Classical Academy of Arms

A Society for Classical Fencing Trainer Education, Development, Credentialing, and Support

Classical Fencing Continuing Education Online

Maintaining Academy credentials require that members, in the ranks of Classical Fencing Demonstrator, Classical Fencing Instructor, Classical Fencing Provost, and Classical Fencing Master, complete a minimum of 12 hours of continuing education each year, as explained on our Ranks page.  To assist in that process we post a continuing education article each month, along with a short multiple choice quiz.  Successful completion of 4 quizzes with a score of 2 or 3 correct will be credited as 1 hour of continuing education. 

Individuals studying the question bank for the oral component of the credentialing process should note that we draw all continuing education topics from the question pool. 

To keep the number of topics posted manageable, we archive each year's (December through November) continuing education topics as an e-book.  You may still use these topics for continuing education.  To do so click on the radio button for Archived topic, and type the month in the Archived topic box.

Doing Continuing Professional Education

Our Website CE program is an important part of three components of your work as a classical fencing trainer.  

  • First - if you are preparing for credentialing in any of our professional ranks, one of the components of the examination process is an oral examination.  The questions you will be asked and their answers are available in our Discussion Questions for Oral Components for Professional Examinations.  These answers represented the expected performance.  However, the monthly Website CE topics expand upon the standard answers, will help in your understanding of the questions, and provide enrichment that will make for a better and fuller answer to the examiners.
  • Second - we expect individuals who hold our credentials to continually expend their knowledge and understanding of classical fencing.  Website CE provides for part of that effort for continuing professional education in an easy to use format.
  • Third - as a credential holder you are expected to be able to do training in the Salle.  Website CE topics provide the material for enrichment for your teaching of students and for continuing education presentations for your peers. 

To profit from the material take the time to follow the following steps:

(1)  Look at the topic title and review mentally what you already know about it.

(2)  Read the material through once and then compare what you know with what the Website CE presentation adds to your knowledge.

(3)  Read the material carefully a second time, thinking about how you can apply this knowledge to how you teach.  What part is something you should include with blade or footwork, what part is background you can use to enrich, what potentially changes what you do, etc.  It may be helpful to make notes for future reference in planning training.

(4)  Take the review quiz (see the Reporting Website Continuing Education box to the right of this page).  None of these quizzes are difficult; all of them are open webpage.  Go back to the article and locate the specific point of each question.

(5)  And then use what you have learned to deliver better training.

Archived Topics

These continuing education topics are keyed to the questions included in the question bank for oral examinations for Classical Fencing Demonstrators, Classical Fencing Instructors, Classical Fencing Provosts, and Classical Fencing Masters.  As a matter of usable space on the website we are working to include only the last 12 months of postings.  However, we maintain an archive of all topics by year.  These can be used for study and to help meet our continuing education requirements.

2016-2017 Topics are in the process of being transitioned to their own page.


From the classical period to today group and individual lessons have been the dominant formats for teaching fencing.  The group lesson, as you might expect involves two or more fencers under the supervision of a trainer or trainers.  The individual lesson involves two people, the fencer and the trainer.  There are variants in the format of each type of lesson, and some of these may be difficult to categorize (for example, the trainer simultaneously teaching one student right-handed and the other left-handed, using two weapons).  In addition, they may range in length from the 5 minute lesson to the full length of a group practice.  However, as a general rule of thumb group = multiple students and more time; individual = one student and shorter duration.   

The group lesson is the basic form of instruction when teaching more than 1 student at a time.  It is the most efficient form of teaching for novice and advanced beginner skill level classes, and is useful for team training for competent, proficient, and expert students.  It allows the student to practice against a variety of opponents improving the ability to adapt to different opponents’ skill level, hand, speed, etc.  In the classical period group lessons were widely used in military and school settings.

There is a second benefit to the group lesson - group lessons generate more income than individual lessons, unless there is a very significant price differential.  For a club or Salle operating as a business it is important to look at numbers and pricing to find the best mix of group and individual lessons.  

The individual lesson on the Master's plastron is a fixture in the classical period.  The individual lesson is the most effective lesson format for improvement of skill in execution of tactics and technique for competent, proficient, and expert fencers.  It allows tailoring of the lesson to specific student needs leading to the optimization of student performance under direct one-on-one supervision by the trainer.  The individual lesson has one very specific advantage in the context of the small size of many Salles in the classical period - it can be conducted in a limited amount of space.

The characteristics of the individual and group lessons means that in designing a training program the training needs of the students, their classifications, the capabilities of the trainers, the available space, and the profitability of the club or Salle must all be considered.

Note:  The Academy is transitioning to a fencing specific version of Dreyfus's Five Stage Model of Adult Skills Acquisition for the classification of fencers: (1) Novice,  (2) Advanced Beginner, (3) Competent, (4) Proficient, and (5) Expert.  This model provides standard criteria for student evaluation that can be applied by any trainer to assess student progress in a measurable and objective way.


1.  An advantage of the individual lesson in the classical period was that:

  • a. the individual lesson was the most efficient way of training novices and advanced beginners. 
  • b. the individual lesson did not require tailoring to the specific needs of the student. 
  • c. the individual lesson could be taught in less space. 

2.  A significant advantage of the group lesson is: 

  • a.  it allows teaching lower skill level students or training the more advanced students.
  • b.  that it allows students to work with a variety of opponents of different skill levels and physical characteristics.
  • c.  the ability of each student to receive an equal amount of individual attention.

3.  Designing a training program requires:

  • a.  the mix of individual and group lessons be tailored to student needs and the profitability of the Salle.
  • b.  a focus solely on student needs.  
  • c.  the ability of the trainer to teach all three weapons proficiently.


The terms "Assault" and "Bout" have had both the same and different meanings in various periods of history.  In classical period fencing texts, there is no difference between an assault and a bout – the terms were used interchangeably, or even with the assault as the period of a bout in which combat is ongoing.  Both were contests between two fencers in which a score was kept to determine a winner.  Bouts are fenced for training for competition to train the fencer in competitive conditions and evaluate the ability to apply tactics and techniques to result in a victory.   Bouts are the organizational and scoring format for individual and team competition. 

In modern usage assaults are friendly encounters between two fencers in which no score is kept.  Social fencing may be conducted in the salle as assaults to avoid the appearance of competition or the embarrassment of one of the fencers suffering a defeat.  However, not keeping score results in the participants not having an objective way to measure success and reduces the value of the activity as preparation for combat.  This is particularly true of tactical practice in which the score is important to the selection of tactics.

The term "assault-at-arms" is of some antiquity and denotes an event that was a public exhibition of skill, strength, artistry of technique, and the use of various weapons and combinations of weapons for the amusement of the general public.  The longest running annual assault-at-arms was the British Royal Tournament, ended in 1999.  The two signature events had no relationship to fencing but were amazing shows of teamwork, skill and coordination, the Royal Horse Artillery Musical Ride and the Royal Navy Field Gun Competition.  Some classical fencing organizations conduct periodic assaults-at-arms based exclusively on historical and classical period weapons for the edification of other fencers and friends.   

February 2022 Review

1.  In the classical period, the terms "Bout" and "Assault":

  • a.  were used interchangeably to indicate a combat between two fencers. 
  • b.  had different meanings, an assault being a combat in which a score was kept and a bout being fenced without keeping score.
  • c.  differentiated between bouts fenced by amateurs and those by professionals.

2.  Assaults-at-Arms in the classical period were distinguished by: 

  • a.  the use of the foil, sabre, epee, singlestick, and bayonet.
  • b.  a variety of individual and team skill and strength events using a variety of weapons.
  • c.  their focus on demonstrations for fencing experts.

3.  The primary limitation of the modern concept of the assault as a friendly combat without touches being counted is that:

  • a.  assaults only work between gentlemen because modern athletes focus completely on victory as opposed to artistic bladework.
  • b.  fencers who are fencing without specific goals tend to monopolize strips for prolonged periods of time.  
  • c.  not counting touches reduces the value of the combat as preparation for competition in which the score is important to tactics selection.


In fencing bouts in the classical period, how were touches recorded, and what is the theoretical basis for this method of scoring?  Today in modern fencing touches are entered on a score sheet based on awarding a touch to the fencer who scored the touch.  So, Smith IIII indicates that Smith has scored 4 touches.  

However, for a considerable period of time there was considerable variation in how bouts were scored.  At times, the Jury simply voted to determine which fencer won the bout, a measure that might be based on the touches scored, received, a general sense of the form of the fencer, or some other criteria.  As can be imagined this created a certain amount of controversy at times.  At others, points were added to the score for the quality of the fencing and the fencer's adherence to perfect form, typically in the range of 0.5 to 1.5 points.  These two approaches did not survive.  By 1937, the Amateur Fencing Association rules established that the number of hits scored by a fencer was the defining measurement in determining standing within a completed pool.  In 1940 the rules of the Amateur Fencers League of America similarly identified bouts won followed by the number of touches scored as the measure of victory.   So, if two fencers were tied in victories, the fencer with the most points scored earned the higher place. 

This changed at some time subsequent to 1940.  By 1957 the Amateur Fencer's League of America had shifted the measurement.  Now the number of touches had shifted to the number of victories followed by the number of touches received as the basis for computing standings. Thus a bout scored A – 5 and B – 0 is a victory by B who has touched A 5 times and not been touched himself.  Touches received is a modern period measurement. It is intriguing to think that this reversal replicated the reality of the duel in which hits by a duelist resulted in wounds to the opponent.  However, after World War II the duel was a true rarity and scoring based on it was not necessarily logical for the modern sport.

We do not currently know why the classical period used touches scored as a measurement, and why that changed in the modern period, only to change again after a number of years.  More research is needed to determine the background for the change, and we welcome input by anyone with authoritative knowledge.  However, if you are fencing a classical bout you have several possibilities for scoring, the cleanest and simplest of which is that the bout is determined by who scores the most touches recorded on the score sheet in the allotted period of time.


1.  If touches are being scored for the fencer who makes them, which of the following would reflect the higher placed fencer in a pool?

  • a.  Smith 4 victories 20 touches scored 
  • b.  Jones 3 victories 21 touches scored 
  • c.  Wilson 4 victories 20 touches received

2.  A touch received by a fencer is one where:

  • a.  the president of the jury has awarded the touch to the fencer based on his having scored on the opposing fencer
  • b.  French fencers wanted aa weapon that could compete with the Italian spada.
  • c.  the president of the jury has recognized that the opponent has touched the fencer.

3.  Based on what we know today:

  • a.  touches in the classical period predominantly were scored against a fencer.
  • b.  victories in bouts were predominantly awarded based on which fencer the jury believed had performed better during the bout.  
  • c.  touches in the later part of the classical period were awarded for the fencer who scored them.


The development of the epee follows at least two tracks resulting from the evolution of the rapier and smallsword into both the foil in France and the spada (or sword) in Italy.  At the same time this evolution finally resulted in a separation from the foil and the appearance of two weapons, one for the duel and the second for training for the duel.

The Italian spada was a longer weapon than the foil and its play was heavily influenced by the requirements of the duel.  Italian fencers did use the foil as a training weapon, and as a competitive weapon when international competition developed, but the technique of the foil was virtually indistinguishable from the technique of the spada, unlike the case with the French foil.  Italian point technique of the 1880s was defined by the spada, and unique sections of text dealing with the foil are absent from a number of texts of this period.  The offset bell with only a cross bar that can be found today may have appeared as early as 1915.

In contrast the dominant point weapon of the French School was the foil up through the 1880s. The foil was even used in some notable and widely reported cases for dueling.  As French foil technique became more complex and rules for competitions were introduced, the body of foil technique started to lose its value for training for the duel.  By the 1880s a group of French Maitre d'Armes became increasingly dissatisfied with the use of the foil and foil technique as the basis epee of the terrain training.  Foil technique no longer retained the realism of combat.   To adequately prepare their students for impending duels, these masters developed a model of dueling practice suitable for use in the salle with the epee of the Salle and taught a body of technique that maximized the potential for success on the dueling ground with the epee of the terrain.

It is important to understand the specialized linkage between the duel and the epee.  The importance of first blood to satisfy honor and stop most duels increased the emphasis on landing the first hit and shifted much of the play to the advanced arm target.  The counterattack against an uncovered attack became not only possible in play in real time (as opposed to play governed by priority) but actually desirable. The use of an epee of the Salle that was essentially the same weapon as the epee of the terrain meant that the weapon's configuration, weight, and handling characteristics were virtually identical from training to actual combat.  Finally, the accepted conditions for epee bouting (a very long piste, outdoors often, on a gravel or dirt path) trained the fencer under conditions that he would encounter in an actual affair of honor.

It is also worth noting that the epee became the focus of attempts in the classical period to improve the technology of judging hits to a degree almost entirely absent from the foil and sabre.  This started with chalking the points to indicate hits, followed by the single tin-tack point, the multiple pronged point d'arret, various mechanical attempts to increase the quality of hit signaling with the point, and finally the first viable electronic scoring apparatus at the end of the classical period.  The electric epee was first used in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It rapidly achieved popularity among fencers both because its point did not rip uniforms and inflict cuts on arms as well as because it proved superior in recognizing hits that visual judges could not or would not see.

The following table summarizes the relationship between foil and epee at approximately 1900 in the classical period:

FranceFoilBlade length 34 to 35 inches, light weight, minimal hand protection
ItalyFoil (Spada)Blade length longer than 34 inches, possibly to 38 inches, heavier blade, hand protection - approximately identical to the Spada (Sword)
FranceEpee of the SalleHeavier blade, hand protection - identical except for rebated point to the Epee of the Terrain
FranceEpee of the Terrain (Epee of Combat)Heavier blade, hand protection - identical except for a sharp point to the Epee of the Salle
ItalySpada (Sword)Essentially identical to the Foil (Spada) except for a sharp point and a different blade 



1.  The spada differs from the French foil and epee in that:

  • a.  the French foil and epee are essentially the same weapon; the Italian spada takes two very different forms based on whether it is used as a foil or as an epee 
  • b.  the spada as a foil is the training weapon; as a combat weapon the spada is essentially the same in form and use as the training weapon but with a sharp point.
  • c.  the spada was normally a training weapon with a heavier blade designed to develop the muscles of the fencer's arm; this weapon was widely used and known as the smarra or Spada da Marra. 

2.  The underlying reason that the French epee of the Salle was developed was:

  • a.  the heavier epee of the terrain fatigued students excessively during lessons.
  • b.  French fencers wanted aa weapon that could compete with the Italian spada.
  • c.  foil play no longer provided realistic training for the duel.

3.  The development of electric scoring for the epee in the classical period:

  • a.  was a natural step in the search for a better way of confirming a hit.
  • b.  failed to develop an acceptable scoring system in the classical period; better circuitry in the 1960s finally made electric epee a competitive success. 
  • c.  was widely disliked by epee fencers because it was seen as less manly than suffering the scrapes that the sharp point d'arret produced.


One of the key components of the interaction between trainer and student is the trainer eliciting a correct response to a tactical situation, whether that response is offensive, defensive, or counteroffensive.  How do we get the student to learn to attack at the apropos moment or how do we draw the correct response to an attack.  The answer is cuing, the presentation of signals that the student can recognize as opportunities or as threats.

What serves as a physical cue (and use there are psychological or mental cues)?  Virtually anything that the student can see or feel can be used to cue action.  Blade movements opening a line, closing a line, or trying to take the opponent's blade are probably the most widely used blade cues.  These can vary based on the objectives of the lesson.  For example, a change in sentiment de fer can be used to trigger a disengage when the lesson emphasis is on subtle action.  Distinct pressure on the blade can cue a beginner to disengage.  A lateral attempt to engage the blade should trigger a disengage when the opponent is a more experienced fencer.  And the ultimate cue to do a disengage is when the opponent's position, distance, and activity allows a simple attack to succeed. 

This is not all that bladework can do.  Blade invitations are cues to attack with a simple attack or in second intention.  Changes in the tempo of movement can easily invite counterattacks or countertime actions.  Attacks or counterattacks or ripostes cue defensive actions.  Uncovered actions can be used to cue a counterattack, especially against the forward target in sabre and epee.

Footwork is a powerful generator of cues.  Attacking footwork can activate a defensive response either with manipulation of distance or with blade action or both.  A step or half-step forward can be used to trigger a counterattack or attack in preparation.  Retreating steps against an attack should cue the student to use accelerating footwork to close the distance.  All of the footwork cues can be combined with the appropriate bladework cue to provide complex and realistic cues.

Cues are made even more interesting when they combine bladework and footwork with distance and timing.  Changes in tempo with acceleration, deceleration, or broken tempo each can be used to cue specific student responses.          

It is important to ask who is learning what from the cue?  This is particularly important when you consider the difference in individual and group lessons.  In the individual lesson, students learn to recognize what movement and position cues tell them about the vulnerability of the opponent to offensive, defensive, or counteroffensive action.  They also learn how to detect subtle signs of changes that they can exploit.  The trainer does learn to give better and better cues, but that is a side effect that only peripherally impacts the student.  However, if cues are used in drills, the cue serves two purposes - to train one fencer to execute correctly and to teach the other how to do an invitation (which is what cues really are).  Bad cues should draw a puzzled look, not the desired response.

How should physical cues be presented?  The presentation of the cue is extremely important.  Cues should be realistic and mimic the opponent’s action in a bout.  Offensive and counteroffensive blade cues should especially present a threat directed accurately to the target area.  Footwork and tempo cues should be consistent with blade cues.  The width of the action, speed of presentation, depth of penetration, etc. should be based on the skill level of the student with larger and slower cues being required for beginning students and smaller and faster for advanced students.

There are a number of cues that should be avoided like a Medieval plague.  Hand signals to advance, retreat, attack, etc. are completely unrealistic.  I have never seen an opponent signal me in a bout with a come-hither hand signal to indicate I should attack him.  They train the fencer to expect something that is not there.  

In sabre leaning the head forward to make it easy to land a head cut is another poorly conceived cue that teaches an incorrect understanding of the distance needed in a head cut attack.

Having the student hold the point on target until released by the trainer banging their bell is another pernicious habit.  The real signals to recover the blade are (1) hitting the target (lingering on target is not a healthy thing to do), (2) a clear miss (you need to get out of Dodge and either remise or be ready to parry, and (3) blade contact means the opponent has parried and may be on their way to your target (you need to remise, angulate, or recover the arm into a parrying position.

Look carefully at how you present cues.  Ask yourself two questions: (1) will an opponent do this in a bout and (2) will my cue elicit the response I am training.  Be honest; if the answer is YES, then work to improve so the cues are even better.  If the answer is NO, then fix the problem. 

Review NOVEMBER 2021

1.  Which of the following is the most important rule in designing a cue for instruction?

  • a.  making every repetition of the cue the same, regardless of student ability.
  • b.  cues delivered with hand signals by the trainer are the best because they are realistic and cannot be duplicated in an actual bout.
  • c.  the cue must be realistic and represent something the opponent would do in the bout.

2.  Light pressure on the student's blade to cause them to disengage is an example of:

  • a.  a cue that uses sentiment de fer.
  • b.  the best cue to teach any type of simple attack.
  • c.  a cue really only appropriate for beginning fencers.

3.  Which of the following is the best cue to cause your student to take a parry?

  • a.  a hand signal that the student should parry.
  • b.  the extension of the trainer's blade toward an open line.
  • c.  a half-step forward with no change of blade position from the guard.


Drills are not one size fits all students or all situations.  For example, at the start of training drills can be quite simple and focused as narrowly as one part of an overall technique - this same approach can be used with advanced students who are using deliberate practice to refine and maximize the performance of that component of a technique.  However, the number of repetitions, the required quality of repetitions, the duration, the speed, level of control, etc. would be significantly different for the beginner from those factors for the advanced student.

The following factors should be considered when designing drills:

(1) the overall training objectives of the drill.  All training should be based on objectives and the expected outcomes of training in developing the fencer. 

(2) the skill level of the students.  If you design an advanced drill for beginner students the the potential for chaos and failure is high.  On the other hand if you design a basic drill for advanced students, the odds are good that he students will be bored and lose interest, unless you have a specific objective that you can explain to the students and demonstrate its importance.

(3) whether or not the drill will teach new material or train in a skill already known.  New material requires more demonstration, slower execution, and low complexity.  For familiar material, the intensity, variability, and duration of the drill can be increased. 

(4) what knowledge the students already have that can be used as a building block for the skill.  

(5) the characteristics and components of the skill to be taught.  It is very difficult to design an effective drill if you don't know the parts and relationships of the parts you will be working with.

(6) how to apply working from known to unknown, simple to complex, and slow to fast - the standard rules of thumb for any training activity.  

(7) where the drill fits within the class or practice session - is this a warm-up activity, a primary instructional activity, or a cool down activity.  

(8) the number of students.  More students require more space.

(9) the number of trainers available.  More students require more instructors who further increase the amount of space required.

(10) the space available, both total size and shape.  Will everyone fit in the space?  Classical fencing for much of its existence used shorter strips, early salles were often tiny by modern standards, and footwork tended to be less expansive - thus a smaller room may be perfectly acceptable.

(11) the most efficient formation and activity pattern for the drill.  How are you going to fit the students and their movement patterns in the space available? 

(12) the time available.  The more complicated and the more steps involved, the more time is required for a drill. 

(13) safety.  When items (1) through (12) are all answered, can you do this drill safely.

All this means that a drill requires a significant amount of planning time, appropriate demonstrations, and careful supervision if success if your goal.  


1.  In designing a drill, the first and most important step is to define:

  • a.  the learning objective of the drill.
  • b.  the way in which students will use the skills developed by the drill in fencing bouts.
  • c.  the space available.

2.  What characteristic of classical fencing allows the use of smaller spaces for drills than would be required in modern fencing:

  • a.  must remove the blade from the line in order to create an opening into which to attack.
  • b.  the lack of electric scoring means that space is not need for scoring machines and reels.
  • c.  the amount of footwork required was naturally constrained by the length of the piste and the small size of many salles.

3.  Which of the following types of drills will tend to require more time for their completion:

  • a.  drills intended to simulate bouting conditions.
  • b.  drills teaching a new technique.
  • c.  drills being used for deliberate practice.

SEPTEMBER 2021 What Parries Are Commonly Used in Sabre?

The parries used in sabre depend upon the School of Fencing which you follow.  The French School and the Italian Schools used very different parry sets, and other variations can be found in various less often practiced schools.  Eventually the French School sabre parry set disappears and the Italian set becomes dominant.  Thus it is important to note that the there is considerable variation - Italy, for example, had two schools, the Radellian and that of the Military Fencing Masters School at Rome, and the fundamentally French School as taught by Hutton in England had different numbering and additional parries.  

Therefore, as a baseline for discussion, we will use the French parries from 1908 (the Amateur Fencers League of America's translation of the French Ministry of War fencing manual) and the Italian parries from 1884 (from Parise).

French parries show a distinct influence of French School foil positions:

  • 1st (protecting the inside line)
  • High 1st (protecting the cheek and high inside line) 
  • Low 1st (protecting the abdomen)
  • 2nd (protecting the outside low line)
  • 3rd (protecting the outside high line)
  • High 3rd (protecting the outside cheek and head)
  • 4th (protecting the inside high line)
  • Low 4th (protecting the chest and abdomen)
  • High 4th (protecting the inside cheek and head) 

The Italian parries and their later Hungarian counterparts ae quite interesting because of the flow patterns in their movement.  In their basic form there are seven:

  • 1st (protecting the inside line),
  • 2nd (protecting the outside line and especially the flank),
  • 3rd (protecting the outside line),
  • 4th (protecting the inside line),
  • 5th (protecting the head),
  • 6th (protecting the head), and
  • 7th (protecting the outside line and back). 

This results in three defensive boxes, the point down box:

  • 1st -> 5th -> and 2nd

The point up box:

  • 3rd -> 5th -> 4th

And the inside to outside box (this is not actually a box but rather a parrying sequence based on a series of feints and final attack) :

  • 4th -> 6th -> and 7th 

Circular parries are executed in 3rd and 4th, and the parry from 3rd to 2nd, and the reverse, is a semi-circular parry.  Although not commonly mentioned ceding (yielding) parries be made against pressure or beats from 2nd to 1st and from 4th to 7th.

REVIEW September 2021

1.  Which of the following schools of fence sabre techniques visually most closely resembles foil technique:

  • a.  Italian Military Fencing Masters school at Rome.
  • b.  French.
  • c.  Hungarian.

2.  In defending the head in the Italian School, the parry or parries you may use is/are:

  • a.  5th.
  • b.  1st and 2nd.
  • c.  5th and 6th.

3.  We can separate the parries used in the Italian-Hungarian Schools into defensive boxes based on:

  • a.  whether the point is raised or lowered in the lateral parries.
  • b.  the numerical sequence of the parries.
  • c.  the order in which an opponent would logically attack the targets.

AUGUST 2021 Classifying the Point in Line

A point in line is what it sounds like, the establishment of an extended arm from the guard position with the point on the line of offense threatening the opponent's high line target.  It is essentially a straight thrust from the guard position with the expectation that the opponent will close the distance, rather than the fencer having to lunge, in order to be hit.  As early as the 1880s it was understood that the point in line must be removed from the line before an attack could be safely completed.  

The point in line is not widely discussed in texts of the classical period, although appearing in Parise's work, and started to appear in the rules of fencing in the 1930s.  Earlier discussions of double hits, a common topic in the late 1800s to early 1900s, do not address the point in line as a source of double hits, which it obviously must be if not removed from the line by the attack.

So how do we classify the point in line in the theoretical taxonomy of fencing actions?  This is a subject of debate among modern fencers, and that debate my offer insights into how we should think about the classical period point in line.  First, fundamentally the point-in-line is a response to the perception of an opponent’s capability or developing intent to execute an attack.  It must be established before the start of the opponent's attack or else it becomes a counterattack into the attack in terms of the period understanding of priority.

A point in line can be considered an offensive action because touches delivered by point in line are given precedence over the opponent’s attack if it is established before or during the preparation before that attack begins.  Note that the rules in the period do not appear to have addressed whether the point in line can be mobile with advance or retreat or must remain in place.  Movement has been subject to a number of changes in the modern period staring with the 1940 Amateur Fencers League of America rules that provide that a point in line is not correctly established if you have to move forward to hit. .  In French based theory it retains its nature as an offensive action if it avoids by derobement the opponent's attempt to take it.

It can be considered a defensive action in that the point in line prevents an attack unless the opponent is able to deflect or avoid it.  It forces that preparatory action.  However, defensive actions normally are considered to be the parry by the blade or by distance or the avoidance of an attack, and do not imply scoring as a part of the defense (that being the job of the riposte, an offensive action). 

And it may be considered a counteroffensive action because it is typically established as a counter-threat with the point to threat of an attack.  As such its fundamental goal is to hit the attacker if the attack is delivered, much as a time hit or stop hit, but with the advantage of having priority over the attack.  As a counteroffense it is a stop hit in tempo waiting for the opponent to lunge onto it.  Instead of viewing the deception by derobement of an attempt to remove the blade from the line as retaining the threat of attack, Italian theory introduces the disengage in tempo, a counterattack in time that disengages to avoid the attempt.  

The point in line is thus an action difficult to classify. The solution appears to be that it may be all three, attack, defense, and counteroffense, depending on your tactical intent at the time.  As always, our recommendation is to be guided by the doctrine of your School or Master.  However, absent such guidance, we suggest that you experiment with the point in line to determine how it best fits in the set of skills that you teach.    

Review August 2021

1.  The correctly executed Point in Line is executed by:

  • a.  extending the arm with the point on the line of offense to a high line target.
  • b.  a straight extension with the elbow locked against any target, high or low line.
  • c.  extending the arm with a step forward to ensure sufficient closure for the point to arrive on the target.

2.  If we consider the Point in Line as an attack, the opponent:

  • a.  must remove the blade from the line in order to create an opening into which to attack.
  • b.  earns priority if there is a double hit if he or she is the first fencer to lunge.
  • c.  can only earn priority by taking the blade with a bind, envelopment, etc.

3.  The Italian counterattack against an attempt to take the point in line is the:

  • a.  imbroccata.
  • b.  disengage in tempo.
  • c.  passata sotto or intagliata.

July 2021 The Theoretical Basis of Stop Hits

In a duel the stop action with the sharp weapon is intended to arrive far enough in advance of the attack to arrest the attack and wound the attacker, thus denying the attacker’s ability to hit the fencer.  This makes it possible to reduce the examination of counteroffensive actions to "try to hit them first," and in epee this has some merit as an explanation for fencers who are not interested in the deeper understanding of their actions.  But in truth, there are multiple variants of the counteroffense, some less often considered, and one that is unintentional and lacks merit.  Understanding these helps the trainer better prepare his or her students for counteroffense on the piste.

In French fencing doctrine in the 1877 and 1908 Ministry of War manuals we find several actions translated in different ways:

(1) The 1877 coup de temps, which is executed on a compound attack or an error in the attack, and which combines the parry, closing the final line, with the riposte.  This is what we understand today as a time hit (a stop hit with opposition).

(2) The 1908 coup de temps, an action in tempo which scores against the compound attack by landing before the final tempo of the attack.  This is the modern stop hit (or stop cut).

(3) The 1908 coup d'arret executed when the opponent advances whether or not the advance is followed by an attack.

(4) The pre 1908 tension (not in the 1877 manual), a reflexive reaction extending the arm into an attack in progress, was fairly thoroughly condemned as a panic action and bad fencing because it results in a double hit. 

(5) The 1908 manual dresses this up as a simple extension of opportunity into the opponent's simple action, but acknowledges the double hit problem.

Probably the clearest statement of the Italian doctrine in the same period comes from Parise in 1884:

(1) Arrest in tempo - an action landing in the first (against a single feint) or second tempo (against a double feint) prior to the final action of compound or multiple feint compound attacks.

(2) Appuntata - a counterattack performed remaining in the lunge against an opponent who ripostes with a compound riposte on the moment of detachment from the fencer's blade.

