The parry four, epee and foil


Simple enough, and yet I have had heated discussions on this topic. Options in how we respond to an attack are many, and the correct response depends on several considerations.

1) To ward off (a thrust, stroke, weapon, etc.), as in fencing;
2) To turn aside; evade or dodge: to parry an embarrassing question.

To my amusement, both definitions may relate to fencing. Let’s elaborate on the definition of a parry with the question: what is a good parry?

A good parry shall ward off the attack
and facilitate a riposte to the opponent. This answer aptly applies to both definitions!

Warning: In an effort to be accurate the following gets a little technical, perhaps even a bit geeky!

The illustration above closely resembles the form as I learned in my first lessons (foil). In epee, I prefer the hand farther forward, the bell a bit lower and a slight turning if the wrist counter clockwise. In the simplest form, in response to a thrust to our four, we defended ourselves with a parry four, followed by a riposte. It is important to wait until your opponent has fully committed to the attack before we parry, to discourage the disengage. The classic parry four has mostly been replaced in contemporary foil with a
beat attack, an action perhaps better described as a counter attack. No effort is made to divert the opponents blade in this action, as the beat is used to obtain right of way. We can question the logic of this interpretation of the rules on several fronts. The call of mal-parry, used when a parry is ineffectual in diverting an attack, is unfortunately no longer being applied. If mal-parry was correctly called, I suspect the parry four would return. Further, using a beat attack, as currently done, rather then the parry four riposte, is in conflict with the principle of defending yourself before attacking that the rules of right of way imply (see definition 2 above). Still, it is what it is. I am quickly becoming an old curmudgeon.

In epee the classic parry four-riposte has survived somewhat. The preferred action in the basic form, is
parry four opposition riposte, i.e. the blade maintains contact with our opponents blade as opposed to a parry four detached riposte. A detached riposte would be described as having the blade not in contact with the opponents blade after the actual parry. The detached riposte can allow your opponent to go for double touch as no right of way is given in epee. The parry four, with both opposition or detached riposte, is useful as a component in setting up compound and tempo actions as one would in second intention actions. In epee, besides the parry, it should be pointed out (pun intended) that defending with the stop hit, in counter time, is often preferred, as is the use of counter opposition attacks. It must be noted however, that complex attacks of second intention are still the bread and butter of more advanced tactical fencing, and the parry is an important tool for developing your fencing phrase for the purpose of setting the stage for your successful attack.

I suppose we should discuss the
counter four as long as you're here. Also referred to as a circular parry, this action has the blade moving in a counter clockwise motion. Designed to answer a disengage, it is also used, and shall I say sometimes overused, as a more general blocking action (destructive parry). Used in response to a disengage action to our simple parry, us, we strive for a small quick action, done with the fingers and followed usually by the opposition riposte in epee or detached riposte in foil. The counter four is often used in a broader action as well, known as a sweep. In this variation the hand is often held on a more centered position and the tip of the blade makes a larger arc in an effort to catch the opponents blade. In foil it is intended again as a beat and often followed a flick. The sweep is done in epee as well, but is very venerable to counter attacks, so the action may be used with the opposition riposte rather then the beat.

In fencing, even the simplest of actions, can be used with untold variations, not unlike the seven musical notes we base our greatest symphonies on. In my opinion, time spent reviewing our most basic fencing maneuvers, is time well spent for students at any level of our sport.

coach Geoff

Practice fencing perfection


Even the most advance musicians practice their daily scales, so how many lunges did you do today?

I was recently taking some time off from fencing. Not completely as I still had some private lessons to give, but much less then my normal workload. My point control is now, well it’s no longer something I would describe as point control. Yes, in a month of not practicing I notice not only point control but reaction time, distance and conditioning have all regressed. Thankfully I found practice as the cure. It is frustrating however not being able to do those actions that I previously could reliably call upon. So back to the woodshed as musicians say.

So how do we practice, this question can be more complicated then it may appear. How we practice, how much we practice, and at what intensity we practice all matter. For the purpose of this discussion I will use the term “practice” and “training” interchangeably. We have to practice both the technical skills, our actions, point control, lunges, footwork, as well as cardio conditioning, stretching, et cetera. Sometimes our practice should be isolated to specifics and sometimes combined with multiple objectives.

Practice that is fun is the most effective training tool, because you actually do it!

