Levis, Joseph

AFLA national foil champion (1929, ’32, ’33, ’35, ’37, ’54); national outdoor foil champion (1929, ’33); national three-weapon champion (1929). Member, U.S. Olympic team, (1928, ’32,’36) captain (1936). Individual Olympic silver medalist in foil (1932); regarded as the finest accomplishment ever by an American fencer. Member, bronze medal-winning foil team (1932). Vice-president of the AFLA. His victory in the 1954 nationals after a 17-year layoff from competition is considered the greatest comeback in the history of American fencing. IFA foil champion for MIT (1926).


Click below for an exerpt from Joe Levis’ family history, many interesting photos and great stories!

Joe Levis pictured with Francis Dee and Cary Grant.




Alessandroni  (being inducted into the US Fencing Hall of Fame 2010)  against Joe Levis  (also in the Hall of Fame)  This photo was a gift from Robert Levis, son of Joe Levis.





Levis Shows Fencing Mettle

Old Champion Stages Foils Comeback as Olympic Team Nominations Loom
by J. P. Allen

Fencers have added a new twist to the classic plea for peace when the swords shall be beaten into plough shares.  In the finals of the national championship they beat them into a magnificent resemblance to cork screws as Joseph Levis captured the foils, Lieut. Thomas J. Sands the epee and Norman C. Armitage the sabers last night in the gymnasium of the New York Athletic Club.  The victorious trio marked up a sweep for the college veterans in the tournament.

Something more than just the titles was at stake.  There was an undercurrent of discussion that the remarkable field of an even dozen that fought in the finals was practically certain to be named for the American Olympic team.  Looked at from that angle the clash and clang of steel assumed an importance far beyond its national aspect.  Levis is a former Olympic competitor.  He came forth from retirement of a year to regain his lost crown.  He accomplished it with a display of swordsmanship that clearly demonstrated his class.

Levis is the young devotee of the sword who teased the staid Massachusetts Institute of Technology into joining  the intercollegiate fray.  He is a civil engineer by profession, keeping fit  for a big job by his devotion to fencing.  He displayed all the guile of the serpent as he fought Hugh Alessandroni, former Columbia fencer and the defencing champion, in the final bout.  It was a whirlwind affair.

Alessandroni, literally with his back to the wall, gallantly strove to save his crown.  Levis was not to be denied.  His attack, masterfully timed, cut through his opponent’s guard for the required five touches without the defending title holder being able to score.

That was the lone defeat for the left-handed Alessandroni and it put him in second place ………….

In the final 4, Levis defeated Hurd, 5-4; Levis defeated Castello, 5-2; Levis defeated Alessandroni, 5-0.


July 31, 1932

NY Times


Score in Opening Round of Olympic Competition, Levis Taking 3 Bouts

Danish Team Also Victor

Los Angeles, July 31, AP

The United States fencing team today outpointed Argentina in the first round of the Olympic sword event, winning 10 out of 16 bouts.

The Danish team, the second to complete its match, won 11 out of 16 matches with Mexico.  France defeated Argentina, 12 – 4.

R. Larraz, star of the Argentine team and Joseph L. Levis, Boston broker, who turned in a brilliant afternoon for the United States, each won 3 out of 4 bouts in the match between the two teams.


sponsored by the Amateur Fencers League of America
New York City

1932  AFLA 43rd National Men’s  Foil Championships

lst  Joseph  L. Levis                           NYFC

2nd  Hugh Vincent Alessandroni           NYFC

3rd  Lt. George Charles Calnan             NYFC




sponsored by the Amateur Fencers League of America
New York City


1933   AFLA 44th National Men’s Foil Championships        

            lst Joseph L.  Levis                   NYFC

2nd Hugh Vincent Alessandroni   NYFC

3rd Frank Stahl Righeimer Jr.      NYAC

l933  AFLA National 2nd  Outdoor Men’s  Foil Championships
June 23-24, held in conjunction with the

“Century Of Progress Expositon” in Chicago

1st  Joseph L.  Levis   Boston

Qualification: Preliminary qualifying rounds for all events were held in New York and also by the A.F.L.A. Divisions of Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Connecticut, Michigan, New England, New Jersey, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Southern California.

The Contestants:  Hugh Alessandroni, N.Y.; Oscar Barab, Chicago; George Bauer, Detroit; R. W. Bristol, Detroit; Peter Bruder, N.Y.;

Jose de Capriles, N.Y.; Miguel de Capriles, N.Y.; Earl Correll, Columbus; Dernell Every, N.Y.; Ralph B. Faulkner, Los Angeles; Arthur Fregosi, N.Y.; Dr. John R. Huffman, New Haven; Joseph L. Levis, Boston; Theodore Lorber, San Francisco; Anthony Miskinis, Chicago; Nickolas Muray, N.Y.; Frank S. Righeimer, Jr., Chicago; A. E. Sauer, Detroit; Royall H. Snow, Columbus; Alfred H. Snyder, San Francisco.

