Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Time and Distance


This blog is about time and distance as will be noted by the title. This will be a discussion about these concepts and will examine the various elements involved in each of them. First the importance of these concepts to fencing will be discussed. Along with an important realisation about them that must be highlighted in order to understand them properly. Following this will be a discussion of each one of the concepts in some detail in order that each one of the parts of time and distance can be understood.

Time and Distance are key concepts in fencing and indeed all martial arts. Any form of martial arts which involves the engagement of two combatants with one another will involve elements of time and distance. They are so important that they should be included in some way in every lesson that is taught in fencing. They are also important to the development of the fencer as with out them their understanding of what they are doing will be severely limited. Only with a complete understanding of these concepts and how they apply to fencing will the fencer be able to excel. One of the most important realisations of these concepts is that they are relative and not concrete. This means that they cannot be measured in increments of seconds for time or metres or feet and inches for distance.

Time is also known as tempo, in many ways these two terms are interchangeable, so when one is spoken about so is the other. Tempo is about the relative movements of the individual and the opponent. This is important as often time is discussed only with the movement of the individual. It is important that the moevements of the opponent must also be taken into account in order to understand this principle completely. It was stated by Di Grassi that every movement is accomplished in time. What he is stating is that each movement takes time. This is a basic understanding of the concept, but it in some way fails to bring to light that it is not only movement that must be taken into account but stillness as well.

A motion of stillness, or the lack of movement is also a tempo. Thus when counting the tempos it is important that an action must be completed and there is a stillness there. For example, the parry and riposte is counted as such, there is one tempo for the start of the movement, a stillness. There is a tempo involved in the action of the parry, a movement. There is a tempo in the completion of the parry a stillness. There is a tempo involved in the movement of the riposte, and finally a tempo in the completion of the parry, a stillness. In this there will be counted five tempos used.

Time is a concept, timing is the action performed in relation to an opponent. In this it must be noted that while time describes all actions in fencing, timing discusses the actions of fencing in relation to an opponent's actions. It is important that both of these are understood. Time is the overall concept but, timing is also important as it describes the movements in action against an opponent who is also moving. With regard to this time must be understood as a concept, while timing must be felt while fencing against an opponent.

There are some important elements that must be understood with regard to time in order for it to be completely understood. In general for the starting student most of their actions as described by the teacher will be completed in dui tempo, or double time. This means that they will be encouraged to make a solid defence before attempting to make any sort of counter against their opponent. This ensures that the combatant is safe from their opponent's attack before any counter is made.

Stesso tempo, often called single time, literally means self time. This is an action which combines the action of defence and counter-attack in a single motion, hence being referred to as single time. This motion is often developed from the smooth motion of a fencer who knows dui tempo well and is able to combine the two actions into a single one. What is important with regard to this concept is that there is a defence made, but it is done in combination with the counter-offensive action.

Contra-tempo, means against time. This means that an attack is launched when the fencer should be parrying the opponent's attack. What is important in this particular concept is that the attack is not launched without any concept of defence, the defence is usually ensured by displacement of the body or the blade engagement witht the opponent. Without this defence in place it would be highly likely that both fencers will be struck.

Mezzo tempo, or half time, is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. What it means is that an action is performed in the middle of the opponent's action in order to counter it. This is often confused with contra-tempo. The most common action performed in mezzo tempo is an attack to the opponent's hand or arm as it is moved forward in the attack, a stop hit to this part of the body. This effectively counters the opponent's attack before it is completed. This is the primary goal of the mezzo tempo action, to counter the action of the opponent before it is completed.

The slowest form of time is dui tempo as more tempos are spent in its action, but it is also the safest from the straight attack. Stesso tempo is highly effective when used and very fast as it uses very few tempos in its execution. The same could be said of contra-tempo as a similar action is often being performed when compared to stesso tempo. Of the times mezzo tempo is actually the fastest as it counters the opponent's action before it is allowed to be completed, this in half time. What needs to be taken into account with regard to these concepts is how they affect fencing and how each of them use time to their advantage, and what each advantage gains the opponent. This is one of the keys to developing timing.

