Page name: Lesson One [Logged in view] [RSS]
2008-01-01 03:21:53
Last author: Maeve104
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Lesson 1

Topics:  Safety, etiquette, stance, On Guard, stepping.

Bearing in mind this is only a Merely a Wiki lesson, you may be asking "What's the point?". Well by using these lessons I hope to give you some knowledge (practical or theoretical, it's at your discretion) of historical fencing, the modern sport, and the principles behind sword-play moves. If this encourages you to join your nearest fencing club, great. If you just want to read and learn, that's fine too. If you want to practice fencing behind closed doors with a garden cane.... fine. All I ask is respect for safety and others. Oh and please *mumbles*.... if you see any typos...then...erm...yeah.. :)


Safety is paramount in fencing. Think about it - you're wielding a sword, and as such, you need to be responsible for your actions. If you are irresponsible you will end up hurting yourself, and, more importantly, someone else. When fencing in any capacity, you should always wear a mask and a plastron (even if you want to RP these lessons, it won't hurt to wear a helmet, will it?). This is a tough wire mesh mask held in place by a helmet. The mesh is very fine so it does not impair vision. It is very resistant, obviously. A plastron is a jacket which covers the torso and arms. Made of a stretchy fabric, these are graded in terms of how many Newtons they can withstand, and some can be literally bullet-proof.
So it's fairly obvious now how seriously safety is taken in the modern salle. If you think about the potential power you have when holding a sword, it's understandable. Have I emphasized this enough yet? All it takes is a careless spin of your sword and you could blind someone. Put a little more force behind the same careless swing, and you will kill them. Hope that scared you. The following rules always apply, no matter where you fence or when:

1) Never point your sword at any one not wearing a mask.

2) When walking about, keep your point down always! If, for some strange reason you have to, some people carry their weapon by the point, with the hilt towards the ground. If you do do this, mask the point with your fist.

3) "Halt" is a universal command. When someone shouts "Halt" during a fencing bout, training or whatever, you bloody well stop what you are doing, as there may be an urgent reason. I know it may be tempting to have another go at someone, or to try one last move, but you really must stop. You may be in danger.

4.)It is standard before any match to inspect your opponent's gear as well as your own. If you see that they have any equipment that's out of place-a glove not quite protecting the wrist, an unbuttoned or unvelcroed collar, it is YOUR responsibility as a fencer to point it out to them before starting. Beyond common courtesy, it could potentially mean the difference between life and death if an accident occurs.

5.)Be SURE to inspect your weapon for any fractures, splinters, missing tips, etc. before the match begins. Though it is rare, blades have been known to snap on a particularly hard hit, resulting in serious injury. Remember that these blades are made of metal and can kill a person if they are snapped off into a pointy tip. If you have any doubts about your weapon, GET A DIFFERENT ONE.

If these safety rules are followed, fencing is a fun and rewarding sport. Just know that these rules are in place for a reason, and keep them in mind during both practice and matches and you'll be fine! :D

Armour List for Fencers:

Face Mask: Protects the head and neck. A fine mesh screen covers the face, and a heavy bib falls down over the neck to provide added protection.

Plastron:Worn on the sword-arm side of the body. Provides extra protection for the shoulder and chest on that side.

Chest Protector: Worn by women fencers to protect the chest area.

Jacket: White, thick fabric jacket worn over the plastron. Protects the entire torso, neck, and arms from blows.

Knickers (or Breeches): White pants that provide leg protection.

Knee-high Socks: Protect the lower leg and ankles.

Fencing Shoes: Provide good traction and are reinforced on the inside of the left foot and the right heel to prevent wear during lunges.

Sword-hand Glove: Protects the hand and wrist on the sword hand. Also provides a better grip on the weapon.


Many times when I try to explain etiquette to novice fencers, they give me confused looks, looks that say: we're-playing-with-swords-and-you-expect-us-to-be-polite? My answer to that is: yes. You must remember that fencing is a sport, and in this day and age, a very civilized one (as opposed to a while ago, when points were awarded according to blood drawn). And because fencing is a sport, one must be courteous to opponents as in other sports. 

1. Before a match, you salute your opponent and director, and sometimes audience. Although styles and personal touches make salutes individual, the basic action is more or less the same.

2. You do not swear while on strip. A strip is where you fence. It is a rectangle about 3 feet wide by 40 feet long. You will get carded if you swear on strip in front of a director (referee). 

3. After a bout, you shake non-weapon hands with your opponent and thank them for the bout (even if you lost and the only thing you really want to do is drive your foil/saber/epee right through his/her heart)

4. Very obvious: Be honest, and do not cheat. If you are fencing non-electric, and you feel yourself get hit, say so. Do not be like, "Oh, I don't know if she/he hit me" when you know you definitely were hit. 

5. Yes, you are playing with swords. But no, excessive brutality is not allowed. You will get carded for it. That means: no running at your opponent, no tackling of your opponent, and definitely no hitting your opponent on the head with the pommel. I have been hit with the pommel (the handle), and it hurts. Especially with french grips. 

6. It is proper, in a tournament, to help the teammate on the strip right before you to get their equipment (body cord, weapon cord, etc) unhooked from the electronics after their bout is over. It is also common courtesy to help the person on your team following your bout to get their equipment on.


The basic fencing stance is a crucial part of fencing technique. As in all sports, if the basics aren't correct, then the athlete's performance isn't as good, no matter how advanced the are. One of my fencing instructors told me that good fencers achieve through speed and skill, but mostly through balance of both body and mind. Without balance and a sturdy stance, nothing else will work.

(I'll make some drawings to go along with these moves, but for the most part, the best way to know if you're doing it right is to go to a fencer and have them check your stance. If you train in the wrong stance, it's harder to untrain your muscle memory than it is to start from scratch!)

1.) Place your feet shoulder length apart, centering your weight along your spine.

2.) Turn your head to the right, and turn your right foot to face the same direction as you are looking. It should make a 90 degree angle with your left foot.

3.) Be sure to keep your right knee centered over your right foot, otherwise you'll run the risk of losing your balance or twisting your knee during maneuvers.

4.) Bend your knees until you are about a head and a half shorter than you would be standing up. (Also known as until you feel that you look really stupid. ^^ Don't worry, you only look stupid if you decide to get into fencing stance in the middle of a sidewalk or something. Fencers know that the lower your stance, the lower your center of gravity-the faster you can move!)

5.)Check your knees! The left one should be in line with or slightly to the outside of your left foot, your right knee should be in line with your right foot.

6.) Center your weight closer to your left (back) leg. This will help you get the power behind your lunges.

7.) Keep your spine straight and relaxed, stomach in, chest out, not leaning forward (toward your opponent) or back (away from your opponent). When moving, keep your spine straight and your legs bent! Don't bob up and down-it wastes movement that could be going into moving forwards and backwards in combat. Don't worry, this gets easier as you build up muscle in your legs. :)

.) Now for the arms! First rule is KEEP YOUR LEFT ARM BEHIND YOU! (Behind in fencing means to your far left side-farthest AWAY from your opponent.) Unless you want to produce an easy target and get whacked on your ungloved hand, you'd best keep it out of the reach of your opponent's blade. It doesn't matter where behind you your left arm is, so long as it stays back there.

.) As for the right arm, it gets a bit tricky. Different arm and hand positions go with each type of weapon. As a general rule, no matter which type you use, your arm should be bent at the elbow, and your elbow should be about a fist's distance away from your side when your blade is not engaged. (when you're not trying to attack/defend with it.)

   Foil Fencing: The wrist should be straight! Blade should be pointed at the opponent's chest. All movements are directed by the thumb and pointer finger, so they should be positioned as pictured.

   Epee Fencing: Same finger position as the foil, but the bell guard on the epee should be positioned so as to provide maximum cover for the hand and arm behind it, since points can be scored there. The inside of the wrist should be pointed more upwards and the wrist and arm should be straight and not angle to either side of the bell guard.

   Sabre: The arm is still held in the same position as in foil and epee, but the hand is held so that the blade is almost vertical, tilted slightly toward the inside so as to be handy for guarding the torso. The bell guard, which extends to cover the entire outside of the hand, should be providing cover for all fingers, and the arm should be protected by being in line with this guard. Remember that in sabre the arms as well as the torso and head are valid targets, and the entire length of the blade can be used to score points!

You are now in the "on guard" position. This is the most important part of your training! All of your attacks and defensive moves start from this position, and it should be consistent and correct EVERY time you return to it.

