It’s entertaining, reading through Nadi’s ruminations on his life and career as a competitive fencer. That he possessed a finely honed ego – to which he admits in one section – is obvious. In addition, he clearly has an excellent memory to remember so vividly events that, at the date of his writing, had transpired as much as 30 years or more in the past. Without the benefit of historical documents to reveal his level of memory precision, one can only hope that he’s at least close on his facts. Based on others who wrote about his results and power, it’s clear that he was much, much more than simply an egotistical blowhard. That he won the bouts he won, fighting against the quality of opponents he lists, doesn’t much seem to be in doubt. As far as the exactitude of his recollections? There’s no way to know, now.
For my part, I like taking his account at face value. Why not? Many of the opponents he lists were gone at the time Nadi wrote this. His brother, Nedo, passed in 1940. Lucien Gaudin in 1934. Giulio Gaudini, who will be mentioned in Part Three, died in 1948. Georges Buchard did outlive Aldo by more than 20 years, so alternate versions of the below reality could well be in existence. Perhaps they do and I simply don’t know where to look to find them. But if they did, I don’t think Aldo Nadi’s legacy would live on in quite the same way. Word would have gone out, somewhere along the line, that maybe he wasn’t that great. It’s easy to second guess it, if only because he was so willing to espouse his own greatness. His posthumously published book, “The Living Sword”, which I haven’t read for some time, I remember as being a document of near pure distilled ego. However, ego on the part of the winner doesn’t erase victories, and below he spells out his victories. It’s a pretty convincing tally.
Part Two Transcript:
I was Professional Champion of Italy in the three weapons without sustaining a single defeat in 1924, 1925, 1926 and 1927. ELEVEN TIMES (the Epee Championship was not fought in 1924, the reason why I was Champion 11 times instead of 12) – – NOT EIGHT TIMES as that ignorant jackass ALFREDO PEZZANA dared to correct in the above-mentioned article by LEO NUNES. At that time the Rules stated that the current Champion was not compelled to fence in the new Championships, but was compelled to accept the challenge in individual matches from the winners of the new Championships for ABSOLUTE CHAMPIONSHIPS. (Just as I did myself when, after winning my first Championships in 1924, I challenged according to the Rule, the Champion of the year before, BONIOLI, in foil and sabre, beating his respectively 12-5 and 12-7. Later on I challenged VISCONTI whom I defeated in epee 12-7, and later still GIUSEPPE MANGIAROTTI, again epee, 12-8 – – a match, this one, which I could have won 12 to 2 or 3 had I so desired, but I respected a MAGIAROTTI who had been Champion for many years. Living personalities can validate my assertion.) Now, in 1926, I was Absolute Champion, since 1924. Following the Rules, I did not participate in the 1926 Championships. NEDO NADI won all three. But he did anything but challenge me in the three weapons as stated by the Rules for the Absolute Championships. Instead, he had one of his brilliant ideas – – NEDO NADI was not fool – – that is, brilliant for himself. He told me: I’ll let you win the foil, you let m e win the epee and we will fight seriously the sabre.” At which lovely little speech I put my right thumb on the tip of my nose and with the four fingers addressed toward him I played an imaginary musical instrument. NEDO NADI knew perfectly well, now that I had reached complete maturity, that it would have been absolutely impossible for him to defeat me in foil or epee, and that his probability of beating me in sabre were, at the very most, 50%. After my rather contemptuous gesture I told him: “If you want the Championship in any weapon you must earn it. But frankly I very much doubt that you can win it in any weapon.” After which NEDO NADI conveniently forgot the matter, prudently abstained himself from challenging me as the Rules required, and I remained Absolut Champion even for 1926. The following year, 1927, I rushed to Cremona for the new Championships in the hope of finding NEDO among the participants – – but he did not show up. I won again the Championships in the three weapons without a single defeat, giving 185 touches against 36. When, seven years later, in 1934, an exhibition-bout was organized in Cannes among the two brothers, NEDO made me swear in front of our Father and Master that the bout should close without the slightest superiority of any of the opponents. We even arranged for the actions of the last two touches of the bout! But once en garde I simply could not help showing NEDO NADI who was the best: I touched him 4 times in a row within the first minute of combat, easily and clearly. But at the end of the bout none of the opponents could claim superiority of a single touch. I had kept the promise I had made to my Father; but that night of the 17th of February, 1934, at Casino de Cannes, I could have simply murdered NEDO NADI.
Almost immediately after my last victories in the Italian Championships 1927, I moved to Paris in the hope of fighting GAUDIN but as was said before, I lost my time and 50,000 francs. At a time when Italian and French fencers absolutely dominated the world of fencing, here is the list of my official and semi-official victories against the title-holders of France for two generations:
Many times Champion of France, Foil, 10-4, Milan, 1922.
