•22 May, 2008 • 1 Comment

Fencing Time all fencers are obliged to know of and understand fencing time. It is nearly impossible to define, but the nearest and generally acceptable definition is that it is the time it takes to make a simple movement of arm, blade, body or all combined.

Priority is the first claim to a point by the fencer that the rules determine is entitled to it. Priority situations arise usually in circumstances of contentious double hits.

Cadence is the rhythmical flow of movement, usually of successive parries as they move to find an attacking blade or close a line.

Successive Parries are an uninterrupted flow of parries covering or closing all lines.

Ceding Parries are parries that yield to authoritative takings, holdings, attacks involving binds, time thrusts and envelopments. They require perfect timing and application.

Trompment is any compound attack excluding those with a broken time component which deceives attempts to parry or deflect. It is often confused with a derobement which is an evasion of an attempt to take or attack the blade.

Counter Action Parries are often referred to as ‘cutting the lines’. They are circular parries taken in the wrong line. Experience competitors find counter action parries useful as an embroiling tactic against and overly aggressive opponent.

Riposte and Counter Riposte

A riposte is an attack after a successful parry. It can be direct, indirect, simple or compound, immediate or delayed. A counter riposte is the attacks first riposte. Any sequence of riposte carried on after the initial ripostes are all counter riposte.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 22/05/2008

Renewed Attacks

•20 May, 2008 • Leave a Comment

The renewed attacks often refer to as the 3 R’s:-

1.       The remise

2.       The reprise

3.       The redoublement


The remise is an immediate replacement of the point in the same line as the original attack. The tactical use of the remise is:

·         Against a delayed riposte.

·         A compound repost

·         No riposte at all

Inexperience fencers make use of the remise regularly and inappropriately. In the effort to the land a touch, they ignore the rules of priority and continue with an already failed attack against a legitimate riposte.

The reprise is a renewal of the attack after a return to guard which can be forward or backwards. It is often used to maintain momentum and pressure on the retreating adversary for the purpose of pushing him across the rear limit of the piste and scoring a point.

The redouble also, is a renewed attack other than a remise (Into any line). It can often be compound. Any poke, jab, prod and stab type of bent arm actions or movements are labelled as redoubles. Points can be scored but that type of movement is usually anathema to quality fencing.


Counter offensive actions

The stop hit and the time hit are classified as counter offensive actions. A time hit is a stop hit which is covered so that it displaces a thrust or stop hit. It is very much a component of epee skills and technique.



A derobement is an evasive tactic against an opponent’s attempt to take or attack the blade. It is good practice for use in a lesson in order to develop manipulative skills.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 20/05/2008

Attacks, Defence and Preparations of attacks

•13 May, 2008 • 1 Comment

Attacks in fencing, are all about options, enterprise and decision making. It is mandatory that a fencer has a good technical foundation to implement choices. Anticipation, recognition and the ability to read the play, pays dividends. The essential skills: –

1)      The maintenance of a hidden element in approach.

2)      A retentive memory

3)      A sense of touch

4)      An awareness of distance at all times

5)      A strong will to win

These components together with others engender successful outcomes.

They are four basic attacks: –

1)      Direct (Lunge and/or Fleche)

2)      Disengagement

3)      Cut over

4)      Counter disengagement

These four attacks can be made directly or in combination, with or without a broken time component.

In defence a foilist/epeeist, options are parries which are: –

1)      Lateral

2)      Circular

3)      Semi-circular

Body evasion and footwork are also crucial to protecting the target area.

The principle of defence when parrying (deflecting) is the application of the fort of the blade against the foible of the attacking blade.

General speaking, any action that is not categorised as an attack or a defensive movement is classified as a preparation.

They are three groups of preparation: –

1)      Gaining and breaking ground (footwork)

2)      Attacks on the blade (beats and change beats)

3)      Prises de feres (taking of the blades)

a.       Engagements, binds, envelopments and croise

They can be simple or compound.

Preparations are used to close lines by taking or attacking the opponent’s blade, at the same time offering insurance against stop hits and other counter offensive actions.

Footwork is necessary in approaching and escaping the efforts and energy of opponents (attacks and counter-attacks)

Together, attacks, defensive measures, with the preparations of an attack complete the trilogy of movement. The mental acuity required by a good poker player is what is needed for satisfying results as a fencer.

(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 13/05/2008

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