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A Grand Assault of Arms in New York City

November 6, 2014
Above: An assault of the saber versus the bayonet, Harper's Weekly, 1974.

Above: An assault of the saber versus the bayonet, Harper’s Weekly, 1874.

This Sunday, at the Jan Hus Church in Manhattan, classical fencers will gather to take part in an ancient tradition, one that hearkens back to the New York of the nineteenth century—the Grand Assault of Arms. Audiences will be treated to contests of classical (19th century) fencing, as well as demonstrations of the European martial arts of the rapier, dagger, bayonet, saber versus bayonet, cane, Spanish knife, and cape.

An assault-of-arms, is, simply put, “an exhibition of fencing with various weapons.” During the nineteenth century, those particularly large or lavish assaults began to adopt the appellation “Grand”—as in the case of an 1857 New York City tournament, in which it was announced that “one man will defend himself against twelve assailants.”

Above: Announcement for a Grand Assault in the New York Tribune, March 16, 1857.

Above: Announcement for a Grand Assault in the New York Tribune, March 16, 1857.

Nor was this the first Assault-of Arms to be held in New York City; a Colonel De La Croix had directed one in Mahattan in 1811, and in 1857, two were held on Broadway, one under the auspices of an F. Lambert (see above), the other by Henry Gebhard.

Engraving of an assault of arms in Boston, 1859. Source: http://www.ahfi.org/

During the 1860s and 1870s, the Grand Assault continued to develop and grow in popularity, particularly in France, where such gala events were attended by hundreds, even thousands, of spectators, as well as high-level politicians, military men, artists, journalists, and members of the aristocracy.

Illustration of fencers with rapier, cloak and daggers. New York, 1891.

Illustration of fencers with rapier, cloak and daggers. New York, 1891.

The public event this Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014, will take place from 3-5 PM, and will include contest finals in foil, epee (dueling sword), and saber. A variety of historical fencing styles will be demonstrated, including 17th century Spanish rapier and dagger vs. Italian rapier and dagger, 18th century French small-sword vs. Neopolitan spada, 19th century French bayonet fencing (including versus the saber), and Spanish Navaja and cape.

Tickets are available at a discount in advance at http://ahfi.org/events/grand-assault-of-arms/ga-spectator

A duel with Spanish navajas. Source: http://www.cervantesvirtual.com

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