Champion of France Military Masters, Director in Chief of the famous French School of Fencing in Joinville-le-Pont; Paris, 1923, Foil 12-3. Present at this match was the 80-year old lion LOUIS MERIGNAC, perhaps the greatest French fencer of all time. After the match he came out to shake my hand and he did so for a long time without saying a word – – but there were tears on his cheeks.
Professional Champion of France, Epee, La Baule 1925, Epee 15-11. At the beginning of this match the bandage that I always wear on my wrist under the glove and strap being too tight, my thumb became completely paralyzed. If DODIVERS had known, he could have destroyed me in two or three minutes. At a certain moment he was leading 6-2. Fighting only with the four fingers, with an immense physical and nervous effort I succeeded in closing the first part 6-8 still behind my opponent. Upon changing places as was customary in those days I vanished from the strip, changed my bandage, was back on the strip in two minutes, gave 9 touches against 3 and won the match as indicated. A few months later, GAUDIN, wanting to show that he could beat DODIVERS better than I did, could only defeat him – – with no paralyzed thumb – – 15-12… and I can still hear DODIVERS from his grave screaming bloody murder that he had been robbed – – and indeed he had been, at the opportune moment, by a very able and extremely smart President of the Jury. I was present.
When he was at the top of his power, some 15 times Professional Champion of France. Foil, 14-9 (actually 15-8), with two French Presidents of the Jury. Florence, 1925.
Many times Champion of France epee. THREE times WORLD Champion, three times Second in THREE Olympics (once he was beaten, once he was robbed and once he threw his final bout to GAUDIN – – Amsterdam 1928; I have in my hands documents proving my assertion.) I defeated BUCHARD 12-5, Epee, in a fight that lasted about 40 minutes. Actual result, 12-4. One of the most difficult and probably the most significant of all my matches. Anvers 1926.
Many times Champion of France, all weapons. Olympic Champion, foil, second in epee, second in sabre, PARIS 1924. Epee, 12-5, Paris 1926. DUCRET gave me the first three touches of the bout and then I scored 12 times against 2.
Professional Champion of France, Epee. Paris 1926. Epee, 14-9. The first part, directed by COLOMBETTI, gave me a score of 7-1, then GAUDIN came to direct the second part….
Champion of France Military Masters, Casablanca 1926, Foil, 16-10. Actual result 16-8.
Professional Champion of France, Foil. I had to promise him 8 touches, otherwise he would have refused to meet me. He was more than happy with the result, 14-8.
Many times Champion of France, Epee and Foil. Epee, 10-6, Cannes 1925. CATTIAU was twice World Champion in epee.
Champion of France in both weapons. Paris 1932 (after my absence from the strip for several years because of some motion picture work). Epee, 12-4. COUTROT had brilliantly defeated CARLO AGOSTONI in Epee, 10-6, in a match perfectly judged (I was present) in Paris a year before. AGOSTONI was Champion of Italy several times and THIRD at the Olympics in 1932 (Epee).
Champion of France Military Masters, Epee and Sabre. Paris 1933, Epee 12-4. OMER had a first-rate record; he had badly defeated BERNARD SCHMETZ, World Champion, who refused to meet me.
Champion of France and World Champion ex-aequo with GUSTAVO MARZI, I think in Vienna 1931. That World Championship saw three winners, I believe – – a quite unique ending. The World and Olympic Champion MARZI, a pupil of the NADI’s and a great fencer – – and the reader may rest assured that I do not use the word great loosely – – can explain the matter far better than I. Paris 1934, Foil, 10-4.
Champion of France Military Masters, in the last match of the Challenge EZPELETA, a tournament open to professionals and amateurs in which participated the best French fencers of both categories, CATTIAU, the two GARDERES, etc. At the final match, after three matches in 10 touches (I hate direct elimination, a formula I shall never approve of), in the last of which I made an effort in order to defeat the World Champion LEMOINE 10-4, I could defeat BATTESTI no better than 10-9, because tired and literally sick. All present had forecast a victory of mine 10-4 or 5 at the most. In Italy we have a saying: “Not all the doughnuts come out with a perfect hole.”
It should be mentioned here that nearly all of these matches were fought in Paris with five French Judges. This does not imply that French Judges are cheaters, but it does imply a tremendous moral advantage given my opponents.
Aldo Nadi poses with Cattiau of France in a library, museum, or the back of a restaurant with the tables and chairs cleared for action. Is it significant that Cattiau is literally up against the wall?
In Part Three: Crushing at Exhibition Matches!