As a contrast to the flipbook footage from the 1800’s posted below, here is some interesting sabre footage from British Pathe, dated 1926. The intent is to contrast the use of the dueling sabre with that of the newer, lighter sporting sabres. I will ignore the latter half of the video, as the fencing here is essentially modern (though obviously it has traveled less down the path of modernization than what we see today).
In the first half of the video, we see an assault between British fencing master Leon Bertrand and Mr. A. Corble, a British sabre champion. I think the video is instructive for several reasons. First, it shows that just because fencing is old doesn’t mean it was fabulous — both Prof. Bertrand and Mr. Corble exhibit multiple flaws in their mechanics. This is especially so for Mr. Corble.
For example, there are clear problems with balance and footwork for both parties, and the use of the rear hand is pretty awful for both. Also, notice at around :43 seconds, Prof. Bertrand makes a bent-arm attack and is duly served a thrust into the chest in tempo. Oops. Most of Prof. Bertrand’s attacks are performed better than this, though — it is Mr. Corble on the right in the second action sequence who makes the worst bent-arm attacks. Notice that he receives a cut into tempo to the forearm for this, which is the proper response.
This brings me to the second interesting point: these two hits into tempo, made against attacks where the body movement occurs too early relative to the extension of the arm, are the exact risks I was discussing in the previous post — and here, even though the fencing leaves something to be desired, we can see clear examples of what happens when you make your sabre attack the wrong way. And, doing it the right way doesn’t remove any power from the blow — I think obsession over delivering “incapacitating blows” is the reason most people execute the technique incorrectly these days.
I’d also disagree with Prof. Bertrand’s comment on the footwork with the dueling sabre being slow and the weapon being cumbersome. The footwork is only slow because they’re not doing it right: it’s not coming from a position of good balance, the vita is not sunk, and there is little power driven by the legs — both fencers are falling into their lunge, for example (though Bertrand’s footwork and posture are by far the better of the two). And yes, the fencing looks cumbersome but that’s because clearly neither person is expert in the use of this particular weapon. Bertrand is more familiar with it than Corble, but neither is outstanding. If we could find footage of Maestro Barbasetti using the same weapons I don’t think we’d say it was slow or cumbersome.