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Questions and Answers

Q3. Please address where the visionary aspects of fencing come into play. Does one focus sole attention on the blade of the opponent? I know this sounds like an obvious question, however, it seems I have a tendency to "look one in the eye" rather than paying as much attention to the blade. Also, any tips on controlling the body's immediate responsiveness to the opponents action. I would like tips on being able to "slow down my body" and more fully engage my mind. I would appreciate your help on these matters and appreciate your site.
thank you.

A3. I have never tried looking into the eye of the opponent. The mask tends to make that somewhat difficult. In epee, the opponent's arm is the closest target, so that is the morst important area to watch. When your opponent's body or arm or let starts to move, you can use that to your advantage. In any case, it pays to experiment.

As to your second question, it is difficult to control one's immediate responses. This is a major key in mastering the art of fencing. When your opponent moves toward you, that is a good time to try a beat attack or attack with a closed line. A good fencing master can help you if you can find one. My suggestion is to develop a counter-technique. Try various feints with a short, quick retreat. Beat the opponent's blade and take a short, quick step backwards as you watch their reactions. Then think about a counter-movement that will defeat the defensive movement. In epee, I would try to lure the opponents blade out with short feints, and when it reached the right position, a taking of the blade in a bind worked quite well.
Another thing to try is to vary your defense movements for attacks, such as a direct parry, counter-parry, change of line, invitation, etc.

By keeping out of distance, you have some degree of defense against an attack. Ganchev made me attack from a distance far greater than I ever thought could reach the target. A very deep, fast lunge is a great advantage, and the great Chinese women's Olympic champion had the deepest lunge I have ever seen, almost flat to the ground.

 Q4: Why are my ripostes (counterattacks) not effective?

 A4: If the attacker is within distance to hit you, the first requirement for the counterattack is a good parry (see above). If your parries are successful, you have accomplished a milestone in learning fencing, and this makes it easier to have effective ripostes. Too much arm, leg or body motion slows it down, although a slight retreat may help. Wrist motion is the fastest and most effective for a parry, and the riposte must be immediate. The most important step is to riposte properly, which requires work on timing (of blade, arm and body) and distance (between fencers). If the angle of the parry is too large, then the riposte will become slower. That is because the thrust follows immediately after the parry, and the arm must be straightened, which takes time. The more the bend in the arm for the parry, the slower the riposte. The arm must be loose, and the wrist action emphasized. There are exceptions to this, as you will perhaps observe some foil fencers who can use a few large movements effectively. However, they will probably never become really good fencers, and the beauty of fencing is lost in the process.

My suggestion is to experiment with lowering the angle of the parry, such that the riposte becomes faster, while maintaining an effective parry. A lesser angle of the blade makes for a shorter and quicker thrust in the riposte. A loose fist, wrist and elbow are essential. This may seem counterintuitive, but it allows greater control and variability. Control of distance is also essential. If you have a good fencing master, he will probably be teaching you how to perform a combination parry-riposte movement, with timing, distance and body movements taught together. This type of teaching has the advantage of not having to go through the difficult process of having to unlearn slow movements before moving on to other techniques. Therefore, having an excellent fencing master at the beginning of your fencing career is the most desirable situation. Unfortunately, not all fencers will have this opportunity available to them, and these suggestions can be quite helpful. See Fencing Techniques for more help.

Q5: What is the fundamental technique for defense against a simple attack?

A5: Keeping out of distance before you begin your attack is the first basic requirement. Learn all eight parries and vary them with "invitations" can be very effective, although difficult to learn. In order to avoid the attacker's blade when the distance is closed, the blades must cross at an angle in the parry such that blade is deflected and does not reach the target. There are eight different positions of the blade for a parry of the attack. The two most common simple direct parries in foil are the fourth (carte in French) and sixth (sixte), in which the blade is moved to the left or right while the point of the blade is raised slightly. The object is to move the point off target by meeting the blade at the best possible angle for maximum speed and fastest time.

There are pictures of the proper hand positions on the Fencing Techniques page, along with some faulty techniques to avoid. The defense against a straight cut to the head in saber is the fifth parry (quinte). The opponent's blade is directed vertically to the top of the head, and the defensive position is to meet the blade at right angles (or somewhat less) above and forward of the head. Your direct counterattack (riposte) is then a cut to your opponents flank, since this then becomes the open target on your opponent below his blade. Your opponent can then parry-riposte (deflect the blade and counterattack), etc. These parry-riposte movements are good beginning practice. Most parries do not require such large angles, as in foil and smaller yet in epee. In fact, the smallest movement that is sufficient to deflect the attack, such that the blade does not reach the target, is most desirable since it becomes much faster. Beginning fencers who are having difficulty in defending against the primary attack can closely watch the angle at the meeting of the blades. If the opponent's blade is still reaching the target, the angle between the blades when they meet may be too small. The opponent's blade should first contact your blade about a third the way to the end of the blade in most cases. As you become more adept at learning the parry, it becomes easier to experiment with decreasing the angle of the parry for the fastest timing and greatest protection. This is not easy, since movements may be extremely fast. Once a successful defense is attained, it makes the counterattack much more effective (see next question for further details).

Q6: A visiting coach to my club, taught what I suspect to be a contraction parry:
If the opponent deceives my quarte parry, he instructs me to follow it with a counter six instead of flowing straight into a counter four parry. Am I right that it's a contraction parry? If not, can you tell me what it is? I read somewhere that contraction parry is not as effective as a counter parry.

A6: What you describe is really three movements: a carte parry, followed by a return to the neutral position and then a contre-sixte parry. However, one might call that a "carte/contre-sixte" parry. If the carte parry is not fully complete, I would call that a "half" parry, and the total movement is a "contraction parry". I have used half-parries quite successfully against fencers whose movements are very fast.

Q7. In your experience, what do you think the use of pistol/orthopedic grip for novice fencer? I ask because my coach recommends me switching to a pistol grip but I read somewhere it can degrade one's fencing if used too early. I'm quite happy with my French but I'm admittedly curious about trying a
Belgian as well.

A7. I have studied under various fencing masters who use either the french, the italian or the pistol grip. Each has its advantages, but they are all fenced
differently. I first learned fencing using the French foil. The defensive movements can be comparatively slow if not done properly, which is often the case due to the long and heavy pommel. To make the movement faster, the pommel must be swung around the wrist. Aldo Nadi made me fence witht the Italian grip, which has a much shorter and thinner pommel. The movements can be very fast when using circular beat parries. This is enhanced using a wrist strap, which works well for this weapon. The pistol grip comes in various styles, many of which I do not like. The Belgian grip usually has a longer pommel which is desirable when using a wrist strap. It can also be used for beat parries. The main problem is thatmost fencers tend to hold the grip too tightly, and the grip can be lightend by the wrist strap. Switching from one grip to another takes practice in learning how to do it right. Usually, the fencing master dictates which grip to use since different movements work much better with certain grips. My choice would be to go with my fencing master's suggestions.

 


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