Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.

Fencing. The art of fence

Fencing. The art of fence (or of defence, as it was more commonly termed in earlier days), taken in its broad sense, means the art of wielding hand weapons for attack and defence. The attack is rightly included in the definition, for in no mode of fight is real "defence" possible without its combination with "offence." Thus the word fencing would refer to all scientific hand-to-hand fighting, including such branches as boxing and cudgelling. By convention it has, however, at all times been applied only to steel weapons retained in the hand, swords of all kinds, daggers, and hastate implements of war. In later days "fencing" has been restricted, in general use, to the dexterous management of the sword; and in England the meaning of the word is still further confined to mere foil-play.

As a matter of fact, the broad principles of the art of fence are the same for all hand weapons. They can, however, be put into practice to the greatest perfection of neatness and accuracy with light and well-balanced implements, like the modern duelling swords and sabres.

The historical evolution of the "theory" concerning the essence of true dexterity in arms illustrates well wherein perfection lies; the improvement in the rules of fence have always been in the direction of simplicity.

In England we had long a very excellent, sturdy, if somewhat rough, method of broadsword play, but the wielding of the rapier in Elizabethan days and of the small-sword in Georgian times was always best taught by foreigners - first by Italians, and later by Frenchmen. Hence the fact that most of our fencing terms are but slightly-modified Italian or French words.

The theory of attack and defence may be sumnarised as follows: -

The first notion which it is necessary to grasp is the importance of "time," "measure," and "guard" (tempo, misura, guardia; temps, mesure, and garde).

An all-important principle in all fencing is to keep the proper "measure" - namely, to remain out of easy reach when on the defensive, and, conversely, never to attempt the delivery of an attack without being well inside striking distance. This law, which savours perhaps of a truism, is nevertheless one generally neglected by inexperienced or over-impetuous fencers. The next is to keep proper "time" - namely, in the first place, to reduce all motion of either body or weapon to the smallest necessary, both in point of number and in extent; in the second, to balance those motions carefully on the adversary's in order to remain always in position to seize at once every opportunity of offence or defence. The third is to keep proper "guard." A man is on "guard" when, holding his weapon in front of him, he is so placed that he can deliver every regular attack and come to every recognised parry with the minimum expenditure of energy.

The fencer on guard has four main attacks to choose from, and similarly four "openings" to defend. These are defined by reference to what are conventionally called "lines" (linea; lignes). An attack, for instance, delivered above the adversary's hand is said to come in a "high line; "below the hand, in a "low line;" to the right of the hand, in "outside line;" to the left, in "inside line." Now every attack has its parry (parata, from parare, to protect; parade), just as every parry can be "deceived" or evaded by a "feint" (for it can never be too much repeated that there are no such things as "secret strokes" in swordsmanship). Four parries, so formed that the length of the defending weapon crosses the line of attack, are, strictly speaking, sufficient to meet all the requirements of defence. But in each of the four "lines" both attack and parry can be effected in two widely different positions of the hand - namely, either in supination (that is, with the nails turned upwards) or in pronation (nails turned downwards). Thus, there are actually eight natural ways of attacking and parrying sword (or any other "white arm") in hand - namely, two in each line, "carte" and "prime" (quarta and prima), in high-inside; "sixte" and "tierce" (sesta and terza), in high-outside; "septime" and "quinte" (settima and quinta), in low-inside; "second" and "octave," in low-outside. The terms used in England are the actual French words, derived from the older Italian schools. Carte, sixte, septime, and octave are in supination; the others in pronation.

The opponents on guard must, of course, be engaged in some definite manner with reference to "lines" and hand-position - that is, engaged in carte or tierce, or any other guard. (As a matter of fact, these two engagements, with that of sixte, are the most generally used.) The engagement covers, and naturally closes access to, one of the lines, but one only. To effect his purpose the attacking party must either seek another line or force an entry by "breaking the guard." This can be done by "beating" or by "binding" the adverse blade; but the best mode is to "disengage" (by passing the point under the adversary's hand), or by "over-cutting" (passing the point over) so as to come from outside inside, or vice-versa, of the opponent's sword.

To meet attacks in a given line (other than that covered by the guard), the defending party must use a parry (the words guard and parry are not synonymous, as so many swordsmen seem to think) - that is, he must move his weapon so as to cross the new line. If the parry be made by thus passing from one guard to another, it is called "simple" or "opposition;" but if it be made so as to bring the adverse blade back to the original engagement, it becomes a "circular" or "counter" parry (contro; contre). There are, of course, as many simple and counter parries as there are attacks and guards - namely, eight, as above recited, two for each line.

It is naturally open to the attacker to "feint" - that is, to menace in one line with a view to obtaining an opportunity of delivering the stroke in another. Success in this attempt depends on precision and superiority in speed. The attack has to be delivered (if the opponent keeps his proper measure) by means of the "lunge" (botta lunga; coup d'allonge) - that is, by a step taken with the advanced foot, whilst the leg in rear is straightened. An attack thus put in, if parried, exposes the attacking party to the repost (risposta, an answer; riposte), which is a return attack dealt without lunging. The parry to be effective without an unnecessary expenditure of energy should bring the "fort" (the strong, the half nearer the hand) of the defender's weapon to bear upon the "foible" (the weak, the half nearer the point) of the attacker's blade; this, of course, secures the advantage of lever. Of the eight attacks and parries only six are really in general use - carte, tierce, seconde, sixte, and septime. Quinte and prime are more rarely resorted to.

Simple as these principles may appear, it has taken some three hundred years of practical fighting to bring about their universal recognition. They apply, as was stated above, equally to all cutting and thrusting weapons.

[For a complete history of the art, consult Schools and Masters of Fence, by Egerton Castle (Bonn's Artists' Library), and, for a practical treatise, select The Swordsman, by A. Hurt on (Grevel and Co.).]