(And a Few on Other
The following fencing books are
recommended by the club’s instructor, Benerson Little. The list is not
exhaustive—there are many good fencing books not listed below. Some books
are not listed simply because the compiler has not yet read them. The
history list in particular has been severely abridged due to sheer volume.
Fencing books can be very useful, but are no substitute for proper
instruction and diligent practice. See below for suggestions on ordering.
by members are available in the Member Contribution section.
It should be noted that some
modern epeeists consider not only classical epee technique (point
especially non-electrical, and true dueling technique), but “modern
classical” (electrical pre-Harmenberg, so to speak) technique to be
obsolete. This narrow view has no basis in fact except to some degree in the
case of elite (world class, that is) epeeists. Purely classical and modern
classical epeeists can, and often do, fence as far as a solid A, or
national, level, and classical technique is the foundation of elite epee
technique. In fact, elite women’s epee retains a significant amount of
so-called classical technique, and the compiler of this list is
well-acquainted with a Greek-American epeeist some 70 years old whose
classical, very old school straight arm technique can still give even young
elite epeeists fits. One need only read Achille Edom’s 1910 book on epee
fencing (see below) to realize that much of what is considered new in epee
is in fact more than a century old. In other words, epeeists should not
consider older epee texts, nor any epee style of the past century or more,
as unworthy of practical study.
Epee Fencing: A Complete
Imre Vass, 1965 in Hungarian, 1976 first English edition, revised English
editions 1998, 2011.
The most thorough epee text ever written, highly recommended for
intermediate to advanced fencers (three to five years or more experience),
and epee coaches at all levels. The revised editions were edited by fencer
and publisher Stephan Khinoy, and amplify and supplement the original text
in places. The latest edition argues for the need for such classical
training today, in spite of the so-called “new paradigm” (see Harmenberg
below, his book is also published by Khinoy). Even for those relatively few
fencers (as compared to the entire body of epeeists) who wish to and are
able to emulate Harmenberg’s sport methods, a solid base of “classical” epee
training is still necessary. For most epeeists, even outstanding ones, it’s
all they’ll ever need. Vass trained medalists József Sákovics and Béla
Rerrich, both of whom went on to become leading epee masters and national
coaches, the former in Hungary, the latter in Sweden, with numerous
international champions to their credit. The revered József Sákovics,
considered by many to be the first “modern” epee fencer, died in 2009. The
revered Béla Rerrich died in 2005.
La spada: metodo del
Maestro caposcuola Giuseppe Mangiarotti
by Edoardo Mangiarotti, the Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, Scuola
Centrale Dello Sport, and Federazione Italiana Scherma, 1971.
Epee as taught by the famous Guiseppe Mangiarotti: a thorough exposition of
his method. Beginner-friendly, too, at least if you read Italian. Includes
excellent illustrations of blade positions, better perhaps than in any other
epee text. (Side note: the book even includes illustrations from the works
of Vass and Szabo.) Prof. Mangiarotti, who studied under Italo Santelli as
well as under other masters Italian and French, was an Olympic fencer,
seventeen-time Italian national epee champion, father of famous champion
Edoardo Mangiarotti as well as of noted fencers Dario and Mario Mangiarotti,
and founder of a famous epee school in Milan, still in existence, that
blended the French and Italian schools and produced champions for decades.
Edoardo won 13 Olympic medals and 26 World Championship medals, and was
known for his fluid, very Italian footwork as well as for his strategy of
attacking hard and fast early on to get touches, then playing a defensive
game. Highly recommended.
For the French school, see
Alaux and Cléry in the Epee, Foil, and Saber section.
Epee Combat Manual
by Terence Kingston, 2001, 2004.
Highly recommended beginning to intermediate text. Should be required
reading for new epeeists.
by Steve Paul et al, published by Leon Paul, 2011.
A very useful text for the modern competitor. Positive criticisms: thorough
and well-illustrated. Negative criticisms: 100% emphasis on epee as pure
sport (as opposed to epee as dueling swordplay or martial art modified for
sport) and a magazine-style layout, including a thin cover that will not
hold up to much wear.
Fencing with the Epee
by Roger Crosnier, 1958.
A thorough description of modern classical epee technique, still very useful
Epee 2.0: The Birth of
the New Paradigm
by Johan Harmenberg, 2007.
For advanced epeeists
and coaches only.
Some material is controversial and not all masters agree with the described
training regimen. The argument remains as to whether the described
techniques and tactics are truly revolutionary, or merely one of the final
steps in the evolution of sport epee, in that the “paradigm” takes complete
advantage of the 20th to 25th of a
provided by the electrical apparatus, and entirely disregards any
consideration of classical tempo. Importantly, the book is suited only to
this has not stopped many insufficiently experienced epeeists from foolishly
assuming they can emulate its technique and tactics. The book is based on
the Swedish epeeist’s experiences leading up to his 1977 world championship
and 1980 Olympic gold. In other words, however profound the book may be to
sport fencing, its author’s ideas were not new in 2007—only their
See also the Foil, Epee, and
Saber section, especially Alaux, Barth/Beck, Cléry, de Beaumont, Deladrier,
Lidstone, Lukovich, and Vince, as well as the Epee de Combat section in
general, and Castello in the “Classical Fencing” section.
