Italian Stick Fencing


By Gianluca Zanini© Copyright 2002

“I anchora vederiti uno magistro a pe incoronado cum spedo in mane e quello che luy po far cum spiedo poria far cum lanza cum bastone e anchora cum una spada.”

Moreover you will see a crowned master stepping with the stecke in his hand, and what he can do with the stecke, he could do with the lancier (spear), with a stick and with a sword as well.”


The use of the stick as man’s first primeval weapon is lost in the mists of time. First discovered as a makeshift offensive tool, the stick became man’s best companion, where by the wayfarers of all time could walk more easily and safely.

Looking at the historical pictures and descriptions we can understand how the stick, which the Masters retained useful for the Pugna(fight), was used .

The stick was large, knotty and long as an arm like that showed in the Fiore de Liberi’s treatise, Flos Duellatorum. The Master’s “double-stick guard against Lanza” shows the Scharmitor’s skills: one stick closes the measure and the other holds the spear, while he draw’s the dagger out.

In this system the transference of skills to the stick was so natural that Magistro Fiore wrote :

“E quello che cum bastone faco cum la spada lo faria, ben che più forti giochi con quella trovaria”

(I can do with the stick what I would do with the sword, although I would find with It (sword) stronger plays).

In fact the stick was not just an improvised weapon used as a last resort but a proper weapon in it’s own right for those who could not afford to own a sword.

Pilgrims and wayfarers walked along the roads of that time carrying a long stick called “Bordone” or “Bacolo”, which could be helpful in some unfavourable circumstances.

At the end of the 14th century (and even earlier for some historians) these sticks began to conceal a strong and long blade, which was released and locked by friction.

The “Buttafuori”(the proper name of this weapon, which was similar to the “brandistocco”, brin d’estoc or wurf-spietz) could be even provided with side blade, which opened at the end of the movement and formed almost a pointed cross guard.

So the Buttafuori represented the stick as both a tool and a weapon, revealing a highly regarded concept recurring in the whole tradition, that is:“ “to catch who want to (take you by surprise)catch you”.

Italian Stick Fencing_pic01


“Guerra di Canne and Mazza e Scudo (Lett. .: Canne War and Club & Shield)

During the Renaissance period, and even earlier, stick fighting was widespread in Italy. It was contested as a sport, though sometimes it was too cruel to be termed a game .

In this regard the “little battles on the bridges” in Venice were very popular since the 14th century. In these challenges two factions on behalf of noble families fought on a bridge the so-called Guerra di Canne.

The contenders were armed with sticks, sometime along with shields, and metal helmets for head protection. The rules permitted both cuts and thrusts along with kicking and punching. The injured were pulled back from the battle and the boats, prepared in advance under the bridge, picked up the wounded that fell into the canal. These skirmishes had to be quite cruel but certainly there were enough bold men and women who swelled the ranks of these groups.

During this period of time all manner of men-at-arms or soldiers belonging to the Serenissima’s army walked along Venice: Schiavoni, Stradiotti, Turcopoli veneti, Cavalleggeri italiani, Dragoni veneti, Bombardieri. Most of these “men at arms” participated in these bridge battles, as did the civil and nobles who fought the so called Battagliole .

The Stradiotti in particular used some impressive offensive armaments: the zagaglia or lanza lunga, a spear with both ends armed with iron and a stick with an iron end attached to the saddle of the horse. The Stradiotti cavalry was very skilful and it seems they knew the use of this stick since the 9th century at the time of the Byzantine Emperor Michele I Rangabe. They carried also a helmet and a round shield (rotella), targe or buckler.

This armament is similar to that used in the popular stick wars, which were even held in the squares of others famous towns, like Pisa and Florence, where these war games were called exactly:

Mazza e Scudo, – club and shield.


From the Buttafuori to the Walking Stick

After the prohibition of the sword’s carry in the 19th century, walking sticks of all configurations became fashionable and developed into an elegant and useful accessory common to every social class. The stick eventually replaced the sword, and become the first and best weapon for the people who had to walk around unsafe places.

The fencing master would model and transfer the techniques of sabre fencing to the walking stick, and the two-hand sword skills to the two-handed stick, developing codified forms of stick fencing practised in many sala (or salles). In these fencing rooms the use of the walking stick, two-hand stick, along with knife and boxing was wide- spread.

The Bastone animato was a walking stick that was constructed to conceal a blade, which could be up to 60 cm’s long with a square section for thrusting, and an oval section for cutting. Until the middle of the 20th century the stick would find recognition in the military and police force, which formed special riot units.

In this regard the writer Francesco Rovani -founder of the literary movement called “Scapigliatura”- tells the story of “La compagnia della teppa” Milan’s riots and disorders during the early 19th century. Rovani underlines how stick fighting was widespread between the common people, who had to defend their lives against these gangs of rioters, rebels and revolutionaries, who went around the city during the night armed with sticks, beating without pity cuckold politics, supporters of the Austrian invaders and whoever was involved in their more or less equitable summary justice:

“ This daily overwhelming aroused a certain warrior spirit also between who did not belong to the Compagnia della tappa… the retaliations arose frequent and ferocious and many time, who moved to break the others’ head, went home with the head broken. To have an idea of this warrior spirit, moving from the open battle fields of Europe to the narrow streets of our tortuous town, it’s enough to have a look at our fathers’ sticks…”(Rovani-Cento anni)

Italian Stick Fencing_pic03

The Maestro Martinelli, teacher of the police force in Milan confirms the usefulness and importance of the stick as the best self-defence weapon of the time, epitomised in the following sentence from his Treatise:

“At this point I can say that the newspapers would not report so often the glories of the knife, if everybody studied the stick fencing. A good lesson was enough to reform any who could not care less of the law, and whom has the right of the respect and of the personal security.

(Trattato di Scherma col bastone da Passeggio e difesa persoale-Milan 1908)


Two-handed stick

“but every one has to appreciate in the handling of the stick, is that it needs as scale of sabre and sword fencing…”

Maestro Giuseppe Cerri 1835


Italian Stick Fencing_pic03

The two handed stick was taught to the class of civil fencers and to the military troops and police force. The Cerri, Cajol, Falciani and the teachers of the War Minister were some of these 19th century Masters. Master Giuseppe Cerri wrote two interesting treatises: first on sabre and the other a large book on stick fencing entitled: “Trattato teorico pratico della scherma di bastone”(Milano1854).

In the preface Master Cerri writes: “The two-handed sword, which was used in the middle age was also used by the famous Marozzo di Bologna wrote a treatise, it is very similar to the two-hand stick in the handling”. So the Italian schools preserving its tradition taught the historic evolution of the weapons and of their use.

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Maestro Cerri also explains how this fencing can be used also for personal defence and not just as a gymnastic exercise:

“do not believe that I inculcate the stick learning in order to abuse of it, but just for pastime, for gymnastic practice and for all the unpleasant encounters where we may have to use it in self defence of a unfair provocation”

In these treatise the various academic exercises argue a graceful and very formidable skills, which is mastered with care through the footwork and two-hand manipulation.

This elegant fencing is made up of various paces, 42 “mulinelli”(cuts) and strong parries with two hands. The length of the stick does not allow to avoid easily the opponent’s blows, therefore the parry became so very important to block the attacks, Cerri presents a total of 16 parries.

Italian Stick Fencing_pic05

The parries which use the large bayonet grip are also worthy of remark.

After attacking with a lunge, sometime you do not have time to retreat in guard to parry the riposte. So you can just draw back the pommel hand and make the other hand slip on the stick increasing the coverage of the stick.

Italian Stick Fencing_pic06

It requires particular agility of the body to cross the forearms following the steps.

The basic exercises show how the spadone and the two-handed stick have the same basic handling with many of the cuts performed in the same manner.

In this regard the F.Alfieri’s treatise (“Lo spadone” Padova -1653) represents a unique work on the basic two-hand manipulation of the sword.

Every two-handed stick fencer should study this treatise and train with the Spadone in order to improve the arms strength, the body’s flexibility and the speed of foot work.

Italian Stick Fencing_pic07


Part –2

Walking Stick Fencing

“…will be useful for all the police guards whose duty is to enforce the observation of the laws, using what they are provided with, moreover will be very useful for any citizen obliged to take care of his safety in regrettable situations, or help the weak persons if necessary…”

Maestro Giannino Martinelli Milano 1908

The Italian fencing school and the Maestri di sciabola (Cerri, Zangheri, Enrichetti, Arista, Masiello, Pecoraro, Radaelli, Ceselli and Martinelli) developed the more congenial methods of practical application and technical theory of the stick.

Walking stick Fencing is proposed and developed according to the particular method elaborated by Maestro GIANNINO MARTINELLI who wrote the treatise “Trattato di scherma con il bastone da passeggio”(Milan 1908). Practioners of Nova Scrimia study this discipline during their second year program.

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Martinelli’s work is structured like the classic fencing manual and even contains self-defence instructions regarding walking stick and unarmed combat.

The stepping structure and footwork, “Marce/Passeggio”, is linear and similar to duelling sabre. The hand grips the stick with the thumb positioned along the shaft and the “mulinelli” or cuts are delivered mostly by the wrist motion. The unarmed hand is held on the hip with the knees bent and the body straight with the right shoulder leading towards the opponent.

