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Classical Fencing – A (not so) cutting edge sport and hobby

En garde! © donnaidh_sidhe - flickr.com
Classical fencing, unlike competitive fencing, can easily get you hooked: several types of weapons, clothing, rallies, historical re-enactment, staged duels, knights tournaments, and horse riding...

Grab your swords!

Epee, foil, sabre... Or perhaps a sword or a dagger? If you think you might be a distant relative of Sir Lancelot, you need an adrenaline rush, a thrill, a little exercise, or simply a new passion... why not try and see if you look good with the shiny blade.

Not only in war time...

Fencing is a relatively new sport. Yes! People have been cutting each other up into slices for four millennia – the sword was known to Egyptians about two thousand years BC, but it was not until the nineteenth century that people came up with the idea to fight for sport. Of course, in ancient times, there were hand weapon wielding schools. The first public events are also ancient history: medieval tournaments, and before that – ancient Rome and gladiator fight. But at the Coliseum, the duel would often end in death... Modern fencing, on the other hand, is a safe sport.

Hitting gold

Poles won their first Olympic medal in fencing in 1928. Also in recent years, there has not been a shortage of success, both at the Olympics and at European and World Championships. Live coverage of those (and other, often not televised) competitions can usually be watched on-line. The affair with this sport can begin at one of many fencing clubs. Fencing may also be – and is – practiced by people with physical disabilities. Just look at the website of the Sport Club for Integration of the University of Physical Education in Warsaw: http://www.integracyjny.pl/.

Epee, sabre or…

… a rapier with a parrying dagger. The vibe is slightly different to that in Olympic fencing, but that is why it is known as classical fencing: one that teaches the old art of duelling. No worries, nobody fights until first – or last – drop of blood as it used to be.


Grzegorz Czarny, coach and instructor at the Aramis Fencing School in Kraków: “Depending on the weapons, we use adequate protection; in the case of the sabre, they are serious hockey pads. The equipment is, like in competitive fencing, certified, but the weapons – sabres, rapiers, and parrying daggers – are made to order, and therefore quite expensive. The cost of a sabre is about PLN 460, a rapier with a parrying dagger – more than PLN 700. Aramis lends weapons to its students, and to sign up with a beginners group, all you need is sports clothes and gloves, such as cycling gloves. When progressing – after an exam – to an intermediate group, which takes from six months to a year, depending on how serious your approach to training is, you need to buy your own mask, which costs about PLN 350.”

Primum vivere!

Fencing may be taken up even by children. This type of fencing is very spectacular, and Aramis organizes shows and competitions (and even Polish championships).


Grzegorz: “The guiding principle of classical fencing is primum vivere, “first live”, which means that you must hit so as not to be hit. This is the main – in addition to the types of weapons used – difference from competitive fencing, in which if you hit the opponent half a second earlier than the opponents hits you, a point is awarded only to you. Classical fencing, which is practiced at Aramis, is intended to imitate a real fight. And in a real duel, both opponents might die by hitting each other at the same time.”

Dripping in sweat

Great emphasis is placed on the sporty nature of the discipline, therefore training focuses not only on exercise with hand weapons, but also on overall physical fitness and strength. Such workout pays off with good health!


Grzegorz: “First, participants learn the correct position, footwork, parries, and attacks, using wooden practice weapons. Then it’s time to practice simple attack, compound attack, counterattack, different parries, inquartata, passata di sotto, and many others. Technique and tactics are very important, as well as good physical condition, which, however, is acquired during training.”


Fencing schools also organize training camps and tournaments, so, if you fancy, you can become seriously engaged, together with people who share this passion. And if you want to go back in time...

Back in the day

If you find it hard to feel the atmosphere of the old duels training at a club or at a gym, you can go back in time to medieval knights or learn about the traditions of the Slavs, Celts, and Hussars ... Throughout Poland, there are brotherhoods of knights and group that associate fans of particular historical periods or armed formations, such as the Kraków Knight Banner http://www.bractwo-rycerskie.pl/start.html, the Pack of Old Polish Gentry in Małopolska http://www.zgrajasarmacka.com, or the Banner of Jakub Wejcher http://choragiewwejhera.kaszuby.pl, which keeps recruiting at https://www.facebook.com/ChoragiewJakubaWejhera

They reconstruct old armour and weapons, and, of course, re-enact knight fights, so you can experience the battle of the Korzkiew castle or the storm the Zamość fortress https://www.facebook.com/wojtek.baranowski.52/media_set?set=a.401277009923614.102938.100001239559061&type=1. Knight fights between brotherhoods are more of a fun event than a real tournament as there are no, unlike in competitive and classical fencing, well-defined international or national rules. The Slavs and Vikings Festival is hugely popular, with its very exciting battles. For a few days, you can also visit reconstructed village of ancient tribes. The biggest re-enactment in Poland is the Battle of Grunwald, which was, incidentally, one of the largest battles of medieval Europe. It attracts more than a thousand participants!

Bitwa Pod Grunwaldem 1410 - Inscenizacja - Grunwald 2013 (Tannenberg)

There is much more to be said on the topic – for example, there are places where you can learn to use very rare types of hand weapons, such as the Chinese butterfly sword (you fight with two swords at a time, using the Wing Chun martial art) – but this is another story...


Łukasz Smogorowski