Fencing of Salento
Secret Dueling Art hidden in a Dance
In the Salento area of Apulia region, in Italy, survives is an ancient fencing form and martial art, born centuries ago. Analyzing its history is not an easy task. The Salento has been an isolated area for centuries, corresponding to the extreme south of Apulia, at the real end of Italy. A region divided during the medieval time in several feudal areas, each of them with their own peculiar familiar and secret arts. In particular, the use of short and long knives for fighting and defending was the principal, often together more noble swords. An elegant and complex fencing art, passed "filios filiorum" (from father to son), over centuries, and in this way preserving intact the art across the ages.
Documents of the XIX century indicate how this arts were part of the "Onorata Societa'" (Society of Honor), that only later drifted into more unpopular known branches of criminal intents.
The art emerges publicly into gathering of masters and dancers, who challenge each other into a simulation of the knife fencing, hidden into a special dance, called "pazziata", that mimic the real fight. The knife remains hidden and disguised somewhere, ready to be used in case the dance is not enough to decide the verdict of the challenge. These "Pizzica" dances happen within circles of people, called "ronde", where musicians form the circle, while at the center the two champions challenge each other, following a precise code of rules and honor. Interstingly, "Pazziata" is one of the names used to define the "Scherma Salentina" in certain regions of Salento. Similarly, in the jargon used within the gangsterism (malavita) of the area of Naples, in the Campania region, "pazziaro" is the fencing master, and the only one allowed to teach the art of knife.
This Art is a complex world, made of many layers hidden in the underworld of a culture based on peculiar feelings, unique points of view, and codes of honor. It is an Art strictly related to rigid hierarchies, and full of wonders and treasures.
Weapons include not only several forms of knives and daggers, but also spoons, specially sharpened to become lethal weapons, sticks and, mostly in the past, swords.
The Castle and harbour of Otranto - Salento - Gianbattista Albrizzi - 1761
in the Fencing of Salento
Torrepaduli, a small hamlet if the city of Ruffano A small town located in the south of Salento region. It is the only place, in record and in living memory where, where still today people fight dancing. The place is located in front of the temple and sanctuary of San Rocco (Saint Roch). In honor of this Saint the fencing dance or the dance of the knives (also known as the dance of the swords) is celebrated and practiced. Sometimes it is known as "Pizzica fencing" because the fencing is danced on the rhythm of the famous "pizzica salentina".
The Pizzica scherma (Pizzica Fencing) it is a representation of dueling, maintaining unchanged the ancient scheme of a ferocious combat between two fighters (attach-defence-counterattack). This peculiar choral practice is still alive thanks to the cultural heritage of a small and close circle of people who practice this dueling dance, following the same strict codes based on gestures. A code enriched of internal non written laws, bans and secret symbols, known only by the last depositary masters and practitioners.
The true experts of this Art represent a culture, the one where this fencing evolved, that was born at margins of society, or otherwise, we should better say, they represent a society at margins. They all have a personal history, always immediate and relevant for current times, with peculiar pedagogic characteristics empowered with the capacity of teaching and rising investigations on important aspects, of this Art as of any soul, about friendship, love, hatred, vengeance, passion The communication medium is the code of gestures and poses that form the dance, a language "sanguigno" (full-blooded), carnal, belonging to a primordial dimension, such as the one of the ancient rural cultural of these lands.
An uncommon and rare "Koine' [κοινὴ διάλεκτος - ancient Greek dialtect indicating a cultured form of a common language], empowered with the potential to draw human characters, with hard and difficult stories, stories made of sacrifices, pain, and suffering, sometimes of losses, but never defeated. Human histories that must be taken into account when the intention is true understanding of the "Scherma salentina", and not a superficial curiosity. Still today, the only public place, when this traditions goes public, is during the "Ronde" (dancing in circles) during the night of San Rocco, once per year, during the night of the 16th of August. Not surprisingly, San Rocco, whose celebration and dueling at the rhythm of the pizzica dance, is the most evoked saint since the middle age, as pilgrim and a wonder-worker and healer. With a stick and a scarf. It has always been a devotional figure for peasants. Even if his fame grew across the centuries in Europe and across the ocean, remains a figures surrounded with mystery.
text written by Dr. Davide Monaco and Dr. Marco Quarta.
For further readings: "La scherma salentina... a memoria d'uomo - dalla pazziata alla danza scherma" by Davide Monaco - 2006 - Ed. Aramire'