(3) Disengage in tempo - when maintaining a point in line, a disengage can be executed when the opponent tries to find the blade.  This is a clear recognition of character of the derobement as a point in line counterattack.

(4) Imbroccata - a counterattack with opposition against the flanconnade in fourth or second.

(5) Inquartata - against either the straight thrust, disengage, or compound action with opposition to the inside as the fencer swings his rear foot and body to the outside to avoid a double hit.

(6) Passata Sotto - a rearward lunge with a duck placing the non-weapon hand on the ground simultaneously making a straight thrust or disengage so that a high line attack passes over the body.  It may be executed in first (two part), second (three part), or third tempo (4 part) attack.

By the end of the classical period in Italian doctrine the arrest appears as a counterattack launched as the opponent starts to move result in a hit that stops the opponent regardless of tempo.

When we consider all of these actions several points emerge:

1.  Whether in the duel or in the assault, the stop hit is grounded in the principle of hitting before being hit.  In the duel this is driven by the doctrine of the first blood shed being sufficient to satisfy the requirements of honor.  This is consistent with the stop hit's use in epee as the sporting version of the dueling sword.  In sabre or foil, the use of priority to preserve a rational flow to the action means that the stop must land to either physically stop an attack, to hit one that is incorrectly executed, or to land one (or more) tempos before the final tempo of the attack. 

2.  Counterattacks in a single tempo depend upon either opposition or removal of the target from the line for their safety or rely on an exquisite sense of timing to hit the development of the opponent's attack in the very milliseconds of its start.

3.  Counterattacks against an attack of more than one tempo need to land obviously before the start of the final action.

4.  Counterattacks can be found throughout the phrase, as a remise like appuntata or the disengage in tempo against an attempted blade take.

5.  These require practice, judgment, and courage to execute well.

6.  Simply reacting by extending your arm as a reflexive action against an attack is high risk and not very bright.

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III

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Review July 2021

1.  The Italian disengage in tempo is 

  • a.  an action to react reflexively into an opponent's attack to try to hit.
  • b.  a disengage counterattack against an attempt to take an extended point in line.
  • c.  quite similar to the French coup de temps.

2.  A counterattack in second tempo hits: 

  • a.  the final attack in a feint and attack.
  • b.  the second feint in a three tempo attack.
  • c.  a stop hit against a compound riposte when it detaches from the weapon of a fencer who remains in the lunge.

3.  When possible, stop actions are safer if:

  • a.  the opponent makes a single tempo attack.
  • b.  they are compound.
  • c.  they are executed with opposition or evasion.


As modern fencers we depend heavily upon the eyes to characterize movement, detect the start of the opponent's attack, identify feints, know where we are on the piste, etc.  Take away our vision and we are literally blind.  So what is the purpose of a lesson conducted with the student’s eyes closed, specifically in the classical period and even more widely?

The obvious answer is to develop sentiment de fer, the determination of the direction and timing of the opponent's blade movement, strength, and level of focus.  This was a particularly important skill and a standard component of a fencer's training in the earlier years of the classical period when there was a belief that all fencing started with an engagement.  When the focus on engagement lessened sentiment de fer remained important in actions taking, attacking, or opposing the blade and in ceding parries.  If we do sentiment de fer exercises eyes-open, vision continues to contribute heavily to understanding the action, and the subtle signs of the blade pressure may be missed.  

But this is not all there is.  Performing a number of repetitions of an exercise with the student eyes-open and then shifting to eyes-closed helps the fencer to focus on the proprioceptive feedback of the body's sensors to replicate the desired attack or defense.  With repetitions the fencer learns to identify correct movement to hit the target and to be able to identify deviations and self-correct when the action fails.  With practice the exercise can grow from an extension from a static guard to extension with the lunge, advance-lunge, and even advance-lunge and parry-counterriposte on recovery.  

Eyes-closed work does help the fencer develop visualization skills, builds automaticity, and has the potential to increase relaxation, speed, and accuracy.  These are all worthwhile outcomes.  

In addition, drills eyes-closed help build habit patterns to deal with the unexpected.  For example, if the student knows that a departure of your blade from engagement indicates a high probability that the attack is a disengage, he may make a lateral parry into the new line.  If the blade is not found because the instructor is executing a one-two, a circular parry will defeat the second disengage.  Alfred Hutton's Cold Steel (available in reprint) includes an appendix of defensive eyes-closed drills, and offensive and even counteroffensive drills can be designed with some thought.

We should note that eyes-closed requires work on the part of the student - they have to keep their eyes closed until the trainer tells them to open their eyes.   This may be helped by the use of sleep masks.  Eyes-closed drills require for safety that the trainer or one partner stay eyes-open.  

There are other benefits to the trainer.  Students who have suffered an eye injury can continue to train with a sleep mask if approved by their physician.  Physician involvement in decision making on the suitability of work with an eye injury is critical because of the tendency of the injured eye to try to move with the uninjured eye.  Finally, teaching eyes-closed helps build the skill set needed to teach blind or significantly vision impaired students. 

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III

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1.   Sentiment de fer refers to:

  • a.  the ability to sense the opponent's actions through contact with their blade.
  • b.  the process of determining where the opponent's blade when fencing eyes-closed.
  • c.  an appreciation of fencing with iron weapons.

2.  A primary advantage of giving drills and lessons in an eyes-closed environment is that: 

  • a.  it improves the fencer's ability to use proprioceptive feedback to refine their actions.
  • b.  it gives the trainer the skills needed to teach blind people to fence.
  • c.  it prepares a fencer to be able to continue to fence in case they lose their eyesight.

3.  Which of the following is a general class of actions in which sentiment de fer would help a fencer fencing eyes-closed to perform a defensive action? 

  • a.  second or third intention actions.
  • b.  ceding parries.
  • c.  counter attacks to the advanced target.

May 2021 - The Purpose of the Foil

The foil, in one form or another, is a weapon of some antiquity.  For example, at least one Longsword foil from approximately 1500 CE survives in a museum collection in England. Any rebated (with the edge and point unsharpened) weapon could serve as a training weapon.  In contrast the public German Fechtschule of the 1500s and the English Prize Fights of the 1700s were fenced with sharp weapons. Even public exhibitions were fenced with sharp weapons.

The shape and size of the foil slowly evolved into a weapon that would be recognizable today as a foil by the second half of the 1700s.  This foil appears extensively in pictures of enlightenment period of fencing salles and in exhibition or challenge bouts.  Examples include the famous bout between the Chevalier d’Eon and the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the famous painting of the foil bout between the Comte de Bondy and Maitre Lafaugere, and a picture of fencing in Angelo’s Salle.  The foil was a useful and relatively safe way to learn fencing, fence recreationally, and practice smallsword fencing with the intent being able to defend yourself if attacked.  And with the invention of the mask by La Boessiere Pere, safety was significantly increased in he late 1700s (although masks did not become popular for some time after). It should be noted that some of the foil bouts fenced were fenced with sufficient intensity that the difference between a demonstration of skill for the spectators and a fight with sharps was quite small.  The Bondy-Lafaugere encounter and one of Maitre Jean Louis with a foil against an opponent armed with sharp sword were examples.

At the beginning of the classical period the foil served in two roles:

First, the foil was the starter training weapon for all fencers.  There was a common assumption that the foil was the basis for good technique, both of foot and blade.  This dominance meant that the typical weapon of fencing in the salle was the foil, whether for instruction for combat or for recreation.  This belief in the foil as the first weapon persisted well into the 1990s, even as technique in epee and sabre diverged further and further from any reasonable assumption that these weapons were grounded in foil.

Second, the foil served as preparation for the duel.  In the early days of the period, it was the available weapon – the dueling sword (or epee of the terrain) was a sharp weapon and the epee of the salle with a rebated point had not yet appeared.   During this time the use of the French foil had evolved into a form of play distinct from dueling requirements and become a highly technical weapon suited primarily for sport.  On the other hand, Italian foil practice retained a greater degree of fidelity to dueling practice well into the classical period.

The disconnect between teaching and sport on the one hand and the reality of the duel was recognized.  As a result, the epee emerged by the 1890s as a weapon that, in its use, more faithfully reflected the requirements of training for fencing to first blood.  As a result, by 1900, the foil effectively became a sporting weapon.

In summary, the foil for most of its life was a weapon optimized for training for real combat and the duel.  In the 1700s we start to see the use of the foil for sport, and by 1900 the foil was effectively obsolete for any function other that of a universal first training weapon, and as a weapon for fencing as recreation and for sport.

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III

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Review May 2021

1.   Across time the foil can be defined as:

  • a.  a rebated weapon for use in training fencers and for recreation or competition
  • b.  the only weapon used to train fencers
  • c.  a weapon designed specifically for safety.

2.  The evolution of the epee as both a fencing and a dueling weapon reflected:

  • a.  the desire for a more powerful weapon that could, with only minor modifications, serve both roles.
  • b.  a recognition that foil no longer represented the conditions of the duel.
  • c.  a rejection of the foil as obsolete.

3.  One of the common uses of the foil in the classical period was as?

  • a.  a weapon for dueling.
  • b.  the starter weapon for instruction in all fencing weapons.
  • c.  the only weapon used by Fencing Masters for training advanced students.

April 2021 - What is an Attack and When Does it Begin?

When is an attack and when does it begin?  This sounds like a simple question with a simple answer:

"An attack is the extension of the arm and blade threatening the opponent’s target with the point or, in sabre, the cutting edges, at a distance at which a hit is possible.  The attack begins with the start of the extension and may be carried to the target with footwork." 

But is that all there is?  No.  An attack and its start can be defined as expressed above.  But that is a definition that suits the needs of the President of the Jury in determining validity.  It does not cover the full picture of the attack as executed by the fencer as a (1) tactical choice that (2) is prepared, (3) executed, and (4) recovered from.  We must considered each of these components in order to understand what an attack is, when it starts, and how it ends.

(1)  The attack as a tactical choice ... an attack is an action intended to hit the opponent on the target established by the rules for the weapon with the goal of scoring a touch.  That may be as an attack, a renewed attack, or a riposte. 

The key element is that an attack is chosen as a tool to achieve tactical objective, either to achieve a victory or to minimize a defeat.  The attack starts at the moment the choice is made.  At this stage it consists of a conception of what combination of blade and footwork will be needed, what preparation is required to make the attack successfully, and when it should be executed.  Without a clear tactical objective and a concept of the action, two things happen: the chance of success dwindles, and the chance that the action will result in a touch against the attacker increases.  This is the point at which the maxim that all fencing actions on the piste should be intentional must be applied.

(2)  Preparation ...  preparation actions prepare the ground for the attack.  They may be footwork to push or pull the opponent, close the distance, or create traps.  They may be bladework to engage the blade or remove the defense from the desired line of attack.  They may be the stages of second, third, or fourth intention.  They may be actions to hinder the opponent, confuse him or her, mask the fencer's real intentions, or to apply superior mental or physical readiness.  The goal of preparation is to ensure the success of the attack.

(3)  Execution ... execution of an attack obviously starts with the extension of the arm and blade threatening the target.  Anything that does menace the target is not an attack (yes, we know that in modern fencing any forward movement or achievement of a position from which forward movement may be possible qualifies as an attack - but not in a classical context where the reality of cold steel still existed).  In the early classical period attacks often started with a complete extension of the arm, followed by any feints and then the final action.  However, by at least the late 1920s video and illustration evidence shows that attacks had become progressive (and there are mentions of progressive actions as early as the first decade of the 1900s).  Footwork carries the attack forward to its final arrival as required. 

(4)  Recovery ... there is a common saying that "X does not end until the paperwork is complete," whatever X may be. Suitably modified, this applies to the attack.  The attack does not end until recovery is complete or until an action is initiated in its place.  The fencer who hits on the attack must recover to guard to protect himself from an automatic or unconstrained strong action by the opponent.  The fencer who does not hit must now decide whether to jump back, recover to guard, to fight in place against a riposte, or to recover forward in reprise or raddoppio. The end of the unsuccessful attack is the preparation for the next phase of the phrase.  Recovery is part of the tactical choice and conception of the attack to enable further action.

So the definition of the attack now becomes "an action with blade and footwork, initiated as a tactical choice to score, with preparation, a developing and continuing threat by the blade to the target, and a recovery, according to the fencer's conception of the action." The challenge of the Classical Fencing Master is to lead the student to the appreciation of the parts of the attack, the necessity of it having an objective, and the importance of a clear conception of the completion of the action.  

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III.

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Review APRIL 2021

1.   An attack starts with:

  • a.  the forward movement of the blade carried forward by the body
  • b.  an extension of the weapon arm menacing the target
  • c.  a tactical choice and conception of the action

2.  The objective of preparation is to:

  • a.  create the conditions that will lead to tactical success
  • b.  be physically and mentally prepared for the bout
  • c.  use a full range of actions to complicate the opponent's reaction to an attack

3.  Should we consider the recovery as part of the attack?

  • a.  no - it occurs after the attack is complete
  • b.  yes - recovery finishes the attack by initiating the needed defense or to exploit the results of the attack
  • c.  yes - but only if the attack is successful

March 2021 - Materiality and Validity

As juries and the rules matured in the 1900s, the process as to how juries determined what was a hit and what was a touch developed an orderly and criteria based character.  Who was responsible for what in the jury is sorted out and regularized, and in that process two terms emerge as determinative of the hit.  By the 1930s the who, why, what, and when of determining a hit was well established.  

The first term is materiality, a judgement as to whether or not a hit lands on the body of the fencer.  That hit, to count, must arrive with the point arresting in all three weapons or with the cutting or back cutting edge of the sabre.  The nature of the arrival varies.  Obviously the best occurrence for a member of the jury is if the point lands perpendicular to the body, generating an obvious bend.   However, if the blade slides and then fixes or fixes and then slides, the point counts as having arrived.  In sabre, the blade must cut with the edge, originally with either a slicing or drawing cut as opposed to the dry cut, and not slap with the flat sides of the blade. Eventually any cutting movement became accepted.  Each judge on a side has 1 vote and the president of the jury has 1.5 votes toward determining materiality, and can also abstain, or vote "no" if the cut or point misses or lands flat.

A special case is the vote "yes, but not valid" for a hit that occurs off the target in foil and sabre.  This vote is that there is a material hit off of the target which may cause a halt in the action based on the president's analysis.

It is also important to note that some classical fencing groups have adopted a rule that a hit must cause the blade to bend a certain amount, typically three fingers.  This is a modern affectation of dubious to no merit.  Theoretically it represents a hit that would significantly penetrate the body, and at that amount of bend, one that would cause severe injury.  Classical period rules do not address a bend, and dueling practice was that even a relatively minor bleeding injury might be found to be sufficient injury to satisfy honor.  The fingers measurement is faulty on a practical basis as well.  Whose fingers are the standard of measurement?  Three fingers on a large muscular hand can be almost twice the width of three fingers on a small, delicate hand.  How do you determine three fingers visually in the moment of the hit?  Do you have to have the fencers stop in place so that members of the jury can come and measure - "sorry Bob, that is only 2 and 3/4 fingers."  Inevitably, the measurement leads to heavy hitting so that the members of the jury will see an exaggerated bend.  

The second key term is validity.  This is a determination that a material hit can be awarded as a touch under the rules of the weapon.  For example, in the weapons in which priority of the actions determines validity, a stop hit against a foil thrust or a sabre cut, may land as a material hit, but not be awarded as a touch because it does not land before the final movement of an attack that does land on target.  Similarly a hit that is "yes, but not valid" is material but is not valid by virtue of being off target.  In epee, an attack may arrive materially but still not be valid because the counterattack lands visibly before the arrival of the attack.  Judgements of  valid or not valid are normally not specifically stated because the president's analysis determines validity in the description of the phrase.  The president of the jury is the sole determinant of validity.

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III

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Review March 2021

1.  For a touch to be considered material:

  • a.  the blade must bend approximately 3 fingers from its straight form.
  • b.  all four judges must vote "yes."
  • c.  it must fix on the opponent.

2.  Who determines materiality?

  • a.  the two judges who are watching the fencer who may have been hit and the president of the jury
  • b.  only the president of the jury
  • c.  only the judges

3.  How is validity determined?

  • a.  by the vote of the jury
  • b.  by the president of the jury determining that a material hit is valid under the rules for the weapon
  • c.  material hits are automatically valid with the exception of those hits which arrive off the target

February 2021 - The Reassemble

In all weapons, attacks to the body represent actions against the core target.  In foil and sabre the principles of priority preserve the attack until it is complete, subject to provisions for actions in counterattack.  However, in epee there are no such protections, meaning that the attack to the body requires the opponent to traverse an envelope of space that can be protected by the fencer's counterattack.  So how can this counterattack be executed for maximum effect and minimum risk?

First we have to consider context.  The classical epee under Classical Academy of Arms rules is fenced for the traditional single touch.  When we consider the historical context, this represents the ethos of the rational duel determined by first blood.  If there both fencers are touched within the period that the timing of the hits cannot be determined by visual judging, the result is a double hit and thus a double defeat.   

This drives a tactical approach for the fencer under attack based on two elements: (1) hitting first and (2) not being hit in the process.  To get to this goal the fencer must hit the attacker as early as possible in the attack.  That means a hit as far forward on the opponent's advanced target (the arm) as possible.  This is a matter of controlling the time line - an early hit on the arm clearly will precede a hit to the body and may precede an attempt by the attacker to create a double hit by shifting to a deeper arm target (especially if the fencer remains covered with the bell).     

The not being hit in the process depends on withdrawing as much of your target as possible.  Enter the reassemblement (French) or riunita (Italian).  This is a footwork movement executed as a primary way for the delivery of the stop or time hit.  Mechanically it is executed by:

(1) Withdrawing the front foot and hips.  As the withdrawal happens the front leg straightens.  Note that what the front foot does is important - it should retain the right angle relationship with the rear foot to facilitate any further footwork.

(2) Simultaneously straightening the back leg.

(3) And pivoting the chest forward, with a full extension of the weapon arm. 

This reduces the available target for the opponent’s attack (by removing the foot and leg and increasing the angle of the torso off the vertical to reduce the chances of the opponent's blade arresting) while maintaining balance and achieving maximum reach without forward movement of the legs.

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III

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Review February 2021

1.  The tactical imperative that inspires the use of the reassemble in one touch epee is:

  • a.  to ensure that no hit is unanswered..
  • b.  to hit within 40 milliseconds of the opponent.
  • c.  to hit without being hit.

2.  What drives this tactical imperative?

  • a.  the importance of risk assessment in executing the reassemble.
  • b.  the nature of most irrational duels in requiring multiple hits to defeat the opponent.
  • c.  a touch by the fencer results in a hit and victory, a double hit or a hit by the opponent results in a defeat.

3.  How does the reassemble achieve maximum reach?

  • a.  in the conversion of the reassemble into a lunge to hit the advancing torso of the opponent
  • b.  by the full extension of the weapon arm and forward inclining of the torso  
  • c.  by ensuring that the opponent commits fully to the attack to counter the reassemble.

January 2021 - The Teaching Position and Footwork (CFD)

Theoretically the most realistic way to teach is to use the same body position and footwork that you would use fencing a bout.  However, acting like a fencer, as opposed to as a trainer, suffers from significant problems that restrict when it can be used effectively.

First, some terms.  The Teaching Position is a relaxed position that allows the trainer to effectively present cues and complete both blade and footwork actions in a reasonable simulation of combat conditions.  Typically the trainer stands upright with his or her feet in a normal walking position, the rear arm hanging by the side to avoid confusing the student, and the head erect (leaning the head forward to facilitate student hits introduces incorrect appreciations of distance by the student).  The weapon arm is lower than in on guard to present a realistic threat in the simulated lunge (this is especially true in lessons with shorter fencers).

Teaching footwork is fencing footwork modified to allow the trainer to move quickly and present realistic threats for defense and challenges for attacks.  Typically it is conducted by walking at various speeds instead of the standard advance, retreat, and lunge.  

So what are the disadvantages of using standard fencing footwork and body position?  The major one is that it is tiring when maintained in lesson after lesson during a working day.  If you teach one lesson a week this is not an issue, but if you have a full slate of students day after day the energy demanded and the stress put on the body is significant.  

A second disadvantage is that the speed and length of footwork is restricted to what you can do as a fencer.  With faster, younger students, the walking footwork provides the ability to push those students.

Third, if you are using techniques to work with weapons in both hands to work left and right handed with a single student or to work two students simultaneously (this is not a stunt; it is a valid way to increase teaching throughput) the standard guard position and footwork simply does not flow.

The standard fencing position does have the advantage of presenting the full picture that the student will see on the strip with cues and relative body positions.  As a result it may be more efficient for tactical lessons.  If the teaching position and footwork are used, attention must be paid to maintaining as realistic as possible a presentation in a tactical lesson.     

Copyright 2021 by Walter G. Green III

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1.  In the teaching position:

  • a.  the weapon arm is held in the typical on guard position relative to the trainer's torso.
  • b.  the trainer stands erect..
  • c.  the trainer works from the fencing on guard position.

2.  The most significant reason for the use of the teaching position is that:

  • a.  it most accurately simulates the opponent the student sees on the strip.
  • b.  it reduces fatigue and stress when teaching multiple lessons.
  • c.  it allows the trainer to simultaneously use weapons in both hands.

3.  Teaching footwork:

  • a.  should always be executed more slowly than footwork on the strip in a bout.
  • b.  resembles normal walking. 
  • c.  should only be used in teaching with oral commands.

DECEMBER 2020 - WHY Competency Teaching With the Foil?

In last decade, the idea that a Fencing Master (Maitre d'Armes) should be able to teach all three weapons was slowly abandoned by many Academies of Arms in favor of development of One Weapon Masters (Maitre d'Epee, de Fleuret, de Sabre).  This followed the reality that many fencing clubs had become specialist clubs focusing on one weapon.  The idea of specialists and specialist clubs was not a new idea - the Epee Club, founded in 1900 in London, Masters in France who taught epee date into the late 1880s, and a variety of Spanish military officers who developed a large volume of sabre manuals in the late 1800s.  Typically general fencing books included a thorough coverage of the foil followed by sabre and epee sections that focused on the differences of those weapons from foil.  Deladrier's textbook of 1948 is an exception; he went so far as to include three complete sections focused entirely in one weapon each, probably because as a college coach, he had to develop non-fencers into competitive fencers in one weapon in four years.  However, well into the late 1900s, there was a common, established view that to teach fencing one had to start beginners with the foil.

So why does the Classical Academy of Arms start its instructor training programs with developing competency in teaching with the foil?  Because this is in keeping with the common period view that the foil was the basis for all further training in the sabre and epee.  This view had some legitimacy.  It was advocated by a number of widely respected Masters.  But, of greater importance, epee and sabre did incorporate a large element of foil fencing technique.  Italian foil practice was closely aligned with that of the epee as a dueling sword.  French epee represented a simplification and rationalization of foil.  French sabre positions and parries were recognizably aligned with with foil.  Any detailed analysis of the technique of the three weapons in the classical period will reveal combinations of commonalities that reflect a foil ancestry.  However, modern fencing evolves continually, and, as a result, the diverging fundamental character and technique of the three weapons today demands that most modern students will be single weapon specialists.

Our structure assumes that the Classical Fencing Demonstrator should be capable of the initial development of foil fencers, and that the Classical Fencing Instructor should be able to develop fully competent foil fencers.  As an acknowledgement of the more traditional concept of the Fencing Master, the Classical Provost adds a second weapon and the Classical Fencing Master the third weapon.  This provides a common traditional grounding in foil, a point weapon, followed by the epee, a point weapon, and the sabre, a point and cut weapon.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III


1.  In the classical period, the three common fencing weapons:

  • a.  had little in common in their technique.
  • b.  were taught based on a fencer becoming a specialist in a single, unique weapon.
  • c.  shared some common elements of technique. 

2.  In classical period instruction, it was common to start training with the:

  • a.  foil
  • b.  epee
  • c.  sabre

3.  Assuming that a Classical Fencing Instructor has prepared a student to a good standard of foil fencing, how could you as a Classical Fencing Provost take advantage of that preparation in teaching epee or sabre?

  • a.  emphasize that the new sabre or epee fencer should not look to foil as a source of any understanding of the new weapons
  • b.  relate and contrast the new techniques with the previously known foil techniques
  • c.  point out that foil is not a serious dueling weapon and that in fact foil was excluded from the 1908 Olympics because it was an art form, not fencing.

November 2020 - The Classical Piste

Modern fencers are used to a fencing strip that is substantially stable - the same length and the same width from day to day, club to club. The big difference lies in whether the piste is marked on the floor or is an electric strip. That was not the case in the classical period.  Pistes were of varying lengths and widths to fit the available space and to be capable of being picked up and moved.

One of the early generations of pistes were the Planchets, literally a plank of wood.  They might be constructed of planks, or be cut as a section of what appears to have been a log.  Because the plank versions of the piste were often seen outdoors, it is likely that they were to some degree portable.  The planchet could often be found with railings at both ends to prevent a fencer from departing from the end of the strip.

Other approaches were pistes painted on or otherwise marked on the floor.  In some cases, pistes were made of often quite narrow flexible material that could be rolled up when not in use.  And in some cases the size of the piste depended on the crowd of spectators.  Dueling sword pistes generally were intended to simulate the conditions of the duel, often an outdoors straight dirt or gravel path.

Length and width were only vaguely standardized.  Surviving pictures show a range from enough room for one fencer to lunge by no more than 2 feet in witdth to an estimated 15 feet in length.  By the early 1900s pistes seem to have been commonly 20 feet in length by 3 feet in width.  By the 1930s pistes could range from 2 meters in width and 12 meters in length for foil, 24 meters length in sabre, and 34 meters in epee.  Various systems of repositioning fencers on shorter strips when the end was crossed allowed shorter strips to be used as long as the fencers had the same distance available to retreat.

The length and width of the piste had a significant impact on how the bout was fenced.  On a 20 foot piste with the two fencers taking distance by opposing their points leaves at most three steps in retreat possible from the initial guard position.  The short piste limits mobility and makes the extended chases seen in modern fencing impossible.  It also introduces an interesting tactical artifact - when taking distance, the fencers stand at assemble with their arms fully extended.  On the command ot take guard, the fencer has a tactical choice.  Unlike today when the on guard line defines where the front foot must be, the earlier classical fencer could take guard with a forward movement of the front foot, essentially closing the distance prior to the command to fence.  Alternatively, if the fencer wanted to protect against a fast attack on the command "fence" he or she could could come on guard with the back foot stepping to the rear.  

On the shorter strip, reduced mobility made fencing from engagement practical.  It was possible to fence the compond attack from lunge distance with the delivery of the first feint from the guard and with the actual attack from the lunge.  The advance-lunge reverts to its actual character as a two tempo attack, wth the advance as preparation, increasing the value and practicality of the counterattack.

The Classical Aacdemy of Arms specifies a 20 foot long by 3 feet wide strip as a standard absent other guidance.  However, using different sized pistes or the piste described in a specific fencing text is useful in examining the impact of piste measurements on fencing tactics and techniques.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III 

Review November 2020

1.  A planchet is:

  • a.  a fencing strip made of flexible equipment or copper mesh.
  • b. an alternate name for a piste or a fencing strip in general use, even today.
  • c.  a piste constructed of wooden planks.

2.  The standard length specified by the Classical Academy of Arms for pistes is:

  • a.  20 feet
  • b.  20 meters
  • c.  34 meters

3.  When coming on guard from assemble:

  • a.  The fencer is required to step forward with the front foot.
  • b.  The fencer is required to come on guard in the same place as the assembe.
  • c.  The fencer may step forward with the front foot or backwards with the back foot.

October 2020 - The Moulinets

A moulinet or molinello is a circular movement of the blade used to deliver a sabre cut (although theoretically point moulinets are possible in foil and epee they have not generally been a feature of fencing in either weapon). 

The moulinet is performed by departing one line and landing in either the original line or another.  Early moulinets were made with a complete forearm movement from the elbow to deliver a hit of considerable authority.  These evolved to cuts executed with the wrist, hand, and fingers.  The cut itself was originally a slicing cut but evolved to one delivered as a normal dry hit to the target.

The tactical application of the moulinet is primarily as a simple attack or a riposte.  

The advantage of the moulinet is the authority of the blow, the circular movement pattern allowing a change in angle of the attack, the perception of speed, and the flow allowing a rapid sweep of the line in a return to guard.  The disadvantage was that the movement is actually slow and the large arm movements were subject to counterattack.

Moulinets may be:

(1)  Vertical (for example, the moulinet from prime landing as a head cut),

(2)  Diagonal (the chest cut from the opponent’s high 4th diagonally downward to return to guard in the fencer’s 3rd, the banderole or traversone chest cut), 

(3)  Horizontal (a moulinet from 3rd landing in 4th and the moulinet from 5th landing on the inside check or from 6th landing on the outside cheek or the abdominal cut) - a caution, the moulinet from 6th to the outside cheek must be executed at enough height to avoid cutting oneself in the head as it goes around,

(4)  Executed either direct or in reverse (for example from 4th a moulinet may circle backwards from below to land on the head or circle backwards from above to cut under the arm).

At the start of the classical period the moulinet was a standard type of sabre cut.  By the end of the period it was still taught, but primarily as a conditioning or warm-up exercise.  In either use it requires control and a relaxed hand to execute quickly - something gained only by considerable practice.

Copyright by Walter G. Green III

Review October 2020

1.  A moulinet is a form of:

  • a.  circular cut used in sabre.
  • b.  circular beat intended to displace the opponent's blade with a similar circular movement.
  • c.  a type of point riposte used in foil and epee.

2.  The pattern of movement in a moulinet may be either:

  • a.  circular or semi-circular.
  • b.  by disengage or coupe.
  • c.  direct or reverse..

3.  The tactical application of the moulinet is primarily as:

  • a.  a remise or reprise of the attack.
  • b.  a simple attack or a riposte.
  • c.  a counterattack in tempo.