Epee de Combat
or Dueling Sword:
Epee for Actual Combat, In
All of these works are of use
to the modern epeeist, and all demonstrate that there is, overall, little
new in modern epee fencing. Even the pistol grip was growing in popularity
in France by 1908, although its use in dueling was prohibited and it would
be the Italians who found in it the perfect replacement for their rapier
grip. Only the tactics and techniques of “outstripping” (of trying to hit a
25th/20th of a second before one gets hit), and of the unrealistic
abomination of flicking (and arguably, of foot touches), are new. The latter
two techniques are too dangerous to attempt with an
epee de combat:
they would cause little damage while leaving the user vulnerable to more
damaging, even fatal, thrusts. On the other hand, double touches have long
been the bane of the
salle or sport
fencer, even before the advent of electrical scoring and its too short
by Jules Jacob and Émile André, 1887.
Lessons of the
fencing master who essentially created modern epee in the 1870s. By the
third quarter of the19th century the foil had become a “weapon” of pure
sport, although it had been heading in this direction since the late 17th
century. M. Jacob adapted smallsword technique to create a form of swordplay
suitable to surviving a duel with the 19th century
épée de combat,
or epee, as its modern descendant is called. His book outraged many foil
purists, who subsequently went into sophistic denial when his epee technique
proved far superior to foil technique in a duel: Jacob’s less technically
proficient epeeists were deadly against even highly skilled foilists, who
maintained that the only difference between the technique of the
and of the duel was the accompanying mental attitude. (If true, attitude was
clearly deficient among the
who fought duels with Jacob’s
The book plainly points out the difference between the
jeu de salle
(sport fencing) and the
jeu de terrain
(swordplay of the duel), and reminds us that many of the best duelists were
usually not “forts
fencers, that is. The same would doubtless be true today. Highly
The Dueling Sword
by Claude La Marche, 1884,
beautifully translated into English by Brian House, 2010. Very thorough, and
the only early French epee and epee dueling manual available in English.
Real swordplay, in other words, and useful even to epeeists today. To a
degree the book is a somewhat foil-based response to the purely epee-based
technique of M. Jacob (see above). M. La Marche differs from M. Jacob on
some points, particularly on the value of attacks to the body, of which M.
La Marche is in favor. (The modern trend in epee, at least at the elite
levels, and among instructors who train less skilled fencers as if they were
elite fencers, emphasizes attacks to the body. Where to emphasize
attacks—arm or body—has been an ongoing argument ever since the flat
electric tip was introduced, rendering arm shots more difficult.) Similar
varying perspectives are seen in sport epee today. Highly recommended, and
useful even to modern competitive epee fencers.
L'Escrime a l'épée
by Anthime Spinnewyn and Paul Manoury, 1898.
Excellent work on the
epee de combat,
with much practical advice on epee fencing, training, and teaching
applicable even today.
L'escrime, le duel &
Achille Edom, 1908.
A remarkably prescient and practical work, and one that demonstrates plainly
that there is little new in epee fencing today. In particular, M. Edom, a
Frenchman, recommends the more physical Italian style over the French,
prefers the Greco offset guard and the pistol grip, and bemoans the rise of
sport technique such as wide angulations to the wrist—thrusts that with
dueling epees (with sharp points, that is) would not stop a fully developed
attack to the body, leaving the attacked with a wound to the wrist, and the
attacker with a possibly fatal wound to the chest, neck, or head. (The
origin of these angulations was due much in part to the single point type of
used by many at the time. The three point “dry” and four point electrical
greatly corrected this,
but the modern flat point inspired the popularity of severe angulations once
more.) Highly recommended.
par J.-Joseph Renaud, 1913, in
L'Escrime: fleuret, par
Kirchoffer; épée, par J. Joseph Renaud; sabre, par Léon Lécuyer.
Excellent advice on training, competition, and dueling, including a
technical argument and diagram describing when to use sixte and its counter,
and when to use quarte. Includes a discussion of the Italian school.
Although M. Renaud grudgingly admits that Italian foilists are equal to
their French counterparts, he disparages Italian epee and by implication its
rapier origins, stating categorically that the French invented epee fencing
and the Italians were no match for French epeeists. In fact, the Italian
epee school would soon rise to equal prominence with the French, with
Edoardo Mangiarotti becoming one of the three great epeeists of the 20th
century. (The other two were Frenchman Lucien Gaudin of the early 20th
century and Hungarian József Sákovics of the mid-century.) Naturally, M.
Renaud avoids any discussion of what might happen were French epeeists to
trade their epees for Italian dueling
Compare his comments on the Italian school to those of Achille Edom above.