   Now that you have the "on guard" position, you need to know some basic maneuvers to keep the distance between you and your opponent constant. Unless you are making an attack you should always keep yourself just out of lunge-reach of your opponent. To test this in practice, have your opponent "lunge" (see vocabulary page if you don't know what this means yet-we'll get to it in lesson 2) and place yourself just past the tip of their weapon.
   The Advance: A basic aggressive move made toward your opponent. To make an advance, first start in the "on guard" position. First move your front foot (the one closest to your opponent) forward a step. This shouldn't be a big step, as that will throw you off balance. Try to keep your step normal sized and consistant. After your forward foot hits the ground, move your back foot up so that you are back in the on guard position. Keep your arms in the same position the entire time-this is not an attack, it is simply a move forward. You may choose to combine it with an attack later.

   The Retreat: A basic defensive movement away from your opponent. In foil and saber this move will give your opponent the "right-of-way," meaning that any points they score will count. Unless YOU make an aggressive move before they score points, any touches you get in defense of yourself won't count as points scored.
   The retreat is the opposite movement from an advance. Move your back foot first-take a normal sized step back. Follow your back foot with your front foot and you'll end up back in the on guard position.

1.) Remember to keep your feet the same distance apart and in the same position every time you get in the on guard position! After making a few advances and retreats, check your stance and correct it before doing another set of advances and retreats. The stance will become part of your muscle memory with time, but it needs to stay consistant to become that way.

2.) Stay lowered in a crouch the entire time. Don't bob up and down as you make your advances and retreats! This will provide a bigger target area for your opponent and waste valuable energy in unnecessary movement. It may feel like your legs are on fire to begin with, but as you practice you'll get better at maintaining your low stance.

3.) If you're serious about learning to fence, go to an instructor or at least someone who has been fencing for awhile to double check how you're doing. It is critical to perfect the simple moves because everything else is structured from them. You don't want to learn them incorrectly and have to go back and relearn later.

4.) When you get good at advancing and retreating you will be able to do it faster. Remember not to let your feet touch each other when you move, even when you're moving speedily. It's bad form and you could trip over your own feet.

Good Drills to Practice With:
1.) Start with your back foot on a line of some sort on the floor. Advance six times and retreat six times, trying to keep your stepping consistent. When you reach the end of your retreats, check your position in reference to the line you started on. If your back foot is on or within a few inches of the line, good job!

2.) Try mixing it up a bit. Take three advances, two retreats, another advance, a retreat, two advances, etc. Check your on guard stance and correct every few sets.

This ends lesson one! Practice for a bit and then go on to lesson two.

Back to Main Salle

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2003-05-04 [Mithrael]: If I may dear darkscribe... ^_^

2003-05-05 [brokenman5000]: hyaaahhhHHH!!! *hack cough

2003-05-05 [brokenman5000]: ahem... hyahhhh!

2003-12-12 [Athene Noctua]: I had a plethora of free time. Thought I might contribute darkscribe.

2004-02-09 [Flos Duellatorum]: Hi, just got something to say here. In reference to point 5. of the Etiquette section: Hitting someone on the head with a french grip, yes, you will get carded for that no doubt. But don't forget that hitting someone on the head with a sabre guard is reguarded as a legitimate move (as long as you aren't trying to cause harm to the opponent). Though in sabre fights it's a very, very rare occurence that two fencers would get close enough to preform such a move.

2004-02-09 [Mithrael]: feel free to edit Xith's addition to include that, then

2004-03-29 [Lireal]: Are there any books on which I can learn differant types of weapons? Like the many differant types of swords? It would kinda help idiots like me.......

2004-03-30 [Flos Duellatorum]: Try "Sword Fighting: A Manual for Actors and Directors" by John Waller & Keith Ducklin. It doesn't explain how to use them in fights, but explains a variety of European weapons, and the best way to sequence fight scenes with them.

2004-04-27 [Galain]: I don't know where you guys fence, but I'm a sabreur and we are definately given a yellow for corps a corps involving the guard.

2008-01-18 [Imperator]: So I plan on practicing this stuff with a toy plastic lightsaber. :p

2008-01-21 [Maeve104]: Hehe. Awesome. I practice with a baton when I'm at home. ^^

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