Italian martial arts
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Italian Martial Arts focus on the use of weapons (swords, daggers, walking stick and staff). Each weapon is the product of a specific historical era. The swords used in Italian Martial Arts range from the gladius of the Roman legionaries to swords which were developed during the renaissance, the baroque era and later. Short blades range from medieval daggers to the liccasapuni Sicilian dueling knife. Only Greek martial arts are more ancient than Italian Martial arts. The Shaolin monastery in China was founded in 497 AD (after the fall of the Western Roman Empire) and there are no written records of kung-fu until the 16th century AD. The Takenouchi-ryu school of ju-jutsu was founded in 1532 AD (by which time firearms had already been employed on several battlefields in Europe). With over 120,000 practitioners worldwide, Italian Martial arts are being practiced in Italy, the United States of America, The United Kingdom, Australia, Argentina, Brazil, France, and Germany. The foreign schools in the United States and England have done much research of historical fencing manual and their work was invaluable in reconstructing some of the fencing techniques.
- 1 Characteristics of Italian Combat Styles
- 2 Ancient Rome
- 3 The Renaissance & Baroque Eras
- 4 World Wars
- 5 Regional Styles and Schools
- 6 Modern Italian Styles
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
Characteristics of Italian Combat Styles
A trademark of the Italian styles of fence is the emphasis on the point over cutting, which has been stressed since the time of the Roman legions: the legionaries used to laugh at enemies who cut or slashed with their swords. The base of most Italian Systems is fencing and many methods of stick fighting use the same techniques and movements used when fencing with swords. Therefore if a practitioner trains with the stick or baton, he would also become proficient with the sword. Examples of this are Canne Italiana which uses the moves and techniques of the duelling sabre (sciabola da terreno) and Bastone Italiano, where the moves comes from fencing with the two-handed sword (Spadone a Due Mani). Most methods have one thing in common: practitioners don protective sport fencing masks and padded clothing and practice with blunt training blades, since live sparring is of critical importance in the training routine. A very important characteristics of Italian Martial Arts is that they originated from battlefield or gladiatorial combat experience. They were not created by monks but by soldiers and there is no religious or spiritual influence in their practice.
The main historical periods that influenced the development of Italian weapons were:
Gladiatorial Combat was a popular spectator bloodsport in Roman times. Gladiators were trained in special schools and were armed according to the Roman standard or like some of Rome's enemies. This allowed for experimentation with different weapons and styles of combat. Some of the weapons were unusual, such as the net used by the Retiarius.
Roman writers described methods and techniques for training and using the gladius, for example Vegetius in his De Re Militari. Thanks to this wealth of information the art of gladiatorial combat has been resurrected and the discipline of “Gladiatura Moderna” is now being practiced by numerous practitioners in Italy and abroad.
The Renaissance & Baroque Eras
The Renaissance (14th to 17th century AD) saw frequent warfare on Italian soil and mercenary armies were formed by the Condottieri, refining and improving weapons and techniques. One soldier of fortune, Master Fiore dei Liberi wrote a manual Flos Duellatorum or "the Flower of Battle" in 1410, illustrating a repertoire of techniques for many different weapons and for unarmed combat, and thus originated the Italian school of swordsmanship. After Fiore, the Italian school of swordsmanship was continued by Filippo Vadi (1482–1487) and Pietro Monte (1492). The techniques and skills taught by the Italian school were successfully tested against the Landsknecht and the Swiss Pikemen at the battle of Calliano in 1487, against the Landschnecht at the Battle of Ravenna in 1512 and against the Swiss pikemen at the Battle of Arbedo, where Lombard Knights massacred the famed Swiss pikemen in hand-to-hand combat. What follows is the account of the Battle of Arbedo, narrated in the The Art of War (Machiavelli):
Philip Vicecounte of Milaine, being assaulted of 18 thousande Suizzers, sent against theim the Counte Carminvola, whiche then was his capitaine. He with sixe thousande horse, and a fewe footemen, went to mete with them, and incounteryng theim, he was repulsed with his moste greate losse: wherby Carminvola as a prudente man, knewe straight waie the puisaunce of the enemies weapons, and how moche against the horses thei prevailed, and the debilitie of the horses, againste those on foote so appoincted: and gatheryng his men together again, he went to finde the Suizzers, and so sone as he was nere them, he made his men of armes, to a light from their horse, and in thesame mane, faightyng with them he slue theim all, excepte three thousande: the whiche seyng them selves to consume, without havyng reamedy, castyng their weapons to the grounde, yelded.
The Landsknecht and the Swiss were regarded as the finest infantry of the time. In another episode known as the Challenge of Barletta, in 1503, 13 Italian knights faced and defeated 13 French knights in hand to hand combat. The forces led by Giovanni dalle bande nere were more than a match for the invading Landsknecht under the command of Georg Frundsberg in a number of small battles in 1527. Finally Gian Giacomo Trivulzio and his men, fighting for the French King, tore through the Swiss Pikemen on the field of Marignano, a feat that earned Trivulzio the rank of Marshal of France, an honor conferred to few foreigners. The utter defeat at Marignano was one of the events that transformed Swiss policy from one of military aggression to one of neutrality.
