by J. Christoph Amberger
Clearly, swordplay for artistic purposes and swordplay intended to dispatch an opponent as soon and swiftly as possibly not only have different objectives, but also demand a different mental approach from the fighter. In life-and-death fights, results were all that counted. This accounts for the importance of the botto secreta through all ages in which combat to the death was a more likely scenario than extended engagment in ritualized Olympic or Olympian environments.
Modern épée fencers, for example, no longer have to worry about actual injuries, so attacks below the waist-line can be executed more freely and frequently than would have been possible or desirable in an actual duel with smallswords or épées de combat.
Aldo Nadi commented on the alienation between real combat and the abstract art of fencing:
"True, the same weapons are used in both (sports fencing and duelling). Yet, but for the technical foundations, they constitute two different worlds hardly compatible with each other. (...) In a duel, the fencer is compelled to execute an ultra-careful form of fencing, which, indeed, is an almost unworthy expression of the science he knows. No matter how courageous and great, the all-out movements with which he nearly always scores in a bout would be unthinkable in a duel, because far too risky."The rules of modern fencing were derived from late forms of ritualized armed encounters that were strictly regulated by codices of honor, and enforced by seconds, umpires, and the nemesis of spectators. These dictates of prudence and caution translated into the fixed regulations and target definitions as fencing developed from a fighting art into a competitive sport. Barbasetti probably put it best in his The Art of the Foil:
"The art [became] a sport rather than a pure and direct preparation for combat. This sport has become quite complicated and it has become necessary to regulate it by rules and former conventions, to make it artistic. This explains the origins of the rules."
The two main distinctions in combative edged-weapons systems are antagonistic and agonistic scenarios. In antagonistic scenarios, the opponent is considered hostile, posing a real or imagined threat to life, bodily integrity, or status. In agonistic scenarios, the level of hostility is low. The opponent is either a competitor (sports fencing) or even a collaborator (theatric fencing).
I. Antagonistic combat
Antagonistic scenarios can be segmented into the following sub-groups:
Agonistic scenarios comprise the following:
-J. Christoph Amberger is the publisher of the quarterly "Hammerterz Forum, The International Newsletter for the Fencing Collector" and the author of "The Secret History of the Sword". He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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