Central Asian Fencing

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The several weapon disciplines grouped together by foreign media as "Central Asian fencing" are a selection of martial arts from Central Asia. Historically, they were considered to be part of the essential warrior skill set, alongside horsemanship and marksmanship – initially archery, later on rifle shooting. In the modern world, these ancient skill sets have seen a revival as combat sports, though some also practice these martial arts for personal defence.

The disciplines generally included as "Central Asian fencing" are divided into sword disciplines (şamşır, palwar, qulş and yatağan) and spear disciplines (long spear and short spear). All of the Central Asian fencing forms take place in a circular field 10 qulaş (about 55') in diameter.

Sword Disciplines


In Central Asia proper, the Şamşır is the most common type of sword. Competition şamşırs have the most extreme curvature of the four swords in use, standardised at 12° of back curvature from tip to guard. Military şamşırs varied from 5°to 15° of curvature and were often fairly sharply angled, unlike the competition blade's smooth curve. The back-curved blade necessitates a slashing combat style more akin to Japanese forms like kendo than Western straight-sword styles.

Şamşır fencing for sport, like other Central Asian sword disciplines, uses a wooden sword similar in concept to Mediaeval European practice swords or "wasters". Advanced practitioners often prefer to use blunted metal swords for full-contact bouts.

There are two types of şamşır fencing: one incorporating the use of a 1-arçın diameter (approx. 2'-3½") round shield, and one with the blade alone. Whichever the form, when using the şamşır the "touch" must be scored with the leading edge of the weapon.


The Palwar is another curved sword, related to the şamşır but originating in the Moghul Realm. It is straighter than the şamşır, with a back curvature of between 4° and 7°, and has a wider blade sharpened on both sides. Individual palwar are curved slightly differently; before a competition bout the blade curvature of each sword is ceremonially measured and announced, with different masters typically favouring particular degrees of curvature in their sword.

Unlike in şamşır fencing, with the double-edged palwar the "touch" may be scored with either edge.


Despite its linguistic connections to the Turkish Kilij, the Qulş bears little resemblance to its distant descendent. The Turkish kilij is a variety of şamşır-like sword with a broader tip, strongly resembling the typical Western idea of a "scimitar"-type sword. The qulş of Central Asia has been heavily influenced by the Chinese broad sabre or Dao, and is a shorter, straighter and heavier blade. Indeed, the modern competition qulş is basically straight except for the quarter or so of the blade nearest the tip, which curves gently back and broadens somewhat.

The ancient military qulş swords were thus able to be used both for slashing and for thrusting; accordingly, in qulş fencing the "touch" may be scored with either the leading edge or the point.


The yatağan is an unusual design of sword that originated in the Ottoman Empire and was for a while the standard military dress sword of that nation. It was brought to Central Asia through Turkish military liaisons to Turkestan during the Basmaçı Revolt and the early years of independence, and spread from there into other parts of the region.

The yatağan is a single-handed sword that curves forward for most of the blade's length before curving back at the tip. This unusual design necessitates a slightly different combat style than the conventional back-curved blades.

Unlike the other three sword disciplines, the yatağan is not included as an event in the Central Asian Games, as it is considered "not pan-regional enough" in its distribution. Many of the northern Turko-Mongolian republics of the Russian Federation do not use this weapon, and questions have been asked over whether there would be enough competition if it were included. Turkey and Azerbaijan have been campaigning for its inclusion, however.

Spear Disciplines

Long Spear

Spear fencing is similar to the various staff-fighting disciplines from around the world (eg Eastern staff, Western quarterstaff), but incorporates elements of a thrusting sword style as well. Spears, after all, have a point as well as the wooden length of the shaft.

The long spear, or uluq nayza, is 3½ arçın in length (about 8'), and the spearhead makes up 1/6 of that length.

Short Spear

The short spear (qulaş nayza) is quite a different weapon to the long spear. Where the long spear is a more purely thrusting weapon, the short spear is much more like a quarterstaff with the addition of a spearhead on one end and a weight at the other. The short spear is only 1 qulaş (5'-6") in length and is wielded much more like a staff.