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Historical European
Martial Arts Today
Defining Historical Fencing

There are several terms used at present to refer to the practice of various forms of "historical fencing" or Western non-sport swordplay . 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 and study of Medieval and Renaissance fighting methods as true martial arts.   It is concerned with the realistic reconstruction and replication of historical Western close-combat skills under antagonistic conditions (without any choreographed or staged elements). This is the primary focus of efforts by ARMA and similar organizations.  This definition also includes the study of pre-Medieval or "Ancient" swordplay (i.e., Greek, Roman, Celtic).  Additionally, it invariably involves the study of diverse armors and weapons other than the sword as well as often considerable unarmed fighting techniques.

Classical Fencing –  Current definitions for just what constitutes "classical fencing" vary considerably as the "classical fencing community" is diverse. For some it is seen as training for personal "duel" with the 19th century epee du combat.  For others it is "gentleman's encounter" --a ritualistic form of 19th century duel which may or may not include seizures, disarms, grapples, or strikes.  Others see it as simply fencing using pre-modern traditional grip foils and epees (and sabre to a lesser extent) following the methods prior to the 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 more of fencing’s gentlemanly dueling intent and martial content to 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. This sometimes referred to by some as "modern" fencing, even though it goes back to the 19th century, and it is also sometimes even called "Traditional" fencing despite that it does not predate the last century.

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 (which also typically includes armors and weapons other than the sword as well as some unarmed fighting techniques). It is a respected performance art, not a martial art.

Arranged Performance Fighting
A distinct activity that 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). Such manner of “historical action” fight sequences are conducted for realistic 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", martial sports range considerably in their historical accuracy, physical intensity, complexity of rules, and martial content. Their many forms include the simulated battle presenttaions of reenactment or 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.

See also: Definitions & Study Terminology


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