Poking Each Other With Sticks Since 2006

Nadi School of Fencing

  • In fencing, weight and strength mean nothing.  Physical inferiorities disappear.  The fencer need only know when, how and where he must thrust his blade.  Almost all of his ability therefore depends upon the sudden release, from total relaxation, of highly concentrated nervous energy.  He develops it constantly.
  • (Regarding the adversary’s brain)  In fact, within the first minute of combat the great fencer can read an opponent’s thoughts as in an open book, and evaluate his daring, even though he has never seen the man before.
  • (On Mechanics) …the fundamental importance of good mechanics cannot be overemphasized.  You will never become a good fencer until you have mastered them.  Yet, fencing is so perfect an art that once you have accomplished this, your skill as a fighter will depend primarily upon your individual genius.
  • (On the Foil)  Not for the last time, I say that he who knows foil knows almost all there is to know about modern fencing.  His knowledge can easily be applied to the other two weapons – not vice versa.
  • (Holding the Foil)  Think of it as a key to unlock your opponent’s defense rather than a hatchet to hew him down.  The first rule in fencing is to remain relaxed at all times except in definite action.
  • (On Footwork)  All fencing teachers will tell you to keep both feet constantly flat on the strip.  I say – No.  Raising your left heel ever so little, you cock the leg ready to pull the trigger and go into action.  You take full advantage of one of the mightiest springs in all creation, the arch of the foot, which in the lunge releases its tremendous power through the pressure exerted on the ground by the ball of the foot itself.
  • (On Footwork)  There must be no sliding anywhere, no raising of the body during the advance; if correctly executed you should find yourself again in your perfect guard.
  • (On The Lunge)  I have already referred to the cobra.  To strike from its coiled position, its body shoots out like an arrow straight toward its mark.  The fencer lunges.
  • Fencing is so perfect an art that the regulations framing it do not interfere in the least with the fighter’s will.  Thus, while he may appear to be confined by a limited and arid technique, actually he can sail his ship on a sea of unlimited conquest.
  • Don’t forget that I said: “Mechanically speaking, any action can be parried…”
  • …Remember, the best moment to attack is upon the adversary’s advance as he prepares his own offense.
  • The best strategy, however, is to keep holding the initiative, upsetting with threats, early parries and effective mobility any and all attempts of your opponent to regain ground.  Your aim is to compel him to attack under the worst possible conditions, not upon his own choice of timing.
  • “Certa viriliter, sustine patienter” – Fight virilely, bear patiently. [Imitation of Christ]
  • (Notes from Nadi’s Master)  He never allowed any pupil to start combat until after at least one year of mechanical “treatment.”  Competitions were out of the question before two years.
  • Without a teacher, do not start combat until: (a) you feel that your hand begins to control the weapon and its point; (b) you do not have to think of your feet in order to make them move correctly; (c) you have some clear ideas of what you should do, and not do.
  • When you wish to fence with an experienced fencer, treat him with due respect.  Ask him if you may have the honor to “receive” some touches from him.  He will be happy to please you.
  • In the Salle d’Armes you are allowed to shout as much as you like one word alone: “Touched.”  … do not say: “Here!” “Yes” “Good” etc.
  • For the more your heart bleeds the better fencer you will become.
  • (On Relaxation)  It is the source of all energy.  No fencer can afford to be continuously tense.  Relax completely whenever you can, i.e., out-of-distance.
  • There must be a reason for even the slightest motion of your point.
  • Every fencer must have within himself a touch of the gambler
  • When in doubt, the fencer must attack.
  • (The Mental Game)  …the mental threat is far more effective than any threat made with the point.  Should any reader smile at this contention I feel extremely sorry for him, for it proves that he does not even begin to grasp the concept of fencing.
  • (On Repetition)  Do not repeat an action that has proved unsuccessful; at least not for some time.  Even in their simplicity, vary your actions until you find one that will score.  Bout for goodness’ sake vary them – particularly their ultimate line of attack.
  • Second Intention – the very essence of fencing!
  • To win, a sound technique may not always be sufficient.  To win, you must possess other tangible and intangible qualities.
  • Always bear in mind that it is far more preferable to take part in a competition under rather than over conditioned.
  • A man’s character is best tested in defeat.
  • Before your first bout you should exercise until you feel that all muscles are ready.  Give particular attention to the flexibility of your fingers, i.e., the control of your weapon.
  • In competition, announce only those touches (you receive) which leave no doubt in anyone’s mind.  In calling these quickly you will please both the jury and your opponent.  But if there is the slightest doubt as to your being touched, go on fighting until you hear the “Halt!” of the president.
  • Never stop the fight, get up from your guard, or take off our mask- a very dangerous and quite objectionable act- just because you think you have scored.
  • (Self-Control)  This control is in direct relationship to the power of your defense, for when in trouble, attacks should be avoided.  It is your ability to parry which assumes foremost importance; and even when the situation seems hopeless, it may yet save your skin.
  • …When facing a competitor he has never seen before, he does not initiate combat like a bull charging into an arena but rather like a lion entering a gladiatorial circus- cautiously.


