How to build a winning Olympic team: Italo Santelli (1932)

Discussion in 'Fencing Discussion' started by gladius, Jan 15, 2010.

  1. gladius

    gladius Podium

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    From Schermaonline.com a letter/article written in 1932 by Italo Santelli on how to build a winning Olympic squad with an introduction and comments by Maestro Giancarlo Toràn in [brackets].

    http://www.schermaonline.com/scherma/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=2615

    Italo Santelli was a famous Italian Maestro di scherma who is more known for his results as a Maestro (coach) than his silver medal at the 1900 Paris Olympics. After Paris, Santelli moved to Hungary and did so well with his teaching that for decades the Hungarians were universally recognized as the best saber fencers in the world.

    There have been many discussions about the Hungarian Method to explain this success in saber: technical innovations, specific changes, to justify this dominance a posteriori.

    In this letter/article, written to "Armi" in 1932, Italo Santelli presents his side of the story stressing that in his teaching he always followed the Italian School of which he was a most genuine product.

    Santelli makes some interesting comments which are still current today and he even needles Nedo Nadi, an "amateur/dilettante" because he coached without ever having a diploma and title of "Maestro di scherma."

    Giancarlo Toràn



    Olympics sidebar:

    Hungarian saber fencing is 100% Italian!


    My dear Dr. Rastelli,

    [Giorgio Rastelli, a journalist, a well known fencer, and the author of an interesting fencing treatise]

    Thank you for the kind words you wrote about me as Maestro of the Hungarian fencers who triumphed at the Olympics [Los Angeles, 1932].

    Our victory was even more significant in view of several wordy articles which here [Italy] had led people to believe at a certain point that the time had come for Hungary to lose its primacy in saber. Instead... But I won't impose on you what was written on some Hungarian newspapers about this, after the results.

    Unfortunately, in Los Angeles, Italy lost its supremacy in foil and epee. This is a big moral and material loss for the Italian Maestri who teach abroad, especially in those cities where they compete with French Maîtres who follow the French method. In Amsterdam (1928) Italian fencers under the leadership of the Hon. Giuseppe Mazzini, performed miracles. Fortunately, in Los Angeles the French. after winning the team events, did not follow Mazzini's brilliant strategy when he decided to withdraw from the individual competitions after the splendid victory of the [Italian] epee team. The French went on to compete also in the individual events giving the Italian fencers the chance to partially recover after their defeat in the team event.

    In the article in your newspaper about the composition of the teams, you wrote against the concept of having a Unique Commissar (UC/CT) for Italian fencing and in several other articles you explained why you are against this idea. The results of these Olympics prove that you were 100% right.

    [Team competitions were considered more prestigious and important than individual in those days. This is why, regardless of the two gold and four silver medals in Los Angeles, plus the medals at the previous Amsterdam Olympics, Nedo Nadi, the UC/CT of Italian fencing was subjected to severe criticism in the press of the time. Adolfo Cotronei, famous journalist who had fought in a duel with Aldo, Nedo's brother (described in Aldo's book "On Fencing"), who had been Nedo's friend, strongly criticized Nedo's leadership of the Italian squad. This provoked another duel fought with saber, this time between Cotronei and Nedo. Nedo was determined to put an end to Cotronei because he considered him a dangerous person. Cotronei could have died in this duel had the tip of Nedo's saber not been caught in Cotronei's belt buckle bending the blade. Cotronei became so scared that he never fought another duel and as Nadi said much later, "he died in his bed."]

    Here in Hungary we followed the same model which you recommend. We said, "Those who want to go to the Olympics must earn their spot with the weapon in their hand." We set up 4 tournaments, open to everybody, and the six best were selected for the nice trip [to Los Angeles]. With this practical, simple, and just formula we got extraordinary results without spending a dime, and we built a team which beat 9 to 2 the best opponents (the newspapers here wrote 14 to 2!!!), and even more importantly we left at home another 10 fencers almost as strong as the 6 who went to the Games. We put the team together just one and a half month before leaving for Los Angeles, after the four tournaments: two young ladies who are my students and six saber fencers; two from the military school (Nagy and Piller), all the others my students. By decree of the fencing federation [Hungary] and under the strict supervision of Col. Schencher, team captain, we had one and a half month of intense training in my salle, and to prevent that fencers already assured to go would slack off, we published the results of all their bouts to five touches. Could you tell me how much did cost the Italian squad fencing preparation for the Olympics?

