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Brief History of Fencing

Brief History of Fencing

The earliest images of swords being used in sport date back to 1200 B.C. in Egypt. There are images of combatants using sharp, stabbing weapons with knobs on one end for easier carrying and control. As early as 1500 B.C., the Europeans were making swords from bronze. Their grips were designed for one hand, as soldiers used their other hand for shields. Swords at this time were designed for cutting, rather than thrusting, and so were sharpest along the edge and somewhat rounded at the tip.

Beginning in the 5th century A.D., armor began to be improved greatly, which meant that the slicing part of swords were rendered less effective. Engineers began to concentrate on the tip of the sword, sharpening it to optimize the thrust aspect of the weapon. Additionally, the sword became the weapon of choice for personal protection rather than being singled out for the battlefield. The hilt design around the grip or handle of the sword became popular, protecting the sword bearer’s hand effectively.

The story of fencing as it exists today, with its various rules and protocol, probably begins in early 15th century Spain, where the first known schools of specialized instruction in a civilian style of swordsmanship existed. By the end of the century, fencing had been officially outlawed, but the personal use of the sword as a way to settle disagreements and conflicts had already spread throughout much of Europe.

By the 18th century, several major changes occurred in fencing. The rapier had evolved to a simpler, shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France as the small sword. Although the small sword often had an edge, it was only to discourage the opponent from grabbing the blade, and the weapon was used exclusively for thrusting. The light weight made a more complex and defensive style possible, and the French masters developed a school based on defense with the sword, subtlety of movement, and complex attacks. When buttoned with a leather safety tip that resembled a flower bud, the small sword was known as le fleuret, and was identical in use to the modern foil. Indeed, the French small sword school forms the basis of most of modern fencing theory. Right of Way, the rule governing fencing actions, came into practice. With Right of Way, duelists were unlikely to impale each other, as they did not both attack at the same time. This made fencing safer and reduced the number of casualties of dueling.

By the 19th century, fencing had reached a form that is more recognized today. Schools taught the basics of fencing, including strike points and body movement, along with moves such as disarms. Duels continued to be fought between those with disagreements, often ending with disfiguring strikes, or fatal results, but began to be on the decline. Authority figures began to step in and prosecute the winners of duels with charges of assaults or even murder; this was done even if both duelists had agreed to participate. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships. Eventually becoming the modern sport of fencing.

Fencing develops agility and speed and builds strength and dexterity. Fencers must utilize a unique combination of lightning quick reflexes and elegant athletic movements. The demand for instant analysis, concentration and self-control of mind and muscles is the key for success.

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