Watching a sport that you don’t understand can be very confusing. American football, to someone who doesn’t understand each player’s position and purpose, can look like just a bunch of men who run a short distance and then fall down. If you don’t understand the rules of baseball, you may wonder why the audience is gasping for breath during one play and then nonchalant about another that looks so similar.
However, when you do understand the intricacies of the interaction of players and the purpose behind their every move, then the sport is suddenly exciting and much easier to follow. And of course, if you’re going to be competing in any sport, you need to understand even the most minute details of that sport and all its “plays” and movements.
With fencing, it may seem to a beginner that the swords are held and pointed in any which direction, however, this could not be further from the truth. There are actually eight different positions of holding the blade which one should be familiar with; from these come all the advanced blade work techniques.
Some of these positions are rarely used in fencing, and we’re omitting those so as to cause less confusion.
Remember, much of the terminology used in fencing is still in French, so it’s good to become familiar with them in French, as we’ve done here.
The positions we’re going to discuss here differ somewhat between foil and sabre, however, since the foil is the blade most often used by beginners, that’s what we’ll concentrate on.
Just as a reminder, note the term “line” as we’ve already discussed:
“Line” refers to a position or area on a fencer’s body.
Imagine that the torso is bisected both laterally and vertically. There are then four quadrants or sections of the body. “High line” refers to the sections above the lateral line, “low line” are those below.
The quadrants on the chest side of the vertical division are ‘inside line’ and the other two are ‘outside line.’ The upper chest side quadrant is then referred to as ‘inside high line.’
Positions of your blade.
Blade down and to the inside of the nipple, wrist pronated. Sometimes known as the “Looking at your watch” parry.
Blade up and to the inside, wrist supinated (the palm is upward).
Blade up and to the outside, wrist supinated.
This parry can be lateral or circular.
The lateral parry is from quarte to sixte.
The circular parry is a D-shaped parry, dropping the points and bringing it up on the inside, bringing your point back towards your en garde line.
Blade down and to the inside, wrist supinated.
Point dropped, the wrist is in the same place as in quarte.
This parry is semi-circular, the point is dropped from quarte to septime (or the opposite).
Blade down and to the outside, wrist supinated.
Point is dropped, the wrist is in the same place as in sixte.
This parry is semi-circular, the point is dropped from sixte to octave (or the opposite).
An attack made by moving the sword parallel to its length and landing with the point. A stop-thrust is a counterattack made by extending your blade without actually lunging.
The word “feint” literally means an attack or movement meant to deceive or distract an enemy.
In fencing, the feint is an attack into one line with the intention of switching to another line before the attack is completed.
A feint is intended to draw a reaction from an opponent, causing them to instinctively protect their line, so as to open them up to a real strike and point scored.
A disengage is a type of feint. Technically, a disengage is just a deception around the opponent’s blade, but for most, you would feint an attack and avoid the opponent’s attempt to parry, using a small circular motion under the opponent’s blade.
A beat is a sharp and controlled hit to the middle or weak side of your opponent’s blade, knocking it aside; their reaction creates an opening.
An action in which one fencer forces the opponent’s blade into the diagonally opposite line.
A derobement is a reaction to the opponent’s attempt to entrap, beat, press or take the blade, in a circular, lateral, vertical or diagonal motion.
A simple offensive action, consisting of extending the weapon arm forward. The point should move in the smoothest possible line towards the target, without wavering. Excess motion can ruin the control needed for precise, consistent hits.
Flick attacks often start out without the point directly threatening the target area, and comes in with a circular action, to allow the blade to bend at the end of the attack, placing the point on target.
An immediate, direct replacement of an attack that missed, was short, or was parried, without withdrawing the arm.
There are no deceptions or changes of line that occur with the continuation of the attack. This may be done with a simple further extension of the arm, or may be accompanied with additional forward footwork
In foil and sabre, a remise does not have right of way.
An attack made with a quarter turn to the inside, concealing the front but exposing the back. This attempts to move some of the target out of harm’s way during an attack or a counter-attack. This attack is often used if the opponent flèches off the strip to your inside and misses, as you are allowed a single counter-attack after an opponent leaves the strip.