Learning The Fencing Skills

Skills cover a wide range of sensory and motor activity called motor skills. Motor skills, which coaches are mainly concerned with in levels of performance, are manipulative, overall body skills, co-ordination, flexibility and reaction skills, including perception.

Skill must develop in a sensible order and should have an end result. It is achieved with repetitive practice.

Fencing skills require sensory input (stimulus):

  • Processing of information received.
  • Output (response) movement. Constant feedback and evaluation.

On Guard

This is the position from which you can either attack or defend. lt is a balanced position. One should be able to pick the feet up and put them down without moving the centre of gravity.

First, stand upright and place the feet at right angles (heel to heel); move the right heel forward the length of your right foot, to where the toe was then move it again to where the top shoe lace was. (The distance between your two heels should now be approximately 1 2/3 the length of your foot.) This I have found suitable for fencers since the taller the person, the larger his feet. Therefore, his stance will need to be wider than that of a smaller person.

Now bend the knees. From this position, you should just be able to see your toe in front of the knee. Next, place your hips to the front, body upright, rear arm raised, elbow just above the level of the shoulder, sword arm extended so that elbow is one hand span from body, forearm at the horizontal and head looking straight ahead. The point of the foil overlooking your opponent’s left shoulder should be in a straight line with your elbow. The classical style for your back arm is held there for several reasons.

  1. It opens the rib cage, giving you greater breathing capacity.
  2. It keeps the arm out of the way, the ruling being that if any of the rear arm covers the target, the fencer will incur a warning, which, if repeated, will result in a hit being awarded against him for that bout only.
  3. It reduces the size of the target by keeping the left shoulder well back.
  4. Like the rudder of a ship, it balances and guides the body when making the lunge and prevents the body from falling forward when making the lunge. Falling over with a mask on is particularly painful.


First try and pick your feet up without swaying the body backwards and forwards. Next, start moving forward and back, still high stepping, keeping small steps. Big steps lose time and also give a false awareness of distance; and they also affect judgement. Try moving backwards and forwards like an Eastern dancer, as on a cushion of air.

When performing these exercises or training skills, beginners should have frequent breaks as antagonistic muscles soon get tired.

To learn the step forward, first place the toe of the right foot on a line, then move the foot forward to place the heel on the line (so that you have moved forward one length of your foot). To make it clearer, lift the front toe, move the foot across the floor, place the heel down and smartly bring the rear-foot forward, at the same time as the front toe comes down. This means that the step forward is one movement and not, as is often practised, two movements. When practising the step, keep the rear leg bent, which will prevent it from being brought too near the front foot.

The best exponent of mobility and the lunge was John Feathers, the Australian National Coach.


For the following exercise, pupils should be in pairs, one with and one without a foil. The pupil without a foil stands on guard with the feet the correct distance apart. The pupil with the foil places the point against one heel and holds the foil against the other heel. He keeps hold of the foil and then asks the other person to move forward and backward, then stop. Check the gap between the heels and adjust. it is surprising how pupils get to know their distance this way. Pupils can also lunge and recover and check the distance.

When moving, the body should not bob up and down. If you have a gym beam, lower it to the on guard height and move forward and back beneath it. This will prevent any bobbing. If a beam is not available, a long bamboo cane held over the fencer‘s head by the coach will achieve the same effect.

The advance followed immediately by the lunge is known as an attack by en marchant. It is useful for both simple and complex movements and develops a sense of time. Scientifically, it is better because when attacking from a straight lunge, you have to overcome initial inertia, but preceded by a step forward more power can be executed in the lunge.

The Lunge

The lunge is the basis of attack, the method of delivering the body towards your opponent at a practical distance so that you are able to hit your opponent with sufficient force. It is learned early and is practised continually. The lunge is in two parts: first, the development; second, the return or recovery. Try and think of it as one unbroken movement and remember that it has not been fully executed until the return to the on guard position.


First, extend the arm, not from the shoulder, but from the manipulators. The extension can be compared to stretching a piece of elastic. If you jerk your arm out, you contract the muscle fibres, thereby shortening the extension. Jerk the arm out and check the distance. Next, stretch the arm out from the manipulators. You will notice the difference in distance. When stretching the arm, note that the body does not lean forward.

Next, lift the front toe. Note that the body does not lean back. Thrust from the back leg, projecting the body forward and reserve the final burst of speed for the end.

