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 The History of the Fencing Profession 

Article by Maître Gary Worsfield


Fencing as a profession, originally developed from the unscrupulous and shady characters of the 13th century (1200's), who specialized in secret tricks of swordplay which they would sell for a hefty price. In some incidences they would personally duel on a client's behalf in an attempt to ensure a satisfactory result. This professional duellist was classed as a rogue and it was not until the middle of the 15th century that it was safe to admit to running a school of fencing, though legislation of the 13th and 14th centuries forbidding duelling and such schools was still in force. In 1540, Henry the 8th granted Letters Patent to a Corporation of Fencing Masters, the London Masters of Defence, giving them a virtual monopoly on the teaching of fencing in England, Wales and Ireland. This gave the profession a new respectability, although it was not for another decade or two that such an occupation was officially recognized. In 1605, James 1 issued a Royal Warrant giving the Masters of Defence the highest status they had ever had. This warrant granted them the power to legally control the teaching of fencing. The qualification of Scholar, Free Scholar, Prévot or Master in the guild of Masters of ye noble science of defence was bestowed by playing a prize or demonstration in public to show one's skill with a wide range of weapons. These exhibitions were very popular. They were accompanied by processions, music and a good deal of showmanship, and were performed on the same shared-stage with the Elizabethan theatre actors. Shakespeare's knowledge of swordsmanship and his use of the various weapons throughout his plays would have undoubtedly come from these exhibitions. The audiences of the day would have made the highest demands regarding the performance of the theatrical swordfights, since they would have specialist experience of combat between the most skilled exponents in the country. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet was first produced in 1595 and contains some of the most spectacular fighting scenes of any Elizabethan play.  The Corporation of Professional Fencing Masters remained active until around the end of the 18th century.

Henry VIII  Henry the 8th granted Letters Patent to the London Masters of Defense, giving them a virtual monopoly on the teaching of fencing.

Woman Fencing

Instruction Instruction Duelling
The Master-of-Arms had developed a special place in society. He could teach his art and was regarded as an authority in matters of honour. Fencing at this time encompassed not only the scientific principles in the use of the sword but also the essential qualities of a gentleman's' education. The Master-of-Arms was one of the original educators to the aristocratic class, he had become a teacher of physical exercise, good manners and gentlemanly etiquette. All considered essential qualities of a good education. The profession progressively grew reaching a peak somewhere between the end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries.
The fact that fencing was around, practiced at all the exclusive universities and popular at the start of a changing attitude towards sport, made it an obvious inclusion in World Events, Expositions and Games of the time. Fencing is one of the original Olympic sports, and continues this uninterrupted tradition into the start of the 21st century with the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

"...... it is my unshakeable belief that fencing should be a cardinal part of any program of education; for I assert that the all-important intangible moral qualities and virtues inherent in the spirit of swordsmanship, unquestionably bring the sport into the field of essential education." Aldo Nadi

This quote appeared at the beginning of the 20th century and remains equally valid today as we move into the 21st century.

Fencing has traditionally been taught on a private, individual basis. This remains relatively unchanged. For top-level fencing instruction there is nothing that equals the individual lesson. This one-to-one interaction is far superior to any other form of instruction. This does not mean that quality fencing cannot be taught, particularly at the introductory stages, in groups and classes. Quite the contrary, class instruction is better suited to learning the basic fencing concepts, and it is far more enjoyable to learn in a group while playing games. The teaching challenge is to create a method for class instruction, which still offers the quality learning found in the individual lesson. The individual lesson examines and repetitively copies the actual moves and sequences of the game. The actual moves and sequences can be further reduced down to a number of skills, which, when played together, for the principles of play. These principles of play are based on priority of one action over another, and the fencing time it takes to perform each action. We learn the actual sport-specific skills of fencing by examining them in slow motion and imitating them, complete in all regards. Learning to fence should be specific to the actual moves, sequences and accompanying though found in the game. With good instruction, we attempt to make the student aware of the specific feelings and thought accompanying each and every movement, and then create ways of repetitively reinforcing these moves and sequences. The trick in making class instruction effective, comes from the fun ways that the fencing skills can be reinforced in games.
Round Robin To the untrained eye, fencing can be viewed as being too technical, having complicated rules and often confusing in the refereeing and scoring. As a consequence it has been perceived as a difficult sport to learn and a difficult sport to teach. Quite the contrary, by reducing the game to it's basic fundamental principles and concepts, it is easily understood, played and enjoyed by all ages.
   Poster of the 1900 World Exposition.  Interestingly enough, women at that time, were not allowed to fence in competition in any of these weapons. It took almost an entire century before they were allowed to compete in all 3 weapons.





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Last modified: 31 Jan 2017