Sport Training Tips: Fencing Parries And Attacks

An overview of the eight most common defenses and two most common attacks for modern sport fencers.

Sport fencing can be a fun and exciting experience, and is wonderful exercise for all ages. After all, what other sport allows a 9-year-old to be able to perform better than a 29-year old? Of course, in order to win a fencing bout, one has to be able to score points... and in order to score points, you need to know how to both attack your opponent and defend yourself.

Now, anyone you ask will tell you that proper fencing form can't be taught in an article, or even in a book. To be honest, I doubt that even a film series would teach you all that you need to know. The information presented herein is for educational purposes, for those who are new to fencing and would like an explanation of what they're supposed to do, or for those who have been fencing for a while and are hoping to brush up on the most rudimentary of skills. Nothing can take the place of one-on-one instruction with a qualified coach, however.

The most important part of fencing is being able to defend yourself (well, aside from footwork, that is). 95% of your time on a fencing strip will be spent trying not to get hit, all the while looking for that one opportunity to strike. In addition, the majority of your points will actually be scored as ripostes, or attacks that begin off of a defense.

There are 8 basic parries, or defenses, in modern sport fencing. They are usually numbered in French, but for the purposes of educating those who aren't familiar with the French language, they'll be listed here in English. The 8 parries are numbered in the order that you would most likely be able to use them if you had to defend having just drawn your sword.

One: Arm up in the air, bent at the elbow, with your forearm crossing above your forehead. Your thumb is pointed down, and the blade of your weapon goes down and away from your body. As in almost all fencing movements, your wrist is straight.

Two: Moving across the body from One, your thumb is still facing down, and the blade is still down at an angle. Your arm is now farther out from the body, and does not cross the head.

Three: Moving directly down from Two, the thumb faces down and the blade faces almost straight up. The hand is around waist level, and the arm is tucked in close to the body. (Please note that this position may be a bit uncomfortable, as it puts extra stress on the wrist.)

Four: From Three, move across the body and turn the hand so that the thumb faces up. The blade is still facing up, though it is now out from the body at an angle, with the tip around shoulder height. This is one of the most common defenses in fencing.

Five: This is the "holding parry", designed to get your opponent's blade completely out of the way and to make them withdraw their attack. Flipping the hand to the side from Four, the thumb is down and the arm crosses the body. The blade sticks out to the side, completely away from your opponent; the hand is around waist level.

Six: Much like parry Four flipped over from parry Three, Six flips over from Five. The thumb faces up, the arm is tucked in and doesn't cross the body, and the blade sticks up at an angle (with the tip around shoulder height). This is another of the most common defenses in fencing.

Seven: From Six, lift the arm slightly, drop the blade so that it points downward at an angle, and move the arm across the body. The tip should be around knee height, the thumb should be facing up, and the arm should be around the height of the ribs.

Eight: Move across the body from Seven to reach Eight. The thumb faces up, the blade points down at an angle, and the arm is tucked in close to the body. This can also be achieved from Six by lifting the arm slightly and dropping the blade down.

With those eight parries there are also two common attacks; the riposte and the lunge.

The Riposte is performed off of a parried attack. For example, if an opponent attacks you and you parry his or her attack with a parry Four, you may then extend your blade toward their body and use the energy of the parried attack to propel your point toward their target. Please note that it is not considered a Riposte if there is a pause or a drawing back of your blade between the initial parry and your counterattack.

The Lunge is the most common attack aside from the Riposte, and the one that requires one of the highest commitments to action from you. To perform a Lunge, you lift your lead leg and step forward, while extending your blade toward your target. Stretch out your body, uncurling your non-weapon arm behind you and planting your lead foot in front of you. As your body reaches this position, you then may push off with your lead foot and re-curl your rear arm to pull yourself back into your original position. Recover your weapon arm to its original ready position, and you are then fully ready to attack again or to defend.

Please note that when lunging, you should not go so far that you are leaning forward or overextending your front knee (in other words, make sure that your lower leg doesn't lean forward from your ankle.) Pulled muscles or other injuries can result from attempting to lunge too far.

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