Over the past four weeks the Salle has taught a pilot test version of a new mini-course developed by the Classical Academy of Arms, the Art of the Duel. This four session class gives classical and modern fencers a detailed look at the etiquette, process, technique, and tactics of the duel as fought in the period 1880-1939 with the French Dueling Sword (the sharp version of the modern Epee). Duels as a way to resolve civil disputes are one of the three major themes of the history of fencing, along with the military use of the sword, and fencing as a recreation and sport. Duels with sharp weapons, as a socially acceptable means of resolving conflict, persisted to a slate as 1967 when the Mayor of Marseille fought a political opponent with the epee de terrain and an Argentinian Admiral and a newspaper editor fought with sabres; it continues in a more limited form as a university student right of passage in German Academical Fencing.
The Art of the Duel took participants through the entire process from initial offense to the exchange of notes, the duel itself, and reconciliation. On the way we discovered why we fence today on a rectangular piste, why there is a penalty for stepping over the rear boundary, the origin of four judges (in dry fencing) and a referee, etc., all parts of our modern bout that originate in dueling practice of the classical period. It was interesting to see how fencers adapted to the idea that you cannot just charge into an attack if the points are sharp – both participants in the final duel fenced cautiously for hits to the advanced target, and took 12 minutes to score one grazing hit which might have broken the skin and the solid hit that ended the encounter. Participant reaction was overwhelmingly positive with comments about how much they learned, the quality of the instruction, and the fun had.