Category Archives: Fundamentals

Fencing 101 : Proper Grip (Foil)

An excellent article on the proper grip of a foil!

Proper grip/hand position on the sword is perhaps the most basic element when it comes to sword mastery.  What many fencers forget (mostly of today’s time) is that fencing is “with the fingers” – the deathly edge at one’s control just as a brush is to an artist.

To achieve a fitting start in swordplay, one must take special care in how they hold the sword.  In classical fencing, the practitioner must remember the words of the swordmaster Doutreval*, (Scaramouche, 1952) who said to student Andre Moreau,

The sword is like a bird.  If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it… to lightly, and it flies away.

When positioning your hand onto the sword for the first time, notice the curve (of the french foil, poigneé) as the inward curve of the grip, should mold to the contour of the base of the…

View original post 235 more words

Fencing Etiquette

We’re continuing with our subject series for this week, strip etiquette. Most of this will be covered in practice, but there are a few tips here that we may not have covered yet.

Lee Kiefer of the U.S. and South Korea's Hyun Hee Nam salute at the start of their women's foil team quarterfinals fencing match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Lee Kiefer of the U.S. and South Korea’s Hyun Hee Nam salute at the start of their women’s foil team quarterfinals fencing match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Proper Etiquette (Salutes and Decorum on the Strip)

After you have hooked up, been tested by the director and tested lames/bell guards, you’ll return to your on guard line, salute your opponent and the director (and in some cases, the audience), put your mask on, come on guard and wait for the command to fence. Stay still when the director asks if you’re ready; they hate a bouncy fencer and will get testy if they have to wait for you to settle down.

VERY IMPORTANT: When the director ask if you are ready – by asking “Fencers ready?” (Or some variation thereof) “Etes-vous prets?” (“Are you ready” in French) or in some other fashion, you MUST respond verbally if you are NOT ready to go, and loudly enough so the director can hear you over the other noises in the area. If you say nothing, that is deemed as an affirmative response, and the director may start the fencing before you’re actually ready. If you get scored on in that situation, it’s your own fault for not letting the director know.

When the director is satisfied that everyone’s ready to go (it may only be a second long of a wait), the command to fence will be given by the director saying “Fence,” “Begin,” “Allez,” (“Begin” in French) or some variation thereof. Once fencing begins, don’t stop until you hear your director call the halt. Even if you KNOW you hit your opponent, that doesn’t mean the light went off, and it’s a sure way to get hit yourself. If you need to, you can remove your mask to wipe sweat out of your eyes, scratch your nose, etc. only AFTER the director has halted the action.

At our club practice, and at most informal encounters between friends, there’s a lot of talking, jibing and “smack talk” between the fencers as they go at each other. You can’t do that in official competition. Nor can you crook a finger in a “bring it on” gesture. This is defined as taunting, and it’s a cardable offense.

If you see a potentially dangerous situation–such as a weapon with a very sharp bend beyond a normal curve, an untied shoelace, a broken blade, some doofus walking across the strip right behind your opponent, etc.–you cannot just stop fencing and call halt yourself. Back up a few steps, raise your non-weapon hand and stomp your foot a bit to get the director’s attention. He or she will stop the bout, and you can have the problem addressed.

Addressing the Director

Only the fencers have the right to address the director in reference to an action, although most directors at the local level will answer a question from a coach. If you need to ask a question, especially if you think you did a parry-riposte and the director says your opponent did a beat-attack, don’t yell at the director; be polite about it. My general rule of thumb is to ask once and let it go if it doesn’t go my way. For example:

Me – “That wasn’t a parry-riposte, Sir?”

Director – “No. Your opponent landed as you parried, then your riposte landed.”

After that, I let it go because arguing never changes the call. Keep in mind, if you’re relatively inexperienced, that the director and fencer will see different things on the same action. Also, in many cases the directors have been directing far longer than you’ve been fencing, so they know what they’re talking about. For good or ill, that person is the director, and he or she is the boss. If you don’t like a call, shake it off and get back to fencing.