Distance is important. if you are too close you will not have reached full speed and if too far away, you have overreached, and speed is reduced as well as power. A simple example is to relate development to the firing of a cannon: the cannon ball is put down the front and rammed down, the fuse is fired from the back depending on the barrel angle, the shot is fired, then there is the recoil. The right foot should glide forward. Put a coin under the heel and if you are doing it correctly the coin should be pushed along. Too many fencers lunge off their front foot. One way to get a fencerto use the back leg is for the coach to stand behind with a foil in his hand resting just above the fencer’s rear knee. As the fencer lunges, the coach should lower the foil. If the foil raps the knee, it shows that the fencer did not push off from his back leg. To begin with, concentrate on smoothness of action rather than speed; speed will follow. it is best to stress at this stage the importance of being relaxed. The lunge is the final movement of the attack and so many fencers tense themselves before launching off. The only tightening should be of the manipulators, but the sword-arm should be flexible and the shoulder well down.


The second part of the lunge should be a well-controlled recovery. When lunging, the heel lands slightly before the rest of the foot moves on to its ball, rebounds back on to the heel, pushes off (at the same time bends the rear leg) and recovers in to the on guard position, bending the sword-arm last.


In pairs. One fencer on guard, the other with four objects for marking:

  1. The fencer lunges. Mark the spot.
  2. The fencer does a step and lunges with the front foot only. Mark the spot.
  3. The fencer does two Steps and lunges with the front foot only. Mark the Spot.
  4. The fencer lunges. Mark the spot.

Notice that the fourth lunge reaches further than the first because the muscles have been stretched.The coach can influence the distance of the pupil’s lunge by altering the tone of his voice: soft, medium soft, loud, very loud.

The rear arm is very important, as it is used as a balance and keeps the body from falling forward. Keep it parallel to the rear leg with fingers outstretched.

More Foot Movements


This is a sharp rap with the front foot. Imagine the pawing of a horse, where the action is from the knee down. Another method is to hold the foil and place the tip in front of the foot, then kick it. This can be used as a preparation or a diversionary action to distract the opponent from your sword.


The balestra is a follow through of l’appel by a jump forward. Lift the front toe, jump forward the same distance as a step forward, making sure you do not jump upwards and that you are well balanced so that both feet come down together, in order to follow with a lunge. it you are wanting greater distance, bring the rear toot closer to the front foot, then lunge, keeping the rear leg bent so as to get maximum power in the lunge.

Jump-back (also Balestra)

This is a defensive movement which also can be used as an offensive movement. Jump back and lunge as the opponent moves forward on your jump-back.

The Fléche (Arrow)

Much practice must be put into this movement because once committed, it is impossible to stop. The movement is a sudden surprise attack and, as with all surprise attacks, its use should be limited to when the distance and timing are right, for instance, when the opponent has let slip his concentration.

From the on guard position, lean forward keeping the sword-arm straight. When you feel loss of balance, bring the rear leg through. The front leg now extends vigorously. As the rear leg touches the ground the point should have reached the target. With a flying fleche, the point will have arrived well before both feet touch the floor.

It is important when doing the fleche that you also have strong quadriceps and flexibility in the ankle of the front leg. As the rear leg lands, the weight of the body is transferred forward, releasing the front leg to push vigorously.

Various other steps can be employed, either to close the distance suddenly or just to get out of reach. For a cross-step forward, bring the rear foot in front of the front foot, then bring the front foot forward, finishing in the on guard position. There is also the cross-step backward, and the half cross-step forward which involves taking the rear foot in front of the front foot and then lunging. The half-cross-step backward involves bringing the front foot behind the rear foot, then bringing the front foot forward again and lunging. A favourite ploy of mine is to go back two or three paces so that the opponent is really moving forward, and then to lunge. Balance is essential. Another movement is the back lunge: take the rear leg backwards, finishing in the lunge position.

Simple Aattacks

Another practice which is useful for dexterity is to stand upright and walk towards your partner with arm straight, disengaging each time as the partner goes from sixte to quarte and so forth, finishing with the hit.

Next, progression: extend the arm and lungs, starting off with one disengage, then two, then more, while your partner does lateral parries.

Disengages need not only be done laterally, but also vertically, going from high to low and low-to high. Hitting in the low line requires a different finish, pronation (knuckles on-top) on the flank and supination (fingers upright) on the stomach. When your partner does a circular movement, disengage on the final part.

As previously mentioned, you should be loose in the shoulders, arm and fingers, and also alert to the possibilities of attacking. Many fencers tense up before the initial attack, so practise with a partner choosing the opportunity to attack and disengage on the parry. As practice improves, the partner should overload the change of distance, the cadence of his arm and blade movements.

