Archive for sword fighting

Becoming a Duellist

Posted in Fencing, Fighters, History, Martial Arts, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on October 12, 2015 by chencenter

Duel Basil Rathbone Zorro

In his book, famous fencing master Aldo Nadi realistically describes the tension, obstacles and high-stake nature of the duel – one that he experienced first-hand in1924. Only 24 years old, but an undefeated champion in 3 weapons, Aldo remained confident and eager to prove himself against a live point.  Aldo squared off against Adolfo Cotronei, an Italian newspaper editor, over a story Contronei printed saying that Italian champion Candido Sassone beat French champion Lucien Gaudin 9-to-7.  Honor at stake, they met a secluded place   [read more at “The Duel”]

Aldo Nadi DuelHe writes:

In competition, the good fencer leisurely watches his opponent for a few seconds before starting the slightest motion. Here you are by no means allowed to do so because your adversary immediately puts into execution a plan evidently well thought out in advance: surprise the youngster at the very beginning; take advantage of his lack of dueling and bear upon his nerves and morale.”


The Duellist movie Duel 2No film has picked up on the atmosphere and realism of the duel quite like Ridley Scott’s 1977 epic film, The Duellists. Choreographed by the famous William Hobbs (Excaliber, Willow, & The Count of Monte Cristo) it remains one of the best examples of sword-fighting – especially in this period, (Napoleonic era).

What you notice right away by viewing these fight scenes, is that the intention and awareness is focused on his opponent (remember, your life is on the line). Two, each fighter is hesitant on making a non-calculated action until there is a need to react to something – something that you possibly did not expect. And third, the fight scene is extremely short. Many duels started and finished in the time it took to read this paragraph.* Cutting with a sabre often produced gaping wounds, but it was the thrust (often w/ dueling sword, smallsword or rapier) that was fatal.

*Keep in mind that once the actual sword-fighting starts, depending on the skill, fighting area, luck, etc., duels could last anywhere from seconds to several minutes.  Most duels didn’t last more than 10 minutes.  But think of the amount of stamina that that would require! Needless-to-say, if you are serious about sword-fighting, be ready for anything.  


epee5It is of my opinion that if you can’t fight well against one person, you can’t and won’t perform well in a skirmish/battle. It is very important that you first learn your weapon (or weapon set) & build your skill. This includes Guard positions, techniques and movement tactics (learning first solo, then one-on-one and then (perhaps) multiple opponents).

>Bruce Lee once said, “One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs in simplicity.” This quote can easily be understood by the experienced martial artist – but is often hard for the beginner. Learn your techniques, various ways of movements…be a scientist of the martial sciences and put your skill and techniques to the test in competition.

What techniques serve you the best?

Which ones keep you safe or make you harder to hit/counter? Keep them.

Discard those techniques that put you in a bad position, are too flashy or complicated.

Find your personal “Go-To” techniques.


The mindset, especially in training and mock-dueling is essential. It must be centered around one thing – never allow a single touch. And if a touch is received, never allow a second. Always make it hard for your opponent to attack, find steady footing, or catch a breath. Use your environment, training and your intelligence in sword-fighting to be victorious. Victory favors the skillful!


I tell my young students, “Imagine you stepped back in time… You encounter a villainous foe, and he corners you into a fight; a fight to the death!” In an act of self-preservation you grab firmly your weapon of choice and ready yourself for any oncoming attack.  In all matters of self-defense, I think it is fair to say “Anything goes.” This may include acquiring another weapon, kicking sand, or dirtying your point (in hopes that the doctor or director halts the bout, thus giving you a needed breather).  However, under normal circumstances and in hopes of winning honorably… I find it best to train using solid (go-to) techniques and spar using great sportsmanship.  Ultimately, if one had the liberty of choice (in dying), most would choose the honorable over the cowardly.  At least one would hope.



I know there are many fencers and historians out there that might have some a different idea or opinion towards duels and/or what I have written.  If you would like to offer any comments, critiques, or possible revisions/errors, please let me know by leaving a comment and I will review and take them under heavy consideration.  Thank you!

10 Questions with Matt Easton

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing, Swordsmanship, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2015 by Combative Corner

Matt Easton ScholaGladiatoria CC Interview 2015

Matt Easton is fencer, weapons historian and researcher and runs Schola Gladiatoria in Ealing, West London.  We’ve been following his Youtube channel (which to this date has nearly 50K subscribers) for a few years now and we’ve always been impressed with Mr. Easton’s knowledge, enthusiasm and scientific approach.  Now, for your reading pleasure you can hear the top 10 questions posed to Mr. Easton from you (the reader), us (the Combative Crew) and from myself (the fencer).  Enjoy!

How did you get into sword-play?

As far as I can remember, I was born interested in swordplay; I can’t remember an age at which I was not obsessed with swords and everything to do with them. Like most kids I played with wooden swords, but in my teenage years I started modern sport fencing at school and also started trying to work out how real swords might have been used. I got a weekend job and saved up for my first real sword (a replica longsword), which I then used for lots of solo practice, just working out what could be done with it and how such a weapon should move. I also managed to find an instructional video by Mike Loades on renaissance swordsmanship for stage and screen and while I was at university I heard about Terry Brown’s English Martial Arts classes. I became a student of his for a couple of years and that was my proper initiation into historical fencing, from which I branched out to work on various other historical swordsmanship sources and eventually to become a teacher.

How would you mark your evolution as a martial artist?

I think that when I started studying various different martial arts, be it kung fu and kendo, or different Western historical swordsmanship treatises, I was first struck by all the similarities across different systems. Then as I started to focus more on specific systems and teach them I was struck by how some things are done so differently from one system to another. Some people talk about doing ‘German longsword’, or ‘Italian longsword’, for example, but actually there are a lot of significant differences between sources like Fiore dei Liberi, Filippo Vadi and Achille Marozzo – despite the fact that they all teach the longsword and are all Italian. Even more notable are the differences between a German source like Paulus Kal and an Italian source like Fiore dei Liberi – whilst there is a lot of common ground, the differences are really significant as well. There are some quite basic things that they did differently, despite both being in Europe in the same century and using the same weapon. Now I have been studying these systems for over 15 years I start to look beyond similarities and differences and I feel like I’m starting to understand the reasons for the differences more. Not the simple principles – anybody who has been fencing for a couple of years understands the basic universal principles of time, distance, line and so on. Rather I feel like I’m starting to see more complex patterns across various martial arts. So I would say that I mark my progress in martial arts through depth of understanding, but I’m sure that in ten or twenty years I’ll look back and realise I didn’t understand much at all. I think that the main purpose for depth of understanding is to enable more acute transfer of knowledge to students. Someone can become a competent fighter in quite a short period of time, but most competent fighters are not able to transfer their skills without a long period of teaching experience.

As a collector of various weapons, what 3 are closest to your heart?

That is a very difficult question for me, as I own a rather large number now, of which I have probably 15 swords which I am very attached to, for various reasons. I’ll give the first three that come to mind: A non-regulation infantry officer’s sword, by Wilkinson and dating to 1858, which has a special extra-long wedge-section blade and steel hilt covered in gilding to make it look like a brass regulation guard. This was owned by the adjutant of the 61st regiment of foot, who survived the siege and fall of Delhi during the Indian Mutiny – I also have his diaries. Secondly a non-regulation steel-hilted Royal Engineers officer’s sword, by Wilkinson and dating to the 1860s, which was owned by an officer who was a sort of Victorian James Bond. Officially an Army officer, he used to travel to areas which the British government had interests in and act as a spy, reporting back details of geography and defences, also trying to broker alliances. He was eventually killed in the Egyptian desert whilst trying to secure the alliance of the Bedouin prior to a British invasion. Lastly a current favourite of mine is a ‘Lead Cutter’ made by Robert Mole of Birmingham in around 1890. Lead cutters were over-sized, over-weight cutlasses, made specifically for sword feats, whereby various objects such as a lead bar or whole sheep carcass would be cut through with one blow. Sword feats were designed to improve cutting skill and also for fun and exercise. This example weighs 3.5lbs and is great for training with – it’s also in fantastic condition and still sharp.

When did you start putting videos on YouTube and how has the process been?

I started putting HEMA-related videos on YouTube several years ago to represent my club to a HEMA audience and potential new students, but around 2 years ago I decided that there was an un-filled niche for information videos about historical fencing, arms and armour. Most other people making HEMA videos were doing it for a HEMA audience, but I saw that there were a couple of popular multi-topic YouTube channels that had started to branch into HEMA. I saw them making some basic errors and realised that YouTube really needed a HEMA person to talk about HEMA – we shouldn’t be leaving it up to other people to represent us and nobody else in the HEMA scene was really doing it, at least not with regular videos. So I got a camcorder and started filming – I never had even the slightest sense that they would become anywhere near as popular as they are now. I genuinely wanted to do the videos to get the information out there and at first I wasn’t thinking about how to make them popular. Now I have nearly fifty thousand subscribers I’ve started thinking about it a bit more as a job and thinking about scaling it up – I’ve actually started editing my videos slightly now! The process has been very rewarding and I have been really amazed at how large the response has been, but also how positive it has been. We have had a really tiny number of negative responses and having run a discussion forum for many years I can say without doubt that there has been a lot more peaceful and civil discourse on the YouTube comments than there is on an average forum. As well as really positive input from the viewers I have also received a lot of positive feedback from other HEMA instructors and I know that many groups have now got more students thanks directly to my channel, which is hugely satisfying. YouTube really is an incredibly powerful medium for spreading information – more so than TV documentaries, publicity events, newspapers or any of the other mediums I have worked with over the years. And that is really what the channel is about – spreading the word of HEMA and getting more people into it.

What is your current view on the way they teach (modern/sport) fencing today?

I actually have a lot of respect for modern sport fencing and I think it has some very well-established and effective teaching methods. Some of how we train historical fencing is taken directly from sport fencing. What I have criticised about sport fencing are some of the rules and some of the equipment – I think it has led to a sport that is further and further removed from swordsmanship and therefore is less and less like what most people actually want to do when they start fencing. A huge proportion of historical fencers are former sport-fencers who started because they wanted to learn how to use a sword – some people do both historical and sport fencing, and the two need not be exclusive. I myself did sport fencing for many years and would recommend any child to do it as a basis for historical fencing. In the future I expect that historical fencing will become more like sport fencing in its attitudes to professionalism, teaching and athletic excellence. I certainly hope that historical fencing will learn from some of the mistakes of sport fencing though and not repeat them.

We know you as having a fondness for the saber/sabre. Why do you think you’ve developed such a fondness for this weapon above others?

My love of the sabre comes essentially from three motivations; firstly that I like the way it is used and systematised in manuals. It is a very developed fencing system, with everything named, numbered and codified. It works very well as a system against any other and is scientific and logical – so much so that as a system you can apply the terms to other systems (for example numbering the cuts and thrusts for ease of teaching). Secondly, I love that antique sabres are still numerous and therefore cheap enough to be easily collected and handled. Nobody except the super-rich can afford to collect medieval longswords, which in good condition go for £20,000 and more. Even 17th century rapiers start at around £1,500, so 19th century sabres at £150 upwards are much more accessible. Lastly, I am really interested in the period that sabres mostly relate to – particularly the British and French colonial wars, which saw very diversely-equipped opponents and far more hand-to-hand fighting that was usual in the 19th century. I find the written experiences, written in basically modern English, by men who fought in India, China, the Crimea, Afghanistan, Persia, New Zealand and elsewhere fascinating. These men only lived 4 or 5 generations ago and were photographed, yet they faced hand-to-hand conflicts every bit as brutal and sometimes more bloody, than medieval warriors.

In teaching students, what are some of the core principles that you try to instill?