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In the guard the stick is bearing on the strike line with the hand in second or third position.

There are a variety of excellent exercises to train blows, parries, footwork, stick holds and beats. It’s also incorporates the close in work with disarms and handle-blows.

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The walking stick method is practised also as a competitive full contact assault with the following rules, simplified and extracted from the official rules of Assalto N.S.:


Place: a 10 meters piste.

Upon receiving a touch opponents return on the start line and come into guard – as in sportive fencing.

All blows are permitted, but must be delivered with just a wrist and elbow motion..

The whole body is valid target. Every touch scores 1 point.

Time: A match is over when one of the opponents first scores 10 points.


One-hand stick fencing

The deep structure of this discipline is very similar to the previous method, but the practice of sparring differs enough to divided them into two ways of combat.

The one-handed stick differs in weight from the walking stick, which is lighter.

The stick is held in a full grip with the thumb clenched around the fingers. The movements used with the heavier stick are closer to the one-hand sword rather than the 19th century sabre, which fits very well with the walking stick on the contrary.

The guard and stance is the same as modern fencing except the stick arm position.

The play is long and the footwork is large and more circular and dynamic. The blows, also delivered with the shoulder motion, are longer and stronger.

The basic combat rules are:

Place: Area 7 meter square .

Blows may only be delivered to area’s of the body that are protected by padding, which comprises the shins, knees, chest, arms, unarmed hand, and the head. (Due to the weight of the weapon it is forbidden to strike the stick hand for obvious reasons).

Upon receiving a hit both opponents must return to the start line prior to recommencing the bout.

A match consists of two rounds of 4 minutes. The winner is the one who scores more points at the end.

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Nova Scrimia

The Nova Scrimia Group was born in 1990 and was found by people coming from different martial arts and fighting sports. Their two main purposes were and are to research and to experiment the Italian heritage of combat arts.

The word Nova (“new”) means the evolution and modernity of the Art at the present day.

That means the Art is still useful and must be practised nowadays as an excellent self defence method and even for competitive/sportive fighting practise.

Scrimia denotes the history and tradition of the Art, which has to be respected and followed strictly to understand its evolution. The historical recreation is not the first aim of the group and it is subordinated to the understanding of the practical and real science of combat.

The Nova Scrimia group has collected many treatises and documents since its birth, thanks to the relentless search in the libraries of the country and to the contributions of several private collectors and fencing Masters.

At the moment the Group’s writer, Graziano Galvani, together with the other founding members have published three books: the first is a general presentation of Nova Scrimia School, called “Nova Scrimia- Arte Marziale Italiana”, the second is a manual and treatise on the Italian stick fencing, called “Scherma di Bastone Italiana”, and the third is a work on the Art of dagger and knife of the Italian tradition, “Arte di Daga”.

Since the acquisition of an original Pisani-Dossi Codex of Flos Duellatorum, Nova Scrima will very soon release a new work on this important treatise.

This new book is divided into two parts: the first is the complete reproduction of Codex and the second is the critical evaluation of the work.

The Group collaborate also with other W.M.A. Associations, groups, web sites and national magazines as well as organises courses, seminars, lectures and tournaments all over the country. Gianluca “Scossa” Zanini is an Instructor of Nova Scrimia, editor of the Group’s English literature and founder of “Sala d’Armi Brixia”(Brixia salle d’arms), located in the Brescia’s province on the wounderful Garda Lake.





Magistro Fiore dei Liberi da Premariacco Codice Pisani, Dossi 1409 – Ed.

Novati 1902


Mastro Filippo Vadi, Pisa, 1485


Maestro Antonio Manciolino, Bologna, 1531


Maestro Achille Marozzo, Bologna, 1a Edizione 1536 – 2a Edizione 1568


Maestro Camillo Agrippa, Milano, 1553


Maestro Giacomo Di Grassi, Modena, 1570


Maestro Francesco Alfieri, Padova, 1640


Maestri Rosaroll S. Grisetti P. – 1a Edizione 1803 – 2a Ed.1871


Maestro Spinazzi, Genova, 1851


Maestro Giuseppe Cerri, Milano, 1854


Anonimo, Cuneo, 1858


Maestro Francesco Cajol, Torino, 1865


Maestro Alberto Falciani, Pisa, 1870


Maestro Giovanni Ceselli Livorno, 1908 (2a Ed.)


Mangiarotti Cerchiari, Longanesi e C., 1966


Maestro Giancarlo Toran, Società stampa sportiva, Roma, 1996

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