These days the two prime places we see sharp swords are as show pieces hanging on someone's wall either as an antique or as a fancy weapon, or during test-cutting. The sharp weapons are not typically used during drills and certainly not used during combats. There are safety reasons they are not used during combats. After all, these weapons were designed with the specific purpose of injuring and killing people, and one slip could result in someone injured even if the intent is not present. This leads to people using blunt weapons for drills and combats. It must be acknowledged that we are using blunt weapons, not sharp ones, as there is a difference between the two.
Sharp Swords are Different
To begin with, there is a simple physical difference between blunt and sharp weapons when it comes to how they act against one another. A blunt edge reacts differently to a sharp edge when it comes into contact with another one. The blunt edge, the tends to slip and slide easily. Whereas, due to the nature of a sharp edge. it will tend to bind on the other one, actually biting in and stopping in some circumstances. This will account for some of the reason that certain actions described in treatises don't seem to work when using blunt weapons.
The blunt sword will make a difference to the interpretation of a treatise, more so when it comes into contact with another blunt sword, as has been described previously, simply because of the different physical reaction between the weapons. There are further places where the blunt weapon will make a difference to the interpretation to a treatise as will be demonstrated as this discussion proceeds. Much of this has to do with the reaction of the opponent who is threatened by the weapon that is being held by the opponent. Certain techniques which work in theory with a sharp weapon work less effectively when the weapon is blunt.
Threat of the Weapon
In his The True Art of Defence (1594) Giacomo di Grassi states, "For there are few nay there is no man at all, which (perceiuing himſelfe readie to be ſtroken) giues not back, and forſaketh to performe euerie other motion which he hath begun." Essentially, that a man who sees that he will be struck first will pull back his offensive action to defend himself, rather than completing his offensive action. This premise is used in later techniques, for example when an opponent is about to throw a cut, a thrust is extended; the threat of the thrust encouraging the other to quit his cut and to defend himself. This would work when the weapons are sharp, but not so much when the weapons are blunt.
The problem is that because the weapons are blunt, the people involved are wearing safety equipment, and are not supposed to be there to injure one another, the fear of the weapon has been removed. There is no fear of the weapon, and no respect for it either. This means that the individuals do not feel under threat by the opponent's thrust coming at them so they will continue their cut anyway, regardless of whether or not both of them are struck or not. This leads to bad fencing, the basic rule of fencing, to strike without being struck, seems to be thrown out; all that seems to matter is that the opponent is struck.
The result of this approach is more double-hits and more double-kills, of which I have already written an article. So I won't go into detail about my thoughts on that subject again here so soon, though I have no doubt that it will appear again. What does occur is that people become so focused with the impression that their skills are good, that they believe that the rules are wrong and not their approach, so they have long debates about tournament rules regarding "double-hits" and "after-blows" and how points should or should not be awarded. I will state clearly again, if you and your opponent are struck you have both failed in your defence. The culprit is primarily a lack of respect for the weapon.
Not All Bad
The news is not all bad, however, there have been some truly excellent things as a result of using blunt weapons. These come into two categories, though it could be claimed that the one leads on to the other. Aside from the legal and insurance nightmares that clubs would have from arguing the case for fighting with sharp weapons, unless there is a failure on the part of some aspect of safety, there is little chance that a combatant using a blunt weapon will be maimed or killed.
I am going to add a caveat here. The prime method of safety for using a blunt weapon has to be the control of the individual using the weapon, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) has to come at least secondary, if not tertiary, in regard to safety. This because they are objects which can degrade and fail, or even move without our notice. Blunt weapons can still do damage, they are still weapons that need to be respected.
All that being said, because fencers are not using their skills to kill one another, we have the chance to learn from our mistakes, unlike fencers of previous ages who died from theirs using sharp weapons. We must acknowledge the mistakes first, so we can learn from them. If a fencer does not acknowledge the mistake, they cannot learn from the mistake and they will keep repeating it, and they will not improve. Fencers in the contemporary era have the chance to make some of the greatest strides in our art if they only respect what they are doing, and learn from their mistakes.
The result is a "mixed bag" of positives and negatives. The lucky thing is that most of the negatives we can get past if we are willing to work on them conscientiously. We need to examine exactly how we are fencing see where our flaws are and move to improve them. We need to get back to the basics of fencing in many instances, focus on being safe, then strike in safety, rather than just striking at any opportunity that we see, disregarding our defence. Each person needs to do their part in this endeavour, are you ready to do yours?
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