The Cut-Over or French Coupé

This is the action of taking the blade over your opponent’s, extending and lunging. It should be used against an opponent who has a low guard. The result is a pressure caused by slightly turning the hand, either to pronation (in quarte) or supination (in sixte) drawing the wrist back, then hitting. The common fault is drawing the arm back and being hit with a counter-attack. This action loses the fencer the right of way. From out of distance and absence of blade, the action of waggling the blade with the fingers in front of a person’s face can cause that moment of hesitation, either giving you time to deliver the attack or making his counter attack out of time.

The Counter Disengagement

An action by disengagement on a fencer’s change of engagement. With a change of engagement fencers will often engage the blade then immediately disengage and engage the blade the other side. This can be done several times, often to see some form of response either by preparing for an attack or provoking an attack. Now comes the counter disengagement. On opponent’s change of engagement, for example, when engaging in sixte the opponent disengages and attempts to engage your blade in quarte. You should disengage (follow the other blade) extend and lunge. One very noticeable fault when counter disengaging is to follow the other blade round to touch it before lunging. Counter disengagement can be done in low lines, but is not often used.


To parry either by quarte or sixte (lateral high parries) or septime or octave (lateral low parrles).

Lateral Parry

These are simple or instinctive parries from sixte to quarte. The blade and arm are carried over in a parallel line from one shoulder to the other, placing the forte of your blade against the blade of your opponent, with the characteristic of deflection, ready for the immediate riposte.

First, without the foil, practise shaking hands; replace the hand with the sword and you will have the right position in quarte. Another practice involves working in groups of three. One lunges, one parries and the other stands at the side with his foil against the defender’s coquille (guard). When one fencer lunges, the defender parries while running his guard along the blade of the person at the side. This will ensure that he does not draw his hand back or push it further ahead. This method can also be used in octave and septime.

Circular Parry

From the lateral parry, we can use the circular or counter parry, where the blade scribes a circle coming back to the same spot from where it started. Get a partner to place a finger by the point of the foil when in the on guard position, scribe a circle and the point should come back to the finger. There should be no movement of the hand, in fact with the contraction of the manipulators and a relaxation of the fingers, this can be done easily. Much automatic practice must follow because in a fight, a panic situation will evolve and an easy deception of the blade will follow with no time to make a successive parry.

If you do not make a complete circle, the opposing blade will go through the angle. It you go through more than a circle, the blade will slip under and through.

Some people say you should displace the opponent’s point out of line with the target because of the force of the electric blade (which is stronger than a conventional blade), but if the parry is executed correctly and the fingers immediately relaxed, the riposte can be executed quickly and directly without having to direct the ‘out-of-line point’.

When parrying, get as much of the forearm behind the hand; when you place the point and extend the muscles, do so in a flowing motion with power. if the upper arm, forearm and hand are flexed in different directions, there is no fluidity in the extension.

We are all told to parry with the forte, but parry with the edge as it is sharper than the flat side. Try it with your finger. When in sixte, have your thumb at one o‘clock; when parrying, turn the thumb to eleven o’clock. This will bring the sharp edge to your Opponent’s blade and will also ensure that the point remains in line. if the point lags behind, the opposing blade can come over the angle and if the point goes too far, the Opposing blade goes through the angle beneath. Also the riposte is delayed.

Semi-Circular Parry

i find these parries are very little practised, as chiefly the arm is used in a wild arc to sweep away the opponent’s blade. By using a large movement, it can be deceived by a feint in the low line, then coming over the top.

The action spans half a circle, no less and no more. If less, the opposing blade can come through; it more, the opposing blade will come off the top of the guard. Use the manipulators to swing in an inward arc so as to keep the blade out. Leave the point in line with the target and riposte, keeping control of the blade. To riposte high, keep the hand still and use the fingers to place the point. The semi-circular parry can be used in attacks in the high line but the hand needs to be a little higher, therefore making it high septime or high octave.

You can practise doing octave-sixte-octave or septime-quarte-septime against any vertical object. This practice will make sure the blade only goes into the required position. Keep the action of the wrist to a minimum and do not let the elbow swing out.

Octave is useful in that if a person attacks high, the pupil can either parry sixte, quarte-high septime, or even high quinte.

The Riposte

From the parry comes the riposte: an offensive action after successfully parrying the attack. It can be immediate or delayed, detached or with opposition. It is best to riposte when the opponent is still coming forward on his lungs, as then he has no time to recover. The manipulators are relaxed when projecting the point on to the target. Many commands, such as ‘Parry quarte riposte’ are given, but the pupil is not made aware of where he should be aiming. The fencer should be made aware of aiming the point at a given place, that is ‘an opening line’, and training should be given as such. If the riposte is delayed, make sure the opponent is not one who renews an attack, because by delaying the riposte, there is a period of fencing time lost; however, by delaying, the defender can see what line the attacker is going into, and while the attacker is closing one line he is opening another and that is where the riposte should go.

