Fencing, martial art or no

Discussion in 'The European Art of Fencing' started by KnightlyMongoose, Jul 10, 2007.

  1. KnightlyMongoose

    KnightlyMongoose White Belt

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    Although fencing doesn't share many of the historical characteristics we come to expect from "martial arts" I don't see why no one considers it one. True it has deviated from its original form to conform into the boundaries of a sport, but no less than most modern sparring rules have changed eastern "traditional" martial arts. The core idea of it being a fighting art is still there. Sure we are now limited to move fairly two dimensionally, and we now play tricks with right of way if we fence foil or saber, or we mess around with flicks that would never be possible with a more rigid blade. But Olympic tae kwon do forces its fighters to deviate far more heavily from the original art than fencing, and we still consider it a martial art. Then again fencing has always seemed more of a martial "science" and art so I don't really know. What do you guys think?
     
  2. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Sport fencing is definitely a sport which contains within it the remnants of a deadly martial art. Classical Fencing is even more of a martial art with sporting considerations. Certainly principles of both are related to the martial arts from which they are descended.

    The differences are in the tools used and the mindset. With sport fencing, as challenging and as fun as it is, doesn't have the mindset that the weapons are sharp, or even that they're weapons at all. A foil is not a weapon, it is a training tool developed to assist training for smallsword duelling, which is a martial art. There have been attempts to make sport fencing more "realistic", which resulted in the introduction of the epee. Also in sport fencing are strategies which are clearly suicidal in an earnest encounter with sharps. Hitting first, a split second before your opponent likewise runs you through is no victory in a real duel. In sport fencing, it may win you the match, and all is well. There is also no use of the unarmed hand for grappling and takedowns and whatnot, nor even stepping off the piste. If you were fighting for you life, anything goes. Sport fencing is a game derived from duelling, and that's what sport fencing is for, and it's a great activity.

    Classical Fencing is an attempt to return to a more martial mindset, training and competing as is the weapons were sharp. As such, the pace is not as frenetic as sport fencing, as a more cautious approach is necessary. Some people accuse classical fencers of just being lame sport fencers. I'm not qualified to say. However, in classical fencing, they're still using the sporting weapons of foil, epee and saber, so they're not learning the actual smallsword or duelling saber. AFAIK, they're not training using the off-hand either, as a general rule. For some duelling conventions, I think it was considered "ungentlemanly", and could result in the seconds stepping in. But don't quote me on that, 18th and 19th century duelling is outside my field of study.

    Hokay, so here is where it gets sticky. Certainly training in modern fencing results in a good foundation for the study of other sword arts that are more "martial" in approach. Certainly classical fencing can set one up in good stead for rapier. Just getting a good lunge is worth the time one might put in. And let's not forget timing, blade feeling, cavazzione (don't know what they call that in sport/classical fencing), and all other related skills. Does that make it a martial art? I don't think so, but it is on the line, due to the noble heritage of combat it comes from. YMMV.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  3. MarkBarlow

    MarkBarlow Purple Belt

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    I think it has as much validity as kendo or kumdo. While they all contain elements of their martial origins, I'd prefer to call them martial sports. But, then again, I feel the same way about TKD and Judo.
     
  4. JBrainard

    JBrainard Senior Master

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    To echo Mark, I don't agree. Most would consider Kendo a martial art, which is a sport that contains elements of a very deadly martial art. I don't see why sport fencing would be viewed differently.
     
  5. bushidomartialarts

    bushidomartialarts Senior Master

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    Bit of a political can o' worms or semantic argument.

    If you're inclusive (and I am), it's a martial art. It's the pursuit and study of a combat style. Looks like a duck. Quacks like a duck.

    If you break things up into subdivisions like martial art/martial science/martial sport, then it probably doesn't fit as a martial art. If you're still one of those people who thinks it has to come from asia to be a martial art, then it doesn't fit either.

    Thing I've noticed about subdividing, though. Most (not all) people I know who subdivide do so in order to say how the division they train in is better than the other divisions. Just another ego trap, if ya ask me.
     
