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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Brutal Fencing - A Discussion of Aggression


Aggression is an element which must be taken into account in all forms of fencing. It is also something that can lead to brutal play where there is the high chance that a fencer may injure their opponent. Obviously this is something that we need to avoid for many reasons. This blog will be a discussion of aggression and how it can be related to this important subject.

“One problem in fencing is brutal play that leads to injury. This is neither good for the individuals injured, nor good for fencing when fencing’s image becomes that of a dangerous activity.” (Evangelista, 2000:71)

In the question of aggression there is the question of the use of aggression and also overt aggression. The nature of attacking an opponent implies a level of aggression that is required, if the fencer is totally passive they will not attack their opponent at all and as such from this point of view there is a level of aggression that is required. The problem here is that sometimes a fencer may get taken away by their aggressive state and this can lead to problems. It is this being taken away by the aggression that can lead to overt aggression that needs to be avoided, and this is the case for both on and off the fencing arena.

Overt aggression is a situation where the fencer cannot control their aggressive tendencies and this can lead to bad habits forming and also other problems. This form of aggression can lead to brutal play which is something that all fencers should avoid. In this idea of brutal play there are some areas which are undefined. There are some inherently brutal styles of combat, but even these need to be tempered with a level of control in order that the opponent is not injured in the execution of such a style.

"Aggressive: adj. having or showing determination and energetic pursuit of your ends" (wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn)

The purpose of facing an opponent in fencing is to match their skills against them. In this the fencer will be striving for victory over their opponent. In the current day and age it is not the purpose to utterly defeat our opponent and totally put them out. This particular aspect ceased as soon as the sword was not used in combat. It is an important consideration that needs to be in the back of the fencer's mind whenever they take to the field. The way that an opponent is defeated will project an image of the fencer to others who are watching, and also the opponent. This image is important as it will be attached to the fencer's reputation as a fencer regardless of the form of fencing that the fencer is doing. In this the method used to gain victory must be considered, and must be considered to be important to the fencer.

A clean victory against the opponent where it is reliant on pure technique should be the goal of the fencer regardless of the form of fencing and regardless of the opponent. This form of victory will lead to a greater level of respect and renown for the fencer. If the fencer relies upon being purely aggressive in their fencing this will be noted by other fencers can result in notoriety rather than respect for the fencer. This form of fencing is less clean, and if the fencer is focussed on the win and nothing more it is what can result out of the encounter. The overt use of aggression in an encounter will be noted by the opponent and the other fencers who are watching the encounter. This also relates to the use of force as related to the use of technique.

The fencer has a choice of using force or technique in an attack and depending on what they choose will decide the result. An attack which uses force to force its way through the opponent's defence is using the muscles of the fencer in order to overcome the defence of the opponent. An attack which uses technique in order to defeat the opponent's attack uses the founding principles upon which fencing is based in order to strike the opponent. In the former, the muscles are tensed and are used to a great degree. This form of attack uses a great deal of energy and due to the overt use of muscle and force will tend to be less accurate than the attack which uses technique. It is also the case that often this form of attack will also be delivered against the target with more force and thus a higher likelihood of resulting in injury. In an attack which is delivered using technique, the muscles and the fencer are much more relaxed. The fencer relies on their control of the weapon and the principles of fencing in order to deliver the attack. This attack is more likely to be more accurate, and will also be delivered against the opponent with less force and thus less chance of injury to the opponent. The attack with technique relies upon the discipline and control of the fencer.

Discipline and control are related very much so. In order to have control this takes a great deal of discipline as this control is developed through practice and application of technique. From another point of view control is also necessary for discipline as the fencer needs to be able to control their actions enough in order to be able to develop discipline in their actions. These two aspects are directly related to the idea of aggression and the results of it. Where the fencer is able to control their aggression, they can apply the aggressive tendencies to the performance of a controlled action, which is more likely to succeed. This means that even though they are being aggressive, it is controlled in the application of the technique, still, however the fencer needs to be careful that the result of the technique will not injure their opponent. Where control is lost and aggression rules, there will be little consideration of technique and the fencer will use anything at their disposal in order to strike their opponent. It is important that discipline and control are applied to the aggressive tendencies in order that control is maintained over the weapon.

