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The History of Fencing

The History of Fencing

The blade have been a part of human history for centuries, constantly evolving and changing do to advance in technology and conceptual approaches to the style in which the sword was employed. If you have ever watched a foil fencing bout or a match, and have seen 300, it is hard to see how the two styles of swordplay could ever been related. Sword play in the 16th century relied greatly on the wielders strength as well as the strength and quality of the wielders armor. But the 16th century brought about the musket which could cleave through most armor. Because of the invention of firearms the actual art of sword fighting, fencing, sprang into being.

While the true form of fencing originated in the 16th century, a 14th German academy names the Fraternity of St. Mark, or commonly known as Maxbruder, was the first to attempt to establish a singular and structured approach to fencing. While between the 14th and the 16th century many advances were made in form and logic of fencing it was not till the 16th century and the introduction of the rapier that fencing took a definite turn to as it is now. Much of fencing and sword play in general had relied on the act of a slashing cut to injure an opponent, the rapier changed all that as it is primarily used to poke holes in an opponent. The rapier was so effective as a killing weapon that approximately 40,000 French noblemen were killed between 1600 and 1780. Also around this time two very distinct schools of fencing took center stage. The French form built itself on the academic and strategic approach to fencing while its rival, the Italian school, focused on a strong physical approach to fencing. Rivalries between the French and Italian schools ran so deep that they are still present today to a lesser extent. The 1700’s brought the Foil, a flexible, blunt tipped, thin blade primarily for practice as well as a sense of respectability to the sport of fencing. The practice blade increased the academic ability to work out the physics of fencing without much risk of death, but advances in academic fencing also swayed the emphasis of fencing to much more of a sport based activity. Around the 18th century, nobles began to carry firearms for their personal protection instead of swords, thus ended the age in which men carried a blade as part of their daily dress.

As the curtain closed age of fencing for personal defense, fencing moved to a different stage and began to become much more like the modern sport that we know today. Around the mid-18th century, the Fencing Mask was added to allow more practice with the blades with less chance of scaring injury just from practice. The mask freed up fencing even more. The Epee, a dueling blade based on the rapier, and the Sabre, a slashing weapon, military based weapon, were introduced around the early 19th century. Fencing took its place at the 1896 Olympics which has become one of the best outlets for the best fencers. The 20th century took fencing out of its roots and brought it into the “Age of Competition”. The F.I.E. ( Federation Internationale d’Escrime ) was founded in 1913 and World championships began to start showing up. Modern sport fencing became what it is today starting in 1930’s when the Electric tipped Epee was created, followed by the Foil in the 1950’s and the Sabre in the 1980’s.

Clearly fencing has come a long way from when it started back in 14/15th century to the modern, electric, sport fencing. In the United States allow hundreds of thousands of people have yielded to the call of the sword and fence.

©2011 Washington State University