At Sword's Point
schlager7

League City, TX

#2 Aug 28, 2009
THE SEASON BEGINS

The fencing year in this region has begun and by next week the preliminary competition schedule will be determined, and posted. It seems a good time to discuss a bit about fencing and the traditional "first weapon" taught to a beginning fencer.

Nine times out of ten, if you are talking with someone and they mention that they "used to fence" or "took fencing in college" (and there really are quite a lot of them out there), what they mean is that they took lessons in FOIL fencing.

Modern Olympic fencing has three different disciplines, or "weapons": foil, epee and sabre. In EPEE, while all touches must be scored with the tip, the entire body is target, literally from head to toe. It also does not have those bothersome rules of right-of-way. SABRE does have rules of right-of-way, and there is less valid target than epee: basically everything from the hips up is fair game. What sabre has going for it is that you can score with the tip or the edge.

Foil is a tougher nut. It has the tiniest target, basically the torso. You hit your adversary's head, arms or legs and the referee may call "halt!" but no points are awarded. Even then the referee won't even call a halt if you just hit your opponent with the edge or side of the foil. You are only awarded a point if you land a touch on your opponent's valid target (torso) with the tip of your foil...

and maybe not even then.

You will recall I said something about RIGHT-OF-WAY.

The foil was created in the late 1600s/early 1700s as a training tool for those who might expect to find themselves in a duel with the primary dueling weapon of that age in England, France and their colonies: the smallsword.

Barely 30-32 inches long, the smallsword had no edge (in fact, the blade's cross-section was a trifoil) but a needle-sharp point. If you impaled your opponent's thigh or arm, it would hurt him, but he could still kill you.

Therefore, foilists were taught to target the torso, infliciting the kind of injury that would, at least, give your adversary pause.

As to right-of-way, in a tournament or classroom situation, it works like this. Two fencers are en garde, facing each other. Inevitably, one attacks. The attack is defined as the INITIAL offensive action, caused by extending the point at your opponent and threatening valid target. If my opponent does exactly that, and my response is to do the same, and we both hit on valid target... only my opponent gets a point.

Why?

My opponent attacked. A perfectly reasonable thing. I, on the other hand, did not defend myself. I threw myself on their point while trying to hit them. In essence, I just committed suicide.

In foil, we do NOT award points for suicide. Instead, once my opponent attacks, I have two options (well, more, but for now...)

If I counter-attack (which is what I did in the paragraph above), I can win a point ONLY if: 1.) I land my tip on their valid target; and, 2.) they completely MISS me.

My other option, once they launch an attack is to PARRY their attack (that is, deflect their blade with my own blade) and launch an IMMEDIATE "Riposte" (an offensive act after parrying their attack).

Foil was created to teach an 18th Century gentleman what to do in oder to get home once he had begun a duel. Thanks to two hundred years of adapting it into a sport, it can also be one of the fastest, most difficult, most athletic and most intellectual of sports.
Tom Atkins

Houston, TX

#3 Aug 28, 2009
Youíre just full of useless information arenít you?
schlager7

League City, TX

#4 Aug 29, 2009
Actually, it comes in pretty handy.
schlager7

League City, TX

#5 Aug 29, 2009
THE CUTTING EDGE

Now for sabre.

Sabre is the only one of the three modern fencing weapons that allows the fencer to score with the edge as well as the point. It makes sabre somewhat less linear, more multi-dimensional.

Like foil, sabre has a restricted area that is considered valid target, but it is less restricted than foil. In foil, only the torso is considered valid target. In sabre, everything above the forward curves of the pelvic bone is valid target: belly, chest, back, arms, head.

Because of this expanded valid target area, and the fact that even simple contact by any part of the blade on that target is seen as a "hit," sabre becomes a very fast game. Like foil, sabre employs conventions of "right-of-way" or "priority."

One fencer attacks. Their opponent must either avoid the touch or parry it (with an IMMEDIATE riposte), As with foil, once the first fencer attacks, if their attack is not parried and lands on valid target, only they are awarded a touch, even if their adversary also hit them. If attacked, you must defend or successfully evade. As with foil, sabre does not reward suicide.

