Artistic fencing bout culture modelling: theoretical basics



Dr.Sc.Phil. S.B. Kulikov
Tomsk State Pedagogical University, Tomsk

Keywords: sport and arts, artistic fencing, socio-cultural flow, emotional experience, ancient heritage.

Background. The study is designed to offer theoretical basics for interpretation and design of an fencer's behaviour in artistic fencing process in the context of the psycho-emotional states of athletes and spectators. On the way to attaining the objective, a holistic sense of an artistic fencing bout needs to be modelled and what was called eidos (i.e. perpetual idea of a phenomenon) by the antiquity world will be specified in this context. Having formulated the key aspects of the above idea, we obtain good means to make a contribution to the fencer’s training process design in artistic fencing.

Objective of the study was to identify theoretical basics for the bout culture modelling in artistic fencing.

Methods and structure of the study. Used in the study were two theoretical education methods, namely the comparative analysis of the sport training methods applicable in artistic fencing, and the fencer’s artistic behaviour modelling method.

Study results and discussion. The comparative analysis of the athletic training methods applicable in artistic fencing implies the characters evoked by competitive fencing and artistic fencing presented in a historic context being identified and shaped up. Fencing is generally viewed as martial art derived from a military training for real combat with sword, sabre, epee, foil, etc. [8]. However, a fencing bout transferred to a theatrical stage plays a role of an artistic element designed to intensify and resolve dramatic conflicts and simulate the relevant competitive fencing styles [5]. It should be noted that fencing culture has always been largely based on the symbolic meanings of cold steel and was quite variable depending on the popular weapons and styles typical for different historic periods [4].

Furthermore, design specifics of the cold weapons have determined the fencing styles both in real combat and theatrical performance. Stage fencing has always been used as an art designed to express dramatic aspects in subjective forms that widely varied in fact in different historical contexts. Spectators in the ancient theatre, for instance, believed that it were immortal pagan gods who invisibly acted in fights of the mortal heroes. In the medieval times, scenic fencing bouts in the Italian theatrical tradition, for instance, were interpreted as deeply symbolic fights of the Good against the Evil personified by the heroes and heavy men both in tragic and comical performances. In the modern times, fencing bouts have been often intended rather to make fun of social vices than demonstrate heroism of the fighters, and it is the character of Don Quixote in the famous novel by Cervantes and many other alike works of art that provide a quite typical case in point [7]. Of no less interest in this context are the comic aspects and emotional background in descriptions of fencing duels of d’Artagnan and other royal musketeers with the cardinal’s guardsmen in the A. Duma's novels. In the modern mass culture, fencing art with its techniques and applications is more often than not associated with shows and/or training practices [3].

 It is for the above reasoning that artistic fencing plays a special role in society as a sport training practice, and the fencing bout culture undergoes transformations with the martial aspects of the art giving place to purely scenic performance focused training. Modern artistic fencing is designed to involve both the spectators and referees of the show-fight in the collision of characters and evoke high empathy and emotional responses in them by every action of the artists. It may be interpreted as an artistic co-creation process largely driven by the emotional contributions from both spectators and performers.

The co-creation process in artistic fencing opens up ample opportunities for the artist’s behaviour being modelled as dictated by the psychological and emotional context. The behavioural modelling process implies a holistic prototype or even a few prototypes being found to provide a basis for the potential behavioural options of the artists in the artistic fencing performance. In doing that, special emphasis will be made on the potential resources of the creatable emotional contexts and values –  used as rating criteria for the competitive performance assessments in some sports.

It may be pertinent to make a general theoretical digression from the topic of artistic fencing to remind that modern science tends to analyze the genesis and functionality of emotions in two major domains that are the biological and socio-cultural ones. The first domain is largely based on the ideas of Charles Darwin who noted the community of humans and higher animals in origins and manifestations of emotions (including love, anger etc.) [2]. The second domain, more popular in the community of modern psychologists and educators, is mostly based on the idea that the human emotional universe is determined by the relevant socio-cultural realities [1].

Therefore, the issue of the artists’ behavioural prototypes applied in artistic fencing may be reduced to the following. Fencing in its primary sense is an art of offence and defence for win, with the win implying a decisive defeat of the opponent. The artistic fencing has retained this primary sense in somewhat modified form, and at the same time gives a top priority to emotions that are evoked by, among other things, the mortal danger of the fencing bout even when it is constrained by the theatrical performance conventionality. The key role played by the emotions in this art makes one to ask whether it is the bodily or extra-bodily phenomena that will be taken as prototypes for the fencing artist’s behaviour modelling process.

