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Thread: How is Fencing like other Martial Arts

  1. #1
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    It's funny how history and pop culture are so intertwined. The honor and formality in "pure martial arts" are constructs that served very practical reasons. We mythologize them when we don't really understand what they were(are) based upon...and especially when the come from the "mysterious East".

    The structures of martial discipline are universal. Boxers understand them. Fencers understand them. Wrestlers understand them. Competitive martial artists understand them. I'll forebear going into them, because if you don't know, you'll only learn by doing number 1: Train, train, train.

    So why are "pure martial artists" so obsessed with pageantry? Because it was, once upon a time, an effective barrier to "unwelcome-types" - i.e. commoners and peasants. Yep. "Pure martial artists" are elitist. In order to keep them in business, they have to propogate that myth. Ironic to a fencer, eh?

    Karate wasn't bent on ceremony until Funakoshi introduced it to the Japanese cultural elite. Then "schools" formed. Schools designed to make money. Shaolin monks were about self-preservation. By proliferating an aura of mystique, they put another obstacle between themselves and their opponents. Once those problems went away, they were purely for, yep you guessed it, getting kids into martial art schools. Etc., etc.

    I'm not ragging on the motivations of individual teachers, as they are for most part sincere. But the cause and effect exist.

    I say this coming from a "pure" martial arts (classical Okinawan karate)background, having great success at the international level in competitive TKD and then becoming exclusively a fencer (with moderate success). At the highest levels, we're all doing the same thing...the only difference is the details: Technique, talent, and tactics.

  2. #2
    That Guy Craig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jaketheranger View Post
    The structures of martial discipline are universal. Boxers understand them. Fencers understand them. Wrestlers understand them. Competitive martial artists understand them. I'll forebear going into them, because if you don't know, you'll only learn by doing number 1: Train, train, train.

    So why are "pure martial artists" so obsessed with pageantry? Because it was, once upon a time, an effective barrier to "unwelcome-types" - i.e. commoners and peasants. Yep. "Pure martial artists" are elitist. In order to keep them in business, they have to propogate that myth. Ironic to a fencer, eh?
    I thought this was a great post and that it deserved to start a new thread, especially based on a conversation I was having today.

    For those who have been in other martial arts, what is similar and different about the communities that the athletes build? (In terms of comraderie and helping out "competing" but regional/local clubmembers at national competitions, etc.)

    Craig

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    Senior Member Asprin's Avatar
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    I have done judo and kick-boxing before I started fencing.

    Both of them could easily be done in a school hall, without any other equipment. Judo used the schools gym mats and kick-boxing was just on the wooden floor. In other words the equipment is cheap for a club to be set up, while fencing does have a rather large outlay for a club to be set up.

    At both the judo club and the kick-boxing club people were a bit stand-offish while at RCP (my fencing club) all the fencers are really friendly and happy to help people.

    I wouldn't say fencing is a martial art in some ways since it does not fit with the other sports. But it is a 'fighting' art and the 'rituals' such as saluting and shaking hands do mark it as a respectful sport as are all the other martial arts.

    With both my judo and kick-boxing the only comps we did were ones that were for the town, because the town although small had enough people to do competitions. This was a town without any fencing for about 40 miles.

    RCP is in Edinburgh and has alot of members and most members compete in competitions across the country (Scotland not the UK).


    There are some major differences and similarities.
    Asprin
    Blackadder :But I thought we were fighting with swords.
    Wellington : Swords! What do you think this is, the middle ages? Only girls fight with swords these days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Asprin View Post
    IBut it is a 'fighting' art
    So what makes a "fighting" art different than a "martial" art?

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    Senior Member piste off's Avatar
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    To me, the comparisons across "martial arts" are meaningless.

    I was a black belt in Shotokan Karate at 16 the youngest age our club would allow (very traditional). Was a champion wrestler in High School where I came in third in the city (Philadelphia) literally one-handed due to a separated shoulder (was slated to win after beating the favorite handily in our dual meet). Studied Kendo with one of the most traditional schools in the country, and learned Judo with Randall Tex Cobb (the famous ex-boxer/actor). Even had a stint in kick-boxing. In fencing, I was at one point in the top 10 in epee, and won some national medals for team events.

    They are all very different...

    Obviously, they all require discipline and physical skills, and they are 1 on 1 endeavors. But they have little else in common (or as much in common as some other sports/activities).

    As far as "communities", they were all extremely different. The kendo club had few english speaking people, and the entire atmosphere centered around the Japanese culture (which is what was cool about it). Wrestling was like a brotherhood - all of us pulling for each other with some weird dynamics due to intersquad competitions for varsity weight spots. Karate was hard disipline and tradition with strict technique and fencing was/is all about sport and competition.

    Again, the differences are more than the similarities IMHO.

    Rick
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    Senior Member Asprin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kenji View Post
    So what makes a "fighting" art different than a "martial" art?
    For some reason, I always think karate, judo and such when people say martial art.
    Asprin
    Blackadder :But I thought we were fighting with swords.
    Wellington : Swords! What do you think this is, the middle ages? Only girls fight with swords these days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Asprin View Post
    For some reason, I always think karate, judo and such when people say martial art.
    But they can just as well be termed "fighting" arts.

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    Senior Member RITFencing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Asprin View Post
    For some reason, I always think karate, judo and such when people say martial art.
    It's a pop culture thing. We've been conditioned to think of Japan, China and the rest of the Orient when we hear that. Not to mention funny clothes, other languages and a bunch of ritual and ceremony (wait, fencing has that stuff too, in varying amounts.) And esoteric, all too often pretentious philosophies. I've often wondered how that stuff got fit into those two words.

    I've spoken with a number of practicioners of eastern martial arts on this, and many, but not all, who try fencing come up with "It's not a martial art, really," but can never be pinned down as to a good reason why.

    I'll supply that reason: It's very different in feel from what they have grown up thinking of as martial arts, and this sets up a false dichotomy in their heads.

    Not that I am bitter or tired of condescending attitudes towards fencers. Not one bit. So if you guys hear about a kendoist who has been dismissive of fencing with a french grip lodged in an uncomfortable place, you'll know that it was not because I am bitter.
    "If I were ever to challenge you to a duel, your best bet would be battle axes in a very dark basement." Misquoted from The Prisoner

    "Technical excellence is the antecedant of tactical creativity." - Nat Goodhartz

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    Senior Member keropie's Avatar
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    I don't consider what I do when I fence to be a martial art. It's a sport. My fencing has no practical application to self defence or offense, no bearing in war (the original meaning of martial, of course), and is all about getting my tip on their target either with ROW or without being hit. Or occasionally when I do that crazy saber thing I worry less about the tip.

    Now, many things that people call martial arts can fall into the same camp. There are plenty of schools of 'eastern' martial arts in the US that are so specialized in something practically useless (pure kata, breaking, etc.) that they aren't useful in self defence etc. But most 'martial' arts have at least some meaningful applicability to 'real world' fighting. Boxers would have an advantage over the average guy, as would kick boxers, 'serious' martial artists (meaning not breakers or kata people or whatever), wrestlers, etc. Me as a fencer? Not so much. I doubt that a flick to the ass is gonna stop most assailants.

    Perhaps there's a little residual martial tradition in fencing. ROW is VERY loosely based on a war time/combat idea. The salute and such (though almost all sports have some sort of tradition these days, even if it's just shaking hands before and after). The basic (and I mean very basic) concepts of defence via closing lines of offense (or planes in saber) and distance and movement would be of some use 'in combat.' But honestly, my experience as a foil fencer, were I to use it in armed combat, would probably be a bad thing (somehow I doubt ROW matters too much when you've actually been run through).
    ^^

  10. #10
    Senior Member Asprin's Avatar
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    I think of fencing as a skill which happens to be a sport as well, like archery etc.
    Asprin
    Blackadder :But I thought we were fighting with swords.
    Wellington : Swords! What do you think this is, the middle ages? Only girls fight with swords these days.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Asprin View Post
    I think of fencing as a skill which happens to be a sport as well, like archery etc.
    Hmm, that just reminded me of kyudo, japanese archery. i suppose the only real difference, well other than the type of bow used and such, between kyudo and just plain archery is the amount of ritual and ceremony involved. but anyways.

    I don't know, I just think of any "sport" or "art" or whatnot that's based on combat may as well be called a "martial" art, just being that they're all derived, some more closely than others, to skills useful in pre-gunpowder age warfare. Although, I guess for most people, "martial art" just means any East Asian system of combat, whereas anything Western is seen as just a sport or whatnot. I guess the Eastern ones do have a bit more reverence, ritual, and tradition, but, at least as far as I can gather from my limited kendo experience, there's really not much difference from the Western styles. If you take away the formal ritual aspects of my kendo practices, what you have is just dry fencing with two-handed wooden weapon without narrow strips. Well and different armor.

    I think it's a silly distinction, but whatever.

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    Senior Member brutus's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by keropie View Post
    I don't consider what I do when I fence to be a martial art. It's a sport. My fencing has no practical application to self defence or offense
    I have found the opposite in various situations, also Jeet Kune Do has some influences from fencing moves (I believe).

    I have not done any other martial arts, except a breif period doing Wing Chun. I found (and so did the teacher) that my fencing skills - balance, speed, poture, etc translated across to Wing Chun in a positive way.
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    Senior Member sabreur's Avatar
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    I think it all depends on your personal approach to fencing.

    Some people consider fencing as a pure sport--just turning on the light quickly enough to shut out the other guy (all weapons) or with right of way (foil and epee).

    Other people think what they are doing is still connected in some way to 19th century fencing, which was more closely related to training for duels with sharps.

    In sabre at least, the basic cuts and parries have not changed--if you look at Barbasetti, you'll find that everything is completely recognizable. I would argue that the continuing strength of the classic European (Hungarian, Russian, French and Italian) sabre squads is to some degree because their masters constantly access the historical knowledge of the weapon to develop answers to the "unbeatable tactic of the day" (the Kothny super-flunge is countered by fencing close, with tight time, the attack to the outside of the arm is countered with a seconde, etc.) and because they stress fundamental correctness in foot- and handwork.

    What has changed most is the speed and acuteness of timing--no one doubts that fencing today is more athletic and ballistic than it was 100 years ago. Some argue that this change has moved the sport far from its roots... but I disagree.

    I believe that if you learned to fence well, you have the skills you would use in an agonistic encounter. As a sport fencer (at least with sabre and epee--foil is a bit of a mystery to me), you fence faster and harder than you would with sharps, but the moves, the tactics and the underlying issues are the same. And I would argue that it is easier to detune your game, to slow it down and introduce a greater note of caution, than it is to speed it up.

    Whether or not you have the mental fortitude is another question of course, and this is perhaps where sport fencing diverges most from the more martial of the martial arts--most fencing coaches don't pay so much attention to training of mental toughness and focus, although I think such training pays huge dividends in competition.

    For me, personally, fencing is a Do, a way, and a major part of my practice of Zen. Oh, yeah, I also like to turn on the light before the other guy, either with right of way, or earlier enough that I close him out on the box... The nice thing about fencing is that I can decide what I will make of it, and that the various aspects aren't mutually exclusive.
    Why sabre? Because you don't take heads with the point.

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    Senior Member RITFencing's Avatar
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    I think that my main beef here is really the amount of reverance that what people generally think of as martial arts get as compared to fencing, which I too often hear referred to as "just" as sport. Whether it is or is not a martial art can be a very personal thing; as far as I am concerned the two do not have to be mututally exclusive.

    What I think a lot of people realize is that many of us think of as "martial arts" are really just another activity, another thing people do. It's not really any better or worse than any other activity, and the thing that really gets my goat is when people try to put such a value on MAs that places them above other things.
    "If I were ever to challenge you to a duel, your best bet would be battle axes in a very dark basement." Misquoted from The Prisoner

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    Without wishing to go too far into this I would have to comment that, in my experience, what people think of as "martial arts" are far more closely related to mere sport than they think. There are very few branches of these that are taught as a martial (in the combat sense) art - rather than the "sport" version. At least in the West. If people were to stop and think about these sorts of things then they would realise that they shouldn't give the general "martial arts" anymore reverence than any other sport. As someone else has noted it's a pop-culture thing.
    Last edited by Gav; 01-26-2007 at 09:39 AM.

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    RCP is in Edinburgh and has alot of members and most members compete in competitions across the country (Scotland not the UK).
    And yet this is a relatively recent thing ...

    A lot of my peers from RCP have, and still do, compete nationally (and used to for RCP). At least one member of the MF and WF top 5 started out at RCP.

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    Senior Member piste off's Avatar
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    I think most people think of the "eastern" versions of martial arts when they use the term. A lot of these, but not all, are heavily steeped in philosophy as well, hence the "reverence."

    However, some of the best true fighting arts don't have those higher-order philosophies attached. Muay Thai is a great example. It is definitely one of the most efficient things out there in terms of being able to fight, but except for some rituals related to the culture it is a sport for money (heavy, heavy betting). Coperia, Savate and Brazilian Ju-Jitsu are other examples: less philosophy and more about the fighting.

    It is true that some things you get in fencing help with other martial arts. I once developed a whole game/strategy in karate that was based on securing the front hand of the opponent, an idea that I got from fencing epee. It was very effective in tournaments. As someone mentioned here, Bruce Lee heavily borrowed from fencing for JKD (his brother was apparently a fencer for Hong Kong, and he borrowed liberally from the Costello brother's book).

    That said... I am with keropie. The fact a few ideas can be carried back and forth from one art/sport to another is kinda minimal. A good martial artist can get ideas from anything - and I am sure if I watched my daughter's dance class long enough I'd get an idea from that.

    As far as people using the term "martial" to describe anything that could be used in war/fighting - well I guess technically that is correct. If that is the case, we can include things like skeet shooting. I do a lot of that and am pretty good, but I would not want to go to Iraq based on those skills.

    Rick
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    That Guy Craig's Avatar
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    This is mainly to piste and RIT -

    You both have experience with karate, TKD and some other "traditional martial arts". What were the main differences in how those communities interact with each other?

    Aspirin said that the fencers were more welcoming than particiapants from some other sports/arts. That's just one data point, though. How does that experience compare with your experience of the openness and/or willingness to share and teach within other communities.

    From my fencing experience, I'd say that fencers are very open to sharing - up to a point. Two fencers who are likely to face each other in a high level match (whatever they determine to be a "high level") will share tactics with each other but will usually hold something back to be a surprise against their rival down the road.

    Craig

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    Senior Member Captain Hook's Avatar
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    fencing is not a sport... but sport fencing is

    sword techniques are generally more a military systems of combat... kill or be killed, so aren't much use for civilian defence today considering the law.

    I'm not sure what a pure martial artist is... I have no idea what a fighting art is either... the terms fighting/martial and art should both stay as far from each other as possible in my opinion.

    I've done kali, English single stick and some things that don't have a name

    from my experience martial arts training is about as much use in real combat as fencing... none

  20. #20
    Gav
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    Quote Originally Posted by Craig View Post
    Aspirin said that the fencers were more welcoming than particiapants from some other sports/arts. That's just one data point, though. How does that experience compare with your experience of the openness and/or willingness to share and teach within other communities.
    Well one thing that I've noticed is that, in fencing, it is almost expected (though not always) that the better fencers face off with the beginners; to keep them in touch with "how to fence beginners" or "pull the beginners up to a decent level". This is not my experience in other martial arts. Though I have never found that higher level practitioners in other martial arts where not open to demonstrating (sometimes on the lower ranks...) or coaching more advanced techniques. Those who were truly into whatever art have normally been as willing to discuss stuff as those in fencing - you tend to find those at the top truly love whatever it is that they are doing. It seems to depend on how progression is handled in those arts.

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