Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

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Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Ulrich von L...n » 23 Apr 2012 12:47

Here we can discuss different things which led to the development of the modern fencing as we know it today: rules, equipment, famous fencers, people who contributed to the creation of the sport fencing, etc.

In another topic (HEMA vs Modern Fencing):
viewtopic.php?f=3&t=18387&start=540#p301205

we have started a discussion how Italian duelling sabre was gradually transformed into the modern Olympic sabre. How rules of competitions (for example at 1908 Olympic Games) recorded that gradual shift toward modern day sport equipment.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Chris Holzman » 24 Apr 2012 08:12

Just to repost this to have it handy:

Masiello's recommendations:
Whole sabre: 610g
Blade: 220g
Guard: 270g
Grip: 35g and 13cm long
Cappucio/Backstrap: 60g and 14cm long
Ferrule at front of grip: 15g
Nut/Pommel: 10g

Parise/Radaelli-Del Frate:
~880mm blade length, curved, 20mm width at the base tapering to 10mm width at the point. (1904 Parise "da terreno" and comparative measurements and scaling of the illustrations in 1876 Del Frate and 1885 Parise give near identical blade sizes and shapes)
Edit: length/weight per 1868 Del Frate, blade length 890mm, total weight 720g, (Blade 350g, Hilt 370g)

Pecoraro-Pessina, 1912:
880mm blade, 12mm wide (though it does appear to taper somewhat to the point).
Standard modern fencing sabre grip and pommel with a Pecoraro guard. No weight given. Balance is to be 'two fingers' from the guard.

Ulrich's Ukrainian dry sabre:
Whole sabre: 365g
Blade: 170g (88cm long, V-shaped S2000)
Guard: 96g
Grip: 65g
Backstrap: -
Ferrule: -
Nut: 33g

My PBT sabre:
Whole sabre: 333g
Blade length 875mm, Y shaped Lammet S2000
Point of Balance (from guard): 85.7mm
Note: I'll try to get measurements of width for this blade later if I can remember.

My unbroken antique:
Blade 856mm long, 17mm at the guard, tapering to 10mm at the point. 6mm thick at the guard. Curved. Edges are slightly more than 1mm thick. Body thickness varies from a little over 4mm to a little over 1.5mm along the length of the blade.
Total weight 583g (varies, on my digital kitchen scale by a few grams from time to time)
POB: 82.5mm

My broken 19th century antique, of the same blade pattern
Blade Length: 698mm
Weight: 602g
POB: 53.9mm
Note: The guard is 50% thicker than the unbroken antique, but it is slightly narrower. The backstrap is identical to the one on my unbroken antique, but the ferrule is thinner.

Hanwei Radaelli, with blobby tip cut off and rounded, and a replacement hardwood grip:
Blade Length: 850mm
Weight: 580g
POB: 50.8mm
Note: the guard is half the thickness of the broken antique, and 3/4 the thickness of the unbroken antique - it does, however, have the Radaellian ring/branches around the guard, which the other sabres lack, and which probably make up the additional weight that helps pull the balance of the sabre back. This sabre balances too close to the hand for my taste.

I'll try to come back and fill in the blade weight for the hanwei later - but since I can't disassemble the two antiques, it seems sort of pointless to measure the hanwei blade carefully without other data points.
Last edited by Chris Holzman on 10 Jan 2014 17:12, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Mink » 24 Apr 2012 08:34

Hi Chris!

This is slightly off-topic, but if you ever have time, I'd be interested in more complete mass distribution measurements for your weapons. I have an article here where I describe one method. This would probably help quantify what "balanced too far back" really means...

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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Gordon L » 24 Apr 2012 08:37

From CL De Beaumont, "Fencing : Ancient Art and Modern Sport", As revised by Prof. R. "Bob" Anderson.

"A light sabre was developed by the Italians during the last quarter of the nineteenth century and was soon universally adopted for fencing, although looked on with derision by those used to the heavy sabre.(1) Light sabre play developed by the famous Milanese master, Giuseppe Radaelli, became an academic pursuit, with similar rules to those of foil play, even though the light sabre remained a recognised duelling weapon."

==========================
(1) No change there, eh? :-)
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 24 Apr 2012 15:51

This is getting lost among discussion of kendo,and probably it should be in another thread, but I'm genuinely interested in this question. Is it not the case that other threads are establishing the genealogy:
military sabre ---> gymnastics sabre-----> Olympic sport sabre ?

