The Ancient Art of Swordsmanship still Survives in Jackson, MS

By Diane Johnson



Maestro, Rez Johnson (in black) of the Mississippi Academy of Arms and a few of his senior students.


Classical Fencing, the ancient art of offense and defense with swords, has been passed down from Master to Apprentice for over 1000 years. Traditionally fencing was a serious and deadly martial art, the domain of European swordsmen and aristocratic duelists. Today, this tradition continues at the Mississippi Academy of Arms, where the western martial arts of Classical Fencing, Historical Swordsmanship, and Cane Fighting are still taught.

In addition to being a fun and exciting activity, classical fencing is a "superb form of exercise, which builds endurance, strength, flexibility, and the capacity to relax under fire. It improves coordination, while benefiting both circulation, and respiration. Mentally it is as stimulating as chess, enhancing observational skills and the ability to think abstractly. Ultimately, fencing blends both mind and body into an effective whole. Fencing also develops self-confidence, self-control over one’s own reactive nature, and patience."

According to Rez Johnson, the Headmaster of the Mississippi Academy of Arms, "Most people have trouble sticking with typical fitness routines for very long because most fitness routines are repetitive, monotonous, and boring. It's just plain hard to stay motivated with boring exercise. Fortunately, we don't have that problem in classical fencing. Swordfighting is so much fun that you don't realize what a great workout you are getting until it's all over. Then you go 'Whew, I'm exhausted.' But it's a good kind of exhausted which leaves you feeling relaxed and invigorated at the same time."

Rez has had several students lose as much as 50 pounds through fencing alone. One of Rez’s students who is a diabetic was able to switch from taking insulin injections to taking pills. His doctor asked him what he was doing and he told him the only change in his life was that he had taken up fencing six months earlier. His doctor told him, 'keep fencing.' Rez is noted for successfully using classical fencing drills as a form of physical therapy and rehabilitation to help students with disabilities overcome their physical limitations. Other students have noticed increased levels of energy, flexibility, leg strength, endurance, and balance after just a few weeks of classical fencing.

Because of it's chess-like strategy fencing exercises the brain too. Students develop higher levels of alertness, concentration, and the ability to think strategically. According to Rez, "Fencing is one of the best ways I know of to forget all the hassles of work and school and burn off the day's stress. And then there's that esoteric level of fencing, you know, there's just something about hitting something or someone that is inherently pleasant to man. And of course it's all safe and good-natured, in all our duels no one gets hurt, no one really dies. The deaths are only theoretical because our swords are flexible and the points are blunt. Everyone lives to fight another day, and without 'running away' as the old cliché goes."

As a child Rez was an avid fan of swashbuckling films and would often organize swordfights in the backyard with his friends using sticks. He read everything he could find about knights and swords and swordfighting, but could find no fencing teacher in Mississippi in the1960s and 1970s. So instead he took up judo as a child and studied several different martial arts through adulthood. Rez was first introduced to fencing at the age of 19 by his good friend David Williams.

From the start Rez aapproached fencing from the realistic viewpoints of "what if they were sharp?" and "What if this was a real duel?" Rez never enjoyed fencing which wasn't realistic or true to its roots. In spite of Rez's past accomplishments as a certified sport fencing coach he never abandoned this view.

Rez was instrumental in introducing fencing to Mississippi in the early 1980s and instrumental in reintroducing it in the early 1990s after moving back from graduate school in Texas. Rez hold many fencing firsts in Mississippi. (See list after this article). Rez has been teaching fencing in Mississippi and Texas since 1980 and holds instructor certification in foil, epee, and sabre through the Academie d'Armes Internationale and the United States Fencing Coaches Association. His training to become a fencing master was done the traditional way, through a long apprenticeship with a fencing master, the former USFCA President and Olympic fencing coach, Robert F. Scranton of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Fencing is an activity which can be equally enjoyed by men, women, boys, and girls of all ages, abilities, and disabilities. It can be pursued on a purely recreational level, on a highly competitive level, or in the case of the Mississippi Academy of Arms, from the perspective of a traditional martial art.

Rez's e-mail signature is a quote from the Arturo Perez novel, The Fencing Master, and states how he sees himself as an instructor of the old traditional styles of fencing; "Standing guard on old, forgotten roads, that no one travels anymore."

If you are interested in learning more about the western martial arts of Classical Fencing, Historical Swordsmanship, or Cane Fighting please visit the Mississippi Academy of Arms' website at www.msfencing.org then use the contact page to send us an e-mail.

"Only a narrow mind could doubt that classical fencing is an art. True artists recognize and admire other arts besides their own, and I have yet to find one, be he musician, sculptor, painter, writer, or actor, who does not succumb to the galvanic attraction of fencing as soon as he or she grasps its full meaning. The greater the artist, the greater his ever-increasing passion for it. Perhaps this is so because all arts are interwoven into one."

Aldo Nadi, World Professional Foil Champion, 1926


Rez was instrumental in introducing fencing to Mississippi
in the early 1980s and has many fencing firsts.

1. Rez co-founded Jackson's first fencing club with David Williams and John Fritts.

2. Between 1980 and 1988 Rez introduced fencing through eight annual sports camps to over 1000 children in Mississippi and Texas.

3. In 1992 Rez co-founded the official Jackson Fencing Club at Belhaven College with David Williams and John Fritts.

4. In 1999 Rez became a professional fencing instructor and established Mississippi's first professional school of fencing which he named the Mississippi Academy of Arms.

5. Later in 1999 Rez founded the new Jackson Fencing Club at First Baptist Church in Jackson, MS.

6. That same year he also founded Ridgeland, MS's first fencing club at the Ridgeland Recreation Center.

7. In early 2000 Rez founded Clinton's first fencing club at the Baptist Health Plex on the campus of Mississippi College. Rez served as head coach for all three fencing clubs simultaneously and later trained instructors to teach for him at his Clinton club. (The Mississippi Academy of Arms and Rez are not affiliated with the current "new" Clinton Fencing Club. Ironically however, its founder/instructor, Richard, was first introduced to fencing in one of Rez's Fencing Intro Courses held at Rez's "old" Clinton Fencing Club. Richard later under went several months of training under Rez for fencing instructor certification.)


8. In 2002 Rez established Mississippi's first full service professional Salle d'Armes (The Mississippi Fencing Academy) which was located for several years in a 4000 square foot building across the street from Barnes & Nobles on County Line Road in Jackson/Ridgeland.

9. Rez hosted (and served as tournament director and referee) the first USFA tournaments ever held in Jackson and Ridgeland and all of the USFA tournaments held in the Jackson Metropolitan area between 1999 & 2002.

10. Rez's competitive sport fencing students won numerous 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place medals and trophies in USFA regional events. Rez's students were State Champions, Divisional Champions, Junior Olympic Qualifiers, National Qualifiers, North American Cup Champions, and Veterans Champions.

11. Rez hosted the first United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA) Fencing Workshop ever held in Mississippi.

12. Rez hosted the first United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA) Coaches Workshop ever held in Mississippi.

13. Rez (simultaneous with his assistant instructor David) was the first USFCA certified Fencing Master Apprentice in the state of Mississippi, having been invited by then USFCA President, Fencing Master Robert Scranton to become his apprentice.

14. Rez (simultaneous with his assistant instructor David) was the first coach in Mississippi to pass the USFCA Foil Instructor Certification exams (written and practical) and become the first certified Foil Instructor in the state of Mississippi.

15. Rez (simultaneous with his assistant instructor David) was the first coach in Mississippi to pass the USFCA Epee Instructor Certification exams (written and practical) and become the first certified Epee Instructor in the state of Mississippi.

16. Rez (simultaneous with his assistant instructor David) was the first coach in Mississippi to pass the USFCA Sabre Instructor Certification exams (written and practical) and become the first certified Sabre Instructor in the state of Mississippi.

17. Rez (simultaneous with his assistant instructor David) was the first coach in Mississippi to pass the first six written and practical instructor exams toward USFCA Fencing Master certification and becoming the first fencing coach in Mississippi to earn the rank of Moniteuir de Escrime from the USFCA and the Academie d'Armes Internationale.

18. Long after dropping USFA sport fencing from the Academy's offerings (2002) Rez's sport fencing influence is still being felt in Mississippi and other states with fencers and coaches he trained. Rez's former assistant Instructors David Williams and Richard Jones are now writing the pages of 21st century sport fencing in Mississippi with their continued teaching of sport fencing in the Clinton area.

19. First Classical Fencing Instructor in the state of Mississippi

20. First Historcial Fencing Instructior in the state of Mississippi.

21. First Goju-Shorei Weapons System Instructor in the state of Mississippi.

22. Won 1st place in the state's first Classic Duel

23. Won 1st place in the state's second Classic Duel

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