Maitré Paul Sise

Épée Concepts and Lessons

Beyond the learning of the many skills and strokes employed in fencing there is the need to learn how those actions fit into the context of the bout. The fencer needs to become comfortable with his skills so that he can rely on them under stress. Fencers tend to have personal favorite strokes and strategies. Some seem to always be attacking while others prefer to counter-attack. These preferences are rooted in their personality, skills, and physical ability. That being said, it is important for the fencer to be able to switch seamlessly between offense, defense, and counter-offense in order to successfully deal with various opponents. Fencers must also strive to improve the quality of their technique. As such, no matter the skill level or experience of the fencer, there is great value in practice drills and taking individual lessons

There are many types of lessons. Some teach new techniques, some teach new tactics, others are meant for review and correction or fixing (making permanent) a learned action. Some lessons warm up the fencer before competition, while others are used by the coach to learn what a new student  (but experienced) fencer can do.

A complete lesson that has the goal of teaching a new technique or tactic would include a warm up, an introductory phase that develops into the body of main theme of the lesson, variation on the theme, and a cool down.  Here is an example of a compete lesson with offensive second intention:

  1. Salute. Do a quick warm up. This would usually be simple thrusts to the torso, a few lunges, a few parry-ripostes, and footwork to maintain the distance. The warm up gradually becomes more intense, allowing the student to feel comfortable with the demands of the lesson. This is done even if the fencer is already warmed from exercise or fencing before the lesson, though the time spent in the warm up can be reduced.
  2. Work toward the body of the lesson, laying the foundation for footwork and do a phrase that will require the student to adapt by using the main element of the lesson. (i.e., if teaching offensive 2nd intention, start out with student attacking, then coach being hit but then learning to parry riposte, and suggest "Ok, now you need to learn how to deal with my ripostes...etc").
  3. Teach and practice the main theme. (for example, coach opens top of wrist, student attacks, coach makes 6 riposte, student makes opposition parry 6 riposte to torso and scores).
  4. Now the main theme is made more bout-like. The coach should demand a recognizable tempo change, where the attack is slow and easy for the coach to parry, but the riposte is faster.
  5. Suggest that the student riposte to different targets like bicep, torso, thigh, toe. Perhaps replace the student's opposition 6 parry with a yielding 1 parry.
  6. Make corrections as needed. Throw in one or two unforeseen/surprise action (like attacking the student when normally the student is initiating with an attack). Verbally encourage the student with feeling. "YES!" and "All right, come on, COME ON!" as opposed to a bland "Ok again. Ok again. Ok again."
  7. Do a cool-down. An example of a cool down would be keeping distance slowly with slow, medium length lunges, being sure to exhale during the lunge. If the student intends on continuing to fence afterwards, the cool-down may be a reduced, but it should not be eliminated.
  8. Salute, shake hands, and briefly discuss the lesson if necessary.

Before getting into the various drills that can be used to build up a complete lesson, I'd like to present a few fundamental skillsthat once mastered will improve the quality and ease of the other more complicated actions:

Skill #1. Determining eye dominance and aiming:

It is helpful for the fencer to know which eye, the left or the right, is his dominant eye in order to make aiming easier and more effective. The dominant eye is the eye that sees the same perspective as the persons binocular vision. One way to determine this is to have the student extend both arms and make a small viewing hole between his two hands. Have him look at a distant object through the peephole and alternate between both eyes open, left eye only open, and right eye only open. The eye that sees the object (the same as with both eyes open) is the dominant eye. Most people will be right eye dominant. Ideally eye dominance will match handedness, but this isn't always the case. Determining eye dominance is especially helpful to people whose handedness and eye dominance do not match.

I advise that the student to look at the opponent's weapon shoulder area, which shows the motion of the arm relative to the torso and also helps the student judge distance from the torso. Peripheral vision will detect the blade movement and foot movement. Only once the student commits to the idea of attacking should he drop his eyes to focus on the target such as the wrist. Sometimes though that isn't even necessary.

