Origins of European Fencing
To understand the origins of European fencing, we need to understand the origins of the weapon. Fencing as a name is itself an abbreviation of the word defence. The system therefore originates in the martial systems of defence taught to warriors in Europe. Some of the earliest surviving manuals on fencing appear in the medieval period, where systems of combat were taught to the nobility. However modern fencing is focused around use of the sword. The sword has evolved through different forms over time.
The early swords of the medieval period were referred to as arming swords. These tended to be designed for cutting techniques, characterised by wider blades and more rounded blade points. However, as techniques in metal work improved, so did armour. As a result, swords had to change to remain effective. Thus, swords were made with tapered points, that emphasised the thrust rather than the cut. By the renaissance the arming sword had been replaced in large part by the rapier as well as other variants such as the Spada de Lato.
This new type of sword was employed often with a support weapon like a dagger, buckler or even a cloak. Over time the rapier itself was phased out for weapons like the small sword that became known for its use by the nobility as well as in duelling. We can see then, that modern fencing and the movement it espouses is routed in the design of the sword.