Preditor or pray

As you walk onto the strip ready to fence, you salute, you put on your mask, are you mentally the predator, or are you the pray?

These two distinct mental mindsets trigger your mental response to stress, the pray goes into a flight or flight state. The pray is ready to defend, but ultimately focused on survival. The predator is the hunter, focused at the task at hand, looking for every opportunity, primed to respond without hesitation.

These two mindsets have consequences even after the bout is over. Our predator is fully available to go on to the next hunt. Is able to learn from the last encounter, and primed to do so. This is a product of evolution, something embedded in our very deepest levels of our brains. Our pray, on the other hand, equally bound by evolution, mentally treats the episode as an emotional trauma. If the results of being “attacked” are less then victorious, we can have a problem! Humans, at least most, are not so great at shaking off the effects of trauma. Even some very tough military types can suffer years to the mental effects of trauma, if untreated. Any trauma can, even relatively mild cases as found in sports, can effect how we respond to like stresses in the future. This can lead to symptoms that hamper our performance, that may include performance slumps, or failure to perform under pressure, that will add to our trauma based reactions. These symptoms can also be situationally specific, perhaps manifesting only under “ideal” conditions.

Developing the skills and mindset of the predator can be difficult, depending on the student, but regardless, these traits can be improved upon with the use of mental imagery (visualization) and proper training techniques. A strong mental approach can even provide some defense towards trauma, but is not immunity nor will “roaring” on the strip make you mentally tougher. Inner strength and power counts more my friends, more than superficial bravado.

Healing from traumas, will sometimes naturally occur over time, sometime they need to be addressed in a more formal way that may even require specialist assistance. Understanding the root causality is important.

Trauma treatment and healing may involve:
  • Processing trauma-related memories and feelings
  • Releasing that pent-up “fight-or-flight” energy
  • Learning how to handle strong emotions in an appropriate manner
  • Building or rebuilding the ability to trust other people

This post is meant to open up the subject of this
inner game, as played in all sports. Fencing is a mental and physical sport. I will add that it can be an emotional sport as well. Mental toughness is part of the game. Search out those mental skills that benefit you. Heal from those things that hold you back.

Enjoy the journey,

coach Geoff


Epee is the last bastion of the so called French grip. I say so called, as this term has grown to cover some distinctly non French grips. Any long grip, some without even a pummel as such are termed “French”. Yet there is something of a history, and we need to be able to distinguish this class of grip against the pistol or orthopedic grip, so the name “French grip” it is.
Pummeling, that my friend is why we still see French grips, at high level competitions. Holding the grip from the end or pummel, offers reach, but also facilitates the ease of certain maneuvers such as a high prime over a traditional hold with the French grip. Certainly not for everyone, pummeling, is an acquired taste. After having spent years with pistol grips, of every manufacture, and the calluses to prove it, I now greatly prefer to pommel an epee. So let us take a look at some options.

from my collection

I have not tried this yet, but I will!


Some assorted mounted grips I own

IMG_0412IMG_0414 (1)IMG_0418
French Grip Epee (2)IMG_0411

For reference, I have large hands, so keep that in mind. Grips are personal so any comments I have are all relative to other grips reviewed and my hand and fencing style. Also you should note that I prefer blades of a more flexible nature, usually Visconti. Rules dictate the length of the grip, measured from the front of the bell to the end of the pummel. Some grip and pummel combinations exceed this just enough to be rejected by an over zealous armorer so be warned. Also note that the grip must not be canted outside the parameter of the bell.

some views of the Karma pummel and others from the Fencing Post


Absolute fencing sells this, not cheap but very sweet. Works great with Ullmann sabre grip


Here, we have some of the excellent Lion Paul pummels. The center example style is not for me, as I will explain bellow. The first one I have yet to try, I need to sell a kidney first, but it looks sweet and nobody else will have it, if that’s important to you, buy it and let me know.


One of my favorite “French” grips for pummeling, is in reality a simple Ullman sabre grip, notched to accept the wires. I will mention the Karma grip from the Fencing Post, as an excellent choice and works sweet with their pummel. Frankly, I find the form of the handle less important when pummeling then the handles thickness and a smooth transition line from grip to pummel (see above the two mounted pummels on the same Karma grip). So to me, I choose the pummel first. A round butt on your pummel is a must, in my opinion, it will save your hand and prevent torn gloves. The weight is less an issue then the case in a classical French grip technique in terms of balance.
The thing is this, It is worth shopping around and trying different combinations of grips and pummels. Some cool new stuff is available. Some are rather inexpensive and some are absurdly expensive, and not required for the average, not sponsored, fencer. Be forewarned, if modifying grips, the current climate feels a bit hostile regarding this, especially for french grips. Balls of tape on the end, once popular, are considered and orthopedic modification as well as a way to conceal hidden switches and such. I suggest you check with a qualified armorer if your in doubt, the rules are interpreted in strange ways sometimes.

