Fencing Articles


No Dewey Decimal System here

Here you will find some great articles about all aspects of fencing. From tip screws to tournaments, these articles have been authored by members from all areas of the fencing community. Not only are these good for fencers to brush up on their knowledge of rules and concepts, they are especially good for class members to read in order to develop a theoretical understanding thereof as they put the techniques and concepts into practice on the strip. Other types of articles will show up here too, from armory lessons to how to host a tournament. Article suggestions are also welcomed.

Articles depending heavily on interpretations from the official rules will refer to the year of the rules (i.e. Official Rules 2005) when they were written, and possibly the relevant sections. Articles with references to rules from previous years are most likely still accurate. Rarely do changes to the rules affect fundamental fencing concepts.

Article List:

Right Of Way

Right of way is a concept in foil and sabre that concerns assigning of priority to one fencer in the case that both fencers hit the valid target area at the same time. That's the simplified version though. In reality, this concept has the effect of fundamentally influencing the way in which the fencers strategize and attack.

First of all, in epee when both fencers hit at the same time, both are assigned a touch. In foil and sabre, if both fencers hit at the same time, either it will be a simultaneous touch, in which neither fencer is awarded a point, or the right of way will determine who had priority for that touch (and the touch will be awarded to that fencer). You can only score a touch if you have the right of way in foil and sabre.

The theory behind right of way concerns one fencer either being more aggressive earlier (showing they started their attack first) or performing a maneuver that takes the right of way from their opponent.

We'll teach this concept by example. We'll show a series of scenarios for each weapon and explain who receives the touch and why. Right of way in foil and sabre are very similar but will be treated separately to minimize confusion.

One fencer will be Fencer X and another Fencer Y. Foil follows now, click here to jump to sabre.

Foil
Note: The phrase "both land valid" can always imply "simultaneously" though it is not required for these scenarios. The phrase at least means "both on-target lights illuminate."

Scenario #1
X: attacks
Y: parries, ripostes
X and Y both land valid

Point = Y
Y successfully took the right of way from X via the parry, and X's remise does not have right of way.
Scenario #2
X: presents the blade in point in line
Y: attempts beat + attacks
X: disengages (Y's beat missed) + finishes attack
X and Y both land valid

Point = X
X's point in line was correctly established and unsuccessfully removed by Y. Y must remove X's point in line with a successful beat to take back the right of way.
Scenario #3
X: advances + feints left and right with bended arm
Y: retreattttttt---
Y: suddenly stops and attacks into X's bent arm
                          (attack into the preparation)
X: finishes attack
X and Y both land valid

Point = Y
X has no attack with a bent arm, regardless of the footwork. Y has a good attack into the preparation. X essentially extends arm after Y extends arm.
Scenario #4
X: attacks
Y: retreats
X: fell short, but holds the lunge with the line
Y: counter-attacks without touching X's blade
X and Y both land valid, Y stabs himself at the same time

Point = Y
X's initial attack has failed. The attack stops when X's foot hits the ground. Y gains the right of way with this "parry with distance" so Y's counter-attack now has priority over X's continuation. In order for X to retain right of way after falling short, X must reset the line with an additional hand movement before Y's counter-attack begins.
Scenario #5
X: presents the blade with the line
Y: beat attacks into the line with a GLANCING
   beat that does not make sufficient blade contact
X: blade still in line
X and Y both land valid

Point = X
A situation like this depends on the referee's judgment of if the beat was effective. A glancing beat is sometimes not effective and thus would not remove the line, BUT if the referee believes that the beat makes sufficient blade contact, even though glancing and not moving the blade, then it would be successful in taking right of way.
Scenario #6
X: places the blade above mask, bend forward,
   and attacks with a "buffalo charge"
Y: At the same time, jumps up, yells "UmBaaa"
   with a bent arm attack
X and Y both land valid

Point = None
Simultaneous touch as no right of way was determined.
Scenario #7
X: attacks
Y: parries, ripostes, riposte falls short
X: continuation or remise of the attack at the same time,
   hits off target
Y: quickly remises landing valid

Point = None
Y took right of way with the parry. Y's riposte falling short gives up the right of way to X's continuation. The remise hit off target, stopping all action. Y's remise was not in time.
Scenario #8
X: fleche attacks, going off the side of the strip with
   both feet before hitting and before passing Y
Y: makes a counter-attack that starts before X left the strip
X and Y both land valid

Point = Y
X going off the strip stops the action and annuls any touches obtained while leaving the strip. However, Y is not penalized for X going off the strip, and since Y started the counter-attack BEFORE X went off the side of the strip, Y receives the touch.
Scenario #9
X: fleche attacks going off the side of the strip with
   both feet before hitting and before passing Y
X: misses and makes a remise, while off the strip
Y: makes a counter attack after X missed
X and Y both land valid

Point = None
X going off the strip stops the action and annuls any touches obtained while leaving the strip. Y's counter-attack started AFTER X left the strip, and thus is after the stopping of the action.

Sabre
Note: The phrase "both land valid" can always imply "simultaneously" though it is not required for these scenarios. The phrase at least means "both on-target lights illuminate."

Scenario #1
X: attacks
Y: parries, ripostes
X and Y both land valid

Point = Y
Y successfully took the right of way from X via the parry, and X's remise does not have right of way.
Scenario #2
X: starts advancing forward
Y: remains stationary
X: begins a straight attack with a lunge
Y: seeing X start to attack, Y lunges with straight attack
X and Y both land valid

Point = X
X's attack establishes right of way first. Y's counter-attack is a reaction to X's attack.
Scenario #3
X: beat attacks Y's blade in lower 1/3 of blade, near guard
Y: counter-attacks
X and Y both land valid

Point = Y
X has not performed a successful beat. Although the call may vary from referee to referee, X's beat attack should actually be called as Y's parry because X beat too low on the opponent's blade. A beat attack should contact the upper 2/3 of the blade (t.78).
Scenario #4
X: presents the blade in point in line
Y: attempts beat + attacks
X: disengages (Y's beat missed) + finishes attack
X and Y both land valid

Point = X
X's point in line was correctly established and unsuccessfully removed by Y. Y must remove X's point in line with a successful beat to take back the right of way.
Scenario #5
X: advances rapidly
Y: retreats, beats X's blade, attacks
X: counter-attacks
X and Y both land valid

Point = Y
Y has made the first attack. The beating of the blade assures that X's forward motion is not seen as having the right of way. If X had started his attack before Y, establishing the right of way, Y's beat would then most likely be considered a parry, and Y would still be awarded the touch.
Scenario #6
X, Y: from fence, both immediately advance
X, Y: both attempt a beat of each other's blade
X, Y: beats happen in the same tempo, connecting
      in middle of their bodies
X, Y: both finish with a head cut
X and Y both land valid

Point = None
This is one of the few instances where the presence of blade contact does not imply right of way for one fencer over the other. Since both beats were in the same tempo, it is essentially a simultaneous touch.
Scenario #7
X: lunges, attacks, attack lands 2" short
Y: counter-attacks
X: performs continuation without breaking arm
X's continuation arrives well before Y's
counter-attack, but both lights illuminate.

Point = Y
X loses the right of way as the first attack misses. The first attack is over when X's foot hits the ground after the lunge. Any extra action thereafter (in this case a continuation) is a second attack. Since both lights illuminate, Y's counter-attack is in time to be awarded the touch, as Y now has right of way.
Scenario #8
X: begins attack
Y: parries, blades connect, break contact
X: first attack lands before X's foot hits the ground
Y: riposte lands valid

Point = Y
Although X had only a single attack that successfully landed, Y's parry was successful in taking the right of way as Y's blade comes off of X's blade before X's attack landed.
Scenario #9
X: advances, begins attack
Y: counter-attacks X before X's arm is fully extended,
   lands valid
X: finishes attack, lands valid

Point = Y
Y has performed an attack into the preparation, or a stop cut. Often times, whether or not Y has executed attack into the prepartion soon enough to deserve the touch will depend on the referee. Here, since X has not established right of way with a full extension of the arm, is enough grounds to justify Y's attack arriving sufficiently soon to be awarded the point.

by Andy Lin, David Owen, Derek Trumbo, and Jeff White
references Official Rules 2005 (September)

Point In Line

Point in line is characterized by a straight arm with the point of the sword pointed at the opponent's valid target area. Point in line is both an offensive tactic as well as a defensive tactic. Point in line can be used offensively to present an agressive, forward-moving target, or defensively while retreating to slow the opponent's attack.

