Euginia Blinchik: "My armors and arms weigh more than 20kg. This includes thorax, armored skirt, armlets, armored leg plates, helmet with a comb, sword, dagger-akinak, two spears."
Female armore. Photos from the website Sword maiden
Photos from the website "Double Wars 2001"
Historical fencing is a type of reconstruction of historical martial arts with plain weapon based on the work of historical texts, images and traditions. In other words, historical fencing represents attempts at reviving combat with no living traditions. In fact, the term "historical fencing" refers to any fencing system that was in use before the development of the three classical fencing weapons. In recent years, with the resurgence of interest in combative sports and historical heritage, a lot of enthusiasts and organizations try to reconstruct them from historical sources.
Photo from the website Sword Academy
Scenes from historical and staged fencing events
Photos from the website "Double Wars 2001"
Girls plays the role of Russian female warriors "Polyanitsas"
While the term "fencing" means a system of wielding plain weapons in hand-to-hand combat, the word "historical" emphasizes the fact that the fencing occurs in the historical environment - be it weapon, armor, common techniques or motivation (which takes a fencer into the battle).
Historical fencing consists of two streams: combative fencing and stage fencing. Combative fencing (and close classical fencing) is actiually a sport in which enthusiasts of combat and history participate. Stage fencing is used for demonstration of old battles and duels with plain weapon. Since recently, staged fencing combat became a favorite plot in movies and at theater stages.
In our times of total emansipation, women try to keep pace with men in any activity, particularly in combative ones. Women demonstrate a big interest in historical role games, in particular, in historical fencing. In fact, combative activities were men's prerrogatives through centuries. Since the old times, the social role of women has subtantially changed; contemporary women are widelly represented in military, combative sports and martial arts. Being full members of the modern society, women enjoy placing themself retroactively in the past with the positions they take their stand now. While combating women used to be exotic in the past, they are not anymore, so it's very tempting to represent emancipated and strong women in the reconstructed historical environment of the past. Armored female historical fencers battling with heavy weapon represent this category.
In order to better understand what historical fencing is and what women do in it (particularly Russian and Ukrainian ones), let's use a first hand source - the interview given to us in January 2002 by two enthusiasts of this activity, sisters from Crimea (Ukraine), Galina Malysheva and Eugenia Blinchik.
Historical fencing is fencing mostly with heavy weapons, which are similar Medieval plain arms. In addition, armors are worn: such as chain armor, cuirass, helmet, armored gloves, armored leg plates, armlets as well as an attire corresponding to a developed epoch. Everything is crafted by hand. It is quite complex, laborious, expensive business requiring a lot of time and effort. It also requires the knowledge of the history, technology of making arms, armors and costumes. Historical fencing became popular in the middle of 1990s. Stirring people decided to be involved in something more serious than just a big costumed picnic (that's what role games had actually degraded into).
Women were into historical fencing from the very beginning, even though very few women seriously practice it. It's a hard business - not just because of heavy armors but also mostly because of difficulties for a woman to craft arms and armors by herself. Actually, if a woman comes into the battle, she fights against whoever lot she drew. Since there are very few women in the business, she will most likely battle against a man. However, there is no indulgence for women in combat - they are supposed to understand what kind of business the have chosen. Just reliable body protection is required, especially for breasts and groins. Women are very rarely allowed to compete with metal arms; they mostly fight with plastic and wooden weapon. In fact, it is quite dangerous for a woman to fight against a man, that's why just few clubs allow women to compete; so combative girls try to get there. Unfortunately, men dislike engaging in battle against women - they consider both winning and losing to a woman as a shame. However, ladies don't feel any embarrassment to assault their male counterparts, so all hell is let loose; actually, men quite often get injured.
For a long time old European warriors used heavy weapons. (Plain weapons weighing less than 1.2 - 1.5 kg is classified as "light": daggers, small akinakes, some sabres, bows, avelins, darts, etc.) Sabres and rapires didn't remind contemporary tiny sport fencing weapon. First small swords weighed about 3.5 kg and more. The sesquialteral and two-handled swords were just monsters - some of them weighed 15-20kg. Heavy arms determined the armor and the battle strategy. A knight had a heavy combat gear but was stable at standing and his sword well stood direct collisions with the rival's swords. European battles based on power and strength - the main goal was to disable the opponent.
Historical fencing includes longsword, single-handed cutting swords, pole arms, rapier, as well as javelins, spears, akinakes (iron Scythes swords), battle axes and many other forms. Only a few fencing masters still exist who have been taught and continue to teach these weapons and techniques in an unbroken lineage (that is, a system that has been passed from master to student through the centuries). Probably the most popular weapons of hand-to-hand combat were swords, which is a cut-thrust weapon. As soon as the small sword had become a honor noblemen's attire attribute, it lost it's combative importance.
There is a variety of the historical fencing - Classical fencing. This type of fencing generally attracts people who feel that contemporary sports fencing has strayed too far from its martial arts origins. A growing body of fencing masters continue to teach the more martial forms of the Classical period as handed down from their masters' masters. Some practitioners also often try to reconstruct old European systems of armed combat, while others only advocate a return to an earlier set of conventions in sport fencing.
In fact, staged fencing (l'escrime artistique) per se is close to historical fencing, and can be even considered as its variety. In order to autenticaly and properly accomplish combat staging you have to wield fencing tools and techniques and then to carefully learn the atmosphere and conditions of the time you intend to revive. In some troupes (like in "Babes with blades"), actresses study fencing and fighting technique as well as the history, particularly the history of female warriors and fencers. The actresses try to represent the historical atmosphere as trustworthy positive as possible. Historical fencing enthusiasts also stage various duels and battles in the historical scenery in attempts to introduce the historical heritage to the people.
The concepts of historical fencing and stage fencing have the same basics, both represent interest in historical heritage and single combat psychology and techniques. Both lines include training with armors, costume reviving and some choreography, even though in stage fencing combat actions are somewhat exaggerated. Stage fencing is not an exclusive preserve of actors and stuntmen - some people do it as a hobby.
There are a few national and international associations and federations promoting historical fencing, particularly, Association for historical fencing, Renaissance Martial Arts, Society for Creative Anachronism) and it's female branch, Sword maiden. In Russia, the national Federation of Historical Fencing exists, which indicates the official acknowledgment of this activity as a sport. The most prestigious Russian tournament is "Zarechenskaya Sech" being held in the Moscow region. Any participant of such battles must pay for all the expenses, including armor and arms; and it costs a lot.
The historical role games (and historical fencing in particular) are wholesome and health-giving activities. People involved in it learn history in practice, develop their athletic abilitiess as well as craft skills. Women particularly enjoy wearing magnificent Medieval costumes and being a centre of attraction. A woman with a sword is the very beautiful character!