Modern Fencing (20th Century)

This brings us to the era we term “modern.” This period has seen the gradual disappearance of the duel and, with the lack of a need to prepare for mortal combat, the transformation of the discipline into a sport. Although there have been occasional duels within the 20th century, modern fencing is solely concerned with the “sport” aspect. This development was aided by the inclusion of fencing into the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.

Modern Fencing

The épéeist on the left is attacking with a flèche. (Public Domain Image via Ookaboo.)

Furthermore, the founding of the Federation Internationale d’Escrime in 1913 saw a growth of “technicism” and the loss of the principles that are first and basic to the practice of fencing in a martial context. Fencing pedagogy has also changed with this. The fleche, the fouettee (“flick”), and similar actions, along with the use of the electrical scoring system and orthopedic grips, have no relation to preparation for lethal combat. These innovations, along with the constantly changing and subjectively reinterpreted rules, have resulted in the metamorphosis of the art and science of the sword into an athletic game. The final moments of the 20th century find fencing severely altered from its original form and intent from a killing art, where the stakes are life and death, into a game, where losing a bout is the worse that can happen.

To conclude, misapprehensions exist such as classical fencing being confused with historical fencing, or anything that is not modern fencing classified as classical fencing or theatrical swordplay. It is important not only that we differentiate time periods but also that we know the historical and technical reasons for these categorizations.