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Origins of modern fencing in Europe

The earliest works on fencing were first published in 1474 by Spanish fencing instructors. At the time Spain was the center of fencing. Perhaps this explains why it is believed that modern fencing originated in Spain. During the 16th century, the Italians systematized fencing education, defining the main conventions of fencing, a classification of techniques and actions.


Taken from a fencing handbook by Rudolf Capoferro (1652)

At the same time, treatises were published in France describing fencing techniques that are very similar to the modern ones. In 1567, the Academy of Fencing Instructors opened in Paris. In the 17th century, the foil with a leather safety tip was developed in France a lighter weapon better suited for instructional purposes. In the 18th century, the French introduced the fencing mask. This moment marked the start of an unprecedented growth in the popularity of fencing art. Duels gradually became "white duels" taking place in the presence of a referee and four witnesses who counted the hits made. Thus the sport of fencing came into being!


Ancient postcard (late 19th century, France)

This epoch was characterized by the ritualistic nature of fencing bouts. Fencing was about masterly technique as much as it was about elegance and gallantry. Salutations before the bout, respectful bows, refined manners all of this became an integral part of fencing.

During the 19th century, fencing shaped as a sport. Sport fencing developed most actively in France, Italy, Austro-Hungary, and Germany.


Origins of modern fencing in Russia

Interest in "rapier art" emerged in Russia in the early 18th century. In 1701, Peter the Great established the Moscow school of mathematical and navigational sciences, whose curriculum included for the first time a required subject called "rapier science". At the Naval Academy of Sciences that opened in St. Petersburg in 1719, "rapier science" was also included in the academic curriculum. Subsequently, fencing gymnasia opened at the universities of Moscow and Kazan. The first fencing instructors in Russia were foreigners. Yet already in the first half of the 19th century the number of fencing instructors in Russia increased substantially owing to Russian fencing masters who graduated from military educational institutions. From 1860 Russia had been holding the first fencing tournaments for the title of the Champion of Russia. At the turn of the 20th century, Russia saw a large number of printed works, the so-called "fencing manuals". At around the same time Russian fencers started appearing in international tournaments.



 

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