From the A.F.L.A. program of the 1933 National Outdoor Championships,

“The contestants who are competing in Chicago, therefore, represent the best fencers from each section of the country and include all of the present national champions as well as many former title holders and a majority of the 1932 Olympic Team.  With the exception of last year’s Olympic event, the United States has never been privileged to see a greater gathering of fencing talent.”


1935    AFLA 46th National Men’s  Foil Championships

           lst   Joseph Louis  Levis                        NYFC

2nd   Hugh Vincent Alessandroni             NYFC

3rd   John Gavin Hurd                            Vince

4th   Hugo Martinez Castello                  NYAC

5th   Warren Alvin Dow                         Santelli

6th   Nickolas Muray                             NYAC

7th   Jose Raoul de Capriles                   Santelli

8th    A. J. Fregosi

9th    H. B. Wesselman

l0th    E. J. Goldstein


l937  AFLA 48th National Men’s  Foil Championships

            lst     Joseph Louis  Levis

2nd    Jose Raoul de Capriles

3rd    Dernell Every

4th    Hugh Vincent Alessandroni

5th    Warren Alvin Dow

6th    Hugo Martinez Castello

7th    Dr. John Randolph Huffman

8th    Richard S. Steer

             9th    Norman L. Lewis

            10th    Maurice Grasson


(From The Riposte, January 4th, 1937, Vol. 2 No. 1)

In the following open letter Joseph Levis, as Captain of the Olympic Team, takes issue with George Santelli’s recently expressed views. THE RIPOSTE is happy to serve as a vehicle of fencing opinion, but wishes its readers to keep in mind that neither this nor previous articles necessarily reflect the viewpoint of the staff. Lack of space has forced an abridgement of “Joe” Levis’ fine letter, but the editors have been careful to conserve the essential argument of the original.

To Mr. Leon M. Schoonmaker, Chairman American Olympic Fencing Committee

This communication which is made public through the RIPOSTE, is written on the stimulus of an article which has recently appeared in that publication. It is written in the interests of fencing to refute certain statements and inferences in an otherwise well-thought up and constructed article.

Offhand, from that article, it would appear that the American Team just missed some third places through the lack of a non-playing Captain, or through the errors of the Coaches, Manager, or Committee.  No American amateur on the Olympic Team will point to anything but the fact that we were outplayed and outclassed by nations of superior speed, strength and competitive skill.

No Captain, Coach, Manager, or Committee could manufacture medals for its team once it was selected. They can be a factor, but success is essentially up to the team. Our handicaps were in ourselves: in our own limitations of natural talent and ability. For this reason, our future teams should be conceived, not one year in advance, but four years in advance, and perhaps even more, in order to develop these natural talents and abilities to a point of a superior continental class.

One of the primary things we have learned in fencing is not to leave openings on a mordant attack as long as a RIPOSTE could serve us in reply. It was said that the Captain, loaded with tasks, passed the responsibility of selecting Teams to the coaches; and that in one or two cases, for fear of early disaster, a coach did not render a decision in accordance with his conviction.  With the exception of two Epee Teams selected by John Diamond (whose reputation for courage of convictions is well known and respected) the line-ups of every American Team were submitted in the person of the Captain after consultation with the respective coaches. Certainly a coach appointed by the Olympic Fencing Games Committee is qualified to suggest a wise team for the consideration of his Captain.

In two or three matches in the sabre and in all, or almost all matches in the foil, the Captain and coach were at variance as to the third or fourth man, or both. And in all these cases it was the Captain’s choices that went in. It was the Captain, therefore, not the coaches, who accepted the responsibility and used the authority in Team selections.

The next point is important to future Captains. It has been said that our key-men were not spared in early matches and consequently were worn out for important matches to follow.  Key men are those around whom the rest of the team is built. If we had six key-men in a weapon like the Italians, French, and Hungarians, then certainly everyone could be spared. But how many key-men did we actually have?

No foreign fencing team could be considered a snap. They all came to the Olympic Games to fight to the end; and any one of them can prove to be a surprise. Witness the defeat of our American Sabre Team in Amsterdam in 1928 at the hands of Poland, who at that time was far below its present class. In that match, only one key-man was employed and the American team was eliminated. The key-man must be in the ranks to guard against such surprises, to offer courage and confidence to the new men entered with them in the match, and to bolster their performance.

Argentine had one key-man in foil, Larraz:  he was used in every match, team and individual, and then repeated in Epee. England had one key-man in Lloyd; he fenced in every team match. Casmir was the German key-man, and he fenced in every foil and sabre match where Germany had any degree of chance. At Amsterdam, in 1928, Breckenridge used Calnan, Levis and Peroy in every foil match. At Los Angeles in 1932, Calnon used himself, Levis and Every in all foil matches except one post-mortem match.  None of these key-men gave overwork as the reason for not doing better – and I know that no member of the 1936 team has fished for this or any other alibi.  These men had to fence: without them their teams were not sufficiently strong to be certain of victory in any match, preliminary or final.