Once the dominant eye has been found, the fencer can improve his ability to aim through visualization. The fencer comes on guard and looks with both eyes at the target. The target should be small and specific, ie, a dime sized spot on the forearm. The fencer extends the weapon arm and relaxes the shoulder. Now the fencer imagines a line being drawn from his dominant eye that goes along his weapon arm and extends out of the blade to the target like a laser beam. Maintaining a relaxed shoulder, the fencer delivers the touch, using only the fingers to make fine corrections to the aim if necessary. The relaxed shoulder allows the trajectory of the straightened weapon arm to remain the same as it was while in the guard position while lunging. To put it another way, the weapon arm does not drop during the lunge. This is all done very slowly at first, but in time the fencer is able to skip the laser beam visualization and be able to aim and hit at bout pace. Eventually the sense of aim will become refined and aiming can be done using peripheral vision.

Skill #2. Relaxing the weapon shoulder:

It is important for the weapon arm shoulder to remain relaxed, especially during the lunge. A tight shoulder will force the weapon arm (and therefore the weapon) to drop during the lunge which ruins the aim. Have the fencer come on guard and extend the weapon arm. Then make the shoulder like water, feeling the arm almost disconnect from the torso. Whatever movement the torso makes the arm should not be affected. With the arm extended and aimed, jump up and down with the goal of keeping the weapon arm and épée aimed and motionless.

Skill #3. Elbow position in guard position and thrust:

With the weapon arm bent while in the guard position it is important that the elbow be pulled in to line up with the forearm, hand, guard, and point. If the elbow is exposed in the outside line there are two problems. The first is that it is available as target, which is obvious enough. The second problem is that when the elbow is to the outside it forces a small rotation in the bones of the arm when the arm extends and that rotation affects the aim. A poor elbow position will cause the épée point to drop and pull to the inside during the extension. By placing the elbow in line with the forearm and guard that rotation is essentially done before the extension is made so it won't affect the aim during the extension. While extending it is important to keep the elbow, forearm, guard, and point all in a line and parallel to the floor. Don't chop! Retracting the arm requires the same alignment.

Skill #4. Application of power in lunge and recovery:

Most fencers beyond the beginner stage can produce a lunge. I have found that many fencers can improve upon their lunges by focusing on some subtle but important parts of the technique. The first is the application of power in the lunge itself. Once the weapon arm has been extended and the front foot is kicked forward the rear leg is straightened. I ask my students "If I want to lunge this way, then which direction do I apply the power from my rear leg?" Students tend to suggest applying the power in the direction opposite that the lunge is directed, i.e., they say to push backwards. Equal and opposite reaction, right Newton? Well, the thing is that the rear foot is upon the floor. The floor is not behind the fencer, but rather is underneath. The fencer should apply the power from the rear leg directly down and into the floor using the whole of the rear foot. Visualize breaking though the floorboards with the rear foot.

The recovery seems simple enough. Most fencers know to unlock the rear knee and then push off the front leg and come back to guard position. It seems that few realize that the front leg isn't solely responsible for the power required to bring the body back to the guard position. Once the front foot is off the floor the front leg can no longer apply power to the floor and it no longer has much to offer towards the goal of recovering backward. The rear foot, however, is still on the floor. By making use of the traction the rear foot has on the floor, the fencer can adduct the rear leg while bending the rear knee. This allows the fencer to pull himself back into guard position in addition to the push received from the front leg.

Skill #5. Use of the fingers:

Fencers are admonished to use the fingers in manipulating the weapon. It all starts with the choice of handle. For those of you using an orthopedic pistol grip you need to make sure that the grip you select is small enough to fit into the fingers, not fill the palm, and still be comfortable. I for example wear an extra large glove, but I use a medium Visconti pistol grip. This allows me to hold the handle like a writing utensil as opposed to a baseball bat. Once the proper handle is selected the fingers can be used effectively. While holding the épée in parry 6 position with the hand towards supination you can relax the aids (the pinky, ring, and middle fingers). Maintain contact with the handle as you relax them. You'll find that the blade drops downward somewhat. Now squeeze just the pinky finger and use the index finger as the fulcrum. This pulls the blade to the inside. Finally, squeeze the ring and then the middle fingers. This draws the blade back up to the original 6 position. By practicing this rhythmically, first relaxing the aids then squeezing them from pinky, ring, and then middle finger you can develop a nice tight circle 6 parry. Circle 4 is somewhat trickier because it requires more influence from the manipulators, which are the thumb and index finger, but the basic principle is the same. Using the fingers to create circular and semi-circular actions help the fencer to make efficient circular parries, disengage attacks, and indirect ripostes. Finger control is also helpful in making strong beats without winding up first.

