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Thread: Book Review: The Art of the Dueling Sabre

  1. #1

    Book Review: The Art of the Dueling Sabre

    My wife gave me a copy of Chris Holzman's new book, The Art of The Dueling Sabre for Christmas. While it's been mentioned here on SFI, I haven't seen a real review of it here yet, so I thought I'd write one. Short version: go buy it! Long version: keep reading:

    The bulk of this book is a translation of Settimo Del Frate's 1876 textbook on Maestro Guiseppe Radaelli's sabre and sword method, but Holzman has added a wealth of supporting materials (more on that below). It's a hardback, with a very stylish cover. This is a gorgeous book - I particularly enjoy the 19th-century feel of the fonts used, and how the design feels "old-timey" without being annoying or inconvenient. The crowning touch is that the the oversize fold-out plates from the original are reproduced here - there are ten 21.5"-long plates at the back of the book. These are fantastic - beautiful artwork, and also quite useful for the fencer studying the material.

    One of the things I liked in Holzman's introduction was his acknowledgement of the historical fencing community, and the reality that many in this community must practice without regular access to instructors. As we shall see below, it is clear that he kept this in mind while writing the additional materials for the book. The Historical Note does a nice job of putting Del Frate's book in it's historical context - some biographical information about both Radaelli and Del Frate, some context of who this was written for, and even a little bit of information about Maestro Parise, the great rival to this system of fence.

    Book I is Del Frate's "Instruction for Sabre Fencing". The translation is very clear and readable. The system taught here is clearly focused on combat applications - both the battlefield and dueling. (It's interesting that a contemporary commenter, Maestro Masiello, stated that this book does not address the sporting uses of the sabre - supporting my view that this book is focused on combative applications.) One of the key differences from other classical Italian sabre systems is that the elbow is the point of rotation for cuts, instead of the wrist. Another difference, much more important to me personally, is that it starts with a wider stance and has a shorter lunge. Due to lower back injuries I've had a lot of trouble with the deep lunges used in other classical Italian systems.

    Book II is Del Frate's "Instruction for Fencing With the Sword". This covers Radaelli's system for sword (spada, which seems to be épée, not foil). This is a hybrid French-Italian system, and that's all I know about it at this time. I am interested in this, but I haven't really studied it in depth, and don't have much to say about it. The title Holzman (or his publisher) chose for this book focuses on sabre, and all the additional materials he created are also focused on sabre. The impression I get is that not many people will be drawn to this book by the sword section, but I would like to spend some time going through this in more detail. I understand and share the interest in sabre over dueling sword, but I am glad that this section was translated and included. One of my pet peeves is when incomplete translations are all that is available for some important book. Fortunately, that is not the case here.

    Book III is Holzman's additional materials. This is what elevates this book into "important" status for me - while I would have been very happy to just have a translation of Del Frate, this section is priceless. As I mentioned above, Holzman seems to really get that many historical fencers are on their own in many ways. So he includes the following in this section:

    • Information on fencing equipment needed for this art, including protective gear.
    • Explanations and clarifications of the material in Book I, to really help a modern reader understand what Del Frate is saying.
    • Solo drills, which is brilliant - even students like me, blessed to have qualified teachers, will have more opportunities to practice solo than with teachers or training partners. I wish every WMA book included solo drills for the lone students trying to work on their art.
    • Paired drills - of course, you can only go so far with solo work. And I have several books on my shelf that present the art, but don't equip the student with any way to practice it - they are left to create their own drills. I am glad that Holzman has included both sections of drills.
    • Information on conducting individual lessons, group lessons, and then a sample lesson that could be given.


    The eight appendices continue the focus from Book III by adding materials that would enable a new student of Radaelli's sabre to make the most of their study. These appendices include:

    • A detailed description of the hand positions used in classical Italian fencing, something Del Frate never explains in his books.
    • An explanation of cutting with the false edge, which is important to the use of the sabre, but almost never mentioned in detail in period treatises.
    • Instructions for creating training equipment.
    • Instructions for cleaning and maintaining a sabre.
    • A brief review of the 1873 Italian Cavalry sabre, the service weapon that Del Frate actually had a hand in designing.
    • A translation of a chapter entitled "Concerning the Duel" from Maestro Giordano Rossi's 1885 treatise. This deals with the rules before, during, and after a duel - what was expected from the gentlemen involved, their seconds, and anyone else connected with the affair. This is a wonderful resource, and helps give a student of this art some perspective on the way it was used originally.
    • A sample dueling contract, quoted in full from Francis Vere Wright's 1889 treatise.
    • There's a graphic depiction of Holzman's fencing lineage, back to the late 1700's. I thought that was a nice touch.


    The book also includes a glossary and a bibliography. Then there's fifty+ pages of synoptic tables to supplement Book III, which is useful section, adding a lot of practical value to the book.

    This may be the most completely self-contained fencing book I've ever seen. Everything from maintaining the weapon, building training equipment, an excellent translation of an important treatise, enough additional material to clarify and explain that treatise, historical materials to put it in context and help the student understand the way in which it was used...this is an important book. I think any martial artist with an interest in sabre, or in any Italian martial systems, owes it to themselves to acquire a copy as soon as they possibly can. I suspect pretty strongly that even those in the WMA community who aren't interested in sabre, or in Italian martial arts, would still find a lot that is valuable in this volume.

