FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions

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

Answer: Maintaining a safe distance before the attack, as well as proper defensive movements. See the complete answer at the Q&A page link below.

Question: Why aren’t my ripostes (counterattacks) working?

Answer: They could be moving too slowly, you could be “telegraphing” your riposte, or your point could be drifting off target due to poor point and body control. Maintain a straight arm with the blade. To avoid a stop hit, attack in a “closed line” with your blade in opposition. See the complete answer at the Q&A page link below.

Question: Please explain how visionary aspects of fencing come into play. Do you concentrate solely on your opponent’s blade? I realize this appears to be an obvious question, but it appears that I have a tendency to “look one in the eye” rather than paying as much attention to the blade. Also, any advice on controlling the body’s immediate reaction to the opponent’s action would be appreciated. I’d like to learn how to “slow down my body” and fully engage my mind. I would appreciate your assistance in these matters, as well as your website.

Thank you very much.

Answer: I’ve never tried looking my opponent in the eyes. The mask makes this somewhat difficult. In epee, the closest target is the opponent’s arm, so that is the most important area to watch. When your opponent’s body, arm, or let begins to move, you can take advantage of it. In any case, it is worthwhile to experiment.

Regarding your second question, it is difficult to control one’s initial reactions. This is a critical component in mastering the art of fencing. When your opponent moves toward you, it’s a good time to try a beat attack or a closed line attack. If you can find one, a good fencing master can assist you. My advice is to devise a counter-technique. Experiment with various feints and quick retreats. As you watch their reactions, beat the opponent’s blade and take a short, quick step backwards. Then consider a counter-movement to defeat the defensive movement. In epee, I would use short feints to draw the opponent’s blade out, and when it got to the right position, a blade in a bind worked quite well.

Another thing to experiment with is different defense movements for attacks, such as a direct parry, counter-parry, change of line, invitation, and so on.

You have some defense against an attack if you keep your distance. Ganchev forced me to attack from a much greater distance than I ever imagined could reach the target. A deep, quick lunge is a huge advantage, and the great Chinese women’s Olympic champion had the deepest lunge I’ve ever seen, almost flat to the ground.

Question: Why aren’t my ripostes (counterattacks) working?

Answer: If the attacker is close enough to strike you, the first requirement for a counterattack is a good parry (see above). If your parries are successful, you have reached a significant milestone in your fencing education, making it easier to develop effective ripostes. The next most important step is to properly riposte, which requires practice with timing (of the blade, arm, and body) and length (between fencers). If the parry angle is too large, the riposte will become sluggish. Because the thrust comes right after the parry, the arm must be straightened, which takes time.

The slower the riposte, the greater the bend in the arm for the parry. The arm must be relaxed, and the wrist action must be emphasized. There are some exceptions to this, such as foil fencers who can use a few large movements effectively. They will, however, almost certainly never become really good fencers, and the beauty of fencing will be lost in the process.

My advice is to try lowering the angle of the parry so that the riposte becomes faster while still maintaining an effective parry. A shallower blade angle results in a shorter and faster riposte thrust. A loose fist, wrist, and elbow are required. This may appear to be counterintuitive, but it allows for more control and variability.

Distance control is also essential. If you have a good fencing instructor, he will most likely teach you how to perform a combination parry-riposte movement, which includes timing, distance, and body movements. This method of instruction avoids the difficult process of having to unlearn slow movements before progressing to other techniques. As a result, having an excellent fencing master at the start of your fencing career is the ideal situation. Unfortunately, not all fencers will have this opportunity, so these suggestions can be quite useful.

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

Answer: The first basic requirement is to stay out of range before launching your attack. When the distance is close enough, the blades must cross at an angle in the parry so that the blade is deflected and does not reach the target. For a parry of an attack, the blade can be held in eight different positions. The fourth (carte in French) and sixth (sixte) simple direct parries in foil are the most common, in which the blade is moved to the left or right while the point of the blade is raised slightly. The goal is to get the point off target as quickly as possible by meeting the blade at the best possible angle.

On the Fencing Techniques page, there are pictures of proper hand positions as well as some faulty techniques to avoid. In saber, the fifth parry is used to defend against a straight cut to the head (quinte). The opponent’s blade is directed vertically to the top of the head, and the defensive position is to meet the blade above and forward of the head at right angles (or slightly less). Your direct counterattack (riposte) is then a cut to your opponent’s flank, as this becomes the open target below his blade on your opponent. Then your opponent can parry-riposte (deflect the blade and counterattack), and so on. These parry-riposte movements are excellent for beginners. Most parries do not necessitate such large angles as foil, and even less so in epee. In fact, the smallest movement that is sufficient to deflect the attack and prevent the blade from reaching the target is preferable because it becomes much faster. Beginning fencers who are having difficulty defending against the primary attack should pay close attention to the angle at which the blades meet. If the opponent’s blade continues to hit the target, the angle at which the blades meet may be too small. In most cases, the opponent’s blade should make contact with your blade about a third of the way to the end of the blade. As you gain proficiency in learning the parry, you will find it easier to experiment with decreasing the angle of the parry for the best timing and protection. This is difficult because movements can be extremely fast. When a successful defense is achieved, the counterattack becomes much more effective (see next question for further details).

Question: A visiting coach to my club taught me what I believe is a contraction parry: if the opponent deceives my quarte parry, he instructs me to follow it with a counter six parry rather than flowing straight into a counter four parry. Is it correct that parry is a contraction? If not, could you please tell me what it is? According to what I’ve read, a contraction parry isn’t as effective as a counter parry.

Answer: What you describe is actually three movements: a carte parry, a return to neutral, and a contre-sixte parry. That is, however, a “carte/contre-sixte” parry. If the carte parry isn’t entirely complete, I’d call it a “half” parry, and the entire movement a “contraction parry.” I’ve had a lot of success using half-parries against fast-moving fencers.

Question: In your opinion, how useful is the pistol/orthopedic grip for novice fencers? I’m asking because my coach recommends switching to a pistol grip, but I read somewhere that doing so too soon can degrade one’s fencing. I’m quite happy with my French, but I’m curious to try a Belgian as well.

Answer: I’ve studied with various fencing masters who use the French, Italian, or pistol grip. Each has advantages, but each is fenced differently. I first learned to fence with the French foil. Because of the long and heavy pommel, defensive movements can be relatively slow if not executed properly. The pommel must be swung around the wrist to speed up the movement. Aldo Nadi forced me to fence with the Italian grip, which has a shorter and thinner pommel. When using circular beat parries, the movements can be very fast. This is enhanced by the use of a wrist strap, which is ideal for this weapon. The pistol grip is available in a variety of styles, many of which I dislike. When using a wrist strap, the Belgian grip typically has a longer pommel. It is also useful for beating parries. The main issue is that most fencers hold the grip too tightly, and the wrist strap can help to lighten the grip. Trey who owns TexasJunkHauling.com, is an avid fencer and recommends holding the grip with enough pressure to keep the weapon in your hand, but not enough pressure to be considered squeezing. Switching from one grip to another requires practice to learn how to do it correctly. The fencing master usually dictates which grip to use because different movements work much better with different grips. My preference would be to follow the advice of my fencing master.