    UC/CT my foot! What you need are Maestri! Only Maestri, those poor forgotten souls, can make and do produce champions. All the UC/CT of the world put together cannot parry a thrust unless the Maestro taught the Olympians how to parry. All the nice talk, all the federation presidents put together cannot gain a millimeter of advantage to help win the Olympics if the Maestro does not know how to give good lessons to the Olympians. The key to victory is in the Maestri's pockets.

    Here in Italy instead you put everything in the hands of Nedo Nadi who is without a doubt the greatest fencer in Italy, but he is not a Maestro. Furthermore, if you are a great [still] active competitive fencer you cannot be a good coach. The great fencer, if he were to give a lot of lessons, would immediately lose all his speed and elasticity which you must have to be a champion. The arm, tired from the many lessons, is not good any longer for the important bouts. This is why great fencers give seldom a lesson, and because of this they are not good Maestri since they don't have enough [coaching] practice.

    If having been a great fencer were enough to be a great Maestro, the Argentinians today [1932] who had as coaches Sartori, Pini, Nedo Nadi, and now Sassone--who as fencers have dominated the world over the past 40 years--should be the strongest. Instead this is not the case!!!

    The officers and managers of the Italian federation should take better care of the Maestri because the Olympic results depend only on them. At the military and at the civilian school for physical education they should hire a Maestro specialized in saber to give honor again to this very Italian weapon, a weapon which has many ardent followers abroad. Polish, Germans, Hungarians, Egyptians, Austrian, Americans, etc., they all practice with great love this weapon which has so much action, so much athleticism, which even people who know little about fencing like because they can understand it better than the refined foil or the crabby epee.

    For me personally these [Los Angeles] Olympics were a cause of great joy because of the brilliant results by the Americans, led by my son.

    [His son, Giorgio Santelli, Olympic champion with the brothers Nadi in Antwerp 1920. He too had a duel with Cotronei and wounded him rather seriously with a cut to the cheek after arguments following the 1924 Olympics.]

    From all this I had the greatest proof that the way I applied the Italian system to the new needs for the Olympic games is the best. I can produce very good students with little work. I just have time to give lessons to my students three times a week because I have to divide them in two groups. Only Piller and Nagy and other officers at the military school--whom you know well because you came here to fence--can train every day.

    My students can meet their match because they have better technique, but if I could give lessons to a smaller number of students I feel I could produce even better champions than those who went to the Olympics and whom you know well.

    I know that in Italy, especially here in Milan, you talk about a Hungarian system or saber school. Even the Italian Maestro Barbasetti on the most important French sport magazine "L'Auto" said that from now on he would have taught saber with the Hungarian method.

    You have been in Budapest and you saw with your own eyes--and you are an excellent fencer and journalist--that HERE we follow the pure Italian system, with Italian sabers, Italian blades, Italian gloves and masks. All the actions are called with Italian names and even many of my students, beside Italian fencing, LEARNED also to speak Italian.

    We never invented here new bellgards or grips which are more or less bent. We import everything from Italy. Therefore, the victory of the Hungarians was NOT A VICTORY OF HUNGARIAN BUT OF ITALIAN FENCING.

    Tell this to everyone, in particular to some journalists who write about fencing without knowing much about it.

    I apologize for the long letter. When will I have the pleasure of seeing you again?

    Yours truly,

    Maestro ITALO SANTELLI

    .
     
  2. gladius

    gladius Podium

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    Italian terminology

    Note on terminology used in the original article which is often font of confusion:

    In Italian, maestro (small m) is the word for teacher, usually an elementary school teacher.

    Maestro (capital M), abbreviated as , is a title given to accomplished teachers/masters in their craft who have earned a specialized diploma in certain profession, e.g., music, fencing, ballet, etc. It is both a title and a recognition of the mastery of a person in a specific art. This is why the title is accompanied by the art in which one has become a Maestro: Maestro di scherma, Maestro di musica, etc. The plural of Maestro is Maestri.

    The Italian word for coach/trainer is allenatore.

    Master, is an English term used in Italian fencing to describe veteran fencers, not Maestri nor fencing champions (active or retired).

    With these caveats, one can say that a Maestro di scherma is a fencing coach but not vice versa.

    So in Italy you have the masters circuit of tournaments where veteran fencers compete and you have also Maestri tournaments where only those who are certified Maestri di scherma can and do compete.

