Just off the press

Chris Holzman has translated and is now offering the 1910 Italian Regulations for Fencing Events (see link below). For anyone interested in the rise of academic and sport iterations of fencing this short rule-set has a lot to offer. It covers, among other things, both civilian and military tournament formats as well as public demonstrations.

Much of the content, Chris suggests, will need to be updated to accommodate our own context. Weapon dimensions and weights, to name one example, have changed. Modern legal issues, especially in re insurance, will also mean some adaptation, but here is a period guide to how several key events were organized and orchestrated a little over a century ago. If you’re keen for a more historically inclined tournament or demonstration this book will prove a great aid.

An additional plus is that the translation is affordable, and LuLu this week is offering a 15% off code as well.

Link to the LuLu page:


_Fencing Illustrated, Part 2_ by Pallavicini (1673)

Lulu Press is offering 10% off purchases today (Code is FESTIVE10). For any fan of rapier, Neapolitan fencing, and late coverage of weapon combinations such as sword and buckler, rotella, etc. Chris Holzman’s latest translation, Part Two of Fencing Illustrated by Pallavicini, is out and worth your time. This second half provides more than the inclusion of the rest of the master’s repertoire, but a fuller picture of his approach in toto and how it fits in to the Neapolitan system. Other key works from the Neapolitan orbit, also available at Lulu, include Marcelli’s Rule of Fencing (1686), Terracusa e Ventura’s True Neapolitan Fencing (1725), Rosaroll & Grisetti’s The Science of Fencing (1804), and Chris’ edition of the collected works of Parise, The Roman-Neapolitan School of Fencing.

Though not as well-written as Part One (1670), Chris’ ability as a translator makes part two of Pallavicini’s dense, sometimes rambling work accessible and sensible. Like Chris’ other translations, this one offers something too many translations of historical fencing works do not–a well-made, vetted edition by an acknowledged specialist. There are a lot of translations out for historical fencing, and many are quite good, but not everyone has the background to understand these texts well, and worse, many lack the linguistic chops to do the job properly. In addition to possessing the necessary skillset to tackle these works, Chris also has each translation checked over by competent speakers, several of them native speakers of Italian who are also fencers and have training in earlier phases of the language. What Reinier van Noort has done for Dutch, German, and French works on rapier (among other topics), and Tom Leoni has done for 15th and 16th century Italian works, Chris has done for much of the Italian corpus from Marcelli (1686) to Pecoraro & Pessina (1912).

Beyond technique there is still more of interest to be found within Fencing Illustrated. Like many authors of his period, from other fencing masters to more well-known writers like Michel de Montaigne (d. 1592), Pallavicini peppers his study with numerous classical allusions. Some are meant to illustrate, some to bolster a point he wishes to make, but regardless these examples provide a window into the works available to these authors and the uses to which they were put. In a similar way Pallavicini refers to other masters of his time, both Italian and from other lands, demonstrating not only the degree to which ideas traveled, but to the importance placed even then on study outside one’s own tradition.

Lulu is bound to have more sales in future, but ten percent isn’t bad, especially for books Chris prices for much less than he could (I say that as someone who has worked in translation too–you get a lot of quality for the price). Lastly, Pallavicini is a fun read; no, really, he is. His views on fencing are important, but what he has to say of those he admires, and rivals, adds a lot to what might otherwise be a rather droll technical work. It’s a good read.

Rev. of Chris Holzman’s translation of Marcelli’s _Regole della Scherma_ (1686)

Marcelli, Francesco. The Rule of Fencing. Translated by Christopher A. Holzman. Wichita, KS: Lulu Press, 2019. Originally published, Rome: The Press of Domenico Antonio Ercole, 1686. 520pp. ISBN 978-0-359-71908-2. HC $42; Pb $32.99.

