The Sabre

In Britain, foil is traditionally taught first. This is largely because most coaches are foilists and time and money do not encourage them to go further. But in Hungary, Italy and Russia, there are enough sabre coaches for people to go along and start sabre. To Eastern Europeans there is the tradition of the light, mobile cavalry. Sabre in the army was a traditional cavalry weapon and was very heavy-handed. RG. Anderson, the former Royal Marine competitor and National Coach, revived sabre fencing in England. Electric sabre, I think, will enable a phrase to be easily understood.

In recent years, sabre has fallen in popularity for several reasons. The main ones are lack of coaches, poor presiding and the numerous simultaneous attacks. The new rules ban crossing of the legs and fleching to cut down the number of running charges down the piste. Sabre should be taught separately because sabre movements are not the same as foil; the grip and also the manner of hitting are different. There are also different parries used.

One feature of sabre fencing is that compared to foil fencing, sabreurs seem more ready to practise movements. It could be because of the advanced target, and the fact that defence needs to be tightened (as is the case with épée).

Continued repetition of blade work, footwork and co-ordination of both, will result in precise execution of a stroke, giving time to think of a tactical approach.

The Grip

The grip is different from the foil. Cuts are made by presenting the blade to the target with the straightening of the arm, pulled back with the use of the little finger. Any swinging action will make the cut slow and also uncover your advanced target. Repetition cuts round the target should be practised.

The Target

Imagine riding on a horse. Everything above the level of the horse is the target; including head and arms. Below is ‘off-target’.

The Stance

The stance is similar to the one used at foil except that the head is held more upright because of its being part of the target. The rear hand is placed on the hip to prevent its being hit.

Foot Movements

At sabre, short, sharp movements as of a sprinter are essential. Explosive exercises are needed in training for sabre. Attacks are made with rapid, short steps. The fleche and balestra are other commonly used movements.

As described in the foil section, the lunge is the driving force of the rear leg. The rear arm swings backwards and not sideways, otherwise the front shoulder will swing, causing the blade to miss.


The measure is to that of your opponent’s wrist. The fleche and balestra are that of foil.

Defensive Position

Forearm parallel to the floor; guard facing outward and point pointing further out.


This time with the blade diagonal across the body. This is also known as the Hungarian position.

The Hit

The hit is made in two parts:

  1. The arm is extended.
  2. The out is made with the blade by pulling back the little finger.

Hits can also be made with the point.


Cuts to the right Cheek are made with the arm extended, at shoulder height, and the hand in pronation. Cuts to the head are made with the arm extended, the thumb on top. Make sure that the outside or underneath of the arm is not exposed by swinging or raising the hand. Cuts to the left cheek are made with the arm extended and the hand in half supination.

Cuts to the flank are made by extending the arm slightly down (not too far, otherwise opponent’s out will be made to upper arm). Point the blade down at 45° to the sword-arm, then use the fingers to out. Do not bend the forearm as a stop hit to the arm will hit you.

Cuts to the chest are made by extending the arm in pronation and stroking down. This movement can be likened to a painter stroking with a brush. Do not break at the wrist as it will pull the blade back. Return to guard immediately.

Hits to the arm should be angulated from the wrist so as to avoid being hit on the sword-arm, which is fully extended. With all these movements, repetitions should be made at various distances from short to very long distances. Always aim for precision before speed; if it breaks down, go back to a slower pace, then work up again. Start with one movement, then two, then a combination of movements. Feel the flow of the movement, the sound of the movements and the crispness of the hit.


Attacks can be classified as in foil:

  • Simple or compound.
  • Tactical real or false.
  • As a first intention or second intention. Pre-planned.
  • ‘Open eyes’.

‘Open eyes’ means that the fencer has not pre-planned where he is going to hit and the final hit depends on his opponent’s reactions.

Compound Attacks

A compound attack is made up of two or more blade movements. For example: flank-head, head-flank, head-chest. The position of the hand and arm is important because of stop-cuts. For a head feint, the hand is in semi-supination, level with the shoulder, the point is directed about 10cm (4in) above the mask. For a flank feint, the arm and the blade with cutting edge towards the flank; blade in horizontal position; the hand in pronation. For a chest feint, the arm and blade are extended with cutting edge towards chest; blade horizontal; hand in supination; palm uppermost. The point should be about 10cm (4in) above the target.

