The Basics of Fencing

The Grip

The grip is the manner in which the sword is held and is conductive to ease in the wielding of the foil. The handle is shaped in such a way so as to fit comfortably in the hand. It should be placed in the palm of the hand and under the fleshy part of the thumb. The front part should rest on the middle of the index finger and the thumb placed FLAT on top. These are called the manipulators. The remaining three fingers should be placed along the side of the grip, with the first phalanx of each finger in contact (the aids).

The weapon should be carried in a state of relaxation in order that the principle of finger play can be carried out. This is the basis for the French school of fencing. A faulty grip can cause a tired and contracted hand and fencers then turn to ‘orthopaedic grips’ since they lack the necessary skill and technique. They are continually seeking a solution to their difficulties by changing from one handle to another without finding a rest for their weary hands. Carry the weapon. Don’t grip.

The ‘On Guard’ Position

The on guard position is the basic position of feet, body, arms and legs. To be on guard is to be prepared to execute defensive actions when attacked, or to be able to launch an offensive action whenever an opportunity presents itself. Place the feet approximately 18″ apart and at right angles, the heels being in line. The leading foot is pointing towards the opponent, while the rear foot is turned at an angle of 90 degrees from it.

The trunk of the body is turned so that the chest is halfway towards the opponent, head erect. The sword arm is now raised until the hand is at a height level with the right breast, the arm half extended should find the elbow clear of the body, approx. the breadth of a hand from it and over the right thigh. The hand should be over and slightly outside the right knee with the fingers turned in half supination.

The left arm shall now be raised and brought to a position where the upper arm is level with the left shoulder. The whole arm will now form a graceful arc. The feet, body and arms now in this position the knees will be bent equally, allowing the body to be balanced on both legs. Do not allow the body to lean forward or backward whilst carrying out this manoeuvre.

Fencing Positions

The target is divided into four parts as shown: Sixte, Quarte, Octave and Septime and parries are formed to protect these positions. Target Areas The parries have the same name as the positions eg. the parry of Quarte will defend the position of Quarte on the target. These positions are also called the lines, and we talk about closing, opening or changing the lines.

Opening the line is the action of moving the blade away from the line that it normally occupies. Closing the line is to completely cover the side of the target the blade normally occupies. To change the line is to move the blade from one line to another and engage the opponent’s blade in the line. It can be done by passing under or over the opponent’s blade. When performing a change of line, the fencer begins engaged in Sixte, and then drops the point and passes under the opposing blade, lifting the blade and engaging in the new line, where he or she will cover his or her line.

Gaining And Breaking Ground

Is the action of stepping forward or backward. It is the footwork used in fencing to gain or maintain distance. To step forward (advance) is to carry the leading foot forward, approximately a foot’s length and to follow up with an equal displacement of the rear foot maintaining the same distance between the two feet. The leading foot should be raised and lifted cleanly off the floor and land heel first in a normal walking action. The rear foot will be lifted from the knee, the heel leaving the floor first, to be replaced at the correct distance by resting the toes first. To step back (retreat) is to carry the rear foot back approximately a foot’s distance and to follow up with the leading foot with equal displacement.

The length of the step forward or backward should be regulated so as not to develop into large or ungainly steps. It should be under control, smooth and rapid and allowing the fencer to maintain balance evenly and easily. Care must be taken not to drag the feet along the ground.

The Development (Attack)

The development is the extension of the sword arm and lunge. The development or lunge is the method of delivering the attack. it is composed of the extension of the sword-arm with the point threatening the opponent’s target (which identifies the attacker) and the lunge that is an action of the legs permitting the fencer to reach his or her opponent. The sword arm is extended quickly and smoothly forward to a position slightly higher than the shoulder, which should not be lifted or contracted. The sword held lightly is directed towards the opponent’s target, thus identifying the attacker, and the lunge is executed to cover the distance that will allow the fencer to reach his or her adversary.