With regard to time there is also the concept of the time of the hand and the time of the foot, these being the two most dominant. The time of the hand is any movement involving the use of the hand or the arm. The time of the foot is any movement of the feet. For the fencer it is important to realise that the time of the hand is faster than the time of the hand, and this needs to be taken into account. The hand should always be moved before the foot, this sounds contradictory to the speeds which have been described, but it is important that the defence, or offence of the weapon is in place before the foot moves the body. This is most important in the lunge. If the foot is moved forward first the body is presented as a target. If the hand is moved forward first then a threat is aimed at the opponent which they must deal with before being able to attack. The same things apply in defence. A parry should be made before a retreat is made in order to control the opponent's weapon for the same reason that the hand is moved first in the lunge.

Distance, also known as measure or misura. These terms are interchangeable and as with time it is a relative measurement which is dependent on the movements of both the individual and the opponent. Both of the combatants can and often do affect the measure. Every movement of the fencers either increases or decreases the measure. It must be realised that if only one moves then the measure is changed, if both move the measure may or may not be changed. It is the movement of the body through the use of footwork that increases or decreases measure. The choice of whether to move to increase or decrease the measure is dependent on the particular situation and the preference of the combatants.

With regard to measure there are two main distances which are discussed, stretta and larga, narrow and wide distance. Misura stretta, narrow distance, is where the combatants can reach one another by a simple extension of the arm, with or without the assistance of the body. Misura larga, wide distance, is where the combatants can only reach one another through the movement of the feet and the extension of the arm, with or without the assistance of body movement. These are two important concepts as they are integrally involved in the motions of fencing. Most simple attacks will be made at the misura stretta where a simple thrust is sufficient to strike the opponent, whereas more complex actions are required for use of an attack at misura larga. A fencer's on guard position should be adopted at the misura larga because the opponent requires foot movement in order to attack and this is more easily visible than a simple hand movement. This is related to the time of the hand and foot which were discussed previously. Essentially, misura larga is at the time of the foot whereas misura stretta is all at the time of the hand.

Two distances which are often not discussed as much as narrow and wide distance are close distance and out of distance. Close distance is a measure inside that of misura stretta, while out of distance is a distance outside that of misura larga. Close distance is often the result of two combatants closing with one another while at misura stretta, while out of distance is usually the result of one of the combatants retreating while at misura larga. Close distance as described is referred to by Capo Ferro as extra narrow distance or misura strettissima and is most often used for the execution of the mezzo tempo attack as described above, but it can also be used to refer to the situation as described above. Out of distance or fuori misura, is where the fencers cannot reach one another even with the use of a foot movement.

Some fencers may have a preference for a particular distance. This is often based on where they feel that they can gain the greatest advantage out of the situation. What is most important is that this consideration should be made dependent on the opponent rather than any personal preference. It would be foolish to close with an opponent who prefers to fight close, and it would be foolish to stay at range with an opponent who prefers that distance. With regard to this any preference for distance can actually limit the fencer, in all cases the fencer should be adept at being able to use distance to their advantage and use the distance which is most appropriate to the situation.

Just as time is affected by distance, so too is distance affected by time. At the misura stretta all actions are at the time of the hand, this makes for very fast movements and often single tempos being used. At misura larga actions are at the time of the foot, and thus two tempos are required for the effective use of an action, one of the foot and one of the hand in order to reach the opponent. At misura strettissima, half tempo actions are used this can make for a very messy situation if the combatants are struggling with one another. In general, when combatants are at fuori misura actions are much to slow to be performed against the opponent due to the time taken to close the distance. These examples describe the important relationship between the two concepts, and it must be realised that the should not be talked about separately as they are so intertwined.

