Got the time? What is fencing time?


Hitting your opponent is the goal of epee, well actually if you want to be correct, it’s hitting your opponent first.

Its even better if your opponent fails to hit you at all, but you can win if you are just hit 0.125 seconds quicker. Not sure how practical that timing would be in a duel, but this timing rule even by itself, (OK, the sharp point does have an effect too) is all that’s needed to change epee from the dueling tradition to the sport of epee. These timing changes alter the tactical situation in epee completely. From one all important touch, to “just” hitting first, is a big deal.

Timing therefore , is of vital importance in epee. Only point control is its equal, I mean even timing means squat if you miss. Your foot work, blade work, all are there to serve the timing, and timings purpose is to hit your opponent at the correct moment of opportunity. When discussing matters of time, I love teaching musicians, they understand time in a way many don’t. They understand the division of time is in relation to tempo. They are schooled in taking time here and adding it there. For those of us that are not musicians, let me try to explain.

Tempo is the rhythm or pulse (beat) of the fencing actions and is mostly dictated by the quicker of the two opponents. The pulse or tempo would be defined as the amount of time for one fencing action. Tempo is not necessarily a fixed amount of time, as it ebbs and flows during the bout. We steal from our opponents time by implementing our action before the tempo, I like to tell my students one quarter of a tempo before the actual beat. We add time by delaying our actions that same quarter tempo. What’s a quarter tempo? To reiterate, one quarter of the time it take to complete one fencing action, and that my friends is not very much time at all. I commonly see three fencing actions in as little as a second!

Why delay your timing? It is a question of forcing your opponent to commit to their fencing action. It requires speed, and good idea of what action your opponent is most likely to make, if your to respond in time to divert a hit by your opponent. In epee, this also will most often require that you deflect your opponents blade away from your target area, or hit your opponent on a closer target. Remember, you just have to be 0.125 seconds faster, that could be the difference between hitting the hand instead of the bicep. Stop hits in epee are most often done a quarter tempo ahead, even in a second intention situations, the final action should most often be ahead of the tempo.

How on earth does one respond a quarter tempo ahead of an opponents action? Mind reading helps. So does direct observation of your opponents “tells” and habits. You can also feed your opponent those stimuli that are prerequisites to their specific actions. Fancy talk for giving them an invitation or combination of actions, in a way that gives a target at a specific place and point in time, otherwise described as second intention, IE you’re controlling their action and timing! In essence this advances your decision to commit to your opponents action ahead of their decision to instigate their attack. You can then see their action coming, your stop hit can now arrive well before their arm fully extends!

This is but a brief suggestion of the possible ways time can be manipulated for your advantage. To truly become a “Time Lord," we must practice against different fencers as much as possible. As we learn to control and exploit time, it is often seen that our blade work is simplified and a more elegant game develops. Playing with timing is great fun, a lifetime does not do it justice. As always, enjoy the journey

Coach Geoff

Go for it!


I am often perplexed, as the more astute readers may be all too aware of. The issue on my mind today is why some of my students do so well? Not all my students you understand, but some. Even with the same raw talent, I see some students just excel were others are content to just be OK. Somehow, I suspect it really is not about fencing at all. Is my perception just a manifestation of the random results for some unknown calculation of cosmic events? Could it be that the old saying, “ You can lead a horse to water” that rings so true?

Some observation may be insightful.

My students that do best set high, sometimes crazy, even insane goals. They work hard at both the physical and mental training. They tend to do this even from the earliest days of training. I suspect they were potty trained by the age of two months; I just don’t know. They are heading to the top and just need some support in reaching it. Yes, they are high maintenance but also high reward types. My “Good” students typically wait around for me to tell them what to do. Not that they don’t try their best, mind you. If asked, they seldom dare to give themselves anything but “safe” goals. They may see themselves as not having the capacity to excel at higher levels regardless of their actual potential. Then there are those students, again regardless of talent, who tend to be set in their ways, don’t accept advice or coaching, and generally try to use their talent to beat up on less talented beginners, who in turn will be beating them in six months. This can all be turned around with introspection and willingness.

