Becoming a Duellist
In his book, famous fencing master Aldo Nadi realistically describes the tension, obstacles and high-stake nature of the duel – one that he experienced first-hand in1924. Only 24 years old, but an undefeated champion in 3 weapons, Aldo remained confident and eager to prove himself against a live point. Aldo squared off against Adolfo Cotronei, an Italian newspaper editor, over a story Contronei printed saying that Italian champion Candido Sassone beat French champion Lucien Gaudin 9-to-7. Honor at stake, they met a secluded place [read more at “The Duel”]
“In competition, the good fencer leisurely watches his opponent for a few seconds before starting the slightest motion. Here you are by no means allowed to do so because your adversary immediately puts into execution a plan evidently well thought out in advance: surprise the youngster at the very beginning; take advantage of his lack of dueling and bear upon his nerves and morale.”
THE NATURE OF THE DUEL
No film has picked up on the atmosphere and realism of the duel quite like Ridley Scott’s 1977 epic film, The Duellists. Choreographed by the famous William Hobbs (Excaliber, Willow, & The Count of Monte Cristo) it remains one of the best examples of sword-fighting – especially in this period, (Napoleonic era).
What you notice right away by viewing these fight scenes, is that the intention and awareness is focused on his opponent (remember, your life is on the line). Two, each fighter is hesitant on making a non-calculated action until there is a need to react to something – something that you possibly did not expect. And third, the fight scene is extremely short. Many duels started and finished in the time it took to read this paragraph.* Cutting with a sabre often produced gaping wounds, but it was the thrust (often w/ dueling sword, smallsword or rapier) that was fatal.
*Keep in mind that once the actual sword-fighting starts, depending on the skill, fighting area, luck, etc., duels could last anywhere from seconds to several minutes. Most duels didn’t last more than 10 minutes. But think of the amount of stamina that that would require! Needless-to-say, if you are serious about sword-fighting, be ready for anything.
TECHNIQUES FOR DUELING
It is of my opinion that if you can’t fight well against one person, you can’t and won’t perform well in a skirmish/battle. It is very important that you first learn your weapon (or weapon set) & build your skill. This includes Guard positions, techniques and movement tactics (learning first solo, then one-on-one and then (perhaps) multiple opponents).
>Bruce Lee once said, “One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs in simplicity.” This quote can easily be understood by the experienced martial artist – but is often hard for the beginner. Learn your techniques, various ways of movements…be a scientist of the martial sciences and put your skill and techniques to the test in competition.
What techniques serve you the best?
Which ones keep you safe or make you harder to hit/counter? Keep them.
Discard those techniques that put you in a bad position, are too flashy or complicated.
Find your personal “Go-To” techniques.
The mindset, especially in training and mock-dueling is essential. It must be centered around one thing – never allow a single touch. And if a touch is received, never allow a second. Always make it hard for your opponent to attack, find steady footing, or catch a breath. Use your environment, training and your intelligence in sword-fighting to be victorious. Victory favors the skillful!
I tell my young students, “Imagine you stepped back in time… You encounter a villainous foe, and he corners you into a fight; a fight to the death!” In an act of self-preservation you grab firmly your weapon of choice and ready yourself for any oncoming attack. In all matters of self-defense, I think it is fair to say “Anything goes.” This may include acquiring another weapon, kicking sand, or dirtying your point (in hopes that the doctor or director halts the bout, thus giving you a needed breather). However, under normal circumstances and in hopes of winning honorably… I find it best to train using solid (go-to) techniques and spar using great sportsmanship. Ultimately, if one had the liberty of choice (in dying), most would choose the honorable over the cowardly. At least one would hope.
I know there are many fencers and historians out there that might have some a different idea or opinion towards duels and/or what I have written. If you would like to offer any comments, critiques, or possible revisions/errors, please let me know by leaving a comment and I will review and take them under heavy consideration. Thank you!