Classical Academy of Arms

A Society for Classical Fencing Instructor Training and Credentialling

Topics 2016-2017

This page includes Website Continuing Education Topics and their review questions for years 2016-2017.  You can still earn continuing education credit by using the answer sheet on the Website CE webpage.



December 2016 - The Orthopaedic Grip

Orthopaedic grips have widely been blamed by classical fencers for most of the ills of modern fencing.  Criticisms include that they prevent the delicate fingerplay of the traditional French and Italian grips and that they encourage the use of excessive force leading to bad fencing, flicking, brutal fencing, heavy-handedness, all of the fatalities in fencing's recent history, etc.  It is well known that orthopaedic grips did not exist during the classical period.  Therefore, no classical fencer should ever use one.

We admittedly live in a post-factual world, and the classical criticism of the orthopaedic grip is ideally suited for that world.  Orthopaedic grips appear to fall into three basic design categories: (1) grips with a long handle, seemingly built upon the French grip (the Gardere is an example), (2) grips that appear to be modifications of the Italian grip (the Spanish grip is an example), and (3) grips designed to be manipulated with fingers and the musculature of the hand, the true pistol grip (the Visconti is an example).  Some specimens have multiple characteristics, making classifying them an interesting effort.  All appear to have been designed for one or more of three purposes: improved finger control, retaining the strength and power of the Italian Grip, and allowing use by individuals with injuries.  Fencing's orthopaedic grips are one of the first, if not the first, examples of adaptive sports equipment for fencers with disabilities, something of which all fencers should be proud. 

Improved finger control is mentioned by classical period sources, notably Adelardo Sanz in his description of the design criteria for the Spanish grip.  That orthopaedic grips reduce finger control is refuted by no less knowledgeable an authority, Genady Tyshler in the Federation d'Escrime Internationale's current manual for training coaches.  Tyshler emphasizes that orthopaedic grips offer better finger control than a French or Italian grip.

And, if we consider strength, the French critique of the Italian schools has always been the forcefulness of the technique.  Both Castello, Sanz, and Bossini describe the benefits of the Spanish grip as offering the control of the French grip and the power of the Italian grip.  It is difficult to understand how an Italian grip strapped to the wrist is less powerful than an unrestrained orthopaedic grip.

That leaves the fact that orthopaedic grips were not used in the classical period.  Well, actually that is not a fact either.  Thanks to the work of George Kokochashvili we can identify a significant collection of designs of orthopaedic grips that predate the end of the classical period as the Academy defines it (1880-1939).

Approximate Date





 By Maestro Adelardo Sanz.  A modification of the Italian grip with different sized archetti designed to be held with the quillons vertical.

Early 1900s


 A straight grip designed by Maestro Leonardo Terrone for right and left handed fencing.

Early 1900s


 A straight grip designed by Maestro Leonardo Terrone with assistance from Giuseppe Perez for right and left handed fencing.

Early 1900s


 A straight grip with modified quillons designed by Maestro Leonardo Terrone as an improvement to the Terrone-Perez model with assistance from Maestro Massaniello Parise for right and left handed fencing.


 Cugnon D’Alincourt

 A straight grip with a paddle near the pommel


 Eugene-Louis Doyen

 A straight grip with finger projections designed to be custom fit to the fencer.


 Athos di San Malato

 A pistol grip with a long rearward extension.

 In the 1920s


 A straight grip with finger hooks designed by Maestro Andre Gardere


 Athos di San Malato

 A pistol grip with a wrap-around rear projection and a thumb trough.


 Herminio Eccheri

 A grip with either a shaped or straight handle and two large circular loops apparently held horizontally designed by Maestro Herminio Eccheri.



 A pistol grip designed by Maestro Francesco Visconti.


 Souzy Aine

 A straight handle with a paddle before the pommel and two short vertical quillons.


 Domenico Triolo

 A short straight handle with two shaped quillons.


 Agesilao Greco

 A straight handle with a single arch on the bottom side of the grip.


 Michele Alajmo

 A straight handle epee grip with two gently curved quillons.

The grips listed are not a complete catalog of patterns.  For example, the Cetrulo and Belgian Pistol grips are certainly pre-1939 in origin, and there are a variety of patterns of Spanish Grip that precede at least 1948, and almost certainly 1939.  The list only includes those for which an approximate date and likely source could be established. 

When one reads the list of grip designs, it is interesting to note that the names of the designers read like a who's who of prominent fencers and fencing masters.  These are not novice inventing a grip that will let them pummel more advanced fencers with undisciplined, heavy-handed fencing.  They are leading practitioners, fencing masters, experienced duelists, formidable competitors of the day, well trained in their particular schools, and presumably valuing sentiment de fer and blade and point control to as high a degree as any other fencer of the day.

If you wish to use an orthopaedic grip in classical fencing we do have several guidelines that you should follow:

(1)  choose a grip that you can establish without doubt was in use between the years 1880 and 1939, and that is consistent with the specific school or master whose work you are studying.  This may create challenges.  For example, the manuals and notes of Adelardo Sanz were destroyed prior to his suicide and any writings of his primary protégé, Angel Lancho, were almost certainly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.

(2)  train to use the grip the way it was used by adherents of the school.  If your fencing is French School from the late 1920s-1930s and you want to use a Gardere grip, then practice to use French fingerplay with that weapon.  Don't decide you will do Italian fencing with a long handled orthopaedic grip or French fencing with an Italian design, unless you have supporting evidence.

(3)  from time to time go back to the older French and Italian grips as appropriate and practice with them.  Doing so will help you better understand your orthopaedic grip.

(4)  understand that fingerplay is a useful concept as long as your pulse rate stays below approximately 115 beats per minute.  Above that fine motor control starts to disappear, and you must be prepared to shift to hand and even arm control of the blade.  This is a physiological reaction that appears nowhere in the classical manuals.  If you want to do high quality finger work with an orthopaedic grip, work on relaxation and lowering your pulse rate.

Review December 2016

1.  QUESTION:  One of the advantages of the orthopaedic grip was that these grips allowed fencers with hand or arm injuries to continue to fence.  However, based on comments at the time which of the following was a primary reason for the design of orthopaedic grips?

  • a.  to provide the ability to apply even more power to blade actions than the Italian grip could
  • b.  to reduce the technical ability required for beginning students to be able to fight successfully in duels  
  • c.  to improve control and accuracy in fingerplay

2.  QUESTION:  The orthopaedic grips designed during the classical period prior to World War II were overwhelmingly designed by:

  • a.  individuals who hoped that a weapon capable of exerting a great deal of force would compensate for their lack of skill and competitive success. 
  • b.  highly accomplished and well known fencers, duelists, and fencing masters.
  • c.  the premise of the question is false - orthopaedic grips may have been designed but were never actually used in the classical period; only the French and Italian grips can be considered classical grips.

3.  QUESTION:  The earliest documented design for an orthopaedic grip for which we can establish a date was:

  • the Belgian pistol grip designed specifically for use with the electric foil and epee in 1952.
  • Adelardo Sanz's Spanish grip patented in 1895.
  • Athos di San Malato's modification of the Italian grip by adding a heavier pommel, offset quillons, and a differently shaped handle in 1920.