Archive for French

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

FENCING LANGUAGE IN “THE PRINCESS BRIDE”

FENCING LANGUAGE IN “I LOVE YOU, MAN

10 QUESTIONS WITH MATT EASTON

FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

Fencing 101 : Proper Grip (Foil)

Posted in Fencing, Swordsmanship, Training, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2011 by chencenter

Proper grip/hand position on the sword is perhaps the most basic element when it comes to sword mastery.  What many fencers forget (mostly in today’s age) is that fencing is with the wrist and fingers – the “deadly” art at one’s control just as a brush is to an artist.

To achieve a fitting start in swordplay, one must take special care in how they hold the sword.  In classical fencing, the practitioner must remember the words of the swordmaster Doutreval*, (Scaramouche, 1952) who said to student Andre Moreau,

The sword is like a bird.  If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it… to lightly, and it flies away.

When positioning your hand onto the sword for the first time, notice the curve (of the french foil) as the inward curve of the grip, should mold to the contour of the base of the thumb.

(as shown in this picture) Both the thumb and the first two joints of the index finger, also called “manipulators”, should be up to, but not touching, the cushion around the two widest sides. The remaining fingers should fold, without too much tension, around the grip.  Keep the pommel along the center of the wrist.  This is to reduce “heavy handedness” and overuse of the arm.  It also helps to promote a straight and solid wrist, whereby any action on your blade is reinforced by the streamline structures of the hand-wrist-forearm. This is what I call the “standard grip”.  If you allow your thumb to travel back, approximately one inch from the cushion, this is what I call a “classical grip.” Both methods of gripping the foil are correct and although I prefer using the classical grip myself, it is up to the fencer to decide for him/herself.

What becomes of this finger-controlled arrangement is, over time, a feeling of connectivity to the weapon.  Therefore, with time and correct intention through practice and bouting, your level of sensitivity (the feeling of the blade/ “sentiment du fer”) will produce the feeling that “the weapon and wielder are one.”

As tedious an exercise as this may seem – with many fencers rushing off to purchase pistol-grip/anatomical-grip weapons – it would be wise to stay true to French-grip foil.  As “cozy” as an anatomical grip foil can be, it’s my opinion that hopes of developing “sentiment du fer” would be greatly stunted.  Remember, “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

*It wasn’t the charactor/actor of Doutreval that first came up with this saying (obviously!), but 19th century French fencer Louis Justin Lafaugere.

Michael Joyce

CombativeCorner Profile

FOLLOW US ON ON TWITTER & FACEBOOK

%d bloggers like this: