In Memoriam: William Gaugler

FencingClassics bids a fond farewell to an old mentor, friend, and adviser:

On December 10, 2011, one of the great fencing masters, scholars, and authors of the 20th century, Maestro William M. Gaugler, died of  cancer in Sunnyvale, California.

We appreciate what you’ve done for us…

by J. Christoph Amberger

“Thank you for your good reply and for publishing my article on Curriculum and Diploma,” he wrote to me on September 15, 2011. “You are as always generous. I have great difficulties writing, so I cannot reply easily. I was given only a few months to live, beginning in January this year.”

It turns out that this was the last correspondence I was to exchange with Bill Gaugler. And his article Teaching Fencing: Curriculum and Diploma (although written several years ago for the last edition of Nick Evangelista’s FQM) was the last fencing-related article by him to be published during his lifetime.

My acquaintance with Bill Gaugler dates back to the mid-1990’s, when I had just started to publish Hammerterz Forum. A mild and tolerant man, Bill had commented on an article in which I had picked on the form exhibited by Aldo Nadi during his duel with Contronei. At a time when carefully groomed preconceived notions, paired with a few snippets of Victorican fencing historiography, passed for expertise among fencing history aficionados (including myself), Bill not only was an authority. He also represented a direct link to one of the greatest fencing schools of the 19th century.

Born Aug. 5, 1931, in Highland Park, Michigan, Bill had been one of the last American students of the great Italian fencer Aldo Nadi. Among his teachers were Maestro Umberto Di Paola, Director of the Fencing Masters Preparatory Course at the National Institute of Physical Education in Rome, and Maestro Giorgio Pessina, President of the Italian Fencing Masters Association, of which Dr. Gaugler was a full member, with a fencing master’s diploma from the Accademia Nazionale di Scherma in Naples, Italy.

“I am only two teachers removed from Radaelli: Carlo and Giorgio Pessina,” he wrote to me last September. And his student Sean Hayes expands the historical scope for us: “Maestro Gaugler’s fencing lineage, teacher to student, can be traced back via a primary line to the 18th Neapolitan fencing master Tommaso Bosco e Fucile, and through a secondary line to the 17th century Neapolitan master Giovanni Battista Marcelli and the 17th century Roman master, Lellio Marcelli. Dr. Gaugler would be the first to point out that this secondary line contains one honorary, rather than board-certified, fencing master: Cavaliere Giacomo Mattei, a noted fencer and co-founder of the Neapolitan Military Fencing Academy in 1861.”

Not only did Bill represent a last living link to the methods of Radaelli and Pini, Barbasetti, Sestini and Parise. His scholarship and skill created an interesting anomaly. I wrote back in 1995:

“Given the air of patronizing cultural pretense and assumed superiority an American will encounter almost anywhere in Europe, Italy’s fencing community must be cringing right now. Because the latest and ultimate fencing book on the modern Italian school of fencing once again wasn not written by an Italian maestro, but by a man whose nationality ranks just above the wild nations of Gog and Magog in the self-sufficient pantheon of European culture and sophistication. William Gaugler, the éminence grise of American fencing, has carried his triumphal success in the field of fencing literature into what Italians consider the motherland of systematic swordplay. After the success of his German-language Fechten für Anfänger und Fortgeschrittene (originally published in 1983 by Munich-based Nymphenburger Verlagsbuchhandlung and recently reissued by German paperback giant Heyne), Professor Gaugler’s Fencing Everyone (Winston-Salem, NC: Hunter Textbooks, 1987) have become modern classics in both Germany and the United States. Their Italian translation, La Scienza della Scherma, promises to do just that in Italy, too.”

In characteristic modesty, Bill responded in a letter from Oct. 5, 1995:

“If, indeed, the book is regarded essential among Italian works of this century, I shall be compensated fully for the labor that has gone into it. Above all, I shall be grateful that the method of classical Italian swordplay will have been preserved. Only Maestro Di Paola, among my masters, lived to see the German and Italian editions in print, and he was delighted. And he had been not only a graduate of the Scuola Magistrale, but he was also on its faculty, and, during the 1930’s, worked alongside Nedo Nadi, giving Nedo lessons (read exercises) on a daily basis. So the lessons I included at the end of the Italian edition are the very lessons Aldo and Nedo Nadi received and transmitted to their students.”

Thanks to Laureate Press publisher Lance Lobo, the extended Scienza was published in English back in 1997 as The Science of Fencinga comprehensive exposition of the Italian systems of foil, épée and saber, enhanced by The History of Fencing, and and supplemented by A Dictionary of Universally Used Fencing Terminology.

In 1979, Bill established a fencing master’s training program at San José State University in California, which continues his legacy.

The surprising thing is that despite all of his achievements in fencing, fencing was really more of an avocation rather than a profession: William M. Gaugler was Professor of Classical Archaeology at San Jose State University, California and as such left several seminal works on Etruscan Art.

