The martial art, sport form of Skirmishing is rapidly growing in today's market for Historical Fencing.

Spawned by research into Historical Stage-Combat, Skirmishing is reflective of the fight styles of the last five hundred years, and uses heavy weight weapons similar to the classic Rapier of the English Civil War and lighter weight weapons more indicative of the Smallsword Period.

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Skirmishing Foundations
A Brief Explanation

Constantly changing as it develops, Skirmishing is designed to promote the use of the techniques of 15th-18th century dueling as an alternative to modern fence. It is not designed to replace it or even compete with what fencing has become; it is simply a return to the roots of personal blade combat.

The question has been brought up, "How does Skirmishing differ from unsafe fencing?" As you will see, Skirmishing is as safe in its own right as fencing is to the fencer.

Years ago, Director Gareth Thomas began training in stage combat choreography, attempting to use weapons that were as close historical examples as he could find. Keeping in mind the flash and flamboyance the audience demands, Gareth always attempted to teach the audience something of the history of dueling as well as entertain.

In doing so, he discovered many moves, counters, body voids and tricks at blade combat that, while perfectly acceptable in the salle of the 16th century, would get a modern fencer thrown off the strip. The old schools were not designed to promote bladework as a sport, they existed to teach a man how to stay alive.

Between workshops that teach theatrically safe versions of period moves and poring over many historical texts on rapier and smallsword, Skirmishing began to develop. Skirmishing is designed to present the student of historic dueling with a close approximation of how it would have felt to be involved in a duel of honor, or back alley confrontation where anything goes.

That is not to say that safety measures are ignored. In fact, the issue of safety is something that comes up quite often. For some reason, people tend to believe that you cannot get seriously hurt fencing. Fencing is not entirely safe to begin with, and as we have stepped away from modern fence to develop Skirmishing, so we have had to go that extra step to provide proper protection while developing these skills.

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Weapons Guidelines

A variety of weapons have been incorporated into Skirmishing, the most popular at this time being extra-wide epee blades with "percoraro" sabre hilts. This weapon allows some combination of smallsword /sabre to be used and is extremely cost efficient for the beginner. Bearing in mind that a smallsword was not meant to be used as a sabre, we must point out that the weapon in use here is designed to fulfill both functions as they are called for, again being cost effective for beginners. Upgrading to a smallsword-style hilt is always an open option, provided the blade, for safety reasons remains either an epee, or wide epee.

NOTE: At this time, lightweight Skirmishing blades are restricted to epee or wide epee (musketeer) blades. Diamond blades and schlager blades are under consideration.

The second category is designed for a more knowledgeable student and takes greater care in its safety precautions: Historic Early Rapier.

These weapons vary in hilt design and are of proper weight and balance befitting rapiers from the late 1400's through the mid 1600's the blades are thicker, heavier, and range from 38" to 42".

In both cases, modifications are needed in the fencing protection of today to protect the Skirmisher while maintaining the freedom of movement necessary to the style of fight.

NOTE: Heavy blades are under R/D at this time.

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Protective Gear

Clothing is based upon a combination of modern and period fencing protection, with some personal touches added. Basic fencing clothing is often used, but with the following additions.

Heavier pants or at least extra protection around the thighs. In demo format this may be aquired by the use of thigh-high leather boots.

A leather "dueling jack" of chap weight over or in place of the fencing jacket. The Demo Teams jacks are black, with either nickel or gilt buckles. (Snaps and Velcro are too unreliable in this application.) The jack has one sleeve, being buckles on over the parrying arm. The blade arm is exposed from the elbow to wrist for maximum freedom of movement. Gloves are worn at all times.

The face protection is a modern 3-weapon fencing mask, which may be reinforced with more padding or coverage as the fighter desires. While these are appropriate for light weapon Skirmishing, fabrication of something stronger is in the works for historic rapier combat. Thrusts to the face, while taught, are seldom if ever used in Skirmishing due to safety precautions.

Off-handed weapons may also include a second Sword, Dagger, Buckler, or Cloak.

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Fight Format Guidelines:

Two formats are used in Skirmishing: Private and Judicial.

Judicial Format

Judicial takes on the appearance of a formal duel, using Seconds and an Adjudicator.

To win a Skirmish under the Judicial Format, two primary targets must be hit, or six secondary targets.

