The Lunge and Recovery

•6 May, 2008 • 1 Comment

The lunge requires a powerful rear lag action with an ability to move from immobility. It must overcome inertia without any hint or cue. So many fencers telegraph intentions. The action is in some ways similar to a sprinter exploding in a bullet start from the blocks. It is paramount that the recovery and return to guard is every bit as smooth as the lunge, as is a ball rebounding from a wall. If a fencer does not here a good lunge, he/she is destined for a brief competitive career. It is difficult to maintain distance unless one can keep an opponent at bay with long false attacks as well as attempted genuine ones. The false attacks of course, must have the character of genuine attacks, otherwise they are superfluous. In this manner fencers can set up situations to their advantage by causing discomfort and exploitable errors from hard-pressed opponents. Few fencers, in fact have a correct lunging technique. Most lean forward prior to attacks. This causes loss of power and potential from the rear leg as weight bearing has been transferred to the lead leg. The attempted lunge then becomes a giant step with a follow through from the upper body. Experienced opponent sense this gathering of the torso and are aware of the tenancy to fade away and forward at the climax of the attack. Usually the head drops making it difficult to return to guard. The ensuring redoubles and desperate jabs is a real lottery. It is much better to able to return to the ready position and set up again once an attack has failed. There are occasions of course when tactics determine that one remains on the lunge when the attacker can exploit delayed, or compound reposts etc, with remises judiciously used. Renewed attacks such as reprises can put extra pressure on back moving, or yielding adversaries, one must be mindful at all times to consider and be aware before any attacking action and know when to abort or abandon failed attacks.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 06/05/2008

Foot Work

•29 April, 2008 • 1 Comment

Good foot work is being positioned in the right place at the right time. It can be slow, calculating, deliberate or spontaneously explosive. It is important to maintain the measure between the feet while moving up and down the piste. Nimbleness is more important than speed, especially uncontrolled speed. An important point, in moving forward is to keep the body slightly hyper extended to prevent the body lean that detracts power from the rear leg and its potential to push the attack when lunging.

Some fencers prefer skipping and agility exercises to repetitious boring stepping forward and backwards up and down the piste. Renewed attacks (reprises) and retirement by jumps depends a lot on leg strength, choice of time and distance and of course lots of preparation and training.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 29/04/2008

En Garde

•29 April, 2008 • 1 Comment

The “En Garde” is the fencer’s ready position from which one attacks or defends with equal facility. The distance between the feet is approximately double the length of the foot plus a few centimetres. The body weight is distributed equally between both feet. The contentious issue is the use or misuse of the rear arm.

Biomechanically the traditional raised rear arm with the elbow slightly lower than the shoulder is the more efficient position. It opens up the thorax allowing the maintenance of full chest capacity. It ensures stability of the shoulder girdle and when a fencers lunges the forearm will tend to drop. If the hand is supinated and the shoulder blades drawn together balance on the lunge is assured. A controlled exchange can take place while a smooth return to guard is facilitated.

Many fencers these days let their rear arm hang down by the side. Because of the laws of action and reaction, anytime we use one arm in an action of force or energy it has an effect on the other (both being attached to the shoulder girdle). It follows therefore, if the rear arm is hanging down it’s likely to be flung sideways and/or upwards. The first tends to swing the sword arm and weapon across the body and the target. The second is from low to high causing the rear shoulder to lift and the shoulder of the sword arm to dip. The buttock juts up and out, and the head falls forward.

Fencers, despite all the negatives, score, but how much easier, if; with a little discipline and attention to detail they can be more efficient and effective. It goes without saying the classical academic “En Garde” does looks infinitely better as well.

These days all the youngsters want to look “cool”, not for them the controls of yesteryear. They want to do their own thing, and like sheep, they follow the loudest and most nonconforming personalities with attitude.

If it means looking cool (a synonym for sloppiness) for the rear arm to be flung wildly around we end up with all helicopter and no jet.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 29/04/2008

The Grip

•24 April, 2008 • 2 Comments

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