The mystery of history: two different Sicilies

The mystical island in the Mediterranean is shrouded in legends about the Society of Honor and the Mafia. It is a place, where "justice" is not an empty sound. Despite numerous centuries of war and the struggle for independence, Sicily has retained its autonomy and integrity. This is the way it may seem only at first glance.

If you have been to Italy, and did not visit Sicily, there is no way you know much about Italy. This island was the cause of terrific battles throughout the history. It would seem like, that over several thousand years the island itself had to become a monolith - one single system. Thus, a european average man might think at first, that if there are any differences between Sicilian residents they should be conditional ones. Nevertheless, if we look into this subject from the scientific viewpoint by comparing the facts, it turns out that things are not the way they might look like.

This article is based on a conversation with the research associates of the Research Institute of World Martial Art Traditions and Criminalistic Research of Weapon Handling with Anna Filippova and Kanykei Tursunbaeva, as well as with one of the members of the Italian family Luciano. I was also asked to give my expert opinion as the founder and head of this research institute. However, I have decided to start the article with words of a man who does not like to be filmed and prefers not to tell his name, as he is a camorrista all of his statements are going to published under the pseudonym Alonzo.

– My parents moved to Sicily in the mid-1940s, and I was born in Syracuse, and therefore rightly consider myself a Sicilian. We live on the same island, but this does not mean that we are the same as people in Palermo or Corleone. We are different. These are two Sicilies, two different worlds. We are proud of our traditions. When it comes to Palermo, we have always had our own opinion about that part of the Sicily. There is Vita, and Mala Vita. What you observe in Naples is Mala Vita, street crime. Contrary to us, they forgot what is the code of honor. When we speak of “good camorra” knights, nobles these things have disappeared since long on right side of the Sicily, but they have left the spirit and regulations. I love Sicily. This is my homeland. But this does not mean that I share the views of people living on the opposite side of the island. These are two different worlds, since Sicily is divided by mountains into two parts. Palermo and Messina are not just two ports located in different parts of Sicily. These are two different philosophies.

I did not have much time to have conversations with Luciano, but I managed to figure out a few things. According to Luciano, what is called the Code of Honor is a certain kind of mystification. These people do not need any code. They live a certain way, and it is their lifestyle. All these codes are images created in the cinema. This is the interest of the inhabitants of the right side of Sicily, and it is a pure formality for them, a tribute to traditions.

As it turned out, people living on the right side of the island are not very familiar with the history of Sicily, same applies to a majority, but on the left side reside educated people.

In the course of this study I have encountered a paradox: if the representatives of the Palermo side are more educated, why don’t we see even a single fencing school in Palermo? Despite the fact, according to Luciano Palermitans consider the knife to be their religion, and on the right side of the island we can see the conglomerate of schools and maestros.

Alonzo says the following:
- In Syracuse, Messina and Catania every man has his own specific membership number for an organization, and each organization has its own school. On the right side of the Sicily these are lots of schools as such, and this is not a secret. Anybody if he wants, has an opportunity to come, to choose a maestro for himself, after which, having shown due respect, become a member of this or that school.

As a scientist I have spent more than five years researching Sicily and its traditions. In the course of this period, there were more than 10 scientific expeditions organized, during which the scientific group of the Research Institute of World Martial Art Traditions and Criminalistic Research of Weapon Handling studied the technology of power, by means of what a certain order was established on the territory. Besides, I have produced a series of documentaries "OWN Religion", in framework of which viewers were introduced to the mechanisms of implementation and the conditions for the upbringing of Sicilian triumph technology. As for the division of Sicily, I can say the following. On the right side of the island there are famous masters, including Raffaele Irmino, very much respected by me. He is a worthy man and a true knight. I have visited him several times, to find out about the Sicilian tradition of blade handling, and I should note that there were many people who wanted to be a student of Raffaele in blade handling. As for me, mostly, I was interested in studying culture and history. Needless to say, I had an interest in the technique as well, but more so - their traditions. Raffaele Irmino is now 74 years old, and he represents the whole era. Master told me his version. The system he teaches is his personal view of the Sicilian system. None of the Palermitans have public, open fencing schools, at the same time there are masters who teach only their subordinates. An interesting fact that I had to face when I started studying, was that in the first place I had to become a person on board, and only then I was taught. You should be perceived as a member of the family! If you are not the member of the family, no one is going to teach you.

“If you intend to criticize me for that I love my motherland too much, I am going to reply.
The truth was always on the first place for me. Traveling around Italy, Spain and France , I do affirm that the Neapolitan fencing IS a flower of all nations.”

