What is Classical Fencing? No, I mean really?

OK, there’s a bit of fire to follow, so let me especially emphasize that the opinions expressed below are my own and not necessarily reflective of The Martinez Academy of Arms, Maestro Ramon Martinez, or Maestro Jeannette Acosta-Martinez.  I’m sorry for the length, too…

What is Classical Fencing?  What makes it different from Modern Fencing?  A lot of internet ink has been spilled over these two questions.  I’ll be frank, I’m exhausted with it.  I am tired of seeing reactionaries define classical fencing as representing whatever is the opposite of their particular distaste for modern fencing.  I am tired of seeing pedantic academics nitpick definitions to death, losing the forest for the trees (and I say this as a professional pedantic academic myself, an anthropologist) and blinding people with B.S.  I am tired of modern sport fencers trying to co-opt and define classical fencing for themselves, and allowing them to wedge themselves in as legitimate classical fencing masters.  All of this ignores the history of development of classical fencing, which is really not that confusing.

So here we are going to look at the historical development of classical fencing, to see where it comes from and where it is today.  Before we begin the history, here is a quick sum-up of several major points.

Classical fencing is not:

  • A modern reconstruction of 19th century or early 20th century fencing styles.
  • A modern reaction to changes in sport fencing, longing to return to the idyllic times when justice came from Camelot and a parry-riposte was really a parry-riposte
  • Defined by its protocols, procedures, or an obsession with form over function, aka aesthetics over efficiency. Protocols and procedures are characteristics, but they do not define it.  Moreover, efficiency is THE aim of classical fencing.  Maximum efficiency of movement – tight, small actions – maximum efficiency of timing and distance.  The form is a consequence of the need for efficiency.  Inefficient fencers may be ugly, yes, but that is incidental.  More importantly they are HIT.  Over and over.  We don’t say modern sport fencing is ugly or degenerate – its form and efficiency are different because the aims are different.  And in sport as well as classical fencing, inefficient fencers are hit.  My fencing masters have never corrected my form to make me a “prettier” or “more aesthetically pleasing” fencer.  They have done so to make me a better, tighter, more dangerous fencer. (and yes, I recognize there were criticisms of French classical fencing in the 1800’s as focusing too much on form and not enough on realism, but this was an evolution and argument in the classical era that will be treated below)
  • Antagonistic against modern (“sport,” “Olympic,”) fencing, seeing itself as a pure righteous form and sport fencing as a degenerate offspring that should be stamped out. Yes, a vocal percentage of modern individuals claiming to be classical fencers are like this, but classical fencing is essentially indifferent to modern fencing.  It is just different.  Its own thing that is related to what we do, but has gone down a separate path.  Kind of like the relationship between the U.S. and Britain.  Americans were originally Brits, but they went off and did their own thing, and the Brits kept doing their thing.  Sometimes the two interact, but most Brits don’t view us as degenerate offspring.  A few, sure.  And a few Americans view British folks as stodgy and old fashioned, it’s in the stereotype.  Overall, classical fencing is content to live within its own sphere and pursue its own aims.  Does this mean there is nothing to learn from modern fencing?  No – for example, high-level modern fencers have excellent senses of how to exploit time and distance, and they frequently use them in a different way that can be very instructive.  But by and large, live and let live.  No biggie.
  • Less athletic than modern fencing. It is differently athletic, but it requires just as much, if not more power from the legs and arms, muscular and cardiovascular endurance, and can be just as explosive if not more.  Ever used an Italian dueling sabre in an assault or plastron lesson, as opposed to one of the super-light modern sabres?  Ever sat in a true, deep Italian sabre position for more than a minute?  Takes a lot of fitness.  And I say this as someone who has competed nationally as a sport fencer, as a classical fencer, and as a professor in an Exercise Science program.  Doing it right takes excellent athletic ability.

Classical fencing IS:

  • A martial art, in that a martial art is a systematized, teachable system that provides efficient means of doing physical harm to another person and/or defending oneself from physical harm. This comes from the original context of the term “martial arts” as “the arts of Mars.”  This therefore includes fencing, archery, marksmanship, jiu-jitsu, etc., etc.  Whether or not the system is actually used to do harm or defend is irrelevant to the status of the system as a martial art: just because I never actually use my jiu-jitsu to break someone’s bones doesn’t mean it’s not a martial art, in the same way that just because I never use a sharp sword to injure another person doesn’t mean my fencing isn’t martial.  Let’s not gloss this with B.S. definitions of “bringing violence within civilizing social norms,” or somesuch thing, no one really thinks war is civilized and all our soldiers, marines, etc. are trained in martial arts starting in boot camp.  Yes, some martial arts are more esoteric or spiritual or “artistic” than others, but that is incidental to each art’s own story.  Louis-Justin LaFaugere called fencing “The Art of Arms”, aka “The Art of Using Weapons” in the 1830’s and 40’s, as did dozens of other 18th and 19th century fencing masters.  Weapons, people.  So let’s give fencing its due.
  • Characterized by an emphasis on hitting one’s opponent without being hit. I have seen an argument against this in that “Well, there was always an element of chance in getting hit, and back in the 1800’s people all the time hit their opponents and were hit themselves, and even if you do it right there’s a chance you’ll get hit, you just can’t avoid it – oh, and plus, there are like SO many duel accounts where both parties received multiple wounds that CLEARLY, classical fencing does not have “hitting without being hit” as a central characteristic.  This is pedantry, and it is sacrificial white bull B.S.  Both historical and classical fencing treatises – by the DOZENS tell us that fencing – l’escrime, l’art des armes – is the art of giving without receiving.  The art of hitting one’s opponent without being hit oneself.  It is vital here not to conflate the fact that people make mistakes and oftentimes do not perfectly employ the art with a concept that the art has always been okay with double hits and that’s why we have all these cool rules to adjudicate them even back in the 1800’s.  Before the twentieth century, NOT ONE treatise says this is okay.  They ALL emphasize defense first, giving variations on the theme (to paraphrase CapoFerro) that in my defense is my offense and in my offense is my defense.  LaFaugere has the same idea, and in his 1838 treatise tells us to “use the rules to assure success,” and cautioning against the risks of relying on chance.  In other words, “If you do it right, you won’t get hit, you putz.”  Classical fencers and duelists didn’t always do it right, and obviously don’t always today – back in the day, yes, this had bloody consequences, but there were plenty of instances when it was and still is done right.  If I get hit, it means I am in error, not that classical fencing is the problem.  It means I made a MISTAKE in my classical fencing.  If I get hit by chance, it means I did something wrong to make that chance possible.  Or, if I perform a stop thrust with a sharp epee and my opponent’s sharp epee still manages to penetrate my arm or my leg, this means I did it wrong.  The stop thrust is not intended to “stop” the opponent, it is just intended to wound him on his attack.  My distance is what keeps me safe, and if he hits me it is not because classical fencing has created this artificial construct that allows me to get the point within the rules, it is because I DID IT WRONG.  Otherwise why would Jules Jacob and Claude LaMarche (yes, not his real name) have emphasized the counteroffensive for the duel?  That would have been patently stupid.
  • A manner of fencing that stems from and is reflective of the time when fencing had its final flower in both battlefield and personal combat (the duel), though with an emphasis more on the latter.   (This is not to say that the entire focus of classical fencing was combat, we know that this is not the case, classical and historical masters across the ages acknowledge many other benefits of practicing the art of fencing).
    Classical fencing is not fencing the way it was done in the 1880’s-1930’s – sport fencing, with an emphasis on victory in competition as the prime objective, really began to catch on in the 1880’s and 1890’s such that this period is actually the tail end of the classical era, which really starts post-Napoleon.  Yes, there was competition in the classical era, and yes, there was criticism in France of fencers who were overly focused on the beauty of their fencing and who had sacrificed realism on the dueling ground.  BUT, this overlooks the fact that competitions through most of the 1800’s were typically as much demonstrations of skill as they were about victory – see my article on Grand Assaults in the library section for more on this.  The objectives were different.  Plus, the fact that criticism of lack of realism in French fencing existed in France – as well as in Italy, which as Barbsetti tells us ALWAYS kept the dueling ground in mind – tells us that combat in the duel, while declining, was still thought of as being important.  It is with the advent of international competition that this changes, and so really the inaugural Olympics of 1896 is the true beginning of the end of the classical era and the shift into modern fencing.  World War I and World War II, followed by the cold war and new objectives for competitive success, contributed a great deal to the evolution of modern fencing from classical, but the changes were already there well before the 30’s, well before the invention of orthopedic grips, and well before the invention of the electrical scoring apparatus.  One has only to compare Camille Prevost’s treatise to those of folks like Grisier and Gomard to see the changes – in Prevost, guard posture and weight distribution have shifted.  The hand position in quarte is weaker and more prone to disarms… the differences are subtle but they are there.   This whole definition of the classical era into the twentieth century is a smoke-and-mirrors trick into connecting sport fencing and classical fencing together to give sport fencers legitimacy in the classical world.