Time and distance are two concepts without which a true understanding of fencing is not possible. They should be integrated into every lesson that is taught by the teacher so that the students get used to using the terms and how they affect fencing. It is important that the concepts which have been presented are understood not only alone but also in association with one another. Time and distance are very much intertwined and to discuss one means discussing the other. More than understanding the concepts the fencer must also be able to apply these and understand where they are present while actually fencing. This develops a feeling for the concepts while they are in motion and with this feeling the fencer will have a great advantage over an opponent who does not understand them and cannot feel them in motion.



Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Building Self-Confidence


Going by the title of this particular blog one could assume that this is going to be some sort of "make people happy" discussion. Actually, that is not the point of view that will be the focus of this one. In this particular case the subject of self-confidence will be addressed from two points of view. Firstly it will be examined from the student's point of view and then from the teacher's point of view. The purpose of this blog is to address the idea of how both the teacher and the student can build self-confidence in the student. This is an important process that both the student and the teacher need to be aware of in order for the student to excell.

From the student's point of view, there are three main points that will be raised. Firstly that training is a learning process and mistakes will be made. Secondly, the importance of practice and how it builds skill and thus confidence, and finally being comfortable in what you are doing. Each one of these particular points is important and needs to be addressed in order for the student to build confidence in themselves.

Fencing and training is a learning process, in this there will be mistakes made by the student in what they are doing. What is important about this is that the student needs to learn from these mistakes, in this way the mistake made is not a failure but a chance for the student to learn and improve what they are doing. The learning process takes time. This is important as the student must realise that it will take time for them to learn skill-sets and be able to use them effectively in fencing. Fencing is a long road if it is approached from the correct point of view and they will never stop learning. When something is done well it should be celebrated. The student should take pride in all of their achievements, no matter how small they might be, but this must be in proportion to the level of the achievement, and also through this not become over-confident. This achievement should spur them on to want to do more.

It is practice that builds skill, and skill that builds confidence. Needless to say, practice is required for all of the skills in fencing so that they can be called upon and used at anytime that the student requires them. In this practice the student needs to be practicing the correct action in order that the correct action is learnt. In this the teacher should be correcting them in order tha this is possible, and to a point the student should also be correcting themselves. The action performed must be completed. Where the drill involves a parry and riposte, both actions need to be completed in order for the student to learn the correct thing. Where the parry is missed, the student should correct the parry, and then make the appropriate riposte. This is the same for all actions. It is this sort of repetition that builds muscle memory and allows a student to perform an action without thinking about it. Much in these blogs has already been said about practice, but it is something which is vital for the student to keep progressing.

Being comfortable in what a person is doing is about several things. Firstly it is necessary for them to understand what they are doing and what it is suppose to achieve. Next it is important to understand the effect of the action and the parts that are involved in the action. This understanding will enable the student to have a better grasp of what they are doing and thus be more comfortable with it. Once the mind is prepared it is important for the body to be able to feel what is happening. Performing an action slowly will allow the student to feel the activation of muscles and other parts of their body. This will enable them to perform the action properly at faster speeds once they can feel what their body is doing during the performance of the action. Each student will find things that feel more comfortable for them. In some cases there may be some modification in the action required for the action to work for them, and this is fine. It is important for the student to discover what works for them and thus enable them to develop a level of comfort for themselves in their actions. Of course, the development of this level of comfort in an action will take time, especially for a new action. It is important that the teacher allows the student to take the time that they need in order for them to become comfortable with an action. An action which is comfortable for the student will more readily be used by them.

From the teacher's point of view, there are also three main points that will be raised. The teacher's purpose in training is an important factor in building self-confidence in the student. Next is encouragement and how it can be effective in building self-confidence through building the student. Lastly is the idea of relaxation on the part of the student in order that they can more freely learn what needs to be learnt. Rather than specific points of reference for the teacher, it will be a general discussion focussed on the particular sub-topics presented.

