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

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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 17 May 2013 07:49

A guy from the above mentioned, new Hungarian group has created a new, Wikipedia article on László Borsody (1878-1939), Hungarian fencing master, who together with Italo Santelli and another Hungarian, László Gerentsér can be considered as founders of the Italo-Hungarian style of the modern sabre fencing.

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László Borsody, as First Lieutenant of the K.u.K. Army, around 1916
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 17 May 2013 07:54

The English version, created in 2008, contains some misinformation. I will correct those incorrect pieces of information soon.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 20 May 2013 17:47

The current English version (wrong parts marked red, my remarks in italic):
"László Borsody (died 1941) (1878-1939) was a Hungarian fencing master who is acknowledged in Hungary as being one of the greatest fencing masters of all time, the primary creator of the modern Hungarian style of saber fencing that led Hungary to a half century of superiority and gold medals at the World Championships and Olympics, and the teacher of many excellent Hungarian fencing masters whose influence has been felt throughout the world."

Only together with Santelli and Gerentsér.

"Early life
He was born László Blum (some sources say László Pfeffer), but took on the name Borsody when he converted from Judaism to Catholicism and joined the army to pursue a military career. He became a captain and taught fencing at the prestigious Wiener-Neustadt military academy."

Learned fencing at that military academy in 1898-99.

Sections on Borsody's Innovations, Toldi Miklos Royal Hungarian Sports Institute, Borsody's Students are correct.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 22 May 2013 06:38

The most contentious part of the current article is the following bit:

"A Tragic Ending
In 1941, Laszlo Borsody's life came to a tragic finish during World War II when he ended his life with a pistol shot rather than be subjected to the Nazi treatment accorded to Jews. He received a funeral with full military honors. (Eisen 1998: n. 39).
"

Repeated in Ferenc Marki article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ferenc_Marki) as follows:

"As a result of the German persecution of Jews in Hungary, in 1941 Maestro László Borsody (who had changed his name from Blum on converting to Catholicism) shot himself rather than be coerced into submission (Cohen 2002:339)."
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 22 May 2013 07:13

There are several serious problems with the above parts:
- in 1941 Jews weren't persecuted in Hungary, neither by Germans or by Hungarian authorities, actually at that time the country was kind of safe haven for persecuted Jews, for instance Polish Jews fled to Hungary;
- Germany occupied Hungary in March 1944 after a failed attempt by Horthy to conclude a peace deal with Stalin, and only after that the persecution of Jews started in our country;
- according to a Hungarian article on the Farkasréti Cemetery Major Borsody died in 1939 and his grave can be found in this Budapest graveyard;
- the current Hungarian version states that he died on 25 January 1939;
- the first Hungarian law limiting the amount of Jewish people employed at specific private enterprises (theaters, newspapers, publishing houses etc) and working as free lancers was enacted in April 1938, at that time Borsody was already a pensioner;
- the second - much nastier - Hungarian law on Jews came into force in May 1939, very likely months after his death, and actually he would have been exempted because he had converted to Catholicism before August 1919 (this cut-off date was specified in the law).

So I'm really puzzled over Borsody's suicide, if indeed that was a suicide.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 22 May 2013 07:24

An interesting part about Borsody could be found Nick Evangelista's book, The encyclopedia of the sword, 1999 :

Borsody, Laszlo (c. 1900), Hungarian fencing master ... It is ironic that Borsody, a master swordsman, should have been killed in a pistol duel.
http://books.google.hu/books?id=TyJ8ebn ... &q&f=false

It would be very interesting to verify details on Borsody's life stated in this book:
Richard Cohen: By the Sword: A History of Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai, Swashbucklers, and Olympic Champions, New York, 2002, ISBN 0-330-48229-7.
Pages 397-399, 398, 401.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 22 May 2013 07:57

The Tragic Ending stuff can be traced to George Eisen's article (1998): Jewish History and the Ideology of Modern Sport: Approaches and Interpretations (Journal of Sport History, Volume 25, Number 3.) The wiki citation - (Eisen 1998: n. 39) - is absolutely correct, under footnote N 39 we can find the following:

"39. The number of suicides among Jewish athletes as a consequence of discrimination perhaps
never will be known. Among the known cases were the already mentioned Dr. Ferenc
Kemény from Hungary. László (Blum) Borsodi, the noted Hungarian fencing instructor,
who was also a high ranking officer in a prestigious military college, shot himself two
days before the order to wear the Yellow Star. Surprisingly, he received a funeral with full
military honor. Interview with Dr. Francis Zöld, July 25, 1997.
"

Again - Borsody died in 1939, and the German edict on wearing yellow stars was published on 31 March 1944, and enacted on 5 April 1944. Well...
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 24 May 2013 17:42

I think it is more or less fair to assume that during the interview in 1997 Dr Zold (Zöld Ferenc) (October 28, 1904 - September 8, 2004) wasn't able to remember every single detail absolutely correctly, especially about the events that took place 57-58 years earlier.