Because of the large amount of valid target and the ease with which an attack may be subtly altered (a verticle stroke that appears to be a cut to the head can easily shift in mid-extention to a lateral cut to the flank), sabre can be more difficult to parry. Thus we see many actions where the defender retreats just out of range then, as the attacker's cut/swing misses, leaps forward to deliver an attack of their own. All in seconds... or less.

Sabre is a very, very fast game. It is also, at the higher skill levels a very nuanced game. The number of people qualified to referee sabre is much smaller than with either foil or epee.

Even at the elite level of Olympians the unexpected can happen:

&fe ature=sdig&et=1251545454.0

THIS WEEKEND: Sabre was the focus of this weekend's only fencing tournament in Texas, the End of Summer Sabre tournament. It was held by the Fencing Institute of Texas in Farmer's Branch, a suburban city on the northern edge of Fort Worth. Being early in the fencing year, and focusing on the weapon with the fewest adherants, it was a small affair, drawing a couple of competitors from Houston and one from Tulsa, but otherwise representing the "usual suspects" for sabre in the Dallas-Ft. Worth region. Kate Sierra, who I thought was the strongest of the competitors who had pre-registered as of last Sunday, came in second, being defeated by her clubmate Omair Ahmad (both belong to the Cutting Edge Fencing Club of Ft. Worth).

NEXT WEEKEND: Again, we have only one tournament in Texas, but WHAT a tournament. The Bayou City Fencing Academy, based in Houston is playing host to one of the 8 Super Youth Circuit tournaments in the US this season. In a SYC tournament competitions are held men's foil, women's foil, men's epee, women's epee, men's sabre, and women's sabre... but each of those six events I described is actually three (broken into Youth-14 & Under, Youth-12 & Under, and Youth-10 & Under). So we have Youth-14 & Under Men's Epee, as well as Youth-10 & Under Women's Sabre... and everything in between.

To get an idea of the scope copy/paste the url to the SYC pre-registration for this event.

http://askfred.net/Events/whoIsComing.php...

Place your cursor on the abbreviation for the fencer's club and get a feel for the diversity of locales these youngster are flying in from to fence.
schlager7

League City, TX

#7 Sep 13, 2009
FOILING AROUND

It seems a good time to discuss a bit about fencing and the traditional "first weapon" taught to a beginning fencer.

Nine times out of ten, if you are talking with someone and they mention that they "used to fence" or "took fencing in college" (and there really are quite a lot of them out there), what they mean is that they took lessons in FOIL fencing.

Modern Olympic fencing has three different disciplines, or "weapons": foil, epee and sabre. In EPEE, while all touches must be scored with the tip, the entire body is target, literally from head to toe. It also does not have those bothersome rules of right-of-way. SABRE does have rules of right-of-way, and there is less valid target than epee: basically everything from the hips up is fair game. What sabre has going for it is that you can score with the tip or the edge.

Foil is a tougher nut. It has the tiniest target, basically the torso. You hit your adversary's head, arms or legs and the referee may call "halt!" but no points are awarded. Even then the referee won't even call a halt if you just hit your opponent with the edge or side of the foil. You are only awarded a point if you land a touch on your opponent's valid target (torso) with the tip of your foil...

and maybe not even then.

You will recall I said something about RIGHT-OF-WAY.

The foil was created in the late 1600s/early 1700s as a training tool for those who might expect to find themselves in a duel with the primary dueling weapon of that age in England, France and their colonies: the smallsword.

Barely 30-32 inches long, the smallsword had no edge (in fact, the blade's cross-section was a trifoil) but a needle-sharp point. If you impaled your opponent's thigh or arm, it would hurt him, but he could still kill you.

Therefore, foilists were taught to target the torso, infliciting the kind of injury that would, at least, give your adversary pause.