Also keep in mind this: if the director states the action as “The attack is from my right, parry riposte from my left,” it cannot be argued because the director’s saying he saw a specific action. If the director says, however, The attack is from my right, and I think it was a parry riposte from my left,” you have the right to argue it if you think it was yours, because he wasn’t sure. Don’t do it too often.

Problems with Your Tip

If you keep hitting your opponent and the light just ain’t going off, you are either not hitting with sufficient pressure to trigger the light (remember the weight test), or hitting flat and not depressing the tip, or hitting later that 40 milliseconds after your opponent hits you (in épée), or the tip has gone bad.

You may ask the director if you can test the tip by touching your opponent – like during the original lame test – or you may present the blade to the director for him to test. Be advised: if you think the tip itself has gone bad, you MUST ask the director to test it for you. If it turns out the tip is bad, you may get a break, because it may invalidate any touch you received in the action where your tip failed. Testing it yourself is not a valid test as far as the refs are concerned.

Covering Target/Turning Back on Opponent (one word: DON’T)

Turning your back is self-explanatory. It’s a safety issue, since you don’t want the back of your head exposed. Covering target is a bit more complicated, but it boils down to this: if your non-weapon arm is covering your lamé in foil in any way during an exchange of action, it’s a penalty. Don’t do it; keep that arm back and out of the way. Covering can be as seemingly minor as having the non-weapon arm running straight down your side if it’s not away from the body; it’s still covering target if it touches your side.


(Source: Sam Sam Signorelli, SwordPlay Fencing Studio)

21 Rules and Truisms of Fencing

This coming week, in preparation for our first tournament as a club, I will be posting information about etiquette, bouts, directors, etc. The following list was borrowed from the Pierpont Fencing Club website in Burbank, California. I have edited a few small things, but nothing that would change the intended meaning:

21 Rules and Truisms of Fencing

by Sam Sam Signorelli, SwordPlay Fencing Studio

  1. Respect your opponent’s skills, even if you don’t particularly like him or her.
  2. When arguing a call with the director, be polite and respectful; don’t be an ass about it.
  3. If a particular trick doesn’t work the first couple of times, for crying out loud, try something different!
  4. There’s nothing wrong with beating your opponent 5-0 in the pool round.
  5. In épée, check your tip screws after each bout.
  6. In foil, ensure your tip is still there after each halt of action.
  7. Don’t be nasty to the people in your pool… you’ll most likely have one of them in the DE round.
  8. If things aren’t going your way, don’t get so upset that you lose your self-control and discipline; angry fencers make mistakes.
  9. Show support for your teammates when they’re fencing and you’re not. Just one “Go get ’em!” can make all the difference in the world.
  10. Just as there’s no such thing as an atheist in a foxhole, there are no friends on the piste (strip).
  11. Don’t stop until the director calls, “Halt!”
  12. Don’t cheat or accuse others of doing so just so you can get another point, particularly when you’re far ahead or vastly superior in skill to your opponent. You demean yourself and the sport when you do so.
  13. Retreat, don’t just run away… there’s a difference.
  14. Finish the attack!
  15. You may be big, tall and strong, but remember that power means nothing without control.
  16. Be gracious when you lose… more importantly, be gracious when you win.
  17. Don’t look at the friggin’ box!!
  18. Don’t let yourself get psyched out by a higher rated or higher skilled opponent… you never know when you’re going to be hot.
  19. Have fun… not many people can stab a total stranger with a long knife and get rewarded for it!
  20. Never give up–even if you’re down 14-0.
  21. Never underestimate ANYONE!!

On a personal note, #20 is something that each of you should ingrain in your mind. Fencing is a sport filled with stories of great comebacks. Many things can happen on the fencing strip, and many of them in your favor. The score is not final until the director ends the bout!