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Source: http://www.oocities.org/fencing_masters ... s-Zold.htm
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 24 May 2013 17:54

A splendid collection of fencing artifacts owned by Árpád Németh, retired Hungarian fencing coach:

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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 29 May 2013 17:29

An interesting attempt to create a complete genealogy of Hungarian sabre fencing from ~1820 till the present time:

http://www.magyarszablyapecs.hu/pdf/csa ... vitett.pdf

The whole genealogy is a bit too bright and colourful, contains some serious mistakes, but AFAIK this is the first attempt to create something similar.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 05 Jul 2013 07:58

An interesting Hungarian fencing sword (from SFI):

Image
Image

"... then mounted it on what appears to be a 19th-century blade. ... The blade is slightly wider than a modern one by maybe 2mm, has a rounded back and is fullered about 3/4 of the way down terminating in a very small neat shepherd's crook."

Source:
http://www.swordforum.com/forums/showth ... rian-sabre
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 23 Oct 2013 16:18

hergsell_1.jpg
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The clearest drawing of posting that I have seen so far in a fencing manual. It can be found in Gustav Hergsell's O šermu šavlí (On Sabre Fencing)(1888).
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 18 Nov 2013 07:15

In a Hungarian Facebook group about sabre fencing a guy posted this photo with a comment that sabre duels were really very-very deadly things, human heads and even horse heads (!!!) were flying around.

Result_of_a_sabre_duel.jpg
Result_of_a_sabre_duel.jpg (96.21 KiB) Viewed 13503 times

I have been able to trace this picture to Richard Cohen's book By the Sword: Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai Warriors, Swashbucklers and ...
Caption: A late-19-century saber duel, where one of the participants lost his head. Names and location are unknown.

Also it was posted in the photo gallery at fencing.net:
http://www.fencing.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=1204
with the caption: "Obviously faked, but you have to love it."

What else do we know about this photo?
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Re:

Postby Chris Holzman » 20 Nov 2013 09:09

Ulrich von L...n wrote:In a Hungarian Facebook group about sabre fencing a guy posted this photo with a comment that sabre duels were really very-very deadly things, human heads and even horse heads (!!!) were flying around.

Result_of_a_sabre_duel.jpg

I have been able to trace this picture to Richard Cohen's book By the Sword: Gladiators, Musketeers, Samurai Warriors, Swashbucklers and ...
Caption: A late-19-century saber duel, where one of the participants lost his head. Names and location are unknown.

Also it was posted in the photo gallery at fencing.net:
http://www.fencing.net/gallery/showphoto.php?photo=1204
with the caption: "Obviously faked, but you have to love it."

What else do we know about this photo?


I saw this photo in a book in the mid to late 90s that wasn't Cohen's book. I can't remember what it was, though it was in the Wichita public library and was a book on fencing or dueling.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 10 Dec 2013 20:09

Chris,

It is possible that you saw this picture in Amberger's book:
The Secret History of the Sword: Adventures in Ancient Martial Arts
written by J. Christoph Amberger (Paperback - Mar. 1999)

Some opinions about this photo:

http://forum.woodenboat.com/archive/ind ... 91638.html
"Tom Montgomery, 01-21-2009
When I was a boy one of the most fascinating books I ever found at the public library was about the history of dueling. One of the illustrations was an allegedly authentic photograph of a late 18th century European saber duel. The photo showed a man, saber in hand, standing over the decapitated body of his opponent. About 40 or 50 feet in the background was a man fleeing the scene toward several others approximately 500 feet in the distance. It was morbidly fascinating."

http://www.swordforum.com/forums/showth ... mbat/page3
Page 2:
(A)
"During one on one combat, it would be difficult to do this, but not impossible. I recall seeing a photo in J.Christoph Amberger's book "The Secret History of the Sword", taken during the early 1900's of the results of a European saber duel. The loser's head is laying next to his fallen body. It seems unlikely to me that the winner would have stuck the head from a helpless opponent, so it seems very highly likely that the head was removed during the actual duel itself."

(B)
"That famous photo has been the subject of a lively discussion for years. I myself believe it to have been dummied up---the shadows and so forth are---odd..."

Page 3:
(C)
"I've given that photo a lot of scrutiny. It seems that the shadows are not so much odd as so much as it appears to have been a rather hurridly taken picture with less than perfect technology. It could be a hoax - nothing is impossible - but it sure is a convincing hoax if it is (shrug).

I know that the likelihood of a well delivered saber stroke taking off a head is very, very high, having read already at least a dozen anecdotes from "reliable" sources who've witnessed such things in battle.
I think the other thing about this photo that gives it a strong sense of reality is how "unposed" it looks. The body language of every person in it strikes me as that of people who are somber, and almost disbelieving at what they just witnessed. Hard to see their faces clearly, but one does not get the idea that this is a bunch of frat boys hamming it up in front of the camera for a prank. Again, I don't know. I could be wrong. Maybe tonight I'll take a look at it again with a fresh set of skeptical eyes.

