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 in today’s age) is that fencing is with the wrist and fingers – the “deadly” art 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) 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 up to, but not touching, the cushion around the two widest sides. The remaining fingers should fold, without too much tension, 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. This is what I call the “standard grip”.  If you allow your thumb to travel back, approximately one inch from the cushion, this is what I call a “classical grip.” Both methods of gripping the foil are correct and although I prefer using the classical grip myself, it is up to the fencer to decide for him/herself.

What becomes of this finger-controlled 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/ “sentiment du fer”) will produce the feeling that “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 weapons – it would be wise to stay true to French-grip foil.  As “cozy” as an anatomical grip foil can be, it’s my opinion that hopes of developing “sentiment du fer” would be greatly stunted.  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.

Michael Joyce

CombativeCorner Profile


One Response to “Fencing 101 : Proper Grip (Foil)”

  1. A.B. Schafer Says:

    Reblogged this on Harrison High School Fencing Club and commented:
    An excellent article on the proper grip of a foil!

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