Sword Play
Fencing Techniques-II

Last updated January 25, 2014


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6. Other On-Guard Positions

The normal grip shown in the first figure on the previous page is the most common. However, the hand can also be held in pronation, as shown below.

Hand Pronation

This hand position favors parries tierce (third) to the right and quarte (fourth) to the right, since less hand motion is required for simple attacks to the flank or stomach. The movement begins by moving the point upward with a slight bending of the wrist and then twisting the wrist clockwise or counter-clockwise, repectively. The point moves downward and to your right in a small spiral with this motion. As you get faster with practice, these two movements combine in to one smooth, fast movement. A very fast and powerful parry seconde (second) can be accomplished by a slight bend of the wrist backward and a clockwise twist of the wrist counter-clockwise (downward). I have found that I can more easily do a coupe' (attack with the point of your blade rising over the opponent's blade) by bending the wrist so that the point rises above the opponent's and then finish with a slight twist of the writst as the blade comes down and the arm straightens in the thrust. Get in the habit of closing the line in opposition to your opponent's blade, just enough protect against a remise. Practice for the fastest, most effective parry with minimal movements.

The blade can also be held in supination as illustrated below.

Hand Supination

This position favors parry sixte (sixth) to the flank (right side of the body) by shorting the movement for attacks to the flank. Some fencers move the blade somewhat to the left, which opens up the flank in an invitation to attack (sucker movement). Since the parry carte (fourth) to the left (stomach) takes a somewhat larger movement, this also evens out the length of motion. This position works well against left-handed fencers.

The blade can also be dropped into a lower position as shown below.

Low Line Invitation

The arm position is not evident from this picture, but there is little or no bend at the wrist, so the arm is in line with the blade. This position favors parry septime (seventh) to the right, which is accomplished with a slight downward bend at the wrist and a counterclockwise movement of the hand. Parry octave (eighth) is to the left, which is done similarly but with a clockwise movement at the wrist. Excessive movement of the point from the target is called an "invitation", as it invites an attack to your open area. The invitation can be used to advantage when your parry becomes effective for the open area.

These are very simple tactics that can be practiced, and yet they can be very effective. It helps to have an arsenal of movements to work with when the opponent uses a style that is effective against you. Less experienced fencers are sometimes baffled by these invitations and have difficulty in countering them.

7. The Beat-Parry-Riposte:

The beat-parry-riposte is a very fast and effective movement, particularly suited to the pistol grip and Italian foil. It can be so fast that some fencers can break a blade using it. Begin by picking up your blade with two fingers; the index finger and the thumb, and then place the middle finger gently under the poignard (note that- a "gripping" situation is also "poignant", as Faulkner would explain it, and the hand grip tends to tighten). This procedure is used for all weapons. The fourth finger can also touch the grip, but very lightly. Try to keep your little finger off the grip initially, as it will automatically come into use for the attack and defense, especially for saber. If you tighten the little finger too soon, your attack will automatically slow down. This is the prime reason why a wrist strap (Nadi's favorite) helps so much in foil and epee. It is possible to parry with only two fingers when using a wrist strap! Therefore, the wrist strap does not bind your hand to the grip, as most inexperienced fencers (and some uninformed experienced fencers) seem to believe, but actually frees it up to make faster well-controlled movements while using fewer muscles. In order to make a beat parry, first bend your hand upward slightly at the wrist so that the blade is at about a 30 degree vertical angle. Then hold this angle while twisting the wrist. The point of the blade will move in a circle until the parry is made with a strong force. The higher the angle, the greater the radius of movement of the point. Begin by emphasizing these two distinct movements and then try to blend them. Do not allow the blade to move any further than is necessary to protect you from the opponents attack (most shallow angle), otherwise you will set yourself up for a disengage attack by your opponent when your blade goes out of line. After you have practiced these movements until they come easily, then blend the movements together smoothly so that the fastest and most effective parry is obtained. You will find that the stronger portion of your blade (toward the grip) against the weakest portion of your opponents blade produces the strongest parries, so a greater angle is necessary as the distance between fencers decreases in order to keep your forte against your opponent's foible. In the extreme, going to far in this direction tends to slow down the speed of the countermovement, so just go far enough to gain control of your opponent's blade. After the beat, your blade will naturally tend to bounce back. This rebounding movement can be used to advantage by loosening the grip at the time of the beat and then almost immediately tightening it such that the blade ends up directly in line for the riposte, which should occur in the fastest possible speed. These movements were taught to me by Nadi, who insisted upon perfection in performing minimal movements with power.

