Fencing for Dummies

 

1024px-fencing_pictogram-svg
Running with pointy objects, attacking first, hitting the other person back– fencing is everything your mother told you not to do.

 

Yo! It’s time to talk about one of my favorite things: fencing. There are some basic things you should know to fence well. Both Nemoullyseus and I are fencers and today, I’m going to share some little things that can decide the outcome of each bout. I should say that I fence epee and I know nothing about foil or sabre, so new foil and sabre fencers, your weapons have some different techniques and although the basic idea of each of my tips should apply, follow your coach’s instructions first. You should have heard of a bunch of these already from your coach, but if not, here it is.

First, EXTEND your weapon arm. No matter what, you can never go wrong with extending (at least in the early game). If you see someone lunging at you, extending gives you more of a chance to hit than not extending (duh). That applies for when you’re the one lunging as well. The key to all of this is to EXTEND before you lunge so the sequence should go extend, lunge, recover, retreat and en garde. Never pull back your arm before an attack and never extend while lunging. Always do it before. As you train more, this should become muscle memory but this small thing is crucial to maximize your chances of winning.

The next thing you need to remember is to keep a proper distance from your opponent. If the tips of your weapons cross each other, you’re too close. Against fencers with better reflexes and more training, you will lose every time. If you keep out of distance, you minimize surprises and you give yourself more time to think. Of course, you need to know when to attack and when the other person is in range for a lunge, then lunge with all you got. Don’t hesitate. Also remember not to drop your arm or else they can hit you on your shoulder or arm while you’re lunging. Always aim a little up when lunging. If the lunge fails, then recover and retreat– NEVER PULL BACK YOUR ARM WHEN YOU’RE RECOVERING FROM A FAILED ATTACK. The other thing you can do is to keep going forward. There are two ways to do this: recovering forward and lunging again or recovering forward and turning it into a fleche. If the other person is prepared for you and has their weapon extended (which, if they are good fencers, it should be), you can recover forward then step forward and duck at the same time while extending your weapon. This only works if their weapon is aimed at head or chest level because you’re ducking under their weapon and only have your arm to extend your reach instead of your legs in a lunge and thus, you need to step forward while ducking to achieve the proper distance to make contact. In any case, distance is key to stop your opponent from getting touches on you and being able to judge distance and timing accurately will really up your game. However, most of these things only happen after extensive training. Now, while we’re on the topic of distance, then what do you do when you’re fencing a tall person?

To fence a person taller than you, you need to know how to parry. Here is a diagram on what parries look like:

 

parries
If you’re left-handed (like me), these parries still occur on the same side of the body; you’re just using different hands so just copy what the right-handed folks are doing except using your left hand.

 

But just parrying might not be enough. Parrying only means you block their blade. To get a point, you need to parry and then take their blade. This is a croise, where you push the opponent’s blade to the side so that it can’t hit you but you can hit them. Ask your coach to demonstrate if you have any questions. Sadly, pictures can’t convey motion very well.

The other thing you can do if you can’t counterattack is to still take their blade and then slide down it so that you’re past the point of their blade. That way, the taller fencer has to draw back their arm first before they can hit you (since epee registers touches only on the tip, so this is not true for sabre since sabre can score all along the blade). In that case, you just have to disengage and poke them faster than they can poke you, which you have an advantage in since you don’t need to first draw back the considerable length of your arm. In that case, it is called in-fighting.

When parrying, it is also important to know when to disengage. If you’re stuck in a disadvantageous situation, disengage. Simply stop pushing against the other person’s blade and instead, go around it. Just dip your point a little and extend your point towards your target and if they don’t react in time, you just got a touch.

 

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A helpful diagram showing proper lunging posture

 

There’s another thing that I see some new fencers do a lot and it has to do with how they lunge. They kick off with their front leg before they lower into the lunge position. This not only looks stupid, but it also means you waste time doing something you didn’t need to do, giving the other person more time to react. So don’t do that. Don’t excessively stomp your foot either. I have several new members in my fencing club that think it’s cool to stomp their foot every couple of seconds to “scare” their opponent. Once again, it’s unnecessary and just takes up time that your opponent can use to attack you.

I am a small person. That means I don’t have as much mass behind my movements and thus, generally less strength. However, I don’t usually lose just because I wasn’t as strong as the other person. My epee isn’t suited for someone of my stature and it’s too long and heavy to fit my hand comfortably. This means I’m often slower and less accurate than I could be. I also tire pretty quickly in long bouts and quickly lose steam in the second period during the nine-minute bouts. I’m planning on getting a new epee soon, but I’ve heard that this is a common problem with smaller fencers. If you are one, get a weapon that fits you. Even if your blade needs to be shorter to take off some weight, it’s worth it because then, you’re faster, more accurate and also less likely to develop some sort of wrist condition from straining your muscles too much.

One of the things I see even in experienced fencers is the tendency to make movements that are too big and that either leaves you wide open for a counterattack or doesn’t leave you enough time to move your arm where you want it to go since it’s all the way to the side somewhere. So make small precise movements and don’t put too much strength into pushing against your opponent’s blade, like I said above, disengage and then attack. Waving around your arm also means you lost point control and that will definitely lose you your point.

 

arm
Another helpful diagram. This is a foil weapon though so don’t hold your epees with your palm up like that.

 

One last thing I’m going to talk about is the position of your arm. I like getting hand touches and arm touches since I’m short; it’s the closest part of the opponent’s body that I can hit. So I take advantage whenever someone lifts or lowers their arm too much while I’m in attacking distance. Sometimes, it’s a small movement but it’s just enough for me to advance, duck and angling my blade up a little, hit them just behind their bell guard. (The top of the hand is harder because 1)it’s higher up and 2)they’re usually aware and they’re just resting their arm and 3)it’s riskier for me to hit. Keep your wrist slightly pointing inwards; it helps keep your point on your biggest target–their torso– and also means your forearm is out slightly to compensate for it. That keeps your bell guard over your forearm and minimizes the chance of getting touched on your hand or forearm. Putting your hand at the proper height also effectively blocks any attempt at your dominant shoulder.

And that’s it. These are some of the basic things to keep in mind while fencing and if you follow these instructions, you’re bound to see yourself winning more. What other basic tips do you think will be useful for starting fencers? And to the new fencers, what other questions do you have? Comment below or drop us a line at whentheskyisovercast@gmail.com.

I’ll talk to you on Wednesday.

 

 

 

 

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