Let's first illustrate a defensive point in line to put the discussion in perspective. If Fencer X, touch after touch, barrels down the strip and lands attacks on Fencer Y because Y cannot seem to get out of distance or execute a valid parry, Y can, as an alternative, throw up a point in line while retreating to slow X's attack, make him think twice about attacking, and force him deal with the blade now in front of him. This can 1) give Y more time to plan an attack, 2) cause X to do something foolish, and 3) slow the tempo of the match, allowing Y more distance and time to defend against an offensive action.

In epee the point in line has little further importance as a separate tactic. First, since the whole body is valid target area, the distance the fencers maintain between them is of the utmost importance. Often epee en garde positions resemble point in line stances in an effort to maintain this distance. Second, the existence of double touches in epee makes using point in line less useful a tactic than in foil and sabre. A double touch is not a bad thing, but a single touch that you land is way better. Since establishing a point in line does nothing to negate the opponent's attack if it lands, it does not help score single touches.

In foil and sabre the situation is a bit more complicated. The overriding theory behind point in line in these cases is that if Fencer X allows himself to be skewered on Fencer Y's point, for no reason shall priority of the touch fall to X. Fencer Y shall be granted the point, should the touch land, as long as 1) Y has established the point in line sufficiently before X begins his attack, and 2) Y has not broken his line in any way during the action.

What do these mean? First, a point in line established as a reaction to the opponent's attack, shall not be given priority. A point in line is established separately from any action. To illustrate:

X: advances
Y: retreats
X: begins attack
Y: seeing X starting an attack, immediately throws up
   a point in line
X: skewers self on Y's blade, initial attack lands valid

The point should be awarded to X in this case. The point in line was not established in time. This is usually equivalent to saying that the point in line was established as a reaction to the opponent's offensive action.

Secondly, a point in line must not be broken during the action. Why is this an issue? Because the Fencer Y will most likely want to perform a disengage should Fencer X attempt to beat Y's blade. However, in performing this disengage there must be negligible movement of the arm to maintain the line. Not breaking the line means that Y cannot bend the elbow for any reason during the action. The elbow must remain extended. It also means that the wrist cannot be broken. A disengage is performed with the fingers only. This is a debated subject amongst fencers as many referees enforce the wrist rule to varying degrees.

Also, a point in line is initiated and retracted wholly with the sword arm. The footwork is irrelevant. A point in line may have right of way even when the fencer with the point in line advances, retreats, or advances or retreats with a cross-over. A failed lunge, however (misses/off target), will strip the point in line of the right of way, giving the immediate counter-attack the right of way.

Finally, let's review a scenario from the Right of Way article:

Scenario #4
X: attacks
Y: retreats
X: fell short, but holds the lunge with the line
Y: counter-attacks without touching X's blade
X and Y both land valid, Y stabs himself at the same time

Point = Y

Here it seems like the point in line satisfies all the aforementioned requirements and Y has indeed skewered himself on X's blade. However, there is a higher-level right of way concept which governs the call. Fencer X's attack has failed. In order to regain the right of way, X must reset (break arm) before subsequent attacks will have the right of way. That's not to say X can't score a touch if Y misses of course, but as long as Y lands his attack valid, X has no means by which to deserve the touch.

by Derek Trumbo
Definitions

These definitions are grouped by related terms, instead of ordered alphabetically.
  • attack - Generally characterized by an attempt to land a touch on the opponent's valid target area with an extension of the arm such that the elbow is not bent. Additionally in sabre, the blade is in a forward position such that it makes at least a 135-degree angle with the sword arm.
  • counter-attack - An attack made immediately after an opponent's initial attack. In foil and sabre, the counter-attack does not necessarily have the right of way. In epee, if the initial attack landed, the counter-attack must come sufficiently close after the initial attack to be valid.
  • beat attack - An attack which involves a sharp hit on the opponent's blade before attempting to land on valid target area. The beat attack is used to move the opponent's blade away from its established line or gain right of way in foil and sabre. The beat must be executed on the foible of the opponent's blade (upper two-thirds). If the beat contacts the forte of the blade (the third closest to the guard), then this effectively counts as the opponent parrying the attack, and the opponent has the right to an immediate riposte.
  • feint attack - Extending the arm towards one line, threatening valid target, then moving the blade towards another line without bending the elbow and attacking.
  • parry - The parry is the defensive action made with the weapon to prevent an offensive action from arriving.
  • mal-parry - An attempted parry which does not come off the attacker's blade before the attacker's attack arrives either on or off target. A good, valid parry is one which makes contact with the attacking blade AND successfully comes off said blade before attack arrives. A mal-parry is a parry that essentially doesn't do its job in deflecting the incoming blade.
  • riposte - The offensive action made by the fencer who has parried the attack.
  • counter-riposte - The offensive action made by a fencer who has parried the riposte.
  • reprise - A new attack executed immediately after a return to the en garde position.
  • remise - A simple and immediate offensive action which follows the original attack, without withdrawing the arm, after the opponent has parried or retreated, when the latter has either quitted contact with the blade without riposting or has made a riposte which is delayed.
  • continuation - A remise in the same line as the first attack. See remise.
  • redoublement - A new action made against an opponent who has parried without riposting or who has merely avoided the first action by retreating or displacing the target. The difference between a redoublement and a remise is that a redoublement is a completely new action. In other words, the sword arm is retracted after the first attack.
  • point in line - A specific position in which the fencer's sword arm is kept straight and the point of the weapon continually threatens the opponent's valid target.
  • disengage - Action to defend a beat attack in which the defender passes his blade under the attacker's incoming blade if the line was high, and over the attacker's blade if the line was low, returning to the same line it was in before the motion.
  • coupe - Similar to a disengage but the blade ends in a line opposite to that of the original line. Also, a coupe always passes over the opponent's blade, never under.
  • advance - A step forward. This step can have varying sizes and speeds but generally the distance between the front and back feet before the advance is equal to the distance after the advance. The advance can be executed in en garde position or while you have a line established.
  • retreat - A step backwards (otherwise similar to an advance).
  • cross-over - Bringing the back foot in front of the front foot during a forward motion (advance, lunge, etc.), or bringing the front foot behind the back foot during a retreat.
  • lunge - Strong push with the back foot that accelerates one toward one's opponent.
  • ballestra - A hop forward and lunge. This usually results in a loud noise upon completion of the hop forward, with a speedy power lunge immediately following.
  • fleche - A running attack which almost always involves a foward cross-over.
  • proper distance - Both fencers place themselves in en garde stance and point in line such that the points of the swords do not cross. Fencers must have at least the proper distance at the beginning of each call to fence.
by David Owen, Derek Trumbo, and the Official Rules 2005

Here's a really good fencing glossary: Wikipedia
Here's another glossary: Another Glossary
Here's a link to some more jovial fencing definitions: Fencing Glossary
Cross Training for Fencing

What kind of cross training will help my fencing?

The best training for fencing is fencing. Fencing development is asymmetrical and few other sports use the same muscle groups, so this is a difficult question whose answer depends largely on what aspect of your training you really want to focus on.

Cardiovascular fitness and leg strength always help, so anything that enhances these will be beneficial. Cycling, swimming, aerobics, and skating are good examples. Running, sprinting, soccer, basketball, and similar sports can also be helpful, although some athletes dislike the stresses they put on the knees. Racquet sports like tennis, badminton, squash, racquetball, and table tennis are also excellent, and will exercise your weapon arm in addition to your legs.

Circuit or period training (short bursts of high-heart-rate exercise followed by brief recovery periods) has been put forward as particularly relevant to the demands of fencing. Many martial arts have physical and mental demands that are similar to fencing, and can improve both your fitness and your intellectual approach to the sport. Technique and tactics very rarely translate, however.

Weight training can help, if done properly, but the athlete must remember that flexibility, speed, and technique are more important than raw strength, although proper strength training (especially of the lower body and legs) can improve speed significantly. Otherwise, endurance training should have priority over bodybuilding. Excessive weight training of the upper body can adversely affect point control, according to some masters, who prefer weighted wrist straps worn during regular practice.

by Morgan Burke