8. The Sequence of the Attack:

The point always leads the attack. Your arm will tend to follow the blade as it moves forward in the thrust. A proper quick thrust is difficult to attain. Remember that the elbow of your weapon arm should feel loose until the arm is straight. Your arm should be like a coiled spring, with only the muscles at the top of the shoulder tightened, and the thrust should be as fast as possible when it come, sort of like releasing the spring. After the arm is fully straight before your opponent's, you have gained right-of-way. If not, then you will lose right-of-way. Therefore, the lunge should not begin until the arm is almost straight and you see that the opponent is going to lose right-of-way. The delivery of the point (or cut in saber) on target must begin with a mental focus on the target area. In saber, the last phase of the cut must be fully in-line along a straight plane. At the end of the lunge, the non-weapon arm is thrust backward to give the last little bit of distance to the lunge. This sequence seems to very difficult for the beginning fencer to learn. When that happens, I tell my students "do not attack your opponents blade with your body", which is what often happens when they move their body too soon. Emphasize all of the distinct movements that have been discussed. Begin by practicing them sequentially with a slight hesitation between them so that you can observe the result. As you become accustomed to the movement, then the hesitation can be reduced until a smooth motion is eventually attained. Start with the point moving forward, then the springlike release of the bent arm and begin toextend your back arm. Then proceed to lunge to a full extension and a hesitation to observe the distance forward, the height of your back knee from the ground. You will not be able to get a very deep lunge initially, because the muscles must be trained by exercise, so do not overdo do the depth of the lunge or you may end up with a torn muscle or tendon. Therefore, try to increase the depth of your lunge gradually with practice.

9. Balance:

Did you find yourself falling over in practicing the lunge? This is a very common occurence for the beginning fencer. The first balance exercise is in the en garde position. The body weight should be centered just in front of the back foot. Try lifting up your forward leg and achieve balance. When you can do this easily, you will have properly centered your body for maximum balance. If the left shoulder is too far forward, there will be a tendency to fall to the left when lunging. A similar thing happens when the the shoulders are not in line with the leg, in which case the fencer tends to fall to the left in the lunge, and the point goes off target. Maintaining this position also reduces the open target area of the torso. At the end of the lunge, when the back arm is extending, adjust it in the opposite direction to which you may be falling in order to achieve balance.

10. Self training:

a. Many, if not most fencers do not develop daily exercises to improve techniques. Every fencing master under whom I fenced utilized large, full-length mirrors so that they could illustrate the positional problems and movements in a way that they could observe them directly. I have a full-length mirror that I still use to practice various movements. The foil fencer can develop fast and smooth movements by observing his movements in a mirror. The sabre fencer can see how to reduce the size of a movement and still avoid a parry and get around the opposing fencer's blade. The epee fencer can see the open target area that he is revealing in his stance.

b. Practice, practice practice. Set up a daily self-practice routine that includes many lunges. The Northeast Section foil champion at the 1972 National Championships told me that he did 1000 practice lunges every day! His lunge was extremely fast and with great depth, and he reached the finals of the competition. As described above the lunge should begin with an arm extension that is followed by body movement. Make sure that you do the lunges correctly, with the left leg fully extended and straight at the end of the lunge. Make sure that the arm is moving and nearly straight before the right leg begins its forward movement. Your initial exercises may seem awkward (probably because you are not used to them), and you will most likely have a balance problem that you will have to correct. With practice, you will feel much more comfortable with every session.


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