As someone who regularly points out how daft it is to use a trooper-weight sabre for foot combat (tough to make any complicated action well), I feel it only right to share this lovely video from Russ. Timmlich’s excellent treatise provides the historical fencer into BIG sabres a way to use them, on foot, effectively. Check it out!
Sir Gustáv Arlow. Sabre Fencing. Austro-Hungarian Military Sabre Series Vol. 3. Edited by Russ Mitchell. Translated by Annamária Kovacs. Irving, TX: Happycrow Publishing, 2022. 243pp. $25 US as of 11 May 2022.
While there is much to say about Sir Gustáv Arlow’s Sabre Fencing, the most important thing I can say is that it’s excellent and you need a copy. If you valued Russ Mitchell’s edition of Leszák’s Sabre Fencing (orig. publ. 1906; see review here 13 Nov. 2020 https://saladellatrespade.com/2020/11/14/leszak-_sabre-fencing_-1906/), then chances are exceedingly strong that you will absolutely love his edition of Arlow’s Sabre Fencing. Russ and his translator, Annamaria Kovacs, have provided the fencing community with perhaps the most important work out of Hungary on the fusion of Italian and Hungarian fencing traditions. Where Leszák reveals some of the synthesis, Arlow specifically addresses it. In this volume the reader sees an Hungarian master specifically addressing his take on the blend of traditions, and importantly, what he has decided to adopt that is Italian, retain that is Hungarian.
Having come up in this tradition myself I’ve long wanted access to the small Hungarian corpus that promised some answers–thanks to Russ all of us can realize that promise. The value of Arlow’s Sabre Fencing goes beyond history, though it is a must-read for any student of Radaellian, Austro-Hungarian, or Italo-Hungarian fencing; this text is one of the best works on sabre I’ve had the pleasure to read, and I have read many, taught with the help of many (mostly Radaellian). The level of description, the well-thought out organization, the breadth, and the description of technique (Hungarian and Italian) are impressive. For one example, Arlow’s breakdowns of the types of cuts, and his notes about type and origin, nomenclature in Italian, Hungarian, or German, all do much to help both student and instructor in understanding.
Each section provides clear exercises in much the same way synoptic tables do minus the table. There are additional gems as well, from some novel advice in fighting lefties to how to deflect specific types of feints. Of particular interest for the historical fencer is his section on bouts with sharps (i.e. duels). This is a difference Arlow more than once highlights; after all, the duel was still a reality in Hungary, which is one reason for discussion of sharps, but also Arlow clearly saw little point in fencing as a mere game. For him
great care must be taken to ensure that the cuts fall either with the true or false edge, but never flat. Flat cutting is worthless in both duels and sport fencing. A well-trained fencer will never intentionally cut with the flat. He who contends on his over-flexible blade to whip around the opponent’s blade does not deserve to be called a fencer. (61)
I’ve looked forward to and enjoyed each work in Russ Mitchell’s series, but none so much as this. It’s a must-have for every sabreur.
Yesterday I once again had the pleasure to chat with Dr. Manouchehr Khorasani on Razmafzar TV. This time we discussed the sabre system of Giuseppe Radaelli (d. 1882) and its legacy. I was lucky to have Mike Cherba from Northwest Armizare present to help demonstrate some of the key features of the system. In part 1 of the interview we discuss Radaelli, the works on his system, and his period. Part 2, coming soon, will share the demonstration portion.
[I’ve been asked several times how I got into historical fencing, why I’m no longer competing, etc., and figured it would be helpful to me if no one else to spend some time on that. Thirty years of fencing, and forty of martial arts, puts a body through a lot so the easy answer to the competition question is “mileage.” For the literary minded this is a choice between playing Achilles or Nestor—the former’s path may gain one glory, but a shorter career; the latter a longer career, but less glory. I intend to do all I can to fence until I am utterly unable to do so, and so that means focusing more on teaching and research than it does tournaments. Few talk of Nestor, but he made it to Troy and acquitted himself well so while hardly the most exciting character among the Danaans, there are worse role-models 😉 In any event, here is part I of how I landed where I currently am]
A friend of mine, an author working on a new book, asked me why sabre is my favorite weapon. This sparked a longer conversation about how I got involved with historical fencing. I learned a long time ago to develop answers akin to those one uses in academia, that is, to have a soundbite, a two-minute answer, and then a full answer which might take a few minutes, each appropriate for specific instances. Most people, for example, when they find out you’re a professor ask “what do you teach?” and expect a short answer, such as “history.” Going into detail about Libanius’ support of the Emperor Julian or imported narrative tropes in Irish hagiography is usually only of any real interest to me and three other people. Neck-deep in graduate research, working alone for the most part, it’s easy to answer these questions with far more information than people want or need. It can take time to read that in people, least it did for me. They might ask, but they don’t really want to know.
It’s the same with fencing. I replied with a short answer, but my friend wanted more, so I told him that like many people I started in foil, but that the sabre squad at my university needed a fourth member so I volunteered. I had watched the sabreurs fence, and was attracted to the speed, noise, and violence of it. It looked fun!
Our coach at the time, Maestro Edwin “Buzz” Hurst, was strict, appropriately demanding, and quick to dress us down if we got lazy or our attention wavered. This was difficult for many students. An Annapolis grad and retired naval officer, Buzz can summon that stern military demeanor when necessary. I learned a lot from Maestro Hurst, not only in terms of technique but in terms of tactics and strategy. One of the things I admire about him is that he never once refused to answer a question or explain something. I’ve met coaches who have 15-20 min. per student and little patience for questions. Busy as he was, Buzz was happy to answer questions after a lesson or if we happened to join him for lunch.
UCSB’s fencing club was just that, a club, which meant limited resources unlike NCAA supported teams. It was all on us for the most part to bring in additional money, something we did with everything from bake-sales to fencing demonstrations. Our numbers dipped, and about a year or so after Maestro Hurst helped us achieve the division championship (1992)—something a club team had not done in some 25 years—we found we could no longer afford him.  This affected the sabre squad perhaps most, but in time we were lucky to contract with another Los Angeles area maestro, Albert Joseph Couturier (d. 2014, aged 91), “Al” to us. Members of our foil squad had been visiting his salle in Culver City, and some of his students and assistants had helped direct our tournaments.
It was a long drive for Al, then in his early 70s, so two students, Larry Dunn and Brian Peña, usually drove up with him and assisted. Brian helped coach foil and epee (though he is a good sabreur too), and Larry assisted Al with sabre. The years I spent studying with Al and Larry, as I look back on it, were the years that shaped most of my game. Buzz had given me a solid foundation, and they helped me build a house on it.
SoCal NCAA Fencing, 1990s
Reputation for laxity and a “duuuuuude, the waves are like sooo killer brah” attitude aside, southern California was and remains a major hub for fencing in the United States. In the early to mid-90s the level of skill in the collegiate division, fed as it was by parallel interest in USFA competition, was high among the top tier of competitors. With so many maestri in town, and post 1984 Olympics (Los Angeles), coaching was not only available, but often of extremely high caliber. It had long been this way. Some names are well-known in American fencing, such as Aldo Nadi and Henri Uyttenhove, but Delmar Calvert, Len Carnighan, Michael d’Asaro Sr., John MacDougall, Torao Mori, Heziburo Okawa, George Piller, Charles Sandberg, Doc O’Brien, Hans Halberstadt, and many others all taught at some point or other in California, and between them and their senior students the talent pool was as broad as it was/is deep. In addition to the masters resident in the area, many world competitors and instructors visited too. Daniel Costin, originally from Romania, directed some of our collegiate bouts, and I had a few lessons with Ferenc Lukacs when he was at Salle Couturier.
When there is such a high level of coaching, so long as one is dedicated and puts in the time one will improve. Like many things, the more we know of something, the more we’re able to do, the more enjoyment we get out of it. Provided with frequent tournaments, in college or via the USFA, we didn’t lack for chances to hone our skills. One reflection of this mix of enjoyment and skill was the fact that after the sabre portion of a tournament was over—we were usually first to finish—a number of the schools in the conference would keep fencing. This was common pre-electric sabre.
We came to know many of the fencers at UCLA, USC, CS Fullerton, and others. Our major rivals, however, tended to do their own thing. The chance to fence with some of the best fencers in our area, after the stress of competition, not only made for fun but allowed us to fight better fencers without the pressure. We learn a lot in friendly bouts with those more skilled—the fact that it’s fun helps too. As a much younger person fighting in competitive TKD tournaments I had been encouraged to seek out better fighters—one will face some tough bouts, but what we can learn there is invaluable. It is just as accurate in fencing. D’Artagnan Sr., one may recall, tells his son “Vous êtes jeune, vous devez être brave par deux raisons: la première, c’est que vous êtes Gascon, et la seconde, c’est que vous êtes mon fils. Ne craignez pas les occasions et cherchez les aventures. Je vous ai fait apprendre à manier l’épée; vous avez un jarret de fer, un poignet d’acier; battez-vous à tout propos; battez-vous d’autant plus que les duels sont défendus, et que, par conséquent, il y a deux fois du courage à se battre.”  This happy camaraderie changed dramatically with the advent of electric-sabre in collegiate fencing.