    And by the way, “classical fencing” is not exclusive to foil, epee (dueling sword), and sabre.  For one thing, for the Italians foil and spada were treated identically during the classical era, so the “three-weapon” designation wouldn’t really pertain to the Italians anyhow.  Military preparation was also a very real thing, so fencing masters in the classical era also taught broadsword and bayonet fencing (Maestro Agesilao Greco participated in a broadsword tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York – see my Grand Assault article again), and classical weapons also included cane, staff/baton, and dagger.  The diversity of weapons and styles during the classical era, and still included in the modern umbrella of “classical fencing” is much more diverse than it usually receives credit for.

  • A dynamic, living tradition whose roots go back into the 1800’s and have never gone away. It is fun to see folks arguing that classical fencing is a modern creation trying to get back to the halcyon days, saying that “there were no classical fencing masters prior to…(1990, 1980, 1970, take your pick),” and ignoring or ignorant of the fact that Frederick Rohdes throughout his tenure teaching in New York City from mid-century on advertised himself as a specifically classical master.  Rohdes passed away in the early 80’s, by the way.

 

A brief history of the term “Classical Fencing”

Anyhow, these point-by-point considerations aside, let’s look at the historical development now.  Thankfully, resolving these questions about “What classical fencing is” using historical sources is not extraordinarily difficult, due to the fact that the term “classical fencing” is in no way a recent invention as so many internet posters and websites and so-called “academic theses” claim.  Far to the contrary, it is a term with deep roots, with origins as early as the 1830’s.  Indeed, the term has never really gone out of use, though the tides of change in the twentieth century did pull most fencers’ minds away from it.  This article is intended to highlight that history and also some of the major differences between classical and modern fencing, to give both classical and modern fencers a better framework for discussion.

Although the current Wikipedia definition of classical fencing is actually pretty good, the May, 2011 incarnation of Wikipedia stated that “The term classical fencing is a relatively new invention, retroactively applied to the styles of modern fencing as they existed during the 19th and early 20th century.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_fencing, emphasis mine).  Although a number of other websites and histories agree with this statement, it is a gross misrepresentation of fencing’s historical development that seems to be coming from members of the sport fencing community who are trying to claim legitimacy as classical fencing masters.  In fact, one doesn’t have to look far for evidence against this idea; the same Wikipedia article went on to contradict itself, citing the description of classical fencers given in a book by the 19th century fencing master Louis Rondelle.  Rondelle observed:

A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and his ripostes executed with precision. One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it.  It is a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.

This description, from the year 1892, clearly shows that fencing masters were thinking in terms of “classical” versus non-classical much earlier than we usually give them credit for nowadays.  In fact, the term has been used by fencing masters consistently since then, though with decreasing frequency.  Although many website and book authors claim that the term “classical fencing” wasn’t really applied (or even invented) until the new wave of teachers/reactionaries began to use it in the 1980’s, 1990’s, or 2000’s (depending on whose website you are visiting), this is clearly not the case.  For example, Eleanor Baldwin Cass refers to classical fencing in her 1930 volume, The Book of Fencing, while referring to Louis Vauthier as “one of the younger classical fencers” of France.  This shows that authorities on fencing in the early- to mid-twentieth century maintained a distinct idea of what it meant to be part of the classical school.  The New York City fencing master Frederick Rohdes, who ran a school from the late 1940’s until his death in the early 1980’s, also publicly advertised his academy as a school of classical fencing, and newspaper articles of the era (such as from the Yonkers Herald Statesman) describe him as an explicitly classical instructor.

Ultimately, these examples show quite clearly that rather than being a new movement founded in the late twentieth century, true classical fencing is much older.  The examples of Rondelle and Cass (among others) also show that the divisions between classical and non-classical fencing significantly predate the revolutions in fencing techniques and tactics brought about by the introduction and subsequent spread of the electric scoring apparatus in the 1930’s.  While the apparatus is nearly universally agreed to have had a tremendous impact upon fencing styles, it did not create the stylistic and philosophical differences between classical and non-classical (“sporting”) fencing; it merely exacerbated differences that had been in existence for some time.  Then, through the remainder of the 20th century and into the 21st, these differences have continued to snowball.