Side bar: he notes that most French epee schools of the era had outside
gardens for practice, in addition to the indoor
Pity we don’t have these today…
L’art du duel
by Adolphe Eugene Tavernier, 1885.
Advice on dueling. Suggests tactics and techniques for the epee duel,
including how to deal with the inexperienced adversary, the average one and,
of course, the expert swordsman. Of interest to the student of fencing
history and the duelist, and one of the few books to deal with the subject
of tactics against fencers of various levels of competence.
Les secrets de l'épée
César de Bazancourt, 1862, published in English as
Secrets of the Sword
in 1900, reprint 1998.
Practical advice on hitting and not getting hit from the mid-19th century.
The Sentiment of the
Sword: A Country-house Dialogue
by explorer, adventurer, linguist, scholar, writer, and swordsman Sir
Richard Burton, 1911.
As with Bazancourt, not strictly an epee manual, but still useful for
understanding swordplay in the sense of the need to hit and not get hit, as
opposed to hitting according to conventions which deny touches not in
accordance with said conventions, but which in a duel would be quite real,
and in many cases fatal. (Thus the practical and, if in a duel, fatal flaw
in foil fencing.) Burton’s book also has some quite modern advice on
learning to fence. Burton had used the sword many times in combat, and was
known as an extraordinarily fierce fighter. Highly recommended.
See also the “Classical
Fencing” section below.
Modern Epee, Foil, and Saber
Modern Fencing: Foil,
Epee, and Saber
by Michel Alaux, 1975.
A thorough introduction to all three weapons by one of the great French
masters who taught in the US. Short but good sections on bouting tactics,
lessons, and conditioning. Excellent beginning text for the novice fencer.
The French school, of course.
The Complete Guide to
edited by Berndt Barth and Emil Beck, 2007.
The German school. A thorough, up-to-date text. Good section on theory and
performance. Good epee section, much derived from the highly successful
Tauberbischofsheim school of epee founded by the largely self-taught Emil
by Raoul Cléry, 1965.
A thorough, practical text, absolutely one of the best, by one of the great
French masters. Highly recommended. The epitome of the French school in foil
and epee, but the saber is Hungarian.
Fencing: Ancient Art and
by C-L de Beaumont, 1960, 1970, revised edition 1978.
Solid “classical” text on electric foil and epee, and dry saber by a noted
British master and Olympic fencer. Excellent, perhaps best anywhere,
description of the character and characteristics of epee fencing (de
Beaumont was an epeeist). Good chapters on tactics and training.
Modern Fencing: A
Comprehensive Manual for The Foil—The Epee—The Sabre
by Clovis Deladrier, 1948, reprint 2005.
Strong epee section. Includes
exercises, lesson plans, and excellent practical advice. Readers should not
be put off by some terms and practices that seem dated, for example
Deladrier’s use of the classic older terms
for septime and low
sixte for octave,
and his preference for the center-mount epee guard. The epee section is
worth serious study. The teaching advice and lesson plans for
called upon to teach at times is also a useful review for experienced epee
Foil, Saber, and Épée
Maxwell R. Garret, Emmanuil G. Kaidanov, and Gil A. Pezza, 1994.
A beginning to intermediate text.
Fencing: A Practical
Treatise on Foil, Épée, Sabre
by R. A. Lidstone, 1952.
Thorough text with a very useful, clearly written epee section. Plenty of
exercises for master and pupil. Discusses tactics, unusual epee
and, in the foil section, unusual displacements, most of them Italian. It
even describes Professor Guissepe Mangiarotti’s “jump back”—an epee
counter-attack made while leaping back and landing on the front foot. An
excellent practical work drawing from both the French and Italian, highly
recommended. In fact,
one of the most useful books on fencing on this entire page.
Fencing: The Modern
by Istvan Lukovich, 1975, 1986.
By the author of the noted
Electric Foil Fencing.
Good epee section. The Hungarian school.
Fencing: Techniques of
Foil, Epee and Sabre
by Brian Pitman, 1988.
Solid beginning to intermediate text.
by Bac H. Tau, 1994(?).
Includes thorough sections on training, tactics, and weapon repair.
Excellent section on physical training for fencing. Deserves more attention
than it has received. Highly recommended.
Fencing: What a
Sportsman Should Know About Technique and Tactics
by David A. Tyshler and Gennady D. Tyshler, 1995.
Good information but a very
poor, almost unintelligible at times, translation from Russian. Supplement
with the Tyshler DVDs (available from many fencing equipment suppliers), or
better yet, simply refer to the DVDs. David Tyshler is a Russian master and
Olympic and world championship medalist; Gennady Tyshler is a leading
by Joseph Vince, 1937, 1940, revised edition 1962.
Illustrated by saber champion and swashbuckling actor Cornel Wilde. Vince
was a US national coach and national saber champion who kept a
in Beverly Hills for decades, and, until 1968 when he sold it to Torao Mori,
owned Joseph Vince Company, a fencing equipment supplier that provided,
among its complete line, classically dashing fencing jackets of a fit and
style unfortunately no longer seen.
