Misadventures in Wonderland: Just what exactly is historical fencing?

We send our columnist to learn how to wield a sword at a historical fencing class

Misadventures in Wonderland: Just what exactly is historical fencing?

As strange as it is being a 24-year-old woman ordered by your boss to go and fight a bunch of strangers with a stick, I told myself this still wasn't an excuse for the return of my belligerent attitude when forced to do PE at school. My mum would give me a new sick note every day, which I gave up checking, until the day my teacher laughed when it simply read: ‘Alice is a lazy cow’. But, it's still almost a New Year - meaning we all want to try new experiences - and given that I don’t think my flatmate has ever seen me standing upright, this seemed like a great idea.

Trainers and loose-fitting clothes were advised, and it was at this point that I first thought of pulling out, as the chance of me being hospitalised meant I could conceivably arrive at A&E wearing a tracksuit. It reminded me of my grandmother admitting that her first thought during a bomb scare in the 80s was ‘Please don’t let me die in the Slough branch of Argos’.

As I waited outside the venue for Andy the instructor to arrive, my head swam with scenes of how the next two hours of my life would unfold. Watching all the lycra-clad bunnies on their way home from the Uni gym, I felt an overwhelming sense of superiority - they’d just been on a treadmill, whereas I might end up accidently chopping a stranger’s arm off.

The society of historical fencing is 3000-strong and predominantly female, which was certainly a surprise to me, and made me realise I am a total sexist. And no, i’m not going to tell you about how someone turned up dressed as a pirate, as this information will only distract you.

Obviously my first question, being the high-brow writer I am, was whether there had been any major stabbing accidents. A dry ‘not yet’ filled me with hope. Broken bones are considered less hassle to deal with than blood, but there’s only been one fractured finger in a whole year of sword-fighting activity. In my mind, I thought ‘Well, you’re clearly not doing it right then’.

We put on our helmets and gloves - and also for one of my fellow classmate, a regal, dark-purple cape - and started by saluting each other before the duelling commenced. When I finally worked out how to handle the sword properly, I was allowed to do a lot more than I thought I would be, certainly a lot more swinging and lunging than I’ve ever done before and was even allowed to strike Andy with it. The more advanced members of the group were doing some pretty impressive flicks given one of these swords weighs as much as a human leg.

Despite my novice status, and lack of a cape, I had lot of of fun, and as a bonus, I should now be able to beat a person who has never had a sword-fighting lesson, unless they go into a frenzy that is, as I’ll still be working out where to put my feet to make sure I don’t fall over. The pen might well be mightier, but that’s exactly the sort of thing said by people who don’t know how to use a longsword.

Alice went Historical Fencing with Stork's Beak: School of Historical Swordmanship. www.storksbeak.co.uk

Stork's Beak: Historical Fencing

Join the school to practise techniques based on historical combat manuals from the 15th to early 20th centuries, exploring swordsmanship as a martial discipline (not a sport or part of an historical re-enactment). The first class for new prospective members is free.


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