Fencing 101 : Proper Grip (Foil)
Proper grip/hand position on the sword is perhaps the most basic element when it comes to sword mastery. What many fencers forget (mostly of today’s time) is that fencing is “with the fingers” – the deathly edge at one’s control just as a brush is to an artist.
To achieve a fitting start in swordplay, one must take special care in how they hold the sword. In classical fencing, the practitioner must remember the words of the swordmaster Doutreval*, (Scaramouche, 1952) who said to student Andre Moreau,
The sword is like a bird. If you clutch it too tightly, you choke it… to lightly, and it flies away.
When positioning your hand onto the sword for the first time, notice the curve (of the french foil, poigneé) as the inward curve of the grip, should mold to the contour of the base of the thumb.
(as shown in this picture) Both the thumb and the first two joints of the index finger, also called “manipulators”, should be flush against the “petite cussion” around the two widest sides and the remaining fingers should fold, relaxingly, around the grip. Keep the pommel along the center of the wrist. This is to reduce “heavy handedness” and overuse of the arm. It also helps to promote a straight and solid wrist, whereby any action on your blade is reinforced by the streamline structures of the hand-wrist-forearm.
What becomes of this finger-blade arrangement is, over time, a feeling of connectivity to the weapon. Therefore, with time and correct intention through practice and bouting, your level of sensitivity (the feeling of the blade) known as “sentiment du fer” will produce the feeling of “the weapon and wielder are one.”
As tedious an exercise as this may seem – with many fencers rushing off to purchase pistol-grip/anatomical-grip swords – it would be wise to stay true to French foil. As “cozy” as an anatomical grip foil can be, it’s my opinion that hopes of developing “sentiment du fer” would be near impossible. Remember, “anything worth doing is worth doing right.”
*It wasn’t the charactor/actor of Doutreval that first came up with this saying (obviously!), but 19th century French fencer Louis Justin Lafaugere.
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