Try Something New: Check Out Historical Fencing!

Emilie Eustace, Features Editor

Features Editor, Emilie Eustace ’24, sits down with the founder of The Historical Fencing Club, Quinn Horton ’26, to discuss the history of fencing and the meaning behind this club.

Tell me about why you wanted to start a historical fencing club at Wooster, as well as your experience with fencing in the past!

As for me personally, I have been doing martial arts for a really long time. I spent 7 years in Taekwondo and then went to a club in Columbus called the Columbus Saber Academy (CSA). For most of the time there, I was actually doing lightsaber sparring which was not really what I went there for. But, every Wednesday, they would have a class in the evening where it was advertised as Historical European Martial Arts (HEMA) and they were proud of their longsword sparring program. There were a bunch of people there studying different styles and traditions regarding sparring in various times throughout history. In particular, I learned a style that was written by Joachim Meyer, a 16th-century free-fencer. He was German and wrote a huge fencing manual called “Gründtliche Beschreibung der…Kunst des Fechtens,” which just translates to English as a really detailed fencing manual. So, we learned all about the standard cuts, what they call the five master cuts and techniques used widely in different variations to get certain things done in a longsword fight. The fetters, or the training swords, that we use now are practically identical to the ones they used in tournaments way back when. That is just one of the cool connections to history that comes with fencing, of which there are many. The historical aspect behind fencing is a big reason that I wanted to bring this club to Wooster and get into it in the first place back when I was at CSA. 

Has there ever been interest, that you know of, in fencing at Wooster?

There was a sport fencing club that was previously at the College. I am pretty sure it shut down due to concerns regarding COVID-19. However, this club is different from the previous one as it is focusing more on historical fencing. There is definitely a difference between sport fencing, which is loosely derived from historical small sword fencing, and historical fencing. A huge difference is that historical fencing uses a two-handed long sword, at least in the style I learned. The fencing that I am trying to bring into Wooster is more derived from the historical uses of fencing, actual fighting, where a main difference is seen in the rule sets. In historical fencing, strikes have to be gauged for proper edge alignment and strength, essentially determining if, had the sword been real, it would have delivered serious damage. However, in sport fencing, this does not occur and it is just based off of first touch. Another difference in historical fencing is that if you get hit within one fencing tempo and you did not have control of your opponent’s blade, they actually subtract the points that the other person gets from the points that you get from hitting first, as well as making a distinction between the depth of the target, head and body being two points usually, and arms and legs being one point. So, it places a big emphasis on safety and control of the match.

Can you talk a little bit about the general process of starting a club on campus?

Yeah, so I had a talk with Julia Zimmer in student engagement about the club starting process. I am currently writing the constitution for the historical fencing club, and am almost done with it. When that is done, it will be looked over by the council and approved or disapproved. I imagine we will have a lot of back and forth about the safety procedures that will be implemented in the club. 

How is the club currently looking? How is recruitment going?

I’ve got people essentially on a mailing list, since there cannot be any confirmed members until the club is official. On that list, I am up to about 14 people.  

What safety procedures are you hoping to utilize when using historical fencing techniques?

I think it is important for everyone to understand the different intensities that you can train with. There are certain drills that you can do without a partner and without any of the gear on, but if you are drilling with a partner, even with synthetic non-steel training swords, you can still really hurt someone. So, you have to wear gloves and a fencing mask. The fencing mask we will use is actually the same one used in sport fencing, but the gloves are custom made and expensive. 

How is this club and new equipment being funded?

We get a budget per month that we will utilize to buy fencing equipment. I am hoping that we still have fencing masks from the old club. Those come in like three different sizes, so can work for everyone. We also will hopefully be able to purchase gloves of a few different sizes for club members to utilize as well. Swords will definitely need to be purchased through the club budget — I cannot expect anyone to purchase their own sword. The issue comes when looking at the fencing jackets. These are very bulky, and if they are not perfectly fit to the person wearing them, it is hard to move around. We are simulating unarmoured fencing, so if you cannot move your arms above your head it is a problem. So, these jackets will need to be custom-fit and come out of the personal budgets of students. 

What are other things to consider before taking on fencing?

Yeah, so the danger of it comes as a shock for some people but if you do not participate in fencing safely, there are potential consequences, even death. Fencing and sparring involves thrusting towards people and defense mechanisms that block those thrusts, and if not done carefully, you run the risk of snapping off parts of your sword that become sharp and can cause serious injuries. So, I really want people to be respectful and careful with their sparring partners. It is not about beating people — we are trying to recreate this historical fighting style in a way that is both safe and fun!

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