Electric Scoring: Sabre’s Charge at Krojanty 
Electrical scoring wasn’t new and had been a normal part of foil and epee for decades, but sabre proved far more difficult to convert. Where depressing a button at the tip of the weapon is a fairly simple mechanical process, figuring out how not to make the non-dangerous portions of a sabre blade register as a hit is complicated. To this day no one has done it. It’s one piece of metal, but only the true edge, tip, and last third of the false edge—supposedly—should register a score. That is in keeping with real blades—the flat might smart, the forte might bruise, but neither is sharp. In the days when sabre was fenced dry, where we had a director presiding over the bout and four judges to assist, this was far easier to track. The director had to listen as well as look—if they heard fabric before steel, it was a hit; if steel before fabric, it was parried and the following “thwack!” was whip-over; if the sounds were simultaneous then chances were good it was a malparry or failed parry. The judges, ideally, helped determine this by acknowledging either a hit or miss, or in the event they were unsure or could not see, they could abstain.
Since the judges were pulled from the teams, and since some teams were open to cheating, the judges could and did try to game their role. A good director called them on it, however, and made it clear that such garbage wasn’t going to work. Given this potential problem with judges the appeal of electrical scoring was obvious; but it was introduced too soon. The technology only worked in ideal circumstances, but those with the power to do anything about it didn’t see that.
Whether used with an accelerometer/capteur (as we did initially) or without, electric scoring in sabre only works if everyone is playing according to ROW (right of way), is skilled enough to fence cleanly, and honest enough to acknowledge a fair hit against themselves or deny a poor hit awarded to them. Assuming well-trained fencers who are defense-minded, who aren’t adapting their technique to exploit the scoring system, it “can” work. However, because it was so easy to exploit weaknesses in the system, the lowest common denominator became the path to success. Crappy fencing could and consistently did beat out better fencing. To make matters worse, the rules, then as now, do not allow one to overrule the box. Worse still, the rules soon changed to reflect the new reality.
Almost overnight the problems became obvious. First, from the director’s call of “allez!” both fencers would fleche at one another and double out. In the next exchange, the better tactician might feign a fleche, but instead take distance, make say a beat-attack against the fencer making the fleche, and make the touch, but… lose the point. The reasoning behind this, such as it was, argued that since the attacker’s light went off the other fencer must have failed to make the beat-attack in time. Half the time the director called it a failed parry-riposte—understandable, perhaps, but less so when the fencer making the beat is taking distance and striking either the middle or last third of the blade… Part of a director’s job is to make the call as to who has ROW, the initial attacker or the person who made the counter-attack in tempo, and this was still required, but increasingly the director came to rely on the box versus their eyes and ears.
With both lights signaling, and thus both fencers “hit,” the fencer making a simple attack with a fleche, say a cut to the head, was awarded ROW mostly because their attack was straight-forward. Anything more complicated than hop-and-chop was too easily taken for a failed parry or searching for the blade. The problem with this is that the very same principle of ROW means that an attack into tempo, such as a beat cut–properly made–takes ROW away from that attacker. Relying on the lights rather than one’s senses was a natural mistake, one only encouraged by the director having to bow to the box. Between less focus on what the action actually was and expectations for bad fencing at the collegiate level, directing followed the fencing as it descended into the chimpanzee donnybrook it increasingly became. As for the parry-riposte game, it was gone.
The answer was a band-aid instead of a solution. They outlawed the fleche and any other attack where one crossed one’s legs. Fencers, however, who relied on it began to make a similar, if far more clumsy attack, the “flunge” (more or less a fleche except that the legs don’t cross). The en garde position went from mid-century third, a compromise between offense and defense, to a forward leaning position, one where the hand was held at about hip height, point near the floor, to facilitate a speedy slap at the bottom or side of the bell-guard.  These fencers were literally attacking the strongest part of one’s defense and scoring—it didn’t matter that this was whip-over. The light went off. One could take the Platonic ideal of a parry and it meant nothing. The entire ethos of the game changed, and the frustration of some combined with the glee of those getting away with it fostered a bully approach of mask-throwing, simian grunting, and screaming clownishness that has persisted. Had they addressed the one thing that would have fixed it all, the nature of the blade, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble (and no, the s2000 blade did not solve the problem).
Anyone who spends years dedicated to honing a complex set of sophisticated techniques is going to be a little disappointed that almost overnight they don’t matter. As in so many things, it also didn’t matter that one was right—that the logic of ROW argued against the ridiculousness, that both common sense and history were on one’s side. Nothing. What mattered was winning. The chimp who slaps at your bell-guard and makes a light go off has not proven that they’re the better fencer, only that they’ve learned a game using sabres well. There is a difference.
