Of Men, Women and Swordplay

No, this isn’t one of THOSE kinds of posts! Get your mind out of the gutter! I am speaking strictly of sword-fighting tournaments and the people who compete in them. I went to a sword tournament this past weekend to watch Hubs compete. Now, this isn’t typical fencing with the skinny stick and holding one hand away from you. I am talking about long-swords. Medieval type sword fighting. The kind of sword fighting they *try* to portray in movies (and fail miserably).

If you are still confused or merely just more interested, here is a video from the NYT on it:


Ok, up to speed? While that story is a little old (they actually have better circles for them to fight in instead of taped together pipes!), it will still give you an idea of what is going on. I am also speaking of the tournaments I have been to in the United States. I cannot speak to those outside of it.

It is a new-ish sport, only around for a couple of decades or so. It isn’t main-stream in that there are very few vendors that sell the specialized equipment. However, after going to our third tournament, there is a few things I noticed.

  1. There aren’t a lot of women compared to men competing.
  2. The women are more timid when paired with a male opponent as opposed to a female opponent.
  3. The women that are there very rarely win the tournament.

I don’t want anyone reading this to jump to the conclusion that I am man bashing. I am not. I am, however, writing on the bigger social implications of these three things. I made a point to watch when the women fought with both men and women opponents.

I can say that while there aren’t many women (compared to men) competing, I am happy to see this isn’t because of a bro’s club mentality. Women are welcome to learn, train and fight and even encouraged to do so.  That said, there were a lot of women at these tournaments just spectating. Hearing some of them talk they are apprehensive of if they could compete and opted to just watch. This was the sad part and kinda leads to the next part of my observations.

There were 400+ people at this tournament. However, there was a significantly smaller pool of women fighters (without combing through all 400+ of the names, about 40 women fought – give or take a few).  I saw the difference in fighting styles in the separate women’s tier compared to the main tiers where everyone was allowed to sign up. It seems that most of the women that actually DO train, may opt to not compete for reasons I will state later.

Looking at the women’s fights and how they fought each other, they seems more at ease in their fights. They were more aggressive towards each other and more willing to engage each other in bashing each other over the head. However, when watching a woman with a man opponent, the men were no more aggressive than with each other, but the women were more timid in their response.

This means that the women seemed to be more willing to whittle their male opponents down with smaller scored strikes then out-and-out bashing each other over the head. I feel like I need to clarify that all strikes are not equal. A strike on the hand is worth less than one to the head or a thrust to the torso. This can work in the short-term and certainly they can – and do – win single fights. However, with some of the more aggressive men, this isn’t a good strategy and I have yet to see many women make it to the finals (I think in one tournament I did see one woman make it to eliminations).

I am offering one caveat. That isn’t to say that ALL women fight like this against other women or men. That is just to say that is what I, personally, observed over the course of three tournaments. This also isn’t to say that there isn’t any women that wouldn’t just wail on a male opponent. I just didn’t happen to observe them or they weren’t in the tournaments/fights that I witnessed.

This leads me to the reasons of these things. If it isn’t because men shut women out, then what is it? I think we have to look at the sociology of fighting and men and women. My husband commented to me about what one of the male competitors said while they were watching one of the fights. The man said, “they don’t stand a chance against us [men].” At first glance, this can look like arrogance, but I don’t think that is the case. I think it is for the reason I stated above, that women tend to be more timid. Women won’t push the boundaries of their skills.

This begs the question why? This is where the sociology comes in. In a nutshell, women are taught to fear. From the time we are girls we are taught to be careful of things that are dangerous. We are taught that some things are “boy” things and some things are “girl” things and that if it is a “boy” thing then girls are naturally less inclined to be good at it.

What is more “manly” than sword fighting? When you hear tales of great warriors, how many women have you hear of?

I can’t help but wonder, if these sword fighting women were taught when then were younger that they could be just as good, if not better, than a boy and they never were exposed to gender “differences” – would they fight differently? Would they actually win the gold medals at these tournaments? Would more women compete and not sit on the sidelines wishing they were brave/talented/good enough to fight these men?

There is only one way to know for sure. Get the word out. Let women know they can do it. They need to compete. They need to try. Be aggressive. Don’t let your opponent have any room to breathe, no matter their gender. Don’t be scared. You are strong and a brave. Show the world what you are made of.




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