In this lesson, we discuss the basics of fencing. We first discuss the basic etiquette of the salle, followed by how to hold the sabre, how to move in fencing, and the four distances. We use a lot of fencing terms here, please refer to this blog for what all the names below mean!
Etiquette of the Salle
Common courtesy is expected of all fencers in the salle at all times. We expect our students to treat their fellow students with respect as peers, and their instructors with the respect they deserve. With that, we should be starting (after exercises) and ending each lesson with a salute as shown in the video. Most importantly is to salute your opponent when fencing. It is imperative you show respect for your opponent when you engage in combat. Never forget though, they may be your friend off the strip, but they are your enemy on the strip. After each bout of fencing we must shake our opponent's hand with our non-fencing hand (right on left this gets a little weird).
When you are not actively fencing, we ask that you place the pommel of your sabre on the toe of your shoe and hold the point in your fencing hand.
First position and En Guarde
First position is done before fencing in a bout. You will turn your rear foot to be perpendicular to your opponent, and your lead foot toward your opponent. Bring your heels together to form a 90 degree angle. You will then hold your mask under your non-dominant arm, with your hand on your hip (or as close as you can) and have your sabre in hand under your mask, as if it were sheathed.
To assume en guarde, after putting on your mask, take a large step forward with your lead foot and bend your knees. Raise your fencing arm up so that your forearm is parallel with the ground and is safe behind your bell guard. Your point should be high, and slightly away from you, and your knucklebow should be angled to your outside slightly. Your non-dominant hand should still be on your hip.
Holding the Sabre
Gripping the sabre is done in a specific way in order to maximize your ability to cut your opponent and defend against the same. With your fencing hand, extend your thumb straight up, and place it along the backstrap of the grip, then wrap your index finger around the grip so that your index finger is on level with the knuckle of your thumb. Pinch the grip here just enough to keep the sabre steady. With your remaining three fingers lightly wrap around your grip to keep the weapon from leaving your hand.
Moving in Sabre fencing
In Olympic fencing we only move forward and backward. The advance is conducted by first stepping forward with the leading foot, landing on the heel; you will then bring the back foot up the same distance and rest your whole leading foot on the ground, returning to en guarde.
To retreat, you will fully extend your rear leg and point your toe. Then with one motion you will push off with the leading leg and land in en guarde by rolling the rear foot down to the ground, and stepping back with the lead leg.
The lunge is a complex maneuver which all of your attacks should be from. In order to lunge, first extend the arm fully, pointing the knucklebow toward your opponent. Next take a large step forward with your leading leg and land on your heel. The step should be large enough that your rear leg is fully extended. You will then cut with the sabre at the same time as leaning forward so that your leading foot lands on the ground. DO NOT LET YOUR KNEE GO PAST YOUR ANKLE! Doing so will lead to long term knee damage that no one wants!
Fencing is a game of distances, so we have named our main distances you need to memorize.
- Distance One: this is the distance that all you need to do is extend your arm and cut your opponent to hit him or her. You should not be attacking from here! If you find yourself in distance one, your best bet is to try to get away.
- Distance Two: this distance is your lunge distance. Note, this will vary greatly from person to person.
- Distance Three: advance-lunge distance is a safe place to be defensively and offensively, good fencers try to stay in this range.
- Distance Four: anything beyond an advance-lunge is considered Distance Four and we do no generally discuss it.