Category Archives: Fundamentals

Taking the Blade

Lately we’ve been working on a series of offensive moves, prise de fer or transfers, seizing the opponent’s blade and progressively controlling it until completion (arriving at the target). To reinforce all of this, here is a very instructive video that covers:

  • opposition – lateral transfer straight to target
  • liement – diagonal bind
  • croisé – semi-circular bind staying on the same vertical side of the body
  • envelopment – circular transfer

This does not cover all of the types of movements that “take the blade” but rather gives you a foundation from which to work. One could argue that these type of offensive maneuvers are more applicable to épée than the other two weapons. Maybe so, but my job as your coach and instructor is to arm you with as many “weapons” and tools so that you have a deep and powerful arsenal from which you can draw.

We will continue to work on these types of attacks over the next few practices. As always, if you have any questions just let me know.

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Tournament Basics

When it came time for a tournament, I always got a little more anxious than normal anticipating the bouts ahead. Here are some tips (gathered from personal experiences) for preparing for a fencing tournament.

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Prior to the tournament

Day of the tournament

  • Eat a light breakfast at least 90 minutes before fencing starts. You should never start your day nor a tournament on an empty stomach.
  • Report on time and get suited up quickly. Even better, come already dressed to fence. At check-in you will learn which strip to report to first for your first round of bouts.
  • While checking in have your mask inspected (this is a requirement). Fencing with a mask that has not been inspected will cost you a red card. Masks are tested with a 12K punch and examined for safety–no holes in bib, rust on mask or dents permitted. If you see gaps in the mesh, use an awl or small screwdriver to re-position the mesh. If you have a dent, tap it out from the inside with the back end of a large screwdriver and hammer.
  • A proper warm-up is critical to good fencing. Give yourself enough time to go through your normal routine of warm-up, stretching and drilling.

Experienced fencers and captains – help your teammates with advice and encouragement when you aren’t fencing. I will also be going around to as many of you as I can to give as much advice as I can.

Before your bout

  • Before your first bout, the Director or Referee will check your weapon to see that the handle and barrel of the tip are not loose, that the tip has two screws, the blade is not rusty, and that the wires of your weapon are glued down properly. Inside the guard the two wires must be covered with spaghetti insulation all the way up to the nut.
  • Before each bout, the Director will test your foil or epee to see that it supports the 750-gram weight. This is to insure that your tip is functioning correctly.
  • The Director will then have you and your opponents test your weapons on each other’s lames. Holding your mask in front of your face, touch your opponent’s lame with your weapon to ensure that all scoring equipment and weapons are functioning correctly.
  • Salute your opponent, salute your Director, and put on your mask. Have fun!

During your bout

  • If you disagree with a director’s or referee’s judgement, you may not protest it, even if it is poor judgement. However, if a rule is misapplied, you may politely lodge a protest. Do not continue to fence until the protest has been dealt with completely. If you continue to fence, you will lose your right to the protest. Have a teammate call me to the strip immediately if there is a rules question.

After your bout

  • Do not wander too far from your strip until all of your bouts for that round have been completed.
  • After the round has been completed, you will await the results to find out who will be advancing and what the strip assignments will be. Between bouts, observe some of the other bouts since everyone is a potential opponent. Take stock of strengths and weaknesses so that you are better prepared when you face that opponent.

Remember to relax and enjoy what you’re doing!

An Introduction to Right of Way

The concept of right of way is one that applies to foil and sabre. Wikipedia actually has a decent definition for this concept: Priority or “right of way” is the method used in foil and sabre fencing to determine which fencer receives the point if both fencers land a valid hit at the same time (if both fencers land a valid hit at the same time in épée fencing, they both receive a point). Generally, priority is determined by first considering which fencer attacked first. In order to initiate an attack a fencer must threaten the target area of their opponent with the point of the foil while their arm is extending. When performing a compound attack the fencer must not withdraw the arm by bending the elbow.

Below is a video of a demonstration done by Tim Morehouse and his cohorts at a recent Fencing Masters event in New York. It gives a good introduction into what right of way looks like when watching a bout. Understanding right of way will help you to understand how you can score points in a bout.

The Pyschology of Feints

This week in practice we are learning about feints and preparation. Let’s start with defining the terminology.

Feints, along with tempo, are the basis for modern competitive foil. They are actions which resemble an attack so closely that the opponent reacts as if they were. However, your feint is not followed immediately by a lunge. By dictating your opponents reaction, you gain the upper hand in what move will be played next (hopefully resulting in a touch for you). However, do not waste feints, and always wait for the opponent to attempt a parry before you attack.

We’ve briefly touch upon different types of feints–hand and body. In each case they are actions that not only deceive your opponent, but also actions that help you assess your opponents strengths and weaknesses. You can use your feints in a “probing” way to determine where your opponent’s soft spots are.

Included here is a video by Master Charles Selberg. Even in his retirement years, he demonstrated a fluidity of movement, making his transitions seamless and efficient. I strongly encourage you to view the video and pay close attention to everything. I could expound more on our chosen topic here, but Master Selberg’s talk on feints and preparation are filled with tons of knowledge and presented in an easy fashion. Enjoy!

Basic Blade Positions

bladepositionsWe’ve been learning about the different lines of attack and blade positions for foil. Understanding the different lines will give you the means to identifying where your opponent’s weaknesses and strengths are. And knowing and understanding are half the battle on the strip!

We’re adopting the French school of thought in terms of parries, which leans toward simplicity. The theory of parrying is to turn aside the opponent’s foil with the least possible expenditure of time and exertion, using the arm as little as possible while letting the hand and wrist do the work, and opposing the forte of the foil to the foible of the opponent’s. The foil is kept pointed as directly as possible towards the opponent, and the parries are made with the corners rather than the sides of the blade. The slightest movement that will turn the opponent’s blade is the most perfect parry.

In the world of competitive fencing, this makes perfect sense since we are not working with sharpened weapons. So blocking the thrust of a pointed blade is not as crucial in the modern sport of fencing. The simple parry merely needs to deflect the trajectory of the opposing blade. If you find that your parries are clearing your body from one side to the other and then some, chances are that you are using much more effort than is needed.

Basic Fencing Blade Positions (PDF)

The attached diagrams comes to us from the Three Swords Fencing Club in Traverse City, Michigan. The fencing community is a wonderfully collaborative one, where we are happy to help our fellow fencers pass on the art and science of our sport. My thanks to Doug Schultz for allowing us to use his material.

If you would like to see something more interactive diagram (even though I think Mr. Schultz’s diagrams illustrate the lines well), you can take a look at Mr. Ian Thomson’s demonstration of the different guards at the Beauclerk’s club website.

Why is footwork important?

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A question came up from a new student trying fencing and footwork for the first time–why is form so important? No one is going to check and see if my knees are bent, are they? It’s a fair question, especially from a newbie. And, it deserves a good answer.

The short answer to this is that mastering the fundamentals of fencing (or any sport) takes one from being a casual participant to a skilled athlete. Once the basics are mastered, the possibilities are endless. At first glance, good footwork and proper form may seem like an overstressed point, but there is more going on besides shuffling one’s feet up and down the strip. A fencer’s movement must always be fluid, making it possible to move in any direction at any given moment. Your opponent will be assessing your from the moment that you step anywhere near the strip, and every detail will be a clue to your strengths and weaknesses. A fencer with good footwork and form gives the impression of capability and one who should not be taken for granted.

The long answer can be found an in post at a fellow fencer’s blog. Rather than reinvent the wheel, or in this case, rewrite the post, instead I am including a link to his post here: Footwork: Movement in Fencing. Enjoy!