A quick study of the disengage in fencing

art by Julia Malloy

Sometime simple fencing actions and how we execute them can have a profound impact on our understanding and implications to our game plan. A “how to make your opponents eye bleed from frustration” primer.

Disengage. A simple indirect attack made in one motion by passing the point into the line opposite to the engagement under the opponent's blade in the high line, and over the opponent's blade in the low line. Often done to avoid a parry by the opponent.

Personally I always called going over the opponents blade as a “cut over” but let’s not get distracted. The disengagement is used to change our line of attack. How we perform this has tactical implications. A well performed disengagement should expose little target area on the hand or arm, should not effect our point control and must be performed without telegraphing our intention, unless used as a second intention, we will discuss that form later. The disengagement is a key element in our tools to misdirect our opponents actions.

Everything I can say about disengagements is subject to exemptions to the rule of course. That seems to be the one rule in fencing, everything is subject to exemptions of the rule (headache coming on). Given this understanding, what is proper technique? Coaches may argue but I put forth my opinion thus. We disengage using the fingers, mostly the index finger and thumb. We let the point of the epee drop under the opponents bell and then lift up using the index finger and thumb, the point should follow the shape of a “U” or “V” to go around the opponents bell. I also like to slightly roll the grip on my index finger to slightly improve the angle of attack on the arm. This refinement is only a consideration naturally only if you favor a slight bending of the blade.

Most often the above description is not what is seen however, with the disengagement being executed with the hand clenched in the death grip, or worse, the whole arm flailing about. This slows the action and opens up target areas needlessly, it even diminishes our point control. I will not go so far as to say such executions will always fail, but only they are, in my opinion, inferior. Now again, the exemption to the rule rears its head. The cursed infighting, or to close a distance, second intentions, can all toss a pox on the whole discussion.

When we disengage is every bit as important as to how we disengage. Really the perfect timing will be triggered by our opponents actions and distance as well as our in tended target. We must therefore disengage in relation to our opponents parry. To disengage to soon, we invite counter parries. It is important to delay our decision to commit to the action, as long as possible. Then again, we have the double disengagement for those times we choose to break with this rule. Save that my friends, for when your illustrious opponent thinks they have figured you out.

So far, I have avoided the discussion of disengagement as part of compound actions, the feint-disengage or beat disengage. The disengagement can successfully be used to set up a stop hit and I would include the beat-counter beat, in studies pertinent to the topic as well. Each of these actions should be reviewed in detail, the timing of the disengagement being specific to each of these compound actions.

Practice time used on proper execution of the disengagement is time well spent. It will facilitate better understanding of distance. It will open up tactical options and improve you skills with timing. Enjoy.

a bit touched,
coach Geoff

Giving back, paying forward

Our sport,
requires a good bit of hands on effort, coaches, directors, organizers, armorers and lets not forget to include parents and spouses as well. This “village” allows the competitive fencer to exist.
As a competitive fencer, we need this support from others and should never take such assistance for granted. Immersion in fencing, or any competitive sport, is by nature, often a rather self centered thing to do. So it is important in my opinion to have a balance in our relations in both an individual and a community sense . There comes a time when we should pay back. It may or may not be directly only toward our personal supporters, it could be to support the next generation of fencers, or anyone really. Such activities are not without reward, learning how to direct, or coaching others can help our fencing, observation being so vital in our development. It will facilitate building community and build long lasting friendships.

Mentoring novice fencers, fencing with them and guiding them to their first competition can dramatically support a students likelihood of continuing. Learning to repair equipment will help both you and can help others. Setting up car pools can also have impacts for others, far in excess of the efforts needed to create them. Just welcoming people that come in the door, can draw in new students and grow both the sport and your club. Get to know the younger kids too. They watch everything you do, advanced fencers become roll models in sportsmen like behavior, on and off the strip.

I know your all busy, but even a little time for others, it can be part of all of our daily schedules. You may even come to enjoy it. That can be a great stress reliever too!

coach Geoff