Book Review

Book Review

Post by LCLo » Sun, 31 Jul 1994 02:56:09


On Fencing by Aldo Nadi, Original 1943, Reprinted 1994.
$19.95, Softcover. ISBN: 1-884528-04-X. Published by Laureate Press.
P.O. Box 450597-185, Sunrise, FL 33345. Tel: 800-946-2727.

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

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.