Friday, January 8, 2010

What is Fencing?


A question that is not often asked is "What is fencing?" Most often the answer to this question is assumed to be general knowledge by most people. While swordplay, for most people, is not a normal part of their everyday life, there is the assumption that something is known about fencing. This blog will address both this particular question and some of the associated elements of fencing which must be realised, and most importantly by the fencing community.

There are many assumptions which have been made about fencing over many years. Some of these are reinforced by popular culture in movies and other things. One of the first places that must be investigated is the "dictionary definition" of fencing and what that implies.

"Fencing is a family of sports and activities that feature armed combat involving cutting, stabbing, or bludgeoning weapons that are directly manipulated by hand rather than shot, thrown or positioned."
This gives a surprisingly broad definition of what fencing is. What is most relevant at this point in time is that this particular defintion of fencing is the one that must be used in order to appreciate its complete scale. Even for the fencer this is important, too often to we get locked into believing that what we do is the one and only true form of fencing whereas there are many out there. This much broader view of the idea of fencing allows for a much deeper analysis and discussion of fencing and the potential it has for all fencers and others as well. Where modern usage of "fencing" falls down is as follows:
"In contemporary common usage, fencing tends to refer specifically to European schools of swordsmanship and to the modern Olympic sport that has evolved out of them."
This falls down from several different points of view. First of all it limits fencing to European schools of swordsmanship. This is very limiting as it would be known and argued that any Japanese kendoka or Chinese swordsman would also argue the point. Fencing must refer to all forms of swordplay not only those found in European schools of swordsmanship. The next point that must be made is the idea that sport fencing "evolved" out of the previous forms. This is inaccurate to say the least. The change from the rapier to the smallsword and thus to later weapons was a result of fashion not evolution or increase in skills. Those treatises left by the masters of the Renaissance period will demonstrate that what was taught were complete and complex skill systems. Thus the so-called "evolution" is inaccurate.

In order to approach fencing with a truly holistic point of view it must be appreciated how each of these martial arts relates to one another. The first is through the foundation principles. All the forms work on the principles of time and distance. These two form the foundation of the theory found in all fencing. Then there is the universal fencing principle which applies to all, and that is the principle of striking the opponent without being struck. With these ideas in mind it is then possible to see where the forms of fence are similar. This can also be seen in technique where the techniques of one transfer through to another. Thus it can be seen that all forms are similar in the most elementary parts of them.

With this in mind it can easily be seen that one form of fencing can assist another. This is possible due to their similarities. The similarities in principles and techniques in many cases makes it so that some are simply transferable from one to the other. This also means where one has a problem with a particular technique it can possibly be explained better by another school of fence. These similarities assist for a better understanding of each and every form of fence. So, too is it the case that their differenced enrich the practitioner who appreciates the different forms of fencing available to him.

One thing that must be realised is that the impact of the individual fencer has more impact than they would realise. The individual's action will directly affect those fencers who fence against them. This will follow to that it may affect the organisation to which they are associated, and in some instances the actions of the individual may come to affect the entire fencing community. There are many fears and misgivings which are had for fencers in general and the negative actions of the fencer only serve to increase these. Public knowledge of the individual fencer does come through in a positive light on occasion, but also too does it come through in a negative light. One person who attacks another with a sword with the intent to do real injury affects the entire fencing community.

All fencers have a responsibility, not only to themselves and the group with which they fence, but all fencers regardless of their form of fencing. This means that they must watch their actions very closely in order that they do not reflect badly on the fencing community. It is also their responsibility to spread knowledge about the art of the sword in all its forms. This means that no fencer should derride another school of thought, Eastern, Western, modern and Renaissance all forms bring something to the fencing community. It is only through the spread of knowledge about fencing that fencing stays alive and people become more informed about it.