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Fencing Books

Fencing Books

 

(And a Few on Other Subjects)

 

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.

 

Book reviews by members are available in the Member Contribution section.

  

Modern Epee

It should be noted that some modern epeeists consider not only classical epee technique (point d’arrêt technique, 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 System by 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.

 

Epee Fencing 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 today.

  

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 second tempo provided by the electrical apparatus, and entirely disregards any consideration of classical tempo. Importantly, the book is suited only to truly advanced fencers, although 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 publication was.

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.

  

The Epee de Combat or Dueling Sword:

Epee for Actual Combat, In Other Words

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 timing.

 

Le jeu de l'épée 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 salle and of the duel was the accompanying mental attitude. (If true, attitude was clearly deficient among the fleurettistes who fought duels with Jacob’s épéistes.) 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 tireurs”—good sport fencers,  that is. The same would doubtless be true today. Highly recommended.

 

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 & l'épée by 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 point d’arrét used by many at the time. The three point “dry” and four point electrical points d’arrét greatly corrected this, but the modern flat point inspired the popularity of severe angulations once more.) Highly recommended.

 

Épée, 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 spadas. 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 salle. 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 by Baron 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. Highly recommended.

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 Fencing, 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 Beck.

 

Escrime 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 Modern Sport 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 low quarte 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 advanced epeeists called upon to teach at times is also a useful review for experienced epee coaches.

 

Foil, Saber, and Épée Fencing by 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 en gardes, 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 International Style 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.

 

Fencing 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 Russian master.

 

Fencing 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 salle 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.

  

 

Modern Foil

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 extending 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 should not 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 Star Wars, The Princess Bride, and Alatriste 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.

 

Foil Fencing 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 fencing theory.

 

Foil and The Revised Foil by Charles Selberg, 1975 and 1993 respectively. Thorough and useful, with a good section on tactics. Prefer the 1993 Revised Foil. 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

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, and Training

 

Understanding Fencing 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 entraînement 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 learn it.

 

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. Highly recommended. 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.



 

Classical Fencing”

(Modern Non- Electrical Technique)

 

 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 section.

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.

 

On Fencing 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.

 

Historical Fencing

That Is, To Hit and Not Get Hit (At Least in Theory)

Rapier & “Transitional” Rapier

 

   Gran Simulacro by Ridolfo Capo Ferro, 1610, 1629. A beautiful 2004 hardcover edition, Italian Rapier Combat: Capo Ferro’s ‘Gran Simulacro,’ edited by Jared Kirby, is available, as is a 2012 softcover reprint.

 

 Libro 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 El Buscón. Quevedo once humiliated Narvaez in a duel: with his rapier he removed Narvaez's hat.

 

Las 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 verdadera destreza described above.

 

L'Arte di Ben Maneggiare la Spada by Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri, 1653. Beautifully and graphically illustrated treatise of the Italian spada, both of single sword and sword and dagger.

 

Regole Della Scherma 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.

 

Smallsword

 

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 gentilshommes 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 rencontres, 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.

 

The Compleat Fencing-Master by Sir William Hope, 1692, 1710. This book is largely a reprint of Hope’s earlier work, the Scots Fencing Master, or Compleat Small-Swordman, 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.

 

The Fencing-Master’s 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 Highland Swordsmanship, 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, and wrestling.

 

Expert Sword-Man’s Companion by 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, rencontre, street fight, &c, based as it is on his own extensive experience bloodying his sword. The book has been reprinted in Highland Swordsmanship, 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 rencontre, even against foreign fencing styles, and for battle. Girard was a naval officer. Highly recommended.

 

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 piste or, unfortunately, in life.

 

Backsword, Broadsword, Cut-and-Thrust

 

 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 routinely 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 any 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 Sword by Thomas Page. Norwich, England: M. Chase, 1746. 18th century broadsword technique, including that of the Scottish Highlanders, applicable also to the backsword and cutlass.

 

    Highland Broadsword, 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 Fencing Familiarized, by Thomas Mathewson, 1805). Practical cut-and-thrust swordplay.

 

The Art of the Dueling Sabre by 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 Cut-And-Thrust Sword 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 Florence, by 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.

 

Cold Steel by Alfred Hutton, 1889, modern reprints available. Practical swordplay for the light saber (sorry, Star Wars fans, it’s not what you think) or even backsword, and also the “great sword” and stick. Highly recommended.

 

 Broadsword and Singlestick 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.

 

Additional Bibliography

 

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 & Swordplay

 

 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 Fence by 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 Centuries by Alfred Hutton, 1901, reprint 1995. A history of European fencing and swords.

 

En garde: Du duel à l’escrime by 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.

 

Escrime 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.

IIIe Congrès International d’Escrime, 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 jeu de terrain 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 Wilson, 2006. 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 Five Rings) 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, Reirōshū, and Taiaki) by a Zen master and contemporary of Musashi. Written in the early 17th century.

  

 

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. (Forthcoming…?).

 

 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 Present by Benerson Little (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).

 

  Computational Drug Design: Things that All Drug Designers Should Know by David Young (Wiley, 2009).

 

 Computational Chemistry: A Practical Guide for Applying Techniques to Real World Problems by David Young (Wiley, 2001).

 

 

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 or over-bid.

 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 http://www.usfencing.org/.

 

 

Copyright 2008-2013 Benerson Little. Revised May 2013. 

 


Copyright © 2004 Huntsville Fencing Club. All rights reserved.
Revised: January 08, 2015 .