Saturday, December 10, 2011

Lexicon for Swordplay, Or He Did What?


It has been a while since I have made any posts here as I have been busy with other things, and searching for suitable subjects for writing about. This is one which came up sometime ago, but I had not written about it as I thought I would leave it for a while. The blog following is about swordplay and the terminologies associated with such. It will also dig a little into the issues of not having a suitable lexicon of swordplay, or indeed having several in different languages.

Now we have all been at an event where we have seen two people get into a discussion about what happened during the fencing that day and often it will result in fingers being pointed in order for the action used to be expressed accurately. This is the result of not having a common language or suitable terms in which to discuss what they are talking about. On the other end one fencer will use an Italian term and the other will look at him strangely because all his study has been in German. In this particular case it comes out as having suitable terms but not a common language both of these can cause issues when expressing an action performed with a weapon.

To give an example of what is being discussed here. A beat is a simple action designed to remove the opponent's blade with force in order to open a line. In French it is called battement, in German it is called Klingenschlag, in Spanish it is called batimiento, and in Italian it is called battuta. Four different languages which is four different words for the same thing, they just happen to be in a different language. Things only get more confusing for the new person when a discussion of cuts comes in.

In order to avoid such confusions, either deliberately or accidentally, some organisations have developed their own language for the various actions with a sword, one example of this is from the armoured combatants of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). Terms have been developed in order to describe the action of delivering a blow against an opponent, for example the snap, and the wrap. To an uninformed audience these would not make particularly much sense, but the same could be said of many early Italian terms such as the Iron Gate Guard. So in some ways the language is developing the same sort of way, and changes are coming. An example of this can be found in another blog which I read on a regular basis by Cornelius Von Becke

The importance of the result of this is understanding. It would take someone quite a while to collect together a complete set of fencing terminologies from the various schools of swordplay in order to have all the terms in all the languages. This would be a great idea and a project well worth looking into, however, it is not what I am proposing here. For the current period in time it is better that the practitioners do not confuse the language with the swordplay. Hence those involved in Italian swordplay should keep with Italian terms, those involved in German should keep with German terms and so forth. However, the practitioner should also keep a broad eye open to other terms and pick them up and see how they fit in their own style in order that better communication is possible across the styles.

The whole goal of this discussion is understanding and this can be easily related back to my previous blog on manuals ( and also the later one on the language in such manuals. The reason why this is important is so that the fencing community is able to converse and understand what is being discussed easily. For this to happen people need to adopt such terms that they can understand themselves, but also such terms that they can pass on to others and relate to the terms being used by them. In this the fencer needs to keep and open mind to what is being said and see the most important relationship of all, the fact that all are doing swordplay and all are related to one another. Once this relationship is recognised and understood then people will be able to see that everyone can learn from anyone who picks up a sword in any style what-so-ever.