Getting Started

1. When you first pick up a weapon, there is a tendency to hold it too tightly. Emphasize the strength of the thumb and first two fingers, and barely touch the grip with the last two.

2. The blade is not a gun, and it is "aimed" differently. The blade should be in line with the arm, and it should feel as if it is an extension of the arm.

3. You will probably have too much bend in your arm at the elbow. Straighten the arm and then bend it slightly. Make sure that it is pointed towards your opponent.

4. Emphasize the actions of the wrist. Neither the wrist nor the hand should be tight. A slight bend of the arm, and a twist of the wrist produce excellent parries and beats.

5. The front toe tends to bend inward. This will misdirect the blade, so keep it in line with the blade.

6. There is a tendency to fall sideways in the lunge. Use the left arm to keep your balance by moving it back.

7. Initial foot movements may be clumsy. Have most of your weight on the back foot, and try to keep the lower part of your front leg vertical when en garde. Lift up your front foot after coming en garde, and check your balance.

8. Deep lunges will exercise your leg muscles and seem uncomfortable. It will take much practice to train your muscles for a deep lunge, so be prepared for some effort.

9. The elbow of your weapon arm will have a tendency to move out from the body. This misdirects the point of the weapon. Try to keep the elbow vertical and in line with your forward leg.

10. Your back arm may tend to move forward. This can result in imbalance and misdirection. In epee and saber it is part of the target, so keep it towards the back with the palm up.

11. The arm and the leg tend to move together. The movement of the leg is slow, and it telegraphs your attack to your opponent. The thrust always begins the attack, followed shortly thereafter by the front leg in your lunge. Odds are ten to one that you will have difficulty in learning this movement, even if you are an accomplished athlete.

12. A fast thrust depends upon the above requirements, plus another. If the arm is tightened before the thrust, it will be slow. This may not sound quite right, but a fast thrust actually begins with a loose fist, arm and elbow, actuated by a very quick tightening of mainly the large muscle of the upper part of the arm. I recall a match with a ranked epee fencer, and after the final touch, he told me that it was the fastest thrust he had ever seen.

13. Putting it all together is both the task of you and your fencing master. Practice in front of a full size mirror so that you can see all of the actions of your body. Some beginners are overcome by the physical coordination that is required and become discouraged. However, it is not necessary to do all of these things instantaneously. Try them in the order shown here and look for improvement with practice, and you will be pleasantly surprised. at the results.

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Suggestions for beginning fencers

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Where to go to learn fencing:

It would be wonderful if one could find the world's best fencing master for a teacher at the very beginning of his career. Unfortunately, the master would not be inclined to take on an unexperienced fencer. Also, most fencers do not live in an area where top fencing masters are located. This is especially true in the Midwest section of the U.S. (where I now reside) although there are exceptions. The problem with studying under fencers with but little experience is that you will inevitably learn their mistakes as well as the proper movements, and these acquired undesirable traits are difficult to unlearn. Nor is it easy to learn fencing from a book, although I would certainly recommend Aldo Nadi's book on fencing, which is available from several fencing equipment suppliers. If you are lucky enough to be in such states as California,Washington, New Jersey, New York or Colorado (headquarters of the USFA), then there are excellent clubs and fencing masters available. My favorite styles of fencing are Hungarian (for saber), Italian (for foil and epee), American (for epee), Bulgarian (for distance and timing) and Rumanian (for point control). I should add the German style of saber fencing, since the German fencers whom I have fenced have different and quite effective techniques, and also the English for foil and epee. There are other styles, of course, that are different and come from other countries of which I have not had the opportunity to learn in depth, although I have fenced against those who were proficient in them.

The Weapons
There are three basic weapons: Foil, Epee and Saber. Each of these weapons are designed in different styles. The practice weapon is the foil, and the most popular styles are the French, Italian and Pistol Grip. An Italian foil is pictured below:
Foil
The blade is rectangular and very flexible. The handle is shorter than that of the French foil, and the pommel (at the extreme left) is smaller and lighter. The cross members, near the bell guard, are exclusive to this weapon, and the middle finger raps around one of them, with the thumb and fore finger next to the bell guard. This weapon is generally used with a wrist strap for greater control, as is the piston grip weapon shown later. There are other styles, such as the Spanish, etc., but most fencers now use mostly either the French foil or the pistol grip. I began fencing with the French foil, then the Italian foil and finally the pistol grip. Each weapon is fenced somewhat differently, and each fencing master will teach with a weapon of his own choice. This weapon was developed for practice, and only the torso is valid target area.
The epee is the descendent of the duelling sword, which originally had three cutting edges on each corner of its triangular blade and with a sharp point. The modern epee has no sharp point or edges:
Epee
This epee has a pistol grip, which is my particular choice. The epee is heavier and has a stronger blade than the foil. The entire body is valid target area, and points can be scored by touching with a small amount of force. This particular weapon can also be used with a wrist strap, although a tight wrist strap does not work well with the French grip. Point control is very important, since the nearest target area is usually the wrist, and it is difficult to get around the large bell guard. On the other hand, an opponent who bends his elbow outward is inviting an arm attack since it becomes open target.
The saber was originally fought on horseback and is said to have been used very successfully by Genghis Khan. The target area is from the waist up, and touches can be made with either the point of the weapon or by making a cut with either the front edge or the front part of the back edge (a "back cut"). This is my favorite weapon when bouting with an experienced opponent, and I prefer the Hungarian style weapon shown below:
Saber

Notice the extended portion of the bell guard at the top of the picture, which is a special characteristic of this weapon. Begining fencers usually grip this weapon too tightly and bend their wrists excessively. The bend at the wrist should be at about a 30 degree angle. Cuts and thrusts begin with a forward motion, not moving backward at all. The fourth and fifth fingers hardly touch the grip until the end of the cut, producing a short, quick snap of the blade to the target.

In order to help fencers, who may not have the opportunity to learn from a local fencing master, various recommendations for improving fencing techniques are described in the following Web pages, along with some historical notes about the great fencing masters that I have known and studied under.

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