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Lessons from Santelli by Frank Collins

Some four decades ago, I was fortunate to take lessons in sabre fencing from the incomparable Giorgio Santelli. I have decided, while my recollection of these lessons is still clear, to put them on paper--they may be of some value to our local sabreurs.

Around the turn of this century, Luigi Barbasetti and Italo Santelli (father of Giorgio) were instrumental in developing a system for sabre teaching that incorporated the best features of the classical Italian School and the emerging Hungarian School. So successful were they that Hungary, a small country with a population of 3,000,000, produced Olympic and World Champions (individual and team), for the next sixty years.

The essence of this new system was a solid, sober defensive scheme based on the parries (point up) of Quarte and Tierce, plus the head parry of Quinte. These were blocking (bloquee) parries intended only to close the line. The power and speed of the attacking cut was absorbed (distributed) into the mass (forte) of the defending blade, the result being a a recognizably valid parry that clearly arrested the finale of the attack. The French Maitre Roger Crosnier succinctly expressed this parry principle thus: Forte versus Foible.

Assuming that the sabreur is right-handed (droitier), Quarte (four) is formed by moving the weapon carefully to the left, sufficiently to close the inside line. The point leads, the arm is well bent and the elbow is close to the hip. When forming Tierce (three) the blade is perpendicular, the wrist broken to the right, the arm bent and the elbow close to the hip. The sabreur who lacks confidence in this parry may feel comfortable by positioning his point further to the right. In so doing, however, he may retard his riposte or create problems in forming the parry of Quinte. In executing the parry of Quinte (five) in this system, the arm is bent and the blade is horizontal. The elbow is tucked in and the bellguard (coquille) is positioned to the right so that the forte of the blade protects the entire width of the mask.

Even when the student is fully confident in his parries, he should always consider stepping back as he forms them. Quoting the Maitre Raul Clery: Rompre n'est pas fuir - "to retreat is not to flee." Here the coach should make certain that the student does not develop the dangerous habit of attempting to riposte while retreating.

While the older parries of Prime and Seconde (point down) do not fit into this modern defensive system, the knowledgeable student nevertheless should be familiar with them. For example: the head parries of Quinte (courte) and Quinte (longue) are surprisingly different! Fencers who are comfortable with this defensive system will be comfortable also with the direct riposte, a single tempo action executed from the parry position as rapidly as possible.

The defender should realize that, in most parry-riposte situations, the fencers are closer than usual, the consequence being that the space between them (the French call it le couloir or corridor and some British coaches refer to it as No-Man's Land) can easily become congested: bellguards collide, blades are immobilized, the riposte is spoiled. To avoid this situation, the riposter should carefully direct his blade into an area where he perceives that there is room to score. In practice this usually means no more than completely extending his arm while positioning the blade in such a fashion that he touches with the foible, the last 4-6 inches of the blade. In effect he places his foible into an area that his opponent cannot easily close with a parry.

In order to avoid being completely predictable, every fencer should include the indirect riposte in his arsenal. This stroke, executed by coupe or disengage, can be unexpectedly effective, especially when concluded by a thrust rather than a cut.

The other ripostes, delayed or compound, should be used only when the riposter has evaluated his opponent and is sure of his reactions. The opponent, for example, who is not disconcerted by a change in tempo may respond with a remise or, declining to follow the feint, may decide to try a stop-hit.

In conclusion: the basic concept of this system is obvious and simple: Defend so well that you never get hit! Here is sound advice that makes sense to both coach and student.

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