine motor control, seen earliest in the hands. I cannot but wonder whether the practice of binding the sword to the hand was one that originated with experienced swordmen who were familiar with the adrenalin effects they would be influenced by in a fight and who attempted to compensate for that.

What are your thoughts on it?

AAC

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#3 2006-04-11 09:31:55

Gio Rapisardi
Magistro Re - Istruttore Nazionale ANS
Registered: 2006-04-05

Re: Pistol grip... and the other grips

A lot of interesting tips: I will ask surely Michele Negrini for a copy to post and I start right now my analisys.

Let me say you said a great truth:

"Also,  let me say that, as is the case with the electrical scoring machine, the pistol grip, in and of itself, does not prevent you from fencing correctly. A skillful fencer can fence well with a pistol grip, or any other kind of grip. Or with a baseball bat, for that matter."

Rosaroll in his tratise says that to a good fencer every weapon is useful, although he recommands to use a sword with very precise weight, lenght, grip and balance, the best weapon at that historic period.

It's a fact, anyway, that in sport foil fencing the athletes use only the pistol grip (italian and french are used only for academical purposes), but in epee competition there are a lot of fencers that get results with the french grip: why? I have some theories.

The italian grip is based, after centuries, on the cross shape hilt of medieval sword (the gavigliano is the base of the grip), when the ways to handle was two, the full hand on the handle or the index over the quillon. With the transformation of the sword in rapier, the fingers over the quillon become also two (index and middle) and so three the ways to handle a sword. It's very interesting in this sense a spanish treatise about la destreza (De Brea - Principios de destreza del espadin - Madrid, 1805) where it's clearly explained that the full hand on the handle is used in the french style, one finger over the gavigliano in the italian style and two fingers in the spanish style. This is confirmed by all the italian treatises of the renaissance, where is both explained or illustrated the handle of the rapier with just one finger over the quillon. The fact that right now the italian style wants two fingers over the gavigliano is easily explained: italian school is represented by the ANS (Accademia Nazionale di Scherma) that is in Naples and the kingdom of Naples (the Two Sicilies) has been ruled by Spanish until the second half of XIX cent., so the fencing style has been conditioned a lot by la destreza. It's also interesting to say that all the italian treatisers of XVIII and XIX cent. of the north of Italy continued to suggest a grip with just a finger (i.e. Paolo Bertelli - Trattato di scherma - Bologna, 1800). The main difference between the french grip style and the italian and spanish ones was the warranty to not been disarmed, as you witness in your words:

"Personally, I've never been disarmed while using an Italian grip (I don't use a wrist strap) and have only rarely lost a weapon with a French grip"

And my experience is the same, but if you handle the italian foil in the very late way prescribed by italian school, you lose all the security advantage of the gavigliano. Why? Because italian grip is not made for an exclusive point action.

Let's return to the origins: although the point thrust has always been described as the most deadly and effective of the offensive action, the medieval sword was used above all to cut, and so the early rapiers. With the long blade rapiers, the cut was used to open the way to a sure thrust (it's easier to cut than to thrust to the wrist) and also with the smallsword, the treatisers define the sword as a weapon that hit with the point, but sometimes with the edge. It's in the late XVII cent. that the distinction between sword and saber starts to be clear, and after about a century the technologic transformation of a weapon used only with the point leaded to pistol grip. All the history of european fencing is based above all on the result in combat, so some masters of the early XX cent. (San Malato, Visconti etc.), seeing the full transformation of the epee in an exclusive point weapon considered that keeping the fist in the most confortable position (the 3rd, confirmed also by all the renaissance treatisers) was really more useful than force the hand to turn frequently (2nd-4th or pronation-supination). With the pistol grip, the shape of the handle prevent the disarm and the blade, mounted in 4th on the 3rd fist position, allows the hand to keep always the same position, keeping anyway the sensibility between the thumb and the index, without prevent the angolations and the oppositions.

