This post will finally wrap up Aldo Nadi’s recollections regarding his efforts as a Professional Fencing Champion. The letter, taken as a whole, is an astounding document. Both because Nadi is so clear in his remembrances (and again, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt on accuracy, having no alternate narrative to compare) and because his performances were so entirely dominant. Some of the opponents he fought at the absolute peak of their careers. I must also give credit where it is due for another astounding feat, and that is that we still have this document to refer to. Fencing Master John McDougall, the founder of American Fencers Supply in San Francisco, passed this document to the West Coast Fencing Archive last year and it is a prized possession.
In this final installment, Nadi reflects on his final exhibition match at age 52 (about 1951) and one of his heros, Cyrano de Bergerac, as well as asserting the absolute veracity of all the contents of his dissertation, in spite of his own acknowledged ego. In the end, he allows the printed words of others expound on his lights and successes.
I’m struck by the inclusion of the note by Adolfo Cotronei. As Nadi notes, Cotronei was his opponent in the only duel Nadi fought, an event for which Nadi’s book “On Fencing” provides a highly entertaining description of the entire duel from the fighters point of view. Aldo Nadi was not the only duel fought by Cotronei. He famously fought Fencing Master Giorgio Santelli (who invoked the rules of the dueling code to stand in for his aged father, who was the challenged party) aboard a barge in the Adriatic, the result of which was the scar across Cotronei’s forehead that Santelli graced him with. His final set-to was against Aldo’s brother Nedo who, supposedly feeling that Cotronei was a mad dog who would eventually seriously injure someone, was intent upon ending Cotronei’s dueling career by killing him. The story, as I understand it, is that in a freak incident, Nadi’s killing blow was stopped by Cotronei’s belt buckle. Cotronei, suddenly aware that Nedo was intent on his life, immediately capitulated and apologized – and didn’t fight any more duels.
As a coda to this four part article, I leave you with the hand written note Aldo Nadi wrote on the back of the envelope to Hans Halberstadt. (Halberstadt, in addition to teaching, also was a fencing equipment dealer.)
At the age of 52 I fenced here for the last time in public, one of my rare American exhibitions. My adversary was Mr. JOSEF LAMPL, an Austrian several times Pacific Coast Sabre Champion. Individually and in team, and once in the last 15 of an American Sabre Championship in which eight first-rate Hungarian sabremen were present. It had been requested that the bout should last EXACTLY five minutes. Mr. LAMPL was 35 and at his apogee. Honestly and chivalrously, Mr. LAMPL remembers even today, and tells it to anyone who would listen, that he was unable, in that bout, to touch me once in five long minutes of combat. Now, fencers know that this is not easy in foil, and even less in epee – – BUT IN SABRE, at 52… it sounds like a colossal lie!
This document contains the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God!
Eminent European journalists who knew me well have more than generously compared me to CELLINI, CASANOVA, D’ARTAGNAN and CYRANO. No one could ask for more. However, their praise and appraise never went to my head, even though, like everyone else, I possess my share of vanity.
A brilliant pupil of mine (brilliant in mind, not on the strip) DOUGLAS POSTEN, gave me a few years ago a copy of ROSTAND’s immortal masterpiece so inscribed: “MAESTRO: Your achievement speaks for you as a Fencer, CYRANO speaks for you as a Man.”
“Eh bien! oui, c’est mon vice.
Deplairs est mon plaisir. J’aime qu’on me haisse.
Mon cher, si tu savais comme l’on marche mieux
Sous la pistoletade excitante de yeux!
Comme sur les pourpoints font d’amusantes taches
Le fiel des envieux et la bave des laches.”
- – CYRANO DE BERGERAC
And since not everyone can read French, here is the not particularly good but official translation:
“Well! It is my foible!
To be detested always rings my joy-bell!
You little know, my friend, how a sharp volley
From hostile eyes disperses melancholy,
or how amusingly my suit’s deflowered
by envy’s gall or drivel from a coward.”
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A FEW COMMENTS
“ALDO NADI is the most powerful fencer in the world.” – – GEORGE BUCHARD, Three Times World Champion and Three Times Second in three Olympics.
After our bout in Florence 1924, LUCIEN GAUDIN, Olympic Champion 1928, declared to the Florentine press: “ALDO NADI, the thoroughbred of Italian Fencing, will remain invincible for 20 years.” The prediction was correct.
“…the phenomenon of Fencing, the living sword, ALDO NADI will remain for many years the best fencer in the world with the foil, the epee and the sabre.” – – ROGER DUCRET, Olympic Champion 1924.
“Regardless of his unique power, ALDO NADI, the ‘grand seigneur’ of fencing, is the most correct, the most noble, the most generous adversary there is.” – – MAITRE ALBERT LACAZE.
“In 1910, after seeing him win his first championship, I predicted that ALDO NADI, then 11 years old, would become stronger than his elder brother NEDO NADI. Now, in 1925, after seeing him defeat splendidly the great Champion of France, MAITRE RENE HAUSSY, I realized that my prediction of 15 years before had become reality. There is no question that, particularly in the classic weapon, ALDO is better than NEDO. FOr many years no one will beat him in any weapon.” – – MAESTRO ROBERTO RAGGETTI.
“The champion ‘par excellence,’ ALDO NADI possesses an exceptional temperament. He is an artist who has of his fencing the same unique conception that the Masters of the Renaissance had of their own Masterpieces. LUCIEN GAUDIN called him, and him alone, ‘the Thoroughbred of Italian fencing,’ and he is one in reality, with his impetuosity, his agility, his jumps, his instincts, his eclat. His body is as supple as a greyhound and as ready as his foil blade; but his supremacy has been of a relatively short duration because ALDO could find no adversaries, after he had defeated all the champions by wide margins,” – – ADOLFO COTRONEI, CORRIERE DELLA SERA, Milano, the most important Italian newspaper. Incidentally, ADOLFO COTRONEI had the admirable guts of fighting a duel against me. Of course he was put in his place (Milan 1924).
“ALDO NADI is the greatest fencer of all time.” – – read the legend under his picture in the ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA for many years – – an honor without precedent, and remained unique.
“ALDO NADI is the greatest fencer of modern times.” – – AMERICAN ENCYCLOPAEDIA OF SPORTS.
“Clearly, ALDO NADI is the greatest fencer in the world. To say he was as fast as a cat would be doing NADI an injustice. No cat was ever that fast.” – – NEW YORK AMERICAN, 12/14/35
“Into the world of sports there sometimes walks, usually at long intervals, a performer who seems to bring with him everything he needs to be one of the great ones of his particular game, save only a little experience… ALDO NADI, slim and elegant Italian Master of the three weapons stands out above the fencers of the world as BILL TILDEN once ruled tennis, and he brings to his profession that same amazing aptitude which nature endows only on rare occasions and denies to ordinary mortals. Although he was making his American debut and has confined all his competitive activities to Europe, his position at the top never has been questioned, even here, since he replaced his brother, NEDO, and many connoisseurs believe him to be the greatest fencer who ever lived…. For these people, most of them fencers themselves or closely connected with fencing, knew that they were seeing something they had never seen before, one of the great athletes of the day, a man whose skill makes him invincible and whose method was perfection. They marveled at his technique, raved over his rhythm and went into ecstasies over the marvelous co-ordination of hand and eye – – and all the things they said of him were true.” NEW YORK HERALD TRIBUNE, 14/12/35; unsigned article. The N.Y.H.T. is one of the two most important American newspapers and the most conservative.
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