Obviously everyone’s style and approach to the sport of fencing will be different; there’s no right or wrong way to approach the sport or your individual bouts. This is one of the aspects of the sport that makes it so fascinating; your approach will be just as different as your various opponents’ movements. Not being able to anticipate every move of their, and not having every move of your completely choreographed, will keep the sport interesting for a lifetime.
However, there are some basic pieces of information that deal with the various moves that you should familiarize yourself with; here are a few:
En garde position.
The en garde position is the basic stance of fencing. You stand somewhat sideways from your opponent; this gives him the smallest target to attack. Your feet should be about shoulder-width apart, your front foot pointed straight out, your back foot pointed sideways.
Your dominant arm — the one that’s going to grasp the sword — is held loosely in front of you, bent just a bit, and you hold your other arm (the “off hand”) behind you at shoulder height, with your elbow out like a chicken wing, or in the traditional position of curved up behind your head. This position grew from the practice of using a cape draped over this arm, but most importantly, it’s used for balance. Remember during your bouts to use your off hand for balance throughout all your movements.
Once you’ve gotten into this stance, you should relax, bending your knees slightly and keeping your upper body loose. Your back should be straight, your head high.
Holding the weapon.
It may seem as if you should simply grab the handle of your sword in whatever fashion is comfortable for you, but in reality, you should learn to hold your weapon properly in order to have the best control over it, and be sure that you are not wearing out your muscles prematurely.
You should have your thumb and index finger on the widest part of the grip, not the thinner of the two.
Some instructors will teach hand movements based on the index finger and thumb of the sword hand balancing the handle with the remaining fingers. Some will use either the index finger and thumb or the index finger, middle finger, and thumb with less influence of the other fingers.
There are actually different handles or grips to each type of sword used in fencing, and they are typically all held differently. Note what Wikipedia states about the different grip types in fencing:
“There are four types of grips commonly used today in foil and epee: French, Italian (mostly seen in classical fencing), a hybrid of these two known as the Spanish grip, and the orthopedic or pistol grip (the most common in FIE competition).
Sabre fencing only permits one kind of grip, because of the design of the guard. Sabre grips are generally made of plastic, rubber over metal or plastic, wood, or leather wrapped over wood.”
In the case of orthopedic grips there are several standard types with numerous variations. The orthopedic grips is allow for a composite use of fingers, wrist and elbow which really is almost a merging of other systems.
The Pistol grip (otherwise known as the anatomical or orthopedic grip) contours entirely to one’s hand and is held much like a pistol, hence the name. This grip became popular among sports fencers in the late twentieth century because of the way it complemented the agility and athleticism of competitors — albeit, as critics allege, at the cost of blade sensitivity finesse. There are several types of pistol grips, such as the basic Visconti (which is what most people refer to as a pistol grip), the American, and Russian, all providing a somewhat firmer hold for the user of the weapon than would be possible with the grip. The subtle variations in the pistol grip correspond loosely to different fencing styles.
In high-level fencing (national, and international), pistol grips are usually preferred in foil and épée because they allow stronger blade movements. However, a substantial number of epeeists at all levels use French grips while posting, because of the longer reach, which is especially useful in epee. Posting is almost unheard of in foil, as posting decreases one’s ability to parry successfully, and thus increasing your opponent’s chance of a successful remise.”2
The advance, the retreat, the lunge.
The advance, retreat and lunge are the three most common and basic moves in fencing, so we’ll cover their footwork here. For most fencing moves, keep in mind that the legs move the body, not the other way around. Always begin your movements with the legs or the feet and toes, rather than moving your torso and dragging your legs behind you.
Lift the toes of the front foot as you move it forward. Push the heel out as you straighten your leg at the knee, and then land on the heel.
Begin with the rear foot, reaching it backwards until it is firmly planted, and push your body back with your front leg.
The lunge is one of the most basic forward thrusts. It is executed from the en garde position by pushing the front heel out while extending the front leg from the knee.
As this front leg extends, you push your body forward with the rear leg (again, the legs produce the movement; they are not dragged behind by the body moving first). You will land on your front heel and glide into the final position, where your knee is completely bent and your shin perpendicular to the ground.
Your off hand should be used for counterbalance throughout this entire movement.
The power of the lunge comes from the back leg, so be sure to extend it fully as the spring-like action is fundamental to the lunge.
Recovery, forward recovery.
Once you’ve practiced the lunge and other basic movements, you’ll need to work on your recovery moves. Again, remember to use your off hand for counterbalance.
A return to en garde stance from any other position, generally by pulling backwards into en garde.
The forward recovery.
After a lunge, pull the rear leg up, rather than pulling the front leg and body backwards. This brings you in much closer to your opponent and so can catch him off guard.
This is a somewhat difficult move to master, as it requires a shift in weight from the rear leg to the front leg, however, as we’ll discuss in the defensive moves section, controlling the distance between you and your opponent is a critical part of controlling the bout.
Once a fencing student is comfortable with the basics listed above, there are more complicated bits of footwork that can be practiced. These include the advanced lunge and the fleche.
This is an advance followed immediately by a lunge. The extension of your front leg can occur before or during the advance, but always before the lunge.
Because many move combinations in fencing need to happen in concert, it’s best to work on a tempo when practicing your moves. Most instructors will encourage an advance-lunge to have a tempo of 1…2.3, as opposed to the lunge tempo of 1.2…3.
Fleche means “arrow” in French, and the fleche is a very difficult move to master. It’s usually best if the student has some experience in movement and tempo before trying a fleche.
Essentially, you perform a standard lunge and then, without hesitation, bring your rear foot forward and run at your opponent with your blade still extended, typically for three steps.
One can disengage or otherwise alter one’s attack while flèching, though the flèche is generally most effective in covering a large amount of ground and keeping pressure on the opponent. Again, controlling distance and keeping your opponent unsuspecting of your moves will contribute toward a successful bout.