Brandon Smith (Redwoodtwig)
All cultures have swords and sword fighting in their distant past. Unlike the club, the sword allow a smaller person to have a chance against a much bigger person. Unlike the bow and arrow or the gun, the sword does require the opponents to get close enough to reach each other, thus satisfying "honor." In a way, this was the first equalizer, though it did require a lot of practice to gain the skill necessary to win a sword fight.
The best history of modern sport fencing and how it developed out of the western tradition of the duel is Richard Cohen's By the Sword.
I teach basic sport fencing foot and blade work -- very much like what you will find if you look for basic fencing moves in online instructional videos. At the present time I only have enough equipment to teach two or three folks at a time.
I also teach Tai Chi Sword forms, which is a very different way of handling the sword, although the basic posture and moves remain essentially the same, while the speed is quite different.
A few years ago I started taking photographs of fire performers and one day realized I could combine my fencing and Tai Chi Sword skills into a performance with fire swords. That is a lot of fun!
Sword fighting scenes in the movies usually have a sport fencing master behind the scene, modifying the sport with moves that are much wider, slower and bigger than a real sword fighter would use. Search online for "Olympic fencing" and you'll soon see how much different competition fencing is from movie fencing. This Sabre gold medal round is a good example of how fast it is and how difficult it is for someone who doesn't know the sport to tell what's going on.
I took my first class in sport fencing when I was in my second semester at the University of California, Santa Barbara. The coadh, Zoltan Von Smogyi, had been in the Hungarian Cavalry at the start of WWII and had actually used swords in combat on horseback. He had also been an Olympic contender in track and field, as well as having competed in fencing tournaments. We did a lot of drilling, many many hours of practicing attacks, parries and ripostes as well as lunges and footwork.
At that time many colleges and universities had varsity NCAA fencing teams and I competed regularly, though not all that successfully. (Coach kept telling me to turn the tiger loose.)
I continued to compete at local events over the next 10 or 12 years, and then shifted to Tai chi Chuan as my primary physical exercise for the next 20 years. I was both pleased and surprised when I put on my fencing gear after 20 years and found that I still had all the basic stuff still there -- though a bit slower. I taught local classes here in Missouri for several years and am happy to report several students took firsts in beginner level tournaments.
It is ironic that Title IX, designed to bring more gender equality to college sports programs, meant the elimination of most of these NCAA fencing teams. Fencing is one of the few sports where gender makes little difference since winning a fencing bout is more about speed, agility, and endurance than size or strength.
Sport fencing is not hugely popular in America, mostly I think because Americans often value size and strength over everything else -- bigger is better. But also because the action is very fast and people not trained in fencing often have a difficult time seeing and understanding what's going on. And also because sport fencers wear protective masks and it is often not possible to see the facial expressions, a big no-no for TV coverage.