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When someone mentions the word "fencing," many immediately imagine two men in lavish costumes, brandishing ornate weapons as they fight to the death for the honor of a beautiful lady. That is what stage and screen portray fencing to be.

Others imagine two competitors, male or female, dressed in white. They use plain swords, usually hooked up to an electric scoring device. A referee awards points based on the lights on a box in front of them.

These are two very different aspects of swordplay, or fencing. Why the difference?

The first reason is style. Competitive fencing emphasizes small, precise movements. On a stage, these movements would go unnoticed to the audience due to the quick, flashing blades. The bout would be over before the viewer could understand what happened. Overexaggerated parries and attacks are needed to keep the audience's interest. These moves would be damaging to a competitor.

Another reason for the differences in stage and competitive fencing is safety, which is of paramount concern to both sides of the fencing coin. In competitive fencing, proper equipment is worn to protect the fencer from injury. The tightly woven mask should be strong enough to stop a bullet. It must be in such a high speed game. But the clothing can be boring when everyone wears white. And the mask hides the dramatic facial expressions. So stage fencers must adopt their own safety devices. Their swords are generally made from a lighter metal. They must develop and practice a carefully choreographed routine so each fencer (actor) will know exactly where each blade will be and when. Choreography is necessary in stage fencing, whereas the element of surprise is important in competitive fencing.

The third reason, and difference, is the competition itself. It goes without saying that the point of competitive fencing is to compete and win. The point of stage fencing is to entertain the audience. Both have their merit. Both can be breathtaking when executed correctly. The end result is a job well done. A victory on both parts.

Which is better? That is for the individual to decide. Some like the thrill of competition. They enjoy the fast pace. The need to think on their feet. Others like to imagine themselves the dashing hero from long ago, where duty and honor reigned. Or the joy of the audience's approval. Whether someone is an Olympic hopeful, or aspires to be the next Errol Flynn, there is something for everyone.