    To become a Maestro di scherma one has to go through a number of steps, tests, study periods, seminars, and exams administered by the Accademia Nazionale di Scherma.

    It is interesting to read how Maestro Italo Santelli makes fun of the "amateur/dilettante" Nedo Nadi, even though he recognizes that Nadi is the best fencer in Italy, because Nadi lacks the qualifications to be called a Maestro.

    This continues today. Italians cannot understand our fascination with big name fencing champions in the hope to learni their "secrets" instead of being curious about and seeking the Maestri of the big name champions who made them so.

    :cool:

    PS: The French have a similar system and attitude with the titles to be used in this profession: Maître d'armes ou d'escrime same use and conditions as the Italian Maestro di scherma. However, there is at least one famous French Maître d'armes, Christian Bauer, who wants to be called coach instead... Go figure!

    :rolleyes:
     
  3. Inquartata

    Inquartata Podium

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    Heh, what a surprise, a Maestro who believes that they key to success is "in the Maestro's pocket". :D

    In any event, I would hope that DAchilleus finds and reads this letter, by a great Maestro of what I am sure would be considered today "classical" fencing. Particularly the part where he dismisses the idea that one must be a great fencer to be a great Maestro.

    While I'm sure that most of the people Italo mentions could beat most of their students, that did not in his eyes make them good coaches; and by the same token being a good coach did not mean that you had to be able to outfence your prospective students...
     
  4. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    I'm sure that Italo would even more dismiss "fencing masters" who have neither their own fencing accomplishments nor students who do...
     
  5. LordShout

    LordShout DE Bracket

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    I'm not sure he would dismiss them. Duel them certainly, but given his sense of self I'm fairly certain he wouldn't let them off as easily as dismissal.
     
  6. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    Bad word choice on my part - I meant "dismiss" in the sense of "to reject serious consideration of <dismissed the thought>", being dismissive of their claims of being fencing masters, rather than the sense of tell them to or let them go "<dismissed the class>". Put differently: I expect he would have thought them bozos who only think they're fencing masters. IMO this has great applicability to the CF world which has "fencing masters" who never fenced with distinction and don't produce students who do.
     
  7. DrWhiteTX

    DrWhiteTX Rookie

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    Great Article, but there is alot more history there. There is a reason Italo went to Hungary. I believe there was a "disagreement " on a call and Italo concurred with the call which was not favorable to an Italian fencer (of course before electric and I think he was a side judge, either world champs or olympics). There was a real "falling out" I think even a real duel. There was a great articel in the the New York Times years ago. I know of this as his son, Georgio Santelli came to New York and set up a well known club that eventually moved to New Jersey. Georgio passed just before I went there. But I trained at Salle Santelli for years under Jerzey Gryzymski. It was a powerhouse for Epee in the late 80' and early 90's. It was a shame went it closed down. I am not sure what Jerzey is up to now.
     
  8. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    There's a lot of history there, but the timing is different. Italo went to Hungary before 1900, long before the 1924 Olympics incident that led to the duel fought by Giorgio Santelli and Contronei.

    DrWhiteTX, we probably know one another from the (alas, departed) salle... Jerzy is now teaching at other NJ clubs.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
  9. Durando

    Durando DE Bracket

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    Silly but true linguistic sidenote:

    It is still French military tradition that even a general would render a hand salute to a military maître d'armes first, as if he were the ranking officer!
     
  10. Grasshopper

    Grasshopper Podium

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    "the crabby epee"

    that was the best part
     
  11. fatfencer

    fatfencer Podium

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    I wonder if..

    Italo considered himself a foilsman first and foremost or if he considered himself a sabreur.

    Anyone venture a guess?
     
  12. Inquartata

    Inquartata Podium

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    I wonder: Did he himself ever issue a challenge, or was he always the challenged?

    Considering that that was the era of "a lengthy grounding in foil for everyone first", probably "foilist". Just a guess, though.
     
  13. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    Italo issued the challenge to Cotronei after Cotronei called him a "renegade". Giorgio found a rule in the "dueling code" that permitted him to replace his father (at the time 61 years old), to Italo's distinct irritation. Wikipedia says Cotronei challenged Santelli, but the 1968 New York Times article says the opposite.

    I would say "sabre" as primary identity, given that he was called "the father of modern sabre", and that's the event he medaled in 1900, and what his students Csizar, Szabo, his son were most known for.
     
