The first thing people get confused about it the type of fencing we do. We’re not sport fencers, but practice sword fencing as a martial art. The simple definition of this is that you try not to get hit. In sports fencing it doesn’t matter if you get hit as long as you’re the second person to get hit. This changes your attitude and mind completely. Martial arts fencing is all about being safe and finding your opportunities, rather than attacking or athleticism.
Following the Victorians
The history of this type of martial arts fencing is relatively recent: the last 25 years. It’s a renaissance of sword play. In particular, it’s a counter to sports fencing, which people found wasn’t realistic anymore. All the foot work and more sophisticated gentlemanly ways of fencing were disappearing. We had to rediscover the historical methods to develop a modern system based around those. The martial arts method we now follow has grown exponentially.
The last renaissance of martial arts fencing was in Victorian times. There were certain masters who started to rediscover the systems used and went to Italy and other places to ty and find the sources of those methods. Unfortunately, many of them got killed in the first word war and the art died out. We’re the next generation trying to create a renaissance of these skills and knowledge. It’s very exciting.
A Changed Person
The way we teach fencing changes a person’s whole deportment. It even gives you another inch of height because of the way you stand. The movements are very long and considered. With sports fencing there’s lots of athleticism, but what we do is much more precise.
The last thing it does is make you aggressive; indeed, it does the complete opposite. It teaches you to control your emotions and helps you relax under stress. It makes you consider the most effective way of dealing with a difficult situation. It can help with silly, little things like walking down the street and side stepping someone. You develop a kind of grace – and a good attitude and spirit. It really does follow the gentleman’s tradition in that sense. Your physical and mental confidence will certainly grow.
Not A Quick Fix
Becoming a good martial arts fencer takes quite a long time. If you’re a sports fencer you can almost immediately throw yourself in and have a fight, but with martial arts fencing there’s a curriculum of understanding. It’s about measure and timing and developing your judgment to be able to fence and not be hit. You can’t cheat at that, so it’s a slower grow than sports fencing. But as you grow you become extremely good at it and you start to look more like the people in the films who have choreographed moves.
Competitions v Duels
We rarely have competitions. But we do practice a lot of duelling as a gentleman’s pastime. I’m not fond of competitions: I think they change your attitude – you’re always looking for the easiest way to win, the quickest way to hit someone before they can hit you. It becomes like a hunger or greed rather than a way to stay alive.
The rules are not really the most important thing. Other than saluting your opponent when you start, acknowledging them when you’re hit and being kind and pleasant when you’re killing them, there are few rules! You can hit them pretty much anywhere.
The main thing is about control. You see people with long swords going hammer and tongs at each other, but there’s always control in the process.
A lot of people fence for just a couple of weeks and tell their mates they’ve done fencing, but it takes practice. Many people want to try it. It’s their fantasy from childhood, but once they get going it can be tough getting them to stay and master it. You have to wait for the gems to come along, but it’s definitely worth it.