Firstly control. With weapons you need control before you can progress. Control is mostly about mind-set I think – learning to respect the weapon, your capabilities and be respectful of the training partners. Next is how to move – the students generally don’t realise they are being taught this, because they think they are learning techniques of attack and defence. For the first few months though what they are really learning is a new way of moving their bodies. In everyday life we just don’t move our bodies in these ways. At first even strong and fit students exhaust themselves in an hour class because they just aren’t moving right. Learning to move is all about efficiency of course and once a person knows how to move with a given weapon then they only use a fraction of the energy to do things that used to exhaust them. Once a person has learned control and how to move, then they really effectively start to learn about attack and defence, time, distance, judgement, line and the other basic themes of fencing.

From when you first started till today, what does your family think of your love for the sword (and fighting arts)?

Growing up I suppose that my parents were fairly supportive of my hobbies, though it was not an interest they shared and it was something I pursued avidly under my own drive. I met my wife through HEMA and she is a co-instructor of another HEMA club, so of course she is very supportive and I hope I am of her also. My brother-in-law runs the club that my wife trains and teaches at.

What advice would you have for a student who wants to learn historical fencing?

Join a HEMA club as soon as you can and go regularly. If you can only get there once a month, or a couple of times a year, then do. If you can’t get to any club then try to travel to HEMA events – they always have classes catered for beginners. Contact with an experienced teacher and other students is invaluable – you learn so much quicker from other experienced people than you will from books or DVDs. If there are no HEMA clubs near you then starting a related activity such as sport fencing or jujitsu is good. It will help you progress if you are trying to learn HEMA from books or DVDs. Lastly, don’t be afraid to start a study group. Be clear with people that you are learning as well and that you can all learn together – this is how most HEMA clubs started, mine included. Once you have one or two other interested people then you can look at pooling resources and maybe having an instructor visit for a weekend, or all travel to an event together to learn.

What does Matt like to do when he is not teaching, training, or making YouTube videos?

Outside of working, HEMA, antique collecting, filming videos and other sword-related things, I like going to pretty historical places with my wife and daughter, I play computer games a little, I shoot black powder firearms and I spend far too much time browsing the internet. I also cycle on a daily basis and intend to get back into mountain biking at some point.


It’s the Zombie Apocalypse and you have only one type of sword to choose from – what specific type would wield?

In the Zombie Apocalypse I would choose a cutlass out of all swords, as it is better in confined spaces due to the length, it’s easy to carry, has a good hand guard, but also packs a lot of punch.

Interviewed by: Michael Joyce

For more information on Matt, check out:

Youtube Channel


And from all of us at the CombativeCorner, thank you Matt and to our readers, we sincerely hope you enjoyed the read!


10 Questions With Ramon Martinez

Posted in 10 Questions, Fencing with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by Combative Corner

Maestro Ramon Martinez CCRamón Martínez is a traditional master of arms, teaching classical and historical fencing. He studied with the late Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes in New York City for ten years. Maître Rohdes was one of the last fencing masters to teach fencing as a martial art.  He is the world’s preeminent authority on the Spanish school of fencing La Verdadera Destreza and is the director of the Martinez Academy of Arms in New York City.  It is with great joy and honor that we have Mastro Martínez here at the CombativeCorner for an exclusive interview. For more information on Maestro Martínez please visit his website by click on his picture above.

How did young Ramon get interested with fencing?

As a child I was already interested in fencing at an early age. I knew then that it was something that I could do and felt that it would always be a part of my life. I was fascinated with the sword by viewing the old Disney Zorro television series starring the late Guy Williams. This was an inspiration for me.  Consequently I continued to view any television program or movie that had “sword fights” in them. Later, I would also read novels, history books or any story I could find that contained any aspect of swordsmanship.

You were able to study with  Maître d’Armes Frederick Rohdes in NY for 10 years.   What are some of the things that stood out about him as a teacher?

What stood out to me was his old world manner and strictness. He was absolutely uncompromising in his adherence to a martial tradition that encompassed mind, body and spirit. He gave his profession one hundred percent of himself and expected no less from his students.

His character was demanding, tough, fair but never personally abusive. He was truly an old world 19th century master living in the 20th century. Entering his academy was like taking a step back in time. It was a place of truth and not of games. Anything less was not tolerated. It was attended by some of the toughest fencers I have ever seen or faced. I will always be grateful that I was privileged to have such a person be part of my life. Without him I would not be where I am today. There is not a day that goes by when I do not think of him.

Thinking back on your beginning years as a fencer, what part(s) of fencing came “easy” and what part(s) “hard.”

I am fortunate in that the technical aspect of fencing came relatively easy for me.  It was the perfecting of it that was the most difficult. I have learned that the quest for perfection is the journey and not the destination. I am still on that journey. What was and still is the greatest challenge for me is controlling my fiery temper. Maître Rohdes would always tell me that my greatest adversary is the person I see in the mirror every morning. He would always say to me; “He who the gods would destroy they first make mad.” As I have grown older it has been proven to me time and time again that he was right. In my research I have read countless numbers of fencing texts from the 16th – 19th century and most masters will make a point of saying that you must learn to control yourself. 17th century Spanish master Don Luis Pacheco de Narvaez said; “It is easier to put out a fire than to mitigate an ire.”

I’ve read that you hold no allegiance to any particular school of fencing – however, when comparing yourself with other fencers, how does your style/approach differ?

I follow the way of my master and his masters. Period!
I am a traditional swordsman and master. For me modernism and sport are not in my consciousness. I will not compromise in any aspect of the art & science as a martial discipline. My personal style of fencing is strictly classical and my method of teaching traditional.

I had the rare privilege of learning both the French and the Italian schools of fencing and much more from a master that knew both. This is the reason that I am not politically nor culturally biased toward any school of fencing. Each school of fencing has its strong and weak aspects. Either can be devastatingly effective when utilized correctly by an expert.

I want to make it clear that I do not mix apples and oranges. I keep everything that I teach in its own place. When I teach French fencing I strictly adhere to the tenets of the French school. Furthermore, I follow the doctrine of that school in accord with the period of the weapon that I am teaching. I do the same with Italian and Spanish fencing.  For example, French foil fencing of the late 19th century is not the same as late 17th century French small-sword, Classical Italian foil is not at all the same as 17th century Italian rapier. Finally, the Spanish school (La Vedadera Destreza) is totally different in its application of theory, its mind set, structure and form.
Each school has it own form, that form facilitates the biomechanics within that school, so that it can be utilized efficiently and effectively. The technical aspect of each school relies on the expression of the form for efficacy. For me form does not follow function as some people say and believe. On the contrary I always say that form and function can never be separate as the form was created to insure that the function is efficient.  Form is not just an after thought used solely for decorative purpose to ornament what you are doing.

Fencing must be a balance of self-mastery, total comprehension of fencing theory and scientific application. I tell all of my students that they cannot even hope to control a person or a situation before they can control themselves.

Students often have a hard time understanding the difference (besides the grip being used).   If we are talking about aspects (other than the gripping of the weapon) what philosophical, strategic or postural differences does the foil fencer exhibit?

I think that the definition of the classical fencer by Maître Louis Rondelle answers this question the best;

“The Classical Fencer. –  A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and ripostes executed with precision.

One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it. It is then a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.”

In contrast to:

“The Blunderer. – Is a fencer who strives to hit his adversary by all means, fair or foul, without preparation or opposition. His arm drawn back of its position, he advances or retreats without necessity, effects a tension on any attack, attempts to execute time-thrusts on simple attacks, beats the blade and changes the engagement without motive.”

The prime directive in fencing is always defense. If there is no defense it is not fencing. Some may repeat the tired old adage “The best defense is a good offense” but that is not necessarily true. This is because the mentality of the real fencer is centered on self-preservation. The premise in all fencing is to touch without being touched. It does a fencer no good to theoretically kill his adversary as he himself is killed in the process.

For years, I’d been taught a standard grip (fr. foil) whereby your index finger and thumb are up against the cushion (as shown in nearly all modern fencing texts. i.e. Evangelista), but later was corrected by my former fencing instructor that the thumb placement should be approx. 2 inches back on the grip to promote greater sensitivity and point control (I call this grip the “classical”).   Is one grip right, and the other wrong? (if so, why?)

