What is fencing all about?

my friend’s dad used to volunteer to come to school and teach fencing to a handful of us after school. I greatly enjoyed it, but there was no competitive aspect; there were no other school teams to play against. I went to college and they had sort of the same set-up, a club with all the gear and space, but no competitive collegiate circuit; no team. the only instructor was teaching 30 incoming freshman who’d never touched a foil. really wish we’d have had a team, it’s the one sport that I’m actually built for.

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So the murder stroke is used when in fencing.

sorry, I have to post this Oglaf. now that you all have this image in your head I can finally let the thought go


Better yet. End Him Rightly (search for the term on Youtube, there are multiple channels discussing it, most of them are pretty great regarding the move)


My son fenced at a high level club, owned by a former Olympian, from 2nd grade till he went to high school. In the NY metro area there are a number of these clubs and the level of performance is ridiculously beyond the normal high school fencer. A local private high school recruited a few kids from the club and completely dominated their league.

The downside is it stopped being fun, besides being absurdly expensive. The time demands of high level sports don’t allow for any other activities. Once the coaches decided he wasn’t a “talent”, his instruction became perfunctory, and he was essentially a sparring partner for the favored kids. I’m hoping he tries IM fencing in college and learns to enjoy it again.


And by the time they are with that you made them look like the dark knight in the holy grail.

Matt Easton, of Scholagladiatoria does have a point about certain rules of fencing forcing competitors to adopt methods and tactics which would be unrealistic in a duel (“real fencing” with real weapons). This is particularly true for sabre and foil, the weapons which include the concept of “right of way”. His basic premise however, that this is not anything like “real fencing”, is complete bullshit. I guarantee you that an elite fencer can, with a few hours of practice with the weapons and rules used in HEMA, defeat anyone who is a practitioner of HEMA. The basic skills of footwork, distance, timing, and the precision skills involved in the handwork needed for attacks and parries will be common to both styles. An elite fencer is adept at modifying their tactics for the weapon involved and the opponent they are facing. These top fencers spend as much time as any other Olympic athlete training and competing at a high level. Yet, Mr. Easton dismisses all that without having experienced that level of sport fencing himself. I became convinced he was delusional after his rant about pistol grips. What Easton does not talk about is how the tactics would change once they relinquish the protection HEMA offers and proceed to really fighting a duel where death and injury are real consequences.

A poignant example of this kind of delusion comes from a duel fought in 1920s Italy. Aldo Nadi, who was already an Olympic champion was challenged by a sports journalist to a duel. This journalist also thought that sport fencers couldn’t be successful using a sharp rapier in a real duel. Nadi accepted the challenge and the duel was fought in the early morning on the field of an empty stadium. Both duelists were very cautious and fought tentatively at first. Nadi was able to injure the journalist in a stop touch to the wrist. The journalist however, wrapped his wrist in a bandage and returned to the fight. At this point Nadi figured he was too dangerous because he didn’t have any common sense. The ground was slightly muddy, so he pounded his foot into the mud to give himself a solid anchor for his rear foot. He meant to stop the duel by lunging to his opponents body. The journalist saw this, realized he might die as a result, and immediately acknowledged defeat

More than thirty years ago, I took a university class taught by an art history professor who had an enormous knowledge and love of historic styles of fencing in Europe, particularly Italy. The class was on teaching fencing. There were several elite fencers in the class who were very appreciative about getting this historical knowledge and learning the pedagogy behind an individual lesson. Behind his back, we snickered because of his romantic obsession with classical Italian weaponry and style of fencing. He was also not a particularly good fencer and far too stiff to give a good lesson himself. Yet, to this day, I think everyone in that class respects him still for the extremely rare and useful knowledge he imparted. I will point out that one of the students in that class was Greg Massialas, who had already been a member of the blocked, 1980 Olympic team. If anyone followed the men’s foil in RIo, Greg’s son Alexander took the silver medal. Greg is not only his father, but his coach and considered one of the best coaches in the world.

btw: if anyone is interested, in reference to my previous post on HIKEA I can tell a couple of stories about fencing on LSD, including an international tournament (NOT a world cup where I could earn ranking points, that would be cheating) in Eastern Europe.


Also a good fencer in high school, I had the opportunity to fence with a much older fencing champion, and my experience was the mirror-image of yours: what made him so amazing was how slow his responses seemed. He barely ever had to move, yet his timing was so impeccable that he could parry-riposte just about anything you threw at him.


Firearms did not make armor obsolete. When swords evolved beyond the heavy, two handed, broadsword it was realized that a fighter with a light thin sword could penetrate the seams of the armor and was so much quicker in maneuvering that the armored wielder of the broadsword had no chance.