To start, define your goals. To do this we should evaluate our current fencing results for any shortcomings. An honest look may uncover important information that will identify what you need to practice. Let’s say that I notice that I often tend to do better in the first part of my 15 touch DE bouts then the latter parts of the bout. This could be the result of poor conditioning, I get tired, or it could also be the result of poor technical skills and or tactics. All these things need to be addressed both individually and together. Perhaps your form is “not so much”. A mirror is a wonderful tool for evaluating your form and an excellent aid for practicing when used correctly. A good training partner is essential, and using a coach? That could work too.

A well defined plan is helpful if your goals are high. As much as it is in my nature to resist, I cannot deny the power of well structured and implemented training program. This may sound intimidating and overwhelming, so my suggestion is that you break your practice down into manageable sized training blocks, of specific goals that build on each other. You should have both short term goals as well as long term training goals, and practice accordingly. These goals should be looked at in relation to your fencing calendar. Remember that you need to be conditioned, not exhausted going into an important competition. How often and how hard we practice is a function of our goals and our bodies ability to recover from our training. Many of us assume that physical training makes us stronger, but actually in the short term it weakens us by causing micro tears in our muscle fibers. The strengthening comes as we recover, so as those fibers heal and become stronger. Recovery time must therefore be a part of your training plan. We can optimize our training time sometimes by separating the more intense footwork drills and doing them with enough time between to fully recover. During this recovery time (from footwork) hand work and other training can still be done. It is always advisable to increase your training workloads gradually, In my opinion not more then 10% a week if one is to avoid injury and overtraining. It may still be advisable to build in rest weeks into your practice schedule if your training is hard. Listen to your body!

It has been said it takes 10,000 hours or 20 hours a week for ten years to make the world class level

It is better to train frequently, four, five, or even six days a week, then to try to load total training time into one or two days. Weekend worriers will not prosper. As an example, I feel point control and distance are best trained together. In my opinion even 10 minutes a day of point control drills will offer big rewards. How can we make it fun? Scoring and timing yourself, can turn practice both into a challenge and a game. Starting from a simple extension and advancing to compound footwork against a moving target, say a golf ball on a string, see how many hits you can achieve in 30 seconds. Make sure you retreat to your starting distance for each hit, I see little value just jabbing away. Challenge your friends with your score. Try multiple targets as well

An important reminder my friends, practice with correct form at all times. If fatigue is resulting in poor form stop and resume at another time. Much of what we do is based on muscle memory, getting it wrong can be both frustrating and delay any real progress.

I’m off to practice myself a bit, let me know how I do.

coach Geoff

Get a grip on epee and foil

“The odd duck”, that described me in my first introduction to fencing.

In the late 1960’s in Virginia, fencing was first and foremost known as something used to contain livestock. Bucking that trend, my father, on seeing my fascination with all thing
Zorro signed me up for a fencing class. In those days foil was it, and the use of a French grip was what you used. Having researched the matter in an old encyclopedia, (a pre internet devise for you younger folks) I fell in love with the looks of the Italian grip. My father somehow found one, much to the annoyance of the class instructor. I annoyed that guy far to often, thinking back.

As I progressed into competitive fencing, my fantasies of Zorro faded, I found myself locked into the ever popular pistol or orthopedic grip. When I say locked in, I mean it, I held that thing with a death grip. Forgotten for the time was the lessons of using the fingers, the supple wrist. The french grip and other traditional grips were considered old fashion. I am a most fashionable and trendy guy after all. So no question, I would stick to that most exotic and magical pistol grip, but which one?

Orthopedic grip types have and are evolving. A far from complete list may still include: Italian Visconti, German Visconti, Russian, American, Hungarian, Spanish offset, and modern, Cetrulo, Gardere, Rambeau, and Zivkovic grips of several patterns. Sometimes grips of the same type are called different names by vendors. Sometimes grips of the same type and manufacturer feel completely different in the hand. Some of these grips are not allowed in competitions, some times they are for one fencer but not another. Some are allowed in local competitions yet are disallowed at others. Many times I have heard of misapplication of the rules. Are you confused yet?

