Practiced with knives: Italian knife fighting in New York

Monday, October 3, 1904

Watertown Daily Times

Fencing bouts indulged in by Italians with blunt weapons
Man Suspected of Baddato’s (sic) Death Arrested at This Rendezvous

It has been said the reason so many Americans are good shots and the American army composed of more marksmen than are found in the armies of other nations is traceable to the fact that our citizens possess arms and indulge in target practice. The same reasons, possession of arms and practice, accounts for the skill with which the Italian handles his knife. In knife fencing the participants are armed with round, blunt sticks about a foot long. They do not grapple with one arm and parry as in a knife contest on the stage. The left arm is held behind the back. The men take positions a few feet apart and the attacking party lunges at his adversary, who parries the thrust or dodges.

A favourite spot for this amusement has been the back stretch of the old mile track at Riverside Park. Here the children of sunny Italy have gathered in large numbers, each Sunday during the past summer, often coming in the morning and remaining until nearly dark.

A person travelling down the river bank on any pleasant Sunday would discover a group of 20 or more dark faced men lounging under the trees bordering the track, interested spectators of the fencing. At time there would be three contests in progress at once. They usually ceased their game when any one happened along, resuming as soon as the cause of the interruption had passed. Again, but one pair of contestants would engage while the others awaited their turn.

It is evident that Michele Spano, suspected of the murder of Cesre Baddato (sic), had been a member of these Sunday parties, for he, with two friends, took refuge at almost the identical spot there the fencers last gathered. Two of the men spent nearly all day yesterday, until their capture by officer Stafford and Crowner, lying behind a bush, while the other remained on guard or hunted forage.

Riverside Park circa 1904

This interesting description of Italian knife fencing was made following the murder of Cesare Badalto by Michele Spano in the Fall of 1904 in New York. Badalto and his friend, Giuseppe Frorillo, were attacked by three Italian men using knives. Badalto was killed on the spot by a thrust, but Frorillo survived, having being cut above the eye several times[1].

This sordid event had the unforeseen advantage of preserving a description of Italian knife fencing which seems to differ in certain points, mostly the hand behind the back, to most Italian knife traditions. The closest I could find was a style which is interestingly taught by another Italian American from the same area, Vito Quattrochi.


[1] Watertown Daily Times. Wednesday, March 22, 1905, p. 10

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