Fencing: The Art and Science of Swordsmanship
FENCING: THE ART AND SCIENCE OF SWORDSMANSHIP
Swords have been used in war and contest for thousands of years. There is an Egyptian relief from 1,200 B.C., portraying a fencing match. Yet, paradoxically, it was only with the development of firearms that skilled swordsmanship as we know it today began. Until then in medieval times, men had fought clad in heavy armor and weapons had to be really strong to make any impact. Once armor lost its purpose, swords grew lighter and easier to handle, and real skill in their use was essential.
By the 17th century, the rapier dominated the European swordsmanship. Wish it had developed a general body of knowledge in the skills of the sword fight. Sword fighting was now an art – even a science – with recognizable patterns to move and counter-move. But the long rapier was still a rather cumbersome weapon for defense: a knife was often held in the other hand, to help out at close quarters. Then, in the late 17th century, the development of the small sword transformed the situation. Here was light, maneuverable weapon – a purely thrusting sword with no cutting edge – yet capable of meeting all the demands of real combat.
The sport of fencing has grown naturally out of the traditions of swordsmanship. At first, fencing masters taught their art for battle – indeed the foil was first evolved in the 17th and 18th centuries as a practice weapon. Gradually, however, fencing became established as a sport – some would say an art – in its own right as the dueling field was deserted for the law court and the changing conditions of warfare demanded new military skills.
Three types of sword are used in fencing; the foil, first developed as a practice sword in schools of swordsmanship; the epee, the traditional dueling sword; the cut-and-thrust saber. At foil and epee, hits may only be scored with the point. But in saber-fencing the front edge and the third of the back edge nearest the point may also be used.
Correct grip is vital, for fast sword movements are made with the used of fingers, not with the arms or wrist.
Foil – Let the hilt rest curve down, in the palm of your hand, and grip it near the guard between your thumb and the middle finger. These two fingers direct the foil’s movements. The others curl round to rest on the concave side of the hilt and press it lightly against the base of your thumb. Your wrist should be flexed slightly, so the flat of the pommel rest flat against the wrist.
Epee – The grip is for the foil, but firmer, and may be made further from the guard to gain length.
Saber – This is held lightly in the fingers, not in the palm of the hand. The tips of your index finger and thumb grip the handle near the guard. The tip of your little finger presses the pommel end into the fleshy pad at the base of the little finger. The other fingers wrap lightly around the handle.
In fact, many people feel that fencing is the ideal combat sport. Fencers must use all their skills, both physical and mental, to defeat the opponent; yet theirs is not a violent sport, and mere brute force brings no advantage at all. Indeed, people of virtually any age, build, and strength can fight one another on equal terms.
At first, fencing does usually seem a very elaborate sport, with many difficult techniques to master. They demand mental dexterity, the ability to look ahead and counter and opponent’s move almost before he has begun it. True, they are not easy to master, and fencing lessons should always be taken from a fully qualified instructor; but once developed they will never be forgotten.
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