The physical endurance of our fencers is equal to that of foreigners. How can we say that any American foilsman, sabreman, or epeeman, weakened on the second day of competition because he was assigned to eight bouts on the previous day? Certainly this would be a most serious reflection on those of us responsible on the physical condition of our men.

Up to the crucial Austrian match, our two key-men in foil, had fenced eight bouts each; the third and fourth men had fenced four bouts each. Yet the two key men scored the only four wins for the American Team. The next day, in an important match against Hungary, which we won, but not by a score sufficiently large to put us in the final, our two supposedly worn out key-men won six out of a total of nine American victories.  Were our key-men over worked (s/be one word – overworked) ? It looks as if our key-men improved as they went on. The few easy bouts through which they coasted in the early matches warmed them up for the important ones to follow.

I recommend to future Captains of Olympic Teams, that they use not less than 50% of the key-men in any kind of match where there is any degree of chance.

It was said that the Captain filed to reach the finals of the Individual because he was employed in too many Team matches. This is ridiculous, because those who have said it were not even on hand to witness his last round. The record in this round, showing a 5-0 victory over Lemoine of France, and 5-4 defeats from de Bourginon of Belgium, Guaragna of Italy, and Casmir of Germany, would not indicate that he failed to reach the finals because of lack of physical reserve, but rather of a kind of psychological turn of events yet not understood by himself. In his entire fencing life he had never felt more prepared than at Berlin, even up to the semi-finals. He, of course, could not feel his best in the semi-finals after four days of Olympic competition; but no other competitor in that round was any better off.

Thanks to the physical training received from Grasson, our foilsmen were prepared for this kind of heavy duty. Despite the comments in the above mentioned article, “Bobby” followed a correct plan of training, in accordance with the plan that I approved. Once our team left New York, our coaches ceased to be coaches and became coach-trainers, if any “coach” at all. The European name for professionals that accompanied Olympic Teams is just “trainers” because, after all, with highly developed fencers, training if the only function they are able to effectively perform.

At Berlin, with three coaches, we were the most highly coached team of the Games. Hardly another nation, including Italy, France and Hungary, employed more than one trainer. If in 1940, our team is well prepared before departure, only one trainer will be necessary for all three weapons.

The money so saved can be put to sending live-wire officials who can look out for the team’s interests behind the scenes, at composition of pools and juries, at special meetings on protests, and who can make friends with other officials while the Captain and team are at work on the field of play. We were short on officials; and while we are not going to say we lost because we did not have sufficient influence on the sidelines, yet it will be well to keep this point in mind for the future.

Now it has been said that it was an error to select a Captain who was short in age and experience. The Captain at Berlin was 31 years of age and was in his third Olympiad, with 14 years of active competitive fencing—a close parallel to the age and experience of Calnan, the very best Olympic Captain of all times. Whereas we know cases close to home where maturity comes very late in life, yet certainly in this normal case age and experience can not be a consideration. There must have been other personal considerations in that article.

In the argument for a non-playing Captain, it has been said that a Captain cannot compete satisfactorily through several grueling matches, and, at the same time, be bothered with the daily details and red tape of the Captaincy. From the moment the Olympic fighting begins, there are no so-called chores for a competing Captain. Those duties have been assigned to, and are automatically assumed by coaches, managers, masseurs, and special officials.

In fencing we compete as a Team. Despite the fact that individual members of the fencing team compete separately, their performances are interrelated, because the individual bouts follow one another. The moral of one competing member does affect the morale of his team-mates. Victory may be bought on team spirit alone, as was done against the French at Los Angeles, and this is one reason why a captain or leader should be in the ranks.

It is much easier for a captain to lead his team to victory from the front of the ranks than to attempt to direct its destiny through remote control from the side-lines or rear guard. When there is not a capable man available as a competing captain, then I suggest obtaining a capable non-playing captain; but having a capable playing captain and passing him up, then that is only passing up the best advantage any captain could give—that is, “leadership through personal example”.

Perhaps we should give the non-playing captain the name of manager, then we could save the expense of one more man. But if we did this, the manager or committee should immediately appoint one or three field leaders for all or each of the three weapons respectively. This would be analogous to professional baseball where the manager is the master tactician and yet employs a field captain to lead maneuvering.

In conclusion to this point, may I recommend, in the interest of most effective results, that you adopt the policy of a contending, competing Captain.

With the possible exception of Pinchart in 1932, I have never seen any coach work any harder than each of our three Olympic coaches. Each was profoundly sincere about his job. Curiously enough, each pursued a slightly different system of training, yet each with his own method, developed his squad to a maximum point of efficiency. With the conditions inflicted upon them, (such as Alessandroni’s injury and Huffman’s injury) and with the type of material available to them, their teams secured the respectful final positions of a tie for fifth place.

In view of the greater intensity of competition at Berlin, their Teams closely approached the performance of the 1932 Team, whose record of 1 second place and 2 third places yet stands.

Respectfully submitted,