Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Language of Fencing

On the first day I started fencing, I went to Barnes and Nobles and bought the only fencing book they had. In retrospect, it was not the best choice. However, I was so hungry for information that I loved it.

As I read it, I became more acquainted with the vernacular of fencing. My initial thought was, "Damn.....Who in the heck would know all these strange words and their meanings?"

Now-a-days my fencing vocabulary is pretty good. Not that some words and definitions don't trip me up from time to time. They do. Different coaches have somewhat different definitions for some actions, which further complicates the language.

While the language is moderately complex, lately it seems to me that it should be even more complex.

One of the most basic drills is called "Six Wall". That is very descriptive of the drill. It is the foundation for a lot of other drills, and it is the only one I know that has a name. Also, it is part of my warm up routine, when I have someone with whom to drill, and I am not short cutting my routine. All the rest are named by their separate actions. It would seem easier/faster to transition from one drill to the next if you did not have to mentally repeat every action you needed to do and just focused on the cues. German's (Beck System) seem to have numbers for each drill, though that seems too clinical and hard to remember.

Or, when you set up an attack. Take one of Toomey's set ups that Tommy showed me lately. Short slow advance....take the blade in two....long fast advance....tiny little advance. Now, I know that you can do this action to the point that no conscious thought is required for the action. But, suppose you are dancing around out of distance and looking for the best attack to set up. Would it not be wiser and faster to have a name for that set up? Or if you are a coach and you want to convey the need to use that attack to your student on strip, without a name or hand signals that signify a name, there is no good way to do it, except during conversations at breaks.

Or look at the description of the set up above. It would seem easier if "short slow advance" or "tiny little quick advance" had a one word name.

I sometimes wonder if, at some point in the history of fencing, there were names in another language which have all been forgotten.

I would love to see a book on how fencing has changed over the last 200 years. (exploring all manner of things forgotten). For example watch this video.

There is foil and dagger fencing in here that is so fluid and graceful that it reminds me of Wu Shu. I would give anything just to know a few drills like this. Also, there is a brief moment where a woman makes a high parry (it looks like a sabre parry), but it is so very elegant. I love that sort of thing!

Sometimes, just talking with Coach, he will use a term that I have not heard before. When I get home I try to look it up, and there is nothing that can be found. Take "Banderol" for example. Just trying to remember how it is spelled or might be spelled is hard enough. Then try to find a definition in English. Often this link is some help for spelling, but after that you are on your own.

On the other hand, I suspect a lot of folks never become fluent in the basic
language that already exists.

It might not make sense, but sometimes I dwell on these types of things.


cobalt said...

You're 100% correct, you always want to have language for this. I usually use "big step take" or "big step control".

Most of the time when I teach this, it's part of a "playbook". A lot of this is just simple preparation. It's just a matter of telling the fencer whether I want them more aggressive or defensive. I usually tell all my intermediate/advanced fencers to select the things that they're good at and stick to those when they're on strip. Usually it's about 5 different actions. For some it's a little more finesse, others it's more binding of the blade. But usually when you keep your plans simple, you'll see better results...

It also helps them avoid overfocusing on a specific action. A lot of times that becomes suicide at the Div 1 level.

To be more specific on that sequence you mentioned (minus the short hop at the end...don't know why Tommy put that in there), to most of them this is just an "attack".

Rocco said...

The tiny advance after the long advance is to maintain balance like you had me do last lesson. Us bigger guys to have a little more momentum than say kelly.

Woody said...

Huh? Jim, you'll have to explain to me why Coach mentions a saber action to you an unapologetic epee fencer.

I think that would have been a very interesting conversation.