Sword School Wichita offers training in several Italian fencing disciplines as part of its curriculum. Although there is overlap between these, they can be generally distinguished as follows:
Northern Italian Foil/Spada
Italian fencing did not distinguish between foil and épée fencing until the early part of the 20th century, and in Italian, all sharp straight swords with (theoretically) two edges were called spada, or sword, and the practice weapon was called fioretto, or foil. The foil strikes only with the point, and the target area is the torso only. The northern Italian foil method as we practice it is best described in writing in English by Maestro Luigi Barbasetti’s “The Art of the Foil”, published in 1932, though there are some elements of influence from Maestro Parise’s more southern Italian approach to the foil in both Barbasetti’s practice and ours.
The foil blade is of a rectangular cross-section, while the sharp spada was of a hexagonal cross section for the first 1/3 of its length, transitioning to a diamond section for the last 2/3 of its length. The spada also existed for a time as a blunt fencing blade, though relatively few antiques survive today.
Northern Italian Sabre (Radaellian Sabre)
The sabre method of Giuseppe Radaelli became the official sabre method for the cavalry of the Kingdom of Italy in the 1860s, and was also adapted for use in fencing and dueling on foot. It is fundamentally based on six circular cuts performed with the fencer’s elbow as the center of rotation, in contrast to nearly every other method in use at the time, which centered the rotation on the wrist. This method of sabre is typically practiced with curved fencing sabres from 16-20mm wide at the base of the blade, tapering to a 10mm point, and usually weigh between ~600g-750g. The guard position is taken with the arm almost fully extended, the hand at shoulder height, and as a result the cuts are either chambered by drawing the hand up and back, or by making a circular cut. Direct cuts with arm extension only exist as ripostes following a parry, since the arm is partially bent as part of performing the parries.
Mounted Program – Di nuovo in sella!
Although the program is in its infancy, SSW is working with Tosa no Shugyo Dojo and the Wichita Riding Academy to begin a mounted program with the goal of getting Radaelli’s sabre method back in the saddle. We hope to eventually be performing the sabre exercises from the 1873 Italian Cavalry Regulations and Maestro Masiello’s 1891 Sabre Fencing on Horseback from the saddle as solo and paired exercises.
Italo-Hungarian sabre of the 20th century
In the late 19th early 20th century, the blades used for sabre fencing narrowed initially to ~12mm wide and then finally to a 6-8mm wide blade when the international competition rules were finally established. These much narrower blades are considerably faster, and the complete sabre weighs less than 500g, typically closer to 400g. This additional speed made the sword arm a much more vulnerable target, and a result, the position of the arm on guard became more withdrawn and lower, and the use of the wrist as an additional point of rotation increases, making the actions smaller. It is here that we see direct cuts made with arm extension start to come back into the system. During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Italian fencing masters, including Italo Santelli and Luigi Barbasetti, spread throughout Europe and particularly into Hungary, which soon became the dominant sabre fencing country through much of the 20th century.
Italian Spada (Épée)
The Italian Épée or spada was created in the early 20th century by adding an Italian style crossbar and grip assembly to the larger eccentric guard of the French épée, which was used both for dueling and for competitive fencing. For dueling, this weapon eventually supplanted the foil type spada, owing to its better hand protection. The épée target includes the full body, and the épée, like the foil, strikes only with the point.
Neapolitan-Sicilian Spada (Rapier)
The Neapolitan-Sicilian fencing method includes, in writing, the works of Giuseppe Morsicato Pallavicini (1670 and 73) and Francesco Antonio Marcelli (1686), Francesco Antonio Mattei (1669), Giuseppe Villardita (1670), Nicola Terracusa e Ventura (1725), and even Giuseppe Rosaroll-Scorza and Pietro Grisetti (1803). The earlier works contain sword alone, sword and dagger as well as sword with other secondary weapons. Rosaroll-Scorza and Grisetti’s work only covers sword alone, but includes hand parries and a comprehensive section on grapples and counters.
The weapon itself is a rapier, usually a cup or shell hilt by the end of the 17th century. Long blades (~40″) stayed in use in southern Italy until the very late part of the 19th century, although they became more slender and the cup became smaller over time. This weapon wounds by thrust or cut, though the cut became less and less prominent over time.