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Benefits of Practicing Swordsmanship: Why Learn Combative Fencing?

Updated on July 19, 2014

Many people think of the sword as a weapon from a bygone era, fallen by the wayside some two centuries ago. They think that the sword is only good these days for sport, as in Olympic fencing or kendo. Even the more martially-inclined kenjutsu and iaijutsu catch flak for not being 'street-applicable' martial arts. The European weapons-based martial arts, collectively known as HEMA (Historical European Martial Arts), have seen a surge of interest in the last few decades, but have yet to gain quite the same cultural foothold as their Japanese counterparts. HEMA suffers the same prejudice as does kenjutsu: not being immediately applicable. You'll be surprised to learn that taking up the sword and learning how to fight with it does have some relevant benefits to both your ability to fight and your self-confidence.

Dealing with Improvised Weapons

"But we don't carry swords around anymore!" I hear you cry. You're right, we don't and honestly will likely never do so again. That doesn't mean the techniques you learn are useless.

In a confrontation involving improvised weapons like pool cues, crowbars, pipes, or even just sticks, having an understanding of martial fencing can give you a life-saving advantage. You'll have experience in how those weapons are used, and although pipes and such won't cut like a sword, they still translate to the kinetic strikes of a sword.

Many 'half-swording' techniques exist in the various European longsword schools that allow the sword to be used as like a short staff or a spear by gripping the sword by the hilt and part of the way up the blade. Knowing how to fight with a longsword, therefore, somewhat shows you the basics of staff combat.

Even if you don't pick up an improvised weapon, you'll be better equipped to deal with them being used against you. Combat fencing, no matter the discipline, teaches you concepts of timing and distance useful for voiding - swordplay parlance for 'move out of the way.'


Historically, knights and samurai wore various types of armor that made unarmed striking nearly useless - weapons combat tied up one or both hands so a warrior wouldn't do much unarmed striking anyway. A combatant would focus on grappling to get his enemy to the ground and then go for the kill if necessary. Many trips, throws, and holds you would encounter in training resemble more well-known throws from wrestling or MMA. At some point, if you find yourself in a fight, odds are grappling will be involved. Even if you have just rudimentary knowledge of leverage points and a few basic holds or throws, it's better than nothing.

Combat Psychology

No amount of martial arts training can truly prepare you for a serious fight. Weapons training, however, can come closer to it than anything else. I'm not talking about the physical movements; rather, the psychology behind combat.

Martial swordplay, taught in ideal circumstances, reflects a more brutal era. Most of us today don't have to worry about getting in a life-or-death duel when we go down the street to get groceries. People who lived several centuries ago weren't so fortunate. Winning a fight isn't just a matter of knowing this or that technique, or even having the muscle memory to do it effectively. It takes a conscious decision to defend yourself, knowing that you will likely injure or kill your attacker in doing so. Sword training helps to instill the will to act when necessary and not lose your nerve at the critical moment.

Other Benefits

Martial swordplay also instills other personal characteristics, such as self-discipline, awareness of details, and self-confidence. These qualities can be developed through other martial arts and other hobbies, but swordsmanship necessitates it more.

The ability to handle a weapon and have one swung at you without flinching back in fear can do wonders for your confidence in your martial ability, and it can help you keep your nerve in a variety of stressful situations that life throws your way.

Swordplay is also one of the more physically-demanding forms of martial arts, requiring strength, endurance, and extreme hand-eye coordination as well as control and speed.


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