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Thread: Fencing

  1. #31
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    a Spanish inquisition?

    The Spanish school went the way of the brontosaurus a few centuries ago. They haven't been able to produce any fencers of note since the days of the long rapier. There are a few revivalists, like Martinez, but many question their lineage and authenticity (personally, I have no real opinion on Martinez since he came out after I left the fencing world). Modern fencing has been dominated by the French, Italians, Russians and Hungarians for a long time now.

    The one thing I will say in favor of the Spanish school is that it had some great art - beautiful plates of their mystic circles - but as a modern study, it's obsolete.
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  2. #32
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    Interesting. I have zero knowledge of fencing, so forgive me if this is a laymen's question . . . why is it obsolete? Rule changes, et al?
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  3. #33
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    Why did the brontosaurus die?

    Too **** big, I'd guess. The standard notion of the demise of the Spanish school was that it became too theoretical. It was based mainly on arcane patterns of footwork apparently, what became known as mystic circles. Fencers would practice these footwork patterns with arm extended, drilling over and over again. From a CMA perspective, it makes a lot of sense, actually. And it did produce some fantasitc fencers centuries ago. But then, it got weighed down with theory to the point that astrological factors were calculated into duelling - sort of akin to consulting feng shui before battle (what Sun Tzu opposed some 2000+ years ago). Eventually the spanish school became too cumbersome. Most consider it lost. Revivalists are looked on with the same skepticism that we might look on someone who claims to have 'rediscovered' wing chun skirt fighting techniques.

    I'd add that the weapon changed in the last century. As steel became stronger and more flexible, they moved to lighter weapons. Contrary to the myth, lighter and faster is better, especially with a sharp. You don't need power with a sharp - the sharp does all the work. You just need speed and accuracy. The Spanish school reigne with people were still using long rapier - and I do mean long, some up to 44+ inches.

    FWIW, fencing is an Olympic sport and has been since it's inception. This means that the masters, judges and competitors are strictly certified and regulated on an international level. There are some wayward groups, sort of SCA types, who try to do their own thing like historical fencing, but even though some of them have done some great research, they haven't been able to make the slightest mark on the fencing world. As a weak metaphor, take boxing for example. A century ago, we boxed differently (see the Boxing article in our e-zine). While these ancient schools of boxing are interesting from a historic standpoint, you don't see Lennox Lewis adopt a classical guard position. Now, you can argue that in bare-knuckle days, the classic guard was more useful, just like you can argue in long rapier days, the Sapnish school was more useful. but you can aruge that until you're blue in the face - it won't do crap for you in today's ring (or today's fencing strip).

    What's more, today's fencing is electrified, meaning that the weapons are rigged with electronic detectors to reveal unquestionably when a palpable hit has been scored. Now we can register hits that were too fast for the human eye, but would have produced blood on the field of play. That has changed the game significantly. Some argue that we've lost classical form (they do that 'til they're blue in the face too).
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  4. #34
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    Very interesting.

    Thanks for the info.
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  5. #35
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    Very intresting. By any chance Gene would that same medafore work with practicing forms and katas over and over until you lose all originality in battle.
    Style is only defined by the limitations of a system of fighting and defending. So when in medatation ask yourself not "what are the weaknesses of thine enemy" but rather so what are your own weaknesses

  6. #36
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    metaphors

    I don't see a connection. First of all, practicing something over and over is really the only way to get it. In fencing, it may be a certain combination, like a beat in 4 with ballestra, feint in 6, lunge. In boxing, it might be a right cross, left cross, right uppercut. You got to practice. Period. What makes CMA and many asian arts unique is the forms. Forms are really just elongated combos. CMA adds internal TCM principles too, but for the sake of this argument, let's just look at the combos. Originality in battle is not really important - you can always think of original ways to lose. Spontaneity, perhaps, is what you mean, at least in the context of appropriate spontaneity (again, you can spontaneously lose). You don't want to be a predictable 'robot' but this can come from forms practice or combo practice, if you practice it like a robot. It's all a matter of how you practice, what your intention is.

    Now with the demise of the Spanish school, I suppose you could draw an analogy to some forms practice, but I'd difer on the point that the Spanish school didn't advocate it as a health practice like CMA. Sure, all sports say that they make you healthier - fencing too, even back then. But the TCM angle of CMA allows for the existence of, say tai chi, as strictly a health practice. That's very unique, really. You don't see cardio-kickboxing or MMA being taught at old folks homes and senior centers. Also there was the technological change, the ability to make better swords. That really didn't affect CMA in the same way that it did fencing. So while you can make an analogy, I think it would be a faulty one.
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  7. #37
    Have you trained in or 'touched swords' against the Spanish school?

