GREAT FENCING MASTERS OF HISTORY
Agrippa, Camillo – (@1590-1650) ITALY
This master was a theorist who simplified Marozzo's eleven guards to the
four main fencing positions: prime, seconde, tierce, and quarte. He also defined the rapier as a weapon that can be for cutting
as well as thrusting, going against the Italian style of rapier fencing, and marries science to the art of fencing using geometrical
principles to analyze the movement of sword and fencer. He was one of the first writers to advocate the use of the point of
the sword over the cutting edge.He wrote the book "Trattato di Scienza d'Arme" in 1568.
Alfieri, Francesco – (@1600) ITALY
Italian Fencing Master and head of the fencing academy at Padua, Italy.
His style of fencing while well illustrated and discussed in magnificent volumes presented nothing new to fencing. His works
were simply reworkings of already accepted ideas. Alferi wreote two volumes on fencing, "La Scherma di F. Alfieri (1640) and
La Spadone di F. Alfieri (1653)".
Barbasetti, Luigi - (1859 - 1948) ITALY
Barbasetti is one of the most important figures in 20th-century Central
European fencing history. He was trained as a fencing master by Giuseppi Radaelli, left Italy in 1894 to establish his own
fencing academy, the Austro-Hungarian Central Fencing School, in Vienna. He was later appointed fencing master of the Austro-Hungarian
Military School at Wiener-Neustadt. In Rome he was a member of the faculty of the Military fencing Masters School. Later he
taught at Trieste and then from 1894 to 1914 in Vienna and Wiener-Neustadt. In 1921 he moved back to Rome and gave fencing
instruction at the Automobile Club and Golfers Club. Among his most celebrated pupils were the French Olympic Champions: Lucien
Gaudin and Roger Ducret. In 1943 Barbasetti returned to Italy and spent his final years in Verona. "The Art of the Foil" is
Barbasetti's longest lasting legacy, more so than his work on saber and épée. Like Nadi's "On Fencing", it represents one
of the purest expressions of the 19th-century Italian school of fencing. As such, it should be part of every fencer's library,
along with Nadi and Gaugler's The Science of Fencing. The textbooks that he wrote have been translated into several languages
including French and English. The central focus of his fencing instruction may be summed up in the belief that the attack
is the best means of preventing any action on the opponent=s part. Barbasetti’s foil style was of the Italian-French
school, that is the classical French approach molded to the Italian temperment.
Boessiere, Texier De La - (@1740) FRANCE
In 1780 fencing master La Boessiere invented the fencing mask in association
with the famous fencer and duelist the Chevalier St. Georges, allowing a much safer bout thus introducing an extremely important
development to fencing. This sparked a lot of development in non-fatal technique and strategy. La Boessiere advocated that
fencers did not advance or retire at all during their bouts. Indeed they were expected to finish exactly where they started.
He was an influential member of the French Academy of Arms. La Boessier’s son, also a Fencing Master wrote a study of
fencing "Traite de l’Art des Armes (1818)".
Borsodi, Laszlo – (@ 1900) HUNGARY
Director of the Toldi Miklos Royal Hungarian Sports Institution during
the 1930's and 1940's. Borsodi was a strict military based disciplinarian and a martinet, unfriendly with a painfully sharp
tongue. He was revered however because he was such a fine teacher turning out a long line of champion fencers. He worked with
fencers who had already completed their basic training, and although he would correct his student’s technical errors
he was more interested in tactics and strategy, teaching his students how to observe their students on the piste and how to
exploit their weaknesses. He was often called Athe Officer. In the late 1920's Borsodi and Santelli combined to develop and
teach the technique of the Afleche.
Borsody along with Italo Santeli did much to modernize sabre technique.
It is ironic that Borsody, a master swordsman should have been killed in a pistol duel.
Capo Ferro, Ridolfo – (@ 1600) ITALY
Capo Ferro's works are the pinnacle of Italian theory. He was doubtlessly
most responsible for fixing the principles of fencing in the seventeenth century. Like Silver he described proper blade lengths.