Francesco Marcelli’s Regole della Scherma (Rule of Fencing), published in 1686, is arguably one of the most important fencing treatises in the Italian tradition. On the one hand, it’s one of the core works on Neapolitan fencing, not only in terms of how thoroughly Marcelli explains the particularities of the southern school, but also as a book which retained its significance far after the author’s time. His influence is obvious from Terracusa e Ventura’s True Neapolitan Fencing (1725) to Rosaroll and Grisetti’s The Science of Fencing (1803), and even down to Masiello’s Italian Fencing (1887).

Francesco Marcelli was one of several masters within this tradition who codified the art of the Neapolitan school. There are differences between these authors, and it’s clear there were serious rivalries. Pallavicini, for example, refers to Francesco Mattei as a “modern” master, but receives a few barbs from Marcelli in turn. Their differences notwithstanding they have more in common than not and have long been considered proponents of the same regional style.

In some ways Rule of Fencing bridges older models of fencing manuals with those which came after—like earlier works, say by Marozzo, Marcelli covers additional weapons of his time (rapier, smallsword, dagger, and sabre), but the specificity and thoroughness of his system, while often peppered with Classical allusions or extended metaphors, reads more like works of the 19th and early 20th century. This holds true both in outline and precision. Marcelli’s coverage even includes discussions of terrain, fighting at night (with and without a lantern), and what it takes to be a good instructor.

Chris Holzman, as Tom Leoni, the author of the forward and a distinguished translator in his own right, remarks, is ideally suited to tackle the monumental task of translating Marcelli for an English audience. Where his training and deep knowledge of Italian fencing opens up the material, Chris’ language ability and sensitivity to nuances in Italian allow him to unpack the author. Rule of Fencing is not an easy read. Marcelli assumes a familiarity with Classical authors and fencing masters that few contemporary readers possess. His prose is complex, it’s fancy, and much of it expressed in a grammatical mood that doesn’t work well in English.

Chris’ approach here, as indeed in all of his translations, seeks to provide as much of the author’s ideas, language, and expression as possible. Keeping as best he can to what the original writer wrote is difficult, and can ring a little oddly in modern ears, but the advantage of Chris’ method is that he gives the reader a closer approximation of the original, and, with far less chance of the translator’s ideas creeping in. It is always clear if and when Chris’ voice interjects—this is important for anyone keen to keep clear what is Marcelli, and what is not. To assist us further there are notes, a short overview of the context in which Marcelli wrote, and brief explanations of the guard positions, Marcelli’s take on targeting lines (e.g. what he means by inside line), and less common terms such as the “scommosa.”

As important as Marcelli’s Rule of Fencing is for students of Italian fencing, it is equally important for any fencer truly interested in the concepts of the Art. Devotees of rapier will have more to chew on than most, but any fencer, Olympic or Classical, historical or SCAdian, will appreciate the degree of specificity, the completeness of Marcelli’s presentation, and the author’s use of illustrations. The connection between Neapolitan and Sicilian fencing with that of Spain is here, as it is in Pallavicini, everywhere evident, so students of destreza have yet another work to consider that touches on their own focus. Marcelli cites a number of earlier and contemporary Italian masters as well, opening a valuable window into how early modern masters looked back at their own, and other, fencing traditions and sources.

Perhaps one of the most valuable features of the Rule of Fencing is the way in which Marcelli breaks down complex ideas. As a quick example, in Ch. VI of Book I, Marcelli treats tempo. He starts with a short statement about when a student should learn it and why, then explores what other authors have said, from de Carranza to Alfieri, and finally provides his own insights into this core universal of fencing. There is a lot there to consider, and this is as true of Marcelli’s notions of universals (timing, distance, judgment) as it is in his explorations of particular techniques, their application, and the various contingencies that arise between fencers of different temperament and skill.

If you buy one book on rapier, or one book on Italian fencing, or even one book on fencing theory and application, let it be this one. One can and will return to it again and again, for there is more to mine here, to consider, to attempt within one’s own training than in most other works. You needn’t be a rapier fencer to benefit—there is something here, a lot of somethings, for every fencer.

JBT Emmons

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