I would modify this genealogy a bit:

(A) military sabre ---> gymnastics sabre ----------------------------> Olympic sport sabre
(B) military sabre ---> duelling sabre (heavy, medium, light) ---> Olympic sport sabre
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Re:

Postby Chris Holzman » 24 Apr 2012 16:21

Ulrich von L...n wrote:
This is getting lost among discussion of kendo,and probably it should be in another thread, but I'm genuinely interested in this question. Is it not the case that other threads are establishing the genealogy:
military sabre ---> gymnastics sabre-----> Olympic sport sabre ?

I would modify this genealogy a bit:

(A) military sabre ---> gymnastics sabre ----------------------------> Olympic sport sabre
(B) military sabre ---> duelling sabre (heavy, medium, light) ---> Olympic sport sabre


In Italy, I think you can largely condense the gymnastics sabre (aka, military fencing sabre) and dueling sabre together, the difference being whether they're blunt or sharp. Obviously, some masters preferred heavier or lighter blades, and by 1912 we're looking at something lighter than Masiello, but still more substantial than sabre blade used during the majority of the 20th century for the Olympic sport.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 24 Apr 2012 18:14

In some countries (Italy, Hungary) where the sabre duelling was in vogue during last decades of the 19th C & the first decades of the 20th C the development went along (A)+(B), as you said: very intertwined development, basically the same things were used for training and duelling. As for the UK, it seems that (A) was the only route of sabre evolution.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 25 Apr 2012 15:45

A preliminary timeline on how the modern Olympic sabre was created
(A chronology of key changes of the hardware)

1887:
Maestro Masiello, in La Scherma Italiana gave measurements for a duelling / practice sabre (see Chris Holzman's datasheet).

1891:
In the fencing rules of AFLA (Amateur Fencers League of America):
"Sabre blades shall not be more than 33 inches long" (83.8cm)

1899:
Luigi Barbasetti, in Sabelfechten gave PoB as around 5cm from the bell guard.

1902:
Gustav Arlow stated in his book (Kardvívás, Sabre fencing) that according to the rules of Hungarian Athletics Association only fencing sabres with the following parameters can be used during competitions:
- the bell guard should not be wider as 11cm (a),
- no other protection parts should be used on the grip (b),
- the width of the blade should not be less than 11mm or more than 17mm (c),
- the thickness of the blade has to be at least 4mm at the shoulder (d),
- the length of the blade should not be more that 88cm, and the total length of the sabre
more than 105cm (including the grip) (e),
- the total weight of the sabre should be at least 450g (f),
- the tip should be at least 6mm wide (g).

Arlow, as Barbasetti's follower, gave PoB as approximately 5cm. He also stated that sabres with a blade less than 13mm of width were used quite often during exercises, also indicated the usual length of blades: 82-88cm and their width: 10-17mm (measured at the middle).

1908:
In the official report of the 4th Olympic Games these following specifications can be found:
53. (a) The total weight of the sabre must be between 470 and 780gr. The effective length of the blade must be as near as possible 880mm. The blade should be either straight, or, if slightly curved, the chord of its arc must not be longer than 40mm."

"The maximum dimensions of the shell must be: at the back, towards the edge of the blade, 150mm; and toward the flat of the blade (perpendicular to the edge), 140mm."

1912:
Some small changes for the 5th Games, in Stockholm:
weight: 470-770g, blade length: 900mm etc.

1914:
FIE was officially approved the above, already de facto standard.

1944:
In his book Laszlo Geretser wrote that some authors (Barbasetti, Arlow) had suggested PoB 5cm, other - unnamed - authors PoB at the beginning of the grip. He suggested a PoB between these two figures, at the distance of two fingers from the bell guard (presumably 2.5cm).
Last edited by Ulrich von L...n on 28 Apr 2012 18:36, edited 3 times in total.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 25 Apr 2012 16:12

A preliminary timeline on how the modern Olympic sabre was created
(A chronology of key changes of the rules, mainly for competitions)

1878:
New York Athletic Club rules [1] (*)

1882:
Alfred Hutton, Bayonet-Fencing and Sword Practice [2]
Rules for independent practice with sabre or stick

1889:
Alfred Hutton, Cold Steel
Rules to be observed in the assault, or in a match or contest for prizes. (*)

1891:
The fencing rules of AFLA (Amateur Fencers League of America) were adopted on November 14th. (*)
Rules sets from 1891 to 1930 [3]

Alfred Hutton, The swordsman
With an appendix consisting of a code of rules for assaults, competitions.