What on odd rant that goes on for quite along time about curbed grips.

  1. Plenty of historical swords had curved grips: https://www.google.com/search?q=sword+curved+grip&tbm=isch. Even the ancients had discovered ergonomics.

  2. Take a dueler from 300 years ago. Give him a pistol grip. Does this person have evidence that the pistol grip wouldn’t have actually improved matters for the dueler? Even when you’re not doing ahistorical flicks and depending on right-of-way rules, the pistol grip gives you a lot of control. Maybe the heaver sword would have negated the benefits of the grip, I’m not sure, but I don’t think Matt is either, having proudly never tried one.

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Citation? I don’t know of evidence that the small sword actually out-competed the broadsword on the field of battle. I don’t think dueling-type swords were ever actually used on the battlefield. They were worn by nobility to show class, but not actually to fight against armored opponents.

A heavy cut-through-armor sword was much more effective in a cavalry charge than a light poke-at-the-seams sword. You could argue that a light sword would be helpful once people were on the ground, but I just haven’t seen evidence that they were actually used that way.


Didn’t the Romans prefer short swords?

The video was pretty good in it’s explanation of fencing. I have one quibble. Sabre is the fastest weapon in that the tip moves fastest when using a cutting stroke versus the thrusting with the point which is the only option for foil and epee. However, if you consider the movement of the fencer, sabre is not inherently faster. The rules for sabre encourage relentless attacks and full use of the strip. This makes the momentum of the bout quicker, in general, for that weapon. However, even in epee, the speed of motion is often as fast as in sabre.

The speed of fencing does make watching it difficult for a novice. The rule of thumb I have heard is that it takes a couple of years of fencing before you can see what is going on in just watching a bout. I can’t be certain of that since it’s been decades since I’ve had the perspective of a novice. When I watch the Olympic fencing I see so much more than just quick athleticism and the drama of the changing score in the fight. It is immensely pleasurable to see the speed, timing, and counter-play of tactics in these bouts. It was even more pleasurable to have experienced such, high-level, fencing myself. Some of the best experiences of my life has been fencing in World Cups and US National Circuit tournaments. An awesome sport. Even if you just have an opportunity to play around as a novice, take it!

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I understand your point. I was thinking in terms of dueling, one on one, rather than a battlefield. Battlefield tactics have to be different because you have more than one opponent at a time and may not see the attack coming. Also, firearms, and cannon, became part of the overall mix. Still, note that two-handed broadswords were replaced by lighter weapons during the Renaissance. I can’t give you a citation because my discussions with my fencing master and others on this subject occurred decades ago. I do have books that may well have such a reference, but I don’t have time to look that up. Perhaps someone else knows such a reference.

I don’t mind being properly informed on fencing by people that are familiar with it, so thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully comment :slight_smile: I do find it interesting how fencing has evolved and changed from its roots.I watched some of the various fencing matches from the Olympics and to the layman (aka: Me) it does seem like a high tech game of tag, but i’m happy to be schooled on the particulars.

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Fencing has evolved to become too symbolic, for my taste. In the case of a near simultaneous touch, a point is awarded to the first touch, despite the possibility of both opponents receiving a potentially fatal wound.

It’s an excellent sport, but I’m bothered by the idea that a victor is declared in a duel in which both duelists would most likely have died.

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If I recall correctly, in epee, what counts is whether your initiated attack hits or not. That’s why there’s quite a bit more back and forth and tentativeness in epee matches compared to saber or foil. That and the fact that the whole body is fair game with epee, while sabre only counts hits above the waist, which, along with the right of way, encourages charging in with your sword up.

Other way around. In Epee all that matters is whether you touched first, not whether you initiated the attack. In the other two weapons, what matters is whether you initiated the attack, or whether you had a valid parry-riposte to their initiated attack (simplifying somewhat).

At the risk of metaquibbling, foil and epee do have the ‘flick’, where you exploit the fact that the blade is flexible enough to be whipped around the guard. I don’t know whether the speed of the point quite matches that of saber when doing one(since you don’t generally get to do a proper swing unless you want it to be very obvious that you are about to depart from poking); but the fact that you can get the blade to bend like that does allow a class of slash-like attacks to register despite the scoring system being designed for thrusts only. That’s probably why they upset the purists(that, and somebody trying to flick you is a great way of getting really painful bruising of your dominant hand, which is just annoying).


Yes, but wasn’t their fighting style based on stabbing over & under a wall of shields, rather than one on one combat? *

*not claiming to be an expert here

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