Senor Francesco Antonio Mattei

Neapolitan Fencing Treatise  “Impossible Possible”, Year of 1669

In turn, Alonzo had stated:
- On the right side a maestro won’t accept “someone” as a student. If one behaves himself unworthy, they might simply stop talking with him or start speaking the language of conundrum. The language of conundrum exists only on the right side of the Sicily, which is called "serpenta". It is a secret language understood by people who belong to the organization. For example, despite the time of day, we always greet each other "buongiorno", because there is always a shining light for the knight (the light of truth day and night).

Thus, another distinctive feature of the right side of Sicily is the contiguity to the group and the union around fencing school.

When a question about the number of schools of fencing was asked, Luciano replied:
"People in Palermo are united by a common cause, and those who live on the right side of Sicily are unite by fear."

I must say, that there is my own vision of this matter. The system of organization of the right side of Sicily is a fencing school. The difference lies in the fact that in Palermo people live as a "ship crew", and this is their religion, and people of fencing schools might be anywhere - they might work in the mail, in the market, be directors of restaurants and at the same time be specialists in the field of baston and blade handling. In Palermo, this is impossible. Here baston, knife and other weapon handling is only an element of the ship's combat training. If you look closely, you can see that even the most ignorant person who does not understand anything in martial arts has his own fencing school. And wherever they migrate, the first thing they do is organize their fencing school, because they cannot live without it. This is their system of organization in society.

But why would one unite armed people around them and teach them how to handle a blade or a stick? This question was asked to Alonzo.
- For any organization it is very important to have own fencing school. On the one hand, this is a tradition, and on the other - an important skill for any Person of Honor. From this it follows that on the right side of Sicily fencing schools represent the doors to the Society of Honor. One comes to school and only then begins to understand what kind of society he is in. Good and bad Camorra - on the one hand, they are people who try to read the chivalry traditions, and on the other hand - Neapolitan street criminals.

It is obvious that back in time Vita and Mala Vita systems were one, and later for unknown reasons to me they have disintegrated. Who had created this system and for what purpose? In order to answer this question, I have looked in detail i regard to what is offered in fencing schools on the right side of Sicily and compared it with the documents that are in libraries and archives. If you try doing the same, you will get into trouble. You will need to attend classes at different schools of knife fight or fencing, to have a video camera with you, and then compare these videos with what is written in books and treatises. And the outcome is going to disappoint you, because you will not find in the ancient documents the techniques that are being demonstrated today.

During the conversation, Alonzo made an interesting statement:
- If we speak about the knife, our tradition does not provide the presence of two blades in both hands at the same time. We handle one weapon and use folding knives only. We do not work with swords, nor with epees.

It turns out that the representatives of the right side of the island claim to be a part of the knightly brotherhood, but they do not know how to handle a sword nor an epee. "Knights with folding knives" - to be honest, it sounds even ridiculous. At the same time, I have noticed that handling folding weapons is a hallmark characteristic of the criminal tradition. There was a logical question which came up the structure of organizations. And Alonzo told how their organizations are established:
- According to a tradition, there are three people at the head of the organization. At the very top there Maestro, to the left of maestro - a Capo who deals with formalities, by conveying the will of maestro to others and deals with other important subjects. To the right of maestro there is a fencing Capo. On the right side of Sicily, anyone can organize their own fencing school and conditionally become a Maestro or Capo fencing. But in Palermo there is no such thing as "Maestro". On the left side they say "Capo de la sistema".

Consequently, on the right side of Sicily, no one requires one to correspond to a high status such as Maestro, while in Palermo we observe the opposite.

It is obvious that with this kind of an approach on Palermitan side person of any nationality could become a Capo.

To avoid such a situation and not to allow worthy fencers from other countries, local residents came up with an interesting excuse: “You are born a sicilian, you cannot become one”.