So the pistol grip improves the italian, but not the french, because, although this last makes the grip weaker, it allows a better angolazione and, changing the position of the hand, to make the epee longer of some centimeters, handling on the pommel (funny, also Fiore de' Liberi in 1409, shows a technic of handling over the pommel, to gain measure!) and all this advantages are good only for the epee, not foil, FIE rules.

"Users cite it as a "stronger" grip.  Detractors claim it renders fine bladework impossible. Both are correct."

I don't agree. The fine bladework is more than possible

"Certainly a "fist" is stronger than the more open hand of the French or Italian grips."

No, because if you want you can handle also a french or italian grip like an hammer! The strenght over a pistol grip must be only between thumb and index, like french or italian grip

"But how much strength is needed? And what's the cost?  One possibility is that the "fist" creates greater internal tension and results in less external sensitivity. Could this be a factor in the broken-blade injuries in which the pistol grip seems to be a frequent factor? Does the grip render the user less able to feel the change in balance when the blade breaks and more likely to hit the opponent with the jagged end? It's a possibility we shouldn't overlook.

The broken-blade problem is due just to an intensive use of the blades and, surely, an increase of speed (so also strenght) of actions. The injuries due to a broken sword in academic bout have always been, in the past like in the present, with no matter what grip

"Further, if the grip is mounted as it usually is so the the user fences with the thumb at 12 o'clock, the use of the fingers to direct he blade is inhibited and replaced by the use of the wrist.
In the supinated or semi-supinated positions of the French and Italian weapons, there is maximal ability to use the fingers providing both great finesse and sensitivity."

No, because, as I already said, the late way to handle the italian grip was with the thumb on the flat side of the ricasso, to keep the blade in 4th with the fist in 3rd, and it's for this matter that a wrist strap is needed. The great Maestro Aurelio Greco, transformed the italian grip, mounting the gavigliano from 3rd to 4th on the blade in 4th and, for experiment, I increased the angle to the 3rd in one of my epee... et voilà a kind of pistol grip (and it works very well)!!!

"Note that a fencer who LACKS skill would find the pistol grip would enhance the only tool at his/her disposal --  strength -- and that fencer wouldn't notice any loss of fingerplay or sensitivity because he/she doesn't have it in the first place.  Also it would be a fine "short-cut" for "coaches" who don't know how to cultivate hand-skill or don't have the time to do it."

For me, it depends only by the knowledge of the masters and the istructors. I know (and you know well them too) of "great masters" of classical fencing that started to teach italian foil after just a reading of a treatise. A good professional teaches the fingerplay and sensitivity also with and for pistol grip. Moreover I would like to add here the link to a picture of Agesilao Greco, one of the best fencers of late XIX and early XX, elder brother of Aurelio and a fan of italian grip, who fought and won a lot of real duels. His right arm is the double of the left, and I've never seen any sport fencer with such an arm.

http://www.accademiagreco.it/agesilao/a … 17-120.jpg

"No wonder this grip is a favorite of those who want to win and win in any way possible, by substituting power and speed for skill. Strength and speed are often native attributes and can be developed relatively quickly -- skill is never "born" but is always artificially cultivated and takes a long time."

I agree, but, Adam, the problem returns: what's the goal? For a sport fencer it's the result, for us, incurable romantics (I love that definition), the way. To make another exemple, it's indeed that we must learn to write with a pen, but right now it's more useful and productive to use the computer and moreover it's very hard to find today someone who knows how to write well with ink and feather. A lot of fencing masters start to teach to the novices with italian foil, to give them the basis of sensibility, but they cannot to make an athlete compete with a FIAT 500 in a Ferrari race!