This says nothing, however, of the origins of classical fencing.  The term “classical fencing” seems to have first been used in France during the first half of the 19th century and, as today, was used to compare older, more established fencing ideas to newer, less orthodox ones.  Although the current view of French fencing is typically that it was more or less a monolithic establishment, we can in fact identify four major “styles” of fencing thought in France over the course of the 19th century (though several of them overlapped in their emphasis).  Authors first began referring to a “classical” style in the 1830’s with the emergence of a secondary fencing movement which some contemporary sources referred to as a “romantic” style (in much the same way that romantic music succeeded classical music).  During this decade, the fencing masters Bertrand, Charlemagne, Lozes, and Roussel began to argue that the dominant fencing style of their day had become overly focused upon aesthetics and decorum, and had made fencing decadent.  In other words, style in the salle had become more important than sound martial concerns, robbing French fencing of its realism (this argument reappeared toward the end of the century, as we will see).  In large part this emphasis on form and decorum had evolved in the absence of the fencing mask, whose invention in the late 1700’s made it possible to have bouts, or assaults, which much more closely approximated encounters with sharp weapons.  As opposed to the older classical school, the new romantic school begun by the above-mentioned masters emphasized timing, quickness, and realism, and trained its fencers more in line with the realities of the dueling ground (Bazancourt, 1862).  The third school of French fencing thought was described in 1862 and 1888 by the Baron de Bazancourt and the French fencing master François Jules Derue, respectively. Derue describes this school as having coexisted with the other two prior to the 1870’s, which is in line with Bazancourt’s account.  This “gymnastic school,” Bazancourt and Derue tell us, had physical exercise as its primary focus, with one of its main objectives being the shower afterward.  Bazancourt, for his part, seems to have been a staunch advocate of the romantic school, and points out the perceived seriousness of the debate between his own camp and that of a more academic school.  As framed by Bazancourt, this debate centered around the ultimate objective of fencing, and the influence of this objective on technique, tactics, and pedagogy.  The classical school viewed the art and science of fencing as an objective in itself, for which the foil was a sufficient tool; the romantic school, (or realistic school, which seems to have been Bazancourt’s preferred term) in contrast, viewed the science of fencing as a tool which should always be viewed as serving the needs of combative situations.  The job of a fencing master, he makes clear, is not just to teach the art of fencing, but to make sure one’s students can handle an actual sword on the dueling ground.  To simplify, in the 1800’s the classical school focused on the science of the foil, whereas the romantic school emphasized the reality of the sword.  This distinction is similar to the one made by the Italian master Luigi Barbasetti nearly half a century later, when contrasting the French and Italian schools of fence: the Italian school, he tells us, always taught the foil and the sword as one and the same.

Between the time of Bazancourt’s treatise (early 1860’s) and Derue’s (late 1880’s), the trajectories of these schools are more difficult to define.  Derue discusses the three schools as having existed before the 1870’s, but makes no comment on their current state.  It is possible that they ultimately blended back into one, given the tendency for centralized control within the French fencing world at the time (as opposed to the more fragmented Italian schools), as well as shifts in fencing pedagogy evident in contemporary treatises.  Whatever happened, developments in the 1870’s and 80’s make it clear that the romantic school had never dealt with this issue to the full satisfaction of combative-minded fencing masters, who remained convinced that contemporary training did not adequately prepare pupils for the dueling ground.

Accordingly, the romantic school sowed the seeds for a revolution in French fencing thought in the late 1870’s, whose fruits we are first able to witness in the early 1880’s with the creation of the fourth “style”: a new system of dueling sword (epée) fencing (which would form the historical foundation for modern epée), spearheaded by the fencing master Jules Jacob as well as Claude LaMarche (a pseudonym for Georges Felizet).  LaMarche’s landmark treatise was published in 1884, whereas Jacob’s own seminal work on the system appeared in 1887; however, in a later edition LaMarche points out that Jacob was hugely important in teaching and developing the dueling sword system from the start, and it is not exactly clear who the original proponent of the new methodology was though Jacob usually gets the credit.  Though the works of both authors have some important differences between them, the overall core principles are the same: Jacob, LaMarche, and their followers advocated a return to older fencing practices, reemphasizing conservatism and above all defense.  In truth, we might refer to the new system not as a revolution but more of a revival, though the new dueling sword teachers also placed a unique emphasis on attacks to the extended target (the hand and forearm) which did not exist in earlier smallsword and rapier treatises.  This emphasis helped to limit potential duelists from taking unnecessary risks and performing actions which, while safe in the fencing salle, could easily get them killed in a real combative situation.  As before with the classical and romantic schools, proponents of classical foil and the new dueling sword school hotly debated the value of new and old, with various authors discussing the virtues of the “classical” school and the newer school of epée into the early 20th century[1] (though it is interesting to note that LaMarche, one of the two original proponents of the new school, states the unequivocal importance of the foil as preparation for learning to use a dueling sword).  However, as time passed (and, interestingly, as duels became less and less common), proponents of the two schools eventually merged their teaching.  In essence, the advent of the epée de combat is the final classical development before modern fencing began to arise in earnest.