If you do a head flank, feint to the head. As opponent forms his parry, rotate the wrist round and make the cut to the flank.

It is important to take movements simply so that you can progress to performing them with smoothness and efficiency. You must feel confident in the mechanics of the movement, combined with the footwork. These compound attacks can then progress to include a step; lunge-step, lunge; fleche-step, fleche-balestra, lunge-balestra, Heche.

These actions can be done standing still or with mobility with opponent’s Openings on the attacker’s own timing, then to competition standard. Coaches should not use parries in order to block the pupil’s movement, but allow him to ‘feel’ the sense of achievement. When that training is sufficiently under way, you can go on to incorporate three movements, for instance, head-flank-head.

Co-ordination of foot and hand movements is very important. Start the feints first; the step should coincide with the final hand movement. The hit should arrive before the completion of the foot movement. With the fleche, the hit should arrive before the back foot touches the floor. (If you do not have a partner, get a mask, hang it up about head height and practise against it.)

Renewed Attacks

Example: head-parry quinte-remise to head. This sequence begins with a lunge to the head; opponent parries, lowers his arm, delays riposte; attacker remises by replacing his blade on the head without any further action of the arm or body.

Redouble – Lunge to head; opponent parries, lowers his arm, delays riposte. Attacker rotates around the blade and cuts to chest.

Reprise – Lunge to head; opponent steps back with parry; attacker brings up rear leg; defender lowers his arm; attacker again lunges to head.


Preparations include beats, steps, running steps, jumps, prises de fer, feints and invitations; also a combination of foot and arm movements such as running with half feints.

At sabre, fencers change their distance rapidly, so rapid movements are needed to make a successful attack. This can involve steps with half feints, running with half feints, change of rhythm in the one action. A half feint is a feint of the arm, which does not reach full extension. Therefore, it is not seen as a real threat by the opponent. An invitation, as at foil, is an opening of the target, either by a lateral or vertical movement from the attack.

Attacks on the blade can be made either by prises de fer, or by engagement with pressure, that is pressure followed by cut to upper arm.

The Beat

The beat, as at toll, is the most used either to displace the opponent’s blade, to provoke a reaction or to gain the right of way. It should be noted that a beat on the forte is constituted as the opponent’s parry, so a beat should be done on the foible or middle. The beat is done by the fingers, a flexing of the wrist and no movement of the arm across the target. Use the cutting edge to beat. The position of the hand depends on the Opponent’s high or low guard. After the beat in quarte, attack upper arm, cheek, head. From beat in tierce go to flank, head. Beats should be crisp, rhythmic and clear and sound like a metronome. The blade should hit direct, making sure the arm does not move before the blade.

Attacks on Preparation

As attacks on the preparation must gain priority, they must start with a full extension of the sword-arm before the movement of the body. Speed and sudden surprise are imperative. If the pre-planned movement (preparation) is to head-flank-head, the attack on the preparation must start on the first movement to the head, either by lunge or Heche.


There are two basic triangles: tierce, quarte and quinte; and prime, seconde and quinte (so quinte is common to both). With all parries, the blade is angled so that the opposing blade is gathered in to the hilt. When you parry quinte, the point is higher than the hand and so the blade will, when partied, slide in to the hilt and can be controlled when riposting.

For the low-line attacks, the sweep in to seconde or the parry of prime are being used more and more. in order to deceive, they have to disengage around the hilt. With seconde and prime, the arm is extended more than in tierce or quarte. In prime, imagine you are kissing the back of your hand. It should be the height of your shoulder, the blade angulated at 45°. With seconde the hand is lower, further out from the body, but the point pointing inwards and again at 45°. From seconde the two most used ripostes are to cheek and then to head. From prime, the most common ripostes are to the head, then to the chest. From quinte, riposte either to flank or head.

The following is a useful exercise: head cut-parry quinte-riposte to flank-parry seconde-riposte to cheek.

Successive Parries

  • Tierce-quarte-tierce.
  • Tierce-counter-quarte.

