To those who think sword fighting is a lost art, found only in classic literature and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy – you have not yet heard of the Davis Period Fencing club.
The DPF club aims to teach students fencing techniques translated from the pages of 15th, 16th and 17th century Spanish and Italian documents.
This classical method of fencing teaches martial arts-style skills that would help defend against a real attack.
“A gentleman or a lady walking around with a weapon needs to be able to protect themselves,” said Puck Curtis, co-founder of the club and historical fencing instructor at the Davis Fencing Academy. “Instructors from Italy will say, ‘The principles you find from studying a weapon will protect you in any situation.'”
In order to learn historical fencing, scholars must first study and translate centuries-old documents.
“There are two parts to what we do,” Curtis said. “The first part is research. We have to study the original books that the masters wrote during the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. Then, we go to the art of the sword, which is the practice and the training.”
Curtis and his wife, Mary, wanted to explore a more sophisticated approach to fencing than what modern fencing provided. They began researching 16th and 17th century Italian and Spanish texts in the mid-1990s. In 2001 they founded the club and the Destreza Translation and Research Project – their organization dedicated to researching historical fencing techniques.
Mary Curtis, who has a master’s degree in Spanish literature from UC Davis, is currently working on her dissertation for her doctorate in Spanish literature. Puck Curtis became a fencing master of classical Italian fencing from the San Jose Fencing Master’s program in 2008.
The two recently returned from a trip from Spain where they researched and practiced fencing from the 16th and 17th centuries.
“I attended fencing practices with a historical fencing group in Spain taught by Alberto Bomprezzi (Asociación Española de Esgrima Antigua), and I worked with J. Ignacio Díez Fernández, a professor of Spanish literature at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid,” Mary Curtis said in an e-mail interview. “I am currently working with and continuing to transcribe many of the copies of published texts and historical documents from the 16th and 17th centuries that I acquired in Spain.”
Though the club is currently on hiatus due to the Curtis’ trip, Puck Curtis continues to teach historical fencing at the Davis Fencing Academy. One student, Kevin Murakoshi, discovered the sport while wandering on-campus one night.
“I was really mad because I had organized an event for the UC Davis Computer Science Club and no one had shown up,” said Murakoshi, an alumnus in computer science. “So I was wandering around campus late at night, and I heard the sound of swords in front of Young Hall.”
“I went up and there was Puck and a few other guys from the club, fencing. I stood and watched and kind of got hooked.”
Cost for members of the DPF is $30 per month and $10 for Davis Fencing Academy students, according to their website.
The group occasionally competes in regional competitions and at local Renaissance fairs. Puck Curtis said that competitions are not ideal ways to practice the historical style, which often goes against competitions’ standards of safety.
“A tournament can be a useful test. But because we have to be safe, a tournament isn’t necessarily the best test of combat. You have to train for things that aren’t safe as well,” Puck Curtis said.
For example, one Italian master explains how to kick an opponent in the groin, and then recommends holding on, because he’s going to struggle for about 30 seconds. This will reduce his vigor, said Puck Curtis of the master.
The most important goal of historical fencing is to accurately understand and practice the underlying principles taught by the masters.
“It can be a real challenge because we don’t have the original authors to go back to. We have to make the best guesses we can and try to be honest about what they say and about what we’re doing,” Puck Curtis said.
“It is deadly serious, but it’s a lot of fun and we have a really good time doing it.”
For more information, visit plumes.org/destreza/italian.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.