1902:
Béla Nagy created the modern Hungarian fencing rules.

1904:
Maestro Parise's rules, from his 1904 "Scherma da Terreno":
Rules for a fencing contest on the ground [4]

1908:
The code of fencing rules for the 4th Olympic Games
Theodore A. Cook wrote the official report: "It was the first of its kind to be printed in English, French, and German, and is the most complete ever published". (*)

1914:
The first edition of FIE rules.

(*) = available online

Updates:
[1] Credit to Jeanette Acosta- Martinez for the discovery, Phil C.
[2] Credit to Matt Easton
[3] Credit to Kevin Murakoshi
[4] Translated by Chris Holzman
Last edited by Ulrich von L...n on 13 Aug 2014 07:21, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Thearos » 25 Apr 2012 17:39

(At risk of belabouring: the infantry spadroon is not an ancestor in this genealogy, yes ?)
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Chris Holzman » 25 Apr 2012 18:55

Thearos wrote:(At risk of belabouring: the infantry spadroon is not an ancestor in this genealogy, yes ?)


Not as far as I'm concerned. On the whole, sabre fencing as a sport followed the lead of the Italians from the 1870s and onwards through the Italo-Hungarians. Everyone else was more or less along for the ride. Looking at sabre parry numbering and terminology today - the numbering system used is that of the Scuola Magistrale (Radaelli). The French in 1908 at Joinville le Pont used a slightly different numbering system, though the parries were recognizably similar (They called what we'd call 5th and 6th tierce haute and quarte haute, respectively.

The Italians based their sabre system on the lightly curved miltiary practice/dueling sabre and their lightly curved military sabres. Could you use that system with a spadroon of the same basic weight and balance and fence the system? Sure. How about with a straight bladed fencing sabre from the 1910-20? Sure. I'd rather not, because I like the curved sabres more - but ultimately that's an aesthetic choice and and choice of practical availability.

Italian fencing masters from Scuola Magistrale spread out across Europe, and eventually into the UK, USA, and South America. I. Santelli, L. Barbasetti, in Hungary and Austria, Pini in South America. Eventually Nadi, Terrone, Pavese, G. Santelli in the USA. Masiello had enough influence in the UK to write and have adopted a militiary swordsmanship drill book. Masiello's student, Col. Francis Vere Wright published a translation/abridgement of Masiello's 1887 sabre book there as well - which was sharply critical of singlestick practice, preferring instead the Italian fencing/dueling sabre of the time. Prof. Bertrand, an Accademia Nazionale di Napoli graduate, taught what was essentially stripped down Radaellian sabre, or some variant thereof, and documented it in his book, Cut and Thrust. Capt. Hutton made a mishmash of Italian sabre, French foil, and other various and sundry things for Cold Steel.

In the sport, the Italians and later Hungarians dominated the various sabre events for the vast majority of the 20th century. The later books, Castello, Vince, Szabo, Barbasetti's 1930s English translation of his 1899 book are all Italian or Italo Hungarian sabre in nature. So is Crosnier..
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby John H » 25 Apr 2012 21:27

Just for discussion on this; I don’t think they intended to make it a spadroon but from my prospective they pretty much did. The spadroon is a lighter, strait and more thrust centric weapon. If you compare the Italian Dueling blade to a sport blade you see that is exactly the difference between the two weapons. This relationship is virtually the same between military weight blades and the spadroons of their time.

Now the main difference we see if of course the encouraged usage. Even today you do not see the sports saber being used to thrust much at all, the system being encouraged is centered around the cut. This does not mean it is impossible to thrust with it but the rules and system around the sports blade encourages a cutting action.

One of the most interesting and fun fights I use to have was a foilist that picked up a saber and decided he didn’t care for this whole cutting thing. He would commence to poke us or use it just like a foil. He would poke and poke and when we got irritated and let the traditional sabre guards down to seek something else he would cut. It took some getting used to on how to fight him, but eventually I figured it out, and it was fun. I basically went back to the foil guards and thrusts, then when the opportunity arouse, or my thrust was out of position/in a chambered cutting position, I would lay in a nice cut. After reading up on spadroon play and looking back at what he was doing I have to say it was the closest thing to what I read of spadroon of anything else I have seen.

We also have a very old gentleman who was telling me about how Patton himself would fence. He would poke you and yell ‘dead!’ Seems the idea of using it as a spadroon may not have been all that unheard of.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Thearos » 25 Apr 2012 22:28

John H wrote:
We also have a very old gentleman who was telling me about how Patton himself would fence. He would poke you and yell ‘dead!’


Patton was a reenactor ?
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 26 Apr 2012 08:19

Thearos wrote:(At risk of belabouring: the infantry spadroon is not an ancestor in this genealogy, yes ?)

<While playing with a sturdy stick & smiling menacingly>

It might seem that a modern sabre blade looks like a slim spadroon. The virtual disappearance of thrusts from modern sabre fencing could also support this (a Hungarian epee coach told me once that nowadays, only 3-4% of all sabre actions are thrusts).

However all evidence from the available Hungarian fencing books of 19-20th C does not support this theory.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Thearos » 26 Apr 2012 11:54

When does the snapping cut rather than the moulinet enter the repertoire, then become the normal way of applying cuts ?
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Lyceum » 26 Apr 2012 16:02

Interesting, but I'd say thrusting isn't as rarified as all that right now. It can definitely be used to good effect.

Saying that I once cut a mulinet in a match against KCL, so I'm not the most up to date, but they're definitely usable. 90% of beginning/intermediate sabreurs can often be completely screwed over by (feint) thrust to face > undercut to ribs, for example.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby John H » 26 Apr 2012 17:55

Thearos wrote:When does the snapping cut rather than the moulinet enter the repertoire, then become the normal way of applying cuts ?


When I do not know, why here’s a few reasons: This would be the right of way rules and the definition of attack and when an attack ends. The ‘backwards’ motion of the moulinet means your attack has ended and RoW now belongs to your opponent. They merely need to attack into you regardless of getting hit, the point is theirs.

Next the point of a moulinet is developing power, when you are using a point forward guard. The action takes time and in the process develops power you need to deliver a debilitating strike. Modern fencing does not need to deliver a debilitating strike it only needs to ‘touch. ’ Therefore you are taking time to gain no material advantage in your strike, in fact you are losing the advantage of time and broadcasting your action to your opponent, while at the same time losing RoW.

RoW and the beat: A beat takes RoW. If you leave your foilable forward your opponent only needs to do a quick beat and lunge in and he ensures RoW is his. As you have now lost all incentive to use a point forward guard your cuts become a punching action and the power developed in the cut comes from the punching and pushing forward motion, not from a full circular motion that began with your point already forward.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Thearos » 26 Apr 2012 18:23

John H wrote:Just for discussion on this; I don’t think they intended to make it a spadroon but from my prospective they pretty much did.


OK, so not stemmatic development, but convergence.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby Chris Holzman » 27 Apr 2012 00:22

Thearos wrote:When does the snapping cut rather than the moulinet enter the repertoire, then become the normal way of applying cuts ?


I think they've probably largely always been there, in Italy, to some extent. Becoming the typical and nearly exclusive method is much more recent. The first book I know of that essentially says 'molinelli are nearly obsolete, and we don't teach them as the beginning practice of sabre instruction' would be Beke and Polgar's "Methodology of Sabre Fencing", published in 1953 by Corvina Press in Budapest. Aside from dumping the molinelli as the basis of the beginning practice, it is otherwise typical Italian sabre (and molinelli turn up in the usual places as I recall - e.g., a parry of 5th and a riposte to the internal head or chest is a molinello riposte), but the real value in the book is that it has a really good teaching progression, including specialized training and cross training schedules for work during the fencing season, out of season, competition preparation, and so on. For people who are inclined to that sort of thing its a great book and there is definitely a reason it routinely brings several hundred dollars on ebay on the rare occasions one turns up for sale.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 27 Apr 2012 07:49

Lyceum wrote:... It can definitely be used to good effect.

Absolutely.
Currently I have been working quite hard to polish my thrusts. And feint thrusts too. They make your swordplay more unpredictable.
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