I’m sure we are all feeling the effects of being walled up in our houses for months at a time. So when I was offered a narrow window of escape (to the town of Desenzano on lake Garda no less!!), I jumped at it.

(Going to one of Italy’s top tourist spots for “work”, at a time when no-one else is travelling was a tough sell, obviously.)

This was of course no holiday, but serious business. ProDesenzano and the Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo (SAAM) Lombardia were once again hosting the Italian Sidesword Open (ISO), and I wasn’t about to miss it! As one of the few major European events dedicated purely to the use of the sidesword and its companion weapons, the sidesword being a signature weapon of Italian martial culture, these events bring together a great fencing community.

(Fencers bearing regional colours)

Travel restrictions may have affected international participation, but despite this we had a sellout event with competitors from a range of prestigious stables representing some of the best Italy can offer. Before heading out to Italy, I was asked in private if this was going to be a single stable event (SAAM being by far the largest club in Italy, with some 800 members); but our hosts were well ahead of me by limiting their own clubs participation to just five competitors for the sake of fair competition. Frankly, seeing who they sent, I may well have preferred to face all the rest! Devis Carli, the monstrous animated Italian blending machine, is probably the only person who came out of lockdown in ‘better’ shape than he was in before (!?) and proceeded to win gold in both sword & rotella and single sidesword categories.

(For heavens sake Devis, there are other people too.)

The event winners were:

Sword & Rotella ?Carli Devis ?Gamberini Roberto ?Riccardi Carlo 4° Toffalini Zeno

Single Sidesword ?Carli Devis ?Moreni Giordano ?Montalti Milo 4° Chiappano Stefano

Sword & Buckler ?Gamberini Roberto ?Conese Stefano ?Adami Daniele 4° Tesini Stefano

But the greatest prestige is held by the vaunted technical award, which this year went to Orizio Elena of Bec del Ruc ?

(Elena Orizio, becoming the youngest ever winner of the ISO technical award. (Yes, yes, ok. It is also the first time it was ever awarded at the ISO, but still!))

The ISO 2020 was sponsored by a long list of local and international partners, including Rui Ferreira, Malleus Martialis, Mia SRL – edible underwear (ahh, Italy. Never change…), Sparring Glove, Thokk, Black Fencer, Res Tattica, Razor and Camarell Arts.

(Res Tattica’s 28mm masterpieces could result in miniature Marozzo Mordheim massacres!)

We also had displays of Luca Dazi’s new ‘Verbero’ system. Made to fit inside the pommel of a sword, we can rest easy that this device is not in fact the long feared electrification of HEMA swords. Able not just to score a hit with the tip or edge, it calculates the force of the cut or thrust, triangulates the edge alignment, differentiates between true and false edges, pushed, pulled or percussive cuts. It even tells you the pronation, flexion and extension of the hand! In time, Luca says that the Verbero could easily test the integrity of the blade before use, preventing potential breaks. The wireless device is self calibrating and has very low power draw, which allows it to be quickly set up before an event and then lasts the whole day. The screen takes some interpretation, but Luca says that the device would give an interpretation of its readings for the judges along with a sound for a valid hit.

(The image above is still the prototype made using off the shelf components. Following the demonstration, we took turns trying to come up with creative ways to ‘break the system’)

Verbero or no, skilled judges will always be a necessity for the correct evaluation of an engagement. And part of what makes this annual gathering so special is the sense of fair play and mutual respect between fencers and judges. Feedback was positive, with mention being made of the fairness and quality. A big deal in a sport that is completely reliant on the honesty and impartiality of its judging staff!

(Judging judgementally – ie. shoved off the piste to harmlessly complain over livestream)

The number of clubs and people training in this ever growing martial art dramatically increases year on year, leading to our partnership with Sala d’Arme Achille Marozzo in Italy, and Schildwache Potsdam in Germany, to form the European Sidesword League. At the end of the day, everyone left the ISO and went home smelly and happy and longing for more. And with the ongoing pandemic, who can tell when we will get another chance? Next year we will hopefully see you all at the English, German, Italian (and maybe French!) Sidesword Open for the full league experience.