The technique described in the
books in this section is based on the 20th century rule that a foil attack
consists of a fully extended arm with point threatening—aimed at, that
is—the valid target, later relaxed to an
arm with point threatening, as opposed to the modern interpretation of an
attack which is, frankly, often indecipherable and which under the original
convention of attack would often be invalidated by a counter-attack. In
other words, an attack
consist of a bent, non-extending arm, especially one with the point aimed at
something other than the valid target. Or, put more simply, fence epee until
foil is fixed—if ever it is.
All About Fencing: An
Introduction to the Foil
by Bob Anderson, 1970, 2nd printing 1973.
The book is unique in that the reader can, by flipping pages, see properly
executed technique, and in a manner superior even to much of the modern
fencing video available. There is a hint of two of sexism common to the
era—Anderson states that only men can cope with the epee and sabre, for
example—, but few fencing books of the first seven or eight decades of the
20th century do not take such a view. Some might argue with his brief
fencing history as well, but the history in many fencing books is open for
debate, based as it often is on common understanding as opposed to rigorous
analysis. Anderson was a British Olympic fencer and Olympic coach who became
Hollywood’s leading swordplay choreographer, following in the footsteps of
Fred Cavens and Ralph Faulkner. The fencing in
The Princess Bride,
are but three of his many film works. (His book is also one of the first two
books on fencing the compiler of this list ever read. In fact, the book was
in the Mount Miguel HS library—seldom anymore will you find fencing books in
high school libraries.) Mr. Anderson died on January 1, 2012, and was
inexplicably and inexcusably snubbed by both the 2012 and 2013 Oscars during
the In Memoriam segment.
by Muriel Bower [Muriel Taitt].
Numerous editions from 1966 on,
prefer the latest (1996, Muriel Taitt). Solid beginning foil text, used over
the four decades by thousands of beginning fencers, including the compiler
of this list of books.
Electric Foil Fencing
by Istvan Lukovich, 1971, 1998.
Perhaps the most thorough electrical foil text, with an excellent section on
by Charles Selberg, 1975 and 1993 respectively.
Thorough and useful, with a good section on tactics. Prefer the 1993
Selberg also produced an extensive selection of instructional videos. Now on
DVD, they are available from Selberg Fencing at http://www.selbergfencing.com/.
Basic Foil Fencing
by Charles Simonian, 2005.
A solid introductory text.
Modern Saber Fencing
by Zbigniew Borysiuk, 2009.
Only if the modern “weapon” known as electric saber appeals to you. Still, a
very good book, and the only one in print in English. (Unintelligible
conventions plus hitting with the flat of the blade do not saber fencing
make. The flat merely chastises: it’s the edge that cuts.)
The Cléry and Lukovich
titles in the Epee, Foil, and Saber section have good instruction on
Hungarian saber. Cléry also includes some detailed history of the origin of
the Hungarian school.
Theory, Tactics, Teaching,
by Zbigniew Czajkowski, 2005.
Recommended for fencers and coaches interested in practical theory.
Czajkowski is a leading Polish master whose students in all three weapons
have earned gold at the Olympics and world championships.
A Dictionary of
Universally Used Fencing Terminology
by William M. Gaugler, 1997.
A well-researched fencing dictionary.
One Touch at a Time
by Aladar Kogler, 2005.
The psychology and tactics of competitive fencing, by an Olympic coach and
noted sports psychologist.
Escrime: Enseignement et
by Daniel Popelin, 2002.
In French. The theory and practice of teaching fencing and training fencers.
Rather than use the typical pyramidal view of fencing from its base to its
competitive elite at the point, M. Popelin suggests a truncated pyramid,
whose range is from beginner to national level, to indicate the majority of
fencers, and a cylinder on top of this to indicate international and
aspiring-to-international fencers. He astutely notes that the majority of
fencers do not seriously train to become elite fencers, for many reasons,
and thus fencers should be trained differently according to their needs. In
other words, the training of the “club” fencer, no matter how talented,
should be different from that of the elite competitor. Or put another way,
simply because a technique, classical or otherwise, is not used at the elite
level is no reason for non-elite competitors to abandon it or, worse, never
Fencing and the Master
by László Szabó, 1977, 1997.
Forward by Dr. Eugene Hamori, a student of Szabó’s, in the 1997 edition.
The best book ever
written on the subject of teaching fencing: the fencing coach’s vade-mecum.
Excellent material on theory and other aspects of fencing, besides the
practical. Intermediate to advanced fencers will also find it useful, in
particular for its sections on tactics, preparation, drilling, and stealing
distance. Szabó, who trained a number of Hungarian champions, was one of
Italo Santelli’s three protégés and a close friend of Dr. Francis Zold.
Theory, Methods and
Exercises in Fencing
by Ziemowit Wojciechowski, 1986(?).
