AskDefine | Define swordsman

Dictionary Definition

swordsman n : someone skilled at fencing [syn: fencer]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A person skilled at using swords in combat; a fencer.
    He is a remarkable swordsman.
  2. A person who fights with a sword.
    Archers attempted to take down an unknown swordsman.

Related terms

Extensive Definition

Swordsman redirects here. For the comic book characters, see Swordsman (comics). For the 1990 Hong Kong film, see The Swordsman.
Swordsmanship refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, meaning "sword" This training would have provided the Roman soldier with a good training in swordsmanship, to be improved upon from practical experience or further advanced training.

Viking Age and Medieval

For more details on this topic, see German school of swordsmanship and Italian school of swordsmanship.
Little is known about early medieval fencing techniques save for what may be concluded from archaeological evidence and artistic depiction (see Viking Age arms and armour). What little has been found, however, shows the use of the sword was limited during the Viking age, especially among the Vikings themselves and other northern Germanic tribes. Here, the spear, axe and shield were prominent weapons, with only wealthy individuals owning swords. These weapons, based on the Roman spatha, were made very well. The technique of pattern welding of composite metals provided some of these northern weapons superior properties in strength and resilience to the iron gladius of early Rome.
As time passed, the spatha evolved into the arming sword, a weapon with a notable cruciform hilt common among knights in the Medieval Age. Some time after this evolution, the earliest known treatises (Fechtbücher) were written, dealing primarily with arming sword and buckler combat. Among these examples is the I.33, the earliest known Fechtbuch. The German school of swordsmanship can trace itself most closely to Johannes Liechtenauer and his students, who later became the German masters of the 15th century, including Sigmund Ringeck, Hans Talhoffer, Peter von Danzig and Paulus Kal. It is possible that the Italian fencing treatise Flos Duellatorum, written by the Italian swordmaster Fiori dei Liberi around 1410, has ties to the German school. During this period of time, the longsword grew out of the arming sword, eventually resulting in a blade comfortably wielded in both hands at once. Armour technology also evolved, leading to the advent of plate armour, and thus swordsmanship was further pressed to meet the demands of killing a very well protected enemy.
For much of the early medieval period, the sword continued to remain a symbol of status. During later years, production techniques became more efficient, and so, while the sword remained a privilege, it was not so heavily confined to only the richest individuals, but rather to the richest classes.


For more details on this topic, see Italian school of swordsmanship and Spanish school of swordsmanship.
The German school of swordsmanship, in general, faced a decline during the Renaissance as the Italian and Spanish schools, which tilted more toward the rapier and civilian dueling, took the forefront. The compendium compiled by Paulus Hector Mair in the 1540s looks back to the preceding century of work and attempts to reconstruct and preserve a failing art. The treatise by Joachim Meyer, dating to the 1570s and notable for its scientific and complete approach to the style (it is suggested that Meyer's students came to him with less military knowledge and therefore required more basic instruction), is the last major account of the German school, and its context is now almost entirely sportive. The use of the longsword continued to decline throughout the Renaissance period, marked by the increased effectiveness of the arquebus (a firearm) and the use of pike squares as a powerful implement of battle. During this time, civilian swords evolved to side-swords, also known as "cut and thrust" swords, and progressed towards the thicker, tapering sword that eventually became the 17th century rapier. This new weapon was popular for both protection on the street and as a tool in the duel, but found little success on the battlefield. The Italian, French, and Spanish schools embraced this change in civilian armament and developed systems of rapier fencing. The German school, however, provides little on this weapon and ceases its prevalence thereafter.


For more details on this topic, see Sport Fencing, Classical fencing, and Historical European martial arts.
After the demise of the longsword, the backsword became the last prominent battlefield sword. The backsword was not a new invention, but managed to outlast other forms of war swords, and was last used primarily by cavalry units and officers. The power, accuracy, and reliability of firearms continued to improve, however, and soon swords had little place on the battlefield aside from ceremonial purposes. The preferred civilian dueling weapon shifted from the rapier to the faster but shorter smallsword, and eventually shifted totally away from swords to the pistol, following developments in firearm technology. The civilian affair of dueling was banned in most areas, but persisted to some degree regardless of law until well into the 19th century.

Sport Fencing

The need to train swordsmen for combat in a nonlethal manner led fencing and swordsmanship to include a sport aspect from its beginnings, from before the medieval tournament right up to the modern age. In the mid-18th century, Domenico Angelo's fencing academy in England established the essential rules of posture and footwork that still govern modern sport fencing, although his attacking and parrying methods were still much different from current practice. Angelo intended to prepare his students for real combat, and did not use masks, but he was the most prominent fencing master yet to emphasize the health and sporting benefits of fencing more than its use as a killing art, particularly in his influential book The School of Fencing. As fencing progressed, the combat aspect slowly faded until only the rules of the sport remained. While the fencing taught in the late 1800s and early 1900s was intended to serve both for competition and the duel (while understanding the differences between the two situations), the type of fencing taught in a modern sport fencing salle is intended only to train the student to compete in the most effective manner within the rules of the sport. As this evolution has continued, the training and techniques have become increasingly further removed from their martial roots. One driving force behind this evolution is sport fencing's award of a point to the fencer who scores the first touch; this encourages the competitors to use scoring techniques that result in a first touch in a sporting encounter but would leave them defenseless against a counterthrust, even from a mortally wounded opponent, in a duel with lethal weapons.

Classical Fencing

As early as 1880, attempts were made to recreate the older German, Italian, and Spanish schools of swordsmanship. The lineage of Masters trained to teach the arts had been left to dwindle, however. The classical fencing community, interested in the later rapier and smallsword swordplay, finds its beginnings during this time period. These individuals focus their efforts on the martial systems of combat and dueling developed for the rapier, and attempt to practice as accurately as possible, preferring replica or antique blades to modern sport fencing weapons.

Historical Fencing

In 1966, the Society for Creative Anachronism spurred new interest in the idea of historical swordsmanship through ahistoric re-enactment. This approach did not focus on the swordsmanship from a particularly scholarly viewpoint, nor as the focus of a martial art. With rising interest in the area, the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts (then known as the HACA) (in the USA) and The Academy of European Swordsmanship (in Canada) began their reconstruction of the martial arts by researching the fechtbücher and following interpretations of historical guidelines. Soon, other organizations such as the Chicago Swordplay Guild (in the USA), Schola Gladiatoria (in the UK) and The Academy of European Mediaeval Martial Arts (in Canada) as well as several organizations throughout Europe began similar work, giving birth to the Historical martial arts reconstruction community. The reconstruction continues today, leading many within the field to feel that the reborn art is merely in its infancy and that only the simplest elements of western martial heritage have been rediscovered .


External links

swordsman in Chinese: 剑术

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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