This article on Women’s fencing as a healthy and proper form of exercise for ladies appeared in the May 4th, 1895 issue of Home Chat, a Weekly Magazine for the Home.
How is it that, though hobbies are acknowledged to be the very healthiest outlets busy men and women can possibly possess, oftentimes just the antidote to the cares and duties of their daily life most needed to keep them in good trim, how is it, indeed, that hobbies invariably call for excuses.
Take fencing, for example. Directly a narrow-minded person hears that a woman has begun to learn fencing, he or she asks the disagreeable question, “What possible good can fencing be to anyone? Our girls don’t want to fight, do they?”
This is all that is wanted to make the ardent fencer bristle with arguments on behalf of her hobby. It is the art of arms par excellence, for a woman. In it she can express grace of movement and beauty of finish to perfection. She would not box; to ply the single-stick is not her wish.
But to learn the most perfect of all assaults-at-arms, the use and science of the foils, is to practice the most searching and complete of all exercises, and to acquire not only strength for her muscles, a grace of carriage, and an absolute sense and mastery of balance, but an alertness of brain, a quickness of decision, a general briskness and hyper-intelligence, which fencing only can impart.
It is the essence of exercise, physical and mental, and the best of it is that, although years are required to bring a pupil to perfection as a fencer, every single lesson that is taken revives her, renews her, re-creates her. That is true.
To keep the body youthful, and the mind from rust, fencing is a hobby that cannot too highly be applauded. There is absolutely only one point about it in which it is imperfect, and that is that it does not lead its votaries into the open air. On the other hand, it is an exercise that gives more delight and invigoration in a less space of time than any other. Ten minutes with the foils is more than equal to a three-mile walk, and brings into play more of the muscles than any walk. Twenty minutes a day at fencing is ample exercise for the most energetic woman.
As an art, fencing has more devotees in France and Italy than in England; indeed, it is at home in those countries, and ours is but one of adoption. Nevertheless, not only in the army is the practice general now. In London there are many salles d’armes, and during the last two or three years, ladies have become, if not so numerous, as men in the schools, at least as enthusiastic and as successful.
The French is the more elegant and beautiful method than the Italian, and should be learned by English people; and here it may be mentioned that an English instructor is usually much less to be desired than a French one. Fencing, like every other art, can easily be learned wrong, and, once so acquired, is very difficult to correct and improve.
The ideal way of learning is to make up a class of friends and engage the services of a competent Frenchman either at his own salle d’armes, or, better still, at the studio of one of the class members. Artistic coteries among women have of late inaugurated charming classes. The burden of expense is less under such circumstances, while the enjoyment of the meetings is very much greater than that afforded by a solitary lesson.
The outfit needed for the course is as follows:—A foil, or a couple of foils, a mask, a glove, a padded jacket or breastplate, a short skirt, knickerbockers, and a pair of indiarubber shoes without heels. All these should be good and French.
The foil should cost about 8s. 6d., or a pair be bought, if practice at home, as well as the salle d’armes, be possible; the glove, 6s. 6d.; the mask, about 7s. 6d.; and the jacket any price up to 25s., unless it be made at home, which it quite easily may be, at a very small cost.
It is unnecessary, however, until the pupil be ready to engage in assault, which means until she knows enough of the science to be able to stand up before an antagonist, to buy for her the glove, the mask, or the jacket; indeed, it is as well to take a consider able number of lessons be fore the jacket be made, as there are so many different shapes and kinds, and each fencer has her own particular liking.
Shoes specially designed for fencing, and very pleasant to wear, because of the grip they have on the floor, may be bought, but the common sand shoe, with its corrugated indiarubber sole, is a good and practical substitute, and, of course, much less expensive.
As for petticoats, one only should be worn, over knickerbockers, but it may be ankle length should a woman dislike anything shorter, though to the knee is a more workmanlike length. Serge is a good fabric to use. Stays, of course, are impossible. While resting, a warm cloak should be worn.
The enthusiast who embraces I’escrime as a hobby will need no encouragement during the first few months of her tutelage. She will recognise that, though she progresses slowly, she progresses surely, and, in the invigoration and passion of renewed life, the freshly gained perception of what a healthy, active body and healthy active mind mean, which is part of the bestowal of the exercise, will find the joy that a hobby always brings. She will discover her self able to throw off the small and petty cares of existence, she will increase in activity tenfold, with an ability for climbing mountains, an agility for scaling the tops of omnibuses that will surprise her; and the delight with which she will read up all the literature she can acquire on the subject of her hobby (and it is classic literature) will assure her that she has hit upon the right one.