    Your description of it sounds like the popular polemics against it, rather than a description of the style itself. For example, the footwork is actually very simple - certainly no more complex than French or Italian footwork.

    As for being defunct, this simply isn't the case. Every year there is a week-long retreat in California in Spanish rapier, and it is taught in a handfull of other workshops throughout the year, and of course regularly in New York. Of the various people who've been exposed to it through these events, I haven't heard a single negative review - and at each event, there are tournaments where Spanish practitioners hold their own against the more common Italian, French, and English stylists.

    If you are arguing against historical work on swordsmanship in general, there is nothing unique in the Spanish case - the other European national styles have been just as lost as the Spanish ones. Like you say though - you can argue until you're blue in the face, and it doesn't change the simple fact that fencers trained in the Spanish style compete successfully against those trained in other styles.

    As for a lighter, smaller blade being superior, I don't think the situation is quite so simple. As you noted, there is a dynamic interaction between the characteristics of the style, the characteristics of the weapon, and the environment in which they were being used. One of the things that permitted swords to become smaller and lighter is that their use became restricted to the duel - which means the wielder can reliably assume he'll be facing a weapon similar to his own. The rapier pre-dated this evolution, and has characteristics that reflect the necessity of facing a variety of large, heavy weapons.

    Perhaps are you conflating modern fencing and historical european swordsmanship? The two are significantly different. There's no foreseeable way the Spanish style, or any comparable historical method, could have much of an impact on the modern fencing community - their weapons and methods are not permitted in the context of modern fencing rules.

    BTW, the Spanish style did not just disappear. As in the other countries, the rapier style evolved into a smallsword style there straight through the 1800s.

    For interest here are some pictures of Dan Inosanto studying Spanish rapier.
    Last edited by Christopher M; 05-28-2004 at 06:14 AM.

  8. #38
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    Greetings..

    Thanks, Chris.. a fascinating link..

    Be well..
    TaiChiBob.. "the teacher that is not also a student is neither"

  9. #39
    People may be interested in checking out this for some hands-on experience in these traditions.

  10. #40

    spanish

    Gene handled that beautifully. I have a hard time keeping the sarcasm out of my replies (when Spanish Fly goes on about the fact that a handful of
    recreationists having a weekend retreat in California makes their interpretation valid, I would have mentioned that there are several weekend workshops every year in California that purport to teach you how to levitate, no doubt using ancient pricipals as well).

    These guys all suffer from the "the only world that exists is the little one that I can see outside my front door" and have no idea of the scope and depth of modern fencing because of the deliberately constricted views of a few posseurs. They argue for their limitations and they get them, every time.

    The boxing analogy is very apt, I think. In both boxing and fencing (and for that matter, any sparring sport) you have immediate feedback if you do something
    wrong or right. That is why boxing has developed as it has; the person who is still standing at the end of the match is right. You can argue against that until
    you are blue in the face, but unless you are man enough to get in the ring and take on the pervailing style and win, you are just a whiner and a coward.

    I have always fenced with any classical fencer that had the courage to pit his skill against mine and always had a very enjoyable bout and pretty much wiped
    the floor with them. The sad thing is that several of the "Classical" instructors that I have met encourage their students NOT to fence outside of their little
    enclaves. That does not teach their students to analyze and adapt, which are the hallmarks of a successful fighter.

    They say they teach fencing as if they were going to fight a real duel, but neglect many of the realities of being in a fight: That faster and stronger people have an advantage. Better footwork, bigger advantage. More practice in analysis and adaptation, more success in a fight.

    Much easier to form you own little associations and groups, exclude any practioner of the prevailing style, certify yourselves as "Masters", set up your
    own rules and argue with other little groups about them, rather than adapting your style.

    These are the people who would best enjoy forms/kata type work. Making pretty actions as the first priority, with actually hitting your opponent as a secondary priority. In the last two scuffles I enjoyed here in the Big, Bad City I can't say that I was concerned about my form or how the on-lookers would rate the my actions, but on the efficiency of subduing my opponent. Most of the "classical" espouse a martial stance and then do things that are counter to winning a fight: go to a limited target, go slow enough for people to see it, do not do any cross-training to get faster or stronger, adopt stiff postures, move at one tempo (I have yet to see any tempo change among the annointed).

    Whew! That is my rant, and I'm sticking to it.

  11. #41

    Re: spanish

    Originally posted by decafyeti
    Much easier to form you own little associations and groups, exclude any practioner of the prevailing style, certify yourselves as "Masters", set up your
    own rules and argue with other little groups about them, rather than adapting your style.
    I agree. You may note it's not the classical or historical guys doing the excluding here.

