Western Swordsmanship Today
Defining Historical Fencing

There are several terms used at present to refer to the practice of various forms of Western swordsmanship or "historical fencing". These may be the study, reenactment, replication, or performance of any number of styles and methods of European swordplay ranging from ancient times to the 19th century. They may be practiced as martial arts, martial sports, fantasy games, or performance arts. To bring clarity to this sometimes confusing picture, ARMA presents the following list of definitions are provided:

Historical Swordsmanship – the practice of Medieval and Reenaissance methods as true martial arts. It is concerned with the realistic reconstruction and replication of historical Western fighting skills under antagonistic conditions. This is the primary focus of efforts by ARMA.  This definition may also include the study of Ancient swordplay (i.e., Greek, Roman, Celtic). 

Classical Fencing – concerned primarily with the practice of epee and foil fencing (and saber to a lesser extent) of teh 19th century prior to advent of electric equipment and international competitive rules. There is also considerable interest in the practice of the late 17th and early 18th century small-sword. The general idea is to return to following more of fencing’s gentlemanly dueling intent and revive the state of modern sport fencing.

Sport Fencing – the modern 20th & 21st century competitive sport of Olympic and collegiate foil, epee, and saber, conducted either with electric or "dry" practice equipment. It is an athletic, exciting, quick international game with rules devised early this century and now far removed from its martial origins.

Theatrical Fencing – stage-combat or performance fighting is a tool of acting intended to create an effective illusion or performance for entertainment through rehearsed choreography or arranged movements relying on a foundation of martial techniques and principles.

Arranged Performance Fighting
A distinct activity which can be clearly distinguished from both theatrical fencing and historical swordsmanship, it combines elements of arranged drills and preset routines of techniques for the direct purpose of demonstration and education --as opposed to an exclusively martial study (as with historical swordsmanship) or entertainment and dramatic storytelling (as with theatrical fencing). Fight sequences are conducted for display by delivering techniques in-range, at speed and with intent, but stopping prior to injury. Some weapon-to-body contact is employed for purposes of illustration as are certain exaggerated movements or assumed reactions/results.

Mock-Fighting & Martial Sports - various other approaches to historical Western swordplay that are not easily classifiable and which do not fit into the above categories of mock-fighting. While "combative arts", all of these other martial sports range considerably in their historical accuracy, physical intensity, complexity of rules, and martial content. Their many forms include the simulated battle reenactments of living-history groups, or the play-fighting of live-action role-playing games. Other manners of simulated historical Western combat are concerned with conducting knightly tournament bouts, large-scale fighting scenes, or personal duels of honor. They also can differ considerably in their goals and motivations.


Back to the Essays Page

Note: The word "ARMA" and its associated arms emblem is a federally registered trademark under U.S. Reg. No. 3831037. In addition, the content on this website is federally registered with the United States Copyright Office, © 2001-2022. All rights are reserved. No use of the ARMA name and emblem, or website content, is permitted without authorization. Reproduction of material from this site without written permission of The Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and its respective authors is strictly prohibited. Additional material may also appear from "HACA" The Historical Armed Combat Association copyright © 1999-2001 by John Clements. All rights are reserved to that material as well.