"One other consideration that suggests itself to me comes from combat pistol shooting.
The traditional target shooting stance is often inadequate for street situations due to the psycho-physiologocal effects of the "adrenalin flood" that normally accompanies such high-risk events. Many police trainers have adopted a different stance in order to take this into account.
One of the common effects is the loss of fine motor control, seen earliest in the hands. I cannot but wonder whether the practice of binding the sword to the hand was one that originated with experienced swordmen who were familiar with the adrenalin effects they would be influenced by in a fight and who attempted to compensate for that."

Ok, but the rules of a classic pistol duel, in base to the chivalry code (and I remember you that also the wild west duels was not allowed in the classic procedure) were not the same of a pistol street fight (there are no rules), and for the binding of sword, if you read Rosaroll's La scienza della scherma, where he spend a lot to describe differents way to bind the sword, you'll find that the base of this binding is to keep the grip strong after a longtime use (a little different by the sabre matter, cause the cavalry weapon had to be used above all horse-riding, so the soldier had to have the way to set free quickly the armed hand to better lead the horse and quickly retake the saber). The binding is the help to an unavoidable work of hand's muscles for the italian grip, that, for a skillfull fencer, is not incompatible with sensibility and precision.

A te

Gio

P.S. always sorry to all for my just-to-survive english!

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#4 2006-04-11 11:00:48

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

Re: Pistol grip... and the other grips

As always, Gio, you raise good points and counter-points.
I'll take some time to consider these things carefully before I respond.
Anyway, that'll give someone else an opportunity to weigh-in on this subject, if they are so inclined.
:)

By the way, I think you make yourself understood in English perfectly well.

AAC

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#5 2006-04-11 11:27:37

RHogg
Member
Registered: 2006-04-03

Re: Pistol grip... and the other grips

I can't speak for things in Europe so much, but the reason the french grip has received some revived popularity in epee fencers in the U.S.F.A. is because a great number of those fencers are holding the grip toward the pommel.  They use the french grip not for extra point control or sensitivity, but because it gives them extra reach over the pistol grip in a mode of fencing that's becoming more dependent upon distance than bladework.  If you google Sherraine MacKay, the Canadian world cup epeeiste, you'll see pictures of her holding her epee that way.  This trend started growing in the mid to late 90's and has really blossomed only since 2000; before that, french grips were a fairly rare sight in epee competitions.

So it's not a matter of the french grip not being pushed out by the pistol grip in epee, it's a matter of the french grip coming back because of that perceived distance advantage. 

Wow, I just made a post about sport fencing... I'll try not to do it again!  ;)

Best,
Russell


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

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#6 2006-04-12 04:03:35

Gio Rapisardi
Magistro Re - Istruttore Nazionale ANS
Registered: 2006-04-05

Re: Pistol grip... and the other grips

In fact some centimeters can make the difference! The french grip exists from before the pistol and in epee competitions it continues to get preferences by some masters and athlete (above all the french). Its advantages and disadvantages are quite opposed to italian and pistol grip: the french gives a better mobility of the handling, allows better the angled thrusts to the wrist and can have an advantage in gaining a little bit of measure, but it's very weak against a strong bladework. In fact the italian masters suggested always the actions on the blade against a french epee (i.e. sforzo - froissement) that doesn't have the "safety" of the gavigliano. In foil, the angled thrusts are not useful, cause the arm is not a target, there is the priority to the attacker in the coup double, and few centimeters dont change things, so no place for italian grip and for french neither.

And, ehm, you made a good post about sport fencing, why do not try again, if interesting? Sport fencing doesn't bite!!! The cultural advantage of a classical fencer is to be well informed about all the matter of fencing from the beginning to the end, FIE rules included.

Gio

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#7 2006-04-13 08:17:40

MMoore
Member
Registered: 2006-04-13
Website

Re: Pistol grip... and the other grips

In fact some centimeters can make the difference!

I agree, but for the opposite.

We have experimented with shorter foil blades with a french grip and find some advantages.

1. The blade is stronger, and works better against stronger grips.
2. You can get inside the guard.

Mike

Last edited by MMoore (2006-04-13 08:21:36)

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