  12. #42
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    Actually, it is.

    The so-called classical/historical guys don't play. They don't come out to compete. Consequently, they don't lose.

    Now FWIW, we should note that modern fencing is quite different than CMA. It has a long history as a sport and a well documented body of literature that goes back for centuries. CMA's history is spotty at best and the methods of tournaments are fairly new; wushu has only been around since the 70's, sanda/sanshou since the 90's, UFC even hasn't been around that long and prior modern tournaments don't go back before WWII really, if even that far (I'd date it more around the Korean War for it to really take hold here in the USA). But fencing, we've all been playing the same mutually agreed upon game for quite some time. By all, I mean the entire world, not just the European nations, but everyone, including China (in fact, China had a great female Olympiad recently, gold medalist Luan Jujie.) Now, of course, there have been changes, most recently electrical scoring, but fencing has been part of the modern Olympics since its inception, not just as fencing alone, but also as part of pentathalon.

    Now when it comes to the Spanish school, well, I find it kind of funny because no one was talking about it when I was fencing. I retired from fencing around the late eighties, so to find a new 'historical' school emerge since I've left the game is funny. To give you some perspective, I wasn't your average fencer. I was captain of the Epee squad for SJSU and am certified as a provost master both by the FIE and the U.S. Army ROTC. This means was not only a competitor (although I'll admit my competitive record was lackluster) but I also underwent an intensive two-year training program to get my provost degree which culminated in the submission of the thesis and a gruelling day-long examination. Of course, I taught fencing a little too, but again to be honest, not that much. Then I made my living making and selling fencing equipment for about 5 years at American Fencer's Supply. I had given up fencing around the time I was working there, focusing more on CMA. I left that company in the early 90's. At that point, no one was talking about Spanish fencing at all. It was sort of an aside note in the historical review that I underwent for my masters, but that's it. My only research into it was working on Thibault's Mysterious Circle, which I did for a shirt design and a mural for American Fencer's.

    So when you talk about hands on experience, we're all for out. Come on out and play. I'm sure there's plenty of fencing tournaments that you can participate in. Rack up some gold. Then people will start to respect the school again.
    Gene Ching
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  13. #43

    Re: Actually, it is.

    Originally posted by GeneChing
    The so-called classical/historical guys don't play. They don't come out to compete. Consequently, they don't lose.
    They can't compete with modern rules because modern rules forbids their techniques. They hold open tournaments which don't forbid modern techniques and which modern trained fencers can (and do) join. This seems like the modern guys doing the excluding.

    I'm sorry you didn't hear about Spanish fencing. I'm not entirely sure what your point is: the world is not limited by your familiarity.
    Last edited by Christopher M; 06-08-2004 at 05:02 AM.

  14. #44
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    Thoughts of the Uninformed . . .

    . . . first, great posts.

    Second, I wanna do some Spanish fencing. It looks cool, and the Demystification article on it was certainly interesting.
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  15. #45
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    Why do you think those techniques are forbidden?

    Here's the point. I'm very familiar with fencing up until about a decade ago, about as familiar as you could be. I had to be, it's where I earned my living. Nobody talked about the Spanish because they weren't even on the map then. The revitalization of the Spanish school is very recent. No, the world may not be limited by my familiarity, but the fencing world is fairly narrow, so it's not hard to be that familiar with it all. Just look at the history of fencing, you won't find much mention of the Spanish school in the last century. Don't make me dust off my Thimm to cite some dates...

    Let's look at boxing again. Imagine somebody wanted to use a technique forbidden by modern rules, like say 'elbows'. Of course, the international boxing world would disavow them because it wasn't boxing, so this elbow school did it's own open tournaments and called it elbonian boxing. Let's say be generous and say there are a 1000 people who participate in elbonian boxing. These elbonian boxers never manage to secure any significant wins in any international competition. How do you think the boxing world will react? They'd say "Why should we play this new elbonian boxing game? Why can't you guys play the original game? Is your style to weak to stand up in the normal game?"

    The fencing world is much older than the boxing world. We have internationally accepted rules, internationally recognized certification programs for instructors, provosts and masters, and a worldwide following. In short, we are very well established in the world. Can you call your new game something else? SCA or something? Fencing is neatly defined. The whole use of the term "modern fencing' is a bit silly. There's fencing. Then there's people who do stuff with fencing swords. Just like there's boxing and people who do stuff with boxing gloves.

    Plus you really lost me here -
    They hold open tournaments which don't forbid modern techniques and which modern trained fencers can (and do) join. This seems like the modern guys doing the excluding.
    - If some 'modern' fencers are joining, who's doing the excluding?
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