    Highly recommended.

    Regards,

    -Tyson
    Tyson Wright
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    Sacramento Sword School

    There is no movement in this science which does not have a weakness - Diogo Gomes de Figueyredo, Oplosophia
    On the contrary, I’ve always said and it’s remained clear to me through experience that every dritto has its riverso, that is, that every blow has its parry. - Giovanni dall’Agocchie
    , Dell’Arte di Scrimia

  2. #2
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    Interesting !

  3. #3
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    This is an *extremely* good book, and I say that as someone who is no more a classical fencer than he is an Olympic downhill skiier. (You may have noted the distinct lack of mountains in Illinois.) The original work is itself a very detailed curriculum, but Chris has turned it into a self-contained study-guide for 19th c sabre that will serve as course book for study groups for a lifetime. Really. There is enough material in here that you *could* expand to other material, but you'd have a self-contained and thorough curriculum even if you did not.
    Greg Mele
    Chicago Swordplay Guild

    Freelance Academy Press: Books on Western Martial Arts and Historical Swordsmanship

    Chivalric Fighting Arts Association

    "If the tongue could cut
    as the sword can do,
    the dead would be infinite."

    Filippo Vadi, "Arte Dimicandi Gladiatoria" (c.1482 - 87)

  4. #4
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    OK, I have finally found a problem with this book: the material is horribly addictive. And Chris is an enabler, based on his excellent additional material. That's right, Voice Of Experience now says that if you want to add a little bit of Radaellian sabre to your curriculum, don't think you can do a little bit in the beginning and then still switch to your regularly scheduled programming; powerful circular cuts and sweet parries combine to produce flowing exercises which impart that warm I-am-an-awesome-swordsman glow. I'm not saying other stuff isn't fun too, but this material is hard to put down, and easy to incorporate the skills it develops into your other arts.

  5. #5
    Tyson,
    Thank you for posting this detailed review. I am not a historical fencer, but I do collect 19th century military swords and this book sounds like it will complement my collecting interests.

    Jonathan

  6. #6
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    Practically a one stop shop for Radaelli. All I want now is for Chris to make the DVD - Chris, when will the DVD come out......!

  7. #7
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    I forgot to ask - did Radaelli and Del Frate join the Monferrato Cavalry before or after the battle of Solferino?

  8. #8
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    Hi Tyson - Thank you very much for a fantastic review. I very much appreciate any commentary or criticism - it will only help me in later revisions to the work, or in later works. I have a facebook page set up for the book, at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Ar...19564354782848 - and one of the first few posts is a list of known errata. As others are located (or reported to me on the facebook page - don't be shy if you see something) they'll be updated. I wish there weren't any errors, but unfortunately things do slip through the multiple editing processes.

    Paul - regarding your question with regard to when Radaelli and Del Frate joined the Monferrato, I haven't a clue. Jacopo Gelli, in his Bibliography merely says that Del Frate was an 1856 graduate of the university of Pavia, with a law degree, and that he joined in 1859, and that he served in the Monferrato during the Austrian campaign. He goes on to say that Radaelli and Del Frate met in the cavalry, and became friends, doubtless due to fencing. Radaelli was a volunteer, but not an officer. I have an article somewhere that if I recall correctly was about Masiello or Barbasetti, that gave Radaelli's rank as sergeant, when discussing the history of Italian sabre fencing. The same article states that Del Frate wrote the book for his friend Radaelli because Radaelli was illiterate. I don't have the cite for that article in front of me, but I know it was from the early 1900s, and in English in a university magazine (I found it on books.google some years ago) so the odds of its accuracy are reasonably high. Of Radaelli, directly, Gelli says that "in 1859, with the glorious war breaking out, Radaelli voluntarily joined the Monferrato cavalry regiment, with which he made the campaign". From his other statements prior, it sounds as though Radaelli came to Monferrato at some point prior to that, having left his older brother's school in Milano over a difference of opinion, and fell into a crowd of military fencers, which included then Capt. Avogadro di Novarra, and Lt. Del Frate. Since the war itself broke out in May of 1859, I suppose it could go either way. I'd think that Gelli would hesitate to say that Radaelli and Del Frate 'made the campaign' if they weren't present for most of it - but I just don't know. I somehow doubt enlistment records like that exist anymore, either.

    As for a DVD - it has been discussed, but I'm not sure there is really enough interest to make it break even. I'm honestly more interested in convincing someone that there is enough interest for a run of decently priced curved dueling/practice sabre blades based on my late 19th century original.

    Thanks again,

    Chris
    Christopher A. Holzman, Esq.
    Moniteur d' Armes
    "[T]he calm spirit is the only force that can defeat instinct, and render us masters of all our strengths" -Settimo Del Frate, 1876.

    Author of The Art of the Dueling Sabre
    ViaHup.com - Wiki di Scherma Italiana

  9. #9
    Are there any plans to release this book through Amazon.co.uk?