The purpose of the teacher needs to be something that the teacher is aware of. In teaching their purpose is to develop skill in the student, rather than simply demonstrating how good they are to the student. It is important that this focus is maintained by the teacher in order that they do not get side-tracked into simply contradicting the actions of the student. Along with this, the teacher must get hit. The hit should be the result of a correct technique performed by the student and not simply the teacher just standing there. This may be required for the most timid of the students, but in general the hit should result from a correctly performed technique. In this particular aspect, once the teacher has taught a student a particular technique, and they are getting them to perform the action, they should neve counter the correct technique as this builds negative reinforcement associated with the technique. If there is a counter, this should be taught as a separate section. The student should be allowed to complete the action as described. The teacher must allow the student to complete the action and to perform it as it was taught, if there are problems, the teacher should correct them once the action is complete. Being that it is the training of the student which is the focus, the teacher must also know the difference between training and bouting. Training is designed to reinforce a particular action, in this the person who is supposed to get hit, should. This is the same for drills as well, the action needs to be completed. This is where the focus of the teacher must be toward teaching the student.

Encouragement is important and necessary. The student should be praised for a skill well performed. This encourages the student to complete action and gives them a boost in order to move on to the next action. It is important that the encouragement is not over-used, but measured in proportion to the achievement of the student. This will also reinforce the validity of the action taught and performed. Encouragement is especially necessary where a student is having problems. This may be problems with a particular technique, or overall. In both cases, the teacher needs to find little victories to encourage the student to continue along their path, without this encouragement the student may give up. When an action is performed as per a drill, the action must be allowed to be completed, unimpeded by the teacher. Encouragement should be given for the performance of the action completed. Encouragement goes a large way toward building confidence in the student, and especially confidence in their skills.

For some students, relaxation in the performance of skills is difficult, but it is also important in order that they are able to perform the action without hesitation and more fluidly. It is important that the student is focussed on what they are doing, but not so much that they become tense. This tension needs to be relieved in some manner or other. This can be achieved through light-hearted anecdotes, but the student should not be criticised in these. Tension will be built by the student over-thinking an action. This often comes from looking outside the technique being taught. It is important that the students focus on the particular technique being taught, rather than worrying about what comes next or what might happen. Over-thinking an action will increase tension which will make the action more difficult to perform. If the muscles are relaxed, and thus lack tension, the action will be much easier to perform. This is the primary reason that relaxation is important, it allows for better performance of actions. Of course true relaxation comes from confidence, and this must be built. This confidence needs to be built one technique at a time, and then stacked in order to complete the picture.

Self-confidence is important for both the student and the teacher, without it neither could perform. It is also important that both are able to improve the level of self-confidence by both their actions and also their attitude toward training and the training process. The student needs to consider how what they are doing can build their own confidence in what they are doing, but the teacher also has a role to play in this. Victories need to be celebrated, especially where the road toward it has been difficult for the student and the teacher. Of course, such victories need to be celebrated in proportion to their merit otherwise over-confidence will build and this will be to the detriment of the student and the teacher. In all as fencers all need to consider how they affect and are affected by the actions of ourselves and others in the building of self-confidence. The students in a class all have a role to play for themselves and one another. The building of self-confidence in the student needst to be a partnership between the student and the teacher.



Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Bio-mechanics and the Effect of Body Shape


Bio-mechanics is something that as fencers is often ignored. What is important is that there are many elements of bio-mechanics which can be very useful to the fencer if they are understood. Being that fencing is the actions performed by the body and this is affected by bio-mechanics. This blog will be addressing some of the elements of bio-mechanics from a very basic point of view which affect the fencer. It is more designed to encourage the fencer to consider bio-mechanics and their effect.

Bio-mechanics is something which most fencers will not take into account in their fencing, but it is something that really cannot be ignored. This particular element effects all of the actions on fencing and needs to be considered, even if it is only to examine in from a personal point of view about how the individual moves. For the teacher, bio-mechanics becomes more important especially in dealing with students of different body shapes. It is important to realise that a brief study in the elements of bio-mechanics can greatly assist in fencing, and also the teaching of fencing. The awareness of bio-mechanics and how it can affect your fencing will greatly enhance the fencer's ability to perform.