  14. ladyofshalott99

    ladyofshalott99 DE Bracket

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    Fascinating letter. My favorite passage:


    I think that's quite an honest truth...I think of those who first trained me, and some who've trained others I've known, with little more qualification than a few semesters of practice or a bank account that affords them to buy and run a salle. The quality of the teaching is shown in the quality of the fencer...at least, to a point.
     
  15. gladius

    gladius Podium

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    A bit of history...

    Some interesting comments and fencing history by Maestro Toran.

    1. The early role of foil

    In the first 40 years of the XX century, especially in Italy, fencers considered foil (the training sword with its own rules) to be the basic weapon, the most important one. They also thought that a good foilist could easily move to epee or saber.

    One must remember that saber then was used much more as a point weapon than it is today. The Nadi brothers were the most famous representatives of this way of thinking.

    2. Italo Santelli: "a foilsman or a sabreur?"

    Antonio Conte (ITA) won the 1900 Olympics--master category (i.e. of professional coaches rather than amateurs) in saber and Italo Santelli* (ITA) was second. Neither fenced epee (almost all epee competitors were French) but in foil they finished fourth and seventh respectively.

    Santelli had moved to Hungary as a professional coach in 1896 but competed in Paris representing Italy. His son Giorgio, the coach of the US team at Los Angeles, was born in Budapest in 1897.

    Today, nobody can practice more than one weapon at high level because we demand more and more an early specialization, the tactical differences between the weapons are more accentuated, and nobody could make it in terms of time and dedication constraints--just think how many competitions one should enter to get to the top and stay at the top.

    3. Why were team events and results considered to be much more prestigious than individual competitions?

    In that period a team victory represented the proof of the superiority of one national school over all others, much more than the victory of an individual fencer. Hence the dispute between Nedo Nadi and Adolfo Cotronei who up to that moment had been friends with the ensuing duel after the [poor] results of the Italians at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932 in the team events. Cotronei blamed Nadi for this "failure."

    Just to keep things in the prospective of the period here is the medals count at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics for fencing:

    ITA: 2 gold (individual ME, MF), 4 silver (individual MS; team ME, MF, MS), 2 bronze (individual ME, MF): Total 9 medals

    FRA: 2 gold (team ME, MF), 1 silver (individual ME): Total 3 medals

    HUN: 2 gold (individual MS; team MS), 2 bronze (individual MS, WF): Total 4 medals

    USA: 1 silver (individual MF), 2 bronze (team ME, MF): Total 3 medals

    4. The Giorgio Santelli - Adolfo Cotronei duel (1924)

    The story of this duel is rather complicate with several versions stressing one or another aspect without 100% accuracy. I may post a complete summary of the known facts preceding the duel. In the meantime suffice to say that the duel ended when Giorgio Santelli slashed Cotronei's cheek in a duel which lasted about 15 minutes. The seconds and the doctor intervened and put an end to it, much to the dismay of the duelists which did not even salute at the end.

    The two got together again in Los Angeles at the 1932 Olympic Games and became friends. In that occasion Cotronei thanked Giorgio for the slash wound which had damaged one of the nerves in his face giving him a permanent smirk which allowed him to wear a monocle much more comfortably...

    Different times indeed...

    :rolleyes:

    * An interesting note concerning Olympic medals count. Before the national and international fencing federations and national Olympic committees, the early Olympics were more or less events where private individuals would enter and compete. Therefore, mainly wealthy individuals could participates to the games.

    Only after the national Olympic committees and federations were formed (anywhere around 1910) did the medal count per nation start in earnest putting next to the name of the victors their country also.

    After the "incident" involving Italo Santelli, the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) decided to erase the results of Conte and Santelli in Paris 1900 with the excuse that they were not amateurs. The real reason was that they did not want give credit to the "traitor" Italo Santelli...

    Sport and politics at play...

    :evil2:
     
  16. jeff

    jeff Podium

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    I probably posted this before, but here's an account of the duel mentioned above, taken from a New York Times article on the occasion of a banquet in Giorgio's honor:

    Sports of The Times (August 1968)

    The Fencing Master, by Robert Lipsyte

    "Now take this country," said George Santelli. "I call you names. You give me a good punch in the nose. I, being 72 years old, would have no chance against you in a fist fight. So, I call a lawyer. I sue. Ah. Childish."

    He touched his nose, a beak of great power and majesty above a white moustache, and waited for the traffic noise to subside on Sixth Avenue, directly beneath the fourth-floor window of his famous salle-d'armes.