After caring and providing for his ill wife for more than a decade, Bill died of cancer. According to Maestro Hayes, he outlived his prognosis by almost a year, a tribute to his strength. During that time he concluded work on several of his art history and archeology projects, and these are expected to be published.

We raise our weapon in a last salute to a generous friend, a kind mentor, a scholar, and a gentleman. Until we meet at Valhalla!

The Science of Fencing: A Comprehensive Training Manual for Master and Student: Including Lesson Plans for Foil, Sabre and Epee InstructionA Dictionary of Universally Used Fencing TerminologyThe History of Fencing : Foundations of Modern European Swordplay

15 responses to “In Memoriam: William Gaugler

  1. Warren J. Cabral

    Rest in Peace, Maestro Gaugler…I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting you personally, but I have read your works….indeed, your fine reputation is one we all aspire to…..Go in the Grace of God.

    Warren Cabral,
    Shalimar, Florida

  2. Maestro Gaugler.
    May you find the peace of the Lord embracing you. I have read your books and learned a great deal of fencing that has lead me to be continually participating in the sport. You remain a insperation. I wish you and your family all my sympathy in this time of grief
    Rest In Peace Maestro

  3. Maestro Gaugler did not die of brain, but of of lung cancer, not in San Diego, but in Sunnyvale, California. Overall, these differences in detail may seem insignificant to some. They would not be to the Maestro. By profession Dr. Gaugler was a classical archeologist, and by the standards of his profession and the severe adherence to exactitude he imposed upon himself he was a superlative academic who provided the first scientific proof for the probable location of what may have been the largest edifice in antiquity, the tomb of the Etruscan king, Lars Porsenna. Over a period of 18 years I came to know the Maestro to be unyielding in his attention to the most minute detail — of anything. In some ways I saw this severity as a fault, but with respect to fencing pedagogy and fencing history this “fault” was clearly the means to the preservation and salvation of what, with no thanks to the modern Olympic Games, had been a dying art.

    Frank Lurz
    Maestro di Scherma

  4. Salute to Maestro W.Gaugler. I remember our corrispondence and his kind and beutiful review of my pubblication.
    Thanks again Maestro.

    Gianluca Zanini
    Istruttore Nazionale di Scherma
    Libertas Scherma Salò BS

  5. The world is a sadder place for my daughter and her husband, who know this Maestro and profited from his work. Dori, remember to give the Maestro credit in your next scholarly paper about Italian-style fencing.

  6. Salute to honor the master!
    Igor A.
    To memory of master is devoted

  7. I had the honor of being one of Maestro Gaugler’s fencing students. Under his direction I completed the San Jose State Fencing Masters program. Maestro was a true renaissance man and continues to be a very big influence on my life and of the fencing community. He will be greatly missed! Thank you Maestro.

    Margaret A, Dickerson
    Maestra di Scherma
    Campbell, CA

  8. It’s not often that a teacher completely changes one’s life, but Maestro Gaugler did so for me. It’s not simply that I followed his avocation as my profession: it’s that he showed me how someone could embody that profession, and to give the best to their students. Salute, Maestro.

    Sean Hayes
    Maestro di Scherma

  9. Frank Reid May

    The Maestro will live on in the lives of those he influenced, and in their students and publications. Indeed!

    Reid May,

  10. Riccardo Rizzante

    For what it’s worth, I came into contact with Dr. Gaugler years ago, and I was delighted by his exquisite kindness above his undeniable competence. We had a very proficous intellectual exchange and I clearly remember the compliments he made me for my collection and bibliography. I remember still a passionate man toward his beloved fencing, as well a heartful husband for the, back then, very sick wife. I’m sure one day I’ll meet him again.
    For what is worth, I’ll remember him.

  11. Un dolce pensiero al Maestro Dr.Gaugler
    Giovanni Lodetti

  12. Christoph Amberger

    Reblogged this on Fencer's Magazine.

  13. Karl Johnson

    I was one of Dr. Gaugler’s students. i studied with him as SWAT cop who sought a better understanding of the fight. I worked with him as best I could over the years that required I specialize, even when I believed he knew the thread that would keep me alive. I carried that thread around the world: I fenced at Tauberbischofsheim and in Baghdad and Tel Aviv. Maestro Gaugler’s voice was not lost there.

    Maestro Lurtz, I remember you and suspect you would have disapproved of what I have done since we were students there. Life moves as it does and we cannot change it. I found out about Dr Gaugler’s death just now, and it affects me more than I’d though possible.

  14. I have not have the opportunity to take classes or meet him but I have the opportunity to read his fine books and by it, I had a precise idea of the person that he was. You are an example to be followed in the fencing world. R.I.P.

  15. Saverio Crisci

    Ho avuto l’onore di conoscere il Maestro Gaugler, una. splendida persona.

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