The Lessons

What follows are many épée drills and lessons. Having a written menu of lessons can help the coach with his lesson preparation and reduce stress. It also can help prevent the coach from getting into a rut giving the same four or five types of lessons when there are many more lessons possible. Variety helps both the coach and student from getting bored.

Many of these lessons are appropriate (with modification) for foil and saber. Most of these lessons are not technical lessons that teach specific actions, but rather methods of cuing to create a variety of tactical situations for the student. These lessons assume that the student already has some mastery of footwork as well as the essential components of blade work, i.e., the thrust, disengage attack and indirect ripostes, the parries, attacks on the blade, and various methods of taking and controlling the opponent's blade, etc. From these lessons the student is able to practice phrases of actions that have context and purpose. Some of these drills can be used in combination by linking them together in a logical manner.

Relatively simplistic lessons can be made more difficult in a variety of ways, such as by playing with tempo, giving some control of the lesson to the student, or introducing false cues that are meant to be ignored. Many of these drills can be modified simply by changing the line that they are written in, changing the actions to second intention, or by changing the footwork. Usually the manner of making the touch (with or without engagement, with a change of line by making a bind, by flick, with or without angulation, etc) is not specified and is at the coach's discretion. Attacks can be turned to counter-attacks just by changing the direction of the footwork and having the coach initiate the attack. The timing and footwork relative to the blade cue can also be changed to change simple attacks into feint attacks. The student can be forced to reprise when the coach unexpectedly parries or forced to parry or counter-attack if the coach ripostes. Student can be cued to riposte with a fleche if the coach makes a quick rear recovery from his own lunge.

Note that some of the drills are attributed to Gary Copeland. He taught these drills or concepts to me in Épée 3 at the USFA Coaches College. This isn't to say that he invented the concepts in those lessons, but I figured I'd give credit where credit was due. The rest are lessons I've pieced together over the years from my own experience as well as from the influence of various books, USFCA seminars, USFA Coaches College, and Swordmaster articles.

Lesson 1. Touches to the hand:

From immobility, advancing, or retreating, the coach presents his hand as target, makes sweeps in 4 and 6, and makes circular actions, so that the student scores through  direct attacks, disengages, and feint attacks. The use of a retreat by the coach after the first hit allows for a redouble by the student to make a second hit.

Lesson 2. Lateral movement on the strip:

Students should be encouraged to use the complete fencing environment. Although positioning oneself directly in front of the opponent and maintaining the fighting line is generally wisest, there are times in which lateral movement is helpful. This is done in order to acquire a different angle leading to the target, to aid a parry, to avoid a collision, or simply to disturb the opponent. With a right-handed fencer, steps to the left should be initiated with the front foot. Steps to the right should be initiated with the rear foot.

Lesson 3. Four simple rules (from Gary Copeland):

This is a very good introduction to épée for fencers who normally fence foil. There are 4 simple rules to this lesson. Rule 1: If the arm is open, hit it.  Rule 2:  If the arm is opening then hit the arm on the opening line. Rule 3: If the arm is not open, create an opening with a beat. Rule 4: If the arm is extended toward you,  take the blade and hit the body.

There are four cues by the coach, and four responses from the student. This lesson  can serve as the framework lesson for a variety of techniques and tactics. Be creative!

Lesson 4. test Parry riposte or counter-attack against coach's attack:

The coach makes either straight-arm attacks or bent arm attacks. The student makes parry-riposte against straight-arm attacks and makes counter-attacks against the bent arm attacks. The coach should focus the straight-arm attacks to the top of the student's weapon arm, drawing the student's circle 6 parry. Alternately, the coach can make attacks that the student should parry with an inside, linear parry. If both the student and coach are right handed, the student should either make a riposte against these attacks with a bind (from 4 to 8), or wait till the coach relaxes his weapon arm before making a direct riposte with opposition in 4.

