Frequently Asked Questions
How do I Start?
How much does it cost?
Does it hurt?
What qualities make a good fencer?
A Brief History of Fencing
Swordfighting as sport has existed since the times of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. And where there was sword fighting there were schools of fence to teach the necessary skills.
In the middle ages the fencing master was in great demand, not purely to teach those whose profession was fighting but also for the everyday citizen who may be required to resolve a dispute by means of an organised duel.
Although rapier combat had a nominal military role (for thrusting into the chinks of heavy armour), it was most popular amongst civilians who used it for self-defence and dueling. Rapiers were edged, but the primary means of attack was the thrust. Rapier fencing spread from Spain to Italy and then northwards, in spite of the objections of masters such as George Silver who preferred traditional cutting weapons such the English long sword.
During the 16th century dueling to settle disputes became illegal. This, however, did not stop the practice of duels and illegal duels became common. Indeed, it was considered that you were not safe unless you carried a sword and were willing and able to use it.
In 1540 King Henry VIII issued a signed Bill under the title "Masters of ye Noble Science of Defence". This Bill gave Fencing Masters a monopoly of teaching fencing in England and empowered them commit to gaol any offender who taught without being a member of the Guild. This Guild was the fore-runner of what is today known as the British Academy of Fencing (B.A.F.). The B.A.F. is an organisation which through a system of courses and examinations qualifies coaches from Basic up to Diploma standard and the award of the titles Professor of Fencing and Maitre d'Armes.
By the 18th century, the rapier had evolved to a simpler, shorter, and lighter design that was popularized in France as the small sword, or court sword. Although the small sword often had an edge, it was only to discourage the opponent from grabbing the blade, and the weapon was used exclusively for thrusting. The light weight made a more complex and defensive style possible, and the French masters developed a school based on subtlety of movement, double-time parries, and complex attacks. The mastery of swordsmanship became to be looked upon as one of the accomplishments which, together with horse riding, dancing, music were essentially part of the daily routine of the members of high society. The general public, however, were not interested in social pastimes but instead found entertainment in the 'Prize Fights' held across the country.
In 1750 the wire mesh mask was invented, but due prejudice the mask was scorned by fencing masters for more than twenty years.
Dueling faded away altogether in the early 20th century. The last widely acknowledged formal duel occurred in France in 1954, ending with a scratch to the arm.
In the early part of the nineteenth century fencing remained very exclusive. There were schools teaching French foil fencing for those with the money to pay and it was practiced in the Army and Navy. In the mid-nineteenth century Baptiste Bertrand, a great exponent of French foil fencing set up his own Salle in London and became the instructor at the London Fencing Club. Fencing now became popular as a sport and so attracted more fencing masters to England.
In 1902 the Amateur Fencing Association (now the British Fencing Association) was formed.
The first modern Olympic games featured foil and sabre fencing for men only. Epee was introduced in 1900. Single stick was featured in the 1904 games. Epee was electrified in the 1936 games, foil in 1956, and sabre in 1988.
Women's foil was first contested in the 1924 Olympic games, with Women's epee only being contested for the first time in 1996, although it had been part of the World Championships since 1989. Women's sabre was finally added to the Olympics in 2004, since when the 6 individual disciplines have been contested in each Olympiad, with two weapons only per gender being contested in team events on a rotational basis, due to the International Olympic Committee refusing to sanction the aditional medals which would be necessary to hold a full set of individual & team competitions at each Olympic Games.