"I always thought that fencing only focused on games and not traditional weapons"

Discussion in 'Western Martial Arts' started by Mitlov, Jul 9, 2010.

  1. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    ritsart raised this question in a thread in the general discussion area, and I'd be interested in some perspectives besides my own. I've definitely got my opinions on the answer, coming from the perspective of a modern competitive fencer, but I'd love to hear the perspectives that some of the more experienced, and more traditional-WMA-oriented, people here could bring to the question.


    To me, this seems a lot like the question of "I thought modern boxing was just for sport and not for fighting." No, a boxer is not going to learn knife defenses, he's not going to fight off multiple partners, and he's not going to have to learn how to groundfight. On the other hand, that's not to say that boxing has no applicability to real-world fighting. The striking and defense to striking that he's learned, as well as the movement, distancing, timing, and athleticism that he's built up, are going to serve him well outside of the ring as well as inside. I'd argue that, at least with lighter blades (smallswords, rapiers, and dueling sabers), modern fencing is to swordfighting what boxing is to empty-handed fighting.

    I don't have a lot of empirical evidence to back this up, just one afternoon spent sparring with a SCA friend with SCA rapier (epee) rules. But anecdotally, my hypothesis holds up. I thought I held my own just fine, despite having a narrower range of techniques at my disposal, because I had trained harder in those limited techniques in a competition-oriented format.

    The other wrinkle I think this question brings up is that--and somebody please correct me if I'm wrong here--I think the three modern fencing weapons evolved out of training weapons for smallsword dueling (foil), rapier dueling (epee), and korbschlager dueling (saber). So modern competitive fencing was not created out of thin air as sport for the sake of sport, like football or basketball were. Instead, they've evolved from training methods for life-or-death or first-blood duels, in the way that winter biathlon evolved from WWII ski infantry tactics. In that context, "training for sport" and "being able to use a traditional weapon" are not entirely mutually exclusive. Yes, some of the practical application has waned over the decades, as people quit worrying about real-world duels and focused more in refining the sport, but the roots are still there.
  2. kilat02

    kilat02 Valued Member

    you see. the only thing I've seen of fencing are the fencing competitions on TV. and those have flexible swords (I do not know the proper name) but I had never known that several types of fencing weapons are used (smallswords, rapiers, and dueling sabers) do you use these to?
    lest say in compatitive form. And do you only train for duals or also traditional forms with live blade's?
    I do agree that fencing come's from a traditional martial art, ment for killing.
    but is fencing not nowdays not very modernized?
    and i also agree i'ts good for coordination, health, fitness, and all that good stuff. but i can't really say I't has any practical use outside the ring (or wathever you stand in:)) it's not like you walk around all day with a sword under your coat. a long time ago it still could but not any more. and a sword can't really be compared to a knife.
  3. koyo

    koyo Passed away, but always remembered. RIP.

    He shall walk around all day with better stamina,fitness understanding of timing distancing and accuracy than those who do not train for such.
  4. lklawson

    lklawson Valued Member

    I think this is the crux of it.

    Peace favor your sword,
  5. lklawson

    lklawson Valued Member

    "Real" western swords are flexible. Just not as flexible as the foils &c. of modern sport fencing.

    One historic proofing (test required for acceptance of a military tool) of swords was to wedge them in a block and flex them a certain number of degrees and then release. If the sword did not return to true, it was rejected.

    Not to be combative, but I've found that folks with sport fencing training can adapt to knife work really easily. The concepts of measure, tempo, right-of-way, and speed are well suited to knife. They just need to be properly tweaked to fit the tool.

    Peace favor your sword,
  6. boards

    boards Its all in the reflexes!

    As far as I understand the foil was a training weapon for the small sword and later the epee, while the epee was a later remodelling of the small sword actually used for duels. Because of this the epee fights tend to be much more cautious as the rules are meant to simulate a real duel.
    The sabre comes from the dueling sabre (as you said).
    Rapier fighting on the other hand is completely different, and was pretty much dead and buried by the time classical fencing came around. The small sword evolved out of the rapier, but handled very differently. However the Italians do seem to have (in some areas at least) avoided using the small sword and simply shortened the rapier, using it in a different maner.
  7. koyo

    koyo Passed away, but always remembered. RIP.

    A lot of western swordwork included "wrestling at the sword" using kicks locks and throws.

    Langenswert posted quite a few really intersting videos on the western eastern sword thread.

    Worth a look.
  8. boards

    boards Its all in the reflexes!

    It is sometimes said that the single stick is to sabre as the foil is epee.... ie a training object for the real weapon.
  9. lklawson

    lklawson Valued Member

    Well, it's right that Singlestick is a training mechanism for Saber and Broadsword. Just for the Military Saber ("Broadsword"), not a Dueling Saber.


    Peace favor your sword,
  10. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    All three weapons in modern fencing are flexible. But this was true two hundred years ago, when people were training for duels instead of training for the Olympics. If a small pointed blade doesn't bend, it goes through you. There's no third option. And you can't do realistic, intense fencing practice with a blade that's going to go through you.

    Isn't this like saying "every boxing match I've seen involves big padded gloves. Can boxers fight without them?" The answer, of course, is yes. Boxing gloves are a necessary safety feature for boxing competition, but there's enough cross-over in skills between punching someone with bare knuckles and punching someone with a glove that a boxer can still punch pretty darned well in a street fight.

    I don't quite understand what you're asking. I don't think traditional forms training, at least in the "kata/tul/pattern" sense, has ever been part of training with smallswords, etc. I've just never heard of westerners doing a solo form with a live blade the way you might see a taiji practitioner do a solo form with a real jian.

    Yes, it's very modernized. But that doesn't mean that there's no skills applicable to the weapons from which the modern sport was derived.

    The word you're looking for is "piste." I stand on a piste ;)

    I never said I'd be using it in a streetfight, because as a practical matter, I don't walk around with a sword or a sword-cane. (The one exception is saber--a sabreur with a stick, a cane, a length of rebar, etc could use it pretty well). But all sword training--modern and traditional--is "useless" in that regard. I thought you were asking a different question, which is whether modern fencing training could teach you to use a real sword the way more traditional sword training could. And personally, I think the answer is a very firm "yes."
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2010
  11. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    Have you got a link to that thread? It sounds really interesting. I can definitely understand how you've got a lot of grappling going on with everything from a Roman Gladius to various medieval weaponry to a basket-hilt claymore, but I'm having trouble picturing it with smallswords and the like, since the effective range is so much longer with a long thin piercing blade.
  12. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    I understood the relationship between epee and foil, and their respective rules, to be very different. I always understood foil to be derived from to-the-death duels, where you want to puncture their torso and you want control of the blade (right-of-way) so that their tip isn't anywhere near you when that happens.

    Epee, on the other hand, I took to be derived from first-blood duels. Full-body target, no right-of-way...if you cut the other person open first, even if it's on the hand or the leg, you win.

    The cautiousness of epee fencing I always understood to be derived from the rules (too aggressive and you'll get hit in the hand on the way in), not derived from a more serious underlying duel. If anything, with life-and-death at stake, you think you'd want to be more aggressive to "go in for the kill," like you see in foil, instead of waiting for the other person to take the fight to you.

    Maybe if someone with more historical knowledge could weigh in on this?
  13. koyo

    koyo Passed away, but always remembered. RIP.

    Hi Mitlov. If you type in western and eastern sword in the search key you will find it.

    My own experience is in Japanese swordwork and langenswert and I had a fruitfull discussion on that thread.

    Not very computer wise..so I do not know how to find the link any other way,DO look forward to your input into the thread though.

    Bear also trains in western sword so perhaps he could provide the link.(or anyone else?):cool:

    As far as swordwork used "empty" handed..below showing the entry (right of way?) in swordwork that is used when striking or avoiding empty hand attacks.The sword is being held down to show the angle of entry.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Jul 9, 2010
  14. lklawson

    lklawson Valued Member

    Right of Way is a rule which basically states that a fencer must attempt to parry an incoming attack if it is launched with prior initiative.