He taught that the cut has little place in rapier play. He taught a linear style of fence. He published his work "Gran Simulacro
dell' Arte e dell' uso della Scherma" in 1610. It was Capo Ferro that first defined the lunge.
Caranza, Hieronimo de – (@ 1550) SPAIN
This Spanish Master published his book "De la Philosofia de las Armas"
in 1569. His works assumed a knowledge of mathematics and philosophy. The Spanish school was radically different from the
Italian in that the Italians codified and taught a series of attacks while the Spanish devoted more to defense. He is the
father of the Spanish science of swordsmanship, which became an almost mystical art form, involving much geometry in the arcs,
tangents, and chords of the circle in which the combatants moved. There is as much "ethical and theological in this celebrated
work as swordsmanship proper". He and his pupil, Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez, account for most of the Spanish literature on
the subject. Spanish soldiers were the best trained and most formidable in Europe. They were also feared swordsmen, although
their style was superseded in popularity by the Italian, and later the French. The Spanish system was so successful that it
lasted as a concise system for over 300 years. Caranza was the father and founder of this system 'La Destreza.
Castello, Julio Martinez (1882-1973) SPAIN
The United States has been fortunate over the years to attract many notable
fencing masters. One of these was Maestro Julio Martinez Castello, a highly successful Spanish fencing master who was born
in 1882. He learned to fence at the Royal Academy in Madrid and taught in Spain, Argentina and Cuba before coming to the United
States in 1914. He taught at the New York Athletic Club, Yale and Columbia and coached the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team in 1924.
Castello accepted the post of fencing master at New York University in 1927 where he stayed until the late 1940s. He produced
numerous champions while he was there. While retiring in 1947, he continued to teach on an unofficial basis until his eighties.
Furthermore, Castello wrote two books, "Theory of Fencing" (1931) and "The Theory and Practice of Fencing" (1933). His two
sons, Hugo and James, were also respected fencing masters.
Courday, Jean Baptiste le Perche Du – (@ 1600) FRANCE
AL=Exercise des armes ou le Maniement du fleuret par. @ 1635. Considered
to be the first modern style-fencing master and expounds upon the importance of the riposte.
Fabris, Salvator (1544-1617) ITALY
This master was born in Bologna in 1544. He crystallized the best of the
16th Century theory and practice. He was known to have traveled Germany, France and Spain and it is surmised that he studied
fence in these countries. In 1606 he published "Sienz e Practica d'Arme." He taught a flexible and supple play and also taught
the use of the sword itself to parry with. He taught people to use the thrust more than anything else, but did also teach
the parry using the sword itself. In addition he defined the Appel or foot stamp. He was the first master to mention the Contra
Cavatione, Disengage, or Degage. He also was the first to look at the En Garde as a defensive position as well as an offensive
one. In addition he clarified the use of circular parries, deceptions and feints. He is noted for having brought together
all that was best in sixteenth century sword play and practice into a single, highly workable system.
Fraternity of St. Mark: Marxbruder – (@ 1450) GERMANY
What would later develop into modern fencing originated in Germany. The
first attempts to establish a single, organized approach to fencing was generated in this country during the 14th century,
with the founding of the Fraternity of St. Mark, commonly known as the Marxbruder in Frankfurt, Germany. It was used to teach
students skills for use in war and in duels of honor. They were a very powerful group who jealously guarded their techniques,
which later became orthodox fencing movements that survived into modern times, though, the early methods were somewhat rough-and-ready,
in that, wrestling tricks were allowed. They received a letter of privilege from the Holy Roman Emperor in 1487 and started
a university where they could organize the teaching of the art as well as the licensing of new masters. A place where aspiring
swordsmen could come to earn their degree in arms.
