Fencing Systems - The Society for the Study of Swordsmanship

Fencing Systems

One of the most fascinating aspects of historical fencing is the range of combat systems available

Within our remit (Early Renaissance to the end of the 19th Century) there are many weapons and numerous systems for using each one. Different historical masters had their own ideas about how best to go about fighting with a sword, so one rapier style, for example, might be quite different from another.

We seek to preserve historical authenticity

This means, among other things, that we fence as if the weapons were sharp. It is not necessary (nor desirable) to hit hard but cuts and thrusts must be made as if the blade were sharp. An attack that would not have caused an injury that would change the course of a fight is dismissed as an ‘honourable mention’ and not scored.

Conversely, we know that it was rare for any sword cut or thrust to instantly ‘stop’ the opponent. A hit that lands a microsecond ahead of the opponent’s blow is no use in a real fight – the art of fencing is the art of defence for a reason. Living just long enough to see your opponent fall down is a poor victory. We thus seek to hit without being hit, as you would do in a real sword fight.

This, along with the characteristics of the weapons we use, means that even to someone who knows nothing about swords, a fencing bout in our class actually looks like a sword fight. Not a Hollywood choreographed routine with spinning and jumping around, but a fight with swords between people who don’t want to get killed. Similarly, we do not compromise ‘real’ swordplay in favour of tricks to get points in tournaments – indeed, in a lot of tournaments, such behaviour would be grounds for disqualification.

For those who do know about swordplay, the characteristics of the different weapons are obvious from the way we fight with them. Indeed, we have had visitors and tournament observers correctly tell us which historical masters our teachings are based upon. This is part of what makes historical fencing interesting. Rather than a generic sabre fight between two people trained in the same system, we may see an English military sabreur going up against one trained in the Polish style, or even a bout between a fencer armed with a rapier and dagger against one using a backsword and shield.

Our group is primarily concerned with five weapons – the rapier, the smallsword, the backsword, the cutlass and the military sabre. We do, however, study and teach other weapons.

Join Us

Our classes are every Wednesday, from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm. If you would like to join us, please contact us.

You can find us at the Penshaw Community Association, in Penshaw, just off the A19.