Lesson 5. Counter-attack followed by parry-riposte:

This is a tactic in épée as well as saber, where counter-attacks can be made to the hand or forearm, as opposed to foil which would require the fencer to be close enough to hit the torso. The coach makes a bent arm attack to the hip. The student should counter-attack this attack with a retreat. Whether or not he is successful with the counter-attack, the student should then make a  parry of second,  and riposte to the coach's thigh. The coach may vary his bent arm attack by attacking to any line which forces to the student to find the opening for the stop hit and select an appropriate parry. The riposte can be direct or with a bind. If the coach makes a quick recovery after the student has made the parry,  the student can riposte with a fleche.

Lesson 6. Parry or counter-attack against coach's riposte:

Similar to the previous drill (Lesson 5). The lesson begins with the student's attack to forearm, which the coach parries, but does not make an immediate riposte.. The student recovers and disengages his point from the coach's forte and remise to the other side of  the coach's weapon arm, thus allowing the coach to touch himself as the late riposte starts. If the student fails to remise, or determines ahead of time that the stop hit is impractical, the student makes a fast recovery and makes parry riposte. This drill is good for situations where the student is trying to keep his distance from the opponent, whereas the following drill "Remise and reprise" would force the student to close the distance to hit deeper target. Considering the similarities though, these two drills work well together.

Lesson 7.  Remise and reprise:

The student attacks the coach's hand with thrust and then makes an immediate continuation to deeper target (such as the shoulder) with a lunge. If the coach makes a parry, the student evades the parry and continues to the same target, or chooses a different target such as the hip, thigh, or toe. If the student makes the initial attack with the intention of provoking a parry in order to deceive it, this makes the tactic a feint attack, though physically it may appear identical to the reprise.

Lesson 8.  Avoid the double touch (counter-time):

Here the coach offers the chance for the student to practice counter-time. Student attacks and coach immediately counterattacks. The student may try various ways to hit first with speed and concealment of intent, or may try second intention counter-time by beating or taking the coach's blade.

Lesson 9. Controlling the opponent's blade:

This is useful for fencing against taller opponents.

Since the shorter fencer will be attempting to control the taller fencer's blade, the taller fencer will be attempting to derobe/evade these attempts. If the taller fencer's blade is caught, he will attempt to "roll off" and escape the shorter fencer's control of the blade. It is to the advantage of the shorter fencer to master controlling the opponent's blade over multiple tempos. (By contrast, the press and beat made before an attack are far riskier, since the opponent may simply replace his point).

The coach extends, attacks, or ripostes in order to present a straightened weapon arm. The student makes engagement, and then envelopes (circular transport) or then binds (diagonal transport) repeatedly. The drill is repeated with a variety of blade transports with the emphasis on the student trying to control the coach's blade for as many tempos as possible, particularly as the coach recovers from his lunge and retreats. As the skill and confidence of the student increases, have the student finish by making touches to the coach's various targets (chest, leg, foot, etc).

Lesson 10. Avoiding blade contact:

The coach and student reverse the roles played  in Lesson 9. The student attempts to prevent his blade from being taken and controlled by the coach.

Lesson 11. Instigating infighting (from Gary Copeland):

The student makes strong press in 4 (or a circular sweep in 6) with a fast advance or lunge to close the distance while controlling  the opponent's blade. The student then immediately maneuvers his blade and arm to make the touch while his opponent is still surprised at the sudden close of distance. This all may or may not be preceded by a beat attack to the arm. Whether or not the student is eventually able to create the infighting situation in bouts, he will become more comfortable and capable during unexpected infighting.

Lesson 12. Defensive second intention/invitation with attempt at blade contact (sweep):

The student makes sweep or press in either 4 or 6. The coach disengages and attacks. The student, expecting this, makes lateral or circular parry and riposte. The riposte may be direct or with a bind. It may be delivered with a thrust, lunge, or fleche.

Lesson 13. Multiple targets:

This lesson has a variety of difficulties. In the easiest version the coach stands still and opens various lines. The student makes direct attacks to the different targets. To cue for indirect attacks, the coach sweeps the blade and student hits while avoiding blade contact. If the coach extends the weapon arm, the student should  take the blade and hit the various targets with binds. If the coach attacks, the student parries in the line of attack and ripostes to different targets.

Lesson 14. Multiple hits and multiple targets:

This lesson is similar to the previous drill (Lesson 13), but incorporates an initial attack and a remise, redouble, and/or reprise. An additional hit may be made with a flick to the coach's arm during the student's recovery from the lunge or while retreating.

Lesson 15. Simple phrases both advancing and  retreating:

The coach has the student execute the same action going forwards and backwards. For example, if the student makes engagement in 4 and then thrusts in opposition, this phrase is an opposition thrust while moving forward but is a parry riposte when moving backwards.

Lesson 16. Stop-hit against riposte followed by parry counter riposte:

The student attacks the coach's arm with a lunge. The coach parries this attack. The student changes lines by moving his tip around the guard and leaves his arm extended as he recovers. The coach begins his riposte and is hit on wrist as student recovers. The coach finishes his riposte and the student makes a parry and counter-riposte.

Lesson 17. Attack, redouble, reprise:

With the student continuously moving forward and the coach continuously retreating, the student makes an attack to coach's hand, makes a redouble to top of coach's elbow, and finally evades a parry from the coach to make a third touch to coach's shoulder. As the student grows comfortable with this sequence of actions, the coach will accelerate his retreating through the phrase, starting with a slow retreat and ending with accelerating footwork intended to escape the student. This should provoke a fleche from the student to make the final touch.

Lesson 18. Single cue and single response with increasing difficulty (from Gary Copeland):

This lesson teaches the student when to attack. It starts off very simply and easily. Select a simple attack (such as a disengage thrust). That attack will be the action for the entire lesson. The lesson starts from immobility. The coach cues for the attack. The student easily scores. Footwork is added and the coach stops footwork to give the cue. Eventually the coach gives the cue while still moving but still during moments that the student should attack, i.e., when the student is in balance and at the right distance, etc. Gradually the lesson gets harder as the coach sometimes gives the cue at inappropriate times. The student must only attack when the timing and distance are appropriate. The coach may even hide the good cues within other blade actions, forcing the student to be patient and to ignore or deal with the extra blade work.

Lesson 19.  Multiple cues and a single response:

The coach makes several different cues which prompt the student to make the same response. For example – sweep in 4, or 6, or circle 6, or circle 4 all draw a disengage to the thigh.

Lesson 20. Multiple cues and multiple responses (one specific response per cue):

Each cue has a specific response. Three or four cues (at most) work best here. For example – Coach makes sweep in 2 = student disengages to hit top of wrist. Coach makes sweep of circle 6 = disengage to thigh. Coach makes sweep to 4 = toe touch. Coach makes attack = student makes circle 6 parry and riposte to torso.

Lesson 21. Single cue and multiple responses:

This is a good lesson to force the student to explore his creative side, or, at the very least, practice some variety. The coach gives a single cue and the student makes any number of responses to it. For example: the coach extends weapon arm. The student can counterattack to the arm while the extension occurs, beat the blade in various ways  and hit, take the coach's blade in opposition and thrust, take the coach's blade with a bind and hit a variety of targets, and so on.

Lesson 22. Real cues and false cues (from Gary Copeland):

A real cue is a cue done at an appropriate time for the action and is designed to allow for the student to be successful. A false cue usually looks similar to the real cue but is generally done at the wrong time, tempo, distance, or direction, and is designed to tempt the student into acting and failing. The student therefore must learn to discern between the real and false cues and to act upon only the real ones. A simple example of a real cue would be: the coach shows the top of his wrist for a simple direct attack. The false cue could be showing the wrist while retreating, demanding a feint attack and not a simple direct attack. Since the student was instructed to only make simple, direct attacks, the student should ignore the opening during the coach’s retreat.

Lesson 23. Offensive second intention using attack and counter-riposte:

Perhaps the most common form of second intention, the student makes a shallow and somewhat slow attack and allows himself to be parried. The coach ripostes. The student parries this riposte and makes a counter-riposte to score. There is some variety in how this is done. For example, if the coach makes a  riposte in 6 with engagement, the student may make either an opposition parry in 6 or may make a yielding parry of 1. If the student's counter-riposte is made with a bind,  the final target can be varied.

Lesson 24. Deliberate attack to bell guard and remise:

A clever trick to use against an opponent who has a solid guard position—the student makes a medium length lunge and purposely hits a quadrant of the coach's bell guard. When hit, the coach reacts by making small retreat and moving his hand in the direction opposite the quadrant hit, meaning if the top of the guard is hit the coach lowers his guard. If the bottom is hit, then the coach raises his guard, etc. The student then makes a remise with a second kick of his front foot and changes his medium lunge to a long lunge and touches the opening target.

Lesson 25. Mimicking specific opponents:

There are two opportunities to help your student by mimicking the styles of his opponents. The first is when the student comes to you and says " I just competed and lost to this guy who fenced like this…" As the coach you can mimic the actions or style used by that opponent so your student would be able to be better prepared for their next match together. The second opportunity is the preparation for an upcoming competition. Careful analysis and mimicry of expected opponents can help the student feel more comfortable, and therefore have a greater chance of success against those opponents during competition. It is particularly useful for the coach to become proficient at coaching and fencing with his non-dominant hand in order to mimic both righty and lefty fencers.

Lesson 26. The "blind" opponent:

This does not refer to visually impaired fencers, but rather fencers who seem to act with total disregard for their opponent's actions. These fencers are difficult to control and predict, which can make them difficult to fence. The coach can mimic this type of fencer by looking down at his own feet while bouting with his student. The coach will not be able to see the student well enough to react to visual stimulation, but will still be able to orient himself correctly on the strip and avoid dangerous situations. The coach can be surprisingly successful by making sweeps, seemingly random parries, and thrusts, searching for blade contact, and using sentiment du fer to complete the attacks. The student must adapt and fence with the tactic of patiently exploiting openings rather than controlling the opponent or creating openings with feints.

Lesson 27. Sentiment du fer (offensive):

The sense of touch can be just as important as the visual sense in fencing if properly used. Have the student close his eyes and then engage his blade. Ask the student which line you have made contact in, or perhaps ask him to respond with a disengage. The student should be able to tell how you have engaged his blade from his fingers. Sentiment du fer can be used while on the offense. The student makes an attack. The coach makes a parry. The student, relying on his sense of touch, slips away from the parry and hits with a reprise. A second use of sentiment du fer is with the press. The student makes a press. The coach either does not respond to the press or returns the pressure. The student, relying on his fingers to sense the difference, either makes a straight thrust or a disengage.

Lesson 28. Sentiment du fer (defensive):

While on the defense the combination of sentiment du fer and a working knowledge of the parry systems creates a powerful tool for the fencer. In this lesson, the coach attacks and the student makes parry and expects the coach to make a reprise. The student has a second parry planned ahead of time for the reprise and selects this parry based on the first parry. For example, if the coach's attack is to the thumb and student makes parry 6 then the student bets that the coach will disengage by coming below and around the guard to hit either the thigh or chest. From the parry 6 the student can plan to make an intercept parry of 2 or 8. The instant the student feels the coach's blade leave his own he knows that the reprise has started. The student then makes his pre-planned intercept parry and riposte. This gives the illusion of super-human reflexes because the decision making process is moved from after the reprise starts to before the reprise starts, thereby allowing the student to go immediately from recognition (that the reprise has started) to the execution of the parry.

Lesson 29. Choice between low line parries and counterattacks:

This is a little more difficult than simply having the coach make low line attacks and the student either parrying or counter-attacking. There should be a reason for the student to parry and a reason for him to select the counter-attack. The student should lead the footwork. To cue the counter-attack the coach makes a low line attack smoothly and from long distance. To cue for the parry the coach makes his attack suddenly, quickly, and from slightly closer distance.

