Thoughts on Historical Fencing Tournaments

I’m well known for my support of bouting and tournaments within the historical fencing community. If you are unwilling to test your skill at arms in a competitive environment, you need to find another hobby or, at least, drop the pretense of studying a martial art. However, for all the fantastic effort being put into making tournaments work at the moment, there’s a number of factors which I believe have not been considered or not properly thought through.

The Approach

In the German longsword schools, this is known as the zufechten. The fault can almost certainly be laid at the door of modern sport fencing but we seem to have lost the art of how to approach each other in the fight. Almost all bouts and tourneys I’ve seen start with the participants within wide distance (or lunge range, depending on your school’s terminology), only a foot movement away from each other. I’d like to see the participants start much further apart — several metres in fact — in order to make this part of the competition. Do you run in to dominate as much of the arena as possible? Do you study your opponent as he or she approaches? Do you retreat away waiting for the perfect opening in which to strike? All of these aspects are lost in small or narrow fields of combat.

The Weapons

Should a tournament allow only one class of weapon, say rapiers, or permit a broad range of historical weaponry? It depends on what the tournament aims to do. Is it a test of a particular technique or school or is it a test of some idea of general martial ability? I’d like to see tournaments that concentrate solely on later rapier swordplay, earlier sideswords and on the various longsword traditions, I’d also like to participate in a competition which pitches, say, a rapier against a longsword.

The Mission Statement

Normally, I reckon these are rubbish and should be avoided. However, in this context, I think it’s vital to clearly articulate what the tournament is about, what it seeks to test (the basis of competition) and what weaponry is allowed. All else flows from these fundamentals: safety, scoring, etc.