My recollection of Maestro Schmitter

.Charles Schmitter, Maestro Di Scherma by the National Fencing Academy in Naples, Italy was my fencing coach and mentor. He passed away on March 16, 2002 at the age of 94. He was a very likable yet gruff MSU VarsityHead Fencing Coach for an incredible 45 year record setting duration. Maestro Schmitter was a genuine renaissance man, he spoke Italian, French, Russian and German and could fence with either right or left hand in addition to being an accomplished musician.

His dedication and lifetime commitment to the sport of fencing is universally recognized and respected to this day. He was a founding member of the National Fencing Coaches Association and a member of the Olympic Commitee for the 1956 and 1960 Summer Olympics and the Pan American Fencing Coach in 1959. He won the First NCAA Fencing Coach of the Year Award and was the first American born recipient of the Italian Fencing Masters Diploma in 1956. Master Giuseppe Mangiarotti gave him greuling one hour lessons six days a week. For those who are too young to remember, Giuseppe Mangiarotti was a nationally reviered Italian fencing master of foil and epee. He was also the father and fencing teacher of Edoardo Mangiarotti who still holds the distinction of amassing a yet to be matched record of successes with 13 Olympic medals, 6 of them gold, and 27 world championships medals, 13 of them gold, even though he participated in only nine world championships.

Schmitter taught evening college fencing classes at MSUwhere I first became hooked on fencing for life as his student back in 1976. In 1978 I got a job as graphic artist with MSU and immediately arranged my work schedule so that I could attend Schmitter's varsity fencing practice from 4-6pm. Monday through Thursday. I watched Miestro Schmitter give countless lessons to the varsity fencers, I fenced with the varsity fencers and occasionally got a personal lesson from "coach". As a member of MSU staff, I was not allowed the honor to fence for MSU as part of the travel team but Miestro Schmitter always enjoyed sharing interesting fencing stories and could suddenly break away to admonish a student across the room who needed correction. His eyes saw everything going on in the room! His hand, though wracked with arthritis was an example of precise mechanical efficiency.

      I remember back then Miestro Schmitter bought all of his team fencing equipment exclusively from Santelli fencing gear in New York. The Santelli's Italian saber blades were reputed to be some of the best. One summer, Santelli agreed to give fencing lessons to coach Schmitter as a professional courtesy so that Schmitter might pass on the Santelli fencing form and style to better teach MSU students, the direct and most outstanding of them being Fred Freiheit. At the time, Georgio Santelli was a famous olympic fencer and the son of Italio Santelli who is credited with bringing modern sabre fencing to Hungary after which the Hungarians began to dominate olympic saber fencing. Fred Freiheit, being the direct recipient of what Schmitter learned from Santelli that summer was the natural choice as MSU fencing coach after Schmitter retired.

1984 marked Schmitter’s 45th year of teaching fencing at MSU. Constantly suffering from debilitating artheritis pain, Schmitter reluctantly retired, leaving MSU varsity fencing in the very capable hands of his sabre fencing star student, Fred Freiheit who helped continue passing on the combined fencing styles of Schmitter, Santelli and Mangiarotti until MSU pulled out of NCAA fencing in 1997.

Relegated to a club sport since 1997 the MSU fencing club still competes against over 30 other university varsity and club fencing teams. The MSU fencing club has since been coached by volunteer Spartan fencers like Fred Freiheit and Dale Walters. As a student of Miestro Schmitter for 12 years and continuing direction under coach Freiheit after that, I volunteered to be the MSU fencing club advisor so as to pass on what knowledge has managed to rub off on me over the years. The MSU fencing club traditon is still based on varsity spirit passed down from class to class by alumni and students of Miestro Schmitter and coach Freiheit.

In 2003 I accepted the position of MSU head fencing coach and the commitment to 2 hours of team practice a day Monday through Thursday plus coaching the team at all competitions. After more than 30 years of crossing blades with MSU coaches and fencers, it was my turn to give back to MSU that which has been passed on to me. I am continually blessed with contributions of time and energy from fellow volunteer MSU fencing alumni. In 2008 I retired as head fencing coach leaving the team in the good hands of Dan Brun, a student of U of M coach Jim Vesper as head coach and my own student Eric Carlson as assistant coach.

Schmitter’s philosophy was that "life is too short to be angry". He donated his entire fencing book collection to the MSU library making MSU the repository of one of the largest rare fencing book collections in the world. Several books from the Schmitter collection have been chosen to be convert to pdf in the near future. Until then, I have been copying and posting passages from the Barbasetti book owned by Fred Freiheit. Thanks Fred!

Chris Oberg

Head Coach and Club Advisor, retired