There are some supposed advantages and disadvantages in body shape when fencing is considered. The tall fencer with the long arms, in general, is supposed to have an advantage over the shorter individual with shorter arms. This is due to the range that the tall individual has and their ability to move because of their long limbs. Even with this taken into account it does not mean that the shorter individual has no hope of excelling in fencing, actually quite the opposite. While the longer limbed individual has an advantage at range this can be taken away, thus both the advantages and the disadvantages must be taken into account when considering body shape and its effect on bio-mechanics. Each fencer needs to be able to use their body shape to their advantage, and needs to consider how bio-mechanics can enhance their advantages while compensating for some of the disadvantages.

It has already been stated that bio-mechanics will have an effect on all the movement elements of fencing, but it also needs to be realise that it will have an effect even on the individual's on guard position. In the on guard position, especially for Renaissance fencers, there are choices to be made with regard to the on guard position. Even when considering the basic on guard position with the weapon held in the natural on guard position of third or terza, there are elements which can come into effect which will affect the way the fencer moves. The first choice is with regard to the feet, sword foot forward or off-hand foot forward. This will affect the body position in the on guard position and change the options available, and affect those options which are available. The refused stance promotes the off-hand for use in defence. The forward stance promotes the sword. The refused stance withdraws the body, the forward pushes it more forward along with the weapon. Next is the consideration of whether the weapon is extended or more withdrawn, this will affect the way the weapon will be used and also the timing of the actions. All of these elements, even in the on guard stance, are affected by bio-mechanics.

Bio-mechanics also has an effect on the actions of fencing. This is because all of the actions are the result of the movement of the body and therefore are reliant on bio-mechanics for their effect. If a person understands how bio-mechanics affects their actions they can learn how to do them better, and one of the keys to this is flowing through the action. The action performed needs to be moved through and completed in a fluid motion. Some fencers will attempt to use their strength in the performance of the action, it is important that where the action is performed fluidly and accurately there is very little strength required for the action to be effective. This is a perfect example of how bio-mechanics affects the performance of an action, and how it is the body movement of the fencer that really needs to be considered in the action. This needs to relate to the fencer and how they move naturally.

The choice of which action to perform against the action of the opponent will come down to personal preference in all cases, but if the bio-mechanics of the individual are understood this choice can be more informed and thus more suited to the situation and the individual. The choice of how to approach a particular situation should be dependent on what the individual knows works best for them. This is mostly based on bio-mechanics and what actions they will prefer to perform against an opponent. In the performance of an action the fencer should consider what will give them the greatest advantage over the opponent. In all cases a mechanical advantage should be gained, this is also based on bio-mechanics. It does not rely on strength, in fact the use of a lack of strength against a strong opponent can be very effective. This particular effect can also be seen in the choice of measure. The shorter individual will need to get closer to the opponent in order to strike, thus there must be a consideration of how they can get there safely. The taller person will want to keep the opponent at range. These two choices are purely based on bio-mechanics.

Some of the effects of bio-mechanics on fencing have been discussed. What is important is that the actions can be modified to suit the individual. Each teacher will teach actions in a particular way, these are the base elements that need to be considered in the actions. Where the bio-mechanics of the individual have an effect on the action is where a consideration needs to be made as to how the action can be changed to suit the individual. It is important to utilise the advantages that you have and minimise the disadvantages. If something does not work for the fencer they need to consider why and how their own personal bio-mechanics will affect the action being performed. The action should then be modified to suit the individual in order that they can be more effective in their movements. One of the most important things here is that the fencer needs to fight the game that suits them and not let their opponent dominate what is happening. The fencer needs to move and to perform those actions which will give them and advantage over their opponent. This will take practice.

Bio-mechanics affects all the actions of the fencer and this needs to be considered, even if on the most basic level. A person who can utilise these particular principles will have an advantage over the opponent who has not considered them. Fencers need to examine their own movements and consider how they move and why the perform the actions of fencing in the way that they do. Once this is done elements can be considered as to how they can change this to suit their own body and thus move more effectively. Teachers need to take bio-mechanics into account in their teaching in order that they can teach their students to be more effective in their movements and also teach each student to take the advantages that they have and increase them. While it is often not considered on any conscious level, bio-mechanics is important to the fencer and needs to be considered.



