When it comes to martial arts, most people think of karate or people like Bruce Lee, but what precisely martial arts is, is a little less discussed. Merriam-Webster defines martial arts as “any of several arts of combat and self-defense that are widely practiced as sport” whereas Cambridge defines it in looser terms as “a traditional method of fighting or defending yourself..” While each dictionary will offer its own definition, martial arts refers to all the various systems of training for combat and self-defense that has been systemized and arranged.
*Fun Fact: the word martial is derived from the name Mars, who was the Roman god of war!
However, we aren’t here to discuss martial arts as a whole. Instead, this article is to determine whether fencing is considered a martial art. To decide, we must first look at context. Fencing, or as it was once called the Art of the Sword, was designed as the art of using weapons, swords in particular. In the beginning, sword handling was so significant that some English families went as far as teaching their children to fight with both hands for preparation of any eventuality. But over time, as ballistics became dominant, the sword lost its value as a weapon of war and faded from the battlefield. No longer a part of training and battle, fencing became a refined sport of set rules and etiquette.
Based solely on the provided context and above definitions, it would seem that Merriam-Webster may not include fencing in as a martial art, whereas Cambridge would. But upon further inspection, it would seem that whether fencing is considered a martial art largely depends on the type of fencing being referred to, classical or sport.
Classical fencing focuses far more on avoiding being hit, including stepping offline to prevent an attack or open a new line of attack. Whereas sports fencing is a more of a game of tag in which opponents focus more so on landing a hit rather than what may happen after. Sport fencing has rules though classical fencing has none. What’s more, is the intent of the art. Classical history aims to play for understanding. The intent is to understand the discipline, its techniques, and the history of each period. Sport fencing, on the other hand, aims to play to the rules to win.
Is fencing considered a martial art? Yes, classical fencing can be regarded as a martial art due to its various applications in combat and self-defense. The classical form has far more in common with the martial arts than sport fencing, thanks to its scoring methods and physical demands.
Whether you consider fencing a martial art or not depends on not only your definition of martial arts but also on your perception of fencing and the type.
Originally published at andybritnell.org.