By a world-class fencer and
master. Foil-based, but still an excellent book for fencers and coaches of
all three weapons. Good information on evaluating and dealing with an
opponent’s tactical style, especially in foil, although, again, still useful
in epee and saber.
See also Joseph Roland, The
Amateur of Fencing, in the Historical section below.
(Modern Non- Electrical
Some of the books below (Barbasetti,
Gaugler) use one of the several classical Italian parrying systems and
numberings, as opposed to the French or modified French systems and
numbering preferred by most teachers today. All of the books below are
useful to the modern electrical game, epee particularly, and to foil and
saber at their fundamental level. At some point foil and saber may return to
a more classical standing, rather than their present sport-dominated extreme
artificiality, notwithstanding that foil has always been artificial. See
also the texts listed in the Epee de Combat section.
The Art of the Foil
by Luigi Barbasetti, 1932.
The Italian foil. Includes a succinct but thorough history of fencing, a
good section on tactics, and a glossary of fencing terms in English, French,
Italian, and German. A useful book for epeeists as well. Barbasetti was one
of several Italian fencing masters who carried Italian technique to Hungary.
(Italo Santelli was the most notable of these masters. Santelli famously
said that fencing is something you do, not something you write about.)
The Art of the Sabre and
the Epee by
Luigi Barbasetti, 1936.
The epee section is quite sparse, and refers the student to the foil for
much technique. Castello’s book (see below) has a far more thorough epee
The Book of Fencing
by Eleanor Baldwin Cass, 1930.
The book is particularly noteworthy as it was, and remains, one of only a
handful of fencing texts written by a woman. Ms. Cass was an American, and
the book was, not surprisingly, published in Boston, birthplace both of
conservative American Puritanism as well as liberal progressive thought. The
epee section is sparse, as is often the case with many three-weapon texts,
but the foil section is classically thorough. The book is also a great
source on much of the fencing history of the day, and thus quite useful to
the fencing historian.
The Theory and Practice
of Fencing by
Julio Martinez Castelló, 1933.
The early 20th century Spanish school, incorporating the best of the French
and Italian. (The Neapolitan Italians were the first to do this, followed by
the Spanish and, via the Italians, the Hungarians.) Good description of the
two most classical epee styles: “straight arm” and “bent arm.” (See Lidstone
above for others.) Among Castello’s students was Joseph Velarde, the fencing
master whose stand against racial discrimination in fencing opened US
collegiate competition to black fencers.
The Science of Fencing
by William M. Gaugler, 1997.
A thorough modern description of classical Italian foil, epee, and saber
technique. Pedagogical, as one would expect, and almost old school military
in its technical presentation. Professor Gaugler, a student of Aldo Nadi and
other great classical Italian masters, died in 2011.
by Aldo Nadi, 1943, reprint 1994.
A famous Italian fencer’s
thoughts, arrogant and otherwise, on technique and competition. Nadi, held
up as a god by many modern “classical fencers,” despised the French grip as
much as many of the same “classical fencers” today despise the pistol grip
and advocate the Italian and [Nadi-despised] French grips.
That Is, To Hit and Not Get
Hit (At Least in Theory)
Rapier & “Transitional”
by Ridolfo Capo Ferro, 1610, 1629.
A beautiful 2004
Italian Rapier Combat: Capo Ferro’s ‘Gran Simulacro,’
edited by Jared Kirby, is available, as is a 2012 softcover reprint.
de Jeronimo de Carranza, que trata de la filosfia de las armas y de su
destreza, y de la aggression y defension Christiana
byJeronimo de Carranza, 1582.
Add to this the
works of his student, don Luis Pacheco y Narvaez. The book is the exposition
of la verdadera
destreza, or true
art, and as such is necessary for understanding one of the major schools of
Spanish rapier. The style is based much on complex geometric forms and is
wrapped in unnecessary esoterica such as mathematics and philosophy. As such
it was surely lucrative for fencing masters whose students were eager for
“secret knowledge.” The system was scathingly and brilliantly lampooned by
poet and swordsman Francisco de Quevedo in
Quevedo once humiliated Narvaez in a duel: with his rapier he removed
Tretas de la Vulgar y Comun Esgrima, de Espadas Sola, y Con Armas Dobles
by Manuel Cruzado y Peralta.
Saragossa, Spain: 1702.
The “common” school of fence, that is, practical swordplay of rapier and
dagger and single rapier probably used by most Spaniards in the 17th and
18th centuries, as opposed to the
di Ben Maneggiare la Spada
by Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri, 1653.
graphically illustrated treatise of the Italian
both of single sword and sword and dagger.
by Francesco Antonio Marcelli, 1686.
Detailed, practical study of
the Italian spada,
including single sword, sword and dagger, and sword versus other arms and
vice versa. A very practical book with sound, practical advice useful in
rapier, smallsword, and epee. Dedicated to Queen Christina of Sweden, who
had abdicated her throne and now resided in Rome. Greta Garbo starred as
Queen Christina in an excellent film of the same name.
See George Silver below for
a passionate argument against the rapier.