This promotes paying closer attention to good form, and not simply whacking away at secondary targets until you win.


In a Judicial Skirmishing bout there are assigned placements for all involved; fighters, Adjudicators and Seconds.

The fighters stand opposite one another in a stance similar to the modern fencing stance, but wider, presenting more of the body, but allowing for the use of the off hand. The distance between them is approximately three feet between extended blade tips (from the salute position)

The Adjudicator positions himself to one side, approximately six feet from the fighters, and centered so as to see as much of the action as he may. The Adjudicator may move freely during the Skirmish. After a halt is called he will restore the fighters to their original distance or resume from where they left off at his/her discretion.

The Seconds will stand beside their own fighter, keeping a distance of not less than six feet. If their fighter is right-handed they will stand upon the left, or open side and are to concentrate on the actions of their fighter. We are not so concerned with the Second favouring his fighter regarding touches as we are with the Second's ability to advise his fighter between Skirmishs or touches. The Second's primary concern in the Skirmish is the honor and safety of his fighter, not watching for touches. By placing him next to his own man on the "open side" he is able to advise his fighter in the strengths or weaknesses of either duelist.

All Skirmishing rules apply in either case.

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Private Format

Private relies on the "Honor Method" of touches, and may or may not use Seconds.

To win a Skirmish, one primary target must be hit, or four secondary targets.


It is the responsibility of the Skirmisher to present him/herself for the duel properly prepared. The Skirmisher must be properly attired.

  • The weapons of each fighter must conform to current Skirmisher safety codes and be of proper specification as described under WEAPONRY. It shall be agreed upon in advance which of the following categories the fight will fall into:
    • Single Blade
    • Blade and Dagger
    • Blade and Buckler
    • Blade and Cloak
    • Case of Blades
  • The Skirmisher will have correct name, address, and phone number registered with the Adjudicator.
  • Equipment (masks, weapons, protection will be inspected at prior to the Skirmish by the Adjudicator. Seconds have the option to inspect the above items as well.
  • The Skirmishers will have a release on file in the event of injuries, holding the opponent, Seconds, Adjudicator and the Organization blameless, and stating that the fighter understands the risks involved.
  • The Skirmisher will abide by the decision of the Adjudicator. If either fighter wishes a different Adjudicator, it must be stated prior to engagement. If there is no other Adjudicator available, and both parties agree, the fight may be postponed.

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In modern non-electric fencing we are given a director and four judges. There is a vote system whereby the judges can actually influence to some degree the director's decision. This is not the case in Skirmishing. In a judicial duel there will be the Adjudicator and two Seconds; one for each fighter. The Adjudicator watches all the actions of the duelists, calling halts when contact is made or when illegal moves occur.

  • The Adjudicator will preside over any Judicial duel to be sure the guidelines are adhered to. Adjudicator must have full knowledge of the rules regarding both scoring and conduct.
  • His/her decision is foremost and final. Unsolicited debates with the Adjudicator by either the Seconds or the fighters will result in a penalty.
  • From time to time the Adjudicator may ask the opinion of one of the Seconds as to a particular action; only then will the Second's input be allowed. It is not the primary job of the Seconds to judge the duel.
  • The Adjudicator may conduct secondary inspections of the weapons at any time, or at the request of the fighter or Second.
  • The Adjudicator may temporarily halt or end a fight at his/her discretion, depending upon arising conditions.

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The duty of the Second is to basically "squire" the fighter. This includes, but is not limited to: weapons safety and availability; minor first aid; coaching; and keeping an accurate record of their fighter's Skirmishs, i.e., who they fought and when, weapons used, and the outcome. This will be recorded in the Skirmishing files for future reference.

  • Seconds are not required for a private bout, but their presence is recommended. One Second is allowed per fighter.
  • Seconds will act as go-betweens for the fighters prior to the bout, setting up the choice of weapons, and conferring with the Adjudicator. They may act as coaches, advisors, and medical-aides between bouts, but may not interfere with a Skirmish in progress through either word or action.
  • Seconds must be attentive to the Skirmish at all times, and be prepared to give their opinion if asked by the Adjudicator. Unlike modern line judges, Seconds do not comment on touches unless solicited by the Adjudicator.
  • The only times Seconds may call halts to the action are if emergencies occur, such as: the fighters move beyond reasonable bounds into an unsafe area; a weapon breaks; a flaw is spotted regarding a fighter's protection, i.e., buckles left undone or mask damage; or an outside hazard arises to either fighters or bystanders.
  • Seconds will not be allowed to videotape, as that is not their place; but fighters may opt to have their Skirmishs taped for reviewing at their own cost, provided it does not interfere with the fight. The Adjudicator controls this also, and prior permission is required.