The Lunge

The mechanism of the lunge is as follows: The toes of the leading foot are raised and the heel cleared of the ground. Simultaneously, the whole body is thrust forward with rapid, but smooth extension of the rear leg, combined with a dropping of the rear arm, to a position just above and parallel with the rear leg, palm upward. The front leg in its path forward should just clear the ground where it well land heel first at the end of its travel. During the lunge the body should remain upright, head erect and the sword-arm not allowed to drop.

To Recover From The Lunge

To recover, the attacker co-ordinates the bending of the rear leg with the pushing back of the leading foot and the raising of the rear arm. The front leg is pushed back to the position it originally took in the ‘on guard position’ and the rear arm is brought back to its original position. Finally, the sword-arm, which has been extended throughout, is returned to its original position only when the return to guard has been completed.

Points To Note On The Development

  • Hand slightly higher than the shoulder.
  • Front knee above instep.
  • Left leg straight.
  • Left arm parallel with rear leg.
  • Left foot flat on the floor.
  • Body upright.
  • Head erect.
  • Above all, sword-arm straight.

The Balestra

The balestra is executed by a simultaneous raising of the leading foot and a short jump forward with the rear foot, both feet landing together on the ground. The weight of the body should be on the rear foot so that the lunge can be immediately undertaken, thus adding impetus and drive to the lunge.

The Fleche

The purpose of the flèche is to attack the opponent and to reach him or her by means of a quick, short run. Extend the arm (to gain right of attack), throw the weight of the body sharply forward and over the leading leg. The rear leg, that has been forced to leave the floor as a result of the loss of balance, should be brought through to land in front of the leading leg as quickly as possible thus beginning a series of short steps in the opponent’s direction. The hit should land immediately and if possible before the rear foot touches the floor. When executing the flèche the fencer must not make body contact with the opponent. He or she must therefore run past their opponent rather than stop short. He or she should pass on the opponent’s quarte side.

Simple Attacks

There are four simple attacks, one direct and three indirect:

  • The straight thrust
  • The disengage
  • The cutover (coupe)
  • The counter-disengage

The Straight Thrust is an attack directed in the line in which the fencer is engaged. The arm is extended and followed by the lunge.

The Disengage is made by passing the point under the opponent’s blade into the opposite line. Whilst this action is being made, the arm is extended to make a threatening movement to the opponent and is followed by the lunge.

The Cutover is made by passing the point over the opponent’s blade and again extending the arm to make a threat to the opponent.

The Counter-disengage is made by deceiving the opponent’s change of line as described earlier. It is made by following the opponent’s change of line, extending the arm and lunging.


There are three types of parries:

  • Simple
  • Circular
  • Semi-circular

The Simple Parry is the action of carrying the sword across the body in order to oppose in the opposite line. The defender’s forte will oppose the foible of the opponent’s foil. This is the principle of defense, ‘opposition of forte to foible’.

The Circular Parry or as is named ‘Counter-Parry’ is one which by describing a circular movement of the blade, bringing the attacker’s blade back into the line in which it originally started.

The Semi-Circular Parry is a parry taken from the high line to the low line of visa versa; they describe a half-circle, and when taken from the high line to the low line from the parries of Octave and Septime.


The riposte is the offensive action following the successful parry of an attack. It can be direct, indirect or compound.

There are four simple ripostes as there are attacks:

  • Direct
  • Disengage
  • Cut over, and
  • Counter-Disengage

Compound Attacks

A compound attack is an attack compromising of one or more feints. By combining any of the simple attacks into one flowing movement a compound attack is formed. ie. two disengagements become a ‘One Two’ and a disengage followed by a counter- disengage is called a Doublè. The feint or first part of the attack is designed to make your opponent take a parry and depending on the type of parry, the second part of the attack is to deceive and hit the target. eg. if the defender takes a simple parry after the feint of disengage, then the second part of the attack would be another disengage.

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