Biological interpretations are focused on manifestations of bestial passions in the emotions evoked by an artistic fencing bout. In this context, as far as the modern theatrical performance is concerned, it may be pertinent to draw an analogy with the gladiator fights in the Ancient Roman theatres. In both cases, the fighters personify – regardless of whether or not it is fully realized – the desire of the audience to feel, at least on the imaginary world, the “breath of death”. However important the emotional domain of the art may be, the bodywork in artistic fencing is also highly important, albeit not that important as in traditional competitive fencing. It should be noted in this context that top priority in the Ancient Roman swordsmanship was given to the right footwork dominated by jumping techniques as it was proved to be the prime condition for the soldier being duly defended on the battlefield [4, p. 60-61]. Since the artistic fencing bout design is dominated by theatrical performance aspects, a high priority is given rather to the aesthetic aspects including the movement performance quality that are rated more important than the movement speed.

In the artistic fencing bout modelling process, special focus is made on the socio-cultural line of interpretation of the flow of emotions in terms of their origins and functionality. The research line based on the Z. Freud’s studies [6], for instance, tends to rethink the role of emotions in the bodily sphere in contacts of the human being with the socio-cultural surrounding. It may be stated that the Z. Freud’s theory, albeit making an emphasis on the sexual domain, is primarily based, among other things, on the idea of socio-cultural conditionality of emotions, with their base impulse viewed as primarily coming from an instinctive sphere of the subconscious sentiments. At the same time, this impulse is shaped up as an affective reaction to the subject situation with an active input from the valid cultural prohibitions. Therefore, it is the socio-cultural environment, even in its negative aspects, that may be viewed as a prototype for the artist’s behaviour modelling in artistic fencing bouts largely driven by emotional sentiments in the context of equally important contributions from the relevant cultural templates and the historically relevant social standards.

It is the bodily phenomena that will be considered a base prototype for the artist’s behaviour modelling in the artistic fencing bouts, with the leading role being played by the relevant psycho-emotional states that may be interpreted based on the Z. Freud’s concepts. The artistic movement sequences, mortal dangers and other aspects of the artistic fencing culture largely similar to that of traditional fencing styles are viewed only as decorations for the performance where the driving emotions come from the feel of Beauty in its active opposition to Death. The fencing bout culture analysis focused on the fencing characters in their dynamics and their theatrical personifications is generalized by a broad-based theoretical analysis of emotions. The socio-cultural interpretation of the emotional response origins and functionality may be referred to as the mainstream of the study that helps spell out the fundamental aspects of key concepts of artistic fencing viewed as a holistic cultural phenomenon.

Conclusion. The study offers the following recommendations to improve the artist’s training quality in artistic fencing:

First, special attention in the training process is to be given to the psycho-emotional sphere of the performance with top priority being given rather to the cultural context of the training process than purely the bodily responses to the fighting situations as such.

Second, due emphasis in the artistic bout training process is to be made on the emotional responses of the spectators and referees that ideally must be evoked by the artists’ actions in the artistic fencing bout. Every element should be performed in such a way as to fall within the range of the expected responses and trigger as many positive emotions as possible in the specific scenic fight performance process.

The above recommendations are expected to help step up the artistic performance efficiency and contribute to the expected accomplishments, particularly on the global arenas.

The study was supported by Project Grant #15-18-10002 of the Russian Research Foundation.


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Corresponding author:

The study initiated within the frame of a project to trace influences of ancient ideas on modern science, social culture and education was designed to provide theoretical and practical basics for the fencing bout culture analysis in application to artistic fencing considered as a modern sport discipline. The study demonstrates that it is the fencer’s body language spelling out the fencer’s mental and emotional state and the relevant socio-cultural action templates that are actually used to construct the prototype behavioural models in the artistic bouts. Furthermore, the study finds and explores the links of artistic fencing, social culture and the emotional context created within the socio-cultural image flows in the artistic fencing performance process. The role of emotions in the bout comprises a special subject to the study since artistic fencing shows every visual sign of a physical practice demonstrating the key techniques of a top-quality swordsmanship. In the context of the study, artistic fencing is interpreted as a theatrical performance giving the top priority to aesthetics of every move and action of the fencer geared to evoke high emotional responses in spectators. The fencing bout culture analysis is generalized by an analytical reference to emotions as a physiological and culture-driven process of the external impulses being affectively reflected in the fencer’s psyche. The socio-cultural interpretation of the emotional response origins and functionality may be referred to as the mainstream of the study that helps spell out the fundamental aspects of key concepts and missions of an athlete’s training in artistic fencing.

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