From the book jacket:

The Art of the Foil is a classic of fencing literature. Within its pages, famed swordsman Luigi Barbasetti divulges the gathered insights of his fifty years as a master of the spada—the Italian foil.

Not merely a how-to, but a savoring of the artistry of the foil, the book introduces the reader to this classic style of fencing. Each aspect of positioning, invitation, engagement, thrusting, parrying, counterparrying, and tempo is explored, as are various feints and ripostes. Many of the 128 illustrations and figures are supplied to aid the fencer in achieving the appropriate stances, movements, and actions. Others are artists’ renditions of the drama of the sport itself.

Appended to the instructional portion of the book is a short history of fencing, discussin both its ancient origins and the 400-year development of the art of fencing proper. Also included is a four-language glossary of fencing terms.”


And from the author’s preface:

“This book presents the theory of modern fencing as I have watched its development through half a century of personal experience. It is not the usual, useless manual for the fencer, nor is its object to teach the purely automatic and habitual movements of the sport. It opens the way to all those who seriously intend studying our noble art, and actively assists them. My theory is a fundamental one.”


The book was published somewhere around the turn of the 20th century-—the first English translation was in 1933, but the original printing must’ve been at least a decade or two prior to that (I have been as of yet unable to ascertain the exact year of first printing). One of the things that makes this book so special, for me, is that it was written in an era where fencing was taught both as a serious martial art for serious self-defense, and then also as a sport for practice and exercise. Barbasetti’s contention is that the way you approach teaching the two styles should be identical, and so, even though he sometimes explains things as if you were really going to fight a duel, the exercises and moves he delineates can be used just as well to prepare a modern fencer for competition—and it works quite well, as I have found this book an invaluable tool in my own training. While nothing is a substitute from getting to a sale and practicing, Barbasetti’s text is certainly a worthy supplement.

The book is written from the ground up—first you learn about the physical weapon itself, then you learn how to hold it, then you learn how to salute, then you learn how to get on guard…and so on, until by the end of the book you’ve learned pretty much every attack and defense there is in the entire sport. Each major section has a serious of exercises the reader can do (most of them requiring a sparring partner) to practice the skill he has just learned. The illustrations are useful (I wish there were actually more of them), but the age of the book shows in the attire of the fencers in the demonstration pictures—big, baggy knickers, sometimes shirtless. The illustrations in the History of Fencing section are quite good, as it’s possible by looking at them alone to get a good idea of exactly how fencing has progressed throughout the centuries.

While the author occasionally delves into a specific issue and offers his own opinion, the book is written primarily as a matter-of-fact textbook. The syntax is sometimes a mouthful (“…this is done by a convex semicircular movement downward and inward…”) and many of the Italian names for the moves prevail, so that if you didn’t read the earlier sections of the book you might be at a loss for exactly what the author is trying to describe. Also, in the exercises is it sometimes hard to follow exactly what the drill is supposed to be—this is easily excused, as trying to describe a complex dichotomous fencing movement using the written word alone is near impossible.


The funniest thing about the book is that the entire text is devoted to foil and foil only, but the two people on the cover are fencing epee.

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