  6. MA-Caver

    MA-Caver Sr. Grandmaster

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    What I see is a common misapplication or real understanding of the word "Martial" (from dictionary.com : mar·tial (mär'shəl) adj.
    1. Of, relating to, or suggestive of war.
    2. Relating to or connected with the armed forces or the profession of arms.
    Basically meaning War Arts. Fencing was widely used in old world Europe and the early American colonies, and this we all know well enough from history. It was for a time the means of combat and thus falls into the catagory that Kendo and all other sword arts fall into.
    Just because the fencing rapier is a skinny sharpened length of steel doesn't make it any less deadlier than the broad sword or even Katana. Just as the use and techniques to fight with the blade differs from the use/techniques of the broadsword and katana it is still a fighting art and skill that must be learned over years of training.
    The Samurai of Japan referred to their sword fighting as "fencing".
    Just because something is referred to as a Martial Art doesn't mean it HAS to have origins in the Orient.
     
  7. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    No argument there.

    The first use of the phrase "Martial Art" in the english language refers to the rapier, actually. It's a European term to begin with. Fencing orginally meant fighting in general, derived from the word "defence". Also notable is the german word "fechten" (fighting, obviously) and its apparent relation. So one could "fence" with staff, sword, knife, bare fists, ale tankards, etc.

    I don't think the issue is whether fencing in general is a martial art. Anyone who thinks that my longsword fencing isn't a martial art is welcome to spar me with his/her jian/katana/shamshir training and see for themselves. :) The issue is whether modern fencing (by which I think the OP means sport fencing) is a martial art. I tend to think it isn't because it isn't effectively martial, even in its own context. Sport fencing will not help you win an earnest encounter with sharps the way training with an actual smallsword will. With sport fencing, the goal is to score points, not to train to kill one's fellow man. Some of the techniques are positively suicidal, and the goal of western swordsmanship has always been survival, not mutual suicide.

    That said, I'm not trying to denigrate sport fencing. It's a worthy and awesome activity. Some sport fencers go on to become fine swordsmen, since the basic motor functions are already instilled for "fencing for real".

    But it is a hazy distinction, I'm willing to admit.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  8. exile

    exile To him unconquered.

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    This is a great point—I believe you were the first of us to actually nail this point down, Mark—and it should be constantly borne in mind, because unfortunately there is a tendency for many people to use `martial art' as though it were an Asian linguistic expression to begin with, with a meaning that comes full blown from Asian culture. In fact, so far as I can tell, the relevent categories in, say, Japanese martial thinking correspond to the distinction between jutsu and do, and rapier swordsmanship, which `martial art' was first coined in the European context to describe, as you note, is definitely a jutsu mode—an effective method of (possibly deadly) combat—as vs. a do, a `Way', with all the associations that the capitalization suggests. :rolleyes: The fact is, the term was introduced into English to describe best methods for skewering you oppo. Period.


    I'm really struck by the parallels between, on the one hand, what you say about swordmanship vs. sport fencing, and on the other, the distinction that a lot of karateka and others insist on between the martial art aspect (combat-realistic SD) and the martial sport aspect (point-scoring ring competition under essentially artificial rules) of empty-hand fighting systems... this issue of what sport does to effective combat application keep coming up, eh?
     
  9. MA-Caver

    MA-Caver Sr. Grandmaster

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    As I've seen it Sport (Olympic) fencing is basically the same as it was when it was a real combative art. Yes, it may seem suicidal but that was the whole point... to get that thrust into a vital faster than your opponent. Yes, true with the blunted tips of today those who spar are less likely to be more mindful of the effects of their opponents sword on them and thus perform those "suicidal moves" Langenschwert spoke about.
    However if the body pads, gloves and face shields were off and the tips needle sharp and the edges honed to razor fine... many of the present day gold-medalists would probably not be alive today using their award-winning techniques. Heck this would apply more-so to the Silver and Bronze medalists as well. :rolleyes: But since there's no fatal risk involved then one can get more reckless and move into an opponent's attack whereas before they'd wait for the right moment to thrust-home.
    It's almost like Olympic TKD is different from real defensive TKD in the same respects.
     
