The science of Victory. Genoa school of fencing

This article is based on the lecture about Italian fencing by Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev during live broadcast for the project “Lies and Truth in Martial Arts”. This lecture outlines the logic of the Genoa school of fencing and first acquaintance with the school.

Traditionally we begin acquaintance with the school by looking at it’s history of origin. It should be noted, that this is peculiar subject, and it is investigated and studied by very few people. However from martial arts perspective it could be said that data about school was quite well-preserved.

The Genoa school of fencing takes it origins in Genoa, in a maritime state which existed on the territory of modern Italy. Within the research of this school of fencing in Bologna (Italy) by Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev there was a meeting with professorate which could have shared valuable information for scientific research. In the course of the study it is obvious that different types of weapons which indicate to this school have remained up until now as well as middle ages documents about the Genoa fencing. Nevertheless, reader has to keep in mind scarcity and difficulty to find sources of the school.

Here are some questions that we should ask ourselves before we proceed.
What are the techniques and particularities of the Genoa school of fencing, weapons and history that stand behind them?

In the course of this article, we are going to to be following a certain chronology.
As a result of extensive research of materials, the first discovery was the Genoa grappling sword. This cold weapon was in use in grappling fights and it is characterized by massive, wide and durable blade, and the sword-hilt (handguard) has been designed the way that one’s hand is almost completely protected in the battle (photo 1). Currently there is one single copy of it.

The second discovery was the Genoa knife executed in a inimitable style with the special form of blade very similar to a dagger or a stiletto, as it is known current these weapons are not legal to be carried around (photo 2). It is necessary to have a catalog book of Genoa knives description for this research.

Photo 1. Genoa grappling sword

Next step was the conversation with the colleague where Dr.Maltsev has found out that Genoese had been using marine tradition blades as well. Peculiarity of such a knife is that it is unpacked into two parts. It can be bodkin and knife also. Boatswain knife, the marine blade was also a fencing element of the Genoese.

The cane, same as in Palermitan fencing is another element of the Genoa fencing. At the same time knife has not been hidden inside the Genoa cane, it was used as the Venetian Baston (a cane with an iron ferrule on the end). One more element of fencing in Genoa was the marine crook. Today cane work in the Genoa style of fencing is being renovated by Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev.

Besides of the mentioned types of the weapon, the Genoese used long bladed weapon in the form of a sword as well. It is known that they took it from Venetians, but used ashore and not in sea-fights. The technique of the Genoa style of blade work is also renovated by Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev. All weapons of Genoese are presented in two-volume book, we are going to provide information on it later on.

The next discovery is a saber with a curved blade. As there is no evidence of usage of this saber in terms of facts and evidence, hence we are not going to speak about saber in this article.

Speaking about Genoa, it has to be mentioned that it was aggressive marine empire which has often been involved in combats on Sicily and occasionally in battles with Venice.

Coming back to weapons which were possessed by Genoese, we will consider one after another technique of weapon handling of each type of weapon.

Technique of weapon handling of grappling sword remains a mystery to this day in view of the fact that there is no found. There could be found some evidences in rare copies of Venetian books. It means that Venetians also used the sword a bit different from Genoese one though length of grappling blades was identical, 60 centimeters. The Genoese conquered sufficiently large territories by means of such swords.

What is unique about the Genoese technique is that it consists from physical action models of a seaman. In total there are eight logical models. The term “logical model” involves the manner of knife work.

The first logical model is the marine steering wheel. Technical elements are constructed on the basis of how a seaman would rotate a “wheel”. The Genoese used two types of knives: one fairly long, the second one is short.

Photo 2. Genoa knife

The Genoese preferred to battle not as it is peculiar to Italians, – by pronated grip take a weapon, – but with the reversed (Norman) grip of a knife. It was related to the usage of long Genoa knife and a short knife. They used the same logical model as well as to work with a long knife, a short knife, a sword, and a grappling sword. For this reason the Genoa style is not similar to any other Italian style. The same logical models were used by Genoese for working with the cane. Therefore, one can say that by the same logical models one can work with different types of the weapon. At the same time Genoese used a knife with a straight grip only in 20% of cases, in other cases they battled using the reverse (Norman) grip, shifting it from one hand to another.

The demonstration of all eight logical models of Genoa style one can find and independently investigate being acquainted with information on page of Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev and in the group on Facebook “Genoa Style of fight with blade” (@@Genjva).

The second logical model is work as a ship helm; the third logical model is called “the haul at ropes” (pulling ropes and the retreating them), and the fourth logical model – “to knit knots”.

The fifth logical model is the complex model “shipyard overhaul” in view of the fact that in repairing the ship it took seaman several basic movements. The first movement which they make – they “saw the boards”. The second movement – they “batter down nails” with hammer. The third movement – they “sew up the sails”. There is one more movement at shipyard overhaul when people “connect something”, that is connecting some broken parts. At the same time they used a small knife for this purposes.

As for swords and rapiers, such type of weapon was used by Genoese.

Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev has shown the Genoa style and technique of blade work as a part of session of martial art demonstration on one of the International Scientific Symposiums.

Genoese used different types of blows: cutting, pricking and thrusting with a blade. The example of the Genoa knife is presented on a Photo 3.

Photo 3. Genoa knife

The Genoa style differs from others with its uncompromising motion. Confirmation of that is it’s existence as the separate state and the fact that it has conquered many territories.

In fact, everything, than Italians can be proud today is Venice, Genoa, Naples, Sicily and also Piedmont – at that time the small spiteful state, very aggressive, which made meaningful progress on the territory of Italy, but not on the world scale.
Consequently modern Italy includes the states well-known for the whole world: Venice which has conquered the half-world, and Genoa – the aggressive sea state, all-seeing and ubiquitous.
In those days the Venetian and Genoa styles of fight was considered as the strongest in the world. Later, with their disappearance, there is no style left. And only after a while, the Neapolitan style became popular, and after the disappearance of the Neapolitan school, the best-known school became Palermitan (Sicilian) one, which remains as one of the strongest schools in the world. It is possible to follow up in history and, for example, having returned to events of the 30th years of the XX century which took place in the United States of America where Sicilians “have made a decent amount of work”. But, having studied history, we will see that Genoese “have worked” not worse. And, if the Palermitan structure is closed, then Genoa is closed even more. Today their knife fencing and cane is considered the best technique (for example, today the strongest criminal group of the USA exactly the Genoese groups). The Genoese criminal group does not concede Palermitan at all, and at research of these two criminal groups by itself suggests the presumption that they are brother groups. All difference between them is discipline, as Genoese are more disciplined in view of the historical past (commencement of sea passage on ships, submission to the captain and others).

As a follow-up to conversation about Genoa school of fencing, it is necessary to tell that Genoese perfectly has handled paired weapons, using, for example, such configurations:

1) left hand – grappling sword, right hand – a knife;
2) right hand – grappling sword, left hand – a long Genoa knife;
3) right hand – the short knife used with a Norman grip and in left – cane.

There is a question: wherefrom comes the there was a cane? Generally such instrument was necessary to the longshoreman for discharge cargo from a ship, transferring some things. While using it was twisted around. Technique of work as the last configuration with cane could be such as: at first thrust with a knife, then comes in cane si that he does not run away, and continued stab with a knife, he would fell and the ship continued it’s way. Grappling fight was a main type of fight of Genoa. Therefore Genoese are not experts on land warfare, but they were masters with high level skills of sea battle.

Actually the history shows that however were “great” modern schools of fencing, there is nothing stronger than the Venetian and Genoa schools. Venetian fencing was used in Venice in times when it was the Greatest sea state. And in the Treatise by Francesco Alfieri “The Art of Superior Sword Handling”, the author of which sums up the results about the Italian fencing, in the introduction to the Treatise Master pays attention that “it is necessary to use only the technique which has undergone war and duels”. Speaking about “successful wars” in which people repeatedly won many battles, it is possible to discuss only experience of two states – Venice and Genoa. These two states also had an opportunity to find out who was stronger (Venetian or Genoese). The Venetian school was stronger. Therefore when it is said that the Genoese system is the strongest, means that it is the strongest system and style today as the Venetian system in Italy has disappeared. Certainly, we will separately talk about the Venetian school in future and compare it to other schools of fencing in Italy.

Coming back to weapons of Genoa in civil and war times, it can be studied in more details in two-volumes book by Andrea Buti “The Genoa knife. History of a blade of a prohibited weapon of “caruggi” (“Il coltello genovese. STORIE DI LAME, DI ARMI PROHIBITE E DI “CARUGGI” di Andrea Buti) (Photo 4). These two-volumes book written by Genoese will tell much more about school of fencing of Genoa as the subject is so expansive that one-volume book was insufficient to completely describe it.

Photo 4. Genoa knife

Genoese instructed the technique to Palermitan people, just as Venetians, and today it is a fact. In fact, it is possible to say that Palermitan style of fencing has relation to unique system of the Genoese, Venetian and Neapolitan schools of fencing. It is impossible to forget that the German school of fencing has also came to Sicily with Germans. Moreover,there were Franciscan monks and Dominican monks on Sicily who possessed own system of fight, as well as Hospitallers and Templars who have come to Sicily with Charles V. The combination of all these schools and techniques represents Palermitan style.

Coming back to history, we should remind that at that times weapons of Genoa were superior in the Mediterranean, they had actually conquered half of the world. Remember the antoganism of Genoa and Byzantine Empire and also the role of Genoa in Crusades. The only inscription on the Temple of the Lord’s Grave said that the greatest contribution to this “deed” was made by Genoese. There was an inscription about them in the Temple of the Lord’s Grave. Order of Hospitallers has found the final retreat in the state of Genoa, afterwards divided into two parts: one part has left with Charles V to Madrid, and the second part had created the headquarters in Genoa.

Summing up the results, it is possible to make conclusions that along with Palermitan, Neapolitan schools of fencing the Genoa school was the strongest in Italy which had undergone wars of conquest and duels. At the same time the dignity of great masters of Bologna, Piedmont, Palermo, Venice and Naples is not belittled at all. If to speak about the XIX century when all schools of fencing have disappeared, and there was no European-French standard, neither French could not manage with the Neapolitan school nor Palermitan. Then Neapolitan school has disappeared. Currently Grand Maestro Oleg Maltsev is working on the restoration of this school. The Venetian school has also disappeared, and the Genoese and Palermitan schools still exist to this day.

In the following articles we will continue researches of Spanish and Italian schools of fencing and we will surely share some results of researches of the Institute with our readers.

Author: Oleg Starinov