The Grip

For a fencer, introduction begins with the manner of holding the weapon of choice. In foil or epee the selection will be either the French or Pistol (orthopaedic) grips. Most fencers today opt for the pistol grip. There are advantages and disadvantages with either decision.

The pistol grip appears more natural and secure. Youngsters, especially male, used to using toy guns as they grow up are content to use an implement in a familiar fashion. It feels secure, it’s not easily dislodged. As fencers progress, they find they can dominantly attack, or take an opponent’s blade and control insistent counter offensive actions with binds, envelopments and time thrusts etc.

The disadvantages are, the tendency, in most cases, to grip the weapon too tightly, and on point of impact on the opponents target, they squeeze the grip and cause a sort of “jack knifing” of the point. The shoulder often is rigid and contraction causes further displacement. Many fencers, using the pistol grip, experience shoulder discomfort, irritating the rotator cuff muscles to a sometimes, chronic degree.

One other major disadvantage is the difficulty in making compound attacks that don’t involve broken time actions. It is most difficult for any, but the most skilled exponent to make progressive compound attacks while maintaining the proximity of the point to the target; this forces the overuse of broken time with its many adverse aberrations e.g. over rough, sometimes brutal hits, whiplash types of flicks that are often painful when they arrive (usually flat and seldom add to the score).

The French handle’s advantages are the weapon is carried rather than clutched or gripped. The fingers come into play as well as the wrist. It takes much application and many years to acquire the manipulative skills which characterised the skill of a “D’Oriola” and other great exponents of the classical French techniques. Progressive attacks are enhanced with manipulative skills which allow a more varied range in attacks and the deception of successive parries. With the accent on sensitivity and touch, the French grip allows for feeling or finding of attacking blades and ensuring a faster riposte which can be simple or compound because of the finger skills. One tends to find or displace a blade rather then hit or knock it away. Also there are fewer uncontrolled redoubling actions.

The disadvantages are it does require much more patience to acquire skills of touch and feelings (Sentiment de Fer) and most people are eager to fence as soon as possible. If these skills of touch and sensitivity are not acquired, the French grip is very vulnerable to dominant heavy actions of an opponent.

For exponents of the French technique, it is mandatory to develop hidden aspects to a tactical game where the acquisition of ceding and yielding actions is a must. Maintaining finger control is the epitome of the skilful application of the classical French grip.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 24/04/2008


~ by obrienfencing on 24 April, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Grip”

  1. Very true Maitre but I think the significance of what you say will go over the heads of most. To attain good finger-work and point-control it is essential to initially practice with the French Grip. Fine motor-control of the point of the weapon comes from the manipulation of the fingers – NOT from the strength of the hand/grip and the wrist as is the case with the pistol grip. Having said that, I don’t know if Smirnoff nor Romankoff started with a French grip?

  2. Most Russian fencers use the pistol grip and I would suggest that they were not given any option.They adopted some aspects of the French system in the middle 50’s, but in rejecting the manner of carrying the foil the finer aspects were missing.
    The tragic death of Smirnoff could probably have been avoided had the fencers been using the French foil.

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