  10. RITFencing

    RITFencing Orange Belt

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    I take a pretty literal definition when it comes to calling something a martial art...

    I'd say sport fencing is a martial activity, in that it is quite combative. Whether or not people act as if the blades are sharp, they are still trying to jab and slash each other with them, and prevent the opponent from doing the same. Others may have different definitions of martial, but "combative" or "warlike" work fairly well for me. And while we sport people may not think the blades are sharp, some of us work EXTREMELY hard to not be hit by them; I just reffed, fenced and coached at the US National Championships in Miami, and myself and my fellow fencers, especially those in contention for a national team, really, REALLY do not want to be hit. We know we don't die, but there is still a very real negative consequence to the other person winning.

    As far as it being an art... it can be very expressive and cathartic, extremely personal, and is something that people can work at their entire lives in an attempt to master. Sounds like a good definition of "art" for me.

    If it's martial, and it's an art, it stands to reason that it is a martial art. It's most certainly a sport as well, but I see no reason to separate them. False dichotomies make me sad. :)

    I've had this conversation many times with people who have several different viewpoints, and many (but not all) seem to think that it is not a martial art, but have trouble putting a finger on exactly why. Here's my theory as to why:

    1) Modern fencing makes no pretense about not being a sport. The aforementioned false dichotomy seems to loom large in many minds. On a personal note, martial art or not, I have also found many people who seem to think that "martial arts" are somehow higher or better than sports... I think I'm going to scream the next time I hear the phrase "just a sport."

    2) Modern fencing is not Asian and does not employ esoteric philosophies or mysticsm, and is very light on tradition and protocol, particularly in America. I think many people, deep down, equate "martial art" with "wearing robes, bowing, speaking Japanese, focusing spirit energy, etc." I'm sure many would deny this, and it may just be my deep natural cynicism talking, but often when I have this debate with someone who says it's not a martial art but just can't give a reason why, a few questions leads me to suspect that this is the case. The trappings of fencing are very different from the trappings of, say, iaido, which seems to have no trouble being considered as such, despite having about the same relevance in modern combat and self defense.
     
  11. arnisador

    arnisador Sr. Grandmaster

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    I'm in full agreement here.
     
  12. KnightlyMongoose

    KnightlyMongoose White Belt

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    You make an excellent point.
     
  13. terryl965

    terryl965 <center><font size="2"><B>Martial Talk Ultimate<BR

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    I believe it is consider a martial art and it should be in my view.
     
  14. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    Good point - the same theory is still there, but some of the caution has been "suspended".

    We should probably define what we mean by "fencing" as well as what we mean by "martial art".

    The term "fencing" is from "de-fence". So, by definition "fencing" is a "martial art."

    Plus, it's so broad that it's like asking "Is Karate a martial art?" Well, some people study it as a "real world" defensive system, and some study it as a sport.

    Most people think only of the foil as the weapon of fencing, but there is also the epee, the saber, the schlagger, the rapier, the smallsword, the cutlass, the backsword (or hunting sword), the broadsword, the longsword, etc. ad nauseum. (Similarly, there's Taikwondo, Tang soo do, Wing Chung, Ninjutsu, Kenpo, Chun-kuk-do, etc. as well.)

    They are all considered "fencing." For instance, I fence with a rapier/schlagger, and a longsword (usually called a "bastard sword".) There are sport arenas and applications, but we study historical methods which were actually used at one point in history to kill people.

    So, is the question about "Olympic-Style fencing". That is, the foil, the epee, and the saber?

    As Lang. said, the foil is a training tool for a smallsword. The theory behind the foil is dangerous when you switch the foil for the weapon it was meant to train for. However, the smallsword never really got a reputation for being particularly deadly.

    I've trained under a saber fighter, and let me tell you, his technique is definitely martial. I wouldn't want to face him in a live-steel duel for any amount of money or honor.

    I don't have any experience with the epee, but I know it does not have right-of-way rules, which is more true to the practical application of dueling. I understand it was popular for "first-blood" style duels in the 19th century, so "stopping power" and killing blows didn't have as much focus.

