I began writing a blog post about "Fighters of Skill," until I realized how pointless this was.
Many warriors through the ages have been highly skilled. How many of them can you actually named? When it comes to skilled combatants, most people are just ignorant of skilled combatants. However, they are well aware of cinematic combatants.
In D&D, to no small extent, skill and cinematic tend to be confounded. Cinema is how we learn what a truly skilled swordsman is. We have Errol Flynn in our minds when we think of swordplay. We might even imagine wuxia films if we are broadly watched.
How many designers have see true sword fighting by well trained fighters? Even more so, how many players? Relatively few. Our basis for realism, for truly skilled warriors, is stunningly shallow, which is a shame.
From the brief examples that I've seen of trained warriors, those people can manipulate the battlefield around them with astonishing grace. They don't even seem to work at it. To them, the sword is secondary to the situation as a whole. A sword is just on tool among many.
This would lead you to think that D&D does swashbuckling and wuxia films better than true skill, but that's not the case either. Swashbuckling has always seemed a hacked in style to the game. It always seems to work so-so. Swordplay always seemed to work against the system. Where D&D did try wuxia, a vast amount of the player base rejected it.
One the whole, I don't think that the fighter adequately represents any skilled tropes that a player would be familiar with. Even more aggravatingly, in what should be a fighters unassailable mainstay, 3rd edition peeled off the swashbuckler class, leaving the fighter sharing the skilled warrior role.
Interestingly, this type of fighter is the only type of cultural fighter without some sort of magic, mostly because it's all stage fighting. There no place in film for warrior cults. Wuxia might have some magical effects, but just as often, has none at all.
Am I right in this, or is this just my limited observations?