French grips have almost disappeared from competition, except in epee. What keeps this grip alive is a technique called pommeling, holding the handle as far back as possible to extend reach. To those unfamiliar with the technique it may offer less power but more point control then the now standard pistol grips. Having short legs and being less flexible then an oak tree, I have come to now prefer this set up, the French grip, not that any of this has really ever effected my results! Old French grips in the past were indeed very long affairs, hand and a half actually. So this reach thing is nothing new but the FIE, the governing body of our sport, has decided to restrict the length. Now this very traditional french grip is said to give unfair advantage over the orthopedic grip, that same orthopedic grip is considered by so many to have the advantage. My head hurts.
"The behavior of an organization can often be accurately predicted by assuming it to be under the control of a cabal of its enemies" -- Robert Conquest.
Hence my epees are now considered illegal, the combined length of my handle and pommel is 3/32 to long! I had to saw off 1/8th of an inch from my grip to comply to this rule. You see, someone recently started making a gauge to check this “critical” measurement, if we have it we must use it, right?. Anyway the result is this has become a hot issue in the Va. division, at least amongst the two fencers that actually use a french grip. Sometimes the rules of fencing look arbitrary and even whimsical. As I read the rule book there does appear to be some obsession with throwing the blade, really? So in the case of grips used in fencing I am in favor of the K.I.S.S principle (keep it simple stupid). The rules are the rules however, so conform we must. Just keep repeating, we must conform, we must conform ….

Update, I think some may be interested in this new product from Leon Paul

What grip to use? The thing I look for is something that allows me to use my fingers, that does not lock my hand into a death grip. The grip should allow control and flexibility in any situation including infighting. It should be comfortable. It has to be approved, not just generally but in some situations on your hand size! Read on my friends, what follows is the easy reading version by the friendly folks of the “Fencing Officials Commission” had to say.

Is my grip legal?
Is my ______ handle legal? (Fill in the blank with "Dos Santos," "Guardere," "Spanish Modern," or any other name.) This question is very difficult to answer in that there are just too many variables. Different vendors give the same handle different names and the size of the handle in relation to the size of the fencer's hand also determines if a handle is legal. Yes, a specific handle that is perfectly legal for one fencer might be illegal for someone else.
Many people think that the rules concerning various types of grips are not very clear. The three main reasons for this are: 1, People don't know the rules. 2, The rules are all too frequently ignored. 3, Vendors sell illegal handles. One should be aware that just because some vender sells a handle or just because a referee allows someone to fence with a handle does not make that handle legal. (The complete Rules Book is easily available from, the USFA web page.)
If you look in the Rules Book at Article m.4, 6, you will find that the handle with attachments that does not allow the thumb to be 2 cm or less from the guard is illegal for that fencer. (Now you can understand that a handle could be perfectly legal for someone with a very large hand while it would be illegal for someone with a very small hand.) Does your pronged handle allow you to hold it in more than one position (without going into some sort of contortions)? If so, it is illegal. If there are prongs that would allow you to hold it as you would hold a "French" handle with a finger hooked around a prong so that your thumb would be more than 2 cm from the guard, it is illegal.
The use of a strap to assist in holding the weapon has caused some confusion. If one has a legal orthopedic grip (including the Italian grip), one may use a strap. If one is using a French grip, one may not use a strap. (The applicable rules follow.) The basic concept here is that if one wishes to have a weapon that will allow for longer reach (French handle), one may not have a device (strap) that will give the user added strength.
The main rules that govern grips are:
t.16: With all three weapons, defense must be effected exclusively with the guard and the blade used either separately or together. If the handle has no special device or attachment or special shape (e.g. orthopedic), a fencer may hold it in any way he or she wishes and he or she may also alter the position of his hand on the handle during a bout. However, the weapon must not be - either permanently or temporarily, in an open or disguised manner - transformed into a throwing weapon; it must be used without the hand leaving the hilt . . .
m.4: 1. The maximum length of the grip in foil and épée is 20 cm, measured between lines B and E, and 18 cm, measured between lines B and D. In saber the maximum length of the grip is 17 cm (see Figures 8, 9 and 13, pp. 86, 89, 94). 2. The grip must be able to pass through the same gauge as the guard. It must be so made that normally it cannot injure either the user or the opponent. 3. All types of hilts are allowed providing that they conform to the regulations which have been framed with a view to placing the various types of weapons on the same footing. However, at épée, orthopedic grips, whether metal or not, may not be covered with leather or any material which could hide wires or switches. 4. The grip must not include any device which assists the fencer to use it as a throwing weapon. 5. The grip must not include any device which can increase in any way the protection afforded to the hand or wrist of the fencer by the guard: a cross bar or electric socket which extends beyond the edge of the guard is expressly forbidden. 6. If the grip (or glove) includes any device or attachment or has a special shape (orthopedic) which fixes the position of the hand on the grip, the grip must conform to the following conditions. (a) It must determine and fix one position only for the hand on the grip. (b) When the hand occupies this one position on the grip, the extremity of the thumb when completely extended must not be more than 2 cm from the inner surface of the guard.