    To me, "first blood" duels are a dangerous form of sport fencing, since you "score" by drawing blood, and the first one to score, wins. (Of course, if the blood you draw comes from an artery, or the heart, well . . .)

    When the general public asks me about the rapier fencing, I tell them we study fencing "as a martial art", but that's more about where our focus is, to distinguish it from points-based focus, but I won't tell a sport fencer that what s/he does is not a "martial art."

    I would like to play with them though, you bring your quick foil/epee, and I'll bring my long, slow rapier. I'll bet we would both learn a lot. But I don't know right-of-way rules, so don't expect me to follow them :)
     
  15. RITFencing

    RITFencing Orange Belt

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    One small point about right of way rules: They were not just something used to teach theory. Rapier-esque weapon (court sword, back sword, rapier, etc) duels often resulted in death, maiming and other forms of badness for both fencers. Modern right of way evolved from a set of tactics used by both fencers (only effective if both fence this way) that was more likely to ensure that only one of them would get really messed up. Basically, whichever fencer was attacked would be sure to defend themselves first before launching an attack on the opponent. This way, only one person was trying to hit at any given time (in general) and only one person would be killed, injured, etc.

    These days, in modern foil and sabre fencing, especially in sabre, it is more of a way to determine who gets the point if both fencers were touched (which must happen in roughly .25 second for foil, .125 for sabre.) If only one fencer hits, it doesn't matter if they had right of way or not, they still get the touch. It is a way of seeing who was in control of the action and who was more tactically (and technically; especially in sabre people will get denied the call if they just really screw up their action) correct.

    In foil, fencers still pay attention to right of way at most times; there are more counter attacks and quick remises (continuation of the attack after the first one parries or misses) because of the very quick lockout time (as mentioned above) that was adopted in 2005, but for the most part, fencers pay attention to who has the right of way at all times and will generally fence as such. In sabre, with the really short lockout time (when I hit my opponent, regardless of who has right of way, they get an eighth of a second to hit me before the machine will not allow their touch), fencers use counter attacks and actions which do not technically have right of way much more often than in foil simply because they know the opponent cannot finish their attack, riposte or whatever in time.
     
  16. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Just a small amount of pedantism here...

    The smallsword and the like are not rapier-esque in use with the exception of the thrust as the primary attack. Rapier is done in single-time rather than the double time strategies of shorter weapons. The parry-riposte is exactly what you don't want to do in rapier fencing of you can help it. Should someone lunge at you, it is better to thrust into their lunge, taking their point offline while hitting with your own. I believe the first play (or one of the firsy plays) in the manual of Salvator Fabris details just that. There are parallels between Classical Fencing and rapier, but they are distinctly different. Epee technique will not get you very far with a rapier, though it will build you a good foundation.

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  17. Stan

    Stan Green Belt

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    This thread has already provided much interesting discussion of fencing vis-a-vis other martial arts. However, allow me to suggest that there is a hidden, though not unworthy agenda among some of the participants.

    At the base of it, I think the reason why this issue is an emotional one is because of the seemingly much lower test the Asian arts have to overcome to be considered a "true" martial art. To say plainly what others have implied, many Asian arts have little in the way of true martial application, yet are still easily deemed true martial arts. Along with Olympic sport fencing, I believe that Olympic and Collegiate wrestling and boxing should be considered Martial Arts, if Judo, Sumo, Tae Kwon Do, Kendo, Iaido and Wushu also are. Either they all should be canonical, or none should.

    I am offended at the insincere, crass Orientalism displayed in the false veneration for the Asian arts. Not only is it unfair to the Western Arts or arts of other cultures, at the root of it such cultural tropes propagated by the Bruce Lee/Caine/Mr. Miyagi stereotype make a caricature of diverse Asian cultures.

    In many respects, the Filipino arts have faced similar discrimination in being considered "Martial Arts" in western societies. Even though they are clearly Asian, their clan/tribal origins, lack of rigid heirarchy (I'm generalizing here), lack of Taoist/Buddhist imagery, and use of many Spanish terms make the lay person shopping for an art feel that the FMA's couldn't provide that "Martial Arts Experience" that includes a Yin Yang, bowing, belts and some BS about being "for self-defense only". As much as the Filipino Martial Arts have started to overcome this exclusion from the canon in the past 20 years, the Western Martial Arts still face these hurdles, to an even greater extent.

    Fiore, Fabris, Lichtenauer and Silver are considered to be martial arts by most serious martial artists, Asian or otherwise. To the lay public, who still imagine large men beating each other senseless with large swords, these traditions remain unknown. To a public raised on swashbucklers and Monty Python, along with Kung Fu and Highlander, Asian styles are mysterious and mythically effective. To them, pre-sixteenth-century European swordsmanship is skill-less brawling, and post-sixteenth-century is dainty and effete.

    My point is, if one really takes the Western Arts seriously, and doesn't just pay lip-service to the idea that they are, in terms of martial and cultural heritage every bit the equal of the myriad Asian styles, then one must afford just as much status to Western Martial Sports as they do Asian Martial Sports.



    Or is that not what everyone means?

    Stan
     
  18. thardey

    thardey Master Black Belt

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    -echo that -

    Also Saviolo, and Thibault, and to some extent Marozzo (16-17th century). They were all single-time fencers. It is just more efficient for a long, heavy thrusting weapon. For the much later, epee-esque rapiers (19th century). The weapons were light enough to be able to parry, and riposte, which shifted the emphasis to hand-work, and away from footwork. (Particularly stepping off-line.)
     
  19. Langenschwert

    Langenschwert Master Black Belt

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    Good point, but I'm not one to call non-martial Asian arts MAs for sure either, just because they're Asian.

    I might be blind, but I haven't seen any of that in this thread, and I'm soley a WMA practicioner. It's not that I've never seen it. I've seen people on this forum (I think) say that an MA has to be Japanese to be a "real" MA, but that's the exception, not the rule. It takes all kinds of dumb ideas to make the world go 'round, I guess. ;)

    I've never seen that either. I had my start in FMA as a kid, and it was very satisfying until the school seemed to go all kooky. :)

    But less so every day. We may not have the public onside, but I've seen knowledge of western MAs on fora like MT, to pen and paper rpg fora and cultural dissussion fora. The word is getting out, due in part to the sheer cussedness of the practicioners. In my own city of Calgary, there are no legit kenjutsu schools, but there are TWO schools doing Historical European Swordsmanship. That says something.

    The lay public will eventually know about WMA/HES. I have no doubt about that. With such visible figures such as John Clements and others, it's just a matter of time. My dream is that it will be like it used to be... if you wanted to study self-defence, you went to a fencing salle to learn duelling, grappling, cane fighting and the whole nine yards. Once you've picked up a sword and learned how to use it for real, not as a ritual, it becomes very hard to put down. :)

    All those masters you mentioned should be required reading for any Martial Artist. Of course, I'm biased for Liechtenauer, but that's just me. ;)

    That's the thing... martial sports. They're not mutually exclusive, either. I could say do both sporting epee and classical epee... one for the game and competition, and the other for martial content. Personally, I'm not interested in the sporting aspect to much. I'm into longsword, rapier, messer and Ringen and learning them as much as possible as killing arts. That doesn't mean I couldn't enter a tourney and compete as a sport. But it's not the same.

    No, I don't think so. We're kind of debating where martial art ends and martial sport begins. Talk about a fuzzy line! :)

    Best regards,

    -Mark
     
  20. Large Fierce Mammal

    Large Fierce Mammal White Belt

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    I am in agreement that Olympic fencing fits the definition of martial art, and to exactly the same degree as the current derivations and evolutions of combative systems continue to enjoy uncontested entitlement to the label. I would also offer that I believe rigorous training in swordsmanship cultivates a strength of character that little else will address.

    In the interests of fanning the flames of discussion, I would offer my article titled To the Point and a recent additional item, A Sabre's Not For Rattling.
     

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