Dynamic Stretching for Improved Performance

dynamicroutinemar200What is dynamic stretching?
The short definition of dynamic stretching is “stretching as you are moving.” The opposite of dynamic stretching is static stretching, such as reaching down to touch your toes and holding for many seconds.

Recent research in sports movement and kinesiology has changed the way athletes warm up and prepare for training and competition. Athletes still stretch but they no longer stretch cold muscles. Just about every athletic team in the country, from little league to professional sports, performs dynamic stretching before exercising. Watching the athletes warm up at the Sabre World Cup in Chicago was fascinating! Their warm up routines were specific but simple to perform.

Now for the long answer… Dynamic stretching is active movements of muscle that bring forth a stretch but are not held in the end position. This is an excellent full body warm-up done prior to any type of intense activity, whether you’re about to play sports or lift weights. Dynamic stretching will be beneficial to your performance and will set you up for the training or competition ahead.

If you’re asking why this is critical and important, here’s the science: Your body has many mechanisms that need to be activated and stimulated.  When you put your body through a series of stretches while in motion, it sends signals from the brain to the muscle fibers and connective tissues in that area to prepare to do work.  Your body’s temperature begins to rise and blood is pumped to the working areas of the body.  Getting good blood flow to the area of the working muscles is very critical in order to supply the area with energy needed to do work.  Along with getting proper blood flow to the working area, the muscle fibers and connective tissues will gain more flexibility and range of motion.  Many studies have shown that dynamic stretching can help increase power, improve flexibility, and increase your range of motion.

In other words, by doing dynamic stretching after your warm-up and before your workout, you are going to feel stronger and work up to a greater demand on your strength and endurance. Your range of motion and flexibility will also be greater. Another point to remember is that dynamic movements are sport-specific, or tailored for your sport, and in our case that sport is fencing.

For additional information on dynamic stretching, read the article on WebMD, New Ideas on Proper Stretching Techniques (

Introducing the Short Tactical Wheel


During last Thursday’s practice we were introduced to the Short Tactical Wheel. There is a Long Tactical Wheel, but we will address that at a later time. The Tactical Wheel defines how to defeat particular actions, beginning with the simple attack. As shown above, the direct attack is defeated by a parry-riposte, which is defeated by a feint-attack, which is defeated by a counterattack, which is defeat by an attack, which is defeated by a parry-riposte, etc. Thus, reducing fencing to little more than a physical game of paper, rock, and scissors.

The tactical wheel provides a good framework for understanding fencing actions but is NOT all there is to know about fencing actions. It gives us a good starting point to help us grasp the beginning concepts of fencing tactics. Here is a brief explanation of each of the points on the Short Tactical Wheel:

Simple Attack: an attack executed as one quick action (is defeated by…)
Parry and Riposte: defending with the blade and/or distance, and then attacking (which is defeated by…)
Compound Attack: an attack executed with multiple “feints” to close distance and draw out the final parry (which is defeated by…)
Counter Attack/Attack on Preparation: a timed Simple Attack into the early, non-threatening phase of the Compound Attack

Fencing Safety Rules and Guidelines

safetyfirstFencing is a very safe and lifelong sport. Fencing is often said to be safer than golf. Whether or not this is true, it is an extraordinarily safe sport considering its heritage and nature. The following common-sense safety rules and guidelines help make this sport one of the safest and most enjoyable experiences.

Safety Rules

  1. Mask, jacket, long pants, and glove must always be worn when fencing.
  2. The weapons are to be treated with respect and awareness at all times. Weapons must be carried point down at all times. They are not toys. A weapon is only pointed at another person when that person is fully masked and ready to fence or drill.
  3. Fencers must always be masked when weapons are raised, point forward. This means on all occasions, including discussion of actions and during drills.
  4. Violent fencing actions are not permitted. Fencers must control parries and attacks so that the opponent is not injured by whipping or hard stabbing actions of the blade. If you cannot execute a flick properly, don’t do it. Do not cause body contact nor use the unarmed hand against your opponent. Do not turn your back on your opponent.
  5. Stop fencing instantly if you think something is wrong or if your opponent retreats and waves the unarmed hand or gives any sign of wanting to stop.
  6. If you think a weapon is broken, stop fencing instantly.
  7. If you counterattack, you are responsible for preventing body contact, injury, and weapons breakage.
  8. If you feel a fencer is behaving in a dangerous or uncontrolled fashion, report it to an instructor immediately. They will speak to the fencer without disclosing your identity.
  9. Inspect your weapons and mask each time you use them. If you are using borrowed gear and find any problem please report it to an instructor. Do not put the item in question back into club storage without reporting it.
  10. Wear proper shoes for fencing (court, cross-training or fencing shoes). Please be sure that shoes are clean when entering the fencing floor to avoid dust and moisture buildup which make the floor slippery.
  11. Fencers on the floor have right of way. Persons not fencing are obligated to keep themselves and their gear clear of fencers on the floor.
  12. Report injuries immediately to an instructor.

Guidelines for Clubs & Classes

The goal is to teach the art and science of fencing in a safe environment of mutual respect and self discipline. Just as in a martial arts dojo, the traditions governing behavior in a fencing club have developed over the centuries. These traditions promote respect for one’s self, one’s opponent, the instructors, the weapons, and the tradition itself, as well as promoting safety. Repeated or egregious violations of protocols safety or sportsmanship will not be tolerated. Violators may be removed from class at the coaches’ discretion.

  • It is expected that each student enter and exit the venue respectfully. The instructors are to be addressed as Coach by the students. Students will respond to a coach’s request promptly and respectfully.
  • Each fencer will salute his drill partner before and after every encounter. Each fencer will salute his opponent, the referee, and his/her clubmates before every bout, and salute his/her opponent and shake hands after every bout.
  • When we are playing games or having team contests, cheering for your team is encouraged, but name calling and displays of poor sportsmanship will not be tolerated.
  • Food and beverages are never allowed on the fencing floor. Students are expected to clean up after themselves on the fencing floor, outside the fencing area, and while visiting other teams or clubs. In a club, each student is responsible for maintaining a clean, safe environment for learning. We all depend on one another for the maintenance of  the club venue.
  • Respect for one’s self and others is also a major goal of good sportsmanship and discipline.  Profanity, racial, religious, or sexually degrading comments and coarse joking will not be tolerated. Persons receiving such comments should report them to the Coach immediately.

The sport of fencing is by its very nature competitive. In any given encounter, one person will be victorious, and one will be defeated. Learning to accept victory gracefully is at least as important as learning that defeat can be a lesson. Thus fencing by its very nature teaches sportsmanship, resilience, and mental toughness.

The heart of a fencing club is its students. Following these guidelines, students and instructors can create a safe, fun learning environment.

The Flèche, Stripped Down and Defined

Photo credit: Australian Academy of Fencing

Photo credit: Australian Academy of Fencing








For some of you, our last practice introduced you to an offensive maneuver called a flèche. For the rest of you, this is a refresher. This is term originating from French (like many terms used in the sport of fencing), meaning “arrow,” referring to the surprising style of the attack. Here’s how the United States Fencing Coaches Association (USFCA) defines a flèche:

Attacking footwork formed by either leaping or running forward, with the rear foot crossing past the front foot

Wikipedia also has a good working definition with photos to help illustrate the execution of the attack. The flèche involves speed and an element of surprise. The flèche is absolutely not a charge down the piste at an opponent at distance. The flèche utilizes timing, not distance, so the distance shouldn’t be greater than an advance-lunge.

The flèche is only used in foil and épée. In sabre, it is forbidden for the back foot to pass in front of the front foot, outlawing the flèche.

Just in case the definition isn’t enough, at the tail end of the video below is an example of a flèche in slow motion. Enjoy!