With a ‘detached’ parry (that is, after immediately parrying take the blade away to riposte) the riposte should be direct. From an opposition parry, the riposte depends on distance, and also on the Opponent’s reaction.

  1. At a short distance, riposte should be direct.
  2. At lunging distance, it should be direct or compound.
  3. At a longer distance the riposte should always be indirect as a simple riposte would not succeed.

When training, it is best to start work at a short distance because it is important to learn to relax the arm when riposting. Imagine the point as a piece of elastic. It is extended in a smooth action by pressure of the thumb, therefore extending the fibre muscles, giving them a longer stretch. Test by jerking the arm out with fingers extended, which finish short of a wall. Next, stretch the arm out in a fluid motion and you will find the fingers touching the wall, because in jerking you contract (shorten) the muscle.

The coach should insist on a properly executed parry, so as to be able to execute a proper riposte by redirecting the point which finishes out of line. If the hand or arm moves, the riposte could land off target or miss altogether.

To speed up the riposte, use your voice or speed up your parry, or even take a short-cut by parrying early. The sound of the parry will also guide you to the success of the riposte.

If the coach makes small movements, the pupil will also.

Counter Riposte

The counter riposte is an offensive action after successfully parrying the riposte or counter riposte. Odd numbers of counter ripostes are made by the attacker; even numbers of counter ripostes are made by the defender.

It is considered that the ability to make counter ripostes in a fight shows expertise because it shows skill in all its forms, controlled technique, co-ordination, timing and also tactical awareness to outwit your opponent. The more you practise counter ripostes, the more confident you become in your attacks and parries because you know that if the attack fails, you can fall back on the counter riposte.

To use it as a premeditated movement, lunge as though you are making the attack, but lunge short, draw the parry riposte, parry the riposte and drive home with the counter riposte.

Compound Attacks

Compound attacks consist of two or more blade movements, each previous movement being a feint. Example, from engagement:

  • Disengage, disengage (one-two) . cut-over, cut-over
  • Cut-over, disengage
  • Disengage, cut-over
  • Counter disengage, disengage

These can be done from all positions. With absence of blades:

  • Feint of straight thrust, disengage
  • Feint high and low
  • Feint low, come high
  • Feint of straight thrust or counter parry
  • Disengage (double) done on .,a counter parry

A compound attack should be set up, and then executed without a pause. A compound attack requires complete dexterity of the manipulators and the ability to sell the movement you are making. For instance, if you wanted to do a ‘one-two’, make one or two false attacks to ascertain your opponent’s parry. After deciding he does a parry of quarte from sixte, make a deep penetrating lunge as your opponent parries, relax the manipulators, dip your blade under your opponent’s and hit.

This is where the progressive compound attack is important. At lunging distance and sitting well down on your back leg to gather power, start with the blade movement followed closely by the front foot driving off from the rear leg. Draw the parry, deceive and hit at the same time as landing with the front foot. You should be in full acceleration when hitting your opponent. If you are too close, you will not have reached full speed, and if you are too far away, acceleration will have died down. Many compound attacks fail because of incorrect distance and lack of power in the lunge. People who lunge correctly are John Feathers, National Coach in Australia, Kirsten Palm of Sweden and Monicka Pulch of West Germany. It you can force your opponent to parry early, the more time and perception you have of his reaction parry, the better the chance of hitting him with a compound attack. Remember, the arm must be straightening and in line with the target.

Practise in pairs, first making one or two false attacks, the defender choosing any form of defence with his blade. The attacker then tries to deceive the defending blade. Next stage, do it progressively (with the blade travelling forward in one movement). Next, do it with an attack en marche. A big problem is that the attacker then fails to make his first movement penetrating enough and makes his second movement too early (before the other person has parried). In effect, the attacker has parried himself.

In training, you have two choices:

  1. You lunge and hit.
  2. You lunge as defender parries, you deceive and hit.

The defender must make the parry only when the attacker makes a deep feint. Common faults include the use of the arm from the shoulder. Large movements will slow down the attack, giving the defender a greater chance to do a successive parry. It will also increase the chance of your going off target. Make sure that you do not bend your arm while deceiving the opposing blade, except when doing broken time.

Broken Time

Broken time literally means time that is broken up by a pause in the normal pattern and it is intended to confuse the opponent. During the confusion, the attacker can place his point where he wishes. Broken time can be badly executed direct attacks such as bending the arm as you lunge, or a cut-over as an attack or a riposte. There could be a pause as the arm is brought back to disengage over the blade. To help eliminate this,do it only on a person on a low guard. Make more use of the manipulators and, also, if you engaged the person’s blade first on the release, it will spring back giving you time to execute the movement.

Renewals Of An Attack

In a fight between beginners, it will be noticed that one attacks and the other parries without riposting. The attacker renews the attack but because of poor technique, the defender is able to parry again. If the defender is in the habit of riposting, it is no good continuing with the attack. An experienced fencer can often be frustrated that an attack is blocked by a ‘panic parry’ because when danger threatens, fear can overcome many difficulties. Make sure that only the blade is deflected; do not follow the parry downwards. Relax the fingers, bring the blade round and replace the point. This is called the redouble, that is renewing the attack in the opposite line or the same line. (Lines are explained in the section on simple attacks (see page 23).) Redoubles can be made with the cut-over, counter disengagement or disengagement. In the same line, the attacker can bend his arm and replace the point direct or by compound (for instance, one-two). The fencer can bring his rear foot up and angulate round the blade. Redoubles are often made at close-quarter fencing and one jabs away. As long as you can wield the sword the president will not call halt. A redouble can be classified as a premeditated attack: the attacker has seen the defender, does not riposte, attacks and does an immediate redouble after the parry. Distance is another important factor: if you wish to disengage and are too close, you will not be able to keep your arm straight.

The Remise

The remise is a renewing of the attack by replacing the point in the same line without any further action of the body or blade. When parried, relax the fingers when the defender takes away his blade; after the parry close the fingers and replace the point by pushing forward after the hit. Distance is important.

The Reprise

The reprise is executed either forward or backward by going through the on guard position and lunging again. This was the favourite movement of German fencer, Monicka Pulch, an aggressive attack that made her opponent retreat, followed by a fast reprise, or even two or three if the defender was in full flight. ‘As in warfare, if the enemy is in retreat, keep at them; do not let them settle down and dig in.’ Monicka Pulch won an Olympic lndividual Silver and Team Gold.

With a reprise backward, knowing your opponent comes forward on your return to guard, replace the front heel and then lunge again. Execution of the reprise forward needs great flexibility of the rear knee joint; bend the rear knee, bringing up the rear-foot, then lunge again. The main fault is use of the rear hip which brings the body up before lunging again. Reprise forward.

Distance is an important factor. An experienced fencer will step back just out of reach, so the fencer needs only to bring the rear foot up a small distance. Somebody else might step further back so the rear leg needs to come up further. It is also possible to do a cross-legged reprise. When working together, step back only when the lunge is coming at you. If you step back before the lunge, the other person instead of doing a lunge followed by a reprise will do a step forward followed by a lunge.

Preparations Of Attack

Gaining and breaking ground; attacks on the blade; pressure, beat, graze coulé, prise de fer, bind, croisé, envel0pment, froissement, reaction and deflection.

All movements that precede an attack are called preparations. They can be done with body or blade movements or a combination of both. The hardest thing to achieve when combining body and blade is co-ordination. You need to work body and blade together, and co-ordinate it cohesively. Movements of the body can also be complex so to begin with, it is best to keep movements simple. Preparations can also be used for defensive movements, such as a parry riposte or a counter riposte.

Many presidents cannot distinguish between an attack and a preparation. Some forms of preparation take priority, for instance, the feint is immediately followed by the final movement. Other forms of preparation must be followed by the attack, such as a beat lunge. It is the most vulnerable time for the ‘preparer’ because his Opponent can attack. Preparations must be practised a great deal, that is attack en marche, step forward, lunge or an attack could be executed on the step forward. The step must be small, followed immediately by the lunge. A step forward with a bent arm does not give priority, but if the opponent does not attack on the preparation, the right of way is still neutral.

Gaining and breaking ground can be done by the step forward, step back, balestra, jump-back, a cross-step or moving the rear foot closer to the front foot or a lean forward of the body. In doing backward movements, step back, taking the front foot further back nearer to the back foot in order for the body balance to lean forward (as a preparation for a fleche).

The appel combined with a jump forward can cause a defensive action on the part of the Opponent. The leg and arm movements can be done separately (double preparation) or together (compound preparation).