Le Maître d'Armes ou
L'Exercice de l'Epée Seule dans sa Perfection
by Andre Wernesson, Sieur de Liancour, 1692.
An excellent study of the smallsword, albeit in many ways more suited to the
of the French court. Julie d’Aubigny, aka Mademoiselle la Maupin, probably
studied under Wernesson.
L'art des armes
by le sieur Labat, 1696. English translation,
The Art of Fencing
by Andrew Mahon, 1734.
Another excellent study of the
smallsword, although Labat, like de Liancour, was not quite as
practical-minded regarding the smallsword in sudden
street fights, and the battlefield as some authors, McBane for example,
were. From his work, as well as Hope’s below, it is easy to see the origins
of sport fencing, aka foil fencing.
by Sir William Hope, 1692, 1710.
This book is
largely a reprint of
Hope’s earlier work, the
Scots Fencing Master, or
1687. An excellent
work, highly recommended. Hope was an astute amateur, and his observations
on fencing concepts are valuable to both the historical and modern fencer.
Additionally, he has much practical advice for fighting with “sharps.”
The Sword-Man’s Vade-Mecum
by Sir William Hope, 1691, 1694, 1705.
Excellent advice for surviving a fight with “sharps.” Practical advice for
dueling and “rancounters” (rencontres)
or street fights.
Advice to His Scholar
by Sir William Hope, 1692.
Rules and advice, including technique, for “school play”—that is, for sport
fencing. Ever wonder where foil conventions and rules come from? In spite of
most historical texts noting that conventions originally derived for reasons
of safety, it is clear that sport, convenience, and appearance also played a
major role, perhaps even the greater one, starting in the late 17th century,
if not much earlier.
New Method of Fencing
by Sir William Hope, 1707, 1714.
Hope’s exposition of his conversion to the hanging guard, as opposed to the
more common guards in quarte and tierce, for the smallsword, sheering sword,
and backsword. The book has been reprinted in
edited by Mark Rector, 2001.
The English Master of
Defence: or, the Gentleman’s Al-a-Mode Accomplishment
by Zackary Wylde, 1711.
A difficult read at times,
especially for those without a strong base in classical fencing, smallsword,
and backsword/broadsword technique, not to mention in English syntax and
phrases circa 1700, but the language is colorful, the writer charmingly
self-confident, and his descriptions—once deciphered—proof that there is
little new in “modern” fencing. Covers smallsword, broadsword, quarterstaff,
Donald McBane, 1728.
McBane was a Scottish soldier, swordsman, fencing master, duelist, prize
fighter, and pimp whose deeds and escapades began in the late 17th century
and continued into the 18th. Highly recommended, almost certainly the best
text on practical swordplay for the duel, affray,
street fight, &c, based as it is on his own extensive experience bloodying
his sword. The book has been reprinted in
edited by Mark Rector, 2001.
Readers of the modern edition
may choose to disregard the photographs of McBane’s technique and refer
instead to his descriptions.
Traité des Armes
by P. J. F. Girard, 1737, 1740, et al.
Almost certainly the best book on the smallsword ever written, superior even
to Angelo’s work. Not only beautifully illustrated, the book describes
smallsword technique in detail, including its use on the battlefield against
other weapons. It emphasizes practical swordplay for the duel as well as for
the affray or
against foreign fencing styles, and for battle. Girard was a naval officer.
The School of Fencing
by Domenico Angelo, 1787.
Several modern reprints available. The height of the 18th century French
school, though by now the smallsword was strictly an accoutrement of dress
and occasional dueling arm. Fencing for the gentleman.
The Amateur of Fencing
by Joseph Roland, 1809.
Highly recommended for all
fencers. Although the technical material is quite useful to the smallsword
fencer and worth reading by the modern fencer, the book’s real value lies in
Roland’s philosophy of teaching fencing and learning to fence. Specifically,
he attempts to go beyond the mere mechanical practices of teaching fencing
and of fencing itself, practices still far too common even today. In fact,
such mechanical description is the entire content, or nearly so, of most
books on fencing, then and now. Roland wished to go beyond this and develop
a sense of tempo, tactics, awareness, and independence in the student. Most
valuable are several of his admonitions, for example, “[T]he pupil, who I
wish at all times to make use, but not too hastily, and without partiality,
of his own judgement, and not upon every occasion to take for certain
evidence any proposition upon the authority alone of a master, merely
because he is a master, or that the same may be found in print.” Although
there are masters who have embraced this philosophy today (including the
compiler’s), the majority do not appear to have done so and remain instead
“mechanical.” Of these, a fair number reign at the center of a cult of
personality, with the result that their students are anything but
independent on the
unfortunately, in life.
Paradoxes of Defence
by George Silver, 1599, reprint 1968 et al.