From the Rulebook – Penalties

giant_referee_red_yellow_card_prop_01In learning the ins and outs of a sport, one must also know which actions will result in a penalty. Recently some of you have asked about yellow cards, red cards, and black cards. While it is my hope that none of you will incur such penalties, there is the possibility that some will occur. So we should all become familiar with what is good, what is acceptable, what may be tolerated, and what is absolutely an offense.

The following is a link to the USFA’s Penalty Chart which lays out what exactly will yield you a yellow card, a red card, or a black card. This chart is the guiding document for all offenses and will be applied at every formal competition you attend. On a personal note, at local meets and tournaments, directors or referees tend to be a bit more forgiving on some of the minor offenses, usually giving a verbal warning prior to issuing a card. Please do not take this as an absolute–each director has his or her own tolerance level, so do not assume that you can or will “get away with” anything.

USFA Penalty Chart (PDF)

I had considered recreating this chart for all of you on our site, but the USFA chart is quite clear and easy to follow. Included in the chart are links to the applicable paragraphs of the rule book for further clarification. I encourage each of you go get familiar with this chart. As always, if you have any questions, just let me know.

Why We Start with Foil


Among the many questions that I get asked as a fencer and a now a fencing instructor, inevitably a student will ask, “Why do I have to start with foil?” The short answer is not “Because I said so,” but rather, “It’s the starting point for all training in competitive fencing.” I still get the blank look with that statement, so perhaps I should elaborate.

My choice and method are not random or arbitrary. My guide and inspiration for this methodology is one of the masters of our sport, Nick Evangelista. Master Evangelista has written several authoritative books on the art and sport of fencing in addition to being an accomplished swordsman in his own right. He has over thirty years’ experience in fencing and teaching fencing. His thoughts on this subject are quite clear and uncomplicated:

The approach I take is to teach fencing so that it is both efficient and effective. I teach form so that it establishes economy of motion, point control, timing, judgment –the foundational elements of fencing from its earliest days. I also teach my students the ‘language of fencing,’ so that they learn to think fencing. I would be stealing from those who come to me if I taught them anything else.

When asked about why he teaches foil first to his students, he responds:

I teach fencing in a very traditional fashion. Everyone begins with foil. No exceptions. Foil instills the fundamentals of fighting with a sword in a fencing student. The conventions of the foil are, in fact, a valuable template for changing our behavior from everyday people reactions to controlled fencer responses. This basic training is essential for everything that follows. Those who begin their fencing careers with either epee or saber are missing an opportunity to bring added depth to their weapon of choice.

So nothing is accidental or mere busywork when teaching the skills and fundamentals of fencing. Each basic form or movement is a building block for the next skill, and then the next skill, and so on.

The best summation for all of this is an article that Master Evangelista wrote himself. I truly could not state it any better than he has, so for the sake of efficiency, the link to his article, Starting With Foil, is included here for your information. I would encourage every student (and parents, too!)  to read it and understand it. You’re starting with foil not because the coach says so, but because it is the BEST approach to mastery of the sport.

Starting with Foil by Nick Evangelista

Summer 2013 Clinics and Camps

Looking to continue with your fencing training during the summer? There are many opportunities, most of which are with universities with established fencing programs. So, the choices are not limited to this list; these are the camps that are closest to us in West Lafayette:

University of Notre Dame
June 16-22, 2013

Northwestern University
Competitive Fencing Camp: June 20-21, June 22-23
Summer Clinics: July 10, 17, 24, 31; August 7, 14, 21, 28
Open Fencing Camp: July 29 – August 1

Ohio State University
Summer Camps: June 17-23, Jun 24-28, or July 15-21

University of Pennsylvania
Junior Fencing Camps: Jul 14-20, Jul 21-27

Summer Fencing Camp at Fencing Center of Chicago (Park Ridge, IL)
July 15-19

If you are looking for something more “local” or closer to home, let me know. I can see if we can pull together something with some of the other coaches in the area, but it will depend on their availability and willingness to give up some of their summer vacation. If you are interested in some casual practice over the summer, as a group we may be able to arrange something as well. Contact me if you are interested.