Accordingly, a growing number masters around the turn of the century taught both classical foil and epée de combat, or dueling sword.  Within the realm of foil, it is also evident that the styles of some French masters tended more toward the classical and some more toward the romantic approach even into the twentieth century.  Ultimately this combined legacy split as the 1900’s progressed, with one offshoot giving rise to modern sport fencing while another was maintained in a minimally changed form among a shrinking group of fencing teachers.  A very similar split occurred with regard to Italian fencing.  In both France and Italy, as well as across the entire fencing world, the overwhelming majority of fencing masters followed the community as a whole as it transitioned to the modern form, whereas only a handful of teachers emphasized the old French and Italian methods and maintained emphasis on the combative approach.[2]

Therefore, when we use the term “classical fencing” today, we generally refer to a broader category of fencing styles as practiced within the 1800’s.  Since the application of the term itself morphed and shifted from the 1830’s down to the early 1900’s, as we have seen, it is useful today to apply the term “classical” to fencing styles practiced within the Classical Period – that is, between the 1830’s and the initial portion of the twentieth century, around which time the advent of the Olympic games, increased regulation, and the appearance of the FIE, among other factors, caused the bulk of the fencing world to shift to a progressively more sporting emphasis.  In this way, we can say that classical fencing refers to styles of fencing that were taught all across Europe during this period, therefore including the Italian school as well as the French, and including the epée, sabre, and other weapons in addition to the foil.  Yet classical fencing did not “end” with the first Olympic games in 1896 – rather, the shifting focus of the twentieth century resulted in a gradual shift away from classical ideas.

Classical fencing theory, technique, and tactics

It does not take much observation to discern that modern fencing is descended from classical fencing, and that the two therefore share a great deal in the way of their practices and language.  However, over the last century or so the two have come to differ in many fundamental ways.  Both use a profiled guard position and footwork, for example, but the core mechanics and objectives of these have diverged.  In modern fencing the guard position is a highly mobile platform from which one can launch fast, explosive attacks while constantly changing distance.  However, the ballistic nature of the footwork makes it inherently more unstable, such that on uncertain ground (such as gravel or wet grass) it can often result in lost footing.  While lost footing in a competition might cause a halt to the action, a similar stutter (or even worse, a fall) in a combative situation would provide an excellent opportunity for your opponent to kill or at least wound you.   Dueling in Europe persisted stubbornly until the time of the first World War, and so classical fencing was practiced with the mindset that students might actually find themselves in a duel.  Therefore, as is the case with even earlier styles of fencing, classical footwork is more conservative (for example, generally moving on heels and flat feet, rather than on the balls of the feet) and the balance shifted to the rear foot to minimize the possibility of lost footing.  Because the balance is different, the raising of the rear arm to the familiar 90-degree position acts as an effective mechanism to help stabilize one’s position as a whole.  Lunges are just as explosive among high-level classical fencers and rely on just as much power from the legs, however they are pushed through the heels to make certain that the attacker does not slide and maintains his or her footing.  However, contrary to many discussion boards, conservative is not synonymous with sluggish, slow, or ill-timed; the fencer who cannot rapidly adjust his or her distance in a combative situation is the fencer whose attack fails or who is wounded.  Thus, though the footwork is executed differently, to perform it well according to classical ideals demands high athletic ability.  In this light, bad, slow fencing is bad, slow fencing, whether you are classical or modern.