September 2020 - The Contraction Parry

What is a contraction parry?  Contraction Parry is an older term for a parry that pulls the opponent's blade across the fencer's target.  But let's look at this more in depth.

First, a contraction parry is generally described in terms of a lateral high line movement of the blades.  Second, the contraction parry is typically initiated with a circular movement of the parrying fencer's blade.  Third, after completion of the circular portion of the parry, the opponent's blade is translated laterally across the target.  Thus a contraction parry of fourth takes an opponents blade from your sixth across to fourth, and a contraction parry of sixth takes an opponent's blade from your fourth across to sixth.  

A later term for this action is a change parry.  The movement pattern achieves the same effect as a change of engagement (a circular movement to pick up the opponent's blade and transports it to engagement in the laterally opposite line) or the change beat (a circular beat which uses percussion to direct the opponent's blade to the laterally opposite line).

So what is the objective, and how is this employed?  The tactical objective is to change the geometry of the phrase so that the opponent will find his or her blade in a different line than expected.  This forces recognition of the different positions of the blades and a reassessment by the opponent of where his blade is, how your riposte can be parried, and what riposte is available to her.  For an opponent who is used to the idea that your direct ripostes will come in the same line as the attack, this is a surprise and introduces decision making with delay (even if only milliseconds).  Of course, you can further introduce confusion by making the riposte from the change parry as an indirect riposte.

Employment is very similar to that of circular parries, with one difference.  A circular parry returns the opponent's blade in an indirect attack to the original line of the attack.  Thus a disengage from sixth to fourth is returned to sixth by a circular parry.  This parry is often called counterparry - because of confused uses of the term counterparry throughout the classical into the modern period, we use circular parry for any parry that returns the attack to the original line with a circular movement.  The change parry in contrast transports the final movement of the attack from its line to a different line.  Note that the parry is named for the line which it finally closes.  A disengage attack into fourth from sixth is returned to sixth by the circular parry.  A straight thrust attack into fourth is moved to sixth by the change parry.

Because the contraction or change parry does move the attacking blade across the target, it does require a good sense of the timing and acceleration of the opponent's action and careful management of the distance.  However, this is not a unique problem - the vertical croise from low to high line or the bind from low to high line face the same difficulty and yet have been executed successfully by well trained fencers. 

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Review September 2020

1.  The danger in using the contraction parry is that:

  • a.  The opponent can easily escape from the parry.
  • b.  It can only be used inside of lunge distance.
  • c.  The opponent's blade is taken across the fencer's target area.

2.  The tactical objective in the change or contraction parry is to:

  • a.  change the geometry so that the opponent is confronted with an unexpected parry-riposte combination.
  • b.  delay the opponent's ability to recover from the attack by increased manipulation of his blade.
  • c.  initiate the riposte earlier in the attack so that the opponent cannot remise.

3.  In a change parry of sixth the opponent's blade is:

  • a.  returned to the original line of the attack.
  • b.  transported laterally from fourth to sixth.
  • c.  transported laterally from sixth to fourth.

August 2020 - The Role of Opposition in Epee

Opposition is a simple concept - closing the line with your blade, and maintaining that closure, so that the opponent's blade is deflected from your target.  It is a technique common to the foil, sabre, and epee.  In foil and sabre, the role of opposition is to some degree shaped by the concept of priority.  However, it is in epee that opposition becomes a critical part of the game.

This results from the characteristics of epee fencing:

(1) the priority of hits is determined by the timing between them.  If there is only one hit, than that hit scores.  But if there are two hits, the first one scores.  If there is no discernable time interval, both hits score.  As a classical epee fencer, especially in one touch bouts, I want to either score the only hit or to land my hit an observable instant of time before the opponent does.  

(2) the epee target can be segmented into many targets.  The most vulnerable of these is the forward arm and hand because it is the closest target to the opponent and a traditional target that epee fencers train to hit.  Because the forward target is closer to the opponent than the chest or legs, it takes a shorter period of time to reach it.

(3) the priority rules of epee make counterattacks and renewals of the attack very productive.  The exposure of the arm or body to an opponent's blade that is unconstrained by your blade creates significant opportunity for the opponent to hit.

(4) the parry must control the opponent's blade.  Departing from that control opens the riposte to being intercepted by the opponent's blade, a remise in the same line, or some other target being hit.

(5) the attack or counterattack when an opponent's blade is free is always open to being hit by a counterattack, unless the unconstrained blade is in motion away from the line as a result of a feint, attack on the blade, or transport.

To prosper in this environment a fencer must be able to control the opponent's blade with opposition if that blade is a threat in the fencer's attack, parry, riposte, renewal of the attack, and counterattack.  Such control depends upon:

DISTANCE - make the opponent's blade fall short and if it remains in line hit with the riposte in opposition.

THE ADVANCED TARGET - manage the distance to be able to hit to the advanced target with the advantage of opposition with a relatively stronger blade contact than the opponent's.

TIME - the opposition of the blade hampers the opponent's blade action and gives the fencer the opportunity to hit first while preventing an early hit by the opponent..

RENEWAL, RIPOSTE, AND COUNTERATTACK - quick application of opposition with the strong of the blade controls and neutralizes the opponent's blade.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Creative Commons License
Opposition in Epee by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review August 2020

1.  Opposition is closing the line and establishing control of the opponent's blade by your blade to:

  • a.  deflect the opponent's blade from your target.
  • b.  facilitate indirect and compound attacks.
  • c.  prevent the opponent from ever hitting your target.

2.  Releasing opposition at the conclusion of a parry risks:

  • a.  a loss of accuracy in ripostes to the torso if the opponent attempts a counterattack by inquartata.
  • b.  the riposte being delivered more slowly than if opposition is maintained.
  • c.  a renewal of the attack in the same line.

3.  Correctly executed opposition may allow:

  • a.  the opponent to escape and hit with a compound counterattack.
  • b.  the fencer to hit first on the advanced target while preventing an early hit by the opponent.
  • c.  the opponent to quickly score with a remise in the open line.

July 2020 - Cut and Countercut

The cut is the distinctive method of scoring in fencing with the sabre.  To understand the mechanics of the cut, we first have to understand the sabre blade.  Over the past 200 years sabre blades have had a variety of shapes, ranging from extravagantly curved to straight.  In all of these patterns the blade has had a cutting edge, that is to say an edge that is sharpened to allow a slicing cut or crushing cut.  Traditionally there are two cutting edges - the front edge, also known as the long edge or true edge, and the back edge, also known as the short edge or false edge.  The front edge extends almost the complete length of the blade, and the rear edge typically approximately one third or less of the length of the blade. 

It is worth noting that after 1900, cavalry sabres became more and more optimized for point work and less effective as a cutting weapon.  This is particularly the case with the British trooper model 1908 and officer model 1912, and the United States model 1913 (often called the Patton sabre), the last combat sabres produced in these two countries.   Fencing and dueling retained the cut long after its relative inefficiency as a killing stroke in mounted combat had been recognized.

Fencing sabres early in the classical period were slightly curved weapons with a wider and heavier blade.  The sabre typically sold as a Hutton sabre is an example of the pattern.  However during the classical period there is a transition of the fencing sabre to the straight blade of the early 1900s with significantly less mass, whether for some fidelity to the military models of the time or for practicality in manufacture.  This created an opportunity for a faster game, as well as one that did not require heavy protective gear.  

What is the difference between a cut and a countercut?  Cuts are delivered with the true, front cutting edge of the sabre typically by using the thumb and other fingers to manipulate the blade in a crisp cut.  In the earlier years of the classical period, there was an expectation that the cut itself be made with a forward or backward movement of the blade on the target, and the cut was often delivered with a full arm or forearm blow.  Although theoretically any portion of the edge may be used, the cut delivered with the outer portion of the blade is the fastest and safest option against most targets.  They may be delivered with the hand in pronation, supination, and the middle position.  Typical cuts are those to the (1) arm inside, outside, lower side, and top, (2) the flank, (3) the head including inside and outside cheeks and the crest of the mask, (4) the chest as the diagonal banderole cut, (5) the abdominal cut, and (6) the various moulinet (mollinello) targets.

The countercut (also called a back edge cut) is delivered with the back cutting edge of the sabre, theoretically as a drawing cut (one that passes the intended target and then is drawn back across the target in a slicing motion).  We can identify three targets that were taught for the countercut: (1) the inside cheek, (2) the abdomen, and (3) the forearm, hand, and fingers.  The countercut is not widely discussed in the literature.  There seems to have been a belief that it made effective parries difficult against a riposte and a prejudice that cuts to the hand were a trivial way to end a duel.   However, it is an effective cut in dueling if the objective is to end the duel with the minimum possibility of serous injury and a surprising cut in fencing. 

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Review July 2020

1.  The countercut is delivered:

  • a.  against the counter riposte or the counter disengage.
  • b.  exclusively against the hand and forearm.
  • c.  with the back edge of the blade.

2.  Cuts are delivered:

  • a.  at the end of the classical period primarily with the arm and forearm and with little use of the fingers. 
  • b.  with the hand in supination, pronation, or middle position.
  • c.  most frequently with the moulinet.

3.  Which of the following is a significant trend in sword use in the classical period?

  • a.  The cavalry sabre becomes a predominantly point weapon and the fencing and dueling sabres remain both cut and thrust weapons. 
  • b.  The use of the countercut becomes very important and is widely taught for use against targets that cannot be protected by the parry.
  • c.  Sabre technique abandons the use of fingers to power the cut and replaces fingerplay with larger and more forceful arm movements.

June 2020 - The Grand Salute

The Grand Salute  is an element of the French School of Fencing.  It is a formal choreographed series of approximately 50 movements by two fencers to demonstrate basic technique in the format of a salute.  This was done as early as the 1880s and possibly as late as the 1930s as a preparatory warm-up and limbering exercise before fencing, as an opening ceremony for public demonstrations and competitions, and as a courtesy to the audience of same.  There is photographic evidence of the Grand Salute being performed in conjunction with the 1896 Olympic Games.   Although theoretically it could be done with any weapon, it is almost always included with foil material.

There are two versions of the Grand Salute - a Military Grand Salute (also known as Le Mur, The Wall) and a Civil Grand Salute (the Salut Civil).  Le Mur originated at the military fencing school of Joinville-le-Pont and the Salut Civil in 1886 at the Academie d'Armes de Paris.  The differences between the two are described as largely stylistic - the military salute is distinguished by  panache (with verve and swagger) and very precise execution.  The civil version is supposed to exhibit elegant and graceful movement, especially of the hands and feet.  The military version uses a double appel to emphasize movement in assuming guard - the civil version does not.

The Grand Salute is a very difficult piece of choreography, performed in a specific way, and involving both fencers performing essentially the same set of courteous invitations and scripted movements in turn.  Control and timing are critical because it is performed without masks.  It starts with both fencers executing a regular salute and the standard footwork to come to a guard position.   One fencer orally invites the other to lunge and recover to establish the distance.  This is followed by another series of salutes and a series of four disengages and a one-two (the military grand salute may include a coupe).  The disengages are parried causing the attackers blade to swing around to lay straight back along the arm as the attacker completes the lunge.  Then the fencers change roles and repeat the sequence starting with the oral invitation.   The fencers then assume the guard position, and then execute a standard salute  sequence.   

There is some variation in  the descriptions of the steps between various sources.  However, the core disengages from both high lines with the blade carried back over the attackers arm are common to all variants we have seen.

There is also a version of a complicated sabre equivalent, which, although requiring not as many steps, performs the same basic role.  This is termed the Sabre Salute, distinct from the Grand Salute.  It is a significantly shorter exercise.

Properly executed with precision, technical virtuosity, and synchronized movement, the Grand Salute and the Sabre Salute are impressive exercises.   The demise of the Grand Salute probably lies in the change of the culture of fencing that occurs toward the end of the classical period, combined with the time and difficulty of actually learning its progression.

Good English Language descriptions of the specific steps of the grand salute can be found in Felix Grave's Fencing Comprehensive which may be available from rare book sellers or in Rondelle's Foil and Sabre which is available in reprint.  Rondelle also describes the Sabre Salute.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Review June 2020

1.  There were how many versions of the Grand Salute?

  • a.  One - the Grand Salute
  • b.  Two - Le Mur and the Salut Civil
  • c.  Three - the Military Grand Salute, the Civil Grand Salute, and the Grand Salute for Children.

2.  Which of the following functions did the Grand Salute perform?

  • a.  as a primary training tool used to develop accuracy and control.
  • b.  as a demonstration of the superior of the technique of one of the fencers over the other
  • c.  as a warm-up and limbering exercise

3.  What was the distinguishing characteristic of the Grand Salute when performed in a civilian fencing club?

  • a.  the performance was intended to be marked by elegant and artistic movement
  • b.  the double appel was substituted for the military use of the single appel
  • c.  the civil version did not include both fencers performing a one-two as part of the exchanges in the salute

May 2020 - An Action and Its Counter

There are many approaches to designing a lesson.  One of those choices is to teach an action followed by its counter in a single lesson.  Why would you choose this approach to designing a lesson?

The answer lies in the variety of purposes that a lesson can serve.  First, what does this look like?  Well if we are teaching ... 

... a very simple lesson:

Step One - the trainer opens the line for the straight thrust and the student hits (the straight thrust is the action).

Step Two - the trainer attacks with a straight thrust and the student parries and makes a straight thrust riposte (the parry and riposte as the counter to the straight thrust).

... something a bit more complex:

Step One - the trainer teaches defensive countertime (a parry and riposte on a stop hit elicited by a slow attack - the action).

Step Two - the trainer executes defensive countertime and the student responds with feint in tempo (a disengage by the stop hit to deceive the defensive countertime parry).

Our first reason for including both action and its counter is that this provides a complete tactical package regardless of whether the first action taught is offense, defense, or counteroffense or first, second, or third intention.  The action and its counter are paired appropriately so that the fencer can execute the action or defeat the action with its counter without having to wait for a second lesson. 

For group lessons this facilitates drills so that both sides of the drill are able to work on learning tactically useful technique.  One side executes the action with the intent to hit.  The other side executes the counter with the intent to defeat the action.  Overall learning is maximized by students changing roles regularly (otherwise you risk one group learning only to be offensive and the other to be only defensive or counteroffensive.

A third reason is that it facilitates more complex reaction lessons.   If the student has currently learned or reviewed action and counter in the lesson, it sets up opportunities for second, third, and fourth intention development.

A fourth reason is that in group lessons the combination of the two can be used to build repetitions of one of the elements of the lesson.  For example if the action is the disengage, and the counter is a circular parry with a disengage riposte, both sides are working on the disengage throughout the lesson - one as an indirect attack, the other as an indirect riposte.  What might be 40 repetitions in the drill becomes 80.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Review May 2020

1.  A significant tactical advantage of teaching an action and its counter in a single lesson is that:

  • a.  the student learns how to determine the priority of actions.
  • b.  the student is prepared to execute either the action or the counter against the opponent's action after the lesson.
  • c.  in group lessons it concentrates on either the action or the counter so that half of the students learn the action and half the students learn the counter.

2.  If you are teaching engagement 4 or parry 4 and the disengage to deceive it, which is the action and which is the counter?

  • a.  the action must always be an attack so the disengage is the action and parry 4 is the counter.
  • b.  from the assignment which is action and which is counter is not clear - it could be taught either way.
  • c.  the disengage deceives the engagement or the parry so the disengage is the counter to either attempt to close the line in 4 (the action).

3.  How could you maximize learning an action and its counter in a group lesson.

  • a.  half the students execute the action, half execute its counter, and on regular intervals change roles.
  • b.  teach the primary subject you are trying to teach in the first lesson and then the other in a second lesson.
  • c.  half the students execute the action, half its counter, and the students remain in the same role throughout the drills.

April 2020 - Control of Distance in the Lesson

Skill in managing distance is a key part of any fencer's toolbox of technique.  Being able to close distance to attack and open distance to defend is fundamental.  That means that we must be able to teach distance control to our students. But how can distance in the lesson be controlled, and who is responsible for distance control?

Distance is a three part problem.  In any action the fencer and the opponent may chose to close, open, or maintain a set distance.  This ends up with 9 fundamental choices:

(1) Fencer 1 remains static - Fencer 2 advances ... the distance closes.

(2) Fencer 1 remains static - Fencer 2 stays static ... the distance remains the same.

(3) Fencer 1 remains static - Fencer 2 retreat ... the distance opens.

(4) Fencer 1 advances - Fencer 2 advances ... the distance closes significantly.

(5) Fencer 1 advances - Fencer 2 stays static ... the distance closes. 

(6) Fencer 1 advances - Fencer 2 retreats  ... the distance remains the same.

(7) Fencer 1 retreats - Fencer 2 advances ... the distance remains the same.

(8) Fencer 1 retreats - Fencer 2 stays static ... the distance opens.

(9) Fencer 1 retreats - Fencer 2 retreats ... the distance opens significantly.

Of course the degree of change depends on the relative size of the steps of the two fencers. 

In addition, the characteristics of the action depends on who has the initiative in the movement.   In probably the majority of lessons, the Fencing Master retains the initiative.  Initiative is defined in the sense of who is controlling the movement.  If the Master starts to step back and open the line, the expectation for the lesson is that the student will lunge to hit.  But is this what happens in actual bouts?  If Fencer 1 retreats, that retreat opens distance so that Fencer 2 will have to commit a deeper action to gain a hit.  At the same time Fencer 1 has more time to parry, not to mention the invitation of opening the line goads Fencer 2 into attacking in a condition that will surely result in a hit against him seals the doom of Fencer 2.  In short, the standard presentation initiated by the trainer trains the student overcommit, give the opponent extra time to react, and to blunder into a second intention parry-riposte.

This means that  much as possible  we should tie distance in the lesson to opportunities for student initiative, for the student to create the conditions in which his or her hit can arrive successfully.   

In the case of beginners or actions in which the trainer wishes to focus on the technical execution of a skill, trainer initiative may be important.  For example, when the trainer wants the student to remain static and execute the blade action only, the trainer will control distance by stepping into short distance with a blade cue or opening to trigger the student’s action. 

When the student is using footwork, including lunging, in an action, the student should be responsible for adjusting the distance for the technique being taught, and for returning to the correct distance after every execution.  This trains the student in finding the correct distance, recognizing it, and being able to recover to a distance that allows either attack, counterattack, or defense.  The tendency of students to slip forward in the recovery from attacks, eventually closing the distance to the point that the action could no longer succeed, must be recognized by the trainer, and corrected until the student is able to correctly recover.  This is a fault that can be found when either trainer or student has the initiative.

When both student and trainer are moving, the student is responsible for finding the correct distance for the technique and closing, opening, or maintaining that distance based on either actions that the trainer initiates or on actions that the student initiates in order to create conditions for the hit..   When the student has the initiative this creates the most realistic training and the best opportunity for using the choices of footwork listed above to to be combined with bladework to create a hitting solution.

copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III 

Review April 2020

1.  Fencer 1 and 2 are at lunge distance.  If Fencer 1 retreats one step and Fencer 2 retreats one step, what has happened to the distance?

  • a.  it remains the same
  • b.  the distance has opened to advance-lunge distance.
  • c.  the distance has opened to out of distance

2.  You are working with a student who consistently slides her rear foot forward in the lunge and recovers to a position 3-4 inches closer to you each repetition.  Is this a problem, and if so, how should you handle it?

  • a.  yes it is a problem - I should step back as the student recovers so that the next lunge is at the same distance.
  • b.  yes it is a problem - I should correct the student and have her adjust the distance to return to the distance appropriate for the drill.
  • c.  no it is not a problem - in fact it provides valuable training to the student in how he can close the distance in the phrase.

3.  The most realistic use of distance in the lesson occurs when:

  • a.  the student has the initiative and is using distance to create the conditions for a successful action.
  • b,  the student and trainer are at a fixed distance and the student executes action when cued by trainer blade actions or voice commands.
  • c.  the trainer has the initiative and is controlling the distance. 

March 2020 - Making Corrections

How we make corrections has a great influence over the success of the corrections we make.  In the classical period (and to this day) some Fencing Masters corrected every error every time it presents itself in the student's performance of a technique.  At the time, other Masters suggested that over correction was a problem.  Today, modern sports science tells us that over correction was, and is, a problem that inhibits the development of skilled performance.

We have to remember that every student is different in many ways: (1) ability to maintain focus during the lesson, (2) response time, (3) ability to coordinate and sequence movement, (4) basic movement literacy and experience, (5) ability to grasp concepts and instructions, (6) ability to maintain balance, (7) basic structure of bones and muscles, etc.  Our goal should not be to drive those with performance difficulties away, but rather to find solutions that bring them to proficiency as fencers.

The most important rule in making corrections is to treat the student with respect and humanity.  We have all seen coaches scream at, belittle, insult, and even reduce to tears students who were having difficulty executing.  Not so long ago, Masters would result to physical punishment of students who were not performing as desired.  This conduct was suboptimal then and is recognized as athlete abuse today.  

The second important rule is to work at the student's speed (yes, it may be appropriate to challenge by pushing the student to faster performance, but only when the skill is correctly learned.)  Frustrating everything the student does by defeating it with a full competition speed action may be good to deal with the trainer's frustrations in which every bout is his or her own personal Olympics, but it does nothing for the student but discourage him or her.  

Given these two most basic rules we can identify specific guidelines for correction:

(1) correct one fault at a time, and do not present the student with a number of corrections to be executed at the same time.  If your correction is that the front foot is pointing off line, the weapon hand is not in supination, the back hand and arm are not straight parallel the thigh of the rear leg with the hand palm up and fingers extended, the back shoulder is lower than the front shoulder, the weapon arm is slightly bent - not fully extended, what are the odds the student will remember and apply the correction on the next straight thrust with lunge?  Out of 6 corrections you will be lucky if the student remembers to make one.  And the odds are at least 50-50 that the correction they make will have no impact on performance.  

(2) to the greatest extent possible, identify and correct the root cause of a performance error, the specific cause from which the problems flow.  This may be very difficult to do, and may take multiple lessons, or even months, to fully determine what is making things go wrong.  If you make corrections and they do not solve the problem but there is some progress, you are probably solving the signs and symptoms, not the root cause.  Do not ignore the possibility that the performance error is psychological rather than physical in causation.

(3) correct errors directly related to the technique being taught first.  If a lesson has a specific goal, you need to focus on meeting that goal.  Suppose your lesson is on executing the straight thrust from short distance.  the student has two issues that you see.  The fencers front foot is 15 degrees off the directing line and the thrusts are missing going over the your shoulder without landing.  Which correction do you make: (a) have the student bring his front toe to the right so that it will be on the directing line, or (b) do you have the fencer initiate the extension by starting the point lowering toward the target?  If you have any doubts ask yourself which correction is in keeping with the lesson objective and which correction will result in a hit.  Hint, the answer to both is (b). 

(4) allow the student to self-correct when possible, and do not intervene until three or four incorrect repetitions occur with no effort to correct.  Students who figure out what they are doing wrong and self-correct own the technique and are in a position to proceed to improve it through deliberate practice.  Too early an intervention shifts the student into the successive corrections cycle which will eventually correct the problem, but at the cost of student ownership.

This is all first level performance correction.  Eventually we want the student to have a solid enough understanding and ability to execute for the corrective process to shift to deliberate practice on his or her own.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Review March 2020

1.  You have a fencer who is right handed and has a history of dislocation of the right arm that has resulted in some weakness in the arm.  Might this have an impact in how you approach teaching the fencer?

  • a.  No - techniques should be executed always in the same classical way by all of my students according to the technique of the Master we are studying.
  • b.  There is a possible impact on performance that I should discuss with the student and, if a factor, modify the technique or chose a different technique for the same purpose.
  • c.  Yes - someone with an injured arm should either changes hands and in this case become a left hander or find another sport in which the arm injury will not be a problem.

2.  How should you address the root cause of a performance problem?

  • a.  You should solve the symptoms of the problem, such as poor point control or rolling the back foot over in a lunge.  Once all of the symptoms are eliminated the core cause will no longer be important.
  • b.  You should look for the primary cause that is generating the various performance issues - this may take a considerable period of time.
  • c.  There is no such thing as a root cause of a problem.  All problems are single issues that should be addressed as needed.

3.  How many corrections should you make on every execution of a skill by a student?

  • a.  Every error by the student should be corrected each time.
  • b.  No more than 6 errors should be corrected.
  • c.  No more than one error should be corrected, and normally that correction should be tied to the subject of the lesson.

February 2020 - Priority in Foil

Since the early years of the classical period statements of priority in the rules of foil have been used to determine which hit has priority when there are two relatively simultaneous hits.  There are three elements of the first sentence that are important.  "Since the early years of the classical period" is important because there was considerable variation in rules sets before approximately 1914.  Some sets were one page in length; others several pages in length.  The relative brevity of some suggests that the majority of the fencers and Presidents of Jury using them understood a common view of how fencing was conducted.

"Statements of priority in the rules" is important because of two factors.  First, the common term was "priority." The use of "right of way" is relatively modern and in fact does not appear in the current Federation Internationale d'Escrime rulebook.  Priority was, and continues to be, described in a series of statements that described situations and identified the priority.  At some points the determination of priority was awarded to actions that today seem very strange - for example priority awarded in some cases to the fencer whose weapon hand is higher, and therefore delivers the more honorable hit.

"When there are two relatively simultaneous hits" is important because priority must be determined when there are two hits.  Thus priority rules establish when a stop thrust is valid, and when a remise fails to gain priority.  When there is only one hit, that action does not require a determination of priority, the Jury has only to determine if that hit is material and valid.

Over time the priority of hits generally was established by common usage and consensus.  General practice is that:

(1)  The fencer first executing an attack retains the priority until the attack is either parried, misses, or is evaded by the opponent.

(2)  After a parry, whether by blade or by distance, the immediate riposte has the priority.  There was a generally accepted agreement that the riposte is immediate if it departs from the opponent's blade without delay after the parry.  

(3)  If the parry is executed properly, but the riposte is delayed, the priority will belong to whichever fencer initiates the first offensive action.

(4)  Attacks against preparation must land before the start of the attack. 

(5)  Stop hits must arrive before the start of the final action of the attack.

(6)  An attempt to take the blade or attack the blade loses priority when it is deceived, allowing the opponent to immediately initiate an action to hit.

(7)  Renewals of the attack gain priority if the opponent takes a parry and does not riposte, delays the riposte, or if they land before the start of the final action in compound ripostes.

Priority was often mindful of the characteristics of the duel.  For example, if a threat was made off the line to the target, it might not earn priority as it was no threat to the opponent.  Equally it considered the style of fencing of the day - the requirement that a feint must be delivered from a full extended arm is an example.  All of this means that you must be aware of the rules of fencing in use in the period in your School of fencing.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

Review February 2020

1.  In foil which of the following situations requires a determination of priority?

  • a.  Fencer A attacks and lands with no response from Fencer B
  • b.  Fencer A attacks, Fencer B parries and ripostes but does not hit
  • c.  Fencer A attacks, Fencer B parries and ripostes, Fencer A remises

2.  Why is it most important to read the rules of fencing for a classical tournament conducted according to period rules?

  • a.  because as a general principle you should always read the rules
  • b.  different rule sets from different times and Schools in many cases had differing interpretations of priority
  • c.  many rule sets prohibited a number of common fencing actions automatically, giving priority to the other fencer as a penalty

3.  In foil Fencer A attacks and is parried; fencer B initiates a compound riposte; fencer A immediately remises and lands before the start of the second tempo of the riposte.  Assuming that both the remise and the compound riposte hit, is a determination of priority required, and, if so, who has priority?

  • a.  there is no requirement for the determination of priority as this is a double hit
  • b.  Fencer B has the priority for his riposte
  • c.  Fencer A's remise has the priority

January 2020 - Purpose of the Tactical Lesson

The tactical lesson is a lesson of long standing, often under the name of the bouting lesson.  It was a standard feature of Fencing Master exams of the United States Fencing Coaches Association as late as the early 2000s.  However, in its form as a bouting lesson if has fallen from grace under the incorrect assumption that it is merely a trainer fencing freeplay with a student.  Nothing could be farther from the true purpose and management of the tactical lesson.   

A basic statement of the purpose of the tactical lesson is to "allow the trainer to release control of the lesson to the student so that the student can learn to seize the initiative and employ a variety of actions under conditions that simulate the bout with the trainer acting and reacting in the way an opponent would."  However, this is only the basic purpose.  To get to this purpose a number of things have to happen:

(1)  The lesson must have clear objectives and clear measurements of success or failure.  

(2)  Although the idea of the tactical lesson being a bout sounds as though the student should be able to use any tactic and technique, for the lesson to actually be a lesson the number of offensive, defensive, and counteroffensive options should be limited (typically in the range 3-5).  Ideally the techniques and tactics chosen should have some relationship that makes tactical sense.  You could say that the techniques are the coupe, a time hit in the low line, ceding parries in the outside line, three tempo ripostes, the double change of engagement, and the double redouble.  Why would you?  

(3)  The trainer must develop a logical flow of actions that he or she will use to cue the student, as well as actions that will defeat actions improperly executed.

(4)  The trainer must determine how control will be released to the student and the degree to which control will be released.  The trainer should have the option to take the initiative and clear criteria for when to take it in order for the lesson to simulate combat conditions.  Control in this context should mimic who has control at any given time in an actual bout.

(5)  There are no corrections given.  The correction for an error in performance is applied by the trainer scoring a hit or making an unexpected action in the same way an opponent would take advantage of an error.  

(6)  The lesson should be delivered on a piste, in a set time period that approximates the length of a bout or a multiple of that length, using the rules applicable to the School and period.

(7)  And finally, all of this must be discussed with the student so that he or she understands what the lesson is trying to achieve and the limitations on how the lesson will be conducted.

In the tactical lesson the student must act as a fencer on the piste would act, taking the initiative and creating the conditions under which his or her actions will be successful.  The trainer must respond to student initiatives and allow actions that are correctly timed, executed at the correct distance, and technically correct to be successful.  This requires preplanning and highly focused performance by the trainer if the student is to receive realistic training.

Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III

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Purpose of the Tactical Lesson by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review January 2020

1.  Another name for the tactical lesson is the:

  • a.  options lesson
  • b.  training lesson
  • c.  bouting lesson

2.  The number of techniques that should be exercised in a tactical lesson is:

  • a.  2.
  • b.  3-5.
  • c.  there is no minimum number - the student should be allowed to use as many techniques as they believe they know.

3.  The purpose of a tactical lesson is to:

  • a.  develop the student's initiative and ability to fence under bout conditions.
  • b.  assess the student's ability to redspond to trainer cues.
  • c.  provide a maximum number of corrections to ensure that the student's technique is perfect.

December 2019 - The Cutting Edges in Sabre

The sabre blade differs from the blades of the foil and the epee.  When we describe those weapons, the task is fairly simple - a button, the foible, the forte, and the tang.  If we want to give a more complete answer, we can point out that the forte and foible are not the only answers.  The blade can be described as having three parts forward of the guard - foible, middle, and forte.  Or it can be described in four parts - foible, half-foible, half-forte, forte.  And we can even point out that the epee blade has a fuller (absolutely not a blood groove as some people ignorant of how wounds perform describe the fuller).

But when we get to the sabre blade, there is a substantial difference.  Yes, a sabre blade has a forte and a foible.  But there is a big difference caused by the blade's function.  The sabre blade is designed to cut as well as to thrust with the point.  This results in a significantly different architecture of the blade.  

The sabre blade has three scoring surfaces:

  • The point - used to cut in the banderole and the abdominal cuts delivered with a slicing pull through and rotation back to guard.  The point is also used to score with a thrust to the surface of the target.
  • The front or true edge - the literal forward edge of the blade from the guard to the tip, used to score with a direct cut on the surface of the target, as well as for parrying and for attacks on the blade. When the weapon is held correctly, the front edge is the portion of the blade directly opposite the thumb.
  • The back, reverse, or false edge - the back edge of the upper part of the blade, roughly equivalent to the back edge of the foible, used for the countercut and for the back edge beat.  When the weapon is held correctly, the back edge is the portion of the blade closest to the thumb.

When we say edge, we really mean the 2 narrower sides of the rectangular blade.  In an actual sabre for military or dueling use, these sides are sharpened to a cutting edge.   In the classical period the other two edges are the flat of the blade.  Contact by those edges is termed "flat," results as a NO vote by the Judges and President, and does not result in a hit, whether on or off target.  Similarly, thrusts with the point that glide along the surface and do not arrest result in a NO vote and cannot be counted as cuts either.  As noted above, the banderole and abdominal cuts can be  executed with the point or with either the front or back edge.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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The Cutting Edges in Sabre by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review December 2019

1.  What are the portions of the sabre blade that can score a hit on the fencer's target in classical fencing?

  • a.  the front edge of the blade
  • b.  blade contact by any portion of the blade can score a hit
  • c.  The point, the front edge, and the back edge of the blade.

2.  Which, if any, cuts can be executed with the point?

  • a.  none - the point is not a cutting edge of the blade.
  • b.  the banderole and abdominal cuts.
  • c.  cuts executed as the blade grazes the target after the point fails to arrest in a point thrust.

3.  How is the back edge of the sabre blade commonly employed?

  • a.  to execute countercuts and back edge beats
  • b.  to parry with the back edge in lateral parries
  • c.  to execute grazing cuts in the continuation after a failed point thrust

November 2019 - The Primary Epee Target

The primary target for classical epee fencers is traditionally the wrist and forearm of the opponent's weapon arm.  Why would fencers adopt a difficult target when the much larger and more easily hit torso is not really a great distance further away?  The answer lies in the history of the epee as a fencing weapon, the rules, and the practicalities of hitting while minimizing the opponent's opportunity to hit.

The History - Epee fencing in the Salle for sport is an outgrowth of epee fencing as preparation for the duel on the terrain (the dueling ground as opposed to on the piste).  Although theoretically all duels could end in the death of one or both combatants, in the late 1800s and 1900s, the duel was predicated on the satisfaction of honor, which could be achieved by a relatively minor would (and even in one case by an aggravated blister in a long duel between two Masters).  Dueling itself was generally illegal in the countries we think of as having a strong dueling tradition (France and Italy).  Although demanded by the conventions of polite society, a duel could result in an arrest by the police and legal consequences, including imprisonment.  Under these conditions, killing one's opponent would be very inconvenient.  Much better was a fight to first blood in which honor was satisfied by a minor wound to the arm.  This is not to say that there were not duels in which a level of personal animosity was only satisfied by multiple, and even serious, wounds, or that fatalities (often as errors by one or both duelists) did not occur, but there were many more first blood and less dangerous affairs.   

The Rules - The period rules encourage a decisive hit without a double hit.  Although rules in the classical period varied considerably, double hits were sometimes considered double defeats in one touch epee.  As the determination of victory shifted from one hit to best of 3 and then best of 5, each hit remained important.  This encouraged a conservative approach to protecting the body, leaving the extended arm as offering the best chance to hit a target without being hit. 

The Practicality - Hitting the forearm reduces the time spent in the attack, riposte, or counterattack, making it more likely that the action will land far enough ahead of the opponent's action to be readily recognized by the Jury as being a distinct hit, as opposed to a double hit.  In modern fencing, the electronic scoring system makes this separation based on a difference of 1/25th of a second (40 milliseconds) ahead of the opponent, but in dry classical fencing the difference between the hits must be observable.  Although the arm is a difficult target to hit routinely, with practice it is not an impossible one, being vulnerable in all four lines to the digs and to hits with lateral angulation.  It also reduces vulnerability by not requiring deep penetration into the opponent’s target area, and keeps the fencer’s body as far away from the opponent as practical.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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The Epee Target by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review November 2019

1.  The term "first blood" means that:

  • a.  in the duel honor has been satisfied when either fencer first wounds the opponent causing blood to flow.
  • b.  the point at which all duels were concluded because there was no need to kill the opponent.
  • c.  the arrival of a hit in epee enough ahead of the opponent's action that the President can determine who was hit first.

2.  Hitting the opponent's forearm:

  • a.  is not as desirable as hitting the torso because a wound to the arm would probably not stop a determined opponent.
  • b.  is only practical in those cases where the opponent's movement is slow enough that the fencer can take deliberate aim at the arm.
  • c.  reduces the distance the blade has to travel resulting in a faster hit on the attack, counterattack, or riposte.

3.  In the classical period rules for one touch or best of three touch bouts:

  • a.  increased the importance of hits to the body because they were easier to make and more certain of success.
  • b.  encouraged deliberate fencing with careful management of risks.
  • c.  awarded a 1/2 touch bonus for hits to the wrist or forearm.

October 2019 - Teaching with Either Hand

Why should a Trainer develop competence in teaching with either hand?  After all, it is difficult enough to develop a high level of competence teaching any of the weapons with your normal dominant hand.  If you are right-handed, most of your students will be right-handed and most of their opponents will be right-handed.  For the left-handed students, they will gain a solid understanding of how to maximize their success against right-handers.  And, of course, if you are left-handed the exact reverse is true.  All in all, there does not seem to be much of a reason to teach with the non-dominant hand?  Certainly classical Fencing Masters all worked with their dominant hand because they maintained a much stricter environment than do modern Fencing Masters ...

But all is not as it might seem in a cursory examination of this topic.  First, some classical period Masters did teach with both hands.  We know this because their doing so is specifically noted in a small number of period texts.  Unfortunately, mentioned is about as far as the written record goes, and we have not located any actual description of the technique.

Second, the Trainer is in a position to simulate any combination of fencer and opponent hands that might be encountered on the strip.  What this looks like is summarized in the table below:

Fencer Is:Trainer Is:Teaches With:Approximate Balance of Cases:
(1) Right HandedRight HandedRight HandMajority of opponents are right handed
(2) Right HandedRight HandedLeft HandMinority of opponents are left handed
(3) Right HandedLeft HandedRight HandMajority of opponents are right handed
(4) Right HandedLeft HandedLeft HandMinority of opponents are left handed
(5) Left HandedRight HandedRight HandMajority of opponents are right handed
(6) Left HandedRight HandedLeft HandMinority of opponents are left handed
(7) Left HandedLeft HandedRight HandMajority of opponents are right handed
(8) Left HandedLeft HandedLeft HandMinority of opponents are left handed

Third, there is an additional benefit that was not known in the classical period.  We now know more about how the brain works than classical sports science knew.  The presentation of technique in varying contexts (in this cases by changing hands) increases neural plasticity (the ability of the brain to change over a fencer's lifetime) by increasing the number of neural pathways in the brain.  In the simplest of terms this increases the brains capability to rapidly and correctly respond to changes in the condition of the bout.

Forth, teaching with both hands allows the Trainer to reduce the student's anxiety over meeting opponents in cases (2), (4), (5), and (7).  In particular, there is an undeserved fear by a percentage of right-handed fencers as to the advantage in power and skill that left-handedness gives the left-handed fencer.  Opposite handed lessons help to develop confidence in the fencer's ability to defeat an opposite handed opponent.  

Fifth, in the case of left-handed fencers in a Salle with a low percentage of left-handers, the ability of the Trainer to teach with the same hand as the student, cases (6) and (8),  increases the student's ability to fence fencers who are also left-handed.

Sixth, being able to teach with either hand is a key skill to have in case of injury or recovery from surgery to the dominant arm and hand.  We encourage students to continue their training with the non-dominant hand when injured because of the transfer value of the instruction to the injured arm or hand.  Being able to do the same as a Trainer both sets a good example and allows the Trainer to continue developing his or her students (and being paid for doing so).

Seventh, if a trainer wishes to teach Leonardo Terrone's left and right handed fencing, ability to teach with both hands is obligatory and central to the doctrine of the school.

Eighth, having the ability to use both hands allows the Trainer to teach two students the same lesson at the same time, one against the Trainer as right-handed, and the other against the Trainer as left-handed.  This borders on showmanship, but, when done well, is both  impressive and a way to increase the number of students who can be taught even complex actions in a limited time period.

How do you develop the ability to teach with either hand?

  • Practice.  As a Trainer you already know the techniques, most of which translate exactly from one hand to the other with only a change in direction.  There are some that will require adaptation because of differences in the trajectory of the blade to accommodate the change in hand, and these should be understood and practiced before you work with your student.
  • Understand the differences in distance.  A difference in dominant hand may mean that the opponent appears to be at the same distance, but is actually closer.
  • Make sure that blade and footwork are integrated.  With the dominant hand this is your normal state.  Shifting to the non-dominant hand means that you are also shifting the lead role in footwork to a foot that is less practiced in working with bladework.
  • Critique your performance.  We encourage trainers to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching lessons with the dominant hand, to work to correct the weaknesses, and to work to improve the strengths, all in a disciplined program of self-improvement.  If it is important to lessons with your dominant hand, it is doubly important to lessons with the non-dominant hand. 
  • And then practice some more.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Review October 2019

1.  A key step in learning to teach with the non-dominant hand is:

  • a.  understanding that there are no differences between teaching with the right and left hands.
  • b.  a willingness to practice with the non-dominant hand to develop proficiency.
  • c.  doing the work necessary to pass the professional examinations in your rank completely with the non-dominant hand.

2.  The primary reason to develop the ability to teach with either hand is:

  • a.  to prepare your students to fence opponents of both the same and different hands.
  • b.  to be able to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your skills to potential students and, as applicable, their parents.
  • c.  to be able to teach Leonardo Terrone's left and right handed fencing.

3.  One of your students has suffered an injury to the dominant hand or arm.  Which of the following offers the best chance of their retaining and improving their skills while in recovery?

  • a.  having them take lessons and fence while seated on a stool.
  • b.  instructing them to rest until the injury is completely healed prior to returning to classes.
  • c.  encouraging them to take lessons and fence with the non-dominant hand.

September 2019 - Why Fourth In Foil

Today fencers come on guard out of engagement essentially in sixth.  If you try coming on guard in any other line, the Referee is likely to instruct you to come on guard the right way.  But in the earlier years of the classical period French classical foil fencers often came on guard and engaged in fourth.  It is worth asking, and understanding, why.

The reason for coming on guard in quarte, cart, or fourth comes from the generally accepted doctrine that it was impossible to fence without starting in engagement.  For example, de Bazancourt provides a dialog between himself and another fencer who refused to fence because de Bazancourt refused to come on guard with engagement.  That leaves two obvious lines for engagement, high inside (fourth in the French system) and high outside (sixth or third in the French system). 

H. A. Colemore-Dunn (1889) offers the following key considerations in deciding in which line to engage:

  • First, that the position selected must, to the greatest extent possible, protect the fencer from being hit by the opponent.
  • Second, the position musty not hinder the quick execution of any other defensive actions needed.
  • Third, that the position must assist the delivery of the various attacks.

He continues with the note that the use of low line engagements is excluding from the French system of fencing, because:

  • The area in which hits could be scored was more restricted.
  • The guard in the high lines with the raised point more of the target area than did engagement in the low lines when the point was lowered.
  • It is quicker to lower the point than to raise it.  

These considerations are particularly applicable in the early years of the classical period, when the target often stopped at the waist, and the low lines were defended by lowering the blade, but not necessarily the forearm.  The forearm could remain essentially in the same place as for a guard in the high line - Colmore-Dunn and Slee's translation of the French 1877 Manuel d'Escrime both show these versions of low line parries. 

Colmore-Dunn suggests that the great majority of fencers of the same hand formed the engagement in the inside (fourth) line.  Third is excluded from consideration because the pronated hand position was not considered to be as effective in executing the riposte of various attacks.  When selecting fourth in preference to sixth, the following considerations were important:

  • Fourth causes the inside shoulders and the inside chest to be drawn back, making a hit on that side more difficult.  In contrast sixth did not offer as much cover as the forward chest was fully exposed.
  • With sixth the probability of deflecting the opponent's blade was lower unless extra attention was paid to maintaining cover.
  • In fourth the hand was more powerful than in sixth.
  • In fourth the fencer was already position to execute the fourth circular parry, considered by Masters to be the strongest and most useful of the various parries.
  • In duels the position of the arm in fourth offered addition cover to the chest.

How long did the engagement in fourth remain a staple of French fencing doctrine?   It is difficult to say, but Rondelle (1892) identifies lines of engagemnt in both fourth and sixth; Grandiere (1906) identifies engagements of fourth and sixth with no specific preference; the Amateur Fencers League of America translation of the 1908 French manual states that engagements can be taken in any line.  It seems likely that the change of the foil target to the entire torso, and the modification of low line parries to be taken with the forearm in line with blade, played a role in the gradual transition to a guard in sixth becoming a standard.  

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Why Fourth in Foil by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review September 2019

1.  What is the relationship of the engagement in fourth with dueling?

  • a.  there is no relationship - an engagement in fourth would make no sense in a duel
  • b.  the engagement in fourth provides some level of sacrificial protection from the arm to the chest
  • c.  there is no evidence that duelists ever used a guard or parry of fourth

2.  French doctrine in the early years of the classical period excluded engagement in which lines?

  • a.  the inside lines
  • b.  the low lines
  • c.  fourth and sixth

3.  A significant advantage of the engagement of fourth over one in third was that:

  • a.  engagement in fourth allowed a more effective riposte.
  • b.  engagement in fourth could be expected to confuse an opponent who had not previously encountered it.
  • c.  in an engagement in fourth the opponent is typically closer to the fencer, allowing a faster attack. 

August 2019 - Releasing the Student to Recover after a Touch

The student lunges and hits during the individual lesson.  What should he or she do and you then do to release the student for recovery to guard?  Many instructors hold the blade, either physically with their fingers or by an instruction to the student.  The instructor makes corrections and then releases the blade by driving it off the plastron with his weapon  with a blade action of some force.  Is this the best way or even a realistic way to teach students?

If you believe that the lesson is a completely stand-alone event, unrelated to combat on the strip against an opponent, this approach may have some merit.  However, if the purpose of the lesson is to prepare the student for combat on the piste, it is reasonable to doubt its efficacy.

The drive the blade off the plastron approach is is justified as teaching the student good form.  However, it actually teaches the student an unrealistic movement pattern which is not found in the actual bout.  First, it teaches the student to wait for permission to recover from the attack.  Just like you will almost never encounter an opponent who signals you that it is an appropriate time to attack with a come hither hand movement of the unarmed hand, no opponent is going to give you permission to recover.  Second, it teaches a cue, the application of force to the student's blade after the hit on target that is incorrectly timed for the fencer's actions in actual bouting.  Finally, hard blows have a subtle undertone of enforcing the trainer's dominance and authority over the student, something that is not productive in developing a confidant athlete.   

With visual judging the fencer who hits (which may or may not be seen by the members of the Jury) should not wait for hard blade contact (the opponent’s parry) to start a recovery.  If the fencer's attack landed, the hit should trigger a recovery to parry any action by the opponent which presents the President and Jury the opportunity to scramble the results and for self-defense against an opponent who does not hear or ignores the President's call of "halt" on the touch.  On the other hand, if the intent is to remise or redouble, the contact should trigger those actions, not a recovery.  And if the fencer's action is a stop hit, the arrival of the stop hit should trigger an immediate parry and riposte sequence to protect the stop hit against the original attack, not a wait for permission to do a recovery.

The release of the student under normal conditions should be the hit itself – arrest and recover, arrest and remise or redouble, stop hit followed by a recovery and parry-riposte,  etc. as the lesson requires.  This is consistent with the flow of the bout  If correction is necessary or if the trainer wants the student to pause at the hit to assess the opponent’s movement or other factors for a parry, etc., that can be accomplished by instructing the student to hit and hold on a specific repetition.  The development of control of the flow of combat is more important than interrupting the flow to make multiple corrections of minute errors in technique on each repetition.  

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Releasing the Student to Recover after a Touch by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review August 2019

1.  In reviewing how you release a student to recover after scoring a hit in a lesson, it is important to consider:

  • a.  how many corrections you typically need to make in any single repetition of the technique.
  • b.  whether the method of release reinforces your authority as a trainer.
  • c.  the realism of the technique of release in the context of the bout.

2.  In general the most effective signal to the student to recover to guard is:

  • a.  an oral command by the trainer.
  • b.  the actual hit itself.
  • c.  while holding the student's point, to release the point and drive the blade off the trainer's plastron with an authoritative push.

3.  Holding the student's blade on the trainer's plastron and then driving the blade off the plastron with an authoritative push:

  • a.  has the advantage of allowing multiple corrections to be made to the student's technique during each repetition.
  • b.  accurately simulates the attack-parry-riposte sequence for the student.
  • c.  breaks the flow of the action and introduces timing errors that prevent accurate simulation of bout conditions.

July 2019 - The Distinctive Characteristics of Fencing with the Epee

As a training and sporting weapon the Epee is the youngest of the classical fencing weapons.  Epee as a distinct weapon to prepare for the duel in the place of the foil starts to appear in French textbooks in the 1880s.  Italian foil practice was more closely aligned with dueling technique and the same technical approach was applied to both the fencing fioretto and the dueling spada.  Epee first appears in the Olympic Games in 1900, won by 16 year old  Ramon Fonst Segundo of Cuba in a field of 104 fencers from 9 countries.  He was trained by Parisian Fencing Master Albert Ayat who won the Masters Epee event in a field of 54 Fencing Masters from 4 countries.

The ethos of fencing with the Epee is that the rules and the form of combat preserve the characteristics of the duel with sharp epees de terrain.  The first characteristic is that weapon itself is a thrusting weapon, requiring the hit to arrive with the point.  Subsequent attempts to ensure that hits that arrived with the point would arrest and be counted included the sharp tin-tack point, the sharp three pronged marker point d'arret, and eventually the electrification of the weapon with a point that scored by the depressing of a plunger completing an electric circuit.  

A second characteristic is that the entire body of the fencer is target.  Foil and sabre both had restricted target areas, in foil at one time as small as the area above the waist and from the arm to the midline of the body.  Epee allows hits anywhere on the body.  Although in this period most wounding hits in duels were directed to the forward arm or the torso, nothing prevented hits elsewhere, by design or by accident.

A third characteristic is that the distinct first hit is awarded the touch. The hopeful idea of the duel in this period is that the first shedding of blood expiates the insult to honor, and that after that no further bloodletting is required between rational gentlemen of good faith.  The attached assumption is that if you hit someone, that hit will stop the duel for inspection by the surgeon and a determination that honor has been satisfied.  The first hit rule is is rooted in that context.  Obviously, there were duels in which honor was not satisfied by the first hit and duels where the first hit pinking the opponent's arm did not stop that opponent from sinking that blade in the duelist's chest (by the inertia of the forward movement of the attack if nothing else).  

The next characteristic is the rule that simultaneous hits result in touches against both fencers.  Simultaneous is in the eye of the President of the Jury, and, should he or she be uncertain in the application of the rule of thumb that if you can't tell the difference it must be at the same time.  The Amateur Fencing Association (Great Britain) rules of 1937 define this in terms of the determination of priority between two hits as only being required if there is an appreciable difference between their arrival.  By 1940 the Amateur Fencer's League of America defines the time interval for arrival of a simultaneous hit with electric scoring as being 1/15th of a second or less.

Finally, epee is fenced under conditions that replicate the condition of the duel.  This means preferably outdoors, on a gravel or dirt path, wearing street shoes.  The Italian Fascists had the quaint practice of fencing epee competitions bare chested with dueling swords with gafflets attached - the gafflet was a pleasant little device screwed onto the sharp point to prevent penetration greater than skin deep.  Under the assumption that honor is satisfied by first blood, epee was originally fenced in the classical period for 1 touch.  Then reality set in that many hits were the product of chance (so even in duels), and the number of hits eventually evolved to 3 touches or best of 5 in the classical period.   

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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The Distinctive Characteristics of Fencing with the Epee by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review July 2019

1.  In the classical period fencing with the epee is intended:

  • a.  to replicate the conditions of the duel.
  • b.  to provide an alternate weapon that older fencers, no longer able to compete on an even level with young fencers, can use for competition and enjoyment.
  • c.  as a substitute for the out-of-control bloodletting of duels in Italy, France, and Germany.

2.  Who makes the decision that two hits are in fact simultaneous?

  • a.  the fencers themselves by acknowledging the hits and pointing to their location.
  • b.  the Jury by majority vote.
  • c.  the President.

3.  The tin-tack, three prong pointe d'arret, the tip of electric epees, and even the gafflet preserve the nature of the epee as a ____________ weapon.

  • a.  cut and thrust
  • b.  thrust only
  • c.  competition 

June 2019 - The Command Lesson: Advantages and Limitations

In this session of our continuing education program, we are going to concentrate on the advantages and limitations of the command lesson.  To refresh the memory, the command lesson was a staple of instructional technique in the classical period.  It consists of the use of commands to serve as cues for all phases of the student's execution of the technique.  As the lesson progresses. the commands can be chunked together to have parts of the technique that are logically linked, linked in execution, until the entire technique is executed on a single command.

The command method works well in the initial instruction of a skill because it reinforces the individual parts of the technique and eventually builds linkages between them.  The student does not have to remember all the details; the commands provide them.  And even the smallest detail can be brought to the student's attention by command.  

Although the command lesson has largely disappeared from the practice of modern Fencing Masters, it still retains considerable value in teaching the synchronization and progression of actions.  For example, in teaching on which foot in the advance of an advance-lunge the feint should be made, the use of commands allows a focus on how the feint is intended (whether as an attack or as a provocation to draw the counterattack into a countertime action).  Command execution in this case also helps the student coordinate and synchronize footwork and bladework.

Similarly, by breaking down an action, commands allow the student to function on error correction.  This makes it particularly useful in deliberate practice.

Finally, the command lesson is flexible.  It merges into normal cue based drills by a sequence of (1) command, (2) command and physical cue, and finally (3) cue alone.  It can be used in the same way in individual lessons and in group instruction.

However, the command based lesson has significant limitations as well.  Any multiple tempo action or exchange between two fencers requires a substantial number of commands.  This becomes cumbersome.  A related issue is that in drills both partners require commands that typically will be different.  This generates considerable possibility of confusion, especially if students lack patience or focus.

Possibly the most significant issue is that the command based lesson requires considerable understanding of all of the elements of an action, how they relate to each other.  Because command based lessons tend to be given to less experienced fencers, the trainers giving these lessons tend to be junior trainers who may have not yet developed that understanding.  That introduces the need for more senior trainers to teach the command sequence to the trainers who will deliver it, including the rationale for the various parts, and how chunking can be achieved.  Junior trainers will be well served by taking notes on these sequences. 

The final arguments is that command lessons are unrealistic and do not allow control to be released to the student.  After all, in the bout, no one will be calling out commands.  This has some validity, indicating that the command lesson should not be the sole method of instruction.  However, experience indicates that this is an important tool for use in deliberate practice where a students wants to develop perfect execution.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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The Command Lesson: Advantages and Limitations by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review June 2019

1.  The command lesson is valuable in the initial stages of teaching a skill because:

  • a.  it uses physical cues to make the instruction as realistic as possible.
  • b.  it teaches the student how to execute the skill at the speed that will be needed in a bout.
  • c.  it reinforces individual elements and builds linkages between the elements of the skill.

2.  The command lesson can be used:

  • a.  in both individual and group lessons.
  • b.  only in group lessons.
  • c.  only for beginning students.

3.  The fact that the command lesson is essentially unrealistic when compared to the conditions of the bout:

  • a.  means that it should not be used to train fencers who are bouting.
  • b.  does not limit its value as a tool for deliberate practice by students at all levels.
  • c.  is unimportant because form is more important than bouting success.


May 2019 - The Distinctive Characteristics of Fencing with the Foil

The foil occupies an important place in classical fencing, and is easily distinguished from the other weapons by the characteristics of foil play.  Historically the foil was the training weapon for the dominant sword of the historical period.  Identifiable foils appear as early as the longsword and at least one survives in a museum collection.  In the Renaissance, foils were essentially rebated rapiers.  In the Enlightenment a distinct foil with a different blade from the gentlemen's smallsword emerged as the primary training weapon of the Salle and of exhibition bouts between notable swordsmen.  And in the classical period the foil became the artistic technical weapon, a status reinforced by its exclusion as a competitive event from the 1908 Olympics because it was considered to be an art form and by the earlier emergence of the epee as a distinct fencing weapon in the late 1800s.  The foil, however, remained the initiation weapon for the training of new fencers throughout the classical period, and it clearly served as a foundational weapon with fencing texts often devoting the majority of their coverage because so much technique in the other weapons was common to the foil.

Fencing with the foil is distinguished by three elements.  First, it is a thrust weapon with touches landing with the point.  Although the unprotected nail head of the foil blade can inflict a nasty laceration when used with a cutting motion, and was used in that way in one duel by a noted fencer, the weapon normally was fenced based on the assumption that a hit must arrest with the point in such a way that it would cause a wound if the point were sharp.  The edges of the blade were never sharpened.

The second characteristic of fencing with the foil is the limited target, at the end of the classical period the torso.  However, prior to that the target was more limited at various periods.  Early in the classical period the lower limit of the target was often set by the fencer's belt, a distinctive wide belt worn at waist level, eliminating the cuissard as target.  This waist level limit continued as late as 1957 for female fencers in the United States, often indicated by wear of a waist length, as opposed to full length, jacket.  But this was not all; in some cases the target was restricted to the half of the jacket nearest the weapon arm, and in the case of Siebenhaar's Dutch Method to a heart shape on the jacket.  

It is important to note that the target was negotiable.  Aldo Nadi complained at some length about his having agreed to the upper arm being target in a bout with a French champion, and how that expanded target allowed the President and French judges to cheat.

The third characteristic of fencing with the foil is its nature as a conventional weapon, one in which the method of fencing was governed by agreements, specifically as to the priority of hits.  Today this is commonly referred to as right of way, but that term does not appear in either the modern rules or in any set of period rules.  It was not until the issue of rules written by the Marquis de Chasseloup-Laubat and Paul Anspach for use in 1914 and the publications of these rules in 1919 by the Federation Internationale d'Escrime, that there was a generally agreed upon set of rules for competitions.  Prior to that virtually every part of the various rules sets in use were subject to argument and negotiation to determine which hit had priority, not which landed first.  And in a number of cases, if not in most of the early rule sets, the exact priority of hits depended on specific provisions, as opposed to a general rule, if it was mentioned at all. However, there was always general agreement that the flow of combat with the foil was governed by an attempt to simulate the conditions of an actual combat with sharp weapons.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Distinctive Characteristics of Fencing with the Foil by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review May 2019

1.  Why is the foil considered to be a foundational weapon for coverage of all three weapons in texts of the classical period?

  • a.  It was the only one of the three routinely used in duels.
  • b.  Because foil was widely considered to be the artistic weapon.
  • c.  Technique used in foil was also used in the other two weapons.

2.  Which of the following limitations of the foil target extended into the modern period?

  • a.  the use of the lower limit of the foil target set at waist level in women's foil
  • b.  the use of the fencer's belt to define the lower limit of the target in both men's and women's foil
  • c.  the inclusion of the upper arm of the weapon arm in the target

3.  Prior to the adoption of a specific rules set for the 1914 Olympics and their publication by the Federation d'Escrime Internationale in 1919:

  • a.  the rules had remained essentially set in their modern form from the publication of Rondelle's rules in 1892.
  • b.  the priority of hits was subject to negotiation and was often ignored in the rules used by local Salle's or clubs.
  • c.  right of way in the modern sense was accepted as a convention.

