Classical Period (19th Century)

The second half of the 19th century is the classical period but we may include the whole of the 19th century in this era when fencing was formally codified and fully expressed in national academies. “Classical,” in this sense, refers to “the golden age,” the period when the art saw its highest peak. National academies were founded and a supranational approach established commonality in fencing language as well as in codes and rules for dueling. It is also within the classical period that the great rivalries between the French and Italian schools were constantly put to the test through professional bouts and, in some cases, duels between masters of each school.

The use of the sword as a sidearm, for personal self defense, was no longer a concern of fencers during this era. Rather, they focused on training in fencing for its own sake as an art form and personal accomplishment in addition to its use in personal combat. This age is distinguished by the art of the foil, which masters thought to be the fencing “weapon” par excellence. However, the use of the sword as a deadly weapon was always borne in mind, and the training was serious in nature.

However, earlier systems and techniques did not die out. In the early part of the 19th century, methods such as the use of the unarmed hand, strikes with the pommel, disarms, arm locks, and the like could be found in such works as Rosaroll and Grisetti’s treatise of 1803 and Maestro Brea’s book of 1805. Documentation also exists that methods of rapier and dagger, as well as other historical weapons continued to be practiced through the 19th and into the 20th century.

Primary Sources: