CCF Class Notes

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Advanced Group.  We continued our study on the counter-disengagement.*  This time we studied using le contre-dégagement by using a press to provoke the opponent’s change from one line to another.

As mentioned in the last entry, the attacker (“Fencer B,” below) started with the engagement.  The defender (“Fencer A”) then changed to recover the engagement.  It was at that point that Fencer B counter-disengaged.

This time, however, Fencer B started with the engagement.  Fencer A attempted to retake the engagement by pressing Fencer B’s blade to the opposite line.  When Fencer B changed the engagement, Fencer A counter-disengaged to the touch.

Here was the basic model.  Again, we started with Fencer B, the one who would receive the touch, stepping in to take the engagement.  (Depending on which side we were practicing, Fencer A would be in a neutral guard, allowing Fencer B to take the engagement in either the outside-high or inside-high lines.)

 Fencer AFencer B
1st temps Steps in and takes the engagement
2nd tempsPresses to retake the engagementChanges the engagement
3rd tempsCounter-disengagesReceives the touch

We noted that a press-induced change of engagement can take more (fencing) time than a change done from when the attacker already has the engagement. (such as in the exercise from the last time).  This facilitated the counter-disengagement. 

Here were the most salient mistakes.

  • Not pressing enough to prompt the change.  We noticed that it was easy to overly focus on the attack and neglect pressing in way that motivated our opponent to change.  For instance, if the press was too shallow, the opponent was not insufficiently exposed to change engagement.  Or, the attacker’s blade was misaligned—such as by using the weak to move the opponent’s blade—which only allowed the defender to attack with a forced straight thrust.  To optimally provoke the opponent’s change, you have to leave him or her little choice but to retake the engagement with a change (that’s barring an attack, a retreat, etc.).  To do that, we saw we had to press enough to close the line completely with a properly aligned blade (i.e., the line to us was closed and the opponent’s tip was off our body).  Closing
  • Not attacking promptly enough.  The counter-disengage needs to happen before the opponent can meet our blade with his or her change.  This got better as the class progressed, but our experience was that we had to start the counter-disengage no later than when the opponent was halfway through the change.  (This was made easier if the opponent started his change before the line was closed:  that way, the opponent was moving his blade laterally and changing the engagement, which only slowed his ability to parry.)  Detecting when the change happened was an exercise in sentiment du fer.  Expecting the change—because it was prompted, after all—was also helpful.

* All links are to CCF’s page of fencing terms.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Advanced Group.  We worked on attacking in our opponent’s time today, focusing on the counter-disengagement (le contre-dégagement).*  Whereas the disengagement happens on the opponent’s press, the counter-disengagement happens on the opponent’s change of engagement.  It is vital that the attacker act within the defender’s time.  As we often say, the defender’s action must bookend the attacker’s:  the attacker must start after the defender, but end before him.

We practiced this using this drill.  After the attacker took his measure and retreated once, here was the basic template, starting from mutual sixte. (Later, we switched to mutual quarte.)

 Fencer AFencer B
1st temps Steps in and takes the engagement
2nd tempsChanges engagementCounter-disengages
3rd tempsReceives the touch 
Practicing the Counter-Disengagements

After we did both lines, we added footwork.  Then we did a choice drill:  the attacker took the engagement, and the defender could respond with a press or change of engagement.  The attacker had to choose immediately the right action:  disengage or counter-disengage.  Afterwards, we did some academic assaults, limiting people to circular attacks and circular parries.

Common mistakes included—

  • stepping in too deeply when taking the engagement.  Although stepping too far to take the engagement isn’t really a problem of the counter-disengagement, it did reveal an important facet of disengaging.  When we stepped in too deeply, the attacker’s point was often past the defender’s coquille.  And if that happens, the attacker probably doesn’t have enough time to do a counter-disengagement (or a disengagement):  when your point is that deep, it has to go around your opponent’s forearm.  Doing so requires a much bigger spiral than going around the opponent’s blade, which is how the disengage or counter-disengagement should be executed.  When in measure, you don’t have enough time to get your blade all the way around your opponent’s arm:  you’ll have to cheat some part of the attack (e.g., shortening the arm or the lunge to give your tip more time to get around the defender’s arm).
  • not being sufficiently prompt on the counter-disengage.  We saw that we have to begin our extension promptly after we feel the absence of the other blade, i.e., when the defender begins her change of engagement.  This isn’t a matter of speed:  it is sentiment du fer.  Your engagement must be sensitive enough to feel the opponent’s blade quit yours.  At that moment, you extend fully and lunge with no hesitation, straight to the target.
  • failing to have sufficient opposition at the end of attack.  You have to have angulation when landing the touch in order to protect yourself from the opponent’s blade.  It may be that, in your promptness, you reach his blade before he’s fully changed engagements.  To prevent your opponent from reclosing the line or to get his blade out of the way, you must have proper opposition with an angulated wrist.

Beginners.  Beginners reviewed Thursday’s lesson.  We introduced the coupé and the tour d’épée.  Remember that the coupé is one of the French school’s three simple attacks.

* All links are to CCF’s page of fencing terms.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

We applied this to our examination of the forced straight thrusts.  We experimented with the timing of the lateral parry, the demicircle parry * (sometimes the “demicounter parry”), and yielding prime in response to the forced straight thrust.  Whereas our beginners practiced their thrusts, the more advanced people practiced when to parry so as to land the riposte—i.e., at the beginning of the attack, in the middle, or at the end.  All these points have different implications for whether you’ll have to chase your opponent to land your riposte.

