A Duel Will Take Place in Washington Square Park Sunday


This Sunday, from from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Holley Plaza in Washington Square Park will be the site of an actual duel, hosted by the Martinez Academy of Arms. Along with a demonstration of the older methods of swordsmanship, observers will get facts, stories and anecdotes about the history of dueling in New York City. (Apparently this is the first time there will have been a duel in Washington Square Park in 100 years.) Maestros Ramon Martinez and Jeannette Acosta-Martinez, as well as staff Instructor Jared Kirby, Saga Krishnaraj, Keena Suh, and Lou Costa will be there to demonstrate.

Of course, the most well-known duel of New York City, or at least the one we think of when we hear “duel,” is the one between Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr, which actually didn’t take place in New York City at all but in Weehawken, New Jersey. And, it was with a gun, and Burr killed Hamilton, basically ending his own political career as well as Hamilton’s, obviously. But we digress. Sunday’s duel will feature fencing as practiced in the 18th and 19th centuries in New York City, and no one will be shot, thank goodness. We are told, “rather than fantasy-play, [a/k/a, the recent light saber battle in the park], this is historical and is about the real thing.”

Some fascinating duel info from Ben Miller, who helped set up the event and has been a fencing student of the Martinezes for many years:

The history of dueling in New York dates as far back as the 1600s, and, unbeknownst to most, lasted into the early 20th century. During the 18th century, duels were fought more frequently in New York City than in any other American city. Although no exact figure has ever been compiled as to the total number of duels fought in the city, in September of 1780, five duels were fought in one week; likewise, in September of 1786, a letter published in a New York newspaper noted that “Dueling of late seems to be very predominant in this city…for if reports are to be relied on, there has been two or three challenges given within this week past.”

On Staten Island alone, nearly fifty officers were court-martialed and dishonorably discharged during the Revolutionary War in consequence of dueling and gambling. Throughout the ages, combats were fought by men as well as women, using weapons such as the small-sword, broadsword, saber, sword-cane, pistol, and stiletto knife.

Sunday’s demonstrations will include:

  • The 18th century French small-sword, used for personal defense.
  • The art of foil, the core training implement utilized in both civilian and military schools.
  • Fencing with the stick, another training tool used in fencing schools through out the 19th century.
  • Fencing with the sabre, demonstrating both the dueling sabre used in civilian duels and the military sabre.
  • Fencing with the dueling sword, used specifically in affairs honor.

If you go check it out, remember that Washington Square park was also a burial ground, as well as a hanging ground during the American Revolution. 15,000 bodies are apparently still buried there today. But there are positively zero dueling chipmunks. That is what we call cocktail party conversation.

Update: Miller clarifies, “We won’t be fighting a “real” duel with sharp swords (that would be against the law!)…people will be witnessing an authentic demonstration of what a duel would actually look like, both in terms of the fencing technique, ritual, and etiquette involved (none of which have been seen in the park in ages)…but we will, of course, be demonstrating with blunted weapons to keep things safe. So no actual blood will be shed!”

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