Italo Santelli

Aug. 15,1866 - Feb. 8,1945

The Father of Modern Saber Fencing

1896 - Italo Santelli, at the Millennium Of Hungary National Exhibition held in Budapest

Italo Santelli (Left), Italy,  May 1900 Paris Summer Olympics in foil bout with Jean-Baptiste Mimiague (France)
Santelli finishes #6 in foil, but wins the silver medal in men's saber. Mimiague wins the silver in foil.
(Photo was taken by Life in the Air Magazine)

More photos below

Italo Santelli who when asked why he did not write a book about fencing, said, "Fencing is something you do, and not write!" Ironically, we would not know this today, if Santelli's pupil, Laszlo Szabo, didn't have the foresight to write it in his invaluable book Fencing and the Master.  - Jeremy Schmid, Editor of The Swordmaster

"I dedicate my work, with sincere gratitude, to the memory of my unforgettable master Italo Santelli" thus starts Laszlo Szabo's incredible book.

Italo Santelli graduated from the famed Italian Scuola Magistrale. Teachers included Carlo Pessina and  Guiseppi Radaelli, Pessina was also a student of Radaelli. It is widely thought that Santelli was Pessina's favorite student. In 1896 Santelli, now a full-fledged fencing master, left Italy and moved to Budapest where he had been invited to come and teach. Santelli improved on the Italian method and revolutionized saber fencing along with Luigi Barbasetti, with Santelli becoming recognized as the "Father of Modern Saber Fencing". His new method included a more flexible wrist, and more finger play to control the blade and hits, and it proved more effective than the established Italian method. Hungary welcomed the new method and began to dominate saber fencing for more than 50 years.

In 1897, son Giorgio born in Budapest.

1900 Summer Olympics, Paris, France: Italo wins the Silver medal in Men's Saber - Masters, Milan Neralic (AUT) takes the bronze, and Antonio Conte (ITA) the gold. Link to details: The games were held in conjunction with the Universal Paris Exhibition. They opened on May 14, 1900.

Early 1920's, Francis Zold becomes the Maestro's student. Zold earns his Master's degree in fencing becoming a full-fledged fencing instructor all the while fencing competitively under Santelli's guidance in Budapest. He is eventually elected the Secretary of the Hungarian Fencing Federation. In 1948, he was a captain of the Hungarian Fencing Team at the Olympic Games in London. He defects after the war and moves the USA where he eventually becomes U.S. Junior Olympic team coach seven times, and coach at the prestigious University of So. Calif., and Pomona College. Dr. Zold maintained a lifelong friendship with Laszlo Szaba and has recounted to several of Szabo's loyalty to his revered maestro Italo Santelli.   Link to Dr. Zold's bio:

1924 - In Paris, Maestro Santelli is the Hungarian Team coach. France, Italy, Hungary and suffers an unacceptable insult. The 58 year old Italo challenges Italian team captain Adolfo Contronei to a duel. See details here.

In 1928 Lajos Csiszar becomes Italo Santelli's student in Budapest, eventually becoming a teacher in his school. When Santelli passes away in 1945 Csiszar takes over as head coach for Hungary's championship teams. In 1947 Csiszar immigrates to the USA and joins the University of Pennsylvania as assistant professor of Physical Education where he continues on to take Univ. Penn to unprecedented championship levels as head coach. In 1956 he was an Olympic coach, 1970 World Championships coach, 1971 Pan American coach,  and advisor to the Munich Olympic team. Maestro Csiszar becomes a legendary coach in his right. He passes away at age 93, Feb. 20, 1997. Details of Csiszar's career  and passing at Penn state:,

 1929 - Laszlo Szaba, comes from Transylvania to become an apprentice of Italo's, in the now famous and legendary Salle Santelli, recognized as the birthplace of modern saber fencing.  He is chosen as one of 3 to become coaches under the guidance of Santelli (the other two are Lajos Csiszar and Laszlo Duronelli). Szaba was born in 1905, and had learned to fence in a local club in Marosvasarhely, Transylvania. Loyal to the Maestro, Szaba sticks out the depression through the 1930's with an almost bankrupt Salle Santelli. In 1941, Szaba returned to his homeland to become the fencing master at the University in Kolozsvar. Szaba ends up returning to Budapest after the war, where he finds his own success as a fencing master. In 1955 student Lidia Sakovics Domolky wins the World Champion title in Womens Foil. Other students became Olympic and World champions (in both individual and team events).  His son, Andras Szabo becomes a fencing master in his own right, and becomes the head fencing coach of the Greek Olympic team. Szabo becomes even more famous by writing the book "Fencing and the Master" after toiling on the manuscript for almost 50 years, pouring into it a lifetime of accumulated knowledge. The book is published in English in 1977.  Szabo dedicates the book to Italo Santelli.  Szabo's story is told in the  foreword of the reprint of the book, in a memoir written by Olympic Gold medalist, Eugene Hamori, one of Szabos students in 1951. The book is available from SKA Swordplay Books.

Berczelly Tibor, a Budapest native born in 1912, comes to Maestro Italo Santelli in 1929 to train. His bio (in Hungarian) can be found here

Maestro Italo Santelli was invited to teach a coaching seminar in Denmark. He chose not to go and instead asked one of his salles coaches  the now famous Lajos Csiszar to go in his place. Maestro Italo, called "Papa" by most informs the young Csiszar that he is going to Denmark to teach a coaching seminar in his place. Responds Csiszar " Papa, I don't speak Danish", Santelli responds " They are lucky".

Coach to Hungarian Aladar Gerevich (1910-1991). Gerevich was born in Miskolc in 1910 and became winner of  7 Olympic gold medals, 1 Olympic silver (1952) and 2 Olympic bronze medals (1936) in fencing, and won the individual world championship title once. At the age of 50 he won his 6th consecutive Gold Olympic medal in the team saber event in Rome 1960. Link to sites with details:

Mid 1930's - Ferenc Zoltan (later known as Frank) at age 11 starts to study with the great maestro. He twice wins the Budapest High School fencing championships, and then the National High Schools title of National Champion in foil. In 1941 still under Santelli's tutelage he win's the prestigious Kolosvar Memorial Trophy in men's saber. He was a prisoner of war, held by the Russians from 1945-1950. In 1956 he immigrated to the United States, where he was a Professor of  Chemistry at the Oberlin College as well as fencing coach. During his time as Coach, Oberlin did not have one losing season. Students commented on the great effect he had on their lives. He passed away in 1974. Link to Oberlin article about him, w/comments by past students.  Scroll down to pages 7 and 8.

Remarks by Dr. Jeno Kamutti, President of the International Committe for Fairplay at the Dec. 2002 World Olympian Association Congress.  " . . .the example of a legendary Italian-Hungarian fencing master. He was Santelli Italo, who literally speaking brought up Olympic and World champions. He not only technically trained and prepared them, but he also cared for their morals. Long ago, fencers used to declare the hit they received from the opponent, before the decision of the judge. Once, one of Santelli's fencers did not declare the hit previously. After the competition, the master told to his pupil the following: today you did not declare a hit, tomorrow you will forge bills. "  Click here to see complete article.

Luigi Barbasetti, 1896                                               Maestro Santelli w/the Hungarian Nat'l  Saber Team


From Dr. William Gaugler Dec. 1997:,&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&

Italos remarks to young Lajos Csiszar:,&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&

Brief bio of Aladar Gerevich:  in Hungarian.