The Thirty Years War
When the era of the Condottieri came to a close on Italian soil, military commanders like Ottavio Piccolomini and Raimondo Montecuccoli placed their soldiers at the disposal of the Austrian Emperor, in a war of religion that devastated Germany and caused the loss of 30% of its people, perhaps the greatest tragedy ever endured by Germany. Italian forces fought valiantly (albeit on the losing side) at the Battle of Lutzen and helped win a great victory at the Battle of Nordlingen in 1634 against the Swedes. Ambrogio Spinola and his men meanwhile helped Spain to conquer the Netherlands in battles like the Siege of Breda. This war was perhaps the last one were swords, daggers and pikes played an important role in battle as firearms technology was now becoming more reliable. Italian swordsmen, armed with short swords and daggers were extremely effective at infiltrating the pike squares of their adversaries and at bringing down the defenseless pikemen armed with the long pikes during the brutal "push of the pikes". On the battlefield the so-called "Spada da Lato" or side-sword became the dominant sword type. At the same time in the cities of Italy the sidesword evolved into a new type of sword, used in a civilian setting for duelling. This civilian sword is known as "La Striscia" or Rapier in English. Frenchmen adopted the Italian duelling sword and mastered it, and it is believed that between 1600 AD and 1700 AD well over 70,000 Frenchmen died in duels, many of them mortally wounded by a Rapier. From the late 16th century, Italian rapier fencing attained considerable popularity all over Europe, notably with the treatise by Salvator Fabris whose De lo schermo overo scienza d’arme of 1606 exerted great influence not only in Italy but also in Germany. Fabris was followed by Italian masters such as Nicoletto Giganti (1606), Ridolfo Capo Ferro (1610), Francesco Alfieri (1640), Francesco Antonio Marcelli (1686) and Bondi' di Mazo (1696).
World War I
During World War I the Italian army created a unit of assault troops called Arditi whose task was to storm German and Austrian Trenches. The main weapon of these soldiers was the dagger and 18,000 arditi were trained and sent to the front. Arditi units won numerous engagements against Austrian and German troops in the final year of World War I, armed with daggers which proved very effective in the confined space of a trench, where rifles were too long to be used in close combat. General Rommel wrote about the exploits of the Arditi in the very last page of his book "Infanterie greif an" (Infantry attacks). The successful attack on Col Moschin was a perfect example of Arditi tactics.
World War II
The second battle of El-Alamein pitted the Italian paratroopers of the 185 Airborne Division Folgore with no tanks and only a few antitank guns (whose shells failed to penetrate the armor of British tanks) against one British armored division equipped with 400 heavy tanks. During the first assault 70 British tanks were destroyed by the folgore soldiers, using almost exclusively improvised “sticky charges” as their anti-tank weapons had proven worthless against British armor. After several days 208 tanks were destroyed in this way. While techniques to destroy armored vehicles are not typically part of martial arts instruction programs, given the exploits of "Folgore", they could be considered a key part of Italian Martial Arts.
Regional Styles and Schools
1) In Sicily and organization called "Liu-bo" has codified the techniques of traditional Sicilian Staff Fighting known as "Paranza Lunga" and now organizes competitions at the regional level. This school is rapidly expanding.
2) Paranza Corta (Sicilian Knife Fighting) is the traditional knife fighting stile of Sicily. It is still taught by individual masters but is not organized in a format suitable for divulgation to the masses. Those who wish to learn the art have to seek out the individual masters and be accepted as students. The weapon used is a folding stiletto knife which come in a few variants, the most famous being the Liccasapuni (literally "soap licker" because the blade used to be smeared with soap before a duel, so that it would cause permanent scars on the recipient of a cut). The Sicilian style is further subdivided into two branches: the school of Palermo and that of Catania.
Istrumpa, the wrestling style of Sardinia is also growing in popularity. The association promoting this sport is participating in European championships for Celtic wrestling stiles (such as Gouren), which has showcased the skills of Istrumpa wrestlers
The art of Bastone Pugliese has now been codified and is being taught in a school in Manfredonia, in the Puglie region. The first Italian championship of this discipline has been held in 2011. The region is also known for Scherma Di Coltello Pugliese (Apulian Knife)which is further subdivided in three local styles: Taranto, Foggia/Bari and Brindisi/Lecce. One of the most renown experts of this art is Maestro Trimigno whose students have participated to international tournaments. European championships of knife fencing were held in 2012, 2013 and 2014, with athletes representing various countries, including Italy, Russia and Ukraine. The Italian team was trained by Maestro Trimigno and showcased the skills of Scherma Di Coltello Pugliese 
In recent years the discipline of Bastone Genovese has begun to be taught in specialized gyms in the region of Liguria, where it had originated centuries ago.
Bastone Napoletano is the newest stick fighting discipline to come to the limelight in Italy. Like many other regional styles it has been in existence for centuries but was formerly taught by individual masters on a one on one basis. The discipline is also known as "Varra" and uses a long stick of 1.60 meters.
Several other regional styles of knife and stick fighting remain in existence. These are kept alive by individual Masters at Arms who teach their techniques privately. Amongst the knife styles we should mention the styles of Rome, Neaples, Salerno, Calabria and Corsica (which nowadays is a French region). Disciplines focusing on staff fighting include, Bastone Calabrese (Calabrian Stick Fighting), Bastone Milanese, Bastone Piemontese, Taccaro and Bordone
Modern Italian Styles
The Manusardi family from Milan modified the French art of Canne de combat and created Canne Italiana. According to Mr Italo Manusardi the French style sacrificed power to achieve speed. Canne italiana is slower than the French style but more powerful in its blows. Most moves and techniques are similar to those used in the handling of the dueling sabre (Sciabola da Terreno) hence Canne Italiana represents useful training for those interested in the dueling sabre. The Manusardi gym also teaches "Bastone Italiano" a form of staff fighting similar to Baton francais.
The group "Ars Dimicandi" teaches Gladiatorial combat in the style of ancient Rome. This group has led a meticulous research on gladiatorial combats. Other schools which teach the same art are Scuola Gladiatori Sacrofano, Ludus Magnus.
Kick Jitsu is the name of a modern combat sport part of the FIKBMS, the Italian federation of kickboxing recognized by CONI. Born in the 1980 through the merger of the techniques and methods of kickboxing and those of jujitsu, the kick jitsu or kickjitsu is regulated in Italy by FIKBMS through a national technical committee that is chaired by Master Patrizio Rizzoli, who also plays the role director and national coach. In Italy, the discipline is widespread, especially in Tuscany, Liguria and Calabria.
Lajolo Knife & Stick System is the name of a modern Italian martial arts system founded by Italian Knife & Stick Master Danilo Rossi Lajolo di Cossano. It is based on his family's traditional regional Italian knife & stick system, Scherma di Coltello Pugliese (the Apulian knife tradition), which he learned from his uncle. He then trained with Italian Grandmasters from all over Italy and learned their regional family systems and added them to his system. He is also proficient in Jeet Kun Do and Kali/Eskrima, certified instructor in both, and used his training and expertise in these arts to modernize and codify the Italian systems and make them applicable for modern self-defense applications. He teaches out of the Calix Academy in Udine, Italy with Calix affiliate schools throughout Italy, Russia, and Australia. He also founded the Comitato Italiano Scherma Con Il Bastone E Discipline Associate (Committee of Italian Fencing With Stick And Associated Disciplines) CISB. Along with other traditional Italian martial art masters Danilo Rossi founded the CISB to preserve the traditional Italian martial arts. Each Italian martial art must be verified to three generations in order to be accepted into the CISB. He is also the founder and president of Italian Short Fencing, which is an organized International sport with rules and safety equipment similar to Olympic fencing. 
In Italy, one of the main organization teaching Italian Martial Arts from the period 1410 to 1900 is Nova Scrimia which promotes the teaching of the Italian School of Swordmanship as described by Master Fiore dei Liberi in his 1410 treatise Flos Duellatorum in Armis et sine Armis, also known as "Fior di Battaglia" (The flower of Battle). The curriculum includes the basics in the use of renaissance swords, the rapier, the duelling sabre, venetian and bolognese dagger styles, staff and stick fighting, Venetian Cornoler stick fighting and hand-to-hand combat.
Professor G.G. Merendoni has created a style of military combat known as Sistema Scrima (evolved from a prior system called Sistema SAL) inspired by the Arditi of the first world war and incorporating techniques from historical fencing and regional styles. Alpini mountain troops units dispatched to Afghanistan in recent years were trained by the Merendoni school.
Other Organizations Teaching Italian Swordmanship
The Federazione Italiana Scherma Antica E Storica or FISAS teaches the skills of the Italian School of Swordmanship. The largest organization is Sala D'Arme Achille Marozzo which counts more than 30 Sale D'Armi (armed instruction centers) and more than 400 students spread over northern and central Italy and organizes the biggest championships at national level for Renaissance an Medieval swordsmanship (about 150 participants in the 2011 edition). In the United States the Chicago Swordplay Guild is the leading organization teaching and researching Italian martial arts according to the dei Liberi and Fabris Schools. The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts teaches rapier fencing and has done much to reconstruct rapier combat techniques from the historical manuals of the Italian masters of this art. In England Schola Gladiatoria is an active organization which has done much research and is one of the prominent schools in Europe for Italian martial arts.
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