Sport Training Tips: Fencing Footwork Exercises

A brief guide to basic foot work drills for sport fencing.

Fencing, to be sure, is one of the most exhilarating competitive sports in the world today. Where else can you find such a fine balance of the physical and the mental, combined with the adrenaline rush of singing steel and near-misses from your opponent? Sometimes, the difference between victory and defeat can be a matter of inches... and how easy it is to misjudge your motions so as to give your opponent the inches they need.

In modern fencing, having good footwork is essential to being able to fence well. Though it's true that you attack and defend with your blade and upper body, it's good footwork that can either lead you to a rousing victory or cement you in your defeat. Look at it this way: your feet begin your advance or your retreat, they bring you to your opponent or take you away from them. Many professional fencing coaches don't even let new fencers hold a blade for the first several weeks of practice; yes, footwork is that important.

Here are a few simple drills to help you to either improve or practice your footwork. Keep in mind, though, that everyone is different, so you may have to modify the stances listed here to suit your own body style and type of movement.

Put your feet together in an "L" formation, as though you were saluting. Point your lead foot forward and step it forward approximately half of a step, bringing your feet shoulder-width apart from each other. Bend your knees slightly, distributing your weight between your two legs. You may want to shift the weight slightly to the back leg so as to have more power readily available; many instructors do not teach this, however, and may correct you if they see you doing this.

To begin your practice, advance and retreat, watching yourself in a mirror if at all possible. Take note of any motions made by your upper body, such as leaning forward or back or your head bobbing up and down. Should you notice any motion of your upper body, slow your pace and focus on keeping as still as possible from the waist up. In time, you should be able to move forward and backwards with minimal upper body movement.

Once you have done several repetitions of the advance and the retreat, change the movements to cross-over steps and continue through several repetitions in front of the mirror. (For additional practice with cross-overs, try substituting cross-over steps for your regular stride while going throughout your daily routine. This will help to make the cross-over seem more natural and get your body used to the step in a variety of situations. This makes adapting your step in the middle of a bout that much easier.)

Moving on from the basic forward and backward movements, spend a little time working on lunging. Even if you don't have a weapon, you can still do practice lunges using nothing more than your outstretched arm and a wall. Extend your arm as though you were holding a weapon, hold out your fore and middle fingers, and touch a point on the wall. Do a quick check of your posture, making sure that you haven't over-extended your knee, and place a small piece of colored tape or some other mark on the wall. Move back slightly from that position and lunge with your fingers extended, trying to touch the tape. Once you make contact, move back slightly farther and repeat the process until you can no longer reach the tape at all. Over time your body will adjust itself to the continuing strain of reaching in the lunge position, and you'll find that you have several inches of more reach when you lunge with minimal effort.

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