Gerencser, Laszlo – HUNGARY
Borsodi’s principle rival Laszlo Gerencser was both a professor and
former lawyer. His principle in the teaching of fencing was a strong emphasis on strategy. What interested him was the science
of fencing and how its movements could be broken down into different components. He insisted on fluid footwork and the need
for separate hand and foot movements, so that during one foot action the hand could complete as many as three different moves.
One of his students, Bela Rerrich, immigrated to Sweden in the mid 1950's after the Russian invasion of Hungary and became
the father of modern epee fencing.
Giganti, Nicoletto – (@ 1550) ITALY
Giganti is known for fully describing the lunge (stocatta lunga) and explain
how the lunge can be used in all attacks He taught during the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. He published his book "Scola
Overo Teatro" in 1606.
Grassi, Giacomo di – (@ 1550) ITALY
Grassi was one of the three premier Elizabethan masters. He published his
book "His True Arte of Defense" in 1570 and 1599. He was the first to analyze the parts of the sword blade and their use,
and the first use of the idea of Lines of Attack and defense that have been used in fencing to the modern day. He is called
the forefather of the smallsword and was one of the first masters of fence to hint at using the sword to parry attacks. He
also was a great proponent of using the dagger as a defensive weapon. Grassi invented many of the tactics we use in fencing
today. Most people at the time only attacked and counter-attacked, without much thought towards defense, so his ideas were
a drastic change. Grassi and Silver together are the two Masters of the sixteenth century that had the most influence in bringing
us modern day fencing.
Hutton, Alfred (1841 -1910) ENGLAND
Hutton was part of a triad of great Victorian scholars of the sword, the
other two being Sir Richard Burton and Egerton Castle. As a Victorian, Hutton partakes of all the limitations of his school.
He completely discounts all swordsmanship before the 16th century. He takes a progressive view of swordsmanship, which presumes
evolution towards greater and greater "perfection". Hutton was a captain of the King's Dragoon Guards, and a respected expert
on and collector of antique edged weapons. Hutton described the evolution of weapons, and changing attitudes about the use
of arms and personal combat; attitudes about the nature of chivalry, and how different classes used weapons in Europe before
1700. Alfred Hutton, one of the supreme characters in the history and understanding of sword-play, was a larger than life
writer. His book, "The Sword and the Centuries (1901)", is heavily influenced by its author's flair and nerve.
Lebkommer, Hans – (@ 1500) GERMANY
This German master wrote the earliest known extant book of fence sometime
during 1529 to 1536. The title of his book is "Der Altenn Fechter an fengliche Kunst."
Liancour, Andre De – (@ 1680) FRANCE
Andre de Liancour was one of the most respected Fencing Masters of his
time. Although he produced little that was actually new to fencing, he did manage to eliminate much of what was wrong with
the French school. He was one of the first to teach the "coupe" or cut-over attack. He published one book "Le Maistre d’Armes
Manciolino, Antonio – (@ 1500) ITALY
Manciolino was a Bolognese. He published his book "Opera Nova" in 1531
which is credited with being the first printed book on fencing. Like Marozzo he covered many aspects of swordplay. He was
part of the Bardi/di Lucca school, based in Bologna, around the University there. Unlike Marozzo he did not deal as much with
the concept of honor and the duel. Manciolino said that honor, law, reasons for the duel, etc. are a matter for the philosopher
or the student of law, not the fencer. His most useful fencing technique is that a fencer should maneuver themselves into
a place where they can easily hit their opponent. He stressed delivering an attack with an advance.
Marchelli, Francesco Antonio – (@ 1660) ITALY
A much celebrated master of sword play, Marchelli probably produced the
best description of the lunge in Italian fencing at the time. He is credited for the invention of the "Passata Soto" a pass
made by dropping beneath an opponent’s extended blade by extending the lunge position and placing the non-sword hand
on the ground as a brace. He also did much to improve the understanding of fencing tempo. His book "Regole Della Scherma"
was published in 1686.