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There is no time limit to the fight. The action will continue until one fighter wins, or the other concedes. Long avoidance and purposeful delays will result in penalties being issued by the Adjudicator. The duel ends when the final point is awarded by the Adjudicator.

  • The Judicial Field will be well lit and level; there will be no linear boundaries set, however a circle of twenty feet in diameter will be used in circumstances where several judicial duels are taking place, or where there are bystanders. Though no penalty will be issued for leaving the boundaries accidentally, a halt will be called by the Adjudicator. Fleeing the field will be penalized.
  • All Skirmishs will begin and end by command of the Adjudicator. False starts will be penalized.
  • Skirmishers will begin the fight with a distance of three feet between extended blade tips.
  • The Skirmisher may ask for a brief time-out between touches, the time being no longer than one minute. At this time fighters may confer with their Seconds.

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Rules & Regulations


In trying to remain true to what would or would not have been a serious wound, Skirmishing has done away with point scores, concentrating on target area and the "first strike" scenario.

In modern fence, all touches are regarded with equal value, regardless of the type of attack used or the area in which it lands. With this in mind, Skirmishing has created a more historic value to these two areas, promoting the use of the most effective attacks in the shortest amount of time.

There are two kinds of scoring used in Skirmishing; Primary and Secondary. This is to say that in a true duel, there are areas of the body that would render a fighter disabled, and areas where a fighter could be hit and perhaps slowed, but not defeated.

The entire body is target, with a higher value placed upon the torso and head. These are called Primary Targets. A lesser value is placed on the extremities; arms, legs, fingers, and toes. These are called Secondary Targets. While groin is target, it is, in judicial duels, looked on as unfavourable.

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Primary Target & Touches

Primary Target area is recognised as an area where a wound would do the greatest damage, interfering most with the fighter's ability to continue. Historically, many cuts and lacerations might occur without halting the fight, while generally a good solid thrust to the body or slash across the face would make the duel uncontinuable.

Skirmishing applies those same considerations.

Primary Touches will be awarded for the following:

  • 1) Direct thrust to the torso (front or back)
  • 2) Cut landing upon the face mask front. (Front is considered forehead to chin, cheek to cheek)

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Secondary Target & Touches

Secondary Target areas are those that, while the they may take a wound in the form of either a cut or thrust, they would be unlikely to halt the determined duelist. This is historically arguable of course, but it is the best possible means to conduct accurate duels.

Some fight re-creation groups hold with limiting the use of a limb when hit, or forbidding its use altogether. This action normally signifies a hit with a much heavier weapon than a rapier or smallsword. Being struck in a limb, will not negate the use of that limb, as during a true duel, the adrenaline rush alone would enable a fighter to keep using a wounded arm or leg well into the next phase of the fight.

Secondary Touches will be awarded for the following:

  • 1) Cut or thrust to limb or extremities
  • 2) Cut to torso
  • 3) Cut to either side of the head or the top and back of the head.

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Awarding of Touches

Touches will be awarded to according to the seriousness of the touch. If a cut lands before a thrust, the thrust will be counted first.

In the case of simultaneous attacks, both hits are counted as they would be in a real duel.

If both fighters engage and hit within seconds of each other, both will be awarded hits in connection with their actions. For example: Fighter A and Fighter B lunge at each other. Fighter A lands a slash across the chest just seconds before Fighter B cuts across Fighter A's face.

Fighter B is awarded the hit to a primary target, and Fighter A is awarded a hit to a secondary, as in a true duel, both hits would have been valid.

In the next move, Fighter A thrusts and lands on Fighter B's chest, as Fighter B does likewise at the exact same time. Both are awarded Primary hits, but as it is Fighter B's second hit in a Primary spot, Fighter B wins.