    "A duel would solve many problems," he continued. "We have insulted each other. We have common friends who cannot invite us to the same parties. It becomes very difficult. So, we have a duel with sabres."

    "It is not very dangerous. We each bring a doctor, and two seconds. The best fencer among them directs the duel, ready to leap in should either of us become angry or lose control. We have a chance to show courage, save face, derive satisfaction, gain new respect for each other. We shed a little blood, earn a few stitches, throw our arms about each other and drink champagne."

    He stretched his tall, still supple body, and raised an arm that, in its day, was said to have borne the strongest sabre in Europe. "Paul Lukas, the actor, came to my father's salle in Budapest. He had insulted his producer, and he had been challenged. We had a week to prepare him for the duel, so I concentrated on teaching him to parry the blow to the head and return it. Secretly, we blunted the sabers so Lukas's face wouldn't be disfigured. The duel went well. They hacked at each other and raised welts. The doctor squeezed a drop of blood from one of the producer's welts, and everyone was very happy."

    Salle Santelli

    Santelli's father, Italo, ran one of Europe's most famous salles d'armes, a training center for aristocrats and Olympic athletes in an age and in a country that still admired the swordsman. The Hungarian Government had brought Italo to Budapest in 1896 from his native Italy and subsidized his school. In 1924, George was brought here by the New York Athletic Club. He was fencing master there for 25 years.

    Santelli has been the dominant figure in American fencing for many years, He coached the Olympic teams from 1928 through 1952, revolutionized technique, and exerted an incomparable spiritual force with his singleminded and selfless dedication to his sport.

    Through Salle Santelli, which he opened after World War II, he broke the racial and class restrictions of fencing by encouraging Negroes and holding free classes for public high school students. Tonight, in a rare tribute in this sport, Santelli will be honored at the Statler Hotel.

    Santelli admits to having fought only one duel himself, an affair of great complexity. During the 1924 Olympics in Paris, a dispute arose between an Italian fencer and an official. A witness was necessary and Italo Santelli's testimony led to the disqualification of the Italian fencer, and a scandal. The captain of the Italian team, Adolfo Cotronei, wrote a newspaper article denouncing Italo as a renegade and a liar. Italo, 61 years old, challenged Cotronei, who was about 30.

    On a Barge Off Abazia

    George, unearthing an obscure rule in the dueling code that allowed a son to replace his father under certain circumstances, met Cotronei on a barge in the waters off Abbazia, between Trieste and Fiume.

    "We really fenced," said Santelli, staring out his salle window at the Women's House of Detention. "We did not hack. It lasted perhaps three and one-half minutes. He came down like this, so I parried and riposted and struck him on the side of the head. He was temporarily blinded, and so the duel was stopped. He required 12 stitches.

    The men met again, at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, and Cotronei stood dinner and drinks, absurdly proud of his scar, the slight squint in his left eye, and the monocle he wore.

    "I do not believe," said Santelli, "that there should be dueling in this country at this time. Americans think who won? who lost? and this is not dueling, dueling is saving face and gaining satisfaction. It grows from the culture."

    His lips parted for large teeth. "But I must say that dueling was an educational thing. It taught many people to behave properly. You have to prepare for a duel, spend money on equipment, pay the fencing master, pay the doctor, suffer the wounds. The next time you think twice before you call a man an insulting name."
     
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  17. schlager7

    schlager7 DE Bracket

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    Thanks, Jeff. I'd rep you if it let me.

    "I do not believe that there should be dueling in this country at this time. Americans think who won? who lost? and this is not dueling, dueling is saving face and gaining satisfaction. It grows from the culture."

    That statement captures the essence of duelling.
     
  18. kookoo

    kookoo Made the Cut

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    Not so sure about his claims that Hungarian school was 100% Italian. Hungarian fencers would have had some influence over the technique . How even more unsurprising that Santelli's main competitor was a Hungarian, László Borsody that actually devised a more effecting parrying system than the one used by Santelli favoring tierce, quarte and quinte over prime, seconde and quinte. Piller, Hungarian winner at the Los Angeles in Sabre, trained with both so even the "Santelli school" was not 100 percent Italian by then. There is no doubt that Santelli came to Hungary and was instrumental in bringing Italian methods to Hungary and modernizing it.
     
  19. Mac A. Bee

    Mac A. Bee is a Verified Fencing ExpertMac A. Bee Podium

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    Me too. I mentioned you to Donna at this weekend's Sacred Heart Traditional.
     

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