Archive for Dueling

Becoming a Duellist

Posted in Fencing, Fighters, History, Martial Arts, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by chencenter

Duel Basil Rathbone Zorro

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”]

Aldo Nadi DuelHe writes:

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

The Duellist movie Duel 2No 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

epee5It 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.

MINDSET

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!

FIGHTING FAIR

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.

MICHAEL JOYCE

WSFENCING.INFO

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!

A Short Study of the Smallsword

Posted in Fencing, Styles, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 16, 2015 by chencenter

smallSword_AngeloThe small sword (or court sword, l’épée courte) is a weapon that began to spread across Europe as early as the 1630s.  This weapon, effective in both attack and defense and designed for the thrust reached the height of its popularity in the late 17th-early 18th century; particularly in England and France.  Due to the small sword’s practicality, lithe & lethality, it became the weapon used to dissolve disputes*. Because the small sword required fencing kill to handle, and due to its piercing nature, the small sword duel was deemed “more civilized” than weapons concentrated on slashing and hacking.

Goodbye Rapier

The rapier, a popular image of today due to its use in movies (Zorro, The Princess Bride, The Three Muskateers, etc) became less and less popular in the late 17th century.  There were many reasons for this, one being the rapier’s bulkiness/ un-suitability in confined quarters, and changes in men’s fashion.  Richard Cohen, author of By The Sword wrote,

In 1663 the “suit”- the first piece of menswear to fasten in the front – made its appearance.  The rapier, easy enough to carry and draw in the days of the doublet and hose, did not sit well with the brocaded jackets, breeches, and silk stockings.  So popular in the 1640s and 1650s, it had become antisocial, “an infernal nuisance to passers-by.”

Description
Small Sword trainerAlmost essentially a thrusting weapon; although records exist of its occasionally being “sharpened as a razor” for dueling, the major French small sword instruction treatises focus solely on the thrust.  The sword is easily recognized by its shorter blade (29-35in.), Pas d’ane, quillon and knuckle bow.

*The picture to the left is of a small sword trainer made by Triplette Competitive Arms (Elkin, NC)

The small sword gave rise to a new school of fencing, “escrime francaise.”  Author Cohen writes:

In 1653 a book by Charles Besnard of Rennes, a leading master showed conclusively that the French had finally improved on the Italians, whose masters had never allowed for purely defensive movements -every parry had also to be a thrust.  Besnard (alleged to be the first to use the word “fleuret,” the French word for “foil) saw that always trying to do two things at once was a mistake and separated attack from defense… Besnard also introduced the formal salute, a symbol of courtesy and good form.

What’s better?

Are all swords equal? No.  Each of the various weapons of the past and present were/are constructed for specific purposes. What remains true (like all martial arts) is that skill (in this case, wielding the sword) is paramount.  The evolution of weaponry has always been based on the necessities of battle (in other words, what tool is need to overcome a foe(s)), it’s intended use and trial and error.  Fashion and practicality aside, the small sword was designed for the thrust – which as always been the most lethal of blows.  It’s shorter length, gave the fighter more agility and control over the blade.  Even though a dagger was often needed for close-quarters, the small sword carried on strong until the Napoleonic Age.

The Beginning of the end

In 1799 a coup d’état brought General Napoleon Bonaparte to power in France.  A formidable fencer by the time he reached military school, Bonaparte relished fencing, but despised the duel.  His thoughts were that “A good duelist made a bad soldier.”  By the time he had seized power, although there were still no laws banning dueling, Bonaparte had seen too many great fencers die or become disabled due to this reckless pastime.  Being a superb weapon in the battlefield, especially on horseback, the thrust-centric small sword was not.  Through Napoleon’s battles across Europe and into Russia, the only bladed weapon was the cut-centric saber/sabre – which he used to great effect in his heavy calvary charges.  (more on sabre’s in another article!)

NOTE TO READER (via Michael McQuown)

The ‘dueling sword’ and the smallsword are not the same weapon. The dueling sword consisted of a simple cup or bell guard, a handle, pommel, and a blade, with no quillons. It was never meant to be worn and was often made in pairs and carried in a case solely for the purpose of dueling. It is the direct ancestor of the modern epee and was often called the ‘epee du combat.’

Small Sword vs. Basket-Hilted Backsword

This is one of my favorite choreographed sword fights of all-time [movie fight review: click here]

True Combat

One of the most realistic scenes involving the small sword can be seen in the first fight in the movie, The Duellists.

More Information

For small sword and bladed weapon enthusiasts everywhere, you’ll be happy to hear that the CombativeCorner will be conducting an interview with Jeannette Acosta-Martinez, possibly the foremost expert of the Small Sword and the French School of small sword combat living today.  She is one of the main instructors at the Martinez Academy in New York.  Read our interview with her husband and fencing maestro Ramon Martinez.

OTHER FENCING LINKS

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Do you yield coach joyceCoach Michael Joyce teaches classical foil fencing in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Mr. Joyce got his training at both the St. Louis University (1998, 1999) and University of NC-Greensboro (1999-2002) Fencing Clubs.  He has been teaching (fencing) professionally since 2005 and enjoys fencing with the French Smallsword, the Chinese Jian (straight sword) and Shaolin Rope Dart the most.

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