Marozzo, Achille – (@ 1500) ITALY
A Bolognese fencing master, he published his book "Opera Nova" in 1536
and 1550. Marozzo's study included single dagger, single sword, sword and buckler, case of swords, sword and cloak, sword
and dagger, and other combinations. He developed a style based strictly on cuts rather than thrusts, and was the first master
to mention distance between fencers. Like most early masters he also covered polearms. Also Marozzo included a whole chapter
on dedicated to honor.
Michel, Jean-Louis (1785-1865) FRANCE
After serving in various parts of France Jean-Louis retired from the army
in 1830 and settled in Montpellier, where he founded what became the most famous fencing school of the times, and where he
developed a method of his own, which came to be taught in the French army and in nearly all the fencing schools of France.
Several schools in France were named after him and tournaments were given in his honor, one of them at Metz in 1850. Some
hail him as the foremost exponent of the art of fencing in the nineteenth century. Vigéant, a famous writer on fencing who
knew him intimately, said, "Jean-Louis' face which appeared hard at first meeting, hid a soul of great goodness and generosity."
Of a merciful disposition, he tried to spare his opponents' lives. "Fencing," he would say, "is the art of conciliation."
Nadi, Aldo - (1899 - 1965) ITALY
Son of Maestro Beppe Nadi and brother to Nedo Nadi, also an Olympic fencing
champion, Aldo Nadi was known as one of the greatest swordsman of all time. He is still considered so by many fencers.
After a hugely successful European fencing career Nadi became a teacher of the art. He was the undefeated European champion
for 12 years in a row. In 1920, at the age of 21, he won a silver medal in Individual Sabre in the Olympics (second
only to his brother Nedo). He also won Gold Medals in Team Foil, Team Epee and Team Sabre. Aldo Nadi fought an
actual duel with rapiers. His father fought against another highly experienced fencing master in a very famous "duel to the
death". This was a true fencing family that spawned a number of famous fencing masters over several generations. He trained
several national champions, including Janice Lee Romary who competed in four Olympics and carried our flag in the 1984 Olympics.
Aldo was the ultimate perfectionist and a disciplinarian. Movements had to be absolutely perfect in order to get any form
of compliment. In 1935 he moved to America and opened his own school in New York, then later moved to Los Angeles where he
tried his hand at the movie business with some success. Like many of the greats, Nadi fenced and taught right until the day
he died. In 1943, his book On Fencing was published. Click here for a link to a book review of On Fencing. In 1955, Nadi wrote his autobiography (The Living Sword: A Fencer's Autobiography), which
was published 30 years after his death.
Parise, Masaniello - (1850 -1910) ITALY
Masaniello Parise was bon in Turin, Italy where his father and his family
found refuge from the Bourbons. He learned fencing from his father and his uncles. Between 1875 and 1882 he held teaching
and administrative positions in the Royal Naval School, the National Academy of fencing, and the Fencing Society of Naples.
His book"Tratto Teorico-Pratico Della Scherma Di Spada E Sciabola" was published in 1844 after a number of years of debate
as to which system would be adopted as the official Italian method. He was appointed Director of the Military Fencing Masters
School in Rome in 1844. In 1904 he expended his book to include epee. Parise is considered the Afather of Italian fencing."
In Italy his book is still called Athe Bible of fencing.@ Its= counterpart the "Reglement d=Escrime" published by the French
Ministry of War in 1908 is considered the ABible of French Fencing.@ The book consists of three parts: a brief history and
bibliography of fencing, a treatise on foil, and a treatise on sabre. His teachings were based around the idea that there
were three essential elements to fencing: time, velocity, and measure.
