Is Fencing a Martial Art?
The short answer is yes.
When we think of martial arts, most of us think of Chinese Kung Fu and Bruce Lee. But martial arts is a very broad umbrella under which many forms of fighting, like wrestling, boxing and Krav Maga, come under. The term ‘martial arts’ is loosely defined by the Cambridge dictionary to mean ‘a traditional method of fighting or defending yourself.’
So yes, since fencing too is a method or art of self-defense, it comes under ‘martial art.’
‘Fencing’ is a way of fighting by using swords. It is a very ancient form of fighting, popularized by eighteenth-century literature. There was a time when fencing decided the life and death of a warrior or the status of a war. But today, there are no more sword fights and single combats in wars. Today, a sword is merely an ornamental possession, and fencing has evolved into a sport with a set of rigid rules and regulations.
Fencing is of various types. Classical fencing is void of any rules but does involve many techniques and styles. It includes defending an attack, avoiding being hit and opening a new line of attack. Classical fencing needs a thorough understanding of its disciplines, techniques and history.
Sport fencing, on the other hand, involves many rules, and the intent of the game is merely to win. As opposed to classical fencing, combatants focus on landing a hit and scoring points.
Most people like to disagree with fencing being called a part of martial arts. This is because martial arts mostly originated in Asia. And since fencing originated in the West, there is a hesitation to accept fencing into the fold of martial arts.
Fencing in the Modern World
Fencing in ancient times was usually duals where one won, and the other was killed. This made fencing one of the most dangerous martial arts in the world ever practiced. But today, it has evolved into a sport with time-outs, rules and regulations. It’s about scoring a hit and winning tournaments. It is a sport like any other type of martial art and is taken up as a hobby and for health.
Fencing is a lot different from other types of martial arts because it includes a weapon. Other types of martial arts, like boxing and wrestling, rely on explosive strength and bodily skill. But fencing is much more. You need to be able to wield the sword skillfully, make attacks, defend yourself, and score hits at your opponent without accidentally killing them.
Until the eighteenth or nineteenth century, fencing duals were to death. But as civilization progressed, people began to realize that every time a combatant was killed in battle, they were losing a good fencer, and they began to change tradition. This led to duals being fought till the ‘first blood’ was drawn.
As fencing gradually evolved into the fun sport that it is today, they began to use swords with dulled blades. People introduced rules to keep score and determine winners. Now, there is electric fencing, which includes lights and wires to decide who scores.
While it is true that modern views removed the bloodiness from fencing, it also means that it is now a sport that no longer has the original intent of martial arts.
Today, fencing is organized by the United States Fencing Association in the US and the International Fencing Federation.
Modern fencing involves the use of three types of weapons: the epee, foil and sabre. These are the descendants of the rapier, which was a sword used in the Middle Ages.
Epee is a point weapon, meaning that you can only hit with the tip of it. With an Epee, you must also hit hard enough to push the button on it and start the electrical circuit. Epee is a ‘slow’ weapon, and you can use it to hit your opponent anywhere in their bodies, head, stomach or feet.
Foil is also a point weapon but is more restricted in rules. With a foil, you can only touch the neck and torso of the opponent, and only one person can score a touch at a time. The side that gets the point is determined by the ‘right of way’ or the right to attack.
And lastly, the sabre is a weapon used for slashing. You can use the sabre to slash the opponent anywhere except the bell guard that protects the hands of the opponent. The target area of the opponents is anywhere above the waist, except for the hands.
Sabre is a ‘fast’ weapon and also has the ‘right of way’ like for foil. The ‘right of way’ is held by the one who is moving forward, blocks the attacks or by the one who knocks the sword of the opponent out of the way.
Is Fencing a martial art? Summary
Yes, fencing is a martial art because it falls within the definitions of martial arts. Fencing once used to be a serious skill that determined the lives of many warriors of the past. The loser in fencing was killed, and the survivor won. But it is no longer the bloody art it was. Today, fencing is a fun sport that involves many regulations to ensure the safety and health of combatants.
Also read: Is wrestling a martial art?
*All pics are courtesy of Unsplash.com