The lack of concern, even amongst our teammates, was disheartening. The coaches were sympathetic, but on the one hand hamstrung by the rules and on the other were accustomed to a different experience on the piste themselves. There was a short time where high-level competitors, who had been trained properly, could work around the nonsense. Directors too, since they were dealing with A-level competitors expected and looked for more than the hulk-smash blitz of the flunge at the bell-guard. Only later when these fencers started to suffer too did coaching change. In their view, I suspect, bad fencing is just bad fencing, and since they had less trouble, the problem wasn’t the electrical scoring system, just newer or less-experienced fencers than themselves.
I can’t recall the exact date, but it was during the last two years of my competitive life that I made the break. It wasn’t apparent to me then, in fact it wasn’t for a very long time, but looking back on it the decision to dive into the sources was a turning point. For a long time the sea-change in my imagination was the memory of a comrade and I cracking open two bottles of McEwan’s Export Ale after our last collegiate bout, but in hindsight that was just a sad denouement.
Carl Thimm’s bibliography and other works in the university library were my first stop. I combed bookstores, and the burgeoning internet where among other things I discovered that there were other weirdos like me as well as people like Patri J. Pugliese who had started scanning and sharing long out of print manuals and treatises. I discovered both further conviction for the cause and comfort in works like Barbasetti’s that were so close to what I had learned.
To most historical fencers this will sound pretty normal, i.e., looking at sources, but in Olympic circles it is, or was, less common. There was almost never any reason other than an individual’s curiosity to consult a work on fencing, especially in our region. We all took lessons from masters who had carried on centuries’ old methods, who could answer questions, and while the historical nugget here or there was fun trivia, the focus was improvement to advance and medal. One didn’t need books to do that.
If reading up on fencing, and reading old fencing manuals was odd, even worse were the attempts to create more realistic (yet still safe sabres). With apologies to my friends in the SCA, my teammates back then, viewed the various experiments that my good friend and fellow sabreur Jon Tarantino and I conducted as one step away from puffy shirts and bad Elizabethan accents. It cost us most of our credibility with the club. We were tolerated, but barely. Pity to say that now, some twenty-five years later, the ill-will people bore us remains strong with some former teammates. No amount of explanation, even apologies for souring newer fencers, has made a difference.
Dennis Nedry to Dodgson: “See? Nobody cares.”
One thing I believe to this day was that Jon and I found a simple solution, one we proved worked, and that would have helped alleviate a lot of problems if it didn’t outright fix electric sabre or make it unnecessary: a return to more historically accurate blades. The core issue was whip-over, so logically a slightly stiffer blade would help. This was the path the FIE took and the resulting s2000 blade is stiffer.
However, that was only part of the problem. Fencing with a weapon so light is fast, so fast that it allows one to do things that one cannot do, not safely anyway, with a weapon of period weight. This was less an issue when the lighter blade was invented for the sport because training still reflected the reality of the duel. After all, the duel had not disappeared in Italy yet, nor in France for that matter, and there were still people either issued swords or using them in war as late as World War II.
Stiffness was an easy solve, but adding weight is not something I think anyone official considered. Concerns over legal and safety issues were raised when Jon and I brought it up, but these were weak arguments. Produced correctly, blunted, with proper flex, a blade along late 19th century lines is as safe as anything else. The additional weight becomes negligible quickly after a little practice, and there is no marked increase in force—most of that comes down to training. Good fencers are not hard-hitters.
We sunk a lot of time and money into researching options for such a blade. The problem was no one made them. We went through a lot of crappy Indian-made “cavalry” repro-sabres, any theatrical blade even slightly robust, and at least two really lovely—but totally unsuitable for bouting—“Masiello” sabres made by Oscar Kolombatovich. In most cases we had to alter these weapons significantly to use them safely. With the repro cavalry sabres, for example, we tapped out the peen to remove the blade, ground it down to a more suitable length for use on foot, reground the tang, tapped the tang for a pommel nut, and reassembled the sabre. Even a clipped point that is rounded out by grinding, however, can be dangerous, and while these were fun they were never ideal.
We settled on schlagers, the oval ones still available then, as they had enough flex to thrust safely, were rigid enough not to whip, and were closer in weight to earlier blades. To test our hypothesis, we rigged two schlager blades for electric, accelerometers and all, as these were the closest thing we could then get to say late 19th century practice blades. Most of this was easy—we painted the inside of the bell-guard to insulate it, taped the pommel nut, and added an accelerometer jack into the last two steel guards we owned. These were robust, had a rolled edge, and lasted an impressive amount of time. All that remained was to suit up and try them out.