As to right-of-way, in a tournament or classroom situation, it works like this. Two fencers are en garde, facing each other. Inevitably, one attacks. The attack is defined as the INITIAL offensive action, caused by extending the point at your opponent and threatening valid target. If my opponent does exactly that, and my response is to do the same, and we both hit on valid target... only my opponent gets a point.

Why?

My opponent attacked. A perfectly reasonable thing. I, on the other hand, did not defend myself. I threw myself on their point while trying to hit them. In essence, I just committed suicide.

In foil, we do NOT award points for suicide. Instead, once my opponent attacks, I have two options (well, more, but for now...)

If I counter-attack (which is what I did in the paragraph above), I can win a point ONLY if: 1.) I land my tip on their valid target; and, 2.) they completely MISS me.

My other option, once they launch an attack is to PARRY their attack (that is, deflect their blade with my own blade) and launch an IMMEDIATE "Riposte" (an offensive act after parrying their attack).

Foil was created to teach an 18th Century gentleman what to do in oder to get home once he had begun a duel. Thanks to two hundred years of adapting it into a sport, it can also be one of the fastest, most difficult, most athletic and most intellectual of sports.

It is also how we instruct beginners: learn the hard stuff first.
schlager7

League City, TX

#8 Sep 13, 2009
CHILDREN & SWORDS

In the last post, I noted that the 3-day Labor Day weekend would include exactly one fencing tournament in Texas, a Super Youth Circuit (SYC) in Houston. Some 300 fencers participated. They came from Orange County, California and San Francisco and Portland Oregon. They came from Long Island and New Jersey and Jacksonville, Florida. They came from Canada, Chicago, and Denver.

They had three things in common. They were fencers. They were competitive athletes. They were between 8 and 14 years of age.

Last time I also mentioned sabre competitions and how fast they were.

Here are clips of the Youth-10 & Under men's sabre gold medal bout (broken into 2 parts).



http://www.youtube.com/watch...

People sometimes argue with me and tell me they think our students should not take up fencing in high school. I agree. They should get their first instruction in the elementary grades.

The SYC in Houston, Texas was the only one of the eight SYC's sanctioned by the United States Fencing Association (USFA) for the season that runs from August 2009 to July 2010 that would not be (more or less) an East Coast or West Coast event.

As the Dallas Morning News recently observed, "Each fall, many kids start the school year dejected about being rejected for the too-few spots on school sports teams. And that doesn't include the many who don't try out because they've been told they're too short for basketball or not big or broad enough for football or haven't been playing select volleyball since they were 5."

More introverted (but no less able) students shy away from team sports where the attention, adulation and (don't even try to to deny this) money focus on the one or two extroverted, accomplished superstars.

Others are also simply more individual-oriented than team-oriented.

Then, there are the smart students...

Fencing probably attracts a significantly and disproportionately higher percentage of honors students among it total competitive population than any other sport.

It does have drawbacks, however. Public school traditionally have a difficult time getting a handle on individual sports as opposed to team sports. For all of our blather about individual rights, Americans mostly want to know what "team" you're on. Football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer... They are about teams and they are about chasing balls.

Fencing is personal and lonely. On the piste (fencing strip) there is only you and your opponent and the referee. Your victories are yours and yours alone, but so are your defeats.

Additionally, while it is an athletic endeavour, it is also a mental game. You seek to decieve your opponent and lead them astray, in about half a second. You seek to divine you adversary's intent (attack or merely a feint) in the 1/5 of a second you have to decide and act. It is a martial art but it is also chess at 300 mph.

It is an anachronism in a world chasing instant fame, groupies and the almighty dollar.

Yet every year, more and more young people pick up a foil, an epee, a sabre. A decade and a half ago the USFA boasted but 10,000 dues-paying members of all ages. Today the number is closer to 25,000-30,000 (and that does not even take into account the purely "recreational fencers" or classical fencers, who do not compete in USFA-sanctioned events and, thus, do not join).

The jokes about pirates, swashbucklers, Zorro and the Three Musketeers are all very cute, trite and tired. Fencing, however, is a serious sport... and it is growing.

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