“The Lost Art of Self-Defence – Forgotten Methods of Fighting Revived by a Viennese Fencing Club” (1905)

The turn of the 20th century was something of a boom time for academic and popular interest in unusual fighting styles, exemplified by Bartitsu’s eclectic combination of Japanese and European martial arts and also by the trend towards reviving historical fencing methods. Captain Alfred Hutton taught the arts of rapier and dagger, sword and buckler and two-handed sword fencing at the Bartitsu Club, which he was moved to describe as “the headquarters of ancient swordplay in England”.

This article from The Tatler of 12 July, 1905 glosses the activities of another “ancient swordplay” group that was active during this period:

The Haudegen Fencing Club at Vienna has made itself notable in the fencing world by its revivals of ancient methods of fencing and sword play generally. It has been engaged since 1892 in examining the rules and methods of ancient modes of fighting and in reenacting contests in ancient garbs with as much realism as possible. At their functions, the fights in many cases take place without masks or other protection which would spoil the effect of the historical character of the display. The very nature of the weapons and costumes used at these displays makes the performance exciting and interesting.

The energy which the Haudegen Club shows is not surprising, as the Germanic peoples have always been closely identified with the art of swordplay. Particularly in the 16th and 17th centuries fencing was in very high esteem, being practiced by two famous companies known as the Marxbruder and the Federfechter. The latter company is supposed to have gained its name from a weapon, but this is incorrect as no weapon known as the “feather” has been identified. Both the companies enjoyed special privileges. The members largely faught with the two-handed sword and the “dussak,” a very curious wooden weapon, the shape of which seems to indicate that it was a forerunner of the modern sword. Fortunately the most minute and careful instructions have been left behind by the users of this wooden weapon so that it has not been difficult to reconstruct its use.

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