Prior to the invention of gunpowder, the sword was arguably the most commonly used weapon. Employed in warfare, for self-defense and also as a means to settling one-on-one duels, sword fighting was once a common and necessary skill. Now, with the proliferation of firearms, sword usage has been relegated to a popular form of sport and recreation.
Fencing is an Olympic sport involving three different types of nonlethal sword -- the foil, epee and saber. The foil is a lightweight, flexible weapon that is based on the practice sword used by French duelists. The epee, stiffer than the foil, is a variation of a 19th century sword called a rapier. The saber, which resembles the sword used by cavalry soldiers, is both a stabbing and slashing weapon. Fencers wear protective clothing and masks to make their swordplay as safe as possible. They tend to specialize in one weapon, as each is used differently and is governed by different rules.
Kendo means "the way of the sword" in Japanese. In place of traditional samurai swords, kendo proponents use wooden staves known as bokken for performing practice routines called katas; or they use leather-bound bamboo swords called shinai for full-contact sparring. Kendo practitioners wear armor, padded gloves and helmets with a grilled face plate for protection, as strikes, even with a bamboo shinai, can be painful and could result in injury.
Medieval Sword Fighting
Medieval sword fighting is an emerging sword-wielding sport where participants dress in period-style armor and use the weapons of the Middle Ages -- namely the broadsword. While medieval sword fighting is not an Olympic sport, there are national and international competitions and a world championship held every four years. In addition to sword fighting, participants can also compete in duels using maces, bludgeons, pikes and poleaxes.
Theatrical Sword Fighting
TV shows, movies and stage plays sometimes involve sword fighting. This type of martial combat is choreographed and practiced in advance so that both actors know exactly who is doing what and when. The resulting fight looks exciting and realistic but is generally safe for all involved. Fights are normally orchestrated by expert choreographers who specialize in theatrical sword fighting and stage combat. Classic films featuring sword fighting include "Gladiator," "The Princess Bride," movies from the "Star Wars" franchise and the "Kill Bill" movies.