To say that we demonstrated that they worked well for electric would be too prosaic—it literally solved every issue. Even a panic parry close to the body didn’t incur whip-over. After we beta-tested it, we had one of the coaches try it. They agreed it was better, but sort of shrugged. Suited up as we were, and with tips wide and broad enough for safety, it was less a concern for any danger, I suspect, as it was that they were just too different. Jon and I explained that the increased weight was necessary, that current blades were too light and meant that speed dominated the game over proper technique (still the problem today). We added that it took a few weeks to adjust to the weight, but that it was worth it. For proof, here we were, sharing the fruits of our labor so others can see how easy it was. No amount of enthusiasm, no demonstration of proof of concept, nothing made the slightest dint in anyone’s opinion. Not even having them try it out helped. It didn’t matter to anyone but us. It’s not hard to set out on one’s own after that.
Glad as I am, thrilled as I am, that we have the blades that Castille Armory, Danelli/Balefire, and Darkwood make, it’s hard not to wish they’d been around in the 1990s. Castille’s 16mm sabre blade would have solved most of the issues. It still could. The daffy junk one sees in modern sabre won’t work with a proper blade.
The last half of the 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium I spent researching, drilling, fencing, and taking lessons whenever possible. Like Bracciolini, everywhere I went I hunted for books, buying whatever I could find that was useful.  I also worked on a few papers, one with Jon entitled “Is a Heavier Blade the Answer?” which never saw the light of day. I published another article in Fencer’s Quarterly, edited by Maitre Nick Evangelista, and was hopeful of publishing a second when the magazine folded.  I’ve continued to write, mostly for myself or students, ever since.
Eager for allies, I continued to look for them, but the few I found were as beleaguered as Jon and I were. Most had given up and left the competitive world. It was hard to blame them for it, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted fencing to be what it had been, to fix something it ought to be able to do, and, that it could do safely. I wanted to compete again. My interest in classical and/or historical fencing, at the time, was largely geared toward improving Olympic fencing, but it had been clear for a long time, especially with the rise of both “classical” fencing and early historical experiments that this was a waste of time. Whatever I would do with fencing it seemed more and more likely I would be doing it alone until I could find other, like-minded people to fence with again.
 Maestro Hurst is an active coach, not only teaching out of his Cabrillo Academy of the Sword, but as a long-time officer, in many capacities, of the USFCA. https://www.cabrillosword.com/instructors
 I wasn’t part of club leadership and can’t say much about the decision process that led to us losing Maestro Hurst. Rumors must have been circulating as a chance meeting at my school library with a rival coach proved. The late Carlos Fuertes, a former Pacific Coast Sabre Champion and then a coach for Cal Tech, recognized me when I said hello, and asked if I had a moment. He was in the same tracksuit that I normally saw him in and was even wearing his “dancing bear” t-shirt. That “moment” turned into some 45 minutes of him cross-examining me (he was a lawyer as well) as to the “real” reason Buzz was no longer coaching at UCSB. It’s true that a few of my teammates were unhappy with Buzz and took his sometimes strong criticism personally, but as far as I knew while that might have made it easier for them to make the call, the fact was we were a club team and continually poor. Buzz was my second coach, but the first master I had the privilege to study under and there was no way I was going to feed rumors one of his rivals had heard. Buzz had no special affection for me—I was just one of many students–but he was my maestro, he gave me my start in sabre, and loyalty is important. I would not dishonor that or him. It’s not easy finding articles etc. for this period in California’s fencing history, rich as it is, but the source is the West Coast Fencing Archive, cf. https://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/2015/05/18/san-jose-state-university-unknown-tournament/ . The LA Times archive also has some articles.
 Southern California has long boasted a thriving fencing culture. The large number of colleges and the proximity of Hollywood meant that there were always a lot of fencing masters resident in the area. There were also often close relationships between some college teams and public salles, because many collegiate fencers also fenced, outside the academic setting, for those salles. Maestro Couturier was with us long enough that UCSB at the time was a satellite as it were of his school, and the rivalries we had with schools like Cal Tech and its connection then to Salle Grenadier, meant that opponents often had twice the reason to defeat the competition. This was not as Jets and Sharks as it sounds, but as sabre culture soured in the late 90s these additional loyalties definitely played a role. For those interested in Hollywood and fencing, the standout work on the connection between fencing and Hollywood is Jeffrey Richard’s Swordsmen of the Screen (New York, NY: Routledge, 1977).
 Ferenc’s lesson was straight-up old-world Hungarian, and the only “t-shirt lesson” I ever had. These tend to stick in one’s mind as outfitted only with a mask and glove any failed parry means that an attack stings more than usual. There was a language barrier, so much of the lesson was carried out by repetition until I made the right correction. The one example burned in memory was that my guard of third was off just enough in one lesson that Ferenc cut at my arm, the whipover of which did a number on the top of my forearm, until I made the correction that prevented it. Though not my way of doing things, I will say it did make my guard and parry of third pretty decent.
