Fencing Dos and Don'ts

Do have confidence and finish your attacks.
Don't start an attack convinced that it's going to land; be ready to counter-parry. But be sure to finish your attack first.

Do set up your attacks, for example, by doing preparatory beats.
Don't search for your opponent's blade, for example, by trying to do preparatory beats.

Do take control of the action by closing the distance so as to make your attack.
Don't push; your opponent will just retreat.

Do keep your distance so that you have space to (counter-)parry and make your riposte.
Don't start an attack until you are actually in distance.

Do keep your point on target by holding your blade steady.
Don't just leave your blade out for your opponent to beat.

Do keep moving on the strip, in and out of distance.
Don't signal when you are about to make an attack, e.g. by moving into distance.

Do remise if your opponent's riposte does not land. The important thing is to get the touch.
Don't remise; counterparry first. The important thing is to do the action correctly.

Do watch your opponent's blade to see which way she tends to move it.
Don't follow your opponent's blade; keep your eye on the target.

Do drill so that your actions become habitual.
Don't be predictable in your actions.

Do fence every bout with the intention of doing your very best to win.
Don't fence to win.

One day, if I'm lucky, this will all make sense.


  1. Really thought-provoking list! I enjoyed reading and considering these notes.

    Re. Preparatory Beats: Is there really something intrinsically wrong with searching for the opponent's blade with a preparatory beat? Perhaps the caveat is simply that you have to be aware that you're searching, and aware that they're going to be aware that you're searching. If it comes as a surprise action, it can be, as you said, a good setup for a direct or indirect attack; if it is not a surprise, it can be used as a steering action to guide your opponent's blade into a line where it can be captured with beat or prise de fer. But definitely the preparatory beat's gotta be a well controlled, conscious action with a clearly defined purpose.

    Have you tried doing remise followed by counterparry? This is a move I've seen strong foilists really make hay out of, although I personally never reached a skill level in foil to make it useful.

    Re. Pushing: An uncontrolled push can represent a stampede into a waiting trap, but isn't the varying-tempo push-push-push almost the heart of modern foil tempo? I came to conceptualize foil as ultimately consisting of waves of pressure rolling back and forth down the strip, where the clearest case would be the push. A relentless but varying-tempo push with continuous deceptions of the blade and a sharp final acceleration (perhaps also interspersed with false accelerations to draw counter) really seems to sit at the heart of many strong male foilists' games. And then conversely the in-and-out that you also mentioned can be really instrumental in drawing the finish and taking and going off that.

  2. Re: preparatory beats. This was the main thing my coach picked up on looking at the video from Tuesday: I spend too much time searching for the blade. The list of "Dos and Don'ts" is meant to illustrate how finely one has to distinguish between doing the actions correctly and doing them wrong. Your description of the push is exactly right: the trick is feeling the difference between a push that it actually a preparation and a push that is a stampede. I have actually started just this past year to be able to make these distinctions--perhaps the cause of some of my frustration: I now sense so many new things that it is possible to do wrong!--but I can't yet consistently perform them.

    Good thought on the remise-counterparry. One of my clubmates uses that a lot and he's one of the ones I have the most difficulty fencing.


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