If this is getting complicated, let us explain again the Primary and Secondary attacks:

Primary: (2 hits to win)

  • Cuts to face, front only
  • Thrusts to torso, front or back
  • Cut to throat, front only

Secondary: (6 hits to win)

  • Cuts to torso, front or back
  • Cuts or thrusts to any extremities


There are no combination moves at this time, i.e., one primary and three secondaries to win, etc. etc.

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General Regulations for Both Formats

To avoid technical legal jargon this is, simply put, what you may and may not do during Skirmishing:

  • Seizure of an opponent's blade is allowed, provided you follow up immediately with an attack of your own.
  • Grappling, or wrestling with the blades is not allowed.
  • Tripping, punching (with either hand) kicking and head-butting are not allowed. This is a duel with blades, not the WWF.
  • Dropping to one or both knees in defense is allowed.
  • Rolling into your opponent to trip them is not allowed.
  • Fleche is allowed, but not highly recommended.
  • Pommel hits and bell-guard swings are not allowed.
  • Strikes with the parrying hand, dagger or buckler are not allowed. The exception to this rule is when both opponents are using light, flexi-daggers.
  • Daggers may be no more than 15 inches long.
  • Completely turning your back on an opponent is not allowed.
  • Throwing anything at your opponent, Seconds or Adjudicator is not allowed.
  • Removing your mask before a halt is called is not allowed. If you wish to halt duel, withdraw from fighting stance and salute while stamping one foot.
  • Changing weapons between bouts is allowed, provided it is another of the same weapon and does not alter the agreed upon fight style.
Example: you cannot exchange your buckler for a dagger mid-fight, but you may change to a better buckler of equal size.
  • Whipping and flicking are not allowed.
  • Feigning injuries to mislead your opponent or the Adjudicator is not allowed.
  • Thrust must land point-on to be considered a thrust. If your opponent voids and your thrust lands on edge, it is a cut, regardless of intent.
  • Adjudicator will issue only two warnings before banning a duelist from the fight. The warnings need not be for the same offense. On the third offense, the duelist is removed, and a loss registered.
  • Foul language, undirected or not, is not allowed.
  • Leaving the strip before being dismissed is not allowed. No one shall storm off in a huff because they lost, or are unhappy with the results.
  • No one may argue with the Adjudicator.
  • Seconds may not interfere with the fight, either physically or verbally.
  • A different Adjudicator may be chosen only if both duelists agree. If no other Adjudicator can be found, the fight may be postponed.
  • No one shall Skirmish with any faulty equipment or faulty safety gear. The weapons and the gear are subject to inspection by all parties prior to the Skirmish, and anyone may reserve the right to cancel a Skirmish because of unfit weapons or gear.
  • Intentional thrusts at the head are not allowed.
  • Personal affects, such as scarves, badges, sashes, etc. are allowed providing they do not interfere with target areas. Badges and insignias are to be worn on the parrying sleeve only.

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Benefits of Skirmishing

The history student, fencing historian and stage fight choreographer all benefit from this type of fighting. Students have already used this style in studying the effectiveness of period attitudes on fencing, and choreographers have used Skirmishing to find out exactly what an attack or response would be in a given situation. Added to the excitement of simply learning to fight this way, Skirmishing has a valid future in recreating the past.


"The Skirmishers' Guide to Modern Dueling", due out 1998, will elaborate on, and possibly amend some of the information on this List. This is designed to be a temporary overview to get you started, and to familiarize yourself with the techniques involved. The guidebook will include more in-depth coverage of moves, weapon handling and historical info as well as the guidelines for operating Skirmishing Sessions in the Judicial format.

Skirmishers is not affiliated with the Society for Creative Anachronism, or any particular re-enactment or historical fencing group. The information contained herein is for informative purposes, and no responsibility is assumed by the Director or Associates for the application of any information contained herein.

Gareth Thomas, co-founder of The Order of the Black Rose, in 1989, and Skirmishers, in 1994, is a fight choreographer in Eugene, Oregon. He is available for training and fight choreography and can be reached at

Blackfriars' On-Line Skirmishers Stage Combat Mailing List
Skirmishing-the Sport Order of The Black Rose
Blackfriars' Journal-Bay Area Edition Oddments & Bodkins

Last updated March 26, 1998. For questions on this site contact Cecily M. McMahan, Media & Marketing Director for Skirmishers.

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