What is control? What is the control applied to? How can aggression be controlled? Control is the application of self-discipline to a situation. In fencing this means that control is applied to how the body is moved and how the weapon is moved as a result. This control is also over the individual's mental state during fencing. The loss of temper or loss of control over the aggressive nature, is a failure of self-discipline on the part of the fencer. Thus it is both physical and mental aspects in the fencer which need to be controlled through the use of self-discipline. The idea of controlled aggression would seem to some to be an alien concept. The common feeling is that aggression is not controlled at all and the use of such can only be a detriment to the fencer. This is actually not the case. Through the application of self-discipline aggression can be controlled and thus applied with a measure of safety. It is only when the aggressive tendencies take over that the fencer becomes dangerous to themself and their opponent. A controlled aggression will mean that the fencer knows how far to go and when to stop before causing a problem. Aggression can be seen to be a bad thing in fencing, but it is really only when the fencer loses control of such aggression that problems will start.

One of the most important things about fencing in the modern world is that in general fencing is done with friends. The antagonistic scenario for which fencing was originally designed has fallen by the wayside for the greater part in favour of a sporting or recreational pursuit. What this means is that there is really no reason why a person should be injured deliberately during fencing. More to the point, such behaviour is seen in a negative light. A certain level of injury is liable to happen due to the contact nature of the recreation, but this should be minimised as much as possible. Part of this can be achieved through protective equipment, but a larger part comes from the control of the actions of the participants. Injuries which result from brutal or overtly aggressive play reflect badly upon the fencer, but they also reflect badly on the activity itself and this is a vital consideration for all fencers, regardless of their type of fencing. Injuries make fencing seem as though it is a dangerous activity and this does not encourage others to join and does nothing for the image of fencing at all. Remember for the most part that fencing takes place with our friends and injuring these people is a bad thing that should be avoided. Injuring friends is a good way to lose them and also have others lose respect for the fencer.

It is the duty of the fencer to ensure that they are taking as safe an approach to fencing as possible in order that the recreation is able to be maintained and for it to be available for future generations. Aggression is a part of fencing, this is something that cannot be avoided. The act of attempting to strike an opponent with a weapon is aggressive in its nature, but this aggression can be controlled. Due consideration needs to be made by the fencer of their performance of the art, and also especially with regard to the level of control they have over their own aggression. Brutal play should be discouraged strongly in all aspects of fencing, regarless of the type of fencing being performed. Where the aggression takes over the fencer injuries can happen quite easily. Self-discipline and control are of vital importance to the safe and better performance of fencing.



Evangelista, N. (2000) The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit, Masters Press, Illinois, USA


  1. Hi Henry, Ysambart here. I have watched fencing from the sidelines for fifteen years, been authorized for a year, playing casually.

    Good post - aggression is a complex subject. One thing I have been exploring is mentioned in your last paragraph - performance. "Due consideration needs to be made by the fencer of their performance of the art, and also especially with regard to the level of control they have over their own aggression."

    One of the things I try to emphasize, despite my current low experience, is fencing as a performance - something to be watched by others as an interesting spectacle. It is where I try to concentrate, well above result.

    Where do you rate the following - technique or performance? I see a trouble with SCA fencing trailing in interest factor - quality of performance - I'm doing what I can to assist, but am interested in your views.

  2. Hi Ysambart. Interesting question. From an a general fencing point of view, I think that one flows into the other. With a high degree of technique it is possible for a person to put on a better performance, especially as the higher level techniques, the really speccy ones, are pure technique performed well. It is only once the technique is learnt properly that the performance of those actions can be done properly.

    In my fencing myself I attempt to perform the techniques and try to give the audience something to look at while achieving my own goal in defeating the opponent. It is also one of the reasons why I get accused of "playing with my food". I want my opponent to do what they can so I can do the same, in the process I am trying to get a quality encounter out of my opponent while performing clear and crisp actions.

    One of the other reaons why I think fencing trails is the lack of education in some of the audience. It is much easier to see a level of quality and therefore performance when the art is understood. The same can be said of most performance arts actually. The audience who understands what is going on actually enjoys it better. Once it is understoood then the audience will be able to see the finer movements and thus the technique which leads to performance of the actions associated.

    Thanks for the comments.



  3. More skills all round will make for a better show, that's for sure. While that is happening over time, I think I'll add effort moving things along, because 'fast' in the organizational sense looks better than slow.

  4. Very true. One of the problems we run into is that you can teach the extra skills, but until the fencer is ready to use them, they don't tend to appear too quickly. There is also the fear of if it will work or not especially in tournaments for some. These are things I have been trying to address here and other places


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