Saturday, November 4, 2017

Glossary of Modern Fencing Terms

If you need a basic glossary of modern fencing terms for yourself or your class, here it is! Feel free to reprint it, but please include the copyright info. (There's a downloadable PDF attached to the end of this post).

Basic Fencing Terminology
En Guarde
–the “On Guard” stance
Advance –A step forward
Retreat –A step back
Lunge –A “long,” explosive forward action. The principle attacking action
Balestra –A hop forward, with both feet landing on the ground at the same time
Fleche –An “Arrow.” A rapid, flying attack made by pitching the body weight forward leg and launching off the front leg. No longer legal in saber

–A forceful extension of the arm from en guarde to full extension
Cut –The principal attack in Saber. An attack with the edge of the sword
Parry –A “blocking” action against an attack
     Lateral Parry –Blocking an attack by moving the blade from one line to the other
     Circular Parry –Blocking an attack by a circular blade action
     Beat parry –“Tapping” the blade out of the way
Riposte –A return thrust after a parry. Every attack leave the attacker open, a riposte takes advantage of that
Engagement –When the blades meet. It may be a feeling action, or a parry, or the start of a Pris du Fer
Disengage –To escape an engagement by shifting your point to the other side of the opponent’s blade
Coupe –“Cutover” to escape an engagement by cutting over the opponent’s blade
Beat –A versatile “tapping” action against the oppt’s blade. It may be used as a parry, an attack or a feint
Feint –A “False” action designed to get the opponent to open his guard
Invitation –To open your guard to “invite an attack”
Simple Attack –An attack using a simple action in a single tempo of fencing time
Compound Attack –An attack made up of several actions. These include the DoublĂ© and the One-Two
Preparation –The initial actions of a compound attack
Stop-hit –To attack into the opponent’s preparation
Remise –To attempt  to hit your opponent a second time without withdrawing after failing the first time. A remise does not have Right of Way
Pris De Fer –“Taking of the blade.” Any of several kinds of binding controlling actions that move the opponent’s blade. Pris de Fer include the bind, croisĂ©, envelopment, thrust with opposition, etc.

Right of Way
A set of rules used in Foil and Saber. The essence of ROW is that you may not attack an opponent at the when he is attacking you, or leave yourself vulnerable while trying to hit him. If your opponent attacks, you must parry or nullify that attack before hitting back. Epee does not follow right of way. An attack without ROW may occasionally be successful
Tempo –The flexible unit of time that fencing is measured in. A tempo is the time it takes to perform a single, simple action
Lines of Attack –Foil and Epee acknowledge 8 lines of attack, by dividing the torso into quarters, with two lines of attack in each quarter, and two parries in each quarter.
Sentiment De Fer –“Sensitivity for the steel.” A sense of touch with the blade, sensing what the opponent is planning
Distance –Also called Fencing Measure. There is a particular distance from your opponent at which you are best positioned to both attack and defend. It is cultivated through practice. Additionally, some blade actions may require slightly longer distances than others.
Displacement –Moving the torso out of the way of the attack. Usually a retreat, but can be to the side as well.

The Weapons
All weapons have a few parts in common:
The Blade –The part you hit with. Epee and Foil hit exclusively with the point, while saber allows you to cut with the leading edge and upper part of the back edge. The Epee blade is heavier and thicker.
The Guard –The part that protects the hand. The Epee guard is larger than the foil guard (both are round). The Saber guard includes knuckle protection.
The Handle –Also called the “grip.” There are a few different types. Sabers use a straight handle. French foils also use a fairly straight handle. “Orthopedic” handles are more common now for foil and epee, as they give a better grip. There are different types, depending on personal preference. The most common are Belgian, Russian, German and Visconti. Occasionally, you may see an Italian foil, featuring a short handle and two rings, but they are no longer common.
Pommel –The weight at the rear end of the sword. It counterbalances the weapon, and also holds all the parts together. Most orthopedic handles do not have a pommel, but a nut inside the handle to hold it all together.

There Are Three Weapons Used in Modern Fencing:
The Foil
–The most common fencing weapon. Used for thrusting attacks only. Follows the rules of Right of Way. The target is the torso (including groin). Originally a training weapon for the epee, but developed into an art of its own.
The Epee –“The Dueling Sword” Also used only for thrusting attacks. No Right of Way is followed, and the entire body is target. The blade has the same dimensions at those used for duels in the 19th century.
The Saber –Fashioned after the cavalry cutting weapon, it allows attacks with the entire leading edge and upper part of the back edge of the blade.  It follows the rules of right of way, and the target area is all of the body above the waist, including arms and head.