April 2019 - The Two Defensive Triangles

Sabre has a rich tradition of a fulsome number of parries, in the last part of the 1800s Hutton suggests as many as 17, many variants of a smaller number of core parries.  Most were concentrated on the defense of the head and the upper torso, although some effort was required to defend the thigh of the forward leg.   However, by the end of the First World War, the accepted set of parries in Sabre had become largely standardized as 7 parries with some differences in how each was executed based on the national School of the fencer.  In general they were:

  • FIRST closes the inside line with the blade held point down.
  • SECOND defends the flank and low line on the bottom of the weapon arm with the blade held point down.
  • THIRD defends the outside line with the blade held point up.
  • FOURTH defends the inside with the blade held point up.
  • FIFTH defends the head with the blade held horizontally point to the inside and the weapon arm to the outside.
  • SIXTH defends the head with the blade held horizontally point to the outside and the weapon arm to the inside.
  • SEVENTH defends the flank and back with the weapon hand in the vicinity of the shoulder.

Over the years these parries have been described as forming two defensive triangles.  The first, attributed to the Italian School by one source, consists of the parries of First, Fifth, and Second.  If you take sabre in hand and move from inside to outside and then from outside to inside, it provides a flow, First to Fifth to Second or Second to Fifth to First, that covers the target area.  In the first case the wrist rises vertically, swinging the sabre up into Fifth from its point down position in Seconde, and then the wrist moves laterally across the body with the point moving semi-circularly to end up in First.

The second defensive triangle, attributed to the Hungarian School includes the parries of Third, Fifth, and Fourth.  Again, with sabre in hand, there is a clean flow: Third to Fifth to Fourth and Fourth to Fifth to Third.  Again to take the second example, from the blade up position of Fourth, the grip swings upward in an arc as the point remains in reactively the same position to form Fifth, followed by the hand dropping vertically and the blade swinging in an arc to the outside to form Third.  Again the target area is completely covered. 

In these two triangles, Sixth and Seventh are absent.  Admittedly, they are probably the two most physically difficult parries to form.  However, the Italian and Hungarian triangles meet the threat of a feint in the inside line, at the head, ending with a cut in the outside line, and vice versa.  There is one other way to address this three tempo attack, at least from inside to head to outside line.  This third defensive triangle (which no source we have found suggests, but is possible) works in one direction only: Fourth to Sixth to Seventh.  It is an interesting question why n one advocated for it, but the difficulty of Sixth and Seventh may well be the answer.

The concept of defensive triangles is an important part for sabre tactics, and mirror the later work of Imre Vass on developing systems of epee parries.  We know that one implication of Hick's Law is that the fewer techniques we know, the faster the application of those techniques will be.  Although Hick's work comes after the classical period the Masters who taught the triangles had found a way to teach a complete system to quickly defend the triangle formed by the head and the outside and inside lines.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Review April 2019

1.  By World War I the number of sabre parries was generally standardized as:

  • a.  4
  • b.  5
  • c.  7

2.  The defensive triangle attributed to the Italian School consists of parries:

  • a.  First, Second, Fifth.
  • b.  First, Sixth, Seventh.
  • c.  Third, Fourth, Fifth

3.  Which Schools have defensive triangles attributed to them?

  • a.  Hungarian and Italian
  • b.  French and Italian
  • c.  French, Hungarian, Italian, and Spanish

March 2019 - Technique, Tactics, Strategy

The terms tactics and strategy are commonly used in modern fencing as though they are interchangeable.  From the standpoint of understanding how to fence the single touch, the bout, or the season, this is a significant error that betrays a lack of understanding both of fencing and of the intent of the three terms.

Given the history of fencing as a military sport, it is appropriate to attempt to understand technique (often termed skill in military usage), tactics, and strategy in the original military context of the words.  An individual soldier has specific techniques for the skilled use of his or her weapons.  Tactics are how units of soldiers apply these skills to win the battle.  Strategy is how national resources, campaigns of maneuver, and battles are combined to win the war.  That is an oversimplification of a complex set of relationships, but it describes the core of the relationship.  These terms can be, and are, similarly applied in the same relationship to business or politics.

In this context techniques (or skills in the context of various skill development programs) are mechanical executions of individual positions, movements, or combinations of movement made by the fencer in reconnaissance, offense, defense, or counteroffense. An advance step, a guard of fourth, an invitation in fourth, a straight thrust or double and disengage are all techniques, some more complex, some simpler than others.  Technique includes the combination and synchronization of movement between foot and blade, and can be exercised against a training arm, spadassin, or without a partner.  Technique is a building block for tactics.

Tactics are the combination of technique with initiative, distance, tempo, timing, direction of movement, position on the piste, bout planning, the physical state of the fencers, the mental attitude of the fencers, the prior history of technical and tactical application in the bout, and the psychological moment to score or deny a hit with the objective of defeating the opponent.  Tactics are of the current phrase and touch, extend to the tactics of how to combine touches to win the bout, and ultimately include how to manage energy, reconnaissance, prior experience, and available techniques to achieve the objectives for the event in which the fencer is fencing.  Tactics are central to the fencer's plan for the bout and for the entire competition.

Strategy addresses how training will prepare the fencer over the season or periodized mesocycles and macrocycles in the overall plan for the development of the fencer and the achievement of his or her objectives for participation in sport.  The planned objectives for and the results of a competition are part of the strategic plan for the season and for the overall career of the fencer.  Although the objectives and areas of concentration for a recreational fencer differ from those of someone whose goal is competitive success, the development of strategy for every fencer is important to their success in meeting their goals.

Classical fencing texts do not make the clear distinction between technique and tactics, but commonly do include tactical advice on how to employ the techniques, indicating that the difference was understood.  There is no discussion of strategy in period texts, but there is evidence that strategic planning at the national level by Germany and Italy for the 1936 Berlin Olympics played a significant part in the Games.  Regardless of the degree to which tactics and strategy are addressed in the period it is necessary to understand how the design of the training program and participation in competition supports the development of today’s classical fencer. 

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Technique, Tactics, Strategy by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review March 2019

1.  An attack with two feints on the advance step and a feint and the final attack in the lunge is an example of:

  • a.  a technique.
  • b.  a strategy.
  • c.  a tactic.

2.  Determining how often a fencer will train and what competitions he or she will enter during the year is an example of planning:

  • a.  strategy.
  • b.  that is a waste of time because the fencer may change his mind about his goals during the year.
  • c.  what has to be done to make tactics in the bouts in the competition successful.

3.   Building a sequence of actions in which each attack uses previous actions to set up the current attack is an example of:

  • a.  the use of reconnaissance to confuse the opponent.
  • b.  strategy.
  • c.  tactics.

February 2019 - The Directing and Other Lines

When fencers think of lines, they normally do so in the context of the division of the target into four quadrants, based on inside and outside and high and low lines.  However, this is not the only use of the term line in fencing.  There are three additional lines that are of significance in defining the relative position of the fencers and the route to the target.  Properly used, these can influence how the bout is fought to the advantage of the fencer who makes them part of his or her tactics.

The first, and most widely cited, of these lines is the directing line, also termed the line of direction.  This is a theoretical line drawn longitudinally down the center of the piste on which both fencers place the heels of their forward and rear feet when they assume the guard position.  That implies that the directing line is a relatively static thing.  Other definitions do not address the center of the strip, but rely on a line that runs through the rear heel, front heel, and toe, extended as a straight line to connect with the front toe, front heel, and rear heel of the opponent.  Modern fencers tend to shift their alignment to the inside, searching for increased access to the opponent's inside line.  In contrast two fencers, both right or both left handed, on the directing line offer a much smaller exposure in the inside line, while not significantly increasing their vulnerability in the outside line.  This makes the traditional on guard position engaged in fourth that was common in the early part of the classical period a sensible choice.  The other case, that one fencer is left handed and the other right handed, results in a directing line positioning that is the solution commonly adopted in such situations. 

The other two lines, the line of attack and the line of offense, influence the selection of technique in the attack.  The line of attack is an opening in the opponent's defense through which an attack may be directed.  Theoretically, most of an opponent's target area meets that definition, with the exception of the line closed by the position of the weapon.  However, the line of attack is subject to bout conditions, including the distance, difficulty of the target, opponent favorite defensive or counteroffensive techniques, the stability of the opponent's position, etc.

The line of attack is theoretically filled by the line of offense, the straight line from the fencer's weapon to the opponent's target.  Given that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points, the line of offense represents the shortest distance to the target.  All other things being equal, an attack along the shortest distance to the target will be the fastest attack.  Of course, attacks may and will deviate from the line of offense due to the need for preparation.  

How do these three lines relate to each other and how do they influence tactical choices?  First, two fencers on the directing line are closer to each other than two fencers who have lined up displaced from the line in an attempt to access a larger target area.  This is a threat that the left handed fencer poses to a right handed fencer - the left handed fencer appears to be at the same distance, but is actually several inches closer because of the shorter straight line of offense.  The directing line orientation may reduce the variety of lines of attack available to the fencer, but an attack directed along the line of offense will always travel the shortest distance with the shortest elapsed time for any specific speed.

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Review February 2019

1.  What is the relationship between a line of attack and the four lines on the target (high inside, low inside, etc.)?

  • a.  the line of attack defines an opening within a line on the target.
  • b.  a line of attack will result in the fastest possible hit on the target.
  • c.  the line of attack is only applicable to targeting the opponent if the opponent is on the directing line.

2.  An attack directed along which line will result in the fastest time to the target, all other things being equal?

  • a.  line of attack
  • b.  directing line
  • c.  line of offense

3.  The directing line is always:

  • a.  the shortest distance between the fencer's blade and the target.
  • b.  drawn longitudinally down the center of the strip.
  • c.  based on the orientation of the two fencer's front feet.

January 2019 - Using the Synoptic Table

Synoptic tables can be found in a number of Italian Fencing Manuals.  Good examples occupy pages in Holzman's translations of Masaniello Parise's 1884 Treatise on the Fencing of the Sword and Sabre and Salvatore Pecoraro and Carlo Pessina's 1912 Sabre Fencing as well as in Vere Wright's 1889 translation of Masiello and Ciullini's sabre manual.  So what is a synoptic table and what does it do for you as a classical fencing trainer?

A synoptic table is a tabular analysis of a fencing action and the following actions in a proposed phrase.  The contents vary by author, but typically will include most of the following elements:

  • A specific fencing action.
  • The number of movements involved in the action.
  • The line, invitation, or engagement the opponent takes that logically allows the action to be executed.
  • What parries are deceived by the attack.
  • What final parry is required to defeat it.
  • The possible ripostes from the final parry.
  • The counterattacks possible against the attack.

For example, from Pecorarao and Pessina:

Offensive action

From guard of 2nd or 3rd, thrust direct or by disengage

Number of movements


Position in which the one who invites or engages is found

Invitation or engagement in 5th

What parries are eluded


Final Parry


Low 4th

Half-circular 1st

Possible ripostes following final parry

Glide, disengage, cut to external face, head, internal face, abdomen and arm.

Thrust, cut to flank, external face, head, internal; face, chest, abdomen and arm.

Actions in tempo by disengage


Actions in tempo by arrest


Actions in tempo to the arm

Tempo to the arm

Actions in tempo counterattack

Counterattack to the flank


The resulting tables can fill as many as 30 pages in a manual, arranged horizontally so that the table typically extends across two pages. 

For the trainer, the advantage of the synoptic table lies in its orderly description of the flow of a phrase with offense, defense, and counteroffense all identified.  This provides a convenient basis for structuring drills in group or individual lessons, with some assurance that the drill will be completely consistent with the tactical doctrine of the School that you are teaching.  One line in a synoptic table becomes a full lesson when you practice the individual parts and then start chunking them together to form a complete action of attack, defense, riposte or alternatively attack and counterattack.

The problem, however, is that a fencing bout is messy.  The opponent's engagement or invitation may open up target areas and close others in a not very neat way.  Small changes in your execution or the opponent's may mean that the expected parry is not deceived or that the opponent substitutes a different riposte for the expected one.  Under these conditions, memorizing a sequence and trying to execute per table may result in an undesired outcome.

The experience of Asian martial artists may offer a useful perspective.  A number of martial arts use the kata, a sequence of as many as 50 actions in sequence, as a training tool.  It was not unusual for a senior martial artist to spend an entire career studying and perfecting a single kata (not so today where katas have deviated from their purpose to become part of the money making apparatus of rank testing).  The purpose of the many steps was not to teach a specific sequence to be used in a fight, but rather to exercise the student in many techniques and the flow between techniques as a way to solve the problem an opponent presented.  As a result parts of the kata would become automated and applicable in any combat under a wide variety of conditions.

Teaching a synoptic table action sequence as a series of commands may be necessary at the start of the lesson.  However, it seems likely that your students will have better outcomes if they are encouraged to think about the drill in terms of the flow of its components and how that flow solves the problem of scoring a touch.   

Copyright 2019 by Walter G. Green III

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Using the Synoptic Table by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review January 2019

1.  Synoptic Tables are typically found in fencing manuals from which School or Schools?

  • a.  the French School
  • b.  the Italian Schools
  • c.  the Italian and Spanish Schools

2.  Which of the following entries is typically found in a synoptic table?

  • a.  the distance at which the attack is initiated
  • b.  the footwork needed to achieve an attacking position
  • c.  possible counterattacks against the attack

3.  If you structure a drill using the options described in the synoptic table, can you expect that your students will experience the same flow of action on the strip?

  • a.  yes - synoptic tables include every logical possibility
  • b.  in almost all cases if the opponent has been trained using the teachings of the same Master
  • c.  sometimes - but synoptic tables do not necessarily account for the reality of changes in technique or unusual responses by opponents

December 2018 - Teaching With The Catechism

Fencing is a knowledge based sport; classical fencing is particularly knowledge based.  Most fencers, and even many Fencing Masters, approach fencing as a purely physical activity.  This is a significant error.  A consistent theme in studies of high level athletes in many sports is that they are often serious students of the game. 

For fencers there is a lot to learn.  Fencing history shows how the use of the sword in society has changed and how fencing has evolved into the modern, classical, and historical fencing of today.  Sports conditioning and motor performance texts inform us of how to get maximum performance from our bodies.  Sports nutrition books tell us how to fuel that performance.  Sports psychology books tell us how to manage the mental game.  And the list goes on.

This suggests that it is in the interest of our students to stimulate the desire to learn more broadly than what we teach in a typical class session.  But you might say in answer "I just would like them to remember the names of the four simple attacks from one class to the next."  Student retention of knowledge is a problem; if the student cannot retain basic information, there may be little hope that they will expand beyond that.  Even worse, they will require constant explanations of simple foundational knowledge needed to understand the physical activity.  As a trainer you need ways to prime the pump.  The knowledge materials and testing of the Academy's Skill Development Program offer one approach, but these handouts and tests are geared to knowledge enrichment, not necessarily to foundational knowledge.

The catechism may offer a useful approach.  A catechism is a set of questions and short answers to those questions.  A standard method of religious instruction, the catechism was introduced to fencing in the classical period by George Heintz, Sr, Master of the Sword at the United States Naval Academy.  Heintz's Theory of Fencing With the Foil in Form of a Catechism was published in 1890.  However, his catechism is not alone.  The Federation Francise d'Escrime and the Academie d'Armes de France published a series of booklets of questions and answers for a three level skill development program, undated but probably in the 1950s or early 1960s.  Maestro di Scherma Edoardo Mangiarotti included a set of questions and answers for Fencing Master candidates in his 1966 La Vera Scherma.  And the Classical Academy of Arms has a question and answer book for candidates for our credentials.

An example of a catechism question:

  • QUESTION:  What is a line?
  • ANSWER: A division of the target area by a vertical and/or horizontal line drawn from the guard of the weapon.

How do you use a catechism for instruction?  You could give the students a complete volume - the Academy is developing a catechism appropriate for each rank of the Skill Development Program.  A better approach may be to select questions applicable to the specific lesson from the Academy catechism, make copies, and give them to each class member with an explanation of what they are. 

Of course, you can design your own questions.  In doing so, there are several guidelines:

  • First, pick questions that directly relate to the material you have taught or are planning to teach, and that are important to understanding the material. 
  • Second, write a simple question that is not generally open to misinterpretation and that can be answered with a short statement the student can memorize.
  • Third, make certain that your answer to the question is technically correct and in keeping with the doctrine of your School or the specific Fencing Master you study.
  • Fourth, read the question and the answer out loud to make sure it makes sense.  After all, the student is going to hear your question and return a spoken answer.

At the next lesson ask one or more questions from the ones you had previously provided to your students.

  • Correctly answered questions (those which provide anything from the content correctly but not in the same order or organization as the catechism to memorized answers) should be acknowledged as such and reinforced by restating the question and answer and praising the student.
  • Incorrectly answered questions should be offered to the class for answer.  If there is no correct answer given by the students, provide that answer and any explanation,
  • Highlight the value of the question to individual and group performance.

At first, most students will not have bothered to learn the material.  However, asking the question is both a review of the last lesson and a form of accountability.  The serious students will quickly adapt to the requirement.

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III     

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Review December 2018

1.  What is a catechism?

  • a.  A set of questions and short answers covering foundational knowledge for student study as a learning aid.
  • b.  A form of teaching that was abandoned by fencing trainers after the end of the classical period in the period after World war II.
  • c.  A way to teach the physical application of fencing skills.

2.  What is a significant advantage of the use of a catechism in teaching classical fencing?

  • a.  Because catechisms were widely used in the classical period, use of a catechism makes classical fencing instruction more closely aligned with the practice of Fencing Masters from 1880 to 1939.
  • b.  The catechism replaces the need for other forms of instruction to convey knowledge.
  • c.  Questioning based on the catechism focuses students on key information and promotes accountability for their own progress.

3.  Which of the following is an important consideration in designing catechism question?

  • a.  Questions should focus only on how to perform a specific skill.
  • b.  Questions should be designed to trick the student who has not studied the material for the lesson.
  • c.  Questions and their answers should be factually correct.

November 2018 - The Theoretical Basis of the One Touch Epee Bout

The theoretical basis for the one touch epee bout originates with the original essential purpose of the Epee of the Salle, as derivative of the weapon known as the Epee of Combat and the Epee of the Terrain, the dueling sword.  In the last two decades of the 1800s Fencing Masters who had to prepare students for the duel came to understand the unsatisfactory nature of training with the Foil as preparation for actual combat with the Epee of the Terrain.  This resulted in a two part change in how the dueling sword was addressed.  On one hand the foil was replaced by a rebated dueling sword so that the student would be prepared for the greater weight of the dueling sword and the differences in its handling.  On the other, as use of the epee rapidly became not just for duels, but also for sport, rules were developed that allowed the Epee bout to more closely simulate the duel.

The changes in the rules resulted, in the classical period, in a bout that had five unique characteristics:

(1)  the preferred venue for epee bouts was outdoors - as duels were generally fought outdoors (although there was at least one indoor dueling venue commonly used in the vicinity of Paris).

(2)  the piste was commonly a gravel path, sometimes of some considerable length.  As late as 1937, the regulation piste was 34 meters (111 feet 7 inches) in length.  Having a piste and penalizing a fencer who stepped off the end, replicated the concept of marking the dueling ground (sometimes not much more formally than scratching a line with the heel of the shoe) and dismissing as a coward an opponent who retreated beyond the agreed limit.

(3)  at some point a time limit was introduced - by 1937 this was 5 minutes.  However, for at least some portion of the development of early epee fencing, there was no time limit, and there is an unconfirmed report that the longest fencing bout in history was a 90+ minute epee bout.  This is not as odd as it might sound - one famous duel between two fencing masters extended for hours, long enough for it to be decided when one could not continue because of a blister caused by the prolonged use of the weapon.

(4)  the allowance of the simultaneous hit directly mirrors the potential for the simultaneous wounding of both participants in a duel in an attack-counterattack (especially the counterattack by tension) or remise against the riposte scenario.

(5)  the one touch epee bout simulates the duel fenced for first blood, the predominant type of duel from the 1890s through 1967.  When duels became a ritualistic event solely to expiate insults to one's honor, honor being restored and the insult cleansed by the first flow of blood from a wound, one touch became a conventional way to end the duel to everyone's satisfaction.   People still died in duels with the dueling sword, but this was no longer the widely desired objective, as it had been in the 1600s through the early 1800s. 

Thus we can clearly see that the theoretical basis of the epee bout lies in the weapon's role as a trainer for the duel, a role that shaped the subsequent development of epee fencing as sport.

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III

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The Theoretical Basis of the One Touch Epee Bout by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Review November 2018

1.  The early classical epee bout fought for one touch is based on:

  • a.  Modern Pentathlon's use of one touch epee bouts.
  • b.  the need to control the length of the bout in a period where there were no standard maximum time limits for bouts.
  • c.  the duel to first blood symbolized by the first touch.

2.  The epee used in classical fencing today is essentially the:

  • a.  the Epee of the Salle.
  • b.  the Epee of Combat.
  • c.  the Epee of the Terrain.

3.  Classical epee bouts were typically fenced:

  • a.  inside in similar facilities to those used for foil and sabre.
  • b.  outside on a gravel strip up to 34 meters in length.
  • c.  outside on the standard 20 foot strip used in the early classical period.

October 2018 - Preparation

What is preparation?  Preparation may be defined as any action that precedes the attack and creates the condition needed for its success.  Typically these include actions that close the distance to attacking (lunge or medium) distance, that remove or control the opponent's blade so that it does not hinder the attack landing, or that cause the opponent to make an incorrect response to the developing situation..  Exactly what actions fit within the category of preparation varies among the published literature of the period - the following is a summary from a variety of sources.

(1)  Preparation by footwork - theoretically any footwork that closes the distance prior to the final attacking footwork is a preparation.  Obvious elements in this category are the:

  • advance,
  • forward pass,
  • and balestra (the jump portion of the jump-lunge).  

In addition, there are two footwork movements that can be used to create an inappropriate response:

  • the half-advance, and
  • the appel.

It is important to note that the advance in an advance lunge combination was a preparation in the classical period.  This is no longer the case in modern fencing as the advance-lunge is effectively considered a single tempo action under current rules.

(2)  Preparation by blade work - blade preparations are distinguished by being initiated with a bent arm.  They include all of the actions designed to control the blade or to physically remove it from the desired line. 

(2.a.)  Engagements.  These can be preparations that the control a line and can actually either move the opponent's blade or cause the opponent to move the blade:

  • engagement,
  • change of engagement, and
  • double engagement.

(2.b.)  Attacks on the blade.  The full range of attacks on the blade qualify as preparations, including:

  • beats, and 
  • presses.

(2.c.)  Actions in the same line along the blade:  The actions along the blade (opposition, glide, coule, glissade, graze, froisement, expulsion) occupy a difficult position in classical fencing taxonomies of actions.  Some Fencing Masters class one or more of them as attacks on the blade, others as takings of the blade.  The situation is further complicated by the variety of subtle differences in meanings assigned to each term.  However, they clearly are considered preparations in period literature.  As a minimum they control the line, and more energetic versions can move the opponent's blade laterally to open an otherwise closed line.

(2.d.)  Takings of the blade.  The full range of takings of the blade, or transports, qualify as preparations, including:

  • binds,
  • croises and flanconades, both vertically downward and upward,
  • envelopments (which may be the same technique as the double bind),
  • double envelopments.

There is one obvious omission, the range of compound attacks.  In the compound attack, the feint prepares the way for the final action by causing the opponent to put his or her blade in motion to deal with the feint.  Why then is the feint not considered preparation?  There are three possible explanations.  First, for some part of the classical period the feint was commonly executed with an extended arm, as opposed to preparation which originates from a bent arm.  Second, all of the blade preparations can be attacked (as attacks into preparation) by deceiving the attempt to move the blade (which depends on blade contact by the attacker); the compound attack cannot be deceived in this way.  Third, the feint itself can become an attack if there is no reaction; all of the preparations require an extension to achieve the status of attack.

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III

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October 2018 Review

1.  The purpose of a preparation is to:

  • a.  serve as an invitation to draw an opponent's counterattack.
  • b.  create the conditions needed to ensure the attack's success.
  • c.  serve as a feint for the compound attack.

2.  Footwork preparations may include the:

  • a.  fleche.
  • b.  retreat and jump back.
  • c.  balestra and appel.

3.  The change of engagement, change of engagement, and double engagement may be executed as preparations.  Which of the following possible criteria of a preparation do they meet?

  • a.  they are executed with a bent arm.
  • b.  they are normally combined with an advance before the lunge.
  • c.  they always move the opponent's blade to the opposite line opening the way for an attack.

September 2018 - Characteristics of Fencing with the Sabre

Each of the fencing weapons in use in the classical period (foil, epee, sabre, singlestick, and bayonet) has a core of distinctive characteristics that define how the weapon is taught, used, and judged in the bout.  Knowledge of these characteristics provides an understanding that guides the role of the trainer in preparing the student to fence effectively with the weapon.  

The sabre used for sport descends from the dueling sabre, and thus from the cavalry sabre.  The cavalry weapon was a heavy weapon in the broadsword/backsword family, ideal for shock action, and optimized for use on horseback.  In the classical period the form of the sabre in many armies evolved, but it remained a heavy weapon, typically in the 1 to 1.1 kilogram range.  In contrast, the dueling sabre is a lighter and more agile weapon, typically with a similar pattern, but a thinner blade, and a weight in the 750 gram range.  In contrast, by the 1930s the sabre for sporting use was no heavier than 500 grams and no lighter than 350 grams.

A note - the historical European martial arts community has created a new class of sabre, the "military sabre."  In reality, all sabres are military.  There is no weapon with distinct characteristics that make it a civilian sabre.  Unlike the small sword, there was no fashion of civilian gentlemen wearing the sabre as a fashion accessory whilst promenading around town.  The two exceptions are the dueling sabre (a large portion of the use of which was by military officers), and the sport sabre.  

The distinct characteristics of fencing with the sabre are: 

(1)  Touches are made with both the point (as a thrust), and the cutting edges (as a cut).  The cutting edges are defined as the front or true or long edge of the blade and the rear or short or false edge of the blade.  The front edge extends from the guard to the point of the weapon; the rear edge from the point of the weapon to somewhere between one third to one half of the rear of the blade.  The sides of the blade are theoretically flat and contact with them is plaque or laid on, not resulting in a touch.  Two techniques, the banderole chest cut and the abdominal or belly cut, actually use the point as a cutting surface.  Sabre is the only weapon with a blade that can score with three types of blade action, the point thrust, the point cut, the cut with the front edge, and the reverse cut executed with the back edge.  These capabilities of the weapon define the technical range of offensive action with the sabre.

(2)  The target in sabre is distinctive and reflects the combination of fencing and dueling practice.  At various times the target has included (a) the head, the torso above the points of the hips, the arms and the hands, (b) the entire torso as well as head, arms and hands, and (c) additionally the thigh.  The torso target above the waist is in common with the foil target of the late 1800s which commonly stopped at the waist.  The addition of the head and the forward target of the arms and hands reflects the reality of dueling practice in which these were productive targets. 

(3)  The sabre is a conventional weapon, that is to say one governed by conventions, generally accepted rules that govern how touches are to awarded.  Although priority for the fencer's actions was often defined in a different way than in modern fencing rules during a large part of the classical period, sabre shares with foil the idea that there are practical considerations in the duel that can and should be reflected in the fencing bout.  Rules for bouts in the late 1800s did not define priority of actions in any detail.  However, there were well understood concepts of what makes sense as an action.  For example, if we are fighting with sharp sabres, and I parry your attack and execute a straight fast riposte to the head, you may injure or kill me with your remise, but I will surely injure or kill you with my riposte.  Unless you are suicidal, your response to my parry needs to be to parry or evade my riposte.  These understandings shape the flow of the bout and how the weapon is taught.

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III

September 2018 Review

1.  The term "conventional" as applied to the sabre indicates that fencing with the sabre:

  • a.  was never done during the classical period with electronic scoring.
  • b.  is judged with points for correctness of form as well as for excellence in timing actions and for scoring hits.
  • c.  is based on an accepted understanding of the priority to be given to hits in the flow of the action of the bout.

2.  The use of the point of the hips (effectively the waist when on guard) as the lower limit of the torso target:

  • a.  was selected because in fighting on horseback in battles it was considered ungentlemanly to hit the opponent's horse.
  • b.  increased fencer safety by avoiding hits to the groin.
  • c.  reflects the late 1800s foil target which often ended at the waist.

3.   The classifications of the primary ways to touch with the sabre include:

  • a.  the five simple attacks. 
  • b.  cuts executed with the front and back edges of the sabre.
  • c.  thrusts with the point, cuts with the front and rear cutting edges, and cuts with the point in the banderole chest cut and abdominal cut.

August 2018 - The Appel

The appel is a common footwork element in classical fencing, referenced in a number of period texts and in descriptions of fencing bouts of the last part of the 1800s.  Executed from the on guard position by a slap of the front of the forward foot on the piste, properly done it makes a distinctive, and surprisingly loud, sound.  But the appel has virtually disappeared from modern fencing, leaving the obvious question "what was it used for?"

Answering that question is not as simple as it sounds, because there are at least five answers of obviously varying utility.  Taken from least likely to be effective to most likely, they are:

(1)  To startle the opponent, causing him or her to react in a way that would create an opening into which an attack could be launched.  Commentators at the time evaluated this with words to the effect of if you are startled by an appel into reacting inappropriately, you should take up a much less dynamic form of sport than fencing.  Unlikely to be effective.

(2)  To emphasize the attack.  Executing the appel before the lunge would seem to give the opponent a small, but significant, amount of warning that an attack is coming.  However, it might have also served to influence the jury that the action made with an appel started earlier than it actually started, especially if accompanied by a shout of Voila Monsieur, or its equivalent.  Slightly less unlikely to be effective.

(3)  To emphasize the feint.  If one used the appel to emphasize even one attack in a bout, it may have been at least somewhat effective to also use it to create the impression that the feint was the attack subsequently.  A small amount less unlikely to be effective than its use in the attack.  

(4)  As a crowd pleaser.  There is some evidence that the appel and a shout was a great favorite of spectators at professional exhibition bouts between fencing masters in the late 1800s.  This combination certainly has showmanship element that would make the fencing more exciting to watch, even if it had no actual impact on the outcome of the bout.  Likely to be effective with the spectators.

