Data Collection: The Origins of Modern Footwork

At what point did fencing turn into an athletic sport? Could it be that the expansion of the fencing strip had anything to do with it?

FencingClassics is issuing a call for historical strip measurements!

Much has been made of the famous debate about elbow- and wrist-generated cuts in the two Italian schools of saber… and how the outcome re-defined competitive saber fencing.

But what about the other weapons? How about the complex, demanding footwork demanded of competitive fencers?

Dueling and early fencing were not huge fans of excessively moving your feet. Sure, there are passes, lunges retreats, voltes. But nothing that compare remotely to the action of a modern bout.

In fact, many schools focus on maintaining a fixed rear foot.  Johann Andreas Schmidt emphasizes the importance of the “piede fermo” in his Gründtlich lehrende Fechtschule of 1749: “Es muß einer mit festem Fuß stoßen können / weil es die gemeinste Art ist / so im Rauffen gebraucht  wird / weßwegen es auch das erste seyn soll / darinne sich einer übet.” (p. 203)

[One must be able to thrust with fixed foot / because it is the most common mode / that is used in scrapping / which means it must be the first / that one should practice.]

A glance into the fencing salles of the various European militaries points at one factor behind the limited footwork: Many salles are crowded and small affairs, offering only a few feet of space to retreat in.

Fencing around 1900: Not all fencers from the "classic" period had perfect form.

But civilian practice, too, may have been short on space: The planche (lit.: plank, board) depicted in many early illustrations occasionally is truly such: A narrow, relatively short board that provides a smooth and safe base for fencing bouts when placed on the ground outside, or over the rough plank floors of military installations.

What kind of footwork could you do if two retreats would trip you over the rim of the board? Certainly not as much as Gaudere and Noel were able to perform on their modern fencing strip above!

FencingClassics would like to spend more time on this… and is issuing a call for Wiki-action: Mind combing through your pre-1900 fencing sources for references to the proper dimensions of the fencing strip? We’ll be analyzing and posting the collected data right here on this site!



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