The fact of the matter is that there are two ways of griping the French foil.

The first manner in which to grip the French foil is so that there is approximately one finger’s width between the thumb and the guard. This can be seen in the French treatises of the 19th century. Furthermore, all of the fingers must be in contact with the grip, especially the small finger of the sword hand. This will provide fine point control, and facilitate the development of blade sensitivity.

The second way to grip the French foil is so that the grip rests flat between the first and second joint of the index finger and the thumb flat so that it is just behind the guard but not touching the inside of the guard (cushion).  As previously stated the other fingers must be in contact with the grip, especially the small finger of the sword hand. This type of grip will also provide for point control and blade sensitivity.

Of course fencers must be properly educated in the use of either grip so that they do not rely on the strength of the hand to secure it, as this would be contraindicated in the proper use of the French weapon.

What’s one (or two) things that you consider to be a “highlight” in your career?

There are several highlights in my career but there are two that I hold the most significant. The first is when my master named me as his successor. The second is when I presented for the first time in a public forum my reconstruction and resurrection of the Spanish school of rapier (La Verdadera Destreza). This took place when I was a Fellow in Residence at Rutgers University for the Aston Magna Academy in 1995.

What, in your opinion, is the best film available that demonstrates skill with the blade? (you may of course separate this into historical accuracy vs. entertainment)

I will say right off that there is no film that portrays fencing historically accurate.  However, there is one film that comes close and that is a 1953 movie titled “The Mississippi Gambler” starring Tyrone Power. There is a very entertaining scene that takes place in a fencing school in 19th century New Orleans that has an interesting depiction of Classical French foil fencing.

In my opinion the best film both for entertainment and in demonstrating skill with the blade is the 1940 film The Mark of Zorro.
The antagonists portrayed by actors Tyrone Power and Basil Rathbone engage with sabres in the climax of the film. Both of these gentlemen possessed considerable fencing skill for actors.  Mr. Rathbone (At the time known to be the best swordsman in Hollywood) performed the sequences himself.  Mr. Power although an excellent screen swordsman was doubled by Fencing Master Albert Cavens who was himself the son of Maître Fred Cavens.

The fencing technique used for this choreography was of the Italian school of dueling sabre. One can see in the movie that the emphases of the cutting actions were centered on the rotation of the weapon coming from the elbow. This is a characteristic of the Northern Italian School of sabre fencing.  However, this was historically inaccurate because the story takes place circa 1830s and the type of weapon used in the movie and its method was not fully developed until the last half of the 19th century. Although these representations of swordsmanship are spectacular and entertaining their purpose is to tell a story and express a situation within a dramatic context.

Are there any mental exercises or meditations you would recommend to strengthen the mind for strategy and creativity in fencing?

What you are asking me about is very personal for each fencer. Every fencer must find his own way. The advise I can give is listen to your master, do not rely on books, do not rely on speed and strength as these fade with age, never anticipate, deal with what is happening; not on what you think will happen, do not attempt to memorize formulaic answers, seek the truth.

Besides fencing, how does Maestro Martinez like to spend his free time?
When I am not teaching, in a library or in my office, I am just like anyone else. I like to spend time with my family and friends enjoying simple things. I am also a movie buff and a fan of Spaghetti Westerns.  My hobbies are reading about the history of the Old West and riding horses when I get the chance.

Twitter Link CC bFB Facebook Link CC b


Posted in Fencing, Videos, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2011 by Combative Corner

Julia Richey (featured in the above movie) is owner of the Royal Arts Fencing Academy in Columbus, Ohio, organizer of the Arnold Classic and an amazing fencing coach.  With the help of her partner, and fellow fencing instructor, Tim Mills, we at the CombativeCorner had the opportunity of a 10-question interview.  This…. coming soon!  Meanwhile, watch the above video and get to know Julia, her history and drive to promote the sport that she loves, and wet your palette for the incredible interview to come!


Fencing 101 : Proper Grip (Foil)

Posted in Fencing, Swordsmanship, Training, Weapons with tags , , , , , , , , on April 5, 2011 by chencenter

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


%d bloggers like this: