Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Competiting in Sabre - Hack and Slash, or Precise Art

When I think about fencing, I have two images in mind - epee or kendo/kenjutsu. I began fencing using foil, and then later added epee and just for fun - I bought a pair of shinai to practice with at home. (I'm a great date!) Sabre never really entered the equation, especially since I noticed that there were rarely a lot of sabreurs at any practice or competition I ever attended.

However, after talking with my coach, I decided to preregister for the E and Under Sabre event at DFC's May Melee. I will be borrowing equipment from an old coach, so I think I am all set. Except for the fact that I have only touched a sabre about three times, bouted with one only once, and the closest thing to practicing with my sabre has been using my shinai. They are both cutting weapons, right? Shinai fencing in kendo focuses on cutting with the right amount of force in time with the right spirit (whatever that means). I thought that would prepare me enough for and E-Under event, until I started researching historical sabre fencing.

In my research, I decided to see what General George S. Patton, a famous Olympic sabre fencer, had to say on the sport. I was shocked.
In the Peninsula War, the English nearly always used the sword for cutting. The French dragoons , to the contrary, used only the point which almost always caused a fatal wound. This made the English say, "The French don't fight fair." ...At Wagram, when the cavalry of the guard passed in review before a charge, Napoleon called to them, "Don't cut! The point! The point!"

The point is vastly more deadly than the edge. While it might be possible to inflict a crippling blow with the edge (were the swing unrestricted by the pressing ranks of the charge or by the guard of attack) the size and power of the blow is so reduced there is grave doubt it would have sufficient power to do any damage to an opponent's body, protected by clothing and equipment. And even should the blade reach the opponent, it's power to unhorse is dubious.
So according to Patton, who cares if a sabre has an edge for cutting - the thrust and the point is still the name of the game. In fact, in his famous manual on sabre fencing, not only does he not teach cutting, he doesn't teach the parry! Patton even says that using the cut in a sabre fight is akin to biting in a fist fight - it may be necessary from time to time, but not worth teaching.

Well, I have no rating to protect in this sabre event, so I am going to practice and take Patton's advice. I am sure to post my findings!

No comments: