When we learn and train Historical Martial Arts, we must be aware of some traps we may fall in. In a small series of articles I will point out some of the pitfalls in learning historical fencing. Being warned of traps helps us to avoid them or disarm them. These articles will aid instructores and fencers to get the priorities right and put the focus to the learning of “the art that adorns them”.

In martial arts there are basically three methods for mitigating the effect of hits:

  1. Dodge,
  2. Displacement
  3. Armor.

Only the latter can be purchased and thus acquired quickly and relatively effortlessly [i].

In recent years, all parts of the equipment have been improved and are available in several variants from several suppliers. Fencers want equipment that reduces pain and minimizes the risk of injury while maintaining a high degree of mobility for their own actions. In the view of the fencers, poor equipment (such as particularly “bulky” gloves and heavy fencing weapons) reduces the chance of performing a fencing action correctly and quickly[ii].

Poor equipment is therefore a negative factor for the own success experience (with simultaneous relief for the fencer determinating the cause for less success). Good equipment protects the fencer from the negative sensations of being hit, which is rightly seen as a punishment for fencing mistakes. The quality of the equipment therefore increases the negative or positive perception of one’s own sporting performance.

Socio-demographic and socio-economic factors play a smaller role in the purchase of equipment than, for example, the desire to participate in competitions [iii]. Even if “normal” buying behaviour [iv] does not show any signs of addiction, for the prospective competitor the acquisition of “good equipment” is associated with a fivefold experience of success: 1. the purchase as such, 2. the increased perception of sporting performance (see above), 3. sporting success through de facto less obstruction of movement, 4. feeling good through less heat development and better sweat absorption[v], 5. significance as a status symbol and expression of belonging [vi].

The “punishment” remains undoubtedly as a hit effect through sufficiently violent hits and lost points in competition, but the essential aspect of fear of the opponent’s blade is removed. The subjective feeling of safety (physical integrity) through equipment enables a kind of fencing, especially in competition, which has to deal much less with the alternatives of not being hit. This interacts strongly with the practice of free and competition, in which a first goal is rewarded.

In summary it can be stated that the reduction of the negative perception of the hit effect by equipment significantly reduces the necessity to acquire fencing skills to avoid the hits. At the same time, the fencer is given a sense of achievement when buying and using. With the acquisition and use of good equipment, the illusion of an increase in fencing skills is conveyed, although a determining factor of art is lost or falls in priority in the curriculum of the fencing student. This illusion can be repeated as long as the promise can be repeated that a new acquisition represents a quality advantage (even if this is not the case in fact).

Disarming the trap

Not using protective equipment is not an option because of safety needs. But there are several options to shift the focus and get the priorities right.

  1. Less is more
    Use only the equipment that is really needed for safety purpose and not for comfort.
  2. Two sides of the same coin: weapon and armor
    See that the tool for hitting (sword) is safe, especially in the thrust. Thus you can avoid to get into full armor. Thin edges and pointy things are out of the question.
  3. Switch equipment
    In historical times our pargon masters professionally taught sword fighting with sticks. Why don’t we? Because of the reasons above?
    Every exercise can have a perfect tool,  i.e: to teach good displacement of an attack a stick is much better than a sword because there is no handguard. Thus the displacement with the “blade” must be really good. Another example: to teach footwork, measure and explosive power foam swords are great tools. Students will have fun and learn a lot.
  4. Avoid uncoached sparring
    There is little knowledge to gain in uncoached sparrings. Most sparring done is  good fun, which has some benefits to the overall physical condition. But it does not teach any body motion. You can experiment and have fun. But the best things you can take from sparring for yourself is from your opponent by the method of imitation. This only stays with you, if you copy and train what you just observered as a successful strategy of motion.
    Coached sparrings will have a defined goals, can work with reduced equipment (because safety is observed by a third person), and the coach will tell the student how to improve. In the ideal coached sparring each fencer has an own coach (like the “Grieswarten” in the historical sources).

You may have and know more methods to disarm the trap. Please comment below.


Notes / Sources

i] In the personal perception of the author, the fencer community discusses equipment more frequently and not how the first two methods could be learned effectively.

ii] Comparisons to this: Hecht R., Effects of the fit of alpine ski boots on ski-specific motor movement situations, dissertation for obtaining the academic degree, Chemnitz University of Technology, Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, 2013

iii] Comparisons: Thibaut, E.: Expenditures on sports apparel: a comparison between mountainbikers, bicycle racers and recreational bikers. Paper presented at the 19th Conference of the European Association for Sport Management, 2011, Madrid, Spain. Transcript: Raceman Synchro: Travis http://easm.net/download/2011/34b95e3430cb0bac74a7fde91cf61a04.pdf

iv] Müller, A. & de Zwaan, M.: Buy too much power sick? Pathological buying as culture-specific behavioral excess. Psychiatry, 2009, 3, 154-159.

v] Comparisons Huber, S.: Influence of material and design of the near-body clothing layer on selected performance parameters in sports activities, dissertation at the Technical University of Munich, Faculty of Sports Science, 2008

[vi] Justo, Graciette Ruf da Cunha Duarte: Clothing as a symbolic self-presentation. Non-verbal messages about the individual. Diploma thesis for the examination to obtain the academic degree. Kassel 2005, p. 2.