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About Fencing

Origin of the term
The English term fencing, in the sense of “the action or art of using the sword scientifically” (OED) dates to the late 16th century, when it denoted systems designed for the Renaissance rapier. The first known use of defens in reference to Renaissance swordsmanship is in William Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor: “Alas sir, I cannot fence.” This specialized usage replaced the generic fight (Old English feohtan).
The verb to fence derived from the noun fence, originally meaning “the act of defending”, etymologically derived from Old French defens “defence”, ultimately from the Latin. The first attestation of Middle English fens “defence” dates to the 14th century.

Middle Ages and Renaissance
Fencing schools can be found in European historical records dating back to the 12th century. In later times fencing teachers were paid by rich patrons to produce books about their fighting systems, called treatises. Fencing schools were forbidden in some European cities (particularly in England and France) during the medieval period, though court records show that such schools operated illegally.
The earliest surviving treatise on fencing, stored at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, England, dates from around 1300 AD and is from Germany. It is known as I.33 and written in medieval Latin and Middle High German and deals with an advanced system of using the sword and buckler (smallest shield) together.
From 1400 onwards an increasing number of fencing treatises survived from across Europe, with the majority from the 15th century coming from Germany and Italy. In this period these arts were largely reserved for the knighthood and the nobility – hence most treatises deal with knightly weapons, such as the rondel dagger, longsword, spear, pollaxe and armoured fighting mounted and on foot. Some treatises cover weapons available to the common classes, such as großes Messer and sword and buckler. Wrestling, both with and without weapons, armoured and unarmoured, was also featured heavily in the early fencing treatises.
By the 16th century, with the widespread adoption of the printing press, the increase in the urban population and other social changes, the number of treatises increased dramatically. After around 1500 carrying swords became more acceptable in most parts of Europe. The growing middle classes meant that more men could afford to carry swords, learn fencing and be seen as gentlemen. By the middle of the 16th century many European cities contained great numbers of fencing schools, often clustered together, such as in London at “Hanging Sword Lane”. Italian fencing masters were particularly popular and set up schools in many foreign cities. The Italians brought concepts of science to the art, appealing to the Renaissance mindset.
In 16th century Germany compendia of older Fechtbücher techniques were produced, some of them printed, notably by Paulus Hector Mair (in the 1540s) and by Joachim Meyer (in the 1570s), based on 14th century teachings of the Liechtenauer tradition. In this period German fencing developed sportive tendencies.
The rapier’s popularity peaked in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Dardi school of the 1530s, as exemplified by Achille Marozzo, still taught the two-handed spadone, but preferred the single–handed sword. The success of Italian masters such as Marozzo and Fabris outside of Italy shaped a new European mainstream of fencing.
The Ecole Française d’Escrime founded in 1567 under Charles IX produced masters such as Henry de Sainct-Didier who introduced the French fencing terminology that remains in use today.

Early modern period
Strictly, the European dueling sword is a basket and cage hilted weapon specifically used in duels from the late 17th to the 19th century. It developed through several forms of the rapier to the smallsword—reflecting the changes from a cutting style of swordplay to a thrusting style (‘foining’). This was a result of increasing specialization in their use on the dueling field, and the social stigma attached to carrying and using swords too obviously adapted to the actual “work” of warfare. The smallsword, and the last version of the rapier, were made possible only by metallurgical advances in the 17th century as high toughness steels became more readily available.
In England, it was not uncommon for fencing masters to duel other masters, often to the death, stopping to dress wounds. Such spectacles were generally held in beargardens, particularly in the Southwark neighborhood near London.
The foil was invented in France as a training technique in the middle of the 18th century; it enabled fast and elegant thrust fencing with a smaller and safer weapon than a dueling sword. Fencers blunted (or “foiled”) its point by wrapping a foil around the blade or fastening a knob on the point (“blossom”, French fleuret). Some fencers took away the protection and used the sharp foil for duels. German students took up that practice and developed the Pariser (“Parisian”) thrusting small sword for the Stoßmensur (“thrusting mensur”).
“Pariser” small sword, derived from the French foilAfter the dress sword was abolished, the Pariser became the only weapon for thrust fencing in German colleges and universities. Many students died from pierced lungs (Lungenfuchser). A countering movement started in Göttingen in the 1750s, with the invention of the Göttinger Hieber, a predecessor of the modern Korbschläger, a weapon for cut fencing. In the following years, the Glockenschläger was invented in an Eastern Germany university, also for cut fencing.

