Fencing, art of attack and defense with a sword or similar weapon. Modern fencing is a recreational and competitive sport, but its rules and techniques are derived from those originally developed for efficient swordplay in dueling (see Duel).
During the Middle Ages (5th century to 15th century) the sword was an offensive weapon used for cracking armor, and the shield was used as a defense. After gunpowder came into general use, heavy defensive armor became obsolete, and the sword became a defensive as well as an offensive weapon. In the 16th century the rapier was introduced in Italy, and the art of fencing was rapidly systematized in fencing schools. A dagger in the other hand, and later a folded cloak, replaced the shield. Eventually the non sword arm was left free and held away from the sword arm to minimize the target area.
The use of the rapier and the Italian fencing technique spread throughout Europe. In France and England, the size and shape of the rapier were constantly modified because its length and weight made it clumsy to carry. During the 18th century the small sword, or epee, was invented and popularized in France; the new weapon resulted in distinct Italian and French styles of fencing. The Italians used the rapier in a bravura manner, with pronounced, vigorous gestures. The French used the epee in a more formal manner, with great restraint of movement. The French style of fencing became by far the more prominent. Its rules govern most modern competition, and the vocabulary of traditional fencing is composed largely of French words.
In the 19th century dueling was generally outlawed, and the fencing schools turned to teaching fencing for purposes of sport. Much of the equipment still used by fencers was developed at this time, including the glove worn on the sword hand, the plastron (chest protector), and the mask of wire netting.
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