Did you enjoy this post? Would you like to buy it in a book format? I have put a selection of my blogs into a book entitled Un-blogged: A Fencer's Ramblings, along with some extra articles. If you are interested in purchasing it you can buy it here: among other distributors.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Fencing Movies - Problems with Getting it Right


Movies with fencing in them are there for the entertainment of the people who view them. All fencers enjoy a good fencing movie. All remember the fencing scene at the top of the cliff in "The Princess Bride". The problem is that quite frequently experienced fencers will look at these movies and see holes in the technique and the actions of the combatants. This blog is a brief investigation into the problems with getting such things right, and also continuing to make them saleable for the general public, as unfortunately the educated fencing community seems to be rather small for budgeting an entire movie around. Various aspects will be addressed and considered.

The first problem that is encountered in the making of a fencing movie is the approach. It is a question of choreography versus combat. The purpose of the combat in a movie is to enhance the scene and develop dramatic elements between the combatants involved in the action. The purpose of an encounter between two fencers is a test of skill which is the focus of the encounter, considerations of their relationship to one another is usually not considered. Thus the big difference here is that one set of action is an attempt to tell a story while the other is a martial engagement between two individuals for the purpose of the encounter, rather than for developing a storyline. This particular situation leads to other elements of great importance to this particular topic.

Fencers are trained to strike their opponents with their weapons. Admittedly there is a level of control behind this striking, but the intention is to strike the opponent before he strikes you. For the actor involved in a dramatic situation, the last thing they want to do is to actually strike their opponent. Stringent safety precautions are laid into the training in order that the actors do not strike one another. Anytime that one actor happens to hit the other is usually the result of a lapse in judgement or a break from a set routine. This is a fundamental difference that must be taken into account. Intent is important and the intent of an action more so.

Fencers use tactical considerations for the actions that they will use against their opponent. They will use the most efficient method of striking their opponent while at the same time ensuring that they are not struck. This differs greatly from the actor. The actor has a set of choreographed actions which were developed by the fight director of the movie for the actor to perform in order to portray the action required by the director. There are no real tactical considerations here in the hands of the actor at all. The actions are controlled not by the person holding the weapon but by someone else, thus the actor is not free to change an action in order to be more efficient or in order to avoid an action which will result in defeat. Their fate, or the fate of their character has already been determined by the director and writer. This is obviously not the case for the fencer, who is in control of their own actions and responses to their opponent's actions.

Both actors and fencers are involved in training in order that they are prepared for the encounter with their opponent, but the training is different for the two and also the length is also different. While a fencer will spend months and years perfecting their technique in order to improve themselves, the actor has a much shorter period of time. On average the actor has about six weeks in order to learn all that they need to in order to perform the actions that are set by the fight director and the director of the movie. This truncates the training of the individual quite markedly. This is not to say that there are not actors who are also fencers, this is simply not the case as Basil Rathbone clearly proves. The thing is that the actions learn by the actor are set moves which are performed for the movie. While there is a basic introduction to what the actor is supposed to be doing the main focus is on those actions as determined by the director and the fight director. It is only this set of moves which is the focus for the actor. If the fencer limits themselves to a predetermined set of actions this would limit them a great deal and would not make a very effective fencer.

The image presented in movies is quite different from the actual nature of fencing. The image depicted by the movie is dependent on many factors and what sort of story the director wants to portray in the movie. This is of great importance. "By the Sword" depicts some elements of sport fencing in it. Some of the training is addressed, but the main focus in this is to depict the actions of the fencers as having speed and elegance once trained properly. This is reflected by their actions before and after training has been done. Still, though the actions are limited by what was required for the movie. Swashbuckling movie such as "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "The Three Musketeers" want to portray something different and thus the actions are different. The most important thing in this respect is that movies tend to focus on the flash and the bash. The sound of steel on steel and the large flowing actions of the characters in the movie. The use of the weapon is dependent on the character being depicted. Certain actions will be used by some characters and not by others, this enables some character development through physical actions. This is all quite different from actual fencing where economy of action is the focus and being the most effective against the opponents being the prime objective.

