Massed Assault: The Choreography of Group Instruction

Group class vs. individual lesson?

The armed and police forces of the world had their choices made for them by virtue of the very number of recruits needing instruction.

But how did they get them to look good from a distance…

There are two basic approaches to teaching the handling of the sword: The individual approach of turning a student into a competent athlete or artist via one-on-one progressive instruction.

And the approach of turning a mass of raw recruits into functional literates of the sword via group drill in preset basic patterns .

Totalitarianism (and American cheerleading choreographers) instinctively grasped the beauty and appeal that could be distilled from a mass of people doing the same moves in an orchestrated fashion. From Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens to the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, moving pictures have liked the aesthetic reduction of the individual into a smoothly functioning cog in a machine.

Looking good for Il Duce: "The Metropolitan Police force puts on a stirring exhibition to celebrate the founding of the famous organization. Rome, Italy."—c. 1936

One of the rare and early samples of fencing’s mass choreography in the Amberger Collection is a snippet of film cut from a 1935-37 newsreel, featuring a saber exhibition by the Rome Metropolitan Police. The slug accompanying the 35mm negative strip reads:

“The Metropolitan Police force puts on a stirring exhibition to celebrate the founding of the famous organization. Rome, Italy.”

(Maybe our Italian readers—you know who you are!—could help us dating this even more closely! Grazie!)

As a magnifying click on the above picture will show, the weapon used in this athletic exhibition is modern-style straight-bladed sports saber, not the famous sciabola di terreno.

The secret to the eye-pleasing mastery of spatial relation is revealed in a close-up: A complex grid of chalk lines on the muddy ground keeps the individual fencer from straying and spoiling the clean line—another triumph of the will of the fencing master, the artistic director, and groundskeeper Luigi and his chalk applicator.

 

3 responses to “Massed Assault: The Choreography of Group Instruction

  1. Christoph Amberger

    Reblogged this on Fencer's Magazine and commented:

    It’s fallen a bit out of fashion… but fencing used to be BIG in choreographed exhibitions…

  2. Ian Dundrillon

    I think choreography and combat are mutually exclusive terms. I make it a point not to confuse the two, either in philosophy or execution.

  3. Modern group instruction in fencing is relatively recent.

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