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.
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
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,
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.
Why are my ripostes (counterattacks) not effective?
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.
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.
What is the fundamental technique for defense against a simple
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
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.