Friday, December 18, 2009

Footwork: Movement in Fencing


Footwork is vital in fencing and it is often overlooked in importance in comparison to the use of the sword. What must be realised in this particular situation is that it does not matter what forme of fencing is being done, footwork is of great importance. This particular edition will be focussing on footwork and its importance. It will also address the differences and advantages and disadvantages of practicing footwork both indoors and outdoors. For some they may not realise the difference, but there is a difference.

Footwork is undoubtedly important. The practicing of footwork at a training session tends to be rather boring. It usually involves moving up and down the training area over and over again. This is designed to implant the footwork into the muscle memory of the fencer. Once the basic motions have been practiced and perfected, more interesting things can be done with it such as distance games of various kinds. The thing about this practice is that the fencer needs to be able to move without thinking. This means that the footwork movements need to be so familiar to the fencer that they do not have to think about them, this takes a lot of practice.

Practicing and using footwork is all about the ability to move freely over the field. Now, anyone can walk or run across a field, this is undoubted as it is something which we learnt when we were small children. Footwork in fencing is about taking this particular ability and making it more efficient and also about making it effective. Footwork is also about teaching the body to be stable while moving across the field. This means that footwork enhances the ability of the fencer, and it also protects the lower limbs through this movement. Accurate footwork is about safe and efficient movement across the field. Simple things such as turning the foot in the direction of the opponent creates a biomechanical situation where the body is better protected from injury and damage.

Distance is controlled by footwork. The arm of the fencer is only so long and so is their weapon. If the fencer stays stationary, the opponent only has to stay out of range of the arm and weapon. If the fencer moves with their feet they can change the distance. Footwork does the major part of moving the body of the fencer. Without the correct footwork, it is difficult for the fencer to move properly. It is also through the use of footwork that the fencer is able to control distance in the bout. Through this the fencer is then able to close or withdraw at the time and place of their choice. Through this use of distance the fencer is then able to control the bout.

For the most part, the question of training and fighting indoors or outdoors is pretty much mute for the sport fencer. So this particular aspect is more directed at the Renaissance and Classical fencer whose tournament field may be indoors or outdoors. The question of where training will actually take place is usually up to the person or organisation which organises the training. This may mean that you may end up training either in a hall or outside. There are some important differences that must be realised between these two.

Training indoors has some advantages. The floor is flat and this can affect many things. It is much easier to practice perfect footwork on a flat floor, and to some point it is also easier on the joints of the fencer. The other great advantage of training indoors is that the training is not affected by weather. This means pretty much regardless of what the weather is like outside training can go on. Of course if the tournaments are to be fought outdoors, this can also lead to some issues.

Training outdoors involves usually uneven ground. This can place extra stress on the joints of the fencer, and it can also be more difficult to present technically perfect techniques. The fencer who trains outside is also affected by weather and inclement weather means that sometimes training is not possible on that particular site. However, the big advatage that outdoor training has over indoor training is that it reflects the effect of outside conditions on the movement in fencing. This means that the fencer's footwork is prepared for uneven terrain and knows how to move efficiently across this.

For the most part, for the Renaissance fencer, the field on which tournaments are fought is outside. This means that the fencers who train outside are already prepared for the conditions presented by the field. For the indoor practicing fencers this can present somewhat of a challenge to them as they are not used to fighting on uneven ground. It is true that the event organisers will attempt to find the most even ground possible, but this is not always guaranteed. The result of this is that the advantage will go toward the fencers who train outdoors. A way that this advantage can be gained by all fencer is for all fencers to do a proportion of their fencing outside. For those fencers who have the access to do both indoor and outdoor training this presents an advantage over both the people who train only indoors and also those who only train outdoors.

Footwork is of vital importance to the fencer and it is something which should not be glossed over. For the fencer to be able to move properly over the field they must have practiced their footwork. This must be done with correction so that the fencer learns the correct thing and is able to move efficiently and safely over the field. The practice for footwork should be done under as many conditions as possible, indoors and outdoors. This will enhance the fencer's ability to move over a variety of terrain, and thus be able to move efficiently over it.



Thursday, December 10, 2009



It has come to that point in time that I am going to have to ask you, my readership for some questions. It seems that I have struck upon most of the essential sort of stuff that I know I should write about, now I am asking you for any fencing question you would like to have answered.