This is the main motto of the right side of the island. In fact, it seems ridiculous. When one says, that someone is already born as someone - it is an incredible nonsense. One becomes a scuba diver. People are not born such - they learn, practice, etc., and only after that they become somebody. Nobody is born as somebody. People on the right side of Sicily are very fond of telling that they are born Sicilians, and it is a deception. To be a Sicilian, you have to spend long time doing self-improvement and other hard work. For instance, in every organization, according to Alonzo, there are Minore (minor brothers), Maggiore (Elder brothers) and Grande Madre (Great Mother) - this is the way call criminal tradition, the organization is headed by Capo (Boss), and at every level there is own form of fencing, starting from traditional and sport to criminal style. As we see, the representative of Camorra considers criminal fencing to be the highest level, and this is very strange. Any criminal system represents by itself a set of tricks, feints and methods of deception. Why do modern representatives of the Neapolitan Camorra adopt the criminal system as a standard, instead of the Neapolitan fencing, which is rightfully considered one of the most effective systems in the world? I will quote a few sentences from the treatise on the Neapolitan fencing "Impossible is Possible" (1669) by Senor Francesco Antonio Mattei:

If you intend to criticize me for that I love my motherland too much, I am going to reply. The truth was always on the first place for me. Traveling around Italy, Spain and France , I do affirm that the Neapolitan fencing IS a flower of all nations.

In my Palermitan school “Impossible is Possible” all men were virtuose. Probably for this reason, this school seems to be alien for some - for those who don't have understanding in genuine art of fencing. These are fragments of one of the treatises translated by researcher associates of the Research Institute of World Martial Art Traditions and Criminalistic Research of Weapon Handling who were interviewed by me.

Anna Filippova:
- It is known that Neapolitan fencing is a separate style of Spanish fencing. The authors of these treatises belonged to the elite of military affairs of that time, since to return from a war is a big achievement and take leadership and finish the military quest with a victory is not easy either.

Kanykei Tursunbaeva:
- It has to be highlighted, that the first persons of the Neapolitan fencing stood apart from other schools in Italy. When we speak of Neapolitan Fencing, no doubt it is all about people of honor, men serving the royal palace and royal tribunal. These researcher associates have contributed to the research in the form of translation from Old Spanish, Old Italian and Old German languages ​​more than 20 treatises on fencing, after which these priceless books were presented in Russian language for the first time ever. Scientific work was lead under my leadership.

To summarize.

To understand the way fencing was formed, I have carefully studied the documents of the right side of Sicily and revived the Neapolitan fencing style, which is essentially a Spanish system. According to Luciano Trimingo, the style used in Palermo is very close to a Neapolitan one, but there are a number of differences. One of them is that I have never seen that there were kicks in the Neapolitan fencing. Masters on the right side of Sicily periodically demonstrate attempts to use their feet in combat. And in this regard, in the treatise of senor Francesco Antonio Mattei, it is stated: Starting to make leaps and bounces a knight may put himself in sufferings. Before making a thrust - rise the toe of right foot, but do not bounce, your feet has to move in a way, as if it gnaws the ground. Palermitans do not use their feet to kick- they deliver strikes with the bastone, that is, Neapolitan and Palermitan are two different systems, but the technical elements often coincide.

They could be compared as if they are siblings, thus it is going to be very difficult to distinguish, if one does not know all their features in details. On the left side of Sicily, the Man of Honor becomes as such by means of a personal example, demonstrating results and committing righteous acts. Here you will not find public schools of Palermitan fencing. Only family members are trained in there. As for the right side of the Sicily, there are many styles and fencing schools, most of which, most likely, is fictitious, as it does not correspond to treatises on fencing and other documentary sources that have survived to this day. When we talk about Palermo, we are dealing with the triumph of a separate individual. Although they say that they are a family, the triumph of a loner, the commander of a ship is valued, and this is the main thing. On the right side, the triumph of a single person is something bad and terrible, but the triumph of the school is quite another matter, as here people are very fond of masses. It was not always this way. At a certain moment, people who left the organization began to obey the generally accepted rules, that is, those who wanted to live in the state, turned into Mala Vita. They were expelled from the Society of Honor, and since they could not do anything except fencing, they turned into street crime.

One of the key roles in the origin of the style of blade handling in southern Italy was played by noblemen and soldiers who taught robbers the art of fencing.

Thus, Spain defended its territories against the possibility of break and revolutions. However, in the case of the right side of Sicily, we see that under the guise of a fencing school, an armed group capable of solving tasks on any territory might be prepared. In fact, this is a military structure. Each level in the hierarchy has its own number: soldiers, corporals, captains and generals. The training program also consists of four levels: a tactical package, working procedures, a level of science and philosophy, Capo. The first three levels correspond to the phased training system of the Maestro. During such a short time of meeting with the representatives of Honor Society, I did not have time to fully understand their secret language of "serpent", but I have learned certain things and suggest you to unravel the hidden meaning of the following phrase: "Flowers are brought to a house, then they become leaves, then branches grow and can reach the roots. "

Author: Oleg Starinov