Some movements can be done in two ways, either by using the hand and wrist in blocking the opponent with the guard, or by letting the point gather the opposing blade and taking It out of harm’s way. Using the point is faster and can be used in a movement of second intention.


As at foil, ripostes can be direct, indirect or compound. Simple direct riposte is in the same line. Simple indirect riposte finishes in the opposite line to that of the parry owing to a simple deception either by disengage or coupe.

Here are a few examples of direct and indirect ripostes: From quarte direct to forearm-head-cheek-chest. Indirect flank. From tierce direct to arm-head-chest. Indirect flank.

Compound Riposte

This is any riposte or counter riposte preceded by one or more feints. For example: parry quarte, riposte with feint to head, hit flank; or from tierce, feint to cheek, hit chest. After all ripostes, make sure the recovery is back to tierce, unless otherwise stated. Do call movements slowly at the beginning, then work up to high speed. You must be relaxed so that the movements flow. As at épée, the arm is the advanced target. so there must be no room for exposing the target.

Counter-Time Actions

Pupils step forward attempting to engage in tierce showing inside forearm. Defender stop cuts to inside arm. Attacker parries quarte, ripostes to head.

Counter Parries

Chiefly counter tierce, counter quarte and counter seconde. At sabre, the wrist and fingers describe a circle catching the opponent’s blade, finishing with off the target. These circular parries are chiefly used against attacks to the arm, point attacks and beat attacks. As at foil, it is advisable to take a step back, as a circular movement takes longer than a lateral movement.


  • Stop cut.
  • Stop cut with opposition and interception.
  • Dérobement.
  • Attack into the attack.

A stop cut with Opposition is a counter~ offensive action which closes the line into which the attack is directed. The most commonly used are those made on the chest with the point and on the head with a out. A compound attack finishing at flank: a defensive action finishing in seconde with arm extension, scoring a hit with the point to the chest. The dérobement has been described in the foil section, but the hit can be made on the forearm.

An attack into an attack is only successful if the attacker misses. It is difficult because of the cut, but can be done with opposition, for instance, if the attacker does a step lunge to the cheek. The Opponent also lunges, but blocks by opposition in fierce and scores a hit on the head. Ensure correct co-ordination between leg and arm movements.

Counter Offensive

Counter-Time and Second Intention

Most people think of these as being the same but counter-time applies to the way and situation of the action; second intention refers only to the tactical area of the situation before the action. So counter-time can be done as second intention or as a reflex action. With repetition actions, second intention actions could become reflex actions. They can be achieved either by parry or riposte. On a direct counter attack, parry with opposition on a simple or compound counter attack.

Counter-time can be done as an offensive action. For instance, while fleching, the attacker makes a parry while moving and ripostes. As a defensive action, the attacker stops to make a parry, then ripostes without any further movement.

There are three parts to a counter-time action: first, the preparation probably an invitation to an offensive action; next, the defensive action; and finally, the riposte. The preparation is of importance because if it does not gain the response that is needed, the opponent will not respond. If the preparation is overdone. the counter offensive action will score, especially with an advanced target.

In practising the counter-time, there should be a distinct change of rhythm. The preparation should be done rapidly, followed by a pause before parrying the counter attack; then the riposte should be made rapidly. With practice, the whole action will be smooth.

There are many examples of second intention. Step forward in tierce, opponent feints to inside arm, disengages under arm on the parry to outside arm on parry quarte. followed by parry to tierce and riposte by fleche to head.

With defensive second intention, the attacker makes a running attack; defender reacts with a parry; attacker finishes his attack into the opening target; defender is prepared, adds a second parry,then ripostes. This action cuts out trying to guess where the attack is going to finish.

In practising the variations of counter-time, it is best to practise a few and be good at them than practise too many and achieve only a low standard.

The Line

As at foil, the arm is straight with the point in line (threatening the target), hand pronated. In order to obtain right of way, the blade must be deflected, either by beat, engagement or parry. The blade in line can be followed by the dérobement, an action taken to evade the contact by the opponent. In order to keep the right of way, the arm must remain straight and the point still threatening the target. A good time to use this is on a running attack when the opponent is attempting to find the blade; at foil there needs to be exclusive use of the fingers.

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