Lesson 30. Making toe touches:

It is not necessary to drop the eyes to look directly at the opponent's foot in order to hit it. The opponent's toe is under his knee, which is under his hip, which is under the line connecting the shoulder to the torso, which is usually under the side of his mask. The student can aim at any point along that line, begin the attack, and once begun he can drop the point to the foot. Have the student practice this timing his attack to your advance while you sweep your blade to a parry 4 or 6. It is relatively safe for the fencer to initiate a toe touch (without engagement) when the opponent's blade is moving in a direction away from him and the opponent's weight is being placed on the front foot.

Lesson 31. Counter-attack against toe touch:

The student should practice this to develop the sense of timing, aim, and balance required for a successful counter-attack as well as for a successful recovery should the counter-attack fail. Coach makes attack to toe. Student withdraws the front foot and counter-attacks to the wrist/forearm, shoulder, or mask. A tall fencer with long arms may find it safer and more effective to counter-attack to the mask or shoulder than the wrist. Against a very fast and well executed attack to the toe, the student may have to pivot at his center of gravity, kick his rear leg back into the air, and move his front foot under his center of gravity in order to protect the toe and develop the forward motion of the point to hit. With this action the student should immediately hop back into the guard position after attempting the counter-attack.

Lesson 32. Yielding parry of 1 and opposition parry 6:

Both of these options are responses to the opponent's circle 6 parry and riposte with engagement. Student attacks. Coach makes parry circle 6 riposte. Student, in time with the riposte, maintains blade contact and makes parry 6. The counter-riposte can be direct, indirect, or with bind. Alternately, the student could instead select to make yielding parry of 1 instead of the opposition parry 6. To do this the student rolls his blade around the other blade during the coach's riposte and moves to the parry 1 position. The student may need to rotate at the torso and displace downward. To aid in the counter-riposte the student may need to bend backwards at the waist. The riposte is direct and to the belly or thigh. The choice of yielding parry may be desirable compared to the opposition 6 parry when fencing against a physically stronger opponent since the yielding parry uses the opponent's strength against him. This drill can be done as second intention or as a response to a surprise parry-riposte by the coach.

Lesson 33. Yielding parry of 4 and opposition parry 2:

Similar to the preceding drill "Yielding parry of 1 and opposition parry 6" (Lesson 32) except that this drill makes use of different parries. Student attacks. Coach makes either parry 2 or makes parry 4 and then binds to 2 and makes riposte. Student rolls his blade over the coach's blade and maintains contact the whole time. Student displaces downwards and makes a very low parry 4. The counter-riposte is generally to the upper torso or side of the mask. Alternately, the student could chose to make opposition parry of 2 and counter-riposte to thigh.

Lesson 34. Angulation to circumvent parries:

If the opponent makes a parry but does not immediately bind the blade or envelope it, the fencer can continue pushing the point forward and angulate to pass around the parry and still strike target with a remise. This is useful when the attacking fencer has a lot of forward momentum, such as in a fleche attack. If the defender makes a riposte the attacker's remise will likely hit and at worst there should be a double touché. The student attacks and the coach makes parry of 4, 6, or 1. The student moves his hand in the same direction as the opponent's blade and angulates so the point will hit while continuing forward with a redouble, fleche, etc. The coach may make a riposte to force the student to make his remise smoothly and quickly.

Lesson 35. Beat or press attack from advance lunge distance:

The emphasis in this drill is on the timing between the beat (or press) and the footwork. The student starts at advance lunge distance. While starting the advance with the front foot the student strikes the coach's blade simultaneously with the landing of his rear foot. Now that the rear foot has landed the student is capable of making his lunge, which he does.

Lesson 36. Push-pull:

This is similar to the push-pull done in foil and saber in concept but generally using much less of the strip because of the threat of a counter-attack. The student threatens the coach while advancing once or twice or making small hops forward. The student makes a change of direction with a small hop backward or a retreat, and coach advances. This may be repeated two or three times to set a pattern of movement. The student then times his attack to land during the coach's advance.

Lesson 37. Choice reaction lesson for the attacking student:

The student should feel comfortable and confident in his attacks. This comes from belief that his attacks will land, or that he can fight his way out of a failed attack. In this drill the student attacks and the coach responds to the attack in a few expected ways. He can

  1. Not react and get hit.
  2. Parry riposte to force the student to reprise or make parry counter-riposte or,
  3. Counter-attack to force the student to make counter-time.

At first the lesson is done slowly to get the student used to the different responses. Ideally the coach reacts appropriately to the attacks made by the student. If the attack is well timed, done with a straight arm, done at the right distance, and done without telegraphing then it should score. If the distance or timing is a little off but otherwise done well, then the coach should parry. If the attack is made with a bent arm and does not have a feeling of surprise, then the coach should make counter-attack. The student should be made aware of why the coach reacts the way he does so that in time the student may be able to vary his attacks in such a way to make distinct first intention, feint, and second intention actions of various sorts including counter-time. The advanced student should be able to elicit each of these reactions from the coach.

Lesson 38. First intention attack, feint attack, second intention and counter-time in a serial pattern and random pattern:

Essentially the goal is to get the student capable of returning to lesson 37 and taking total control of that lesson including the coach's reactions. The student practices the previous lesson's actions in a serial pattern. The coach will respond according to the feeling and qualities of the students attack. The student can eventually take control of the order to transition to a random pattern. The student needs to make the initial attack a little differently for each.

First intention:  The student makes quick attack intending to hit. Emphasis is on being explosive and not telegraphing. Student times the attack to land during the coach's advance. Student hits before coach is able to parry.

Feint: Student attacks with advance and 90% extension (too little of an extension will draw a counter-attack) at moderately fast speed. Student times attack to occur during coach's retreat. Coach parries. Student avoids parry and accelerates with a second footwork action for the genuine attack.

Second intention: The student makes slower attack with straightened arm. The point does not penetrate quite deep enough to hit target but gets close. Coach makes parry-riposte. Student makes opposition parry or yielding parry and finishes with a counter-riposte.

Counter-time: The student makes a bent-arm attack at moderate speed. The coach makes counter-attack. Student aborts attack to make a quick parry and riposte of the coach's attack.

Lesson 39. Misdirection of tempo (from Gary Copeland):

For example—the student makes simple attacks at a particular speed. The coach, acting as the opponent, becomes comfortable with the tempo and learns to parry at that tempo. The student then makes a real attack at much faster tempo and hits before a parry can be successful.

Lesson 40. Misdirection of target (from Gary Copeland):

By concentrating on defending one target, the opponent often forgets that other areas of his target are vulnerable. For example, the student makes several false attacks to the high outside line—forcing the coach to concentrate on defending the outside of his hand. The coach's response of closing the line of 6 becomes twitchy or reflexive. The student then makes feint to the coach's high outside line. The coach makes parry of 6, allowing the student to deceive the parry and finishes to another line.

Lesson 41. Recognizing and avoiding the danger zone:

This is useful for fencing against taller opponents. When there is a large difference in reach between fencers, there is a "danger zone" through which the shorter fencer must either stay out of—or pass through quickly—in order to score. This drill teaches fencers to understand this zone.

In the guard position, both fencers extend their weapon arms. The taller fencer places his point on a chosen, easily hit target, such as the shoulder or part of the torso. The shorter fencer then sees how far his point can reach, and afterwards, when both fencers have their arms relaxed, the shorter fencer makes his attacks no deeper than that original spot. Going any closer would allow the taller fencer to counterattack. While maneuvering on the strip, the shorter fencer makes attacks and the taller fencer makes attacks or counter attacks when he feels the shorter fencer has gotten too close.

Lesson 42. Respecting the danger zone:

The student makes simple attacks and counterattacks without blade contact to the near target areas of the partner, such as thumb, wrist, and distal forearm. Any offensive or counteroffensive action made to deeper target must be either compound or made while controlling the opponent's blade (bind, croise, envelopment, etc). The student should use footwork tempo changes and distance stealing footwork in order to reach critical striking distance.

Written October 2007. Please direct all comments and questions to Paul Sise.

Paul Size is the principal coach and owner of the Pioneer Valley Fencing Acadey He is the author of A Basic Foil Companion which is published by SKA Swordplay Press and "Height Differences in Epee Fencing and Strategies for the Shorter Fencer" which was his thesis for Fencing Master certification.