On Training with Sharp Swords in The Rose of Versailles

One scene in The Rose of Versailles features Oscar and André, Oscar’s valet and greatest friend, fencing quite vigorously.  At the end of which, Oscar compliments André by saying that he’s become quite a challenge while fencing “with sharp swords.”  A few years ago, this would have caused me to roll my eyes in disgust.  I would think to myself: “Practicing with sharp swords!  That wasn’t done, and you both have a death wish!”  I had that very response towards A Game of Thrones when Joffrey demands that he and one of Ned Stark’s sons spare with sharps instead of wooden swords, and the fencing master refuses to permit it–though he offers that they might practice with blunts.

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Very many of you likely have the same opinion as I used to.  One of the first books on medieval fencing I ever read, John Clements’ Medieval Swordsmanship, does not talk about sparring with sharps anywhere.  It recommends cutting practice, technique drills, and sparring with boffers, wooden swords, or synthetic ones.  I used to figure that by combining the three one can “triangulate” in order to understand what fighting with a real sword would feel like.  In addition, I read two accounting of practicing with sharp swords which boded ill for one of the fencers.  In one viking saga, a father trains against his son while using a cursed blade.  The sword having been knocked backwards with a certain parry, it buries itself in the father’s brain and makes an end of him.  On the other occasion, Alexandre Dumas recounts in one of his historical fictions that people at first practiced without foils, but with swords having a point and sharp edges.  During one practicing bout, one fellow was stabbed sixteen times and fell dead after the session.  Both reinforce the idea that fencing with sharp swords is a very, very bad idea.

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