Jean Louis, a Fencing legend


Jean Louis
Date: 
Fri, 1785-07-29

*The birth of Jean Louis in 1785 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black French fencer and teacher.

From Haiti, Louis was arguably the finest fencer who ever lived. In his youth, Jean Louis took part in a winner take all tournament to the death. In the final Jean-Louis, a short, around 5' 2", dueled for 1 hour with a Spanish opponent who was 6 ft tall. Then as the Spaniard lost concentration Jean-Louis finished him. Louis served as a soldier in the French army under Napoleon.

He was most famous for a series of regimental duels held outside Madrid, Spain, in 1814. Italian soldiers from the 1st Regiment and French soldiers from the 32nd Regiment of the 3rd Division of the French Army quarreled. Within 40 minutes, Jean-Louis is reputed to have killed three Italian masters including the Florentine master, Giacomo Ferrari, and wounded 10 others with 27 thrusts. On another occasion, having been subject to repeated insults, he insisted in defending himself using only a training foil against a larger opponent armed with a rapier.

Louis adopted the most familiar tactic of retreating until his opponent tired himself with a series of clumsy attacks, whereupon he suddenly parried strongly and riposted with a wicked slash to the face, thereby teaching him a lesson in humility. He refused a commission, and in 1830, he retired to Montpellier, where he opened a fencing school. In later life he taught that fencing to the death was blight on society. His style, which emphasised the conservation of movement, was a major influence on the French school of fencing, despite leaving no written record. This also led to his attempts to remove tierce from the classic parries.

He is credited with the sayings, "A foil should be held as one holds a little bird; not so tightly as to crush it, but just enough to prevent it escaping from the hand." and "Fencing is the art of conciliation." Vigeant said of him "Jean-Louis' face which appeared hard at first meeting, hid a soul of great goodness and generosity." John Louis died in 1865.

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Person / name: 

Louis, Jean