Academy of Fencing Masters Blog

Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Author: Igor Chirashnya Page 1 of 70

A Not-So-Brief History of Fencing, Part 2: Old World European Fencing

A Not-So-Brief History of Fencing, Part 2: Old World European Fencing

Fencing takes its style, substance, and sensibilities from the European schools of fencing that arose in the Renaissance and then grew over the next several centuries. 

We learned about Fencing in the Ancient World in Part 1 of our not-so-brief history of fencing, and we’ll dig through the era of the modern Olympics in Part 3, but for now we are right in the middle. This is where fencing begins to take the shape that we know it to have now, and it’s where we can start to see the distinctive nature of our sport as different from other forms of military combat

What is very similar to what comes before is that fencing is not a sport yet, it is still a skill that is largely centered around keeping the individual alive during a real fight. Over the course of five hundred years or so, from the end of the Middle Ages in the sixteenth century to the modern Olympic era that begins at the dawn of the twentieth century, fencing moves from a test of mettle that can end in death to a test of mettle that can end on a podium. This happens through the development of fencing schools and the move of fencing from military combat to the nobility. 

This section is focused on how fencing came to be in Europe, because that’s where our sport has its origins. There was sword fighting that developed in other parts of the world through this time period, like kendo in Japan, but it’s not related to sport fencing today. We are a diverse sport in the modern era, but the origins of fencing are fundamentally European. We also cannot help but point out that, though there were women fencing throughout its history, it is a history that is predominantly made up of men. The transition to total inclusion of women in fencing wouldn’t be complete until the 2004 Olympics with adding women’s sabre competition, by that having all 3 weapons represented in women’s fencing! 

The part of fencing history that we’re exploring now could be thought of as the adolescence of the sport. This is where we’re figuring out who we are, and a lot of things are changing along the way. It’s a big transition, and it wasn’t always easy. 

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A Not-So-Brief History of Fencing, Part 1: Fencing in the Ancient World

A Not-So-Brief History of Fencing, Part 1: Fencing in the Ancient World

The history of fencing might surprise you – even if you’ve got a long history in the sport yourself. 

We are an unusual sport because of our origins – conflict. Just about as far back as you go with human history you’re going to find conflict, and in order to be great on the battlefield, you had to practice. It’s baked into who we are, which is part of why fencing feels so compelling. Kids naturally pickup backyard sticks and start swordfights, it doesn’t matter that they aren’t training for real battles. It’s like we can’t help ourselves, we want to challenge one another. 

That’s all fine and good, but we want to know more. Fencing as a sport has some surprising roots, and our sport was an actual sport much further back than most of us realize. 

To understand the scope of fencing history, from as far back as we can trace it, we’ve broken this down into three parts. The first is what you’re reading – Part I: Fencing in the Ancient World, where we delve into the earliest history. We then move onto Part II: Old World European Fencing, which follows through the time when fencing developed into something more like we know it to be today and the rise of high fencing styles. Finally,  in Part III: Modern Fencing, we trace back through the last couple of centuries, including the Olympic Era. There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get going!

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7 Things that Fencing Parents do that Drive Kids Nuts

7 Things that Fencing Parents do that Drive Kids Nuts

There’s a push and pull between every child and parent, it’s a natural part of the relationship. For fencing parents, there is an added layer of push and pull because of the balance of training, and because of the pressures of competition, and unintentionally parents can drive kids nuts.

Just about everyone has seen a parent lose it at a sporting event. It’s unfortunately not uncommon to see parents pressuring young athletes in a wide variety of ways, from the sidelines or after practice. Fencing is not immune to this reality, and it’s important for parents to think about what their actions are so that they can strike the right chord. 

We’ve all been guilty of pushing things a little too hard with our kids, and that’s ok. What we want to do is to keep growing and to find the ways that we can improve. That starts with understanding the potential pitfalls.

Here are seven things that fencing parents do that drive their kids crazy. 

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Training is Mastery

Training is mastery

There is a widely held misconception that training is preparation for becoming a master in fencing. We come into lessons every week and we work with our coaches in an attempt to learn and grow so that we can perform well in competition because the competition is the really important thing. Or is it? Is competition the most important factor in pushing forward towards mastery for a fencer, or is there something else that drives us?

Exploring this idea of what it means to practice and what it means to perform is central to understanding what is behind fencing as a discipline. There is no professional version of our sport as such, but we do have something akin in our international competitors. In terms of drive, skill, and dedication, those individuals would be our goal. However, imitation is not really what we’re looking for either. You can’t become a master of any sport by simply chasing the shadow of someone else. There are other factors because every fencer has to find their own way. 

Defining mastery

Training is mastery. 

That’s not the expected answer is it? (though it’s the title of this blog!) We generally think of mastery as being when you win an Olympic Gold or when you are the coach of high ranking fencers. We think of mastery as being that old maestro who saw glory days in competition decades ago and now pushes young fencers to move faster and strike with more precision. We might think of mastery as getting that A rating

Mastery has nothing to do with what you have done in the past. It has nothing to do with the rank that you got or the number of podium finishes you’ve made it to.  

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The Sad Reality of How Hard the Pandemic Hit Fencing

The san reality of how hard the pandemic hit fencing

The last year brought us to a wholly new and sad reality, and though we are making it through, it has been a year of survival. Recovery has to come sometime, but when?

One sad reality of this last year is just how hard fencing has been hit. It’s not clear how hard just yet, but the last twelve months are world-changing for our sport. Whatever we think the ramifications are, or whatever our hopes for a quick and smooth return to what we used to have, it is increasingly clear that the path forward is going to be much harder than we would like. It’s clear that our sport will need time to bounce back into shape, and the loss is not going to be easy. 

Survival mode

Part of what keeps us going during hard times is the ability to prioritize what is in front of us. This year, we have put our heads down and looked at only what is directly in front of us, only what is needed for our immediate survival. Looking too far ahead creates a sense of unease and a feeling of being overwhelmed because we don’t know what the future will look like. 

In fencing, there has been a lot of it. We held onto hope for Summer Nationals through April of last year, when qualifying events were canceled during that first harsh lockdown. At the time, no one knew what this would all look like. Then they were postponed till the fall. Then they were finally just outright canceled. Looking back, it’s easy to see that there was never a chance for Fencing Summer Nationals to happen in 2020. At the time, everyone was taking things one step at a time, looking at what we had in front of us to make the best determination possible. That was hope, and it’s a great thing that got us through. 

We are lucky to have had the opportunity to keep going, and we’re lucky that the precautions taken by USA Fencing have meant that there were no large gatherings that created outbreaks among our fencers. It could have been a lot worse. 

One of the good things about the survival mode that we have all been in for the last year is that it allowed us to block out what’s coming. As time rolled on and the stress of just making it continued, many of us learned to let go of fretting over the future. Lots of us have found solace and meaning in our families, which is a good thing. Our worlds got smaller in quarantine, giving us a different focus. Survival mode can’t last forever though, and now as we are seeing vaccines come into our communities and the numbers of cases dip down from their dizzying, terrifying heights, we can start to look forward. 

Looking forward isn’t going to be easy. Keep reading and you’ll see why. 

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