(5)  As an accelerant.  Interestingly none of the readily available period texts suggest that an appel integrated with the start of the lunge breaks inertia much as the balestra does.  This appel-lunge does not cover extra ground on the piste, but with practice it can be quite quick.  Some fencers may have discovered this by accident, but it is not widely reported in the classical period.

(6)  As a training tool to verify the fencer is in a balanced position when on guard.  This is the most common use in period texts and is incorporated into various routines for coming on guard as a sequence of two appels as the last element of assuming the guard position.  And this is actually a very good test of a balanced position and of the ability to maintain that position while moving the lower front leg and foot to execute the appels.  

So, incorporate the appel in training fencers to assume a balanced guard position.  Experiment with the appel-lunge.  Include the appel as a crowd pleaser in exhibitions of classical fencing.  But don't count on it winning bouts or even touches for you.

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III

August 2018 Review

1.  The appel is executed as a:

  • a.  stamp of the front leg flexing the calf and thigh and driving from the hip.
  • b.  pair of stamps on the piste by the rear foot when in the guard position.
  • c.  slap of the front of the front foot on the piste.

2.  The appel was effective primarily as a:

  • a.  tool for teaching fencers how to assume a balanced on guard position.
  • b.  way to startle, frighten, or distract opponents so that they would make an error openinga line for a touch.
  • c.  means of emphasizing the feint or actual attack.

3.   One use of the appel in bouts between fencing masters in the late 1800s was:

  • a.  to gain points for artistic expression of fencing technique.
  • b.  as a way to startle the opponent and draw counterattacks that could then be countertimed.
  • c.  to add excitement for the spectators.

July 2018 - A Guard in the Center

Occasionally we find an opponent on guard with the blade in the center of the opponent's high line.  In a few cases this is a reference in a book.  And in some cases it is a fencer in front of us.  Is this a good idea?

The argument in favor is that the blade on guard in the center of the high line can move equally quickly in all directions to parry any attack.  This appears to be attractive.  And when we consider that a guard is a position from which offense, defense, and invitations are all possible, it appears that the center position is theoretically correct.  However, there are problems that deserve considerations.

First, it is correct that a guard is a position from which attacks, parries, and invitations are all possible.  However, the general agreement of most authors is that a guard, properly positioned, closes a line to the normal attack (the ceding and angulated attacks are a separate issue).  The central position does not close any line.  When we apply mathematics to the model, assuming that all four quadrants would be equal from the central guard, all four lines are exposed - thus 100 percent of the target is open, and we cannot predict with any certainty which line our opponent will attack.  In addition, it would seem that angulated and ceding attacks might even be made more attractive because the degree of angulation initially required to get behind the blade would be smaller.

In contrast a guard that closes a line reduces the lines available to the attacker, and thus the parrying choices, by 25%.  The picture is even more attractive if the fencer adopts a guard in high inside.  That line is closed, and the available target is further reduced by the greater precision required in an attack into low inside. 

It is important to understand that in the earlier years of classical fencing there was an evolution in which guard should be the preferred guard.  The high outside line in foil was not automatically the first choice.  Colmore-Dunn had an excellent discussion of which line was preferable in his Dunn's Fencing Instructor (1891).  In his view the inside line was less vulnerable because the orientation of the rear shoulder and chest presented a more difficult target for the opponent to gain an arrest.  In contrast the right side (left side in a left handed fencer) is a more attractive target because the chest is closer and flatter.  The guard of fourth (French system) was thus preferred for engagement because the guard secured the inside completely, allowing for a strong parry to be used to cover the right hand side (left side for the left handed fencer).  In fourth the hand was stronger and the blade was already positioned for the circular parry of fourth, a parry much favored at the time. 

Although in the French School theoretically it is possible to engage in any line (engagement in 1st being a stretch), French practice was generally to engage in either 4th or 6th.  By the early 1900s the preferred engagement had shifted to 6th (high outside). 

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III.


July 2018 Review

1.  The argument in favor of adopting a central or middle guard is that:

  • a.  unlike the guards in fourth or sixth the central guard allows equally quick movement to any line to defend against an attack.
  • b.  the central guard provides for stronger parries.
  • c.  an opponent's task in attacking becomes more difficult because the position of the blade denies access to the center line of the target.

2.  The argument against adopting a center guard is based primarily on the assertion that:

  • a.  a properly formed guard closing one line makes use of angulated attacks impossible.
  • b.  ripostes from a central guard must travel further to close the line in the attack.
  • c.  the central guard leaves all lines open to attack when compared to a guard closing one line.

3.  Is Colmore-Dunn's adoption of the guard of fourth for engagement consistent with the French School of foil?

  • a.  no - the French School was the primary advocate of central guard
  • b.  yes - the French School taught that engagements should be taken in fourth or sixth
  • c.  yes - but only for fencing masters trained in the Parisian school of French fencing; the practice in the provinces and in French Caribbean possessions was always to use sixth or absence of blade in eighth

June 2018 - The Five Simple Attacks

Simple attacks are one tempo actions, distinguished by starting one line and moving in a continuous flow in the same direction to land on the target.  In the classical period there is some disagreement as to which actions are simple attacks.  However, by the end of the period we can identify the following actions as simple attacks:

  • Straight thrust or cut 
  • Disengage
  • Coupe or Cut-Over
  • Counterdisengage
  • Countercoupe

One category of action, the straight thrust (foil and epee) and straight point thrust or cut (in sabre) is classified as a direct attack.  The direct attack starts in one line and remains in that line from start to finish.  Thus a foil or epee thrust stated from engagement in 6th and landing in 6th or the sabre point thrust in 3rd starting and ending in 3rd are simple attacks.  In sabre, cuts such as the head cut, cheek cut, wrist cut, flank cut, chest cut, and abdominal cut are considered direct cuts, even though the movement of the hand to position the blade in the line may start from a different orientation.

All of the other simple attacks are indirect attacks, distinguished by starting in one line and finishing in another or transiting others.  In doing so, they are executed as one continuous motion.  They can be executed from a full extension or from a bent arm guard position.  Two of these pass the weapon's point around the opponent's guard.  Thus the disengage, starting in 4th can be a lateral indirect attack ending in 6th, a vertical indirect attack ending in 7th, or a diagonal indirect attack ending in 8th, while passing the point under the bell.  In contrast, an indirect attack starting in the low line passes the point around above the bell.  In each case the starts in one line and ends in a different line.  The counterdisengage also passes the point around the bell, but does so while passing through all of the four lines to deceive a circular blade action by the opponent and end in the same line as from which it originally started.

Two other indirect simple attacks also start in one line and finish in another or transit others.  These attacks pass the weapon's point around the opponent's point.  The coupe, starting in 4th is normally a lateral attack ending in 6th, although, with parries that attempt to displace the point from the line with a blade at a significant angle off the vertical, it can be an almost horizontal technique from high line to low line.  Coupes can be executed in the low line.  The countercoupe also passes the point around the opponent's point, deceiving a circular blade action by simply removing the weapon from the opponent's circle and replacing it in line when the rotating blade has passed.  

So when we look at all the possibilities we have a reasonably sophisticated series of options for the simple attack:

  • One direct attack which starts in one line, does not leave it - straight thrust.
  • Two indirect attacks which go around the opponent's bell - the disengage and counterdisengage.
  • Two indirect attacks which go around the point of the opponent's weapon - the coupe and countercoupe.
  • Two indirect attacks that end in different lines from that in which they started - the disengage and coupe.
  • Two indirect attacks that end in the same line from whence they started, deceiving circular movements by the opponent - the counterdisengage and the countercoupe. 

Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III      

June 2018 Review

1.  QUESTION:  All simple attacks are executed:

      a.  preceded by a feint or preparation of the attack. 

      b.  in a single tempo.

      c.  to land in the high line.

2.  QUESTION:  The two categories of simple attacks and the actions that fit in each are:

      a.  direct attacks (straight thrust, lunge, disengage, coupe) and counter attacks (counterdisengage, countercoupe)

      b.  direct attacks (straight thrust/cut) and indirect attacks (disengage, coupe, counterdisengage, countercoupe)

      c.  direct attacks (straight thrust, disengage, and coupe) and compound attacks (counetdisengage, counter coupe)

3.  QUESTION:  The two simple attacks that return to the original line from whence they started are the:

      a.  disengage and counterdisengage.

      b.  disengage and coupe.

      c.  countercoupe and counterdisengage.

May 2018 - The Types of Attacks

What are the basic types of attacking actions?  Among classical Masters there are differences in how attacking actions are grouped, to which groups specific actions are assigned, and even if they are grouped into types of actions at all.  Any attempt to develop a common classification system is for our convenience today, and, as noted later in this article, should not override how you describe the actions as taught by a specific Master.

If we look at all the actions that are commonly recognized as being attacks, it is possible to develop a taxonomy that applies in the absence of one specific Master’s guidance.   The following is such a system, subject obviously to modification for dueling sword and sabre:




Example Actions

False Attacks

(attacks not intended to land either to set-up a subsequent action or for reconnaissance)

May be any real attack but executed to determine or draw an opponent’s reaction



Real Attacks

(attacks intended to land as touches)

Simple Attacks (single tempo attacks)

Direct Attacks

Straight Thrust

Indirect Attacks





Prepared Attacks

(attacks that require an additional tempo to create the desired opening for the final thrust)

Compound Attacks (multiple tempo combinations of simple attacks to induce the opponent to open a line)

Feint straight thrust disengage

One Two

One Two Three


Attacks on the Blade (actions with percussion to open a line)




Transports (takings of the blade with leverage to open a line)






Complex Attacks (those that use elements of more than one category)




Attacks of Intention

Second Intention

False attack-parry counterriposte

Invitation-parry riposte

Third and Fourth Intention

Counterriposte against second intention


Defensive countertime

Counteroffensive countertime

Offensive countertime


(attacks following the parry executed in essentially the same way as the real attack)

Simple Ripostes

Direct Riposte

Straight Thrust

Indirect Riposte




Prepared Ripostes

Compound Ripostes

Feint straight thrust disengage


Counterdisengage twice

Ripostes by Transport




There are several problems with such a classification scheme.  First, fencing terms have different meanings over time and in different schools.  The best example comes from counteroffense – is a time hit done with or without opposition?  A stop hit?  Bertrand (1927) provides a detailed discussion showing that the two names should be swapped. Barbasetti (1932) complicates the matter by not using the term time hit, rather the term counter-action. 

Second, some of these terms themselves have multiple gradations.  For example, what one author terms a glide, essentially a direct thrust with opposition, when examined in multiple sources becomes a range of attack down the blade with only mild pressure to ensure contact all the way (Stonehenge and Wood 1863, Manrique 1920, Deladrier 1948) to an attack that displaces the blade completely from the line (Lidstone 1951).  The situation is further complicated by arguments as to whether the glide is a transport or an attack on the blade (Crosnier 1967 expands this discussion further by saying that it could be either one). 

Third, terms change over time as the doctrine of schools change.  The French croise (a vertical transport of the blade) in the early 1900s could be done starting in any of the four lines high to low or low to high line, inside line or outside line (Manrique 1920).  By the end of the period the croise is only executed as a high to lowline action (Lidstone 1951, Crosnier 1967).

Finally, it has to be applied in the context of the individual Master whose works you are studying.  If your source groups the attacks on the blade and the transports together as one category of actions, that grouping reflects a specific approach to the application of these techniques.  If your source does not address countertime actions at all or only addresses defensive countertime, and does not consider that an attacking or second intention action, but rather related to counteroffense, then spend the time to understand why.  This imposes a responsibility on you as a classical fencing trainer to identify these differences, include them when speaking to others, and discuss them with your students, if we are to have informed dialog.  

Why then should we even bother to try to find a common ground in classifying attacks (or defense or counteroffense for that matter)?  Having a classification system provides a way to communicate, a shared language in a period where not only are manuals written in different languages, but also with different meanings.  In doing so, it allows you to look at the system that you find in texts from the perspective of what is present, what is absent, and what is thought of in a different way.

And perhaps even of more value, it allows you to identify commonalities.  In fencing we tend to stovepipe actions – action A and action B may be for all practical purposes identical.  But we teach them as different things, not different tactical applications of the same thing.  For example, if you look at the type Prepared Attacks, all of these actions work essentially in the same way – they put the opponent’s blade in motion.  They do it in different ways, but the tactical goal is the same, to create an opening that enlarges long enough to permit the attack to hit.  

May 2018 Review

1.  QUESTION:  The essential difference between false and real attacks is that:

  • a.  false attacks are executed in a different way using different actions that real attacks.
  • b.  false attacks are used as the first tempo of prepared attacks – they are a subset of real actions.
  • c.  the intent of a false attack is reconnaissance or to set-up a subsequent action whereas as real attack intends to hit.

2.  QUESTION:  Transports:

  • a.  use leverage to open a line for the final attack.
  • b.  can only be used as prepared attacks.
  • c.  use percussion to open up a line in either a real attack or a riposte.

3.  QUESTION:  A key advantage of a classification scheme is to:

  • a.  allow us to describe classical fencing actions in modern terms.
  • b.  rationalize classical fencing so that it is no longer necessary to teach the work of a specific Master or School.
  • c.  improve communication and the identification of commonalities and differences.

April 2018 - Feints

The common description of a feint is the blade action or actions made in a compound attack to create a false impression of the intended target, causing an opponent to react by opening a line into which the fencer can direct the actual attack.  But is this all there is?

The definition of a feint can and should be expanded to address the objective of a feint, core functions of the feints, what makes the feint, what types of actions may be employed as a feint, and what is the numerical range of feints. 

First, what are we trying to achieve when we execute a feint?  If we reduce this to the simplest and most inclusive case, the feint attempts to cause a reaction on the part of the opponent that can be exploited.  Depending on the tactical situation in the bout, that reaction may be in the form of defense (a parry attempt against the first feint of a compound attack, for example), of a counterattack (a stop hit), or an attack (a feint of parry to draw the final attack in a compound action). 

Second, if we consider the typical classification of fencing actions (understanding that this system is a modern one and not all Masters in the classical period described actions in these classes), we can identify core roles for feints in each of the four categories of actions:

(1)       Actions not intended to hit – feints in the form of false attacks are a commonly described tool for reconnaissance in the early stages of a bout.  The intent is to establish the opponent’s reaction to what appear to be serious threats in various lines and combinations of actions.

(2)       Offense – the feint in the attack is to provoke an opponent’s reaction to close or restore the existing line against the fencer’s feint.  This movement then opens another line for the final action of the attack.  Alternatively, it may be to draw the counterattack, allowing that to be defeated by parry or by stop hit on the stop hit (note that these countertime actions are late developments in the classical period)

(3)       Counterattack – the feint of counterattack is to draw the attempt to parry, allowing the counterattack to deceive the attempt in countertime, an action known as feint in tempo (a late development in the classical period).

(4)       Defense – the feint of parry against a compound attack draws a commitment to the final action of the attack, which can then be met by the appropriate parry for that line.

Third, what do we use to make the feint?  That seems obvious, the blade, and the blade is the most common way to feint.  But that is not the only possibility. 

Although footwork is more restricted on the short classical strip, that does not mean that it cannot be used as a feint. It may be effectively used to draw counterattacks or attacks into preparation.  A short step or half lunge may provoke a response that can be parried and riposted against.  And the advance-feint of retreat combination followed by an immediate lunge into the opponent’s step forward is well suited to a short strip.

Footwork can be combined with another form of feint, the change in cadence.  Slow movement can cause the opponent to slow their own movement, making them more vulnerable to accelerating attacks.

Another footwork tool is the appel.  This noise maker can be used to emphasize actions, draw the opponent’s attention, momentarily break the opponent’s focus, or provoke an attack into the presumed preparation.  The appel-lunge may be effective in exploiting the break in focus.  The advantage is very short-lived, and probably can only be used once in a bout.

The assumption is that a feint is always made with a simple attacking action, most frequently a feint of straight thrust or a feint of disengage.  However, this is only one of several other possible approaches:

(1)  The feint as a change of engagement to cause the opponent to start his own change of engagement to return to the original alignment, followed by your counterdisengage to deceive the change.

(2)  The beat (or press) as a feint to draw either a beat back or a circular parry, which can then be deceived by disengage, counterdisengage, or coupe.

(3)  The feint of glide to provoke a counter of opposition by the opponent to be deceived by your disengage.

Finally, we should consider the numerical range of feints.  Compound actions with up to three feints (a total of four parts when the final actual attack is included) were taught in the classical period.  However, there was general agreement that no more than two feints (a three part action) are practical in the bout.

April 2018 Review

1.  QUESTION:  The fundamental purpose of the feint is to:

  • a.  cause the opponent to try to parry the first action of a compound attack.
  • b.  conceal the fact that an attack is in progress.
  • c.  cause a reaction on the part of the opponent that can be exploited.

2.  QUESTION:  The objective of a feint parry is to:

  • a.  parry the feint, allowing an immediate riposte.
  • b.  simulate an attempt to parry the feint so that the opponent will commit to the final attack.
  • c.  provide false information on your reactions to an opponent who is conducting reconnaissance.

3.  QUESTION:  How could the beat be used as a feint?

  • a.  to draw a beat back which can then be deceived by a disengage or coupe as the attack.
  • b.  to draw a beat back which can then be beaten by another beat to open the original line for a straight thrust.
  • c.  as a feint parry.

March 2018 - Counteroffense

When we talk about counteroffense, it is important to understand that classical period Fencing Masters characterized the actions discussed in various ways.  These may be considered counteroffense, defense, or even offense.  Or a specific Fencing Master may not characterize them at all, simply describing the action.

Counteroffensive actions (also known as counterattacks) are point or cutting edge actions that are designed to defeat the attack.  They do so either by (1) hitting first (in epee), (2) hitting during an error in the execution of the attack, (3) seizing the tempo of the attacker's attack, (4) simultaneously diverting the attack and hitting, or (5) avoiding the attack and simultaneously hitting.  Two actions are considered counterattacks throughout the classical period, the stop hit and the time hit.  Both are executed as attacks into attacks.   

The first of these is the stop hit, a thrust or cut intended to hit either (1) in the midst of the tempo of an opponent's simple attack, (2) when the opponent makes an error in the execution of the attack, (3) to land before the start of the final action of a multiple tempo attack, or (4) to hit while avoiding the attack.  Most stop hits are executed as direct straight thrusts or cuts.  However, indirect stop hits against press or beat attacks or as escapes from takings of the blade may be productivity.  The stop hit is intended to start after the opponent's attack starts, and land before it lands.

The stop hit uses a rich variety of footwork in the counteroffense.  This can be as simple as a regular lunge, or a retreat step with a thrust or cut.  However, there are specialist footwork actions primarily used in counterattacks, the reassemblement being probably the most widely described.  In addition, classical fencing texts describe the rearward lunge, duck, passata sotto, turning passata sotto, diagonal lunge, and inquartata.

The time hit is a stop hit with opposition, intercepting and diverting the incoming attack in its final line.  Theoretically a time hit can be executed against multiple tempo attacks.  However, it requires a nice appreciation of the opponent's intent, and can be deceived by any change in the expected final line.  It is in effect a combined parry and stop hit, and is particularly effective in that role in epee.  British International epee fencer Charles L De Beaumont, in particular, recommended its use in this role.  The time hit is delivered with footwork more reminiscent of the attack, in most cases using the advance or lunge.

Note that time hits have been called stop hits because they stop the opponent from landing while simultaneously stopping the attack by hitting during its forward progress.  Stop hits have been called time hits because they land in an attempt to steal the opponent's tempo.  When studying period texts, it is important to understand exactly what the author intends by the term.

Additional discussion of the variety of stop and time hit descriptions from period fencing manuals is available in our A Variety of Counterattacks continuing education topic from April 2017.

The point in line occupies an ambiguous position.  It has been characterized as offense, defense, counteroffense, and no characteristic at all.  The point in line, established before an opponent starts an attack, typically in the preparation phase, is given precedence if it is initiated at or within threat distance before the attack starts.  Even though the point in line has precedence it is inherently counteroffensive as it forces the offense to consider and deal with it.  If the offense is not successful in doing so (for example, if the point in line derobes an attack to take the blade), the point in line scores.  Over the years the rules as to whether or not the fencer may improve the point in line with footwork movement have varied, but in the classical period the point in line is most frequently describe in the context of being a static position.

The final action that may be considered a form of counterattack is the attack into preparation.  Although termed an attack, and normally considered as such, this action is intended to defeat the opponent's attack while it is still moving to achieve an attacking position.  This is a more modern term that was not in common use until the later years of the classical period, although the action was certainly possible and used.  An attack into preparation is executed to land as the opponent steps into distance or is moving the blade into a position prior to the start of an attack.   Surviving film from the classical period shows the attack into preparation being employed successfully.    Note that the character of this action has been radically changed in modern fencing by the interpretation that a two tempo advance-lunge is a single tempo action and in foil that withdrawal of the blade is actually an attack because it will eventually come forward.

March 2018 Review

1.  QUESTION:  Which two actions are universally considered to be counterattacks?

  • a.  attack into preparation, stop hit
  • b.  point in line, attack into preparation
  • c.  stop hit, time hit

2.  QUESTION:  The time hit:

  • a.  combines the features of a parry and a stop hit.
  • b.  relies on a direct thrust landing before the opponent.
  • c.  avoids the final line of the attack so that it's speed is not hampered by blade contact.

3.  QUESTION:  A stop hit achieves precedence over an attack in foil or sabre if:

  • a.  it lands during the first tempo of the attack.
  • b.  it lands prior to the start of the final movement of the attack.
  • c.  it is initiated into the preparation of the opponent's attack.

February 2018 - Distance and Measure

Distance is one of the critical elements of fencing (with others including tempo, cadence, speed, initiative, etc.).  Over the years the terms distance and measure have commonly been used to describe essentially the same thing, the distance between two fencers.  Typically in classical period texts distance is described as the physical distance between the target areas of two fencers.  But some texts use a more technically relevant definition, the distance that the weapon will have to travel to score a touch.

As such it is a definition of what distance an attack must cover, the distance that a fencer must achieve in order to be able to attack, what distance is needed to be beyond the range of attack, and the separation that must be achieved to be safe from attack.  These sound like much the same thing but they are not.

First, let's consider the familiar instruction given to fencers by their trainers: "maintain distance."  In other words this is an instruction to keep the same distance between the fencer and his or her opponent, normally one at the outer edge of lunge distance.  This is an instruction to maintain a steady state, in which neither fencer can score on an attack.  There is sufficient distance to allow the opponent sufficient time to retreat out of the reach of the lunge.

If you wish to attack and score, you have to close to the distance at which you can execute an attack with an appropriate chance of success.  And the attack must be able to cross that distance, whether because of speed of execution or because of misleading the opponent by feint, taking the blade, or attacking the blade so that the other fencer cannot execute a successful defence.

Similarly, if you wish to avoid being hit, you must achieve a safe separation from the attack by moving to a distance beyond the envelope of success of the attack.  This can be achieved by retreating sufficient distance to make the attack fall short, or by advancing, standing in place, or retreating to the optimum distance for a parry and riposte.

Classical texts typically divide distance into three segments, characterized by the footwork necessary to hit when the fencer makes a full extension of the weapon arm with the weapon:

  • Short (Extension) Distance - the distance at which the fencers can hit each other with a simple extension without any footwork.
  • Medium (Lunge) Distance - the distance at which the fencers can hit each other with a simple extension and lunge.
  • Long (Advance-Lunge) Distance - the distance at which the fencers can hit each other with a simple extension, advance, and lunge.

Note that there is some variability in the names for the segments, and some authors introduce one or more added distances (for example, Siebenharr's half-lunge distance by lean). 

However, this is an oversimplification.  Foil has one distance, that to the torso.  Sabre has two distances, to the forward target, and to the torso.  Epee has at least four, to the forward target, to the foot, to the torso, and to the rear of the torso and the rear leg.  These can be subdivided to account for smaller segments - for example, the foil target has the forward portion of the torso, and the rear portion of the torso, separated by distance, the difficulty of hitting, and the techniques to be employed.

These subdivisions mean that the traditional short, medium, and long distances may exist at the same time for an opponent, and   may have to be considered by the fencer depending on the segment of the target selected for attack.  In epee, an opponent may be at short distance for an attack to the forearm, medium distance for an attack to the torso, and possibly even long distance for an attack to the rear foot (admittedly an unusual tactical choice).    

In addition, the values must be considered in terms of the physical characteristics of the fencers.  A very tall fencer may have the reach to be able to hit with a lunge what a short fencer needs an advance lunge to hit.

There is a curious omission in the discussion of distance in many classical texts.  Distance is defined in the case of the attack, but not defined in the case of the defence or counteroffense.  Defensive distance is every bit as important in two areas.  First, there is the obvious issue of controlling distance to allow an effective parry or counterattack.  But, the interplay of the distance achieved by the attacker's attack with the distance management by the defender sets up the distance requirements of  the riposte.  As an example:

  • Fencer A attacks with a lunge at medium distance.
  • Fencer B stands in place and parries.
  • Fencer B executes an immediate, fast riposte at short distance to hit. 

That is the standard expected of a parry and riposte - that the riposte should hit the opponent with an extension in short distance  before the opponent can initiate a recovery.  But let's consider a more complex case:

  • Fencer A attacks with a lunge at medium distance.
  • Fencer B takes a short step back and parries with a circular parry.
  • Fencer A starts a recovery to guard.
  • Fencer B executes an immediate riposte by either lunge, or depending on A's recovery by advance lunge.

These examples highlight the importance of using defensive distance to both facilitate the parry (the short step back with circular parry) and to define the distance the riposte is required to traverse.  

As a bottom line (1) both offensive distance and defensive distance are important, (2) distance varies by weapon, by the physical characteristics of the fencer, and by the desired target, (3) there are three standard distances (short, medium, and long), (4) maintaining distance is the status quo, to score you must close distance, to defend you should consider opening distance.   

February 2018 Review

1.  QUESTION:  An opponent has lunged, and you have parried, and riposte by an immediate extension to hit without added footwork.  The distance for your riposte was:

  • a.  very short distance.
  • b.  short distance.
  • c.  riposte distance. 

2.  QUESTION:  The most technically useful definition of distance is:

  • a.  the physical distance between two fencers.
  • b.  when fencers are within the range from being able to hit with an extension to being able to hit with an advance lunge.
  • c.  the distance that the attacker's blade must travel to hit the target.

3.  QUESTION:  If you are facing an opponent with a longer reach than yours which of the following distance relationships exist?

  • a.  the opponent may be able to hit me with an extension at a distance at which I must use a lunge to hit.
  • b.  we will be within the same distance at short, medium, and long distances. 
  • c.  the opponent may be able to hit me with a lunge at a distance at which I can hit him with an extension and lean.

January 2018 - An Invitation

Invitations are nice things to receive.  Everyone likes to get an invitation to a friend's party, or a prestigious event.  But then there are the invitations that you don't want to the party with the hosts who insist on showing their slideshow of 400 slides of their annual trip to Hoboken (and Hoboken is, I am sure, a nice place), or dinner with in-laws you dislike who have food fights at the table among their disgusting little trolls of children, or ...  So, when an opponent on the strip gives an invitation in fencing, it is worth asking what you are being invited to.

Invitations are tactical devices to get your opponent to do something that you want them to do.  When you ostentatiously open a line you are asking the opponent to please attack in that line.  You want the opponent to do so because the expectation is that (1) you are  fast enough to be able to defeat the attack and hit the attacker with your riposte or stop hit and that (2) the opponent is either so tactically unaware or so desperate for a touch that he or she will fall for the lure of an open line.  

This description captures a key point about invitations.  They are second intention actions.  The invitation is the first intention action that is not intend to hit - it opens the line so that the opponent will attack.  The parry and riposte or stop hit is the second intention with the action that is intended to hit.

The invitation is made by opening a line, preferably one in which the opponent is normally disposed to attack.  You do not want the opponent to think too deeply about how to conduct the attack; you want the opportunity to overrule tactical analysis of the situation. 

However, if you are going to invite an attack you have to match your invitations to the character of the opponent.  We can identify three basic types of invitation:

(1) the mechanical invitation - the fencer opens the line sufficiently to create an opening that is attractive.  The movement is a mechanical one that starts and finishes as one continuous speed action.  The width of the opening is uniform with each invitation looking very much like the previous one.  This is the invitation of the fencing manual illustration.  An inexperienced opponent will attack and fall prey to your second intention.  However, an experienced opponent will recognize what you are doing and make a false attack to draw your parry and riposte so that they can parry and 1st counterriposte.  This converts your second intention into their third intention action in the sequence invitation (first intention), false attack, parry riposte (second intention), parry counterriposte (third intention).

(2) the subtle invitation - some fencing masters of the classical period identified the issue of the mechanical invitation, and suggested that the invitation should be more subtle to mask the intent.  Now the blade makes a small opening and perhaps drifts slowly out of position over several tempos.  Varied footwork is integrated to bring the invitation within attractive range.  Body language and blade tension conveys that everything is normal.  To the experienced fencer who is not thinking invitation, this is truly an invitation to attack with first intention, an attack that you are ready for because you have camouflaged the invitation as your inattention or fatigue or over-confidence.  Against an experienced opponent you can do this once, possibly only once ever, so make sure that it counts.

(3) the dare - there is an illustration of Sir Cosmo Duff-Gordon fencing against Jules Stern of France at The Epee Club's Fourth Open International Tournament at the Crystal Palace in 1904 that illustrates this option.  Duff-Gordon is standing absolutely erect with his feet at 90 degree angles, his weapon arm and weapon fully extended touching toward the ground.  Stern (the eventual second place in the Tournament) is within lunging distance.  There is no subtlety here, and no mechanical execution either.  This was Duff-Gordon daring Stern to attack.  This type of invitation relies on the opponent being psychologically unable to resist the personal challenge to his or her skill and courage.      

The Italians gave invitations a numbering system tied to the guard and the parry, and this system makes sense for application to invitations in any school (generally invitations are not numbered in manuals describing the technique of other schools)..  The theoretical basis for these numbers is that the guard, the parry, and the invitation are all descriptions of the same characteristic combination of blade and hand and arm.  A guard of fourth closes the high line inside and is a position from which offense and defense are conducted.  A parry of fourth operationalizes the guard by moving further to the inside to deflect an incoming attacking blade.  An invitation of fourth moves the blade further to the inside in the same way, but to open further the outside high line.   Thus, if we combine the French and Italian lists of guards invitations in:

  • First - further opens the outside high line
  • Second - further opens the inside low line
  • Third - further opens the inside high line
  • Fourth - further opens the outside high line
  • Fifth - further opens the outside low line
  • Sixth - further opens the inside high line
  • Seventh - further opens the outside low line
  • Eighth - further opens the inside low line

Teaching invitations can be introduced to students at a very early point in their development.  When a trainer opens a line to cue the student to attack, what is the trainer doing?   That is correct, the trainer is giving an invitation.  When student's drill, and one student opens the line to cause the other student to attack, they are not cuing the attack, they are giving an invitation.  Students should be taught to give good invitations, just as they are taught to  make good attacks.  Similarly, students should learn to reject unbelievable invitations.

January 2018 Review

1.  QUESTION:  Invitations are conducted as:

  • a.  first intention actions.
  • b.  second intention actions.
  • c.  third intention actions. 

2.  QUESTION:  What is the relationship between a guard, a parry, and an invitation?

  • a.  there is no relationship, one is a position and the other two are entirely separate actions for different tactical purposes
  • b.  they are related because both the parry and the invitation are based on the guard position, but they move in opposite directions
  • c.  the guard, parry, and invitation all operate in the same line, with the parry and the invitation moving the same direction from the guard.

3.  QUESTION:  What is the relationship between an invitation of 4 for a left handed fencer and the same invitation of 4 for a right handed fencer?

  • a.  the left handed invitation of four opens the high inside line and the right handed invitation of four opens the high outside line.
  • b.  both invitations open the high outside line of their respective fencers, toward the right of the left handed fencer and toward the left of the right handed fencer.
  • c.  the invitations are made in the same direction for both fencers, to the left if the likely to attack to the left, and to the right if the likely attack is to the right depending on whether the opponent is left or right handed.

December 2017 - The School

The term "school" is widely used in discussions of the evolution of fencing, and starts with the concept of traditions of fencing in Medieval fencing, for example the Liechtenauer Tradition.  In the classical period we "know" that fencing was divided into two schools, the French and the Italian.  So to understand this division, we need to understand what is meant by a school. 

Although widely used, school is not widely defined.  Consulting two standard sources for the definition or explanation of fencing terms, Evangelista's The Encyclopedia of the Sword and Morton's Martini A-Z of Fencing, results in nothing found.  So it falls to the researcher to do a qualitative content analysis to determine the characteristics of a school based on what people view as a school.  We suggest that a school is characterized by:

(1)  A regional or national approach to fencing, often accompanied by an emphasis on nationalism or regional pride, or even sometimes justified by a need to develop a specific national approach.  This can be easily observed in the competition between the various Italian schools or in Siebenhaar's Dutch Method.

(2)  Existence over a period of time sufficient to have developed some body of fencers who practice the school.  This may be as short as the life of the founding master in Siebenhaar's case or the founder and his primary student, the case with Sanz and Lancho of the Spanish School.  On the other hand it may survive even the end of a prominent fencing dynasty, as was the case with Kreusslerian thrust fencing.

(3)  A coherent doctrine and technique.  The two great examples of this are the French and eventual mixed Italian Schools.  For decades in the early 1900s a fencer of either of these schools was readily identifiable by how he or she fenced.

(4)  Texts that describe the method of fencing.  A very large volume of fencing texts from the classical period exist, some as lucky finds in an antiquarian bookshop, others as reprints, still others as online documents.  In addition, the growth of the historical European martial arts community has made translations of an increasing number of classical period texts available.

(5)  A body of fencers and fencing masters.  This criteria is difficult to assess, if for no other reason that there does not seem to be any reliable data on numbers of fencers until we reach the era of national fencing organizations.  Even then such data as survives is not necessarily easy to access.  We are left with a small sample of anecdotal reports.  For example, we know that 80 fencing masters attended a conference at the Hague on 24 December 1864 and agreed upon the rules for fencing competitions according to the Dutch Method.  That is a fairly substantial number of Masters, more than are members of the United States Fencing Coaches Association today.  And we know that the Spanish School must have attracted sufficient adherents to be mentioned in other Fencing Masters' texts and significant coverage in the Spanish press.

(6)  A distinctive weapon.  This is not a universal accomplishment.  The French, Italian, and Spanish grips are directly associated with their schools.  There also may be a distinctive Kreusslerian weapon with a crossbar with the bell, but not having the arches, and thus the space,  necessary to allow the fingers to wrap around the crossbar.

When we apply these criteria, it becomes obvious that the conventional view that all classical fencing is either Italian or French is an incorrect assumption.  Instead we have a much larger selection (and the following short descriptions are to some degree an oversimplification of a very complex subject):

(1)  The French School which remains relatively consistent in its descriptions throughout the classical period.

(1a)  The Epee School which appears in France in the last years of the 1800s in reaction to the deficiencies of foil instruction in preparing fencers for the duel.

(1b)  The Naturalists, who appear to be a French and later English group within the French school who pushed for greatly simplified technique and teaching methods.

(2)  A mixed Italian School, which appears after the formal selection of a single approach to fencing in the training of Fencing Masters in Italy in the late 1800s.  It includes elements of the:

(2a)  Neapolitan School, which is distinctly Italian, and the

(2b)  Northern Italian School, which was widely criticized as having been tainted by some elements of French technique.

(3)  Leonardo Terrone's Left and Right Handed Fencing, a unique bilateral development approach to fencing which evolved following 1900, ending with a small group of adherents in the United States interested in fencing with both hands prior to world War II.

(4)  The Spanish School, which appears starting in the 1890s, and survives until the death of its founder and the destruction of its texts in the Spanish Civil War.

(5)  The Hungarian school of Sabre, the product of the combination of existing Hungarian technique with Italian sabre technique in the early 1900s continuing as the dominant force in sabre fencing until after World War II.

(6)  The Dutch Method, a very distinctive, demanding, and quite static approach to foil and sabre founded in the 1850s and which abruptly disappeared following the death of its founder in the late 1880s.

(7)  Kreusslerian Thrust Fencing, a German approach to fencing with the thrust sword evolving in the 1700s, quite distinct from either the French or Italian Schools, and continuing in use into the late 1800s.

(8)  German Academical Fencing, a university based fencing style fought at short range from an essentially static position with sharp weapons, achieving popularity in student fraternities in the 1800s and continuing to this day.

By the 1930s there was a well established trend to move from purity of one school to mixed approaches.  Julio Martinez Castello, trained in the French School, states that at this point he was teaching French Foil, Italian Sabre, and a personal eclectic approach to Epee.  Aldo Nadi, although fencing with an Italian foil, clearly states that his technique was international in its selection of elements favorable to his approach to fencing.  This trend continues to this day.

December 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  Which of the following is an element of the definition of a school used by the Classical Academy of Arms? 

  • a.  the school must be recognized by the Federation Internationale d'Escrime as meeting the standards adopted by the FIE in 1914 for schools
  • b.  the school must be national in scope, ie. the French School or the Italian School
  • c.  the school must have texts that establish its doctrine and technique

2.  QUESTION:  Which of the following schools survived the death of its founder?

  • a.  the Dutch Method
  • b.  Kreusslerian Thrust Fencing
  • c.  the Spanish School

3.  QUESTION:  The distinguishing characteristic of the Naturalists within the larger French School was:

  • a.  the insistence on simplifying both technique and instruction.
  • b.  the emphasis on the use of the Epee for preparation for the duel.
  • c.  the incorporation of elements of the Northern Italian School in their technique.

November 2017 - Fencing at the Olympics Before World War I

The Olympic Games of the Modern Era is a watershed event in both the development of fencing and in the overall development of sports in the classical period.  The idea had been considered and rejected more than once, but it took determined and sustained effort by Pierre Fredy, Baron de Courbetin, to carry it to fruition in 1896.  His vision of the games as a meeting of amateur athletes, of the value of participation, and of the role of the games in promoting understanding of other cultures helped to form the idea that individual sports are part of a greater whole and that they transcend national boundaries.  This represented a major change in the direction of sport as part of society. 
There were a total of 5 regular Olympics and the 1906 Intercalated Games (which in 1949 were retroactively declared to have been unofficial) prior to World War I:
1896 - Athens, Greece
1900 - Paris, France
1904 - St. Louis, United States
1906 - Athens, Greece
1908 - London, United Kingdom 
1912 - Stockholm, Sweden
Fencing was present in all of these games.  However, not all fencing events appeared in each games, some to appear, disappear, and reappear, others to appear once or twice and then disappear, and some to become regular events for the future of the games.  Participation by individual fencers and by nations similarly varied, but after World War I showed steady growth.  It is worth noting that fencing was not alone in this turbulence; the line-up of the Games, both in sports and in disciplines within sports, has changed regularly, and continues to change to this day.  When we look at each year:
Individual Foil - 8 competitors from 2 nations - won by Eugene-Henri Gravelotte of France
Masters Foil - 2 competitors from 2 nations - won by Leon Pyrgos of Greece
Individual Sabre - 5 competitors from 3 nations - won by Ioannis Georgiadis of Greece
Individual Foil - 54 competitors from 8 nations - won by Emile Coste of France
Masters Foil - 60 competitors from 8 nations - won by Lucien Merignac of France
Individual Epee - 104 competitors from 9 nations - won by Ramon Fonst Segundo of Cuba
Masters Epee - 54 competitors from 4 nations - won by Albert Ayat of France
Epee for Amateurs and Masters - 8 competitors from 2 Nations - won by Albert Ayat of France
Individual Sabre - 33 competitors from 7 nations - won by Georges de la Falaise of France
Masters Sabre - 29 Competitors from 7 nations - won by Antonio Conte of Italy
Individual Foil - 9 competitors from 3 nations - won by Ramon Fonst Segundo of Cuba
Foil Team - 2 teams from 2 countries - won by a mixed team of Ramon Fonst Segundo and Manuel Diaz Martinez of Cuba and Alberston Van Zo Post of the United States
Individual Epee - 5 competitors from 3 nations - won by Ramon Fonst Segundo of Cuba
Individual Sabre - 5 competitors from 2 nations - won by Manuel Diaz Martinez of Cuba
Single Stick - 3 competitors from 1 nation - won by Albertson Van Zo Post of the United States
Individual Foil - 37 competitors from 12 nations - won by Georges Dillon-Kavanagh of France
Individual Epee - 29 competitors from 10 nations - won by Georges de la Falaise of France
Masters Epee - 3 competitors from 3 nations - won by Cyril Verbrugge of Belgium
Team Epee - 6 teams from 6 nations - won by the French team of Pierre d'Hugues, Georges Dillon-Kavanagh, Mohr, and Georges de la Falaise
Individual Sabre - 29 competitors from 8 nations - won by Ioannis Georgiadis of Greece
Sabre for Three Hits - 21 competitors from 6 nations - won by Gustav Casmir of Germany
Masters Sabre - 2 competitors from 2 nations - won by Cyril Verbrugge of Belgium
Team Sabre - 4 teams from 4 nations - won by the German team of Gustav Casmir, Jacob Erckrath de Bary, August Petri, and Emil Schon
Individual Epee - 85 competitors from 14 nations - won by Gaston Alibert of France
Team Epee - 9 teams from 9 nations - won by the French team of Gaston Alibert, Bernard Gravier, Alexandre Lippmann, Eugene Olivier, Henri-Georges Berger, Charles Collignon, and Jean Stern
Individual Sabre - 76 competitors from 11 nations - won by Jeno Fuchs of Hungary
Team Sabre - 8 teams from 8 nations - won by the Hungarian team of Jeno Fuchs, Oszkar Gerde, Peter Toth, Lajos Werkner, and Dezso Foldes
Individual Foil - 94 competitors from 15 nations - won by Nedo Nadi of Italy
Individual Epee - 93 competitors from 15 nations - won by Paul Anspach of Belgium
Team Epee - 11 teams from 11 nations - won by the Belgian team of Paul Anspach, Henri Anspach, Robert Hennet, Fernand de Montigny, Jacques Ochs, Francois Rom, Gaston Salmon, and Victor Willems
Individual Sabre - 64 competitors from 12 nations - won by Jeno Fuchs of Hungary
Team Sabre - 11 teams from 11 nations - won by the Hungarian Team of Jeno Fuchs, Laszlo Berti, Ervin Meszaros,  Dezso Foldes, Oszkar Gerde, Zoltan Schenker, Peter Toth, and Lajos Werkner 
There are some moments in all of this that deserve notice:
  • In 1896 Adolf Schmal was denied victory when the entire sabre competition was refought so that the late arriving King of Greece could enjoy it. 
  • From 1896 through 1906, despite the amateur ideal, professional Fencing Masters participated in the Games in their own events, and in one case a mixed amateur and professional event.  
  • The 1900 epee for amateurs and masters was a pool unique of the top four finishers in the Masters event and in the Individual Epee event.  Albert Ayat won all 7 bouts without a single touch received. 
  • In 1908 Individual Foil was not held because the organizing committee determined that foil was an art form and not a sport. 
  • The Games of 1912 saw the first boycotts - the Italians refused to participate in Epee over the rejection of their proposal to extend the length of the epee blade to 94 centimeters, and the French boycotted the entire fencing competition.
  • In the early days it was possible to win gold in two weapons.  Ramon Fonst Segundo (1900 and 1904) and Georges Dillon-Kavanagh (1906) did this in Foil and Epee, Georges de la Falaise (1900 and 1906) in Sabre and Epee, Manuel Diaz Matinez (1904) in Foil and Sabre, and Albertson Van Zo Post in Foil and Single Stick (1904).
  • Of the two less well known fencing weapons, Bayonet and Single Stick, only Single Stick made an appearance in the Olympics, and then only in the sparsely attended 1904 Saint Louis Games. 
  • In modern fencing teams are restricted to 4 fencers, including 3 fencers and 1 alternate, with the alternates not accorded most of the privileges of being an Olympic athlete.  This is quite different from the pre-World War I period, with the 8 man teams of Hungary in Sabre and Belgium in Epee in 1912 as prime examples. 
  • Throughout we see a relatively small number of nations as participants.  The rosters of winners are heavily European, with only the United States, and Cuba from the Americas, and no participation from Africa or Asia.  When we look at the countries placing fencers in the top 8, the list is restricted to: Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Bohemia, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Russia, Sweden, and the United States.   Fencing was clearly a white European sport.  
  • The biggest difference from today, however, is that women were not permitted to compete in fencing events until 1924 in Foil.   Epee came later in 1996, and sabre last of all in 2004.  It was not that women were not fencing foil, and by the 1920s epee as well.  It was a combination of a misogyny, a patronizing concern that women's organs could not accommodate the stresses of fencing, and a deliberate failure to recognize that women could be serious about sport.

November 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  Why do the titles of individual and team events in the Olympics before World War I not include Men's or Women's?

  • a.  because women were not allowed to compete until the addition of Women's Foil in 1924
  • b.  because all events were fenced mixed, with both men and women competing together
  • c.  because women were not allowed to participate in fencing until after 1918 - the large number of male fencers killed in World War I convinced Salle owners to take in female students in order to survive economically 

2.  QUESTION:  The Olympic Games with the smallest number of fencers represented was the:

  • a.  1896 Athens Games.
  • b.  1904 St. Louis Games.
  • c.  1906 Paris Intercalated Games.

3.  QUESTION:  1n 1908 individual foil was not competed because?

  • a.  the small number of entries did not justify holding an event.
  • b.  the decision was made by the International Olympic Committee to restrict the number of fencing events so that medals would be available for the Tug-of-War as a Track and Field event.
  • c.  the organizing committee determined that foil was an art form, not a sport.

October 2017 - New York Athletic Club 1878 Laws for Fencing with the Foil

The appendix to Ben Miller's edited edition of Colonel Thomas Hoyer Monstery's Self-Defense for Gentlemen and Ladies includes a copy of the New York Athletic Club's Laws for Fencing with the Foil as published in 1878.  This is an important document for several reasons.  It is a rules set that was likely in use at the start of the classical period, at least in the New York Athletic Club, a fencing center that continues to be major influence in the sport even today.  It is an early set of rules in use in the United States.  And it is a set of rules accompanied by commentary of a Swedish trained Fencing Master with a broad range of other training and experience in the use of the sword in military and civil settings.

The New York Athletic Club Laws consists of 8 rules (these have been edited and the wording updated and clarified where appropriate - amplifying comments are in italics):

(1)  The foil blade is 34 inches long, and flat in shape.  The foil is not secured by binding of the hand or wrist that would prevent the fencer from being disarmed.  This provision would seem to prohibit martingales and wrist straps or bindings used with the Italian foil.

(2)  A free thrust which has hit the opponent must be followed by a pause.  The hit is used to define the end of the fencing phrase and a pause in the bout.  How that pause is executed is not described, but it is a reasonable presumption that this resulted in a return to the center of the piste and to guard.  The meaning of free thrust is not explained, but it may suggest a thrust that has not been parried.

(3)  Reprisals or double thrusts are forbidden.  The fencer who has lunged must return to guard to prevent a hand-to-hand fight.  The term "reprisal" is most likely an anglicization of "reprise."  The "double thrust" is more difficult to identify.  The term sounds very much like a double hit, or two simultaneous touches.  However, it is hard to forbid a double touch resulting from both fencers  acting at the same time, and the following rule (4) appears to sort this out by specifying what happens in a stop hit and assigning priority in a true double action to the higher thrust.  The double thrust might be in the context of a remise or redouble.  The combination of an attack with a remise provides the two actions for the double thrust.  The "hand-to-hand fight" implies close combat, or, as we would term it in modern fencing, in-fighting.  The rule can be simplified to "renewals of the attack are forbidden, and the fencer who lunges must recover to guard."

(4)  Time or stop thrusts delivered without a lunge score a hit only if the fencer making the thrust is not hit.  If both fencers are hit simultaneously the fencer who lands the thrust higher on the body scores the touch.  If both fencers hit in the same line, no touch is awarded.  The provision that the higher touch scores reflects the old concept that hits higher than the opponent's hit are more honorable and thus receive preference in scoring (a right of height combined with a right of way to gain the touch).  The provision for hits "in the same line" must refer to hits at the same height on the body (otherwise a higher hit in the same lateral line would not be awarded).  Monstery definitely does not like the priority for a higher attack.  He makes the point that, should the weapons have been sharp, a higher thrust which causes a minor flesh wound in the shoulder should not be given priority over a lower hit that pierces a lung with a fatal thrust.    

(5)  A disarm does not allow a hit unless it is followed immediately by a thrust.  If the foil is lost while making an attack and hitting the opponent it is to count for one point.  The first sentence makes sense and was a standard rule for many years as a provision that an opponent who drops his or her weapon may be hit until the dropped weapon hits the piste.  Monstery disagrees with the first sentence and suggests that it should be that a disarm results in one point to avoid having to hit an unarmed opponent.  The second sentence is not as easily understood, and consulting the equivalent rules for broadsword (sabre) and singlestick are virtually identical, offering no clarity.  The key appears to be the phrase "and hitting the opponent."  The most likely interpretation is "if the foil lands a touch in the attack, but is dropped after the hit, it will count for one point for the attacker."  Allowing the fencer to lose control of the weapon before it hits and still benefit with a point would seem to be an invitation to throw the weapon as a spear. 

(6)  A fencer may not parry or take hold of the opponent's weapon with an unarmed hand.  This rule reflects the final demise of the use of the unarmed hand to parry, a point of contention in the 1800s.

(7)  If one of the fencers withdraws before completion of the bout, he or she loses the bout.

(8)  Bouts will be fenced for no fewer than 5 points and no more than 10, to be determined by the judges or the referee.  The fencer who first reaches the full number of points is the winner.   

Eight rules on one page makes an interesting contrast with the 215 page modern fencing rule book.  On one hand, this suggests that there was a general and common understanding within a relatively small number of fencers of many of the things that are now defined as rules for a large, international population of fencers.  On the other, it undoubtedly reflects the reality that rules and regulations steadily expand to address ambiguities and bad conduct.

October 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  In the new York Athletic Club rules, if there is a simultaneous hit with fencer on the left landing higher on the target than fencer on the right does, how is the touch awarded?

  • a.  because it is a simultaneous hit, no touch is awarded 
  • b.  fencer on the left is awarded the touch
  • c.  fencer on the right has the more honorable thrust and is awarded the touch

2.  QUESTION:  A stop hit is only awarded a touch if:

  • a.  it is more honorable than the original attack.
  • b.  it lands before the original attack.
  • c.  the original attack does not land.

3.  QUESTION:  Fencer on the right attacks fencer on the left's blade with a beat.  Fencer on the left loses control of his weapon and drops it.  May fencer on the right hit fencer on  the left?

  • a.  yes, as long as the thrust is immediate
  • b.  yes, but only until fencer on the left's foil hits the piste
  • c.  no, it is ungentlemanly to hit a disarmed opponent

September 2017 - Chalk, Eyeballs, Tin Tacks, and Pointes d'Arret

Foil and sabre appear to have always relied on the human eyeball and the vigilance of the jury to determine the materiality of the hit (whether it arrived on target, off target, nor not at all) throughout the classical period.  The use of chalk (see below) may have been used in foil before 1900, although the extent to which this was the case is unknown.  Although efforts to develop electrical scoring in foil started in earnest in 1937, before World War II, it was not until 1955 that electrical foil its appearance at the World Championship level.  Sabre took even longer; electric sabre's introduction started in 1988.

However, epee went through a series of different approaches to scoring:

Chalk.  The first approach was the used of chalk, transferred from the tip of the weapon to the opponent's target.  In the United States epee fencers wore dark jackets so that the chalk hit would be visible, but chalk appears to have disappeared by 1897.    

The single Pointe d'Arret, commonly referred to in English as the Tin-Tack.  This device looked very much like a carpet tack, and was affixed to the nail head point of the epee.  The Tin-Tack eventually disappears in the second decade of the 1900s.  

The bouton marqueur Pointe d'Arret, the three-pronged point.  This version of the pointe d'arret put a small ball of cotton between the points soaked in phenolphthalein, with the whole assembly bound to the nail head with waxed thread.  The three prongs caught the jacket or the glove, and the phenolphthalein marked the hit location. The three pronged point was in use in the first decade of the 1900s and survived until electrification became general in the 1950s.

The two versions of the pointe d'arret were dangerous, ripping jackets and inflicting lacerations on the fencers' arms.  Epee fencers of the day could be identified by jagged scars tracking up the forearm.  The phenolphthalein left red marks on the jacket which were either marked through with a pencil or daubed out with vinegar.  The vinegar made the uniform and the fencer smell like a pickle and created one of the more imaginative ways to cheat in fencing history.  Fencers with a desire to absolutely not be hit would soak their jacket in vinegar, let it dry, and then let sweat rehydrate the vinegar on the piste preventing the registration of hits.

Electric scoring.  Electrical scoring in essentially its modern form is introduced in Europe in 1931, was approved for use in competitions in 1933, and was first used in the Olympic Games in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.  The electric system did away with lacerated uniforms, did not inflict actual wounds on the fencer, and eliminated the vinegar miasma surrounding epee fencing.  Finding a fencer who seriously fenced competitive epee in the pointe d'arret period who misses the wounds, the ripped up jacket, and the pickle smell is a difficult proposition - the point's demise was widely welcomed.

The general attraction of electrical scoring lies in two dimensions.  First, electrical scoring significantly increases the probability that a possible touch will be correctly assigned materiality if it meets the technical requirements of the rules.  Hits that otherwise were missed due to their location or simple error by the members of the jury were now recorded unambiguously and accurately.   

Second, electrical scoring eliminated unconscious bias and even conscious bias in favor of noted fencers and against the unknown fencer.  And as the jury disappeared, it eliminated manifest cheating by judges in favor of clubmates or fencers of the same nationality, a well understood and relatively frequent occurrence. 

This leaves us with three interesting questions.  First, why did epee fencers adopt the pointe d'arret to secure obvious arrests, when foil fencers seem to have been satisfied well into the 1960s with visual judging, unassisted by any device on the weapon?  One is left with the impression that this was a result of some distinct cultural value in the epee community.

Second, why is there interest in fencing pointe d'arret in modern classical circles?  Both versions of the pointe d'arret were dangerous, and acknowledged as such at the time.  Today, with the understanding of the potential for disease transmittal through open wounds, including serious infections, why take the risk, especially given fencers’ predilection for not washing their jackets?

Third, the electric epee clearly is a classical period weapon.  Why should it not be part of classical fencing?

September 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  The first Olympics in which electric scoring was used was the _____________ Olympics.

  • a.  1936 Berlin 
  • b.  1940 Rome
  • c.  1948 London 

2.  QUESTION:  The single point pointe d'arret was known as the:

  • a.  bouton marqueur.
  • b.  tin-tack.
  • c.  pointe unique.

3.  QUESTION:  What was used to erase the marks of hits left by the marker fluid phenolphthalein?

  • a.  water
  • b.  art gum eraser
  • c.  vinegar

August 2017 - The Fleche

Among the critics of modern fencing technique, the fleche, a footwork technique for the delivery of the attack, has received its share of negative commentary.  It is not allegedly as extreme a contributor to the destruction of decent and honorable fencing as is the flick, but it certainly receives credit for the degradation of what was beautiful technique.  Classical fencers would never do anything so gauche as run at each other with the fleche.  Christoph Amberger relates in a Spring 2004 article in Fencers Quarterly that even in 1938 after a bout in Budapest, Colonel Verderber asked a Lieutenant Kevey "But Lieutenant, as a professor at this fencing academy, you shouldn't be using such horrid attacks.  Who taught you this kind of thing?"    


So let's take a look at the technique of this supposed abomination. The first technical description in English that we have located is Alfred Finckh's Academic Fencing.  Although, based on internal evidence, publication Finckh's manual dates from at least 1940, and possibly after World War II, Finckh states that the core of the work dates from 1928 or before.  Finckh describes the fleche as an attack which "consists of thrusting placing the left foot some eighteen inches in front of the right foot and at right angles.  The lunge is then made by pushing off the right foot."  Finckh is quite critical of fencers converting this into an attack on the run, emphasizing that it should be a controlled movement, and that one foot must remain on the ground at all times.  The level of control should allow the fencer to quickly recover from the initial forward pass back to a guard position to deal with an attack into the movement. 


Maestro Julio Martinez Castello's 1933 text The Theory and Practice of Fencing diagrams the progression of the fleche, showing this same model of passing the back foot in front of the front foot, followed by the former front foot coming forward into the lunge.  In Castello's case, the length of the forward movement of the front foot is approximately the same as would be expected from a normal forward pass.  


Geoffrey Hett, in his 1939 volume Fencing, provides another descriptions of the fleche.  The attack by fleche is delivered by (the subdivsion of the steps by numbers is our addition to break the technique down into chunk):


1.  "Place the rear foot as unobtrusively as possible in front of the front foot,"


2.  "which is then brought quickly around to the lunge position."


Hett then goes on to note that often, when the opponent realizes what is happening and retreats, the flecheur breaks into a quick rush.  This results partly from being off balance and partly from the desire to hit in what the flecheur perceives as a favorable opportunity.  Hett is a credible commentator, even though not a fencing master, having fenced as part of the British International Team in Vienna in 1931, Budapest in 1933, New York in 1934, as part of the Olympic Team in Berlin 1936, and Paris in 1937.


Joseph Vince, coach of the United States Olympic Sabre Squad in 1936, describes the fleche in the 1937 edition of his manual Fencing.  In his description the fleche is executed by placing the left foot in front of the right and executing one or more running steps.  Vince suggests that it is best employed against an opponent who keeps distance outside of the range of an attack by lunge or advance lunge.  The use of the technique as a distance closer against long or out of distance opponents is different from the modern use of the fleche at lunge distance, and probably accounts for the development of its employment in the rush or running attack.


Maitre d'Armes Clovis Deladrier, in his 1948 text Modern Fencing, provides a later (although practically not much later, World War II having effectively stopped international fencing for seven plus years) description that retains much of the technique described by earlier writers:


"1.  The arm is extended with opposition, the point directed at the target.


2.   The weight is shifted from the left to the right leg, and the left foot is brought up to a position slightly in front of the right foot.


3.   From this position, the arm and shoulder stretch out as far as they will go, the body inclines forward until it is almost off balance, and the distance is closed with a rush, preventing the opponent from riposting."


The last example of the forward pass model of the fleche that can be attributed to classical period training appears in John Kardoss's Sabre Fencing in 1955.  Kardoss, a former Royal Hungarian Army officer, describes and illustrates what he terms a French method fleche that:


1.  Is initiated from the guard or half-lunge position, with the extension of the weapon arm.


2.  The weight of the body is unobtrusively shifted to the front foot.  This results in a forward lean of the torso.


3.  The back leg comes forward to approximately the same distance between the feet as would be expected in a guard position. 


4.  The original front leg then swings forward apparently to first touch with the heel and then extend into the full lunge.  


What our sources are describing is an attack that is essentially a modified forward pass that flows into a lunge.  Done correctly it is a smooth, flowing movement that covers a significant distance quickly, allowing the attacker to accelerate the attack into any attempt to retreat, as well as very quickly collapsing the distance if the opponent is advancing.  The conversion to a rush or running attack, is not universally approved of or embraced in the classical period. 


However, this poses a problem for classical fencers.  The problem is that the fleche is part of the lexicon of fencing in the post-World War I years of the classical  period.  Maitre d'Armes Julius Palffy-Alpar, a graduate of the Toldi Miklos Royal Hungarian Sports Institute, in his 1967 Sword and Masque attributes its origin to the start of the 20th Century.  Castello establishes that the fleche was in regular use by 1933.  Based on Finckh's text, and the tendency of fencing manuals to lag the introduction of new technique, it seems certain that the fleche predates 1928.  By the start of World War II it was clearly in common use in epee and sabre, and making inroads in foil.  If the Master or School you study falls in this time period, you may need to add the classical fleche to your curriculum.     

