How Jean Louis-Michel from Haiti became the best swordsman ever in the army of Napoleon

Stephen Nartey February 03, 2023
Jean Louis-Michel/photo credit: Wikipedia

He was acclaimed as one of the pioneering Black fencing masters of the 19th century. Jean Louis-Michel is regarded as the godfather of fencing in France. Fencing is a martial art technique that is grounded in sword fighting.

By the time Louis-Michel retired, he was considered an authority in the art of fencing and had mentored many soldiers and influential swordsmen of the 19th century, according to

Louis-Michel was born in 1735 in Saint Domingue (Haiti). His father once served in the French army as its go-to fencing coach. This offered Louis-Michel the opportunity to learn the art at an early age. Historical records detail how he was involved in make-or-break tournaments in his youthful days, beating many of the contenders.

He came against a Spanish duelist who was much taller than him in the finals of the tournament. It is reported that his fighting strategy which gave him the upper hand over his opponents was to swerve their thrusts and advances till they grew weary, then he attacked with his sword. This strategy resulted in a fatal assault on many who faced off with him.

When Louis-Michel came of age, like his father, he was enlisted into the French army’s 32nd Regiment of the 3rd Division serving under Napoleon. He became feared as one of the world’s deadliest fencers.

It is documented that one of his most popular exploits was a “regimental mass duel” near Madrid, Spain, in 1814. That year, a quarrel ensued between French soldiers from the 32nd Regiment and Italian soldiers from the 1st Regiment. In 40 minutes, Louis-Michel had defeated thirteen Italian fencing masters.

He was knighted by the Legion of Honour on July 29, 1814. He encountered many fencing challenges but he survived all and honored requests to train others. He retired from active military duties in 1830 and established a fencing school in Montpellier.

He died at the age of 80. He was married to Spaniard, Josefa Montes. He was survived by a daughter who also became a fencing champion. Prior to his death, Louis-Michel was honored with the Medal of Saint Helena by Napoleon in 1857. His style of fencing has been modified by many fencing schools and passed from generation to generation.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: February 3, 2023


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