Main / Fencing / Historical essays / Mensur fencing
Mensur fencing

Mensur fencing

A form of noble duel mensur fencing was widespread in Germany during the 16th century among young people, particularly in the student community. (The word originated from German Mensurfechten fencing in confined space). Duelists wore protective eyepieces with metallic netting. The chest and neck were protected by a leather chest guard and a thick scarf. They wielded prototypes of the saber "schlagers" with sharply pointed ends. Opponents faced each other and took turns at hits, aiming for the only unprotected body part - the opponent's face. When fatigue set in or one of the opponents let down his guard, his opponent broke through his parries, leaving a cut on his face, which eventually scarred over. As we know, scars are said to give a man's face character. As a result, both duelists left satisfied: the winner with a sense of triumph, and the loser with a sign of courage on his face.


Surprisingly enough, this type of fencing, which cannot be considered duel or sport fencing, endures in the student community of Germany to this day. The modern mensur fencing (also known as academic fencing) cannot be called a sport proper since it has no winners or losers. At the same time, it is not a duel since it is not used to resolve any disputes. Mensur fencing does not rule out the possibility of sustaining injuries. However, in this case inflicting injuries is not an end in itself. Neither the government nor the church has banned mensur fencing in Germany. What is more, the church sanctioned it in 1988, while the government lifted its ban in 1953, which has been in place since 1933.


The modern statute of mensur fencing states: "...the aim of mensur is to promote courage and self-confidence, and the return of the medieval tradition is no proof of its reactionary tendencies, but merely a tribute to the ancestors". As for the technique of handling the weapon and rules of the fight, a distinctive feature of the art of mensur fighting until the mid-19th century had been the fact that it was mobile. The distance between the opponents was such that they could hit each other only by thrusting. Each of them had the right to defend himself not with the weapon alone, but could also dodge the weapon. The duel continued until the opponents drew first blood. In 1850 new mensur fencing rules were introduced. The distance was reduced, and fencing was no longer mobile, but static. It was forbidden to retreat or dodge with the torso. Only the weapon could be used to parry the attack. Yet, like before, the bout continued until the opponents drew first blood, that is, it had characteristics of a duel designed to resolve a dispute.

The weapon wielded by the fencers is called the schlager. Essentially it is a "saber", but if translated verbatim, it can be called a "hitting stick", which is also synonymous with the German term for tennis racket. The modern German word for "saber" is "sabel". The schlager is a heavy weapon, three times the weight of the modern sport saber.