    I am really drooling over this book but with postage to the UK it would cost me almost $100, I am not a rich man so I could never afford this.

    Any info would be appreciated.

    Thanks

  10. #10
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    Oof. That's a nasty shipping cost. I'll check with the publisher - you might want to email him as well. I understand Ken's book may be available that way, and we have the same publisher.

    Chris
    Christopher A. Holzman, Esq.
    Moniteur d' Armes
    "[T]he calm spirit is the only force that can defeat instinct, and render us masters of all our strengths" -Settimo Del Frate, 1876.

    Author of The Art of the Dueling Sabre
    ViaHup.com - Wiki di Scherma Italiana

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by G_Smart View Post
    Are there any plans to release this book through Amazon.co.uk?

    I am really drooling over this book but with postage to the UK it would cost me almost $100, I am not a rich man so I could never afford this.

    Any info would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    I've spoken with the publisher, and have been informed that the website is currently screwing up the calculation for shipping overseas. Please contact the publisher, and he can provide you a solution. I think the shipping for up to 3 copies would be under $20.00. His contact email is publisher at swordplaybooks.com. Steve asked me to spread the word that for anyone overseas, he's got a solution for the problem (the ability to generate a coupon code to offset the difference), but not currently a fix for whatever strange error the website is making when it figures shipping costs.

    I guess that is why I'm glad I'm just an author, not a publisher/vendor. That is a headache I don't really want.
    Last edited by Chris Holzman; 01-25-2012 at 11:34 AM.
    Christopher A. Holzman, Esq.
    Moniteur d' Armes
    "[T]he calm spirit is the only force that can defeat instinct, and render us masters of all our strengths" -Settimo Del Frate, 1876.

    Author of The Art of the Dueling Sabre
    ViaHup.com - Wiki di Scherma Italiana

  12. #12
    Thanks for the reply Chris, will contact publisher.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Holzman View Post
    Steve asked me to spread the word that for anyone overseas, he's got a solution for the problem (the ability to generate a coupon code to offset the difference), but not currently a fix for whatever strange error the website is making when it figures shipping costs.
    Chris, for us guys overseas Amazon is the best way to get an ensured delivery without any custom problems at moderate shipping costs.
    Do you have any idea why Ken's book would be available via Amazon UK but not your's?

    Best regards,
    Thomas
    student at Alte Kampfkunst HEMA Academy
    editor at Messer Magazin Europe's knife magazine, est. 1999

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Laible View Post
    Chris, for us guys overseas Amazon is the best way to get an ensured delivery without any custom problems at moderate shipping costs.
    Do you have any idea why Ken's book would be available via Amazon UK but not your's?

    Best regards,
    Thomas
    Not a clue. I'm just the author - I don't know what the business specifics are. In any event, the book is printed in the USA, not over in Europe, so it still has to get shipped there - and with Amazon, as I understand it, the publisher bears the shipping costs - so one way or the other those costs have to get covered. If the book were being printed in Europe, it might make more sense. I just don't know. If I were to hazard a guess it may have something to do with having to go through a special printer that could provide and insert the quad-panel 8 x 23" plates.

    My suggestion is that you contact the publisher and see if something will work out for you - particularly if you have friends that want a copy - I understand the actual shipping cost will allow for 1 to 3 books for the same shipping price because of the weight/size of parcel or somesuch.

    Best,

    Chris
    Christopher A. Holzman, Esq.
    Moniteur d' Armes
    "[T]he calm spirit is the only force that can defeat instinct, and render us masters of all our strengths" -Settimo Del Frate, 1876.

    Author of The Art of the Dueling Sabre
    ViaHup.com - Wiki di Scherma Italiana

  15. #15

    Video suggestion

    Hola Chris,

    You might consider following Freelance's example. A DVD is a big step to take initially but a downloadable video doesn't need to cover 2 hours and can provide bite-sized chunks of material in an ongoing series. You could also pair the videos with PDF course materials like workbooks, drills, or commentary on key points of form.

    Likewise, the online videos can be revised easily as needed.

    Also, I'm very much enjoying working from the material in the book.
    We had a rock-em-sock-em Sunday a couple of weeks ago with sabres in hand.
    I love the emphasis on fighting in earnest: absolutely destructive power generation, redirecting violent power, and keeping your mind/place in the fight.
    It's brutal lovely.

    ~P.
    Last edited by R. Curtis; 01-25-2012 at 01:56 PM. Reason: (opinion of book)
    Puck Curtis
    Master at Arms - San Jose Fencing Master's Program

    Spanish Swordplay
    Destreza Translation and Research Project

    Italian Swordplay
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  16. #16
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    Hi Puck,

    It's a thought I've kicked around off and on, but right now I'm just not in much of a position to do it. I'd like to, as I think some things like the sforzi di cambiamento, and the counter-parries can be far more easily shown, than explained.
    Christopher A. Holzman, Esq.
    Moniteur d' Armes
    "[T]he calm spirit is the only force that can defeat instinct, and render us masters of all our strengths" -Settimo Del Frate, 1876.

    Author of The Art of the Dueling Sabre
    ViaHup.com - Wiki di Scherma Italiana

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