Fencing Starts Again Tonight

And I’m not talking about building brick walls or five-bar gates. I’m talking about hitting people with swords.

As you know, I’m a member of the rather grandiosely titled Australian College of Arms, a great bunch of people dedicated to the rediscovery and practice of the different forms of fencing we used to practice between the 15th and 17th centuries. At our core we specialise in sidesword (or rapier) and an off-hand implement such as a dagger or buckler but we don’t stop there. Longsword or hand-and-a-half swordsmanship is also a favourite.

We don’t dress up in historical costumes. We don’t debate whether a katana can cut through a tank. We are, however, interested in period techniques gleaned from the study of the surviving historical manuals of fnecing and sparring as much as possible to better understand the principles the manuals expound.

Are our techniques ‘correct’ (whatever that means) and ‘historically accurate’ (another completely dodgy term)? There’s a chance of a yes answer to those question. What we do is based on study and sound martial arts principles of proper balance, simple movement and use of momentum.

Could we take on a swordsman time-teleported from the 16th century and win? Probably not. He’s been practicing his techniques in the presence of a master every day for years. He probably even has some real combat experience. We’re only making (well educated) guesses and practice once or twice a week.

For me personally, historical swordplay is the best way to understand the military parts of history that interest me. Knowing in a physical sense what it takes to fight a duel (but without the threat of losing a limb), for instance, makes anything to do with The Three Musketeers so much more intersting. Learning at first-hand how laughable are the myths that there was no swordsmanship in the Middle Ages but brutish hacking is an amazing revelation.

Since starting this sport, I’ve developed an understanding of medieval and renaissance history much deeper than simply reading about it allows. And it keeps me fit.

(Angry Aside: Have I told you how much the 1993 version of the

    Three Musketeers

sucks ass? No? Do you have a couple of hours to spare?)