©Jeff Sauber 2017

Sunday, September 3, 2017

No Matter How Bad Your Opponent's Guard Is...

No matter how bad an opponent's en guarde stance is, you're not going to be able to hit him if he's mentally prepared.  Likewise, no matter how good the stance is, he wont be able to defend against your attack if he's not mentally prepared.

I always remind people that stances exist in 4 dimensions-- they are relative to the opponent's attacks, but also to the distance of the combatants as well as the defender's reaction speed.

Time is the 4th dimension

Saturday, September 2, 2017

T shirts are Back, plus, New Merchandise!

Thanks to popular demand, we've reintroduced our popular line of T-shirts! As you may remember we used to offer Tees with some of the most dramatic illustrations from some of the most important fencing manuals. Our old printshop went out of business a few years ago, and we never reintroduced the shirts. Until now!

Currently, we have tees in white, black and navy blue, but we'll be introducing about 30 more colors soon. An we've also added coffee mugs! So if you can't wait until your fencing practice to start thinking about swordsmanship, you can fire up your imagination first thing in the morning. Plus it's a fun to bring it to work and wait for someone to ask about it and then, oh, so casually, mention that you happen to be an historical swordsman.

We'll be adding new designs and products from time to time, so if there's something you wish you were seeing in our store, but it's not there, like hats or hoodies or ..anything, send me an email and i'll see if we can't add it to the line.

Oh, one more thing.. You've probably seen our website, and maybe wondered if these guys are really still in business (dammit, Jim, I'm a fencer, not a web designer!). Yes we are, and we're going to be revamping the site soon. In the mean time, it still works, but we're also exploring the platform, and we've created a CavalierAttitude store there. You can order fencing bags and all the other merchandise all in one place.

Check it out now:

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What's In The Bag Today?

Here are some new views of what you can carry in your Cavalier Attitude Rapier Bag.

Here's a view of the bag with two modern foils for scale, one's French and one's a Belgian. Both have 35 inch blades. The bag behind it is full of all the equipment you see below, and is slouching somewhat.

And here's what's inside this bag today:
Those two foils
An Epee
A Saber
A Rapier with a 42" Del Tin blade
A 2-handed waster
A Del Tin Viking sword
Three 3-weapon masks

Note the zipper goes almost the entire length of the bag and features two zipper-pulls, so you can close it up or down.
     ...and there's still room for at least one more mask, and a full uniform and sundries...

And that soggy fencing jacket is in the exterior, water-resistant, outer pocket. That'll keep the moisture from rusting your blades and the rust from staining your nice white jacket. Also a great place to stash your t-shirts of fencing shoes to keep them separated from the rest of your equipment. And the upper pocket is great for tools, gloves and first aid equipment.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Hammer Exercises (Original 2004 Edition)

Here's an old classic from my archives! I originally put this together for myself and some friends as we suffered from "swordsman's shoulder" and awful forearm strain. It certainly helped me a lot. It got around a bit, and I got back some great feedback from all kinds of swordsfolk and martial artists.

"This is a series of exercises developed specifically with the swordsman in mind; it aims to train all parts of the arm and body to work together in a coordinated fashion to increase range of motion, flexibility, strength and endurance. The exercises are called “Hammer Exercises” because they utilize a common 1-3 pound rubber mallet (although other objects can be used) for resistance, but they are effective if performed empty-handed, too."
                                                                              (Hammer Exercises, P.2)

The exercise sets described in this extensively illustrated book were compiled by me from various athletic and martial traditions to create a gentle but effective way to train and develop a swordsman's arm. The three sections are easy to learn and fun to practice, and work the arm, shoulder in particular, through a full range of motion in an impact free way. My experience with regular practice of these actions was a stronger freer sword arm and bar less pain and strain in my forearm, even with heavy swords.

The book includes a basic discussion of the anatomical thinking behind the exercises.
The full set of Hammer Exercises is divided into three sections:

Three exercises to develop the basic strength & coordination through three basic axes of motion.
Based on the cuts that one commonly would make with a sword–this section most directly relates to swordsmanship.
3) CONTINUOUS MOULINET A simple exercise to further develop coordination between left & right.

The only equipment you need to do these is a rubber mallet, but even that is optional, but it's a convenient and inexpensive tool that is easy to find. You can do these exercises just as effectively with an Indian club, a stick, or just bare handed.