You can post them as comments at the end of the blog or e-mail them to me, what ever you like. I will answer each question as a blog, or if it is brief several questions in a single blog. I will endeavour to answer as many of the questions that you pose to me as possible, but I will tend to focus on particular aspects.

So, if you have a question you would like for me to answer with regard to fencing, get writing, I want to hear from you.



Newton's 3rd Law in Fencing


This blog may be a little short, but it will be focussing on a single point in fencing which is of importance. One of the fundamental things about fencing is that there is no ultimate killing move. There is always a counter to every single attack performed. This is one of the things which is so exciting about fencing, it is about putting the bits together in order that they can work. So this blog will be focussing on action and counter.

"To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction."
With regard to many things, this particular comment has been used many times. This particular statement is as applicable to fencing as it is to human interactions as it is to physics. There is an action which can be used in response to any other action in fencing, no matter how simple it may be. This is one of the most essential points that as teachers, we must instill in our students, and as fencers, we must understand. This is one of the keys to the development of the fencing mind.

So first, there is attack and defence. A scenario, a thrust is made this is a very simple attack to which there are at least three defences regardless of the form of fencing you are doing. The attack can be parried, voided or retreated from. Each one of these either displaces the body or displaces the attack. For this particular purpose the parry will be used.

So, the attack is parried, this allows the parrier to mount a counter-attack, the riposte. With regard to this discussion, tempo is not going to be mentioned so bear with me. Even in a stesso tempo response there is still the element of a parry and a riposte, they are simply blended together. Of course the individual recieving the riposte can perform anyone of the three actions described in defence, the ceding parry being the most useful if blade engagement is to be maintained. From the ceding parry another counter-attack may be made.

With the simple description above, it can be seen that each attack has a counter, this counter then builds to a counter-attack, and against this there is also a counter. There is no action in fencing which is performed which cannot be countered in some manner. It is up to the fencer to find this particular counter and use it against the attack. In many ways it is like the arms race. One builds a weapon, the other builds a weapon to counter it and so forth. Luckily in this competition the world is not under threat.

Even in the actions used in blade engagement the same sorts of things can be seen. There is an action followed by as response followed by a response to the response and so forth. Stringere is performed in order to open a line on an opponent. A cavatione is performed to counter the stringere to change the engagement and close the line again. A contra-cavatione is performed to counter the cavatione. A ricavatione is performed to counter the contra-cavatione, and then just when you think it is all finished, a simple cavatione will start the entire process again.

So, it has been demonstrated that in blade engagement there is always a counter to the action performed by a fencer. The fencer merely has to have the skill and the ability to think of and use the counter at the appropriate time in order to counter the action of the opponent. The same was demonstrated with regard to attack, defence, counter-attack, and counter-defence. In all cases it must be remembered that every action in fencing can be countered. This may take some time for the fencer to wrap their head around this particular concept.

The fact that eventually every action will be able to be countered some way is one of the most fundamental points in fencing and for some it is the reason why they keep going. In the beginning when the skills are low such things will seem like they have no answer, but it should be remembered that there is always an answer to every action. In many cases it is just a matter of building up the skills of the body and also those of the mind in order for the fencer to be able to percieve these answers. In many ways the action posed by the opponent is a question and the action performed by the fencer is an answer to that question. This is a debate performed with steel in the same way that any debate is performed. There is always an answer all you have to do is go out and find that answer.



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why Do Renaissance Fencing?


What a question. This is a big question that needs to be asked both of the beginner and the more experienced fencer. For those at the beginning, the answer is a reason to start and stick with the training. For those more experienced fencers, the answer is a reason to keep going with the training. This blog will bring up some of the reasons for starting fencing and also some of the reasons to continue with it. The important thing about the answer that is given to this question is that it must satisfy you more than anyone else. For some of my readers you will notice that this blog has a great deal of similarity with an article I wrote some time ago, well, to be honest, this is a re-write.

The most interesting, and often most difficult question to answer, especially for the practitioner of Renaissance fencing is, why fence? What is the use of fencing? Why bother going to all the effort? In a way, points have to be conceded to this sort of questioning. For the Renaissance fencer, it is an “outdated” style of combat, which belongs to a period up to 500 or so years ago. For most fencers, there are no gold medals at the end of it, and not to mention the many confusing issues that abound with the recreation of this martial art. The original purpose of learning to fence has gone, people do not generally wander around in public with swords at their sides, and it is not likely you will be challenged to a duel either. This is a question of outsiders to the fencing community and members of the community also. The question is often best answered by each individual practitioner. But we can highlight some general points of relevance in answer to this perplexing question.

There are many influences, which may cause a person to become interested in fencing, these all have an impact on the individual. The media, especially in regard to movies often influences people in this. A person may see a movie and become interested due to the flair, which is shown by the characters in the movie. With special attention to rapier combat, movies such as “The Three Musketeers”, “The Mask of Zorro” and “The Musketeer” all show rapier combat as a combat art with much skill. Unfortunately, these movies do not show the hard work that is required to develop such a level of skill. Learning how to fence and learning how to do it properly takes a great deal of time.

People are also influenced by friends and family, especially those who are already involved in groups which do fence. A person may become influenced by the skills demonstrated by a relation or friend. Others may become interested because of a search for something new; these people often have a background in sport fencing and wish to explore new skills. Still others are interested in fencing because of the different styles and approaches, which are possible, and some become interested because of a level of competition that is not found in other sports. The reasons for starting to fence may actually not be the same reasons that a fencer will continue with it. This notes a change in mind-set in the fencer over time.

A person’s own individual values and passions also influence a person’s interest. Values that are expressed in fencing and not so much in other combat arts. Others simply develop a passion for the arts of their own culture, and especially those from older times. It is often these passions and values, which will sustain a person through the long process of training. While oriental martial arts have a lot of mysticism associated with them, western martial arts do not. The important thing is that something deeper can be found in these martial arts and amongst the community who performs them, if only the fencer will look deeper than what is seen on the surface.

Fencing not only teaches new skills but also teaches control, among other things. It also teaches a new approach on how the world should be viewed through the teaching of the social elements that are important. Though some teachers may neglect this particular aspect of fencing, it is something which should be taught. In some cases the student may have to simply go out and discover these aspects for themselves. Fencing also teaches strategy, strategy which is not only useful when fencing but also in other aspects of one’s life. These things that fencing teaches are of benefit to all, and not just those who fence.

The reasons for learning to fence are many. Some people learn to improve their fitness, and fencing does supply some of the requirements for this. Some people learn to gain a new set of skills, and fencing does teach those. The reasons for learning to fence are personal, but learning how to fence does teach many things. Fencing gives both intellectual and physical pursuits. On the intellectual side, fencing teaches new ways of thinking, and opens many avenues for intellectual research, and these often improve the physical side. The physical side is much more obvious in the skills, which are learnt and used. Renaissance fencing especially is much closer to a combat art than sport fencing and it does supply a lot of the intensity without the downside of physical harm. Fencing teaches gracefulness in its movements, style in its actions and finesse. These all translate into things outside of fencing.

Renaissance fencing, when it comes to tournaments, is competitive. The important thing that needs to be questioned here is why a person should win and also how. There are reasons for this, and each must be considered. Winning can supply a sense of achievement, and an enjoyment of victory, this must be tempered with grace and consideration. It can supply recognition from fellow fencers and this is also a good thing. It can elevate a person’s esteem and prestige; there is a certain amount of glory achieved in winning. Most of all, it demonstrates excellence in a combat art and performance of the skills that have been learned.

With winning comes responsibility. The winning of the tournament may not confer responsibility, but the method of winning the tournament in the first place. What is important here? The method by which you win is important. A person who wins with brute skill and force will not be as respected as a person who wins with grace and style will. It is the influence of the “perpetual gentleman” which changes a person from a duellist into a gentleman. To exhibit courtesy to one’s opponent displays a certain good nature, which the rapier combatant should possess. This will be influenced by a person’s values, and will develop a view of the person by others. This consideration of courtesy should be at the fore whenever a person takes the field in tournaments or in sparring. Is it not more of an achievement to win with grace, style and courtesy than to win by brute force? This should be at the forefront of every rapier combatant’s mind. We are attempting to recreate a gentleman’s art, so shouldn’t we also act like gentlemen in the execution of this art? Consider your own impact upon the arts of defence, do you promote a positive or negative image?