Prevost, Pierre – (@ 1850) FRANCE
Perhaps the most significant fencing treatise written in France toward
the end of the nineteenth century was Prevost=s "Theorie Pratique de l= escrime" wich was published in Paris in 1860. The
work covers every aspect of foil fencing and is divided into six parts. First - holding the foil, guard positions, lunge,
return to guard, advance, retreat, and appel. Second - lines, engagement, simple parries, change of engagement, simple attacks,
double engagement, parries to simple attacks, finger play, actions on the blade, etc., Third - eluding simple and circular
parries. Fourth - ripostes, parries to ripostes, compound ripostes and opposing parries, and counter rioste. Fifth - absence
of blade, false attack, attacks into preparations, renewed attacks, time thrusts, and remise, Sixth - exercise of the counters,
exercise of the feints, and dealing with the left handed fencer. Pierre’s son Camille who taught in Paris was regarded
as one of the greatest fencing Masters of his time. It was he who, in the latter years of the 19th century, set
the precepts of what would eventually become the basis for international fencing rules. The F.I.E. rules for foil fencing
were originally drawn up by Prevost in 1913.
Sainct Didier, Henry de Sainct - (@ 1550) FRANCE
This French master published his book "Traite Contenant les Secrets du
Premier Livre sur l'Espee Seule etc." in 1573. He is the first known French master that acknowledged the supremacy of Italian
theory. He taught how to hold the left hand in single sword some two years before Vigianni. However, he only taught counter
attacks; no true parries. His book details how to disarm an opponent by siezing their sword. He taught students how to counter-attack
well and how to disarm an opponent. In 1573 Henry de St. Didier was the first French fencing master to publish a treatise,
and one of the first to advocate heavy use of the Épeé instead of the Rapier.
Santelli, Italo – (1871 – 1945) ITALY
Graduated from the famed Italian Scuola Magistrale. Teachers included Carlo
Pessina and Guiseppi Radaelli, Pessina was also a student of Radaelli. It is widely thought that Santelli was Pessina's favorite
student. In 1896 Santelli, now a full-fledged fencing master, left Italy and moved to Budapest where he had been invited to
come and teach. Santelli improved on the Italian method and revolutioned saber fencing along with Luigi Barbasetti, with Santelli
becoming recognized as the "Father of Modern Saber Fencing". His new method included a more flexible wrist, and more finger
play to control the blade and hits, and it proved more effective than the established Italian method. Hungary welcomed the
new method and began to dominate saber fencing for more than 50 years. He is considered one of the greatest of modern Fencing
Selberg, Charles - UNITED STATES
Maestro Charles Selberg, author of the widely read fencing text "Foil"
is well known in the fencing world for his keen insights into the psychological and aesthetic, as well as the competitive
dimensions, of fencing. He has a Bachelor's degree and a Master's degree in Art from San Francisco State University and was
awarded the Maitre D'Armes degree by the Federation International d'Escrime in 1967. He was a student of Eric Funke, Jack
Nottingham, Hans Halberstadt, and George Pillar. Experienced in all levels of private and public education as a teacher of
art as well as fencing, he has been training recreational and competitive fencers for over thirty years, and was himself a
member of the three-man U.S. foil team which won the first (and only) gold medal for the U.S. in the World Masters' Foil Championships,
in 1970. After retiring from his senior tenured faculty position at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he taught
for sixteen years, he moved to Ashland, Oregon, and established the Selberg Fencing Academy, which has the distinction of
being not only a salle d'armes of growing importance for development of teaching methods and audio-visual aids, but also a
major photographic archive of American fencing. Maestro Selberg was honored during the 1986 fencing season by having one of
the North American Cup Circuit tournaments, the Selberg Open, named after him.
Silver, George – (@ 1560) ENGLAND
George Silver was a teacher of defense in England during the sixteenth
century. Silver highly disapproved of the Italian and Spanish fencers, and their weapon of choice, the Rapier. He considered
the Rapier a dangerous and ineffective weapon, and unfit for use. Silver wrote two major essays, "Paradoxes of Defense" and
"Brief Instructions on my Paradoxes of Defense, 1599", in which he attempted to undermine the use of the rapier and promote
smallswords and staves. Silver was one of the last bastions for the old cutting school of fencing in an age of transition.
As the Rapier destroyed his source of income he lashed out at the evils of the Rapier and all that practiced it. The bulk
of his book is spent in a zealous defense of the English cutting sword vs. the rapier and it is in these but through these
proves and teaches his style. However, Silver was the last gasp for the cutting weapon, and quite soon after the publication
of his book England finally succumbs to the Rapier.
Swetnam, Joseph – (@ 1590) ENGLAND
Published his book "The Schoole of the Noble and Worthy Science of Defense"
in 1617. He was the fencing instructor for Prince Henry of England and also Charles I. He taught rapier and dagger unlike
Silver and while some on the continent and in Italy were moving towards shorter rapiers Swetnam still preferred the long rapier
for rapier play. The point where Swetnam diverges from many other masters is in the use of feigns (feints). He stresses the
use of feigns in opening up an opponent for an attack in another line similar to some techniques used in modern fencing.
Thibault, Girard - (@ 1600) FRANCE
A French master of the 17th Century who taught the Spanish style of fence.
He published his book "Academie de l'Espee, ou se demonstrant par Reigles mathematiques, sur le fondement Cercle Mysterieux...(1628)"
Girard Thibault was the most notable Frenchman to champion the cause of the mysterious circle. In Gallic style, this work
expanded the theoretical framework of the Spanish school and gave the mysterious circle a brief continental vogue. Some of
his teachings are similar to those of George Silver. His name is variously recorded: "Thibaust and Thibauld".
Tremamanado, Domenico Angelo Malevolti (1716 –1802) ITALY
Domenico Angelo, an Italian who studied fencing in Paris, came to England
in the company of the celebrated beauty, actress Peg Woffington, and stayed to establish a dynasty of fencing masters. After
arriving in England in 1755, he participated in and won several public fencing matches, quickly earning a reputation that
helped him secure high-ranking clients such as the Duke of Devonshire and the Earl of Pembroke. He soon capitalized on his
popularity by establishing Angelo's School of Arms, where he taught horsemanship as well as fencing to an affluent and fashionable
clientele. As a teacher of equitation and, in particular, fencing, his establishment became "fashionable" and he counted among
his client’s members of the Royal Family and the Nobility. Angelo's School of Arms in London trained generations of
wealthy English youth in fencing and horsemanship. "L'Ecole des Armes" was published in London in 1763 as a large and lavishly
illustrated folio. So superior was it to other works available at the time that the great Encyclopedie of Diderot and D'Alembert,
completed in 1765, used it unaltered to provide both the text and plates on fencing. Angelo himself posed as one of the combatants
in the plates. His friend and patron Henry Herbert, the Earl of Pembroke, often posed as his opponent. It is Angelo that developed
fencing into a sport as we know it today.
Viggiani, Angelo – (@ 1560) ITALY
An Italian master, Viggiani published his book "Lo Schermo" in 1575. He
taught of the superiority of the thrust over the cut. His guard position lead to further developments of using a single sword
in combat by always coming on guard with the right foot foreward. He is also the father of the lunge which he called the punta
sopramano. He also taught his students to always come on guard with the right foot forward when using a single sword.
Westbrook Peter – (1952 -) UNITED STATES
Peter Westbrook was born in Newark, New Jersey which is one of the poorest
and most violent areas of the state. An abused child he grew up a thief and street fighter as well as boxing for the Police
Athletic League. His favorite TV show was AZorro. @ His mother bribed him with five dollars to take fencing and his talent
and drive gained him a place on the 1976 Olympic Team. For more than twenty years he dominated sabre fencing in America and
six Olympics and won the national title thirteen times. In 1991 he established the Peter Westbrook Foundation to help disadvantaged
inner-city youth not only learn fencing but also improve their overall performance in school. Westbrook=s selfless efforts
are quite literally both the physical and personal salvation to not only students at this time but also for generations if
his efforts and legacy continue.