"On Fencing" by Aldo Nadi

Newsposting 11. aug. 1994 by Jessie Micales to rec.sport.fencing

Now, about Aldo Nadi's book:

I also enjoyed PORTIONS of this book. In fact, his descriptions of dueling and growing up in his father's salle were fascinating. I also liked his chapters on competition and bouting. I especially liked his recommendation that one should do "second intention" when fencing good fencers. I suspect that some of you who insist on fast, simple bladework (and who think that more complex bladework is "shoddy fencing") may disagree. I am looking forward to the release of his autobiography; he appears to be quite a character.

I also have some problems with the book. It was recommended as a book that would be good for beginners, but I do not agree with this. Nadi used an Italian grip (which was supported into the hand by wrapping it with a strip of cloth). Unfortunately, much of his technical descriptions center around this grip and parry positions and movements are described in terms of the position of the crossbar. This was very confusing and difficult to visualize, even when I knew what the parry positions are supposed to look like. I still can't figure out whether he is using seconde or octave! There are very few illustrations. A beginner could spend a lot of time trying to puzzle out these descriptions. Much of the terminology is also dated - e.g. "spanking parries" for beat parries. He had another term for opposition parries which I can't recall right now. One other thing - although the book is entitled "On Fencing," it deals exclusively with foil fencing. In fact, he makes some rather depreciating remarks about epee and sabre (calling them "lesser" weapons!)

To continue my review of Nadi's book:

As I mentioned before, I liked portions of Nadi's book but some of it is very dated. His attitude about women and fencing is antediluvian! He thinks that all women (especially American women) should fence because it is good for their figure, the way they walk, and because it will tone their breast muscles! Under no circumstances should they compete, however, because they (i.e. we) don't have the psychological stamina for it! Granted, this was written 50 years ago at a time when women didn't do a lot of sports, but I don't know any modern women that will tolerate this type of thinking. If you tried to use this book in a college classroom, you would probably be sued and/or lose your job!!! This would certainly be a major turn-off to any woman interested in fencing - especially when the book is so highly touted in the official USFA magazine.

Another depressing aspect was the advice he had for fencing masters. In his view, the fencing master is an outright dictator who demands total submission from his student. The student is not to ask any questions, and there is absolutely no fraternization or familiarity between master and student. The fencing master should criticize any (and all) moves that the student does, because no move is ever perfect, even one done by a world champion. Praise does not seem to be a technique that Nadi used. This may have worked in Europe 50 years ago, but it is not going to carry too much weight with Americans of today (especially those who just want to fence for recreation and exercise). Taking a lesson from him didn't sound like any fun. There are much more subtle (and effective) ways of instructing a student rather than by outright intimidation. He certainly would have chased me right out of the sport.

My final recommendation is to read the book, but take some of the advice with a grain of salt. Much of the information is excellent, but it has to be extracted from some antiquated opinions. An experienced fencer can do this, but a beginner could not.

The reviewer who wrote the article was one of Nadi's former students (I seem to recall). I think the USFA should have found a more impartial reviewer.

Jessie A. Micales
U.S. Forest Products Laboratory
Durendal Fencing Club