Names and Definitions
By Nick Evangelista
Do you know the language of fencing? Can you speak it? Names and definitions? How you translate the fencing information you possess into action will determine how fully you realize your potential on the fencing strip. In psychology, thoughts are considered behavior, because the way you think gives birth to a physical outcome. If you believe all the technical stuff of fencing is simply old-fashioned and a waste of time—you just fence to make a touch--then you do not know fencing. If fencing is something you just do, what are you doing? If you are winning with nothing in your head, you are sadly bouting with individuals who know less than you do.
Fencing is a game of depth and variety. It is an art and a science. If you fence without the knowledge that has been provided to you by centuries of fine tuning, you cut yourself off from the real power of fencing. Worse, you surrender your fate, a fate that could be manipulated like paint on an artist’s brush, to a cold electronic box that is neither intelligent nor discerning nor wise. Fencing is more than just poking someone. It is method. It is judgement. It is understanding. It is being on purpose with everything you do. If you do not know the names of actions, and what they mean, how can you possibly conjure them up effectively, if at all, when they are needed?
Every controlled action begins with a thought. Every mindless reaction begins with an emotional knee-jerk reflex. Reflexive behavior is undirected, and it most certainly repeats itself. Therefore, it is predictable. Predictable fencing behavior is easily discerned, and easily taken advantage of by those who think. Moreover, if you can’t communicate with yourself, how can you possibly understand your opponent? If fencing comes down to strength, speed, and aggression, then the strongest, fastest, and most aggressive fencer always wins. Even worse, if you do an action well, and you don’t know what it was, then you can’t repeat it. If you do something not so well, you can’t eliminate it from your behavior. In a very real way, you become the victim of yourself. Of course, with no cunning to fall back on, the older you get, the less responsive your younger opponents will be to being beaten.
I have heard young fencers say more than once, “How will we know whose touch it is if we don’t have a scoring box?” I would reply, “You are there. You do an action. Your opponent does an action. Why are you not cognizant of what has happened?” Ignorance of what you do when you fence locks you into a kind of combative Groundhog Day. You do not improve. You do not gain mastery. Every touch merely snaps you back to ground zero. And so it goes.
Fencing is more than a running, twisting, poking foot race--a repetitive, pedestrian jousting match--to see who can make the scoring box “sing” its empty approval first. To continually improve as a fencer through one’s life, to move into a more competent future, requires the never-ending processing of information, connecting the dots, knowing how tab A slips into slot B. But this requires an awareness of what ingredients you are putting into your recipes; and the sooner you gain this awareness the better. I once overheard a fencing teacher tell his student, “I’m going to teach you as little as possible. That way you will have fewer chances to make mistakes.” That person was insane--and an ass. Knowledge is power.
The following is the information sheet I give every new student who comes to me. Everyone is expected to know what I know. Not all at once, but in time. If you are familiar with everything on this list, I applaud you. If it is all brand new to you, maybe it is time to start learning the basics of fencing.
Foil/Epée/Sabre: The three weapons of modern fencing.
Supination: Palm up.
Pronation: Palm down.
On Guard: The position of readiness—offensively and defensively—in fencing.
Lunge: The action that propels your attack forward.
Sword arm fully extended from shoulder level.
Blade tip pointing at one’s opponent, parallel to the ground.
Sword hand in complete supination (thumb at 3:00).
Back/rear leg the fencer forward by snapping straight (no stepping).
Back/rear leg completely straight on the end of lunge.
Back/rear foot flat on the ground.
On the end of the lunge, the front knee is directly over the front ankle.
The front foot is pointing straight ahead.
As the back leg straightens, the back/free arm is snapped straight back, palm up.
When the blade hits and bends, it should bend in the direction of the sword hand’s thumb.
Valid Attack: An attack in which the attacker, having begun his attack before his opponent has launched an attack, includes both a completely straight arm and a blade point that is pointing at the opponent’s valid target area.
Lines of Engagement: The body is divided into four quarters called lines. For each line there are two hand positions, one in supination, and one in pronation, that govern the offensive or defensive moves being made. Four supinated hand positions, four pronated hand positions, giving us eight lines in all. The lines have names which are numbers. Prime (1), Seconde (2), Tierce (3), and Quinte are pronated hand positions. Quarte (4), Sixte (6), Septime (7), and Octave (8) are supinated hand positions.
High Line (Dessus): The lines situated above one’s hand guard. Tierce, Quinte, Quarte and Sixte are located in the high line.
Low Line (Dessous): The lines situated below one’s hand guard. Prime, Seconde, Septime, and Octave are located in the low line.
Inside Line (Dedans): The lines closest to one's chest. Quarte, Quinte, Prime, and Septime are located in the inside line.
Outside Line (Dehors): The lines closest to one's back. Sixte, Tierce, Seconde, and Octave are located in the outside line.
Engagement: two blades are said to be engaged when they are touching, or very close together.
Change: Changing the line in which one is on guard.
Target Area: The area of the body which is considered valid for attacking.
Foil: The trunk of the body.
Epée: The entire body.
Sabre: From the waist up, including the head and arms.
Off Target: Those areas of the body deemed invalid for attacking. Touches cannot be scored on these parts of the body.
Touch (Touché): The act of hitting an opponent with the proscribed portion of one’s blade.
Simple Attack: An attack made up of time, speed, and distraction in which the goal is to hit before one’s opponent before they can execute a successful defensive move (parry).
Straight hit: Attacking in the same line in which one is on guard. A direct attack
Degagé (disengage): Attacking into the opposite line from which one is on guard in, by passing beneath an opponent’s blade. An indirect attack.
Coulé (running): Attacking by running along an opponent’s blade. A direct attack, with light contact.
Coupé (cut-over): Attacking into the opposite line from which one is on guard in, by passing over the top of an opponent’s blade. An indirect attack.
Beat: Knocking an opponent’s blade away offensively.
Parry: Knocking an opponent’s blade away defensively.
Lateral Parry: A parry that covers one’s target area in a straight line.
Counter Parry: A parry that covers one’s target area in a circle.
Semi-Circular Parry: A parry that passes from the high line to the low line transcribing a half-circle; or a parry that passes from the low line to the high line, transcribing a half circle.
Composed Attack (Composite Attack/Complex Attack): An attack made up of a feint of an attack (an implied offensive threat made to induce one’s opponent to make a parry), and a deception (evasion/dodging/avoiding) of one or more parries.
One-Two: A feint of disengage, followed by the deception of one lateral parry.
Doublé: A feint of disengage followed by the deception of one counter parry.
The one-two and the doublé are the two basic composed attacks, but composed attacks can be made by joining any attacks—simple or composed—into various novel combinations.
Remise: A continuation of an attack in the same line, after a successful parry.
Redoublement: A continuation of an attack in the opposite line, after a successful parry.
Ideally, a remise or redoublement should be attempted when one’s opponent fails to riposte.
Riposte: A counter attack following a successful parry. Generally, a lunge is not included.
Direct Riposte: A riposte made in the same line following a successful parry.
Indirect Riposte: A riposte made into the opposite line following a successful parry.
Bind: An action that envelopes or angles an opponent’s blade, guiding it away from one’s target area using leverage.
Liement: The offensive version of the bind. It includes a lunge.
Croisé: The defensive version of the bind. A parry and riposte in a single flowing action. No lunge is included.
Stop Thrust (Counter Attack): An extension of one’s blade into an approaching attack. Made ideally against bent arm attacks where an offensive advantage has not been established.
Time Thrust (Counter Attack): An extension into an opponent’s valid attack that both blocks the advancing blade and hits the attacker at the same time.
Priority: In conventional terms, establishing through one’s actions who is the recognized attacker and who is the recognized defender at any given moment on the fencing strip. The underlying truth of this fencing concept is when you have created a physical advantage over your opponent, you attack; your opponent has established an advantage over you (a disadvantage) you defend. Traditionally, priority is guided by what is referred to as, the logic of the sharp point: do that which will keep you alive; avoid that which will get you killed.