Now talent is nice, but if forced to choose, I’ll take the hard worker - the one that is not too proud to learn. Let us confront the reality, my friends, that talent alone will not get anybody to the Olympics. The ability to see yourself on the podium and work for it no matter how many times you fail is a far better indicator of your likelihood of achieving results. Frustratingly, it is very rare for me to see a student that does not have within him or her the makings for some measure of success in our sport. Yes, it takes work, more importantly, it also takes vision. The vision to see yourself as successful. I will not for a minute suggest that this is easy. It often requires we face our inner most demons of self doubt, overcoming negative environments, a history of underachievement and old habits that don’t support our goals. The thing is that these same issues are the ones that can effect our whole lives. Your job, your schooling, your relationships, are all effected by these influences. It is worth the time to address them.

I have noticed to that my high achievers share some other traits. They may really hate to fail in achieving their goals but they don’t punish themselves. They accept defeat as a temporary thing, a challenge to be overcome. Every defeat motivates them and makes them stronger. They love the challenge. These fencers also all have developed a support system to assist them. Sometimes it will be family and friends, but others have had to think outside the box. It seldom matters, as nothing will stop them; events may slow them down but they will get there. They use all the opportunities available to learn, to train, to practice and compete.

A bit of self-reflection...

I have faced enough demons myself to understand be that there are many ways to overcome our personal obstacles. Fencing is just one of a million ways to motivate a person towards success. I am not implying that all “OK to good” fencers are not going to be highly successful; they may have just followed a different path. Even the definition of “success” itself is up for debate. I am suggesting that whatever your goal, if doing the best is really your goal, is to see yourself were you want to go. Keep your daily choices directed towards those goals. Expect to fail many times but never allow these annoyances to hinder you. Enjoy the journey.

coach Geoff

Two flepee, hold the wip?


A Flepee is?

1) The new Starbucks drink?
2) An Italian pastry with ice cream on top?
3) An invention to keep kids from crying?

I teach epee to kids, certainly not just kids, but kids take up a fair amount of my time. I teach them epee, for several reasons. First, I teach 6 to 8 week introductory programs and fencing clubs both in after school and home school programs. The rules of right of way are hard to implement in such a short time and more to the point, a sense of fairness is one of the most distinct values kids share. Explaining to a 9 year old that his touch does not count results in the “this is stupid, I quit” syndrome. Equipment issues are also simplified, and it is not much fun being one of only two sabre fencers in a small school club. It just gets boring hitting the same opponent on the head over and over and over. A critical mass sort of thing I suppose.

Not is all roses however, beginning student often have a poor grasp of distance. As for their self control, that really does not kick in until the age of 40, at least for males. All this can lead to what I call catastrophic closing of the distance (CCD). Yep, they run into each other as fast as their little legs can go, and tend to hit harder then such a small stature would appear to allow. Now any self respecting women coach would have the kids sit down and talk about respecting each others distance, being more aware and otherwise fixing the root of the problem and perhaps even asking them how they felt about it. Well, coach Dan and I decided to approach the problem like men always do, we started talking gadgets.

Not wishing to see kids tear up, kindly coach Dan got a gleam in his eye. This often happens to Dan but this time he decided to do something (All my great inventions fall into the; I never got around to building it or the popular somebody built it first category). Yes, on this fateful day Dan did get around to it. He ground the grove of a foil blade to accept epee wires and re tapped the threads to attach an epee tip. Myth obfuscates the truth as to who called it a “flepee” first. All l I can say is upon seeing this new hybrid everyone exclaims “it’s a flepee!”. It must just be the obvious name of choice. The new training weapon was in fact lighter and more importantly hit much softer then the lightest epee we could find. It was a bit sad however when we discovered that the extensive amount of time needed to produce this devilish device was poorly rewarded by the short life of the modified blades. We also had some tips fall off, embarrassing for sure (not very safe either). Further insult resulted when Dans idea was not greeted with open arms by blade manufacturers. I suspect they saw the issues in manufacture and limited market. Perhaps they did not care to put their names on something that broke all the time.

Enter Rick, I am not sure how he first heard of the flepee, I suspect talking to Dan, but he saw the issues. According to his account, he discussed the issue with the makers of the most excellent, Virtual Scoring Machine. They, being smart lads, saw a software solution to the problem. Gone was all the retooling and hassle of blades failing. They invented “Epee Light” that allows the use of a standard foil to be used as an epee on the Virtual Scoring Machine. Life is good.

These are the facts as I know them. It is possible someone else has a claim to the flepee but it does not really matter. I now have several flepee for young students, foil blades with epee bell guards. I use epee body cords so I don’t have to answer the “what’s the clip for?” questions. Works great and we have yet to hear any crying. Kids can learn better form too as they don’t have as much an issue with the weight of this modest invention. Despite this happy result I am left pondering what could have been. I mean, inventing a new Starbucks drink could have made me a gazillionair, if I got round to it.

coach Geoff

The recon mission

I am all in favor of taking advantage in sport...well, with some minor restrictions.

I’m not going to break rules, behave dishonorably, or let the air out of someone’s tires the night before the competition or put itching powder in their shoes. I may, however, observe my opponents if I can. I will use any information I acquire to advance my quest for world fencing domination or maybe just to improving my seeding for next time.

So what is it I’m looking for anyway? Well, I am not interested if my opponent robbed the bank to pay the USFA fee or some other similar rotten scandal. I’m interested in how they fence, what their reactions are. I want to know what make him or her tick. How they handle pressure, do they always react to my actions in the same manner, or do they keep changing? Are they aggressive or defensive? And how do they respond if I am aggressive or defensive? Do they maintain focus, do they have a “tell” that allows me to predict their actions, and as the king in the “King and I “ was so fond of saying “ et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

This is the sneaky recon part: how do I find out all this great stuff? First, put on a mask (a fencing mask please) and fence your opponent. Constantly feed said opponent a variety of stimuli such as feints, actions to the blade, changes in distance and tempo and observe their reactions. How does our opponent use the strip? Does my adversary fence me the same way he or she fences others? To find out this we observe our quarry fencing others. One thing that puts a bit of a twist in all this; you really do not want your opponent doing this same thing to you, I mean that would be so very wrong, right? So try not to divulge your real game in all this. Heck you can spread some “disinformation” about how you fence if you are so clever!

So you wrote all this info down, I hope? I mean, you’re going to have multiple opponents, I presume and we need to keep these things straight. Anyway, we can now use this wealth of information to develop techniques and strategies. We can address these in two ways: exploiting my honored opponents strengths and/or exploiting his weaknesses. The solutions needed to address your opponents weaknesses are fairly straightforward if you have superior fencing skills and strategy. If you don’t, you got some work to do. Addressing the strengths, can again, be divided in two ways. We can deny our opponent his strength by not feeding him or her those actions or situations that allow their use. We can also attack the beast straight on, in that we understand that our opponent has trained for months or longer to react to certain stimuli in a prescribed way. We can use this to our advantage, so by feeding him those stimuli or actions, we know in advance what will likely happen. Assuming we do our homework and apply our own counter strategies, we should do OK. If done with cunning and discretion your opponent might actually believe you to be the better fencer (OK, truth is nobody ever believes that, they all just had an off day you know. )

Please keep in mind, the next time your cross blades, this information will be as stale as week old pizza left under the sofa. So the game begins.
A fun and useful drill I use is to have my students fence in the manner of other fencers they know. Dick will fence like Jane who may fence like Sally and she could fence like Conan the Barbarian……, etc.
To what end you say? Besides expanding our repertoire, learning our own vulnerabilities and just being a fun thing to do, it is also helpful in utilizing that disinformation stuff I mentioned.

Thanks for listening,

coach Geoff