For most people, their expectations for swordfighting come from Hollywood and the Olympics. With the utmost respect to the artists creating choreographed fights and the athletes studying sport fencing, historical fencing is a different thing entirely.
First and foremost, we study fencing as a martial art. While we test our skills by sparring with friends and in tournaments, the ultimate goal is not winning points but improving one’s own skills and making the world richer by resurrecting an art that has been lost to time. Our source material, illustrated manuals of arms originally published for European nobility, describes techniques for defending oneself in the life-and-death dueling and defensive scenarios encountered in its time. We respect the gravity of that history by studying fencing as a form of combat, and not only as a sport, even though none of us are likely to use a sword in self-defense.
But ultimately we’re doing this for fun. However much we respect our sources and their historical context, we’re doing this because we want to play with swords. Some of us may care very much about how we stack up in tournaments, and some of us just want to spar with friends, but all of us remember being that little kid playing with sticks.
How to Get Started
We make this as easy as possible.
While different clubs and schools have different structures, NoCo Thibault is primarily a cooperative study group. As such, there are no set classes required for beginners.
New fencers may simply sign up, pay monthly dues, and attend as many or as few practice sessions as they wish while their membership is active. You may stop paying dues and attending practice whenever you wish. If you still like fencing with us after your first 2 months, you’ll need to maintain a HEMA Alliance individual membership for $26/year. This is in addition to club dues.
You don’t need to be in peak condition to study with us. While speed and strength are always an advantage, if you can swing a sword, you can create your own advantage by working to develop a personal fencing style that plays to your abilities.
No personal fencing equipment is required to study with us, as we have some available to borrow at practice. But as you progress, you will certainly want to purchase some of your own equipment. Since we don’t have defined class progressions, it’s pretty much up to you when you want your own sword or when you’d like to start sparring. So the cost is also primarily up to you.
First Practice Session
Don’t sweat it. Show up in stable, flexible, closed-toe shoes and comfortable clothes. Raised heels and platforms of any kind are not a good idea–note that many kinds of boots have a raised heel.
Try to get to your session a couple minutes early. We don’t get to devote as much time to fencing as we might like, so we get started promptly to get everything we can out of the time we have.
Before we start, people will likely be preparing the practice space, playing gently with swords, or just chatting. Feel free to introduce yourself if you’re not the shy type. Otherwise, one of the organizers should notice the new face and come to greet you. They’ll have you sign a liability waiver, and then get you set up with a partner (maybe themselves) to start teaching you the basics.
You can speed things along by bringing a signed copy of the HEMAA waiver with you.
Other people will likely pair up to work on drills with partners, crowd around The Book to debate how a move should work, “dance” on the Mysterious Circle, or just work by themselves using one of our swords. If there’s not enough equipment to go around, people take turns.
Since too much clanging of steel can be very distracting to discussion and teaching, the last half hour of the session is when people begin to suit up and spar. You’re welcome to keep doing partner drills, or you can stop and watch the swordplay, but you probably shouldn’t expect to spar the first session.
What you might learn in your first session…
- Your mask size
- The parts of the rapier, and Thibault’s system for describing the blade
- How to hold the rapier
- The Posture of the Straight Line, our starting guard position
- Basic fencing theory and terminology
- The Impetuous Entrance into measure
- The so-called, but not-so Mysterious Circle, which is used to provide a reference for footwork in our style
- The first two moves of our style: defense and counter to “naive” inside and outside thrusts against the face
Thibault’s manual outlines a clear, progressive curriculum where each lesson builds on the last. This is the path all of Thibault’s students should follow as they study his art. Calmly neutralizing the mindgames of the Italian rapier style in the first chapter, the remainder of the first book describes fencing against Thibault’s own style and similar styles, such as the Spanish Destreza. The second book of the manual includes defenses and counters for different weapons in Renaissance Europe.
Everyone studying Thibault’s system has gone through the same progression, puzzled over the subtle positioning of someone’s footwork in a figure, practiced moves in the mirror to try out at practice. And while we come together to share knowledge, to motivate one another, and to practice our skills, our club lacks the structured teaching environment of a school. We’re happy to show you a move (again and again if you want), offer advice, drill and spar with you, but it’s ultimately your choice how much time and energy you invest in improving yourself. Individual study and self-motivation is at the heart of our practice.
When you think you’re ready and you’ve acquired the necessary protective gear, you’re welcome to join us in sparring. Other than demonstrating responsible behavior, there is no particular skill requirement to spar. If you show up at your third session with the necessary protective gear, you’re welcome to test your skill against anyone who wishes to fence you. But this is not Fight Club, and the goal of meeting is not only to hit each other with stuff.
Tournaments are the highest test of skill we have in HEMA. You can compete against fencers from different schools throughout the region, or even the world at bigger tournaments. You’re likely to encounter people using styles you’ve never encountered, tricks you’ve never seen, and other such opportunities to improve your skills. And while nobody’s getting rich winning historical fencing matches, the bragging rights are real.