I will save for another day the topic of technique vs the pistol grip. Feel free to use the contact me feature to email me your favorite handle and pummel, but please, explain why it works for you, I’ll be happy to share your input on these pages

coach Geoff

Things that don't help your fencing

Everyone wants that little something that will allow their full potential as world champion finally be reviled.

Some small amusement is found when contemplating how far students will go to avoid practicing. A small sampling I have witnessed.

Screaming, this makes the top of my list. No Virginia, it does not make you fence any better. I’m talking about those that choose to make a spectacle of themselves and how shallow they really are. Expressions of honest joy are always welcome.

Trying to buy progress, spending $150 bucks on a pummel will not improve your fencing. I’m not against good equipment, but when was the last time you heard a fencer declare “I won because my new knickers gave me the edge” Yea, I never heard that. Buy good stuff because in the long run it’s a value.

Being rude, yes some folks feel that to be an elite fencer you must be rude and dismissive of those that have a fractionally lower reaction time. All it says is that you're an a$$ that can fence. Play nice folks

Cheating, you will get caught. Even if you don’t you will know you’re a fraud. Cheating takes many forms, some are more obvious then others.

Neglecting your supporters, OK to fence you need to be selfish from time to time. That does not give license to neglect friend and family. You can reach any level of fencing and still give back to others.

End Rant
coach Geoff

Knowing the rules


Every read the rulebook for fencing? Do you really know the rules enough to challenge a bad call?

I was at a veterans competition a few weeks ago. I witnessed a bad call, from a director that clearly misunderstood the rules about disallowing a touch. He did not see the contact, suspecting an air touch, from cheating or mechanical issue, he rightfully inspected the epee for faults, found none but disallowed the touch anyway. He further complicated the issue by calling the fencers to the on guard line, then said in one breath, no touch-fence! This deprived the fencer of the right to challenge. I was the coach, not the fencer so my options were further limited. How many fencers have the conference in theirs knowledge of rules to call for intervention by the bout committee? Frankly I failed as well, I knew the rule but could not recall the number that pertained to this situation, in effect, I knew nothing.

At this same competition I witnessed numerous transgressions by directors, this was after all a low level competition. I am not suggesting any sinister motives, simply unknown or not observed violations. Regardless, standards at a National competition must be enforced (even those rules I disagree with) if we are to have any respect for our sport.

Try as I might, getting students to read the regulations has not really panned out, so my new plan is for all my competitive students to get qualified as directors in their chosen weapon. So to, it is important to keep the rules handy, with pages marked on frequently miscalled passages. Know your rights and obligations my friends. And remember to stay abreast of all to frequent changes in those rules. So to the “interpretations du jour” of existing rules among local competition directors!

coach Geoff



Defense is not passivity, it requires dominance on the strip just as much as offense. Waiting for your opponent to attack is a recipe for failure.

To establish control in a defensive situation, we should control our opponents actions and timing as much as possible. This is done in several ways. Some of these may include, giving and withdrawing distance to draw attacks, the selected use of targets to draw attacks, using disruptive (destructive) parries to guide an attack and using our actions to draw a counter attacks of a known nature (second intention). A full understanding of possible actions needs full study, as does practice with stop hits and oppositions in a counter time scenario.

Rule changes regarding the non combative rule, a rule that I have strong doubts about BTW, must be considered regardless. Many directors still fail to understand the intent of the rule so we are left need to fence in a way that makes best use of the situation. If one is ahead it may be of advantage to allow time to run out and receive the “penalty” thus depriving your opponent opportunity to recover. If we wish however to avoid such calls we need to get into the habit of making blade contact (no blade contact for 15 second allow the director the option of making the call). I suggest you eschew making such contact incidental, this could allow your opponent counter offensive opportunities. Use the rule in your defensive strategies and tactics.

Often I see defensive students retreat for no reason other then to avoid all contact. They end up retreating all the way to the end of the strip. This is seldom optimal, it just reduces your options and risks being run off the strip. A strong defense mandates that you use the strip to your advantage, stealing back distance at every opportunity.

Always keep an eye on your opponent’s ability to figure you out, you can sense this, that is the moment your advised to change. Knowing when to switch from offense to defense or defense to offense it an important skill. So is knowing your opponents preferred comfort zone regarding defense or offense. Bothe offense and defense require using intensity, deception, and cunning. Keep your eyes open my friends

coach Geoff