During the Middle Ages
(5th century to 15th century) the sword was an offensive weapon used
for cracking armour, and the shield was used for defence. After
gunpowder came into general use, heavy defensive armour became
obsolete, and the sword became a defensive as well as an offensive
weapon. In the 16th century the rapier was introduced in Italy, and
the art of fencing was rapidly systematized in fencing schools. A
dagger in the other hand, and later a folded cloak, replaced the
shield. Eventually the non-sword arm was left free and held away
from the sword arm to minimize the target area. The use of the
rapier and the Italian fencing technique spread throughout Europe.
In France and England, the size and shape of the rapier were
constantly modified because its length and weight made it clumsy to
carry. During the 18th century the small sword, or epée, was
invented and popularized in France; the new weapon resulted in
distinct Italian and French styles of fencing. The Italians used
the rapier in a bravura manner, with pronounced, vigorous gestures.
The French used the epée in a more formal manner, with great
restraint of movement. The French style of fencing became by far
the more prominent. Its rules govern most modern competition, and
the vocabulary of traditional fencing is composed largely of French
During this time,
diGrasse published his famous treatise on "His True Art of Defence",
a rambling but very insightful dissertation on serious Duelling.
In the 19th century duelling was generally outlawed, and the fencing
schools turned to teaching fencing for purposes of sport.