1800 to 1918
Thrust fencing (using the Pariser), and cut fencing (using Korbschläger or Glockenschläger), existed in parallel in Germany during the first decades of the 19th century, according to local preferences. Thrust fencing was especially popular in Jena, Erlangen, Würzburg and Ingolstadt/Landshut, two towns where the predecessors of Munich University were located. The last thrust Mensur is recorded to have taken place in Würzburg in 1860.
Until the first half of the 19th century all types of academic fencing can be seen as duels, since fencing with sharp weapons was about honour. No combat with sharp blades took place without a formal insult. For duels involving non-students, e.g. military officers, the academic sabre became usual, apparently derived from the military sabre. It was then a heavy weapon with a curved blade and a hilt similar to the Korbschläger.
Classical fencing derives most directly from the 19th and early–20th century national fencing schools, especially in Italy and France, although other pre–World War II styles such as Russian and Hungarian are also considered classical. Masters and legendary fencing figures such as Giuseppe Radaelli, Louis Rondelle, Masaniello Parise, the Greco brothers, Aldo Nadi and his rival Lucien Gaudin were typical practitioners of this period.
Fencing was part of the first Olympics Games in the summer of 1896. Épée and Sabre events have been held at every Summer Olympics; foil events have been held at every Summer Olympics except 1908.
Four judges determined whether a touch had been made. Two side judges stood behind and beside each fencer, watching for hits made by that fencer. A director observed from several feet away. At the end of each action, after calling “Halt!”, the director described the action, and then polled the judges. If the judges differed, or abstained, the director could overrule. However, while the director had 1 1/2 votes, and the judges only 1 each, 2 judges in agreement could overrule the director.
This method had serious limitations, though it was universally used. As described in the London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph & Courier, on June 25, 1896: “Every one who has watched a bout with the foils knows that the task of judging the hits is with a pair of amateurs difficult enough, and with a well-matched pair of maîtres d’escrime well–nigh impossible.” There also were problems with bias: well–known fencers were often given the benefit of mistakes (so–called “reputation touches”), and in some cases there was outright cheating. Aldo Nadi complained about this in his autobiography The Living Sword in regard to his famous match with Lucien Gaudin. The Daily Courier article described a new invention, the electrical scoring machine, that would revolutionize fencing.

1918 to present
Dueling went into sharp decline after World War I. After World War II, dueling went out of use in Europe except for very rare exceptions. Training for duels, once fashionable for males of aristocratic backgrounds (although fencing masters such as Hope suggest that many people considered themselves trained from taking only one or two lessons), all but disappeared, along with the classes themselves. Fencing continued as a sport, with tournaments and championships. However, the need to actually prepare for a duel with “sharps” vanished, changing both training and technique.
Starting with épée in 1936, side judges were replaced by an electrical scoring apparatus, with an audible tone and a red or green light indicating when a touch landed. Foil was automated in 1956, sabre in 1988. The scoring box reduced the bias in judging, and permitted more accurate scoring of faster actions, lighter touches, and more touches to the back and flank than before
In the 21st century, the sport of fencing is a mix of old traditions, and the modern world.
The general goal of a fencing match (called a bout) is to cause your blade to come into contact with a valid target area (called a touch) on your opponent while simultaneously preventing them from doing the same to you. When a touch is scored, a light indicating who touched whom lights up and the presider (referee) incidates which fencer is awarded the point based on the current weapon being fenced.
The weapons – the foil, the epee and the sabre – belong to an earlier era, as do the notions of honour and chivalry that form the basis of many of the sport’s rules. But the uniforms, with their electronic sensors, impregnable masks, and the electronic scoring system are very much a part of today’s high-tech world

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