I have a fencing history which begins officially back in my late teens. Of course I played with swords when I was a child, however it was only in my late teens and my first adventure to university that anything official happened with regard to this. This first adventure into the world of swordplay was to join my university fencing club, which, of course was teaching sport fencing. Due to leaving the university, I had to stop attending the club, however after sometime, and finding other areas of swordplay I decided I did not want to go back. This entry discusses the reasons for this.
Now, admittedly my adventure into this form of fencing was not long, relatively. So, there will be those that this was not a real investment or investigation into the art of fencing. However, from what I have seen as it is presented both in the media, but also as it is presented by those who promote this particular art, I believe that my reasons for not coming back or taking it up were well-founded.
The first area I would like to highlight in this particular explanation of my choice is, aims. It would seem that to strike the opponent is the primary aim of what happens in sport fencing. In no place is this more emphasised that in epee where the difference between a "hit" and a "non-hit" is something in the vicinity of 0.25 of a second. The idea of avoiding being struck in the process of striking the opponent seems to have been lost as long as your hit scores first. This seems to go against everything I know and feel about fencing. My belief is that you should be seeking to strike while not being struck yourself, or maybe my focus is a little off.
What has been discussed above focuses on the essential principle of fencing being that it is to defend yourself first and then to strike the opponent. This is the primary principle of fencing and it seems to have been pushed aside for "as long as you strike your opponent first". I will be examining this concept a little further later on with regard to another concept and reason. The principles of fencing seem to be something which are taught to beginners and then pushed aside. The other principle which is most evidently lost is the principle of distance and knowing it. In many pictures of fencers, they are standing on one another's toes, much too close. It would seem then rather than re-adjusting distance the idea is to contort arms etc in order to strike the opponent. If this foundation principle seems to be missing, what else could be?
My next point that I would raise can be described in one word, "ugly". This comprises two areas. The first I have dealt with a little and that is the "anything for a hit" concept. This bothers me a lot as it allows a lot into the "game" which would seem not to fit into an art which was once practiced by gentlemen and ladies. The idea allows a fencer to perform whatever action he can in order to lay his point or edge on to the opponent, rather than sticking with the forms and functions of the weapon which he is using, which leads to the second area "form".
In manuals we see pictures of fencers upright and standing with arms extended. In lessons we see the same things being taught to beginners. It would seem, however, that once you become more advanced this all goes out the window. A person investigates fencing and is confronted with pictures of bodies twisted in horrible angles in order to strike their opponent. We see fencers airborne and twisting in order to avoid being struck while at the same time attempting to strike the opponent. The form and function of the actions seems to have been lost by those who practice this art, and most often it is these pictures which newer sport fencers emulate as they are usually pictures of those at the top of their game. This ugliness is not what the art is about for me.
Sport fencing has truly gone into the realms of sport and has left combat behind. The original purpose of the weapons which are being used has been lost along with the realisation of the weapons and the effects of them which were found in the originals. When swords were sharp and men fought with them in the infancy of fencing, a double-hit meant that both combatants were dead, regardless of what time passed between on hit and the other. This is something which I have alluded to in one of my previous statements. The issue of the double-hit has been indicated, but the effect of the single or double hit seems to be absent in the minds of sport fencers. The lethality of the weapon has faded from significance.
The foil is seen as a premiere weapon of the sport fencing world. It is seen as the expression of form and function in fencing, and taught right it is. However, as a weapon, it is a mere practice item. The history of the weapons and their practice has been lost. The rules for the use of the foil, and indeed the weapon itself, came about for safety reasons. The idea of priority was to stop students stabbing one another simultaneously and also to emphasise defense. The idea of taking the head "off-target" was in order that students would not die from being struck in the head. The weapon was made light so that it could be used for an extended period of time so that students could have the time to learn with it without their arms getting too sore. Hence, the height of the art of fencing has come from a practice item.
The reasons which I have given are those which have prompted me to stay doing what I am doing. Should the opportunity come for me to investigate "classical fencing" there is a good chance that I will have a look at it as it would seem that these principles are still present. We must all examine exactly what we are doing and find out the reasons why we continue with what we are doing. For myself, I prefer historical weapons which, in some form represent their historical predecessors and are used in a form which at least closely recreates them as they were used in the past. For me, the principles of the art must be present and some idea about the weapon which is being used and its potential for damage. These are principles which should underlie any good swordsmanship.