Reviewed by William M. Gaugler, PhD.
Director of the Military Fencing Masters Program and Professor of Classical Archeology at San Jose State University, California. Dr. Gaugler was a pupil of Maestro Aldo Nadi, Maestro Umberto Di Paola and Maestro Giorgio Passina. He holds a fencing master's diploma from the Academia Nazionale di Scherma in Naples, Italy.
Fifty years ago Maestro Aldo Nadi's landmark publication, On Fencing, first appeared in print. On that occasion Time magazine (19 April 1943, pp. 54-56) devoted a two-page article to Nadi, in which it noted that he was "acknowledged the world's finest foilsman." In 1943 the hard-cover edition of On Fencing sold for three dollars a copy. By the late 1950s it had become the most sought-after volume of its kind, and a collector's item; in the rare instance that a copy appeared on the market, it cost between sixty and one hundred dollars. Indeed, the book was so difficult to find that third and fourth generations of xerox copies circulated among fencers for years.
Why was Nadi's publication so important? Because he was one of the most successful fencers of our century, a super champion, virtually unbeatable in all three weapons. In the 1920 Olympic Games at Antwerp Nadi won the silver medal in individual sabre and gold medals for team foil, sabre, and epee. After the Games he turned professional, and during the following decade and a half defeated at foil and epee every amateur and professional willing to face him on the fencing strip, including a generation of French champions such as Gaudin and Cattiau. Lucien Gaudin, who won gold medals in individual foil and epee at the 1928 Olympic Games at Amsterdam said that Aldo Nadi, "the thoroughbred of Italian fencing, will remain invincible for twenty years." And this proved to be true. In addition to being one of the finest textbooks on foil technique ever written, On Fencing is also highly readable, and contains recollections of Aldo Nadi's duel with Adolfo Cotronei, as well as important insights into his fencing tactics.
In his autobiography (1), Aldo Nadi describes his own approach:
"I started revising the system which had actually created me (2), discarding all that I thought superfluous. To the ultimate end of a fully dramatic interpretation of both my character and nervous assets I felt that I had to produce a highly personal style and pattern of combat..."
What, in fact, distinguishes Nadi's book, On Fencing, from all other textbooks on foil is the wealth of technical and tactical advice he provides.
In summary, On Fencing is a comprehensive guide to foil technique, suitable for teaching both the beginner and advanced fencer. It takes the reader step-by-step through the fundamental elements of fencing (footwork, simple and circular parries, and simple and compound attacks) to the most advanced fencing actions (counterattacks and countertime). For the experienced competitor the sections on combat training and competition will be of unquestionable value. Only a fencer with Nadi's record of achievement could write with such complete authority. And what is especially significant is the fact that his advice is as valid today as it was fifty years ago, despite electrical weapons and rule changes. On Fencing is a work of cardinal importance, the testament of perhaps the greatest swordsman of our time; it goes almost without saying that it should be in the library of every serious fencer and aspiring champion.
It should be noted that Laureate Press, in the near future, will also publish Aldo Nadi's autobiography, as a companion volume to On Fencing. ZZ