August 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  The classical fleche can be described as:

  • a.  a running attack executed inside lunge distance by compressing the muscle of the front leg, extending the weapon arm and springing forward off the front leg and ending with a run past the opponent..
  • b.  a forward pass transitioning into a lunge as the weapon leg continues forward.
  • c. a slow attack executed by pushing forward with the rear leg, followed by a walk forward with the blade fully extended. 

2.  QUESTION:  In what time period does the fleche become part of classical fencing?

  • a.  it never actually does - although fencing masters wrote about it, fencers in the classical period refused to use such crude tactics.
  • b.  prior to 1900.
  • c.  in the time period of the 1920s and 1930s.

3.  QUESTION: What may be an explanation for the conversion of the lunge in the fleche into a forward run?

  • a.  the use of the fleche to close to hitting distance when the opponent is at long distance or out of distance  
  • b.  the gradual decay of fencing form among the societal changes in Europe before World War II
  • c.  the development of the sports factory model and emphasis on winning at all costs replacing the perfection of self and fencing form as the goals of the sport after World War II.

July 2017 - Tempo

Any discussion of fencing will inevitably involve the word "tempo."  A quick check of dictionaries shows that tempo is defined in most contexts as the speed or rhythm of activity.  In music work it is the speed or pacing at which the work is to be played.  In military operations it is the speed, intensity, and work load imposed by the requirements of war - the "ops tempo." It can be used to describe the pressures of daily life in business.  But this is not the context of its use in fencing.


In fencing tempo is defined as the period of time required to complete one simple fencing action.  The actual time length of a tempo depends upon the speed with which the action is executed.  Two one tempo actions executed at different speeds by different fencers will require different actual times for their completion. 


This means that, as fencers, we inevitably have to consider two types of time, tempo and actual time.  In foil and sabre tempo is critical, serving as an artificial construct to define the flow of the bout.  Fencer A is going to attack; Fencer B has the choice of defense or counteroffense.  If Fencer A initiates a slow straight thrust, and Fencer B immediately counterattacks with sufficient speed that her action lands clearly before Fencer A's leisurely hit, whose is the touch?  Fencer A, of course, because A initiated a one tempo action.  The governing rule is that a counterattack must land before the start of the final tempo. Actual time in this case is only relevant (1) in determining that Fencer A started first, or (2) in giving Fencer B enough time to instead execute a parry with the blade or by distance.  

When we look at multiple tempo actions, real time becomes critical to the defender in two ways.  The speed with which the actions are executed by Fencer A allow or limit Fencer B's choices.  A fast attack may reduce the time of the two tempos effectively to one tempo for the defender, making it impossible to insert a counterattack to land before the final tempo starts, and forcing the use of a parry.  A slow attack may bring the fast counterattack on the first tempo into play, while still allowing either a parry and riposte of the final action or, for the fast and well drilled opponent, a counterattack-parry-riposte sequence to hit the first tempo and parry and riposte the second.

It is worth noting that this is a relatively modern interpretation.  When we look at rules sets in the early days of modern amateur fencing (see, for example, in Rondelle's 1892 Foil and Sabre​, including his extensive analysis of the determination of double hits, or in Monstery's comments on the New York Athletic Club's rules of 1877), right of way and the interpretation of tempo does not exist in its modern form.  The possibility exists that even a simple attack that is poorly executed may allow the counterattacker's action to be seen to be a scoring or nullifying hit.  By the 1930s the modern interpretation is clearly the governing one.  

This changes in epee.  It is a common error to assume that tempo plays no role in epee.  Tempo remains important in teaching the synchronization of actions.  But it is most important in the timing of multiple intention actions and actions that involve distance, especially those in countertime or to control the opponent's blade.  The ability to understand the actual time of an opponent's tempo and to change speed within that tempo is very valuable.   It should be noted that this is true in all three weapons, but the absence of right of way and the use of actual time to determine the priority of the hit emphasize it in epee.


As a final thought, it is important to understand that how fencing is officiated is one of the key elements in determining how fencing is fenced.  Over the years the rules of fencing have grown from 1 to 2 sheets of paper in the 1870s-1880s to a volume of over 200 pages today.  Understanding the rules and how the rules were interpreted in the part of the classical period in which you fence is very important to understanding the technique and tactics of your weapon. 

July 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  The understanding of tempo as a determinant of the right to score in the rules:

  • a.  has remained the same from 1880 to today.
  • b.  has evolved as the rules have evolved.
  • c.  means that tempo is irrelevant to epee fencers. 

2.  QUESTION:  What is the tactical relationship between tempo and actual time in foil and sabre?

  • a.  there is no relationship - everything is governed by who initiates the first tempo action
  • b.  the only application is that a counterattack must land before the completion of the first tempo of any attack.
  • c.  the actual speed of an offensive action may control whether counterattack or parry and riposte is the best choice for a multiple tempo attack

3.  QUESTION: Tempo is defined as:

  • a.  the actual time to complete a simple action, and is established in the rules as 1/3 of a second.
  • b.  the time to complete a simple action, and varies based on the actual speed of execution.
  • c.  the actual speed with which a simple action is completed.

June 2017 - Classification of Fencing Actions

In our examination of the wide variety of techniques of classical Fencing (see the current edition of the Classical Fencing Actions Project on this website), we have tried to categorize fencing actions in a logical way.  Surprisingly, this is an area of some considerable variety - terms are not necessarily used the same way and in many cases period authors of texts do not offer a systematic classification system.

It is also an undertaking not without some dispute.  For example, the term "attack on the blade" has been widely used for those actions that are intended to displace the opponent's blade from the line with pressure or percussion (rather than leverage or by feints).  This seems reasonable enough - you hit the opponent's blade and it goes somewhere the opponent did not intend.  It would seem to be an aggressive, attack-like action.  But there has been at least on Fencing Master who held that it cannot be an attack on the blade because the blade is not target, and attacks are aimed at the target.

When we examine period texts, it is possible to understand that Masters tended to group like techniques together.  In those cases where there is a discussion of tactics, that discussion helps us understand how the application of technique contributes to classification.  The simplest and most basic outcomes is three types of actions:

OFFENSE - actions intended to hit the opponent.  These include simple attacks and attacks with a preparation intended to clear the opponent's blade from the final line of the attack, including by feints (compound attacks), by leverage (the takings of the blade), by percussion (the attacks on the blade), and by combination actions that use more than one method (for example, a feint of straight thrust followed by a disengage ending with opposition to prevent an effective parry).  Ripostes are generally considered to be offensive actions following a parry, both because they are attacks following the failure of the opponent's attack, and because they are done using offensive techniques.  A case can be made that invitations, essentially a second intention action (see our discussion of intent in the May 2017 continuing education), belong in offense.

DEFENSE - actions which prevent the opponent's attack from landing.  The obvious ones are parries and the variety of evasions that take the body out of the line of the attack (inquartata, passatta sotto, ducking, and sideways lunges as examples).  In this discussion the definition of parry is a cause for some argument - does a parry only consist of a blade action on the opponent's blade, or is there such a thing as a parry by distance (a step back to cause the opponent's attack to fall short)?  The exact date at which the parry by distance appeared is not well understood, but Parise mentions it in 1884, so this is clearly a classical usage.

COUNTEROFFENSE - actions which steal the attack's time and which prevent it from scoring.  This includes not only the counterattacks as discussed in our April 2017 continuing education topic, but also the Point in Line.  Some authors do classify the Point in Line as a defense, but its primary function is to deny the opponent the opportunity to attack, a counteroffense.  Logically counteroffense might also include other actions designed to hamper the ability of an opponent to attack or to delay the attack in progress (especially in epee).  False attacks to hamper the development of the attack would seem to fit in this same category. 

But there are other actions that must be considered and that logically can be lumped together as:

ACTIONS NOT INTENDED TO HIT - actions the fencer does to create conditions that may be exploited to hit, but are not inherently offensive or counteroffensive in their own right.  Examples include footwork to manage the strip to the fencer's advantage, footwork designed to close or open distance for tactical reasons, and false attacks to gain information about the opponent (reconnaissance) or to force the opponent to retreat.

This leaves an entire category of actions unclassified.  The related categories of multiple intentions and countertime actions are only partly developed in most classical period texts.  In all fairness. these are more tactic (a combination of technique, timing, distance, psychological conditions, speed, initiative, etc.) than technique (how a commonly understood fencing action is performed).  They can consist of elements of two, three, or all four of the other categories we have defined.  And they are commonly at least second intention in nature.  This suggests that there is a fifth category of COMPLEX ACTIONS, not defined as such in most period texts, but described in some, even if not named.

Remember in this discussion that these are general classification categories for convenience in thinking about classical actions.  They are not necessarily aligned with how the School or Master that you study taught, either in general or in detail.  Differences in how specific types of actions are classified usually reflect the unique nature of the tactical doctrine of a system developed in a School or by the Fencing Master.  Your responsibility is to understand your source and accurately reflect the source's doctrine in your teaching.

June 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  You attack your opponent.  The opponent parries your attack and ripostes.  You parry and counterriposte.  What is the sequence of your actions by classification?

  • a.  action not intended to result in a hit, defense
  • b.  offense, defense, offense
  • c.  offense, defense, counteroffense

2.  QUESTION:  A point in line is logically which of the following types of actions?

  • a.  action not intended to hit
  • b.  offense
  • c.  counteroffense

3.  QUESTION: Your are teaching the system developed by a Fencing Master in the classical period.  This Master considered counterattacks and ripostes to be defensive in nature.  How should you address this with your students? 

  • a.  I will use the classifications used by the Master whose work I ma teaching.
  • b.  I will avoid explaining that there is a difference in interpretation, and instead use the classification system in this article.
  • c.  I should explain to my students that, although the Master was brilliant in his own way, he failed to understand the real relationship between different types of actions. 

May 2017 - It Is All About Intention

The concept of intention is central to more complex fencing actions, and classical fencing has long recognized the complexity of actions of more than one intention.  So what is intention in a fencing context?  Let's start with what it is not.  If you have ever heard a modern referee comment, as he awards a counterattack priority over a properly executed and first initiated simple attack,  "you did not demonstrate intent," we are not talking about that.  That is a completely bizarre statement which suggests that an attack only exists if the referee somehow divines that the attacker met, or failed to meet, some referee-created standard of evaluation of the attacker's mental state.  Intention is not an examination of anyone's thought process or mental state.

Instead intention is a tactical concept - do I execute this particular part of the fencing phrase with the objective of hitting the opponent, or is it instead executed to create the conditions under which I can hit in a subsequent part of the phrase?  A first intention​ attack is thus an attack in which the objective is to land on the initial attack.  This may be a simple attack, a compound attack, an attack with footwork preparation, an prepared by an attack on the blade, an attack prepared with a taking of the blade, or a riposte (direct, indirect, compound, etc.).   This does not mean that the defender will not successfully parry the attack and riposte.  It does mean that if the attacker has chosen the right moment and distance, and no defensive actions intervene, that the attack is coming to hit.

At this and each subsequent level of intention, the actions you take are planned - I plan to hit on my first action, or on the second, etc.  This is different from attacking, being parried, and descending into a parry-riposte battle with the only goal being survival.

So what is second intention?  Well, the simple answer is a fencing cliché - you attack with a false attack deliberately short to draw the opponent's parry and riposte so that you can counterriposte to hit.  That is "second intention" as it is most commonly taught.  This sequence in the phrase has the advantage of fixing the opponent so that she does not retreat out of your attack (because she sees the opportunity to score easily), and of stimulating the opponent to extend his blade and lunge into your reach for your counterriposte 

But is that all there is?  Ah - no.  Second Intention can be defined more correctly as any planned action that you take to draw a response which creates the opportunity to hit the opponent.  For example, in foil I invite in fourth (understanding that the fourth invitation opens the line in sixth), so that you will attack in sixth.  Your attack is met by my second intention parry and counterriposte. 

Countertime actions are also fundamentally second intention.  In sabre, I execute a slow attack to draw your stop hit, so that I can stop hit your stop hit in counteroffensive countertime or parry and riposte in defensive countertime.  Note that when you read older classical texts the term countertime is used differently - the more complex modern countertime terminology seems to start to emerge between the World Wars,  

But wait, there is yet another intention, third intention.  Third intention actions are executed to defeat the opponent's second intention.  To take our first example, fencer A attacks with a false attack, fencer B answers with a parry and false riposte, allowing fencer A to complete second intention with the first counterriposte, leading to fencer B executing third intention with a parry and second counterriposte.  In epee, two third intentions are the feint in tempo (a disengage of the stop hit to defeat defensive countertime) or the stop hit on the stop hit of the stop hit executed as a counterattack in tempo.

And there is fourth intention, planned actions you take to defeat an opponent's third intention to defeat your second intention.  As might be expected, this is very difficult to realize as it requires an opponent who can be led through the intricate dance involved.  Parise in 1884 mentions third and fourth intention actions but does not describe them.  He suggests that they are almost impossible to execute.  In a more modern Italian text, Mangiarotti and Cerchiari's 1966 La Vera Scherma​, third intention appears, suggesting that third intention survived the intervening years, but that fourth intention had been abandoned at the latest by that date.

Actions of more than one intention approach being a tactical art form, requiring evaluation of the opponent's habitual responses, perfect false actions that create a believable narrative, and a psychological understanding of the opponent's tactical though processes.  From second intention on, this is the chess game requiring thinking multiple actions ahead while understanding what the opponent's responses will be.  As a spectator, the pity is that you can see second intention but that third and fourth intention are invisible, existing only in the fencers' minds.  

A note - the North American Mangiarotti Society's May continuing education topic (at includes a discussion of Mangiarotti's view of intention.  Mangiarotti's career spanned the end of the classical period and the start of modern fencing, and his perspectives are of value in understanding earlier Italian technique. 

May 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  Intention refers to?

  • a.  a planned tactical decision as to whether an action is intended to hit or to create conditions for a hit later in a phrase
  • b.  the sequence of parries and ripostes in any phrase executed by the fencer who first attacked
  • c.  the degree to which you commit to an action.

2.  QUESTION:  Which of the following actions is an example of second intention?

  • a.  an attack delivered with two or more blade movements
  • b.  a feint in tempo
  • c.  an invitation to draw an attack so that you can parry and riposte

3.  QUESTION:  In the following action you are Fencer B.  You have watched Fencer A, know that he likes to use a compound riposte in second intention, and believe that you can successfully defeat the riposte with a stop hit.  Fencer A attacks, Fencer B parries and ripostes with a false riposte, Fencer A parries and compound counterripostes, Fencer B hits with a stop hit against the compound riposte.  What intention is your action?

  • a.  second intention
  • b.  third intention
  • c.  fourth intention

April 2017 - A Variety of Counterattacks

Counterattacks have long been a part of fencing in all three weapons.  As the term suggests by its name, a counterattack is an action made by one fencer to score a hit in reaction to an attack initiated by the other fencer.  With sharp weapons, the counterattack could literally stop the attack as it developed by inflicting a wound that prevented continued forward movement.  With the two conventional fencing weapons, the rules started with a series of propositions as to which type of action had precedence over the other.  This eventually evolved into the concept that a counterattack took the opponent's right of way if it landed before the start of the final action of the attack.  The dueling sword preserved the reality of he who hits first wins.

Central to the idea of the counterattack is the idea of time, both actual time (in the case of the dueling sword) and tempo (in foil and sabre).  Remember that one tempo is the amount of time needed for the completion of a simple action.  However, this has not always been the only definition of tempo.  Paolo Bertelli's 1800 fencing treatise discusses actions in time in the terms of movement, faults of movement, and blade actions by the opponent which create the conditions in which the fencer can launch a time action to hit.  As late as 1884 Masaniello Parise defined tempo in a similar way as a favorable moment in which an action can be executed when the opponent pauses or is distracted.

The following examples show the variety and subtleness of differences between them (and this is not a complete list of contemporary variations).  In 1884 Parise lists four pure blade actions in tempo:

  • Arrest - a straight thrust closing the line against feints or disengages.
  • Appuntata - an action from the lunge to land on the opponent's feint when the opponent detaches to riposte with a feint.
  • Cavazione in Tempo - a disengage counterattack against an opponent who tries to find the fencer's extended blade.
  • Imbroccata - an opposition counterthrust against gliding attacks starting in the fourth or second lines.  

In 1892 Louis Rondelle lists three counterattacks:

  • Time Thrust - a thrust with opposition that intercepts the attacker's final action, preventing it from landing with opposition while simultaneously scoring a hit.
  • Stop Thrust - an extension of the arm at the start of an opponent's attack or in a wide feint to stop the execution of the attack.
  • Tension - condemned by Rondelle as an action of chance driven by desperation, this is an extension of the arm in an attempt to hit the incoming attacker. 

The American translation of the 1908 French fencing manual of Joinville du Pont lists three types of attacks:

  • Time Thrust (coup de temps) - a counterattack that gains one or more tempos on the opponent's attack.  In other words, this is the modern stop hit which seizes right of way by landing before the start of the final attack.
  • Stop Thrust (coup d'arret) - an attack executed on the opponent's advance, whether or not this advance leads to an attack.  This appears to be the modern attack into preparation.
  • Tension - elevated in this source to a simple extension of the arm without cover, a riposte without a parry, and very close to the modern stop hit. 

In 1915 Master of the Sword George Patton described three counterattacks with the epee:

  • Stop Thrust - an action directed at an exposed part of the opponent who is making a vigorous attack.
  • Counter Thrust - a direct action counterattacking the opponent at the psychological moment at which he is initiating his attack and is most unlikely to effectively react.
  • Time Thrust - a thrust made when the opponent is changing position or making a slow or poor feint.

Julio Martinez Castello's 1933 text described two counterattacks:

  • Time Thrust - a counterattack with opposition catching the opponent's blade and preventing its movement to the desired final line of the attack.
  • Stop Thrust - a thrust with complete extension and opposition against a bent arm or wide attack.

In 1948 Clovis Deladrier identified the same basic actions that are commonly used in modern fencing.

  • Stop Thrust - a straight thrust executed on the moment of the advance or the start of the attack to land cleanly before the attack lands.
  • Time Attack - a counterattack by extension closing the line into which the opponent is expected to attack.

When we examine this list, we can identify certain common characteristics for counterattacks:

(1)  delivered against the attack, either when the attacker is exposed, hesitates, or uses actions that require multiple tempos to complete,

(2)  in most cases based on the straight thrust,

(3)  often with opposition, either to control the opponent's blade or to close the line as a precaution,

(4)  requiring the ability to identify the moment, whether that moment is psychological in determining the attack or physical with the start of movement, and

(5)  delivered with decision, speed, and courage,

(6)  and in accordance with the specific theories of a fencing master or a school of fencing.

The variety of terminology and the subtleties of interpretation in defining the varieties of stop thrusts, time thrusts, counter thrusts, tensions, etc. mean that it is important that your teaching of technique and terminology is consistent with that of the texts you use as sources.

April 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  Which of the following is the best practice when teaching counterattacks?

  • a.  use the standard terminology that a stop hit is direct and must land before the start of the final tempo and that a time hit is a stop hit with opposition
  • b.  use the most current terminology used by the school that you are teaching
  • c.  use terminology consistent with the fencing master and text that you use as your source

2.  QUESTION:  What function does opposition perform in a counterattack?

  • a.  it encourages the opponent to deceive the opposition with a circular parry which the counterattacker can then deceive by feint in tempo
  • b.  it causes the opponent to attempt to attack in a different line
  • c.  it intercepts the attack or closes the line so that the attack cannot hit

3.  QUESTION:  What does Patton's Counter Thrust attempt to exploit?

  • a.  the psychological moment in the start of the attack in which it is most vulnerable to disruption
  • b.  the tendency of many attackers to fail to properly cover themselves against a counterattack
  • c.  the moment at which the opponent starts to step forward

March 2017 - A Matter of Hands

In a previous month's continuing education, we made passing reference to hand positions.  This is a complicated subject that deserves more attention, because varies are a characteristic of different schools and because it influences the outcomes of combat.

Note that the following descriptions reference blade positions applicable to foil and epee.  The hand positions described are also correct in sabre, but the curve of the blade is sideways when mounted in the weapon, rather than vertical.

The French School defines three basic hand positions for the weapon hand - supination, pronation, and a middle or neutral position. 

  • In supination the hand is horizontal with the palm upward, and the knuckles downward.  The top surface of the blade (the top surface is the wider surface of the blade that is aligned with the top of the grip and with the bend appearing downward when the grip is held in the neutral position) is to the fencer's outside, with any curve to the blade displacing the point toward the inside.  Used in the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth parries.
  • In pronation, the hand is horizontal with the palm downward and the knuckles upward.  The top surface of the blade is to the fencer's inside, with any curve to the blade displacing the point toward the outside.  In first guard or parry the hand is vertical with the thumb downward and the back of the hand toward the fencer.  Used in the First, Second, Third, and Fifth parries.
  • In middle or neutral position, the hand is vertical with the thumb up and the palm facing to the inside.  The top surface of the blade is upward, and the curve of the blade displaces the point downward.

The French School creates two complete parrying systems, one composed of all the pronated parries and one of all the supinated parries. Texts describing the French School vary as to whether the middle or neutral position is an accepted hand position.  Some exclude it; some include it, and some include it but only for one guard or parry (typically Fourth).  Other schools use variants of the French system:

  • The Spanish School (which combines some elements of the French and some of the Italian Mixed Schools) prefers the use of the middle position for all guards and parries. 
  • The Kreusslerian Thrust Fencing School (German, as described by Roux) uses pronation (Second and Third parries) and supination (Fourth parry). 

Siebenhaar's Hollandsche Methode (the Dutch School) lacks a detailed description of how to hold the weapon.  However, the illustrations and descriptions of technique appear to show four parries with a modified supination, turning the nails "a little down" (Parry Right and Parry Low Right) or "a little up" (Parry Left) in three parries, complete supination in one (Parry Low Left),  and complete pronation in three (Low Right with the Hand Inverted, High Left, and High Right parries).

Italian technique starts with four hand positions (see Bertelli in 1800) numbered sequentially First through Fourth.  These same four positions eventually are joined by two, or three, others to form what we commonly think of as the characteristic Italian system;

  • First places the hand in a vertical, thumb down position, with the knuckles and back of the hand toward the inside and the palm toward the fencer's outside line.
  • First in Second is an intermediate position with the hand turned at a 45 degree angle from the vertical between First and Second positions.  This hand position doe snot appear in all Italian texts.
  • Second is a position of complete pronation with the knuckles and back of the hand upward and the palm downward.  Used in the Second parry.
  • Second in Third is an intermediate position with the hand turned at a 45 degree angle from the horizontal between Second and Third positions.  Used in the Third parry. 
  • Third is essentially the same as the French middle position with the hand vertical, the thumb uppermost, the knuckles and back of the hand to the outside, and the palm to the inside.
  • Third in Fourth is an intermediate position with the hand turned at a 45 degree angle from the vertical between Third and Fourth positions.  Used in the Fourth and Half-Circle parries.
  • Fourth is a position of complete pronation with the knuckles and back of the hand downward and the palm upward. 

Hand position plays a significant role in whether or not the attack or counterattack arrests under the pressure of the bout.  Some period texts emphasize the arrival of the point as placing the point on the target, an approach that values accuracy in point control.  However, the reality is that stress degrades accuracy.  A relatively small horizontal deviation with the thumb and index finger in supination or pronation introduces a probability of a miss.  The same deviation in the hand in the middle position is a vertical deviation with the probability of hitting the target or at least off target.     

There is another variable in hand position that is not generally identified as important as pronation and supination, but obviously is.  Does the grip and pommel remain in the contour of the hand, or is the pommel displaced, with the blade forming an angle with the hand and arm?  French First and Barbasetti's Italian First with the blade vertical requires the blade, grip, and pommel to rotate free of alignment with the horizontal groove of the palm into the vertical groove.  Similar displacement occurs in two of Siebenhaar's Dutch parries.  Depending on the characteristic length of the grip this may be a factor in angulation in attacks as well. 

March 2017 Review

  1.  QUESTION:  In which hand position are the nails and palm up, the thumb toward the outside line, and the back of the hand downward?

  • a.  supination or Italian Fourth
  • b.  middle position or Italian first
  • c.  pronation or Italian second

2.  QUESTION:  The Spanish School, which uses a modification of the Italian family of grips, predominantly uses what hand position or positions?

  • a.  the full range of Italian hand positions, first, second, second in third, third, third in fourth, and fourth
  • b.  the full range of French hand positions, supination, pronation, and middle
  • c.  the French middle or neutral hand position

3.  QUESTION:  Which hand positions offer the greatest tolerance of point displacement errors in the riposte?

  • a.  those with the hand horizontal, the palm up, knuckles down, thumb to the outside
  • b.  those with the hand vertical, the palm to the inside, knuckles to the outside, thumb on top
  • c.  those with the hand horizontal, the palm down, knuckles up, thumb to the inside

February 2017 - Positions, Guards, Invitations, etc.

In our January continuing education post, we discussed lines, specifically including the standard high line, low line, inside line, and outside line.  These lines are numbered in a system that varies with the school and that has as much to do with the historical orientation of the fencer's hand, as it does with the physical space covered.  The lines are an important construct because of what happens in them, and that is our topic for this month.

When we talk about lines we are talking about two static concepts (position and guard), two offensive acts (attacks and invitations), and two defensive acts (closing the line and parries).  All of these are about the same thing, how the space around the fencer's target area is used.

First, for convenience, let's review the lines and the numbering system associated with those lines in the two most commonly described schools of fencing, the French and the mixed Italian (note that (p) indicates hand in pronation and (n or s) hand in supination in the French school):

The Lines



  Inside Line

 Entire line

  First (p)


 Inside High Line

  Fourth (n or s)


 Inside Low Line

  Fifth (p),  Seventh (n or s)


  Outside Line

 Outside High Line

  Third (p), Sixth (n or s)


 Outside Low Line

  Second (p), Eighth (n or s)


This is admittedly an oversimplification (it omits high and low variants as well as differences between Italian sources).  But it will serve as a convenient basis for discussion.  It should be noted that French numbering creates two defensive boxes, based on hand position: the supinated or neutral hand box of 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th and the pronated hand box of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th.

POSITION is the actual position of the blade, hand, and arm in one of the four lines relative to the target.  The presumption is that the positions of 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th close the line so that an attack into that line without angulation or opposition will not succeed.  There is one additional position adopted by some portion of the contemporary classical fencers, the central position in which the blade is positioned at the intersection of high and low, inside and outside lines.

GUARD is the combination of blade position with body position in readiness for combat.  A fencer who is in a guard of 4th has the inside line closed, the torso, non-weapon arm, and legs in a position that facilitates movement in offense, defense, and counteroffense.  In common usage, position is not commonly referred to, and guard serves interchangeably for describing the line of the blade.

ATTACKS and preparations are executed in one or more lines.  Thus a feint to the inside high line can be described as a feint to the inside high line or as a feint in 4th.  In those schools in which hand position is considered descriptive of the action (such as in French school) the attack is normally described by the appropriate number - thus an attack in 2nd or in 8th depending on whether the hand is in pronation or a neutral position.

INVITATIONS are actions conducted to stimulate an opponent to execute a specific attack so that the attack can be parried, followed by a riposte to score, or can be hit by counteroffense.  English language texts of the French School do not generally make a point of naming invitations.  However, Italian sources name invitations based on the resemblance of the invitation to a parry.  Thus an invitation of 4th resembles a parry of 4th and opens the opposite line, the high outside line.

CLOSING THE LINE is defensive in nature, although it can be both the restoral of a defensive blade position and as a part of an attacking action to prevent a successful counterattack (thus defending the attack from interference).  The fencer closes the line of 4th.

PARRIES are the operationalization of a blade position and the guard to defend the fencer from a specific attack.  Parries are almost always referred to by number, thus a 4th parry defends the inside high line from a high inside attack.  Where the blade ends up in a parry does not always conform to a guard, both because of the type of parry executed and because of the action to deliver a riposte.

Thus these terms are closely linked.  A guard of 4th presumes that the inside high line is closed.  An invitation in 4th falsely opens the outside high line to stimulate an attack in that line.  An attack in 4th tries to fill the opening created by either error or an invitation of 6th.  And a parry of 4th operationalizes the guard to block the attack by closing the line to restore the guard.  It is tempting to say that this is all a matter of word choices.  However, that is not the case.  Each term defines a specific tactical choice - for example, if a line is open you can choose not to close it to leave it open as an invitation or to close it to restore the guard or to execute a parry.  Understanding that each is a choice is important to being able to applying tactics to the bout to reach a positive outcome.

February 2017 Review

1.  QUESTION:  What is the difference between a guard and a parry?

  • a.  there is no difference - a guard properly taken is a parry
  • b.  there is no practical difference between a guard and a parry - when the parry is completed against the opponent's attack it will always form a guard
  • c.  a guard is a combination of blade and body position; a parry is the operationalization of the blade position in the guard to defend against a specific attack

2.  QUESTION:  In the period 1880-1939 how are attacks described in relation to lines in most cases?

  • a.  attacks are described by the line into which they are made, typically by the number of the line (Italian) or line and hand position (French)
  • b.  attacks are described by the line from which they originate, typically by the description of the line, such as a high outside attack
  • c.  attacks are not described by lines, but rather by the correct parry that would be used to defeat them

3.  QUESTION:  Closing the line is described in this article as being defensive.  How can you explain its use in an attack?

  • a.  closing the line is not defensive; it is always an offensive action
  • b.  properly done closing the line prevents the opponent from easily executing a time or stop action into the attack, thus defending the attack from interference
  • c.  this is an example of how fencing terminology creates confusion - there is no relationship between defensive closing the line and offensive closing the line

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