The art of the Duel part 1

The art of the Duel

Western martial arts, as with many forms of martial arts, were born out of violent times and the necessity to defend oneself. It was through such violence and the development of combative arts that a culture of judicial and non-judicial dueling came to flourish.

It is this topic that I have chosen to talk about within this article, as it is a large part of not only our culture but our martial heritage.


Before taking a look at the duel itself, it is important to first look at the type of society in which dueling existed, and the mentality of the people to whom dueling was an ordinary event. In these societies, dueling was looked on as a way to legally settle disputes. Dueling was seen as a practical way to contain violence and also allowed people to monetize on the violent nature of the time.

When looking at the dueling mentality it is easy to get bogged down in images of honor and chivalry, and in some cases this was indeed how dueling occurred. However, more often than not it was other motives that drove people to commit to such fights.

One motive that was probably the biggest and most alluring of them all is greed. Dueling could generated a lot of money for the person involved as well as allowing one to further their position or garner fame by discrediting or beating someone of repute. This in turn meant that at times, duels would be very public affairs and would be advertised sometimes weeks if not months in advance. The general public would also be involved in large betting rings with people profiteering from the duels themselves. To the general public, dueling was seen as a legal means to pursue grievances.

To the modern day reader the mentality of such a society is hard to fathom and is in turn hard to put into context that seems even remotely reasonable. However such topics must be approached with the knowledge that violence was much more accepted and prevalent than in today’s modern society.

Training for the duel

A large component of western martial arts is training for the purpose of the duel. This was a means of generating money for fight instructors and martial arts school.

Many of the fighting manuals or fight books written at the time by western martial arts masters dealt not only with the training required in order to fight and survive a duel, but also the legality and reasons behind the duel itself.

Geovanni dall’Agocchie, a prominent Bolognese Fencing master dedicated a large section of his fight book published in 1572 to dueling. Particularly, he focused on training to fight a duel in just thirty days. Within these 30 days the student would gain a basic knowledge of how to defend him/her self with their chosen weapon.

Geovanni also writes about the mentality that one should have when fighting in a duel. To take a quote from his writings “It is rare to find a person who does their duty without moving in anger, fear or another reason. Intellect is obscure, and for this reason it is not possible to use” In other words Geovanni is talking about keeping calm and using subtlety and intellect to fight rather than losing control and being fueled by rage.

An earlier German master by the name of Hans Talhoffer wrote an account of a different type of duel. He wrote about a duel between a man and a woman over a marital dispute. This account highlighted some advantages that may be given, for instance with this particular account the man was placed in a waist high pit while the woman could move freely.

The late Elizabethan master Vincentino Saviolo dedicated his second book to dueling. More specifically the book dealt with the formality and art of honorable dueling. It is with accounts like this that we see that many fight instructors not only taught how to fight but also the reasons to why one should, and the mentality with which one should approach dueling.

Accounts such as these also shine some light into the formality and reasoning’s behind such events and to the profiteering gained from training and preparation of those involved in duels.

Check back soon for part 2

Thanks for reading.