A vigorous defense of English cut-and-thrust swordplay for dueling or
battle, and excoriation of the rapier and rapier play. Contains perhaps the
best description ever put to paper of the virtues of fencing, as well as the
best examination for qualification as a fencing master or expert. (Yes, if
you want to be an expert swordsman or swordswoman, you must be able to
defeat unskilled fencers and not be thrown by their lack of regular
technique and tactics! If you can’t, you’re merely a common fencer best
suited to engaging others of your ilk. The fencing may not be pretty when
you engage the unskilled, the hack, and the extremely unconventional, but
you must be able to defeat
inferior fencer, not just those with conventional technique and tactics.
Further, you must be able to hold your own against your equals, no matter
their style, and force superior fencers to work hard for their victories.)
The Use of the Broad
Thomas Page. Norwich, England: M. Chase, 1746.
18th century broadsword technique, including that of the Scottish
Highlanders, applicable also to the backsword and cutlass.
edited by Paul Wagner and Mark Rector, 2004.
Five late 18th and early 19th
century broadsword manuals (Anti-Pugilism
by “a Highland Officer,” 1790;
MacGregor’s Lecture on the
Art of Defence,
1791; On the Use of
the Broadsword by
Henry Angelo, 1817;
The Art of Defence on Foot with the Broad Sword and Saber,
by R. K. Porter, 1804; and
by Thomas Mathewson, 1805). Practical cut-and-thrust swordplay.
The Art of the Dueling
Settimo del Frate explaining Guiseppe Radaelli’s saber method, translated
and explained by Christopher Holzman, 2011.
Del Frate’s original works were published in 1868 and 1872. Indispensable,
along with the Wright/Masiello/Ciullini work below, for understanding
Radaelli’s method of saber. It changed Italian saber fencing forever, and is
the root of the Hungarian school.
Lessons in Sabre,
Singlestick, Sabre & Bayonet, and Sword Feats; or, How to Use a
by J. M. Waite, 1880.
Superb text on practical
swordplay, highly recommended.
The Broadsword: as Taught
by the Celebrated Italian Masters, Signors Masiello and Ciullini, of
Francis Vere Wright, Ferdinando Masiello, and [first name unknown] Ciullini,
1889. An English
text on the Italian school of the light or dueling saber established by
Guiseppe Radaelli in the 1870s. Maestro Masiello was a student of Radaelli;
Ciullini probably was as well. Soon this Radaellian school would be
transformed by Italo Santelli (a student of Carlo Pessina, who was a student
of both Radaelli and Masaniello Parise) and László Borsody into the
Hungarian saber school that would lead to Hungary’s half century reign in
international sport saber competition.
by Alfred Hutton, 1889, modern reprints available.
Practical swordplay for the light saber (sorry,
fans, it’s not what you think) or even backsword, and also the “great sword”
and stick. Highly recommended.
by R. C. Allanson-Winn, 1890, reprints 2006, 2009.
Excellent work on practical cut-and-thrust swordplay, highly recommended.
See also McBane and Wylde in
the Smallsword section.
A Complete Bibliography
of Fencing & Duelling
by Carl A. Thimm. A
very useful, largely complete bibliography through the late 19th century.
Originally published in 1896; 1968 and 1999 reprints are available, though
often pricey. Look instead for the free pdf on Google books.
The History of Fencing &
The Secret History of
the Sword by
Christoph Amberger, 1999.
By a veteran of the Mensur.
Croiser le Fer: Violence
et Culture de L’épée dans la France Modern (XVIe-XVIIIe Siècle)
by Pascal Brioist, Hervé Drévillon, and Pierre Serna, 2002.
Excellent scholarly study of swordplay and dueling in France from the 16th
to 18th centuries. Highly recommended.
Schools and Masters of
Egerton Castle, 1885, reprints 1968, 2003.
European fencing to the late 19th century. Highly recommended.
By the Sword
by Richard Cohen, 2002.
A history of fencing, including the modern schools, by a British Olympic
fencer. Highly recommended.
The History of Fencing
by William M. Gaugler, 1998.
A detailed history and analysis of the Italian schools into the first half
of the 20th century, with a fair, if quite limited, discussion of French
schools. The modern schools, including the revolutionary Hungarian (or
Hungarian-Italian) saber school, are not described.
Old Sword Play
by Alfred Hutton, 1892, reprint 2001.
A brief description of European fencing technique over the ages.
The Sword and the
Alfred Hutton, 1901, reprint 1995.
A history of European fencing and swords.
En garde: Du duel à
Pierre Lacaze, 1991.
Well-illustrated popular history of mostly French fencing and swordplay.
Martini A-Z of Fencing
by E.D. Morton, 1988.
Not a book on fencing history
per se, but a compendium that includes much fencing history, as well as
fencing terms, concepts, and trivia.
Swordsmen of the Screen:
From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York
by Jeffrey Richards, 1977.
The history of
swordsmen and swordswomen in film to 1977. Swashbuckling actors and the
fencing masters who doubled for them.
by Gerard Six, photography by Vincent Lyky, 1998.
“Coffee table” fencing book covering everything from history to technique,
albeit briefly, and mostly French. Well-photographed.