 CSLB and CalTech were my school’s major, consistent rivals, but much of this varied by squad and over time. UCSB’s sabre squad, pre-electric, tended to meet up with that of UCLA, CS Fullerton, and some of USC’s sabreurs to get in some extra fencing. Reuben, whose surname I forget, from UCLA, and Jason Late of USC were two of the most enjoyable, skilled fencers we had the pleasure of facing, and, were always gracious win or lose. I learned a lot fencing with them.
 Alexandre Dumas, Les Trois Mousquetaires, Ch. 1. [“You are young; you must be brave for two reasons: the first is that you are a Gascon, and the second, you are my son. Do not be afraid of opportunities and seek adventure. I have taught you the sword—you have a leg of iron, a wrist of steel; fight about everything, fight all the more since duels are forbidden and therefore there is twice the courage in fighting.”] http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/13951/pg13951.html
 The Polish cavalry charge against German mechanized infantry is proverbial for famous disastrous last stands. See for example https://worldhistoryproject.org/1939/9/1/charge-at-krojanty
 Epee was the earliest of the three to go electric (1931). Foil followed in 1956. The first more or less successful version for sabre saw service in 1986 for one event’s finals pool; the first complete event to feature an entirely electric sabre section was the 1989 World Championship. See Nick Evangelista, The Encyclopedia of the Sword (Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1995), 197-200; E. D. Morton, Fencing A-Z (London, UK: Antler Books LTD, 1988), 57-58; Julius Palffy-Alpar, Sword and Masque (Philadelphia, PA: F. A. Davis Company, 1967), 117-118.
 Stupid as this sounds, slapping at the bell guard was an easy way to take advantage of the modern blade and score. The s2000 blade, ostensibly less flexible and thus less prone to whipover, was an improvement on that particular blade design, but not a solution. It’s just too light, which encourages speed over proper technique. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t a technique to making a touch now, but to say that modern technique is at variance with an impressive amount of literary, even video evidence from a time when practice was closer to the real thing. The guard of third, which has become the standard en garde position, is due to Hungarian influence. Italian sabre, which transformed the Hungarian program, has a similar parry, terza bassa or low third, but historically this was a low-line option used in specific circumstances. The guard of choice, and in my view still the best guard, is second. It presents a threat, it puts the point on target and makes a thrust or actions with the point easier, and yet allows for quick parries in the first triangle (first, second, and fifth) as well as setting up various molinelli well.
 Like the generation of Italian humanists before him, like Petrarch and Boccaccio, Poggio Bracciolini stands alone as the finest discoverer of ancient books. As a Papal secretary, Poggio was ideally situated to explore libraries. The Council of Constance (1414-1417), which attempted to rectify the breach in the Church caused by the “Great Schism,” was a key event which allowed for a number of humanists to visit northern libraries. Poggio, for example, visited Cluny in 1415 and brought to light several works by Cicero unknown at the time, including speeches such as the Pro Roscio and Pro Murena. He later visited St. Gall where he uncovered a complete version of Quintilian. While many of the texts they found have since been lost, copies exist which led us back to them and their editions. Tireless, Poggio traveled through France, Germany, and England hunting for ancient manuscripts. Like other humanists, he was not simply a collector, but a scholar who edited copies of those new works that he found and who shared his ideas with other humanists. He even helped popularize a new style of handwriting, one based on the old Carolingian minuscule [this is an adaption of a piece I wrote for ABC CLIO).
 See “Fundamentally, we have gone off the track…,” in Fencers Quarterly Magazine 9:3 (Spring 2006), 26-28; a second article, one on the weird book that is Cut and Thrust: The Subtlety of the Sabre by Leon Bertrand (1927), was set to be printed but FQM folded. That piece lives on my academia.edu site, but is dated. The world is no poorer for the fact it wasn’t printed.
**Flunge photo via (source: https://www.reddit.com/r/Fencing/comments/f2i0p4/my_friend_pulling_off_a_flunge/)
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:
Karoly Leszák, Sabre Fencing, (Budapest: Adopted by the Ludovika Military Academy, 1906), translated by Russ Mitchell and Zalán Szalai, (Irving, TX: Happycrow Publishing, 2020), 158p. ISBN: 9798695368253. $20 US
Russ Mitchell, scholar, fencer, and instructor at Winged Sabre Historical Fencing school (Irving, Texas, USA), has published a translation of Károly Leszák’s Sabre Fencing (Kardvivás, 1906). This is the second in a series of works covering Austro-Hungarian Military Sabre (the first is Hungarian Hussar Sabre and Fokos Fencing, 2019). With this translation Russ and his colleague Zalán Szalai have opened an otherwise mostly shuttered window into this key fencing tradition. It can be obtained here:
Sabre Fencing: by Károly Leszák https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08N5LDY7P/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_Br1RFb9VYENH8
This is an important text on multiple levels. First, most manuals written in Hungarian have not been translated into English, so unless one can read the original language the value of such works remains either unknown or incompletely understood. Since the importance of Hungary in the development of sabre cannot be overstated each new translation increasing access to that corpus is a boon. Second, any student of the Italo-Hungarian tradition should have an interest in this work as it was written at a pivotal time. Italo Santelli brought the Radaellian tradition to Budapest, Luigi Barbasetti to Vienna, and it was the merger of Italian and Hungarian elements that formed the system so many of us learned last century. Even today’s Olympic sabre program, though different in some key respects, owes most of their curriculum to the Italo-Hungarian system.
What works like Leszák’s give us is a look at a stage in development between Radaelli’s late 19th cen. students, men such as Barbasetti and Santelli, and what in some circles became the “bible” for mid-century sabre, Z. Beke and J. Polgár’s The Methodology of Sabre Fencing, published in 1963 (Budapest, HG: Corvina Press). The crucible which produced the mid-century game was largely the rise of the Olympics in the first half of the 20th century, a period that also witnessed the swan-song of the sword in combat.  What we see, in Sabre Fencing, then, is a snapshot of a tradition in transformation. Leszák was one of the masters at the Ludovika Military Academy–though these academies trained soldiers, the theater for combat they were increasingly preparing for was not a battlefield, but international competition.
If I may beg the reader’s forgiveness, I’d like to contextualize the importance of this as a product of the Italo-Hungarian school. Most of my sabre training came via Albert Couturier and his students, especially Larry Dunn and Brian Peña, though I also had the honor to take a few lessons with Ferenc Lukacs. Al’s master, Joseph Vince, was trained in Budapest when the system that Leszák describes was in place. Both Giorgio Santelli and Vince emigrated to the US, to New York, the same year, and went on to spread the mixed school on both coasts (Vince taught in New York, but is better known for his sala in Beverly Hills, California, where Tony Curtis, Cornel Wilde, and others studied fencing).  I have yet to determine which of the three schools in Budapest Vince attended, but if it is true that he was in the military then either Ludovika or the Toldi Miklos Royal Hungarian Sports Institution are the most likely (the third, the BEAC, the main university club, is also a possibility). Leszák, however, had studied at Weiner Neustadt Military School, Barbasetti’s campus, and both he and Gusztáv von Arlow (who authored another work on fencing, also entilted Kardvivás, 1902) studied the Italian school there.  For many years I’ve have researched the tradition in which I came up to see just what was Italian, what Hungarian, and how they mixed. Now, for the first time, and thanks to Russ’ expertise, one can do this more effectively. I’ve been reading Leszák with Joseph Vince’s Fencing (1940) next to me, and the parallels are striking, but so too are the departures. One can actually see, right there on the page, what is clearly Radaellian, what is Hungarian, and importantly how the two worked together to fuse what most people know as sabre. Looking through Vince’s work after reading Sabre Fencing is to see it in a new light; for one, though familiar with and an admirer of the French school, Vince’s foundation is Italian. One sees this in his foil and especially in sabre. Where Leszák included both direct cuts and Radaellian molinelli, Vince mentions the latter but focuses on the former. The realities of competition from 1906 to 1940 demonstrated that the traditional Italian extended guards left fencers’ arms vulnerable to wrist cuts; so too did the larger cuts.  This is just example of how access to a key Hungarian text informs our understanding of works we already know.
Russ’s work is a pleasure to read. His style is engaging, his obvious skill and insight into the context and material are matched in how humbly and good-naturedly he explores it. Few people possess the combination of talents to do this project justice, but Russ tops this short list.  There has been an explosion of translations, especially through print-on-demand self-publishing operations, and too often the hard work of the translators is undercut by their lack of expertise in the language, by failure to have skilled editors examine their drafts, and in failing to have another expert in that language go over their translations. With Russ Mitchell’s work we are on firm ground. He has lived and studied in Hungary, and he knows Hungarian, but he also enlisted the help of a native speaker to ensure accuracy. He had another brilliant translator, Christopher A. Holzman, read through the text as editor and to check the author’s use of Italian terminology and ideas. Moreover, Russ has the academic credentials, and experience, to conduct this type of research responsibly.
As to its contents, readers familiar with most works out of Italy in the 19th and 20th centuries may be startled by how similarly organized Sabre Fencing is. Like his contemporaries to the southwest, Leszák begins with the parts of the sabre, grip, first position (“basic stance”), the line of direction, and a break-down of the cuts. The cuts, significantly, he divides into “sabre swings”–following Hungarian and German terminology, and, molinelli, following Italian practice. Later, in section 21, he covers direct cuts. Both direct, short-path cuts and circular cuts from the elbow are there–this is just one example of the blending of traditions.