Plus, I am unwilling to think that J. Christoph Amberger would have included a photo that might have some controversy attached to it in a book of his, without at least mentioning there was controversy.
"

(D)
"Is that the picture where one man is leaning on his sabre looking down at the headless body of his opponent? Never read Mr. Amberger's book, but saw it in a book called The History of the Duel, I think. I have to agree, if that is a fake it is a good one. When I saw that photo it was like a kick in the gut - brought home what it was really about - people getting dead. Probably for a stupid reason too. "

(E)
"It's possible that the pic is real, of course. But there are so MANY nagging questions: the utter lack of provenance or outside confirmation that such a duel ever took place, the anonymity of the men depicted, the convenient layout of the scene, the shadows, the positioning of the head, the lack of blood...I don't know, I think the best way to explain them all is that it was staged. Occam's Razor if nothing else."
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 02 Jan 2014 22:00

It seems that this "decapitation" photo was published earlier in Robert Baldick's (1927-1972) book The Duel: A History of Duelling (1965), somewhere on page 160 or 161 (if you search for sabre inside the book, then the first hit - on page 9 - gives you "sabre duel resulting in a decapitation * 161").

And after that it keeps appearing in other books on duelling (Cohen, Amberger etc). Authors didn't have time or resources to check the authenticity of this photo.

From Google groups, rec.sport.fencing (April 1995):
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.sport.fencing/Lekj2WNwlv4

"Epee vs. Foil in a duel
...
actually, in the book, "the Duel" there is a very nice picture
(photograph not woodcut) of a turn of the century sabre duel resulting an
a decapitation, very gruesome indeed.
"
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Re:

Postby Chris Holzman » 03 Jan 2014 06:22

Ulrich von L...n wrote:It seems that this "decapitation" photo was published earlier in Robert Baldick's (1927-1972) book The Duel: A History of Duelling (1965), somewhere on page 160 or 161 (if you search for sabre inside the book, then the first hit - on page 9 - gives you "sabre duel resulting in a decapitation * 161").

And after that it keeps appearing in other books on duelling (Cohen, Amberger etc). Authors didn't have time or resources to check the authenticity of this photo.

From Google groups, rec.sport.fencing (April 1995):
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/rec.sport.fencing/Lekj2WNwlv4

"Epee vs. Foil in a duel
...
actually, in the book, "the Duel" there is a very nice picture
(photograph not woodcut) of a turn of the century sabre duel resulting an
a decapitation, very gruesome indeed.
"


I believe that it may have been Baldick's book.
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Re: Early history of the modern fencing: sabre, ...

Postby admin » 03 Jan 2014 08:17

I have always assumed that photo was faked, but I suppose it might not have been. There are quite a few photos of decapitations in China and the Middle East from the 19th century (of course in a public execution context) and they look equally unreal!

A macabre note though - for those of you familiar with the sources in Swordsmen of the British Empire, you'll know that decapitations from the front or side often (usually?) resulted in the head still being attached to the neck by some soft tissue at the nape of the neck, probably because the spine took the remaining momentum out of the blade and there are some stringy tough tendons etc at the back. Presumably this is part of the reason that executions were done from behind.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 04 Jan 2014 14:17

I don't want to examine shadows, the amount of blood on the ground, assess the "unrealness" of it, but some points should be addressed before one could make his mind about this photo:

a) bibliographical:
it is utterly strange that none of authors have provided a single clue where he saw this photo in the first place (OK, we don't know the exact year, country, location, name of participants, other circumstances etc., but where this photo had been seen / published before being included say in Baldick's book)

b) technical:
- AFAIK sabre duels with heavy (cavalry) swords were rare, probably even extremely rare events,
- completely cutting off somebody's head - even a complete novice fencer's head - with one stroke, in a duel might have been a titanic feat (see Matt's macabre note), which could have earned him a sure place among the most famous duellists of all times; with several strokes, it is a murder, because you are basically attacking a semi-incapacitated opponent,
- you perform such a feat and there is - surprise, surprise - a photographer with his huge tripod camera etc.,
- where are the seconds?

c) "contextual":
let's say that somewhere between 1870 and 1899 there was a secret duel which ended in a decapitation, also a photo was taken; all participants: the killer, the photographer, running guys kept this secret for many years, but I believe it is completely unrealistic to imagine that even 10-20 years after this affair nobody - even at his deathbed - didn't disclose this, and later some kind of rumour didn't start to circulate about this spectacular duel among fencing (or duelling) aficionados.
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Postby Ulrich von L...n » 04 Jan 2014 14:29

I wouldn't be terribly surprised that something similar had been inspired the creation of "decapitation" photo.

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