Brussels, 1905. For
those interested in the arguments and squabbles that created modern sport
fencing rules—and how sport interests came to dominate in epee competition,
rather than having epee competition emulate dueling or the
as closely as possible.
Reclaiming the Blade
by Galatia Films, DVD, 2009.
A mostly well-intentioned
attempt to “reclaim” authentic Western swordplay and historical fencing, but
unfortunately marred by the heavy-handed, ideological manner in which it
attacks sport fencing and some other forms of swordplay, not to mention by
its egregious overuse of Hollywood references and interviews—Hollywood
depictions of swordplay are usually divorced entirely from reality. At its
best, the documentary extols Western swordplay. At its worst, it further
divides rather than unites the several major fencing communities. To pick a
bone with the film’s makers, although many modern competitive fencers often
do not practice the ideal of “hitting and not getting hit,” there are
plenty, epeeists especially, who do understand the concept well, can execute
it exceptionally well when necessary, and are happy to argue the point,
weapon in hand, with any fencer of any sort. In fact, some of us trained
entirely under masters who fenced when dueling was still practiced and the
saber was still a military arm. To argue the reality of historical and
classical fencing is double-edged and often cuts hypocritically: excessive
“contre-temps” or double-touches have been the bane of fencing for
centuries, and modern “historical” and “classical” fencers are no less
immune to them than were the fencers of the past whom they seek to emulate.
Useful Japanese Texts
Tengu Geijutsuron (The
Demon’s Sermon on the Martial Arts)
by Issai Chozanshi [Niwa Jurozaemon Tadaaki], translated by William Scott
Includes the famous story illustrating the psychology of swordplay,
Neko no Myojutsu (The
Mysterious Technique of the Cat).
Originally written in the early 18th century.
Heihō Kaden Sho (The
Sword and the Mind)
by Kamiizumi Hidetsuna, Yagyū Muneyoshi, and Yagyū Munenori, translated by
Hiroaki Sato, 1985.
Originally compiled in the 17th century.
Go Rin No Sho (A Book of
by Miyamoto Musashi, translated by Victor Harris, 1974.
Completed in 1645, shortly
before the author’s death. Numerous editions available, including an
excellent translation by William Scott Wilson. A classic on swordplay,
strategy, and tactics.
The Unfettered Mind
by Takuan Sōhō, translated by William Scott Wilson, 1986.
Three essays on swordsmanship (Fudōchishinmyōroku,
by a Zen master and contemporary of Musashi. Written in the early 17th
Books by Members
The Golden Age of
Piracy: The Truths Behind the Myths
(working title), formerly
The Great Pirate Legends
Debunked: Uncovering the Truth About History's Most Notorious Pirates
by Benerson Little.
How History's Greatest
Pirates Pillaged, Plundered, and Got Away With It: The Stories, Techniques,
and Tactics of the Most Feared Buccaneers from 1500-1800
by Benerson Little
(Fair Winds Press, 2010).
Pirate Hunting: The
Fight Against Pirates, Privateers, and Sea Raiders From Antiquity to the
(Potomac Books, 2010).
The Buccaneer’s Realm:
Pirate Life on the Spanish Main, 1674-1688
by Benerson Little
(Potomac Books, 2007).
The Sea Rover’s
Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730
by Benerson Little
(Potomac Books, 2005).
Design: Things that All Drug Designers Should Know
by David Young
A Practical Guide for Applying Techniques to Real World Problems
by David Young
Suggestions on Ordering
Several of the listed titles (Borysiuk,
Czajkowski, Harmenberg, Holzman, Kogler, Lukovich, Szabo, and Vass) are
available directly from the publisher, Swordplay Books Online (http://www.swordplaybooks.com/),
and delivery may be quicker than in going through a third party vendor who
orders the title from the publisher. Other titles may be ordered from
various online retailers, and occasionally may be found in bookstores. Most
of the titles listed are out of print. Many of the older titles are in the
public domain and are available as .pdf files on Google Books and other
electronic book sites. Some of the eighteenth century titles in English are
published as inexpensive reprints by Gale ECCO and EEBO (Early English Books
Online), and are available via Amazon and other online bookstores. Others
may be found in various national digital libraries.
Bookfinder.com compares prices
of books in and out of print among online retailers, including independent
booksellers; Fetchbook.info compares prices among online retailers and some
of the major independent bookstores; and Abebooks.com and Alibris.com permit
title searches through the stock of thousands of independent booksellers.
Search these sites to get an idea of price range before searching on eBay—although
some books on eBay are good, even great, deals, some are grossly overpriced
Many fencing suppliers carry
fencing books in stock, although the number of titles may be limited. Some
libraries carry fencing books, although the selection is often slim. Most of
the books listed above are dated in regard to modern competitive rules,
practices, and uniform and equipment requirements. Always refer to the
current USFA rule book and USFA operations manual for competition rules and
regulations. Both are available for download at
Copyright 2008-2013 Benerson
Little. Revised May 2013.