* This links to CCF’s vocabulary page.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Today we celebrated our July birthdays, such as Dallin, who turns 17 on the 26th!

Our beginners today were introduced to the engagement.*  We learned that an engagement describes the fencers’ blades being in contact—Gomard calls the engagement the “action of crossing the steel with the opponent’s.”

We saw that we “take the engagement” by stepping into measure and engage the opponent’s blade by pressing our steel sufficiently against it so that (1) the opponent’s tip is off our target area and (2) our tip is on the opponent’s target area.  Once this happens, we “have the engagement.”  We discussed how having the engagement is part of opposition.  

Using sentiment du fer, we can discern whether our opponent fences with a heavy or adroit hand.  In the former case, we examined using three ways to take (or retake) the engagement: forcing the blade at a neutral engagement (bad idea), realigning the blade to be able to deviate the steel (effective but still suboptimal), or using a change of engagement to take the engagement on the other side (the most efficient way).  We saw that, the stronger the opponent’s hand, the more you have to deviate from a good guard position to take the engagement using strength or blade alignment.  Better to go around that overly firm hand and let her own strength deviate her blade for you.  Later you’ll be able to use that against the opponent.

Once we had a sense of the engagement, we began working on the straight thrust (the coup droit), the simplest of the French school’s simple attacks.  To do this, we stepped into measure, taking the engagement once again, extended fully, then lunged to the hit.

Some common errors today included—

  • Taking the engagement at the wrong part of your blade.  Where possible, engage at a mutually neutral part of the blades.  If we engage the opponent’s blade with our weak, we cannot exert sufficient pressure to deviate the adverse steel.  If we engage the opponent’s blade at our strong, the opponent can more easily slip her tip past our defense.
  • Lunging without opposition.  Beginners often lunge with their hands in central position.  Or, if they start with opposition, their weapon drifts towards center line during the course of the lunge.  This leads to double touches.

* All links to go CCF’s vocabulary page.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Today, we finished the lunge part of CCF’s curriculum. 

We wrapped up the lunge section by focusing on the demi-lunge.  Today was about the adage that, “Whoever controls the distance controls the fight.” We saw that we can use the demi-lunge defensively and offensively. 

We use the demi-lunge defensively when our opponent steps in too closely.  This may happen when the distance between the two fencers gets a little off or if the shorter opponent is trying to get within her measure against a taller fencer, creeping closer to her opponent.  In that case, the taller fencer can make a demi-lunge–pronounced and credible—to get her to back up.   The fencer shouldn’t be trying to score a touch necessarily:  it is just a warning shot to the other fencer.   Indeed, you don’t want to use it too much as a mere threat.  It won’t take long before the opponent catches on and will time you, take your blade, etc.

We also saw that we can use the demi-lunge offensively.  Obviously, to attack if our opponent steps in too closely with a bent arm.  More realistically, we can use the demi-lunge as a means of reconnaissance.  We can use it as a fausse attaque, i.e., a probing action to see what our opponent will do in response to our attacks.  This allows us to anticipate his blade response so that we can evade his defense.

Some common errors today included:

  • Posing in the demi-lunge.  When used as a threat, the demi-lunge should be in and out.  Defensively, we use it to rattle our opponent.
  • Using a reverse lunge rather than a demi-lunge.  This was about mistaking our distance.  Feeling crowded by the opponent, people wanted to go back. 
  • Using an extension rather than a demi-lunge.  This was the opposite mistake, that is, letting people get too close.  If you can extend and hit your opponent, then (1) he is way too close and (2) it is too late for the demi-lunge.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

We are continuing our foil curriculum review.  For today’s class, we covered two techniques involving the lunge yesterday:  the reverse lunge and retreating in the lunge.  We examined these in the context of correcting the distance between us and our opponent. 

We studied using our reverse lunge when our opponent gets too close, most frequently when she enters into our measure without an extension.

This happens when we are fencing against someone who has lost his sense of proper distance (or, in the words of the 19th century French writers, someone who has become an “homme porté,” i.e., carried away).  Note:  Given where we are in our foil review, we did not go into detail about how she enters too closely, e.g., whether with a straight arm or while attempting to take our blade.  Nor did we examine what we have to do to secure our opponent’s blade when she is that close.  We simply worked on the timing and positioning of the reverse lunge.

Some of the more common errors we saw were—

  • leaning forward in the reverse lunge (i.e., the lead leg going past the lead foot’s instep); this can happen when we misjudge how close the opponent is and end up reaching for the touch;
  • rising up before reverse lunging; this results from standing up to reposition that rear foot rather than sliding it out straight back; and
  • not fully reverse lunging, leaving that rear leg bent.

Retreating in the lunge in an option when an intemperate opponent lunges into our lunge.  When this happens, we may find ourselves so close to the opponent that recovering presents a risk because it exposes our target; at the same time, our blades may be so close that our ability to protect ourselves is impaired—the opponent’s arm, blade, or even leg may inhibit our blades’ maneuverability.  (The 19th-century French writers had a phrase for this situation too:  they called this being “trop engagé”—too engaged.)  To retreat in the lunge, you push your body backwards from the front leg while remaining in the lunge position.  The rear leg stays extended, even if you have to lift it some to reduce the resistance to moving backwards.