As this article is not intended to be a treatise, then, we can summarize many of the differences between classical and modern fencing as follows:

Objective:  The classical fencer’s aim is to hit without being hit, regardless of the rules.  Right of way, priority, and scoring-box timings will not help you; if you have been hit, you have done something wrong.  Even if you win your bout according to competition rules (though yes, classical foil competitions do usually include some consideration for priority, with the foil seen as a conventional weapon).   ALL attacks and defensive actions should be taken with the risk of injury in mind.  If you are hit, you have done something wrong.  Period.

Strategy:  Due to this objective, the strategy is generally more defensive.  This is not to say that it is not of paramount importance to be able to develop an excellent attack; merely that any attack which does not account for your physical defense (i.e., any attack which leaves you exposed in any way) should be avoided.

Technique:  Footwork and posture, as noted above, are more conservative.  Again, this does not mean that requirements for athletic ability are any less stringent, as well-exercised and powerful leg and core muscles are vital for proper power and execution, and a well-toned cardiovascular system is vital to maintaining attention and proper execution in a dangerous situation (you don’t want to be the first one tired in any fight!).  As classical weapons are often somewhat heavier than their sporting cousins, one can argue that upper body muscle tone may even be more critical for classical fencing.  Bladework is oriented more towards direct control of the opponent’s weapon, to mimimize the chance that it might hit you while you are attempting to hit the opponent.

Within the realm of technique, much emphasis is also placed upon form.  A common misconception is that classical fencers have an almost absurd adherence to form, at the cost of actual touches made.  While some individuals may act this way (and critics from the romantic school criticized their counterparts in this regard during the 1800’s), in general this sort of attitude is seen as negative among the very few classical schools that have continued intact to the present day.  Within the world of classical fencing as a continuation of the combative-oriented approach in a traditional style, form is viewed as a prerequisite to function.  The two do not exist without each other.  And since classical form developed from hundreds of years of experimentation as to which actions, postures, and positions worked best to keep people safe in combative encounters with swords, it is generally a good idea to maintain that form.  If you do so, and do so properly, it will yield better results.  Even within the classical era, however, there were different schools of thought and different approaches to form among separate countries, which were valid in their own way.  So perhaps the source of the confusion regarding classical fencers’ adherence to form is that modern fencing has developed its own, slightly different range of forms for a different set of objectives, such that classical form appears somewhat foreign.  Ultimately, however, the classical fencer is expected to develop to the point where they can consciously bend the form for specific reasons, at specific points of time where a rigid adherence would cause them harm.  To paraphrase Bruce Lee, we do not want to be stuck within fixed patterns.

Tactics:  Again, tactics are generally more conservative.  It is generally not advisable to make a risky attack, as any poorly-considered or -executed action might end up in a lethal injury to yourself.  Rather than relying mostly on distance and timing to set up attacks, therefore, distance and timing are used in tandem with highly developed bladework techniques which, as mentioned above, are designed to control the opponent’s weapon.  Accordingly, the repertoire of classical fencing blade techniques is substantially larger than that of modern fencing, which has trimmed down bladework to a great degree.  Yes, some modern authors claim that there is just as much bladework repertoire and footwork repertoire in modern, if not more – if that is so, I dare you to go to an international tournament and spot a liement, double engagement, sforzo di cambiamento, volte, or attack on the pass.  You won’t, because modern fencing has trimmed it down, there’s no need to get defensive about it.

Therefore in our own era, classical fencing is not a reaction against modern fencing so much as it is a continuation of classical styles – fencing with a martial focus – into the current day.  As mainstream fencing evolved, becoming more sport focused, electrified, and rule-driven, a few schools around the world simply maintained these older styles for the sake of preserving their traditions for the new generation.  We want our practitioners to be as dynamic and healthy as possible, as prompt and athletic as they can be, only using that dynamism and energy within a mindset that emphasizes techniques and tactics of fencing whose primary reason for being was to keep the fencer alive and, if possible, uninjured.  Thus, while there are indeed reactionaries out there who tout classical fencing as a more “pure” alternative to the modern form, the bulk of us are concerned simply with learning and with heritage.  But ultimately, we can simplify all this verbiage down to a core: if we had Louis Rondelle to look at the fencing, would HE say that it is classical?  That’s our real definition.  And though this seems abstract and subjective, blah, blah, blah, and you can come up with all kinds of academic backflips to discount it, it’s deceptively simple.  And true.

 

[1] E.g., Letainturier-Fradin, de Gourdourville

[2] The circumstances of these separate evolutions are subject enough for another article.

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