Épée, the art of fencing with a sword that has a blunted point and a bowl-shaped hand guard—not unlike that used in Hamlet’s duel with Laertes—has a fascinating history.
Begun in the early Renaissance period as a regulated means of fighting for one’s honor, traditional sword duels often ended in death. As pistols prevailed and bloodlust waned, however, swordsmanship eventually became more of a sporting pastime for the nobility than a suitable form of justice. Rules were established and detailed how-to manuals published, with the effect that some felt the sport had become too regulated and unrealistic. In response to this, épée fencing was developed by a group of academy students in late 19th-century France. By 1900, the sport debuted in the Olympics, though it remained a male sport, as women’s épée was not allowed until 1996.
Today, épée fencing still mimics 19th-century dueling practices, with the exception of the incorporation of modern technology, such as épées being electrically wired for scoring purposes.
About the Author:
Martin P. Mieloszyk participated in épée at Paris-Sorbonne University and as a member of the Polish national team in both épée and sabre. Also known as Marcin Mieloszyk, he currently serves as the President of L’Marc International, Inc.