Science of Victory. Peculiarities of Italian Fencing

What is Fencing for majority of people in today’s world? In past fencing corresponded to “live longer”. Obviously, there were and are certain technical elements which should help to achieve a victory in battle. However, some masters of martial arts claim that this is the way common people think. To understand the essence of Italian Fencing, to answer questions and to show what was hidden from the eyes one has to employ special approach.

Dr. Maltsev says that he has spent more than 5 years in Italy and is personally familiar with many masters of martial arts in there. As well as to have sufficiently extensive library of modern and medieval fencing. At the same time in differences from others researchers, all original sources as treatises and historical documents are being translated by research fellows of Dr.Maltsev’s Scientific Research Institute “Criminalistic Researches”. Furthermore, it was pointed out that the usage of such integrated approach is meant specially to avoid of distortions in translation by linguists far from a subject of martial arts.

Firstly, for the purpose of understanding the particularities of Italian Fencing there was suggested to use 3 types of approach:



comparative analysis of masters and territory.

The first thing which we have started started from is the set of methods which existed in fencing in different times and their quantitative characteristics. If we talk about XV century, according to Achille Marozzo, quantity of technical elements equals to six. Later on it was increased up to 12 technical elements. In XVII century Nicoletto Giganti deduced fourteen technical elements. Extremely important to note that historically it is a maximum quantity of technical elements in Italy. In order to be convinced in it,  it is enough to take treatises which have reached our days and make an independent check of everything.

Secondly, let us look what The Spanish wrote about Italian Fencing. Why Spanish? The fact is that in books of XIX century masters of martial arts directly point to the fact that exactly the Spanish are creators of Italian Fencing. If we take a book “Trick of vulgar and general fencing”, which was written by the follower of Pacheco de Narvaez Manuel Cursado, we see that even on the first page it begins the introduction to thirty tricks of common people. This book in own way is the unique collection of tricks which were used at that time by commoners in different parts of Europe such as Spain, Germany, Italy, France.

As you see the set of tricks in Europe for that time was almost twice more in their quantity of technical elements in Italian Fencing. At the same time should be noted, that in complex Venetian Tradition there are 36-38 technical elements. Besides, it is no surprise that Venice is a certain intermediate ancestor of fencing in Europe.

However, when we get back to Italy, there is an interesting question – how did this fencing school got set of fourteen elements?  In order to find out the answer, one has to use the logical model. Imagine the building with three floors. In the middle of the house there are vertical lines. The ground floor corresponds to the level of common people, the middle level to nobility, the top level to governors. As one may guess, governors certainly need to be able to handle the weapon but it’s not their main subject.

As for noblemen education was always a big part of their lives. At the same time if we talk about fencing, in the Middle Ages there was no need in such category as Maestro. At that time, there was a necessity for soldiers who would be able to solve the problems that were an interest to a state. To make a note, Maestros are not necessary even today. Besides, nowadays compared to Middle Ages, the absolute majority doesn’t even know the parameters of Maestro. There are people who have considered that they have the right to appoint themselves as Maestro. Certainly, they aren’t interested in one contemplating about parameters and compliance to parameters.

Shifting back to our great ancestors, it is necessary to start with Francesco Alfieri. In the second Venetian Treatise “Excellent possession of a sword” on the second page Francesco Alfieri directly wrote that one has to be interested in technical elements which has proven by means of war and duels. Coming back to subject of Italian Fencing we are forced to ascertain that Italy has not been victorious in any war, but at the same time it has passed through uncountable number of duels. Therefore, would be reasonable and correct to consider Italian fencing school as a school for duels, but in any way not a school which can teach one how to be victorious in the art of war.

In this article the task is not to find an answer to what extent Italian school of fencing is “good”. It is important to stay outside of the question what is the origin of fourteen technical elements. Nothing arises from nothing. Somebody had to teach a set of technical elements which as a minimum would help to survive on the duel. This very topic is discoursed very well in the book of Bolognese School of Fencing “How to win on a duel by preparing in 30 minutes by the means of this work”. One more place where one could obtain similar knowledge is the sea. Certainly, on the ship person is trained  how to handle a weapon. It is clear that intentions of pirates and naval mariners were different, but in first and second cases one person should has been forced to learn technical elements in order to be capable of protecting himself. If we speak about Italy, training in the sea is more related with such states as Venice, Genoa, Pisa located on the territory of modern Italy. However, except the sea and official school of fencing, there is also a third option which are gladiators. It is generally known that schools of gladiators have been located all over Rome, where people were trained in martial arts, as well as how to handle a sword. In each case, one would obtain knowledge from a master. I case we add army to these three options, we will get four ways of formation of set of technical elements: somebody has explained, have given knowledge in army, on the ship or at school of gladiators. At the same time, in this task there is the fifth element which is criminal tradition, which also means that there is some training, however was used another method – murder of a person by means of bladed weapons.

Coming to this point on peculiarities of Italian school, the origins of sources are going to be looked at. The first difference in technical elements is a straight line break during counterattack.  It has to be pointed out that it is quite strange, because this kind of technics are inherent only to one known type of martial arts, birth-place of which is China, exactly Wing Chun. This fact is a true mystery. But there is more to come. In the book “Excellent possession of the sword” Francesco Alfieri says that the fencing at the beginning was Norman and Greek. At the same time Greek was typical fight in line, approaching with contender face to face, and the Norman system presupposed a circle. Moreover, it is interesting that the last circle was described by Marozzo in treatise about Italian school of fencing, but it is not written on how to use it.
Second difference of the Italian school are strikes  from bottom upwards or in the lower level under a sword. If we take a treatise about fencing of Salvador Fabrice,  one may note that stances are very low and strikes are delivered that. As you see we can not tell that modern Italian school has kept and has inherited all attribute of medieval fencing. All reason for Italian tradition having undergone serious changes throughout the XX century. Many people who called themselves Italian masters, were engaged in Philippine and Japanese martial arts. As a result these masters have affected on the modern Italian technics so far as have changed it to unrecognizability.  If you go to Internet and have a look on profiles of Italian masters in social networks, that you will see their photos as in traditional Italian clothes and in a kimono. At the same time especially great modern Italian masters are engaged at first in Philippine martial arts, and then for some reason begin to be engaged in Italian martial arts. So it turns out Filipino-Italian system or Japanese-Italian system. All it looks very strange but in it a core of modern Italian martial system.

Also, in present-day Italy there are people who are engaged in something similar to French fencing, insisted at the same time that they are engaged in Spanish fencing (which is not surprising). According to documents, by the XIX century there were two schools in Italy – French school and Neapolitan school. French standard has captivated Italy in XVIII century and as a result have expanded the whole Europe. What is Neapolitan school of fencing – to tell quite difficult because in this direction wasn’t conducted underlying scientific research. It still have to do for me and my colleagues.

A logical and very interesting question can be reasonable stated in this case. As of the XV century according to official documents France had no school of fencing. In that case how France by the XIX century becomes the main player in Europe? It turns out that in 500 years France somehow becomes the main territorial standard in the whole Europe.

To continue a conversation about Italian fencing, we have to make comparison. For instance, French school or Spanish school. After carrying out the comparative analysis will be possible to speak how one school differs from another. For carrying out serious scientific work it’s necessary to subscribe to all schools of fencing which existing at the given time – their structure, characteristics, logical models, sets of technical elements etc. Only after that it’s possible to begin to compare them among themselves. Besides of it don’t forget that there are Venetian, Bolognese, Genova, Sicilian and Neapolitan schools of fencing. It is obvious that the North of Italy is a peculiar fencing enclave where there are strongest players. For example, Venice and Genoa are the most powerful states which have won a lot of wars. Bologna is a religious and fencing center. In fact, it’s a triangle which could outmatch anyone. Therefore we should get to the bottom with these schools – otherwise it will be difficult to draw conclusion about other school and in general about fencing of the Middle Ages.

It has to be pointed out that the French school of fencing begins with publication of three books in Paris: Venetian, German and Spanish. As you remember by the XIX century France becomes the main player in Europe. Certainly this puzzle needs to be resolved. Also important to study out with Italian criminal tradition which has attain international recognition in response to techniques of work with bladed weapon. Also we will surely bring up a question about work with a knife, Bastone fencing and hand-to-hand fight because the punch is the first trick of commoners, about what write in his book follower of Pacheco De Narvaez.

We will sum up the midline result. We have investigated the origin of the set of technical elements in the Italian Fencing and have considered two distinctive characteristics of the Italian school. Certainly, complete understanding of what the Italian fencing tradition is, requires continuous  research. Later on, there will be a research of Italian system of fencing in regard to a long and short sword. At the moment, it is important that our newspaper readers form a general idea about particular qualities of Italian fencing and it’s sources. It is the first and very important step which will help to understand further all aspects, subtleties and nuances.

Author: Oleg Starinov