    It is intended to teach the fencer to not engage in double-hit/double-death in which a fencer ignores an incoming attack in order to score a touch. Being able to score a hit at the expense of being skewered is, of course, suicidal.

    In Classical Fencing there are certain ways to both deal with an incoming attack and, simultaneously, counter attack. However, RoW is a very useful training tool.

    Peace favor your sword,
  15. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny


    I found it. Here's the thread:


    A lot there to read! I'll peruse it this weekend.

    And some of Langenschwert's videos from that thread:

    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIFIn6tAI3A"]YouTube- Disarm/Throw - Ringen am Schwert ("Wrestling at the Sword")[/ame]
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXbZqKnwDbQ"]YouTube- Hip Throw - Ringen am Schwert ("Wrestling at the Sword")[/ame]
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Y54lrNuWqw"]YouTube- Overleg Throw - Ringen am Schwert ("Wrestling at the Sword")[/ame]
    [ame="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6Pnw-9A8qQ"]YouTube- Halfsword Throw - Ringen am Schwert (Wrestling at the Sword)[/ame]

    This is what I pictured when I thought of grappling and swordsmanship--a larger slashing or cut-and-thrust sword, as opposed to a light, forward-hand-only piercing sword.
  16. koyo

    koyo Passed away, but always remembered. RIP.

    Again it would be of great value if you were to add input to that thread.

    Thanks koyo
  17. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    Kirk is right on the money. "Right of way" is a rule in foil and saber fencing. Basically, when someone begins an attack, that person has "right of way." If you have right-of-way, you get the point if you score a touch on valid target area, or if there's a simultaneous touch (within 0.12 seconds for saber and within 0.3 seconds for foil, I think). So if the other side begins the attack first, there are two options if you want to score: (1) parry or take their blade before counter-attacking, or (2) counter-attack and immediately get the heck out of the way so that only one light goes off. You see the latter more in saber, where someone may make a stop-cut to the arm while retreating even if they don't have right-of-way.

    In epee, there's no right-of-way rule, and a very short time frame for simultaneous attacks (0.04 seconds). If both of you hit within 0.04 seconds, both people get a point. Otherwise, it doesn't matter who last took the blade and when; whoever hits first gets the point. This (combined with the whole-body target area) makes it a very cautious, defensive sport, where distancing and timing are even more important than with the other weapons.

    I certainly will do so, if I have anything intelligent to add.
  18. Louie

    Louie STUNT DAD Supporter

    Hi Mitlov,
    I'd recommend you read the works of some of the great fencing masters of the broadsword - smallsword period. There are some excellent Scottish works which have been compiled in "Highland Swordsmanship" by Mark Rector who has reprinted the works of Donald MacBane (a veteran of the Jacobite campaigns and Marlborough's army in Europe) and the Edinburgh sword master, Sir William Hope who wrote several books on 18thC fencing.

    [ame="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Highland-Swordsmanship-Techniques-Scottish-Swordmasters/dp/1891448153"]Highland Swordsmanship: Techniques of the Scottish Swordmasters: Amazon.co.uk: Mark Rector: Books[/ame]

  19. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Molon Labe

    You see similar things in old rapier and smallsword manuals. Trips, disarms, that kind of thing. I couldn't find any pics to post though, sorry. :(

    Best regards,

  20. Mitlov

    Mitlov Shiny

    Upon further reflection, that actually makes sense. There certainly is infighting in modern fencing (at least epee and foil; never seen it in saber because somebody is going to get cut before you get 18 inches apart), all built around the idea that you're not allowed to physically touch the opponent with anything but your weapon. So you'll see people raise their hand above their head, with the blade pointed nearly directly downward, and the bottom of the blade facing the opponent, and flick their torso or touch the leg. You'll see people draw their hand far to the back or to the side, and sometimes even wrap the arm behind the head, all to effectively shorten the blade. The is the one aspect of modern fencing which is probably 100% derived from exploiting the modern rules and has no historical analogue whatsoever.

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