The author covers guards next and these are, with some minor changes, the guards of the Radaellian school, just positioned a little differently. The guard/invitation/parry of second, for example, is held more at chest height than shoulder height. Third is also lower than one sees in most Radaellian works. One version of low-fourth that may surprise is Leszák’s second way to form it–students of Hutton would call this a way to defend the “fork:” the hand and guard are to the right, the blade extended out left, straight, to defend/deflect a low thrust or ascending cut below the belt (cf. 27-28). A chapter on “parrying swings” and shadow-cuts (cuts made against an imaginary opponent) follows and reminds the reader that active-parries are an important part of the system. Molinelli, after all, we use in attacks, but can be used defensively too. The parrying swings were meant to help students hone the positioning required to defend themselves; today we refer to this exercise more often as “changes of engagement,” that is, moving from 2nd to first and back, from 2nd to 5th and back, etc.
Part Two, “School Fencing,” is an invaluable look at specific drills and lessons. A key pedagogical tool here, and one employed often in historical fencing, is pair-drills, only here students take turn as “master” and assist one another. Leszák notes that this allows them to be out of guard and rest, and thus fence longer, but that also it starts priming students who may go on to teach. It is, as he says, a more effective way to teach than group instruction. For fencers today, the lessons contained in part two run the gamut from actions on the blade to binds, from yielding/ceding parries to the counter-parry riposte game. Also included at the tail end of Part II are discussions of when and how one should begin bouting, some of the rules students were expected to follow in his time, and how to deal with both lefties and “instinctive” fencers.
Sabre Fencing is a rich source and the single most complete in English concerning the early Italo-Hungarian tradition. Leszák provides a thorough look at defense, offense, and tactics. Though “obviously, it is not possible to learn fencing from books” (9), as the author reminds us, this treatise will prove invaluable for those interested in the development of Hungarian fencing, the deep impact the Radaellian school had outside of Italy, and especially for students of the Italo-Hungarian tradition who wish to see, first-hand, what the Hungarian side of their heritage looks like up close. Parts of the book may be dense for some readers, especially newer fencers, because the author was writing for people with some training, and to a lesser degree because he knew that some students would arrive at the academy with a degree of experience in fencing (cf. 9), but Russ provides numerous notes to assist the reader with the more confusing or unusual aspects of the book. This is a must-have translation, and while perhaps of most interest to fencers in the Italian and Italo-Hungarian orbit, sabre fencers of any school will find much to mine within this text. Go. Buy it. Read it. Read it again, and start drilling.
 There were units in various armies issued swords in the Second World War, but they saw little action in most theaters. Japanese use in China and elsewhere is well and often graphically documented (a trip through the museum dedicated to the victims of the massacre in 1937 in Nanjing is not an experience one forgets). There were soldiers in the European theater who carried and/or used swords as well.
 Vince’s Fencing (1940) contains a little biographical material, but less than one might like. See also https://www.westcoastfencingarchive.com/project/joseph-vince/ &
 Károly Leszák, wrote the manual for the Ludovika Military Academy’s program, Kardvívás [Sabre Fencing], in 1906, yes the one discussed here. He had been a student of the fencing school at Wiener Neustadt Military School, and so, was a product of Barbasetti’s program. I need to verify this, but one chap, Hungarian, claims that two Austrian lieutenants, Rudolph Brosch and Heinrich Tenner, learned Barbasetti’s method, introduced it to W-N, and in 1899 translated Barbasetti’s text into German. This same commentator says that both Leszák and another author, Gusztáv von Arlow (who authored a sabre text in Hungarian in 1902), were students of the Italian school as shared at W-N. For more on Barbasetti’s work within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, see http://www.ars-dimicatoria.cz/en/barbasetti-military-sabre-since-1895-2/
 The lighter blade developed in the early 20th cen. changed everything. Those quick to criticize the excesses possible with the sport blade often find the system guilty by association. This is to mistake effect for cause. As most works on sabre make clear, aberrations in rule-sets and nonstandard techniques reflect a concern for victory in sports, not inherent flaws within the tradition itself. My generation, for example, was taught proper edge-alignment and was penalized when we failed to execute an attack with it. Many within that same generation, to win, adopted the low-hanging fruit of whipover to score when sabre went electric.
 Russ has the chops to conduct research well. He possesses advanced degrees in history and in medieval studies, has experience publishing in academia, and studied in Hungary. His first book in this series set the bar high for publishing in historical fencing, and serves as a fantastic guide to sharing difficult information (in this case a broken sabre tradition) in a responsible, approachable, and useful way.