Aldo Nadi (April 29th, 1899- Nov. 10th, 1965) is considered among the greatest fencers of all time.  He was born into a fencing family in Livorno, Italy and was taught (along with his brother Nedo) by their father, Beppe Nadi.  They were taught in the Italian school of fencing – however, Aldo would say that his style incorporated the best of both the Italian and French schools.  In 1920, Nadi won gold medals at the Olympics in all three weapon divisions (team) and won a silver in individual sabre, second only to his brother.

Nadi emigrated to the United States in 1935 and taught fencing in New York City from 1935- 1943.  In 1943, his book On Fencing was published.  Also in 1943, he relocated to L.A., where he continued to teach, and coach actors for fencing scenes in film.  He even made a film appearance himself in To Have and Have Not (1944).  In 1955, Nadi wrote his autobiography called The Living Sword (published 30 years after his death).

On The Origin of His Style  [from Chapter 4 of The Living Sword]

“…It was here, in this very period, that a new outlook began to form in my mind insofar as fencing and training were concerned. To begin with, I refused to work every day. With my weight constantly under 130 pounds, I simply had not enough physical power to do so, while Nedo, about one inch shorter than I, was heavier and far better and more harmoniously built. I reminded myself of a breadstick, but I instinctively knew that my long and thin muscles were as wiry as steel and that I could always depend upon them – provided I did not abuse them. I felt now sufficiently mature to assume responsibility towards my own future, and my rebellious decision to work less and only when I felt so disposed proved to be the first step in the right direction.

I started revising the system which had actually created me, 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 which would have little in common with that of my brother, the unquestionably established champion.

In training with him, I soon realized that it was only by following such a line of individualistic conception and execution that I could thrust some grains of sand into the perfect mechanism that confronted me. I succeeded, to my surprise, in creating uncertainties and difficulties. Knowing Nedo’s value, this encouraged me a great deal. Knowing, moreover, his terrifying power of defense, I simply threw overboard the composed attack (or tried to, since to do what I wanted was anything but easy), basing my fencing, instead, upon the offensive defense of the counterattack and contretemps, as well as upon the third and fourth intention. Indeed, the second intention was seldom successful against a champion like my brother.

My system of defense was not nearly as clock-like as that of Nedo. However, more varied and simpler, it proved to be, in time, at least as efficient as his and certainly more baffling. Its very flexibility, in contrast to his comparative rigidity, was its most valuable asset.

As for my offensive movements, my limited physical resistance compelled me to use sparingly even the all-out simple attack. However, its use being commanded by the inescapable theory of variation, such forced restriction actually brought to me the revelation of its tremendous efficiency.

My style was anything but fixed. Above all, I tried to rely to the maximum upon exploitation of all my opponents’ mistakes – a fundamental line of thought never abandoned since. Indirectly this led me to evolve a continuously changing pattern of combat, the various forms and expressions of which appeared to my adversaries as so many different methods. For this reason, I was told – later – that I was rather difficult to read, and more difficult still to be fully understood. I seldom gave the slightest clue to what I was after…”