One of the problems that seems to come up again and again is a lack of research by the individuals involved in making the movies. This is evident in several places. Assumptions have been made about weapons and armour and this affects how the action is depicted. A great deal of this is attributable to 19th century fencing historians, but still there are some issues that can be brought to light where there are problems.

The first assumption which is often made is about armour. It is often assumed to be heavy and thus extremely limiting on the actions of the combatants. Anyone who has used armour which is fitted the right way will know that movement, while limited somewhat is not limited to the degree often depicted in movies. Research into the correct construction and wearing of armour is important in order that it can be depicted properly. Armour which is constructed properly and for the wearer is much less restrictive than several movies would like us to believe. A perfect example of this can be seen in "A Knight's Tale" where one of the knights is hoisted on to his horse. While this did happen much later in the Renaissance period where tilting armour was very heavy, it simply was not true for most of it.

The next area which needs to be investigated and researched by those making the movies is about the weapons themselves. Some would have us believe that weapons of the medieval period were heavy and unwieldy. Proper research into their construction and make will reveal that this simply was not the case. The sword of the medieval period was a precision weapon, and not one used for simple bludgeoning of the opponent. This is also reflected in the many Renaissance period texts on the use of such weapons. Simple bashing at the opponent was not the objective, there was a great amount of technique present as can be seen in the texts presented by such individuals as Liechtenauer, Talhoffer and other masters of the art of the sword. Some movies would also have us believe that the thin elegant rapier was as effective at cutting as some of its medieval counter-parts. This is simply not the case. While there were some rapiers which were somewhat effective at cutting, its prime use was the use of the point of the weapon. The weapon was simply too thin, in most cases, to perform the slashing and cleaving cuts which are so often presented in movies.

Added to all of these misconceptions about weapons and armour, the background of the fight director needs to be taken into account in the examination of the weapons and their use. A fight director whose main area of expertise is sport fencing will depict the use of weapons primarily based on this particular mode of fighting. This is appropriate to some weapons, especially those of the 18th century and later, but ones previous cannot have the same said of them. It is important that the fight director actually investigates the weapons being used in the movie in order that they can be depicted properly. This is where Renaissance martial artists and other researchers will be of great help to them. Needless to say, only the correct research will enable the weapon and the armour to be depicted properly.

While a great deal has been said about the problems associated with weapon-based combat as depicted in movies, it must also be said that there have been some great improvements over the years in the depiction of various period weapons in movies and their associated combats. One example of this is the difference between the 1993 version of "The Three Musketeers" and the later 1998 "Man in the Iron Mask". The formers' fencing is primarily based on sport fencing as can be seen by much of the action, whereas the later has a great deal more fighting which is more depicted like the weapons of the period. As research into period weapons improves and becomes evident to fight directors and directors, the depiction of fencing in movies will improve, so long as this research is taken into account. There have been several movies released relatively recently in which the historical nature of the movie has been more and more evident, along with the use of the weapons in these movies. "Kingdom of Heaven" is a prime example of this particular trend toward an increase in research in the period associated with the particular movie being depicted and the use of weapons and armour in the movie.

Movies with fencing in them are very entertaining to watch for the fencing community and also the general public. There are many of them out there, some of them are good, some of them are not so good. It is important that for the fencer that these movies are looked at both from the perspective of the educated fencer, but also from how the general public will see it. Questions about what this movie is attempting to depict as well as what sort of angle the director has taken in depicting the movie are important. If fencing is depicted totally accurately, much of the general public will not understand what is going on in the movie and thus will lose interest in it. The fight director's art must be respected as the depiction of any form of sword combat on the stage or screen is not a simple thing to achieve, but also considerations should be made on their part in order that this depiction will improve and thus represent fencing as it should be. Enjoy movies for what they are, they can teach us much.



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" (

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