At some point, there will be an updated version of this book available for sale, but until that time, I'm offering this for free download. Please enjoy it, and share it, but do respect the copyright.
Your feedback is greatly appreciated. email me with your experiences, questions and comments:

This material is presented for informational purposes only. I make no claims as to it’s safety or efficacy, and I take no responsibility or liability for any injury resulting from the material contained herein. Never attempt any exercise regimen without first consulting a doctor.


Monday, November 4, 2013

Hold it Like a Little Bird... (The Importance of "Sensitivity")

"Hold it like a little bird, not so tightly you crush is, but not so loosely that it escapes your hand."
This was one of the first things I learned from my first fencing master. Hold the sword carefully. (One famous Hungarian master my friend studied with had his own spin on this, saying: "hold your sword like you hold your d**k!" 'Nuff said).
We're all taught not to hold the weapon in a deathgrip, and we all take it to heart, but how often do we ever stop to think about why? The reasons are few and very practical:

  • Expending too much energy clamping down on the hilt of your sword will tire your hand out too fast.
  • Holding too tightly will make it very difficult to move the weapon flexibly and fluidly,
  • Concomitant to the above, it actually can make it easier to be disarmed in certain situations.
And perhaps even more importantly, a gentle grip lets you know where the business end of your sword is, and, when blade-on-blade actions occur, it lets you know what to do next.

The masters frequently talk about "Sentiment du fer" the "feeling of the steel," or sometimes just "sensitivity" and make it sound like some magic power, but it's actually very practical and important for a swordsman to develop.

For the attack, the balance of the blade will tell you where the striking part of your sword is. In the case of a thrusting weapon, it tells you where the point of your weapon is, something like the way a gun sight can help a marksman hit the target, IF the sight is lined up properly. If the balance of a sword changes, a swordsman can find his point off by inches or missing the target completely.  The fencer's sense of touch lets him put the point right where he wants it.
In the case of a cutting weapon, broadsword, saber, etc., the optimal place on the edge of the sword to hit with for maximum effect is called the "center of percussion." Having a good feel of your weapon lets you know where this is at all times. When actually cutting something, this becomes immediately obvious. Even for a modern sport saberist, who may prefer to hit with the very tip of the sword, the sense of touch still lets you know where the tip of the sword is.

In the case of blade-on-blade exchanges feeling how the opponent's blade makes contact with yours will tell you where to go next. If you engage his blade, you are likely to feel three things:
1) No resistance. This tells you he is unprepared, and you can continue through directly or with a bind.
2) Strong resistance. A lot of tightness tells you the opponent might be nervous, and will almost certainly be responding a tempo behind your lead.
3) Moderate, sensitive resistance. This tells you the opponent is aware of you, too. Offering enough resistance to feel you out (literally). In this case, DON'T close or engage with this opponent without a plan.

Even in the case of a parry,when the opponent attacks and you catch it on your blade, you can feel the quality of his attack and what to do next if you're careful to be aware of what you're feeling. A light, snappy attack may signal an opponent already thinking of his next move and may call for a rapid riposte, while an attack with full, heavy physical commitment will tell you that the opponent may be slower to respond, maybe more likely to be taken in a throw or disarm, if you use grappling in your system.

From the neurological point of view, it's also important to be aware that one's neurology responds faster kinesthetically (physically) when responding to other kinesthetic cues than to visual cues. Which is to say, you tend to respond with your body faster to things that you feel than things you see. A visual cue, like the sight of a sword coming at you, has to be converted in the brain to a series of physical actions to get a response. Th visual-to-kinesthetic conversion only takes a few thousandths of a second, but considering that a straight attack delivered in distance takes about one one hundredth of a second to arrive, those few thousandths make a difference.

It's not uncommon for an advanced fencing student to be given a blindfolded fencing lesson at some point. At one level this may seem very mysterious, and the stuff of kung-fu-movies, but it's actually very practical training for fast physical awareness.

Back-and-forth drills are a great way to develop one's sensitivity, since you're limited to a few, preset actions that you repeat back and forth with a partner. The trick is to repeat the drill a bit longer that you might think is necessary, till the action becomes internalized and you can begin to turn your attention to what you are feeling.

In Tai Chi, they call the development of the touch "listening" and it's a very apt way to put it--listen to what your sword is telling you!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A new source for great Spanish fencing swords!

From time to time I like to share information about sources for great fencing equipment (more often on our Facebook page, Today, I wanted to share this link with you. they are located in Spain and offer some amazing reproduction swords for fencers, and run by people who really know about swords and fencing. Please check em out--you won't be dissapointed!