This summer at Coaches College I found that I should not fence foil with a French grip. I was learning a new” transfer’ and Alex Beguinet was watching. I could not do the action well because the handle of the French grip foil was hitting my wrist. Alex leant me his pistol grip and I did the action. It was perfect. Alex (a French fencing master) looked at my weapon and cursed it in a heavy French accent, “Stoopid French grip!” It was at that moment all that I had read concerning “sentiment de fer “ <~~~~ spelling? kind of went out the window. I would give that grip up in foil, but at this point in time, I just cannot do so in my beloved epee.
Here is the reason.
I am 54 years old. I quit reading about the effects of being in your fifties, some time ago as it seemed that every time I read something, it started to become a self fulfilling prophecy. The prophecies ended or slowed down, when I quit reading about them. One of the ones I remember however is that you loose flexibility. My hand speed and reaction time are still fairly good, but the legs do not move the way they once did. Sometimes I need a couple of more inches and I pommel with my French grip. This helps me extend my lunge.
I never start with pommeling. I bring it out later in the bout. (Note: I have never read anything about pommeling. So right or wrong, these are my own opinions and observations on doing so.) I like to give it a couple of points and let your opponent think he has a feel for your distance. Another reason is due to the disadvantages of pommeling.
When I pommel I loose a certain amount of point control. I can still hit a barn door, but I do not have as much faith in myself griping in this fashion. Also, there are times when I may want to take the blade with some force or become involved in an infighting situation. I do not think you can have the strength you need to do this just by holding by the pommel.
I go many bouts and never pommel. I break it out when I need it. For example:
1. When my opponent is very tall and has a long reach
2. When my opponent is just much better than me and I am getting beat. Try something different and desperate!
3. When I am tired and I want to “back someone off “for a moment to catch my breath and think a moment. I pommel and do a “point in line”. Hey..It works sometimes!
4. When I have a good lead in a bout and I want to double out and keep the lead. You cannot explain this. You just have to know when this is the right opponent to do this with.
I have tried pommeling in between the normal grip and the pommel but see no benefit in this action. Pommeling is an all or nothing thing.
Pommeling is one part of why I fence epee with a French grip. Even though Cam told me to change to a pistol grip on the first night I fenced epee, I just couldn't. I got into fencing, like most people, by watching swashbuckling movies and wanting to be like the characters I saw there. My weapon needs to have some resemblance to a sword, even though what we do with them seems to have little to do with how real sword play would unfold. A pistol grip on an epee (to me.....just to me). is like having a "night scoop" on a black powder rifle. Somehow...it is just wrong.
Editors Note: I have never met a high level fencer or a high level coach who thought about the French grip as I do. Fortunately, I am neither.