The Engagement

If your opponent has a sufficient angle to his blade, you will find it easier to engage in one of three places:

  1. With the foible to the forte.
  2. With the foible to the middle.
  3. With the forte to the opponent’s foible.

By having the foible against the forte, it makes sure the opponent is properly covered, but leaves the attacker open to an attack. With both blades in the middle there is no advantage with the forte on the opponent’s foibie as one can open the opponent’s line while being covered. Therefore, the engagement can prepare an attack by fixing the opponent’s hand, followed by a pressure, a beat, or frolssement, without a large movement of the hand.

The engagement can be used in attack to cause a reaction, taken well forward, started strongly and followed through. it can provoke a counter-attack by making a larger hand and arm movement slower. Lastly, it can be done to provoke an attack. When engaging. start with the point, otherwise the hand could be deceived (dérobement).

Double Engagement

The double engagement involves two changes of engagement. One could be reaction followed by a deflection, or vice versa. The movement is done by manipulation of the fingers, the hand remaining still. Although I have mentioned engagements, they are very suitable for beginners and intermediates, as they control the on guard position. Some fencers like to do a change of engagement either to prepare the attack or to draw a response from the opponent, such as a counter disengage.

When fencers are more experienced, much work is done with absence of blade, and more use is made of feint attacks, false attacks, or attacks on the blade.

False Attacks

A false attack or second intention is a movement made to draw a response from the opponent to enable you to deliver the real intended movement. For instance, a half-lunge can be used in order to draw a parry riposte while the real intention is to make a counter riposte by parrying that riposte, then hitting. You can provoke a counter-attack by doing an exaggerated preparation, then parrying and riposting.

In doing preparations it is important to maintain distance, also to have a good sense of timing and also to be able to co-ordinate the whole with the hand and leg movements.

Prise de Fer (Taking of the Blade)

Bind – A diagonal movement high to opposite low and vice versa. When using the bind, the danger is of dragging the opponent’s blade across and hitting off target. It is effective when used on a left-handed Opponent who tries to dérobe your parry quarte: counter quarte bind to octave.

Envelopment – A circular movement bringing the blade back to the initial line. The envelopment is mainly used at épée.

Croisé – Taking of the blade vertically from the high line to low and vice versa.

Opposition – A straight thrust down the blade without moving the line of the opponent’s blade. Opposition is usually combined with a disengage. a coulé-disengage, as it keeps the opponent in line. At the last moment disengage with a relaxation of the fingers.

Prises de fer should not be done with a bent arm as it would be difficult to control the forte to the foible. They are best done as a riposte, counter-attack or remise. Prises de fer are useful as they control the opponent’s blade during the action and you know where your Opponent’s blade is. You must realize the importance of controlling with the forte first by executing proper parries in the lines, that is in quarte your opponent’s blade should be resting on the top of your guard with the forte against the foible. if you pronate your wrist, you will allow the other blade to slip off; if you leave the blade behind leaving your fingers in supination, the blade will come through the gap left.

Try doing envelopment of sixte (a complete circle). The coach puts his finger to the pupil‘s point and makes sure it returns to the same place before riposting. In all these prises de fer check the start of the action, then the finish of the action before the hit. Practising the prise de far, from sixte to quarte, bind to octave, envelopment of octave, then back by bind to quarte, envelopment in quarte, finish off by croisé in septime.

You must also be careful not to make too large a lateral movement, because it could evolve into a pressure. Simple dérobements will encourage small movements of the hand. Even though we have used prises de fer as a preparation, I think it best to mention now the defence to such movements, and they are:

  1. The parry.
  2. Avoidance of blade contact by derobing.

There are three different ways to parry:

  1. By opposition, which allows the opponent to take the blade, sixte straight thrust and on the final movement bend the arm into sixte, covering the line. I found this movement difficult to use against the Russians, who really knew how to take the blade, but with the majority of fencers it is very useful.
  2. By ceding, which involves keeping confact with the blade, but at the last moment taking control of where the prise de fer was to finish, that is quarte to octave, but cede into quarte. Left-handers like to cede into prime.
  3. By counter parry, for example, counter sixte on quarte opposition.

Attacks on the Blade


Beats take the form of either deflection or reaction. The beat done with the middle of the blade against the foible of the opponent should be short and crisp, like the sound of a clock ticking. If you turn your hand, you will get a sliding action and lose the effectiveness of the beat. The intensity of the beat should be strong to deflect yet light to react. In both methods it is the action of the manipulators with the aids controlling the sword. When beating with the middle of the blade, hitting with the corner will give a sharper beat than with the flat edge. Try the corner of the blade against your finger, compared with the flat side, you will notice the difference.

Beats can be done in any line, but it must be noticed that the blade, not the movement of the arm, does the beat. If the arm moves, the opponent can deceive the blade and attack. With a partner, practise the beat-return-beat and listen to the sound of the beat. With practice, you should get the sound of a clock ticking. When you have the clock ticking away, one partner disengages as the other blade is on its way back. No movement of the hand is noticeable, just a relaxation of the manipulators.

A beat can be followed by a simple attack or a compound movement. Beats can be done from the disengagement; from a position of absence of blade; when the opponent moves his blade from one position to the other; and finally, from a change of engagement.

Double or Compound

These involve the co-ordination of hand and leg. The double is made with a beat to the blade while the compound preparation is made with a step with the front foot and a beat as the rear foot comes up. Movements should be short and sharp to gain time and distance. it, however, the fencer tries to provoke a movement, it is important that he maintain balance in order to react against an attack with counter-time or parry riposte.


Similar to the beat, it is used to Open or create a reaction. You can either intensify the pressure to follow with an attack or create a reaction to follow with a disengage. Exercises with the pressure are useful since they give you the feel of the blade (sentiment de fer) including the reaction of the opponent’s parries.

Points to look out for: Do not lean too hard on your opponent’s blade on release of the blade your blade could follow it. Also, do not put too much weight on the front leg. Another mistake that is noticeable amongst beginners is the raising of the elbow caused by the turning of the hand to pronation.

The Froissement

The froissement is a sharp action down the opponent’s blade, displacing it by rotating the wrist into supination and doing a straight thrust. This movement is made against an opponent who has a weak guard that is although the hand might be in position, the point points inwards.


Quite often, an experienced fencer coming up against one of superior ability realizes that his attacks are failing, but has a chance with counter-time or second intention. Counter-time is an action to draw a counter-attack parry with a foot movement or a fleche. Counter-time can be done whilst in balance, in the on guard position, parry riposte, or out of balance while on the lunge. Fencers with a good hand or reflexes can do a reflexive counter-time.

Defensive Counter-Time

Fencer A does a preparation of attack; fencer B does a parry riposte; fencer A does a parry riposte.

Counter riposte with second intention:

Fencer A attacks short; fencer B responds with parry riposte; fencer A parries and ripostes, pushing home this time with the riposte.

Offensive Counter-Time

Fencer A makes a false attack; fencer B counter-attacks with a step back; fencer A follows up with a reprise.

Counter-time is a useful action because from the opponent’s mistakes, it is difficult for the opponent to recover. Therefore, make counter-time actions simple with direct or indirect ripostes with or without blade contact.

Practise with your coach. After going through the mechanics of counter-time, step forward with a large engagement. The coach deceives the blade by dérobement, you then parry and riposte. Progress further with the coach stepping back so that you have to lunge; then use it as a choice reaction, making sure then that the point is travelling before the foot. Emphasis should be on coordination. Further progress can be made when the coach adds a parry and you have to do an indirect attack. Once you have got used to these movements, the coach can introduce an attack on the preparation, for instance, he can provoke an attack with an engagement of quarte with the front foot. then parry riposte. Now you have to concentrate on distance and co-ordination. As you become practised in this. the coach should counter-attack at different levels of the hand and line. As you become more expert, the coach should then give choice reaction, first without mobility, then with mobility, then to competition speed. if you make a mistake, go back to the beginning before working up to a high speed. In time, you will succeed automatically.

In fencing, movements are not always what you expect them to be. For example, the counter-attack may be too slow, which makes it necessary to finish with a simple attack, or the opponent might answer the faint and finish with a compound attack. When these possibilities are added to choice reaction, followed by foot movements, you are making progress.

To make these movements succeed, you should be perfectly balanced. To do this, a coach can follow a counter-time action with a final parry riposte, with the pupil doing a counter riposte. Also, the coach could do a negative action, that is make no response to your provocation. The type of riposte can often be determined by the distance involved: parry-quarte-riposte at lunging distance: cut-over at a long distance and prime at a short distance.


Often, beginners will counter-attack through blind panic because they cannot parry. lf the attacker is unsuccessful, the beginner will often score. The expert fencer will use counter-attack on an attacker who:

  1. Uses two-time action.
  2. Makes badly executed attacks.
  3. Attacks high.

The rules state that to be valid, the stop hit must precede the final of the attack by an interval of fencing time, in other words, the hit must arrive before the attacker has begun the final movement of the attack; it is never valid on a simple attack.

It is not a movement l teach beginners because it needs a deep understanding of timing and ability. Presidents also have many interpretations of a counter-attack. Many beginners will also extend their arm in a panic movement without parrying, so learning to parry riposte first is paramount.

if done properly, counter-attacks are of great psychological value against an opponent who likes to attack, but if used against an experienced fencer, beware of counter time. To execute the counter-attack, you must anticipate what the opponent will do: broken-time movements, compound attacks or compound ripostes? At the early stages, you must learn when a counter-time is in time and when it is out. The counter-attack is more of a tactical movement.

The stop hit can be done with immobility, high line or a bending of the knees into the low line; side-stepping (inquatata) with a step back. Remember the difference between the attack into an attack and attack on a preparation (which are not counter-attacks). if the fencer has been taught to observe his opponent and actions as he withdraws his arm, he can counter-attack and then retreat. A fault of this is that the counter-attack is punched out and so the fencer is not relaxed to do a parry riposte in case of counter-time. Observation will also determine whether to do a counter-attack in high or low line depending on the position of the opponent’s hand. A well-timed stop hit will stop an attacker dead in his tracks.

Compound Counter-Attacks

These are really for experienced fencers. Their purpose is to deceive a counter-time. It is difficult for an attacker to do more than one parry during the attack, because of the shortening of distance. Also it is difficult to do more than one feint, for example, a counter attack by one-two. The attacker will not be drawn into parrying a counter-attack unless the counter-attacker extends his arm very early in a feint. To deceive the parry needs very skilful finger work. A very useful way of getting the attacker to react to the feint is by using the appel with the front foot. To assist further with the success of the compound counter-attack, co-ordinate it with a step back, but it needs precise timing as the attacker has more room to resume his parries.

Stop Hit with Opposition and Stop Hit with Interception

There are two objectives:

  1. To hit the opponent.
  2. To deflect and control the opposing blade.

The stop hit with opposition closes the final line of where the attack is finishing. The manipulators place the point in the final line, followed by an extension of the arm. If you do it the other way round you could miss or find yourself counter-opposed. To reinforce the surprise effect, follow with a half-lunge, or with a step forward. Stop hits with Opposition are not effective on bent arms or a cut-over. They are easier to execute in sixte and octave.

The stop hit with interception intercepts the attack before its final line of destination. Feint high, attack low. Counter-attack on the change of line, or as it crosses from one to another. To be effective, the counter-attack should start on the movement of the attack in order to meet the attacking blade at the right time and place. This can be used against an attacker who has been successful once, then immediately tries it again.

The difficulty of these movements means that if you parry too early, it can be deceived; if you parry too late, you are then parrying with the foible.

In practice, the coach can start with compound attacks, getting you to answer the feint to quarte, then intercepting into sixte. You must momentarily answer the feint into quarte for the attacker to go into the second line.


I always say a fencer has committed harakiri if he launches an attack on a straight arm without deflecting it. If the person who has a straight arm bends his arm in the execution of the attack, he loses his right of way. The arm may move, but not bend. If the fencer evades the attempt by the attacker to seek his blade he has made a dérobement, but if he takes the point away from the valid target, he loses his right of way. To make this clear, the line must have been established before the attack is made.

Footwork has no relevant influence on the point in line, only the position of the arm and point. To save any argument, the less movement of the arm, the better; the dérobement should be done with the fingers.

To practise dérobement, start from the straight thrust. The coach should start with a slow lateral movement so that the pupil can operate the dérobement. He should make sure the pupil is successful by doing large movements, but he can vary the lines. To increase the use of the fingers, practise two successive dérobements from an engagement and a beat. Check that the arm and shoulder are relaxed and that it is done with the fingers and no rotation of the hand. Do not lift the hand too high as the wrist will be too angulated, making the dérobement more difficult to execute against a beat. Do not thrust forward but let the opponent run on to the point; leaning forward with the body could make the point miss.

For a choice reaction exercise, if the coach does beat the line and extend, you must parry and riposte.

Fencers are often confused when they see a person with a point in line and even in the lunge position and they do not know what to do. The easiest thing is to do nothing, or even step back. You could stand still and make movements of the blade and you will see attempts to dérobe. By doing this your opponent’s arm will get tired.

Another form of defence is to beat in order to provoke a dérobement, then change beat, which is difficult to evade. if there is difficulty in finding the opponent’s blade, beat in high septime, as it is more difficult to dérobe because of the angles of the blades. During practice, ensure that the blade precedes the leg movements.

You should understand that when attacking and attempting to find the opponent’s straight arm in order to deflect it does not succeed and the attack is continued and both hit at the same time, the person who dérobes is awarded the hit. Essentially the attacker has attempted to find the blade and has failed.

The dérobement needs good finger work, anticipation, timing, calmness and control. It is easier to dérobe from lateral preparations.

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