Where is foil going? And why am I behind?

I’ve been giving some thought to the Junior/Div I NAC from a week or so ago and the foil fencing I saw at the Capital Clash this weekend.

For the last few years I have been patting myself on the back about my “progressive” approach to foil fencing, and felt that with some of the limited success I’ve had that I was on the right track.


Coaching a number of fencers at the recent Div 1/Junior NAC and at the Capital Clash, I realized that while I have been ahead of some of my peers, I’ve NOT been ahead of where the National trend in foil has been going.

Generally, the trend has been to bring in elements of saber, with its speed and level of commitment to a weapon in which it’s pretty hard to hit (unlike saber) but also allows for more “loose” interpretations of right of way. I’m very much still adjusting to this.

I am thinking about the following ideas:

1. Attacks must start off the line with little or no hesitation. This may mean an immediate advance and lunge to hit, or a very quick advance, and then slowing down to either absorb a faster attack, to retreat in the face of an attack, or to continue the chase against an opponent that has retreated without over closing the space. At every moment, the fencer must be ready to prosecute the attack and finish, preferably with a lunge. Intent is being read by the referee and fencers without intent are being punished. (high confidence this is correct)

1a. Reconnaissance is now more like a saber bout (I did this attack and it failed/succeeded, now I will use that failure/success to deliver my next action with no hesitation). Moving forward slowly and ‘probing” the opponent with preparations is dangerous against a high level opponent. (medium confidence that this is correct)

2. Remises are just as important as the parry riposte. The fencer must be capable of engaging the target at odd and unusual angles and at close distance. I’ve joked that women’s foil in particular looks like <train wreck><remise>, but at a certain level (especially Div 1 pools) there was a high number of actions which were just like this. (very high confidence this is correct)

3. The feint does not need to be a real penetration of the space with the blade. Much like the time before 2005 when the feint of the flick was enough to draw a parry, the feint is more subtle and a function — not of distance — but of acceleration. More simple attacks are successful simply because of speed. The defender cannot ignore the closing of distance. I’ve known this for a long time, and for many years I’ve been teaching the feint as small blade motion and a change of acceleration, but it’s even more subtle than I had originally thought, which is going to change my blade actions in lessons. (medium to high confidence this is correct)

4. “Attacking the corners” which was important in the days of the flick is still critical. The tip of the shoulder and the flank have to be as natural to the fencer as the chest. Again, not much of a surprise, but demands further emphasis from me, especially hitting the should with “flick-like” actions. (medium confidence this is correct)

5. Any long step to close the distance is apt to be met with an attack in preparation or counter-attack, resulting in fencers deliberately provoking these attacksĀ  and then fencing a very close distance after defending with a parry. (medium confidence that this is correct)

6. Local refereeing must allow the fencing phrase to continue longer than we have in the past, and be willing to make difficult calls about the validity of the remise and when the remise was delivered. In Virginia, we have to push our referees to allow fencing to occur (and for touches to be awarded correctly) when the action gets close and more involved. (high confidence that this is correct)

I’m working on how this is going to change lessons…and of course, still testing the ideas.