Historic Fencing Definitions

Historic European Martial Arts

How to Define Historical Fencing

There are multiple terms in the modern parlance for referring to the practice of the various forms of “historical fencing” or Western sword play. While we certainly cannot control how different groups refer to themselves, members of the Order of Lepanto are encouraged to use the following definitions to bring a level of clarity to the discussion:

Historical Swordsmanship – refers to the study and practice of Medieval and Renaissance fighting methods as a true martial art. Groups in this category are primarily concerned with the rebuilding a realistic understanding and duplication of historical Western combat skills under adversarial conditions – meaning there are no pre-staged or choreographed movements. This is the primary focus of efforts by The Order of Lepanto and similar organizations. It clearly involves the study of diverse, period armors and weapons beyond the sword, including unarmed fighting techniques.

Classical Fencing – The definitions for just what constitutes “classical fencing” can be highly variable in and of itself. There are people who it is seen as training for personal “duel” with the 19th century epee du combat. While others see it as a “gentleman’s encounter” – more of a ritualistic form of 19th century duel. Finally, some view it as simply fencing using pre-modern, traditional grip foils and epees while following the methods prior to the advent of electric equipment and international competitive rules. The general idea is to return to more of fencing’s gentlemanly dueling intent and martial content to revive the state of modern sport fencing.

Sport Fencing – This is the modern 20th & 21st century competitive sport of Olympic and collegiate foil, epee, and saber, conducted either with electric or “dry” practice equipment. It is an athletic, exciting, quick international game with rules devised early this century and now far removed from its martial origins. This type of fencing is occasionally referred to as “modern fencing” or “traditional fencing” (though the tradition is certainly not a long one).

Theatrical Fencing – This type of fencing is what one sees at a Renaissance Faire, or a dinner-theater set in a medieval time period. Instead of pure fencing, it is a tool of acting intended to create an impressive illusion for use in a performance. It is thoroughly choreographed, based on a foundation of martial techniques and principles, and rehearsed to maximize its entertainment value. It is a respected performance art and can be quite enjoyable; however, it is not a martial art.

Arranged Performance Fighting – This is a distinct activity that can be clearly distinguished from both theatrical fencing and historical swordsmanship. It combines elements of arranged drills and preset routines of techniques for the direct purpose of demonstration and education in general sense, without the end goal of engaging in martial studies (as with historical swordsmanship), or entertainment (as with theatrical fencing). These “historical action” fight sequences are conducted for realistic display by delivering techniques in-range, at speed and with intent, but stopping prior to injury. Some weapon-to-body contact is employed for purposes of illustration as are certain exaggerated movements or assumed reactions/results.

Mock-Fighting & Martial Sports – This category contains a variety of other approaches to historical Western sword play that are not easily classifiable and which do not fit into the above categories. Included in this group are the simulated battle presentations of reenactment or living-history groups, or the play-fighting of live-action role-playing games. Others are concerned with conducting knightly tournament bouts, large-scale fighting scenes, or personal duels of honor. They generally differ considerably in their goals and motivations.

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