To parry or not to parry, that is the question


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I have been looking to shake things up a bit , a dangerous endeavor certainly. Still, if by temperament or need, I shall continue my quest. I have been pondering the basics tactics of our sport and how we teach them. I watched again, the countless hours of word class epee fencing on Youtube, as well as some personal videos of my students fencing from their very first lesson to their latest competitive results. I have also been following this issue at various competitions I’ve attended. I was most interested in the use of parries of the gold medal round of the Olympic women’s team epee in 2012. The few parries I see are really more the swatting, of the kind I rebuke my students for, more of a parry that comes very naturally to untrained students. Now I do see stop hits, counter attacks, and the proper of distance being used, to not only score but defend. I saw no classic parry repost, and but did see a few sweeping two parries with a quick jab to the torso at close distance. Is the classic parry riposte dead in epee?

Teaching students the way I was taught and have taught beginners in the past, was simply a parry four, riposte to the torso. This was followed by parry six, two, etc. Classic foil training, a training that is often
imported to epee with little consideration. This starts the student off poorly, in my opinion, for the following reasons. The distance is wrong for epee, as in, to close. This makes close targets more problematic for you (visualize arms tangled, ugly fencing) and opens you up to our opponents attack in single tempo actions (they can just hit you!). This poor distance leads to infighting, exaggerated actions, reduction of tactical control (reduced to who has the fastest remise) and general flailing that requires the coach to spend the next few years yelling “distance”. Further, the parry often leads to an open target (the hand) just at a time your opponent is attacking. An opponent with good distance skills will thank you and your classic parry, for providing such a convenient and relatively safe target. I would be remiss if I failed to note the current substitution of beats, rather then parries in foil, as the sole use of parries these days, appears to based on gaining right of way. Getting hit is not an issue as long as you have right of way. (think of that logic next time you're driving! )

All this talk, it makes me sad however. You see, I like a good parry riposte. I like an opposition riposte even better. Before you start yelling at your computer and sending me threatening e mails, Yes, I will still teach these parries, but I may change the emphasis towards distance, tempo, point control, and understanding how set up actions. Destructive parries, meant to deny target, will still be taught.
Counter attacks will be taught once point control and distance are established and this milepost will be made less difficult if early parry riposte training is delayed. I will introduce the classic parries as an introduction to binds and oppositions, in my view a more proper context. Certain opposition attacks will be considered and reserved as a more advanced technique

I once attended a Michael Marx coaches clinic, and he mentioned that it was his belief that we should
teach the skills as actually used, and in a format that mimics real fencing. At least that is how I understood him. Now, he is primarily a foil coach and don’t let me lead you to believe that he shares my opinion on this subject of the importance of parries in current epee training, I have no idea on way or the other. He teaches a strong classic parry last I saw. It is however on his premiss of realism that I reconsidered the use of parries in epee.

My argument is intended only for your consideration in epee fencing. Sabre and foil being bound to the traditions and rules found in right of way, my agenda is ill advised for those applications. It is my firm understanding however that contrary to what many have expressed, epee is not foil, were the off targets count.
Epee deserves specific studies and training independent of foils and sabre traditions.
End rant #2567
thanks,
coach Geoff