Online training for fencing coaches and fencers

A Fencing Catechism

A catechism is a method of instruction by question and answer, normally used in religion, but with a historical connection to fencing. The first fencing catechism was published by George Heintz, the Master of the Sword at the US Naval Academy, in 1895. We think it is a good way to teach fundamental knowledge, and we dedicate this catechism to the memory of Master Heintz. 

Catechism questions are drawn from a wide variety of authoritative modern fencing manuals in all three weapons.  As such you may find some questions and answers with which you disagree because of how you understand the theory and doctrine that you teach.  Feel free to modify question and answer as appropriately supported by the texts you use.

To use the catechism, select a question that will support your planned lesson and give both question and answer to your students in advance.  At the lesson as part of the lesson introduction or in your cool-down summary at the end, as appropriate, ask the question.  If you have a group lesson, do not immediately respond if no one answers.  Let the silence continue until it becomes so uncomfortable that someone tries an answer.

Questions are in no particular theoretical order.  We add new questions at the rate of 3 to 4 a month.  If there is a topic you think we should include in the catechism, we will be glad to have your suggestion.

(31) Question - what is the essential difference between a disengage and a coupe?

Answer - in a disengage the point of your blade goes around the opponent's guard; in a coupe the point of your blade goes around the tip of the opponent's blade.

(30) Question - what is a parry by distance?

Answer - a defensive action to open the distance far enough to make the opponent's attack fall short, but not so far as to prevent an effective riposte.

(29) Question - what are the four standard categories of attacks?

Answer - simple attacks (including direct and indirect), compound attacks, attacks on the blade, takings of the blade.

(28) Question - how many and what are the ways to defend against an attack?

Answer - four - parry with the blade, parry by distance, evasions, closing within the opponent's blade.

(27) Question - what are the four ways to use a blade to prepare an attack?

Answer - By feints which cause the opponent to open a line for my attack, by percussion using impact to clear the opponent's blade from the line, by leverage to control the opponent's blade, by a parry to create the opening for a riposte.

(26) Question - What is a phrase?

Answer -  A continuous exchange of blade actions starting with an attack and ending either with a hit, a corps-a-corps, a referee command, or with one or both fencers stepping out of the fight.

(25) Question - What is countertime?

Answer -  A false attack to draw an opponent’s counterattack so that it can be defeated resulting in a touch for the fencer.

(24) Question - What is the relationship between tempo and actual time?

Answer -  A tempo varies in its length in actual time based on the distance between the fencers, the fencer’s physical speed of action, and the cadence, acceleration, or deceleration of the action.

(23) Question - What is the relationship between technique, tactics, and strategy?

Answer Technique is how you perform fencing movements.  Tactics are how you win the phrase, bout, pool, tournament.  Strategy is how you combine training and tournaments to meet your goals for the period, season, quadrenium, career.

(22) Question - what is a continuation?

Answer - a continuation of the attack after a parry without a specific choice or change of movement to alter the original action.  Not a remise, redouble, or reprise. 

(21) Question - what is the fencing (or directing) line?

Answer – the straight line on the strip joining the heels of the rear foot and the toes of the front foot of the two fencers.

(20) Questionwhat is the line of offense?

Answer - the direct line from the tip of the fencer's blade to the target.

(19) Question - what is an indirect attack or riposte?

Answer - a one tempo offensive action that goes from one line to another (disengage and coupe) or through multiple lines (counterdisengage).

(18) Question – what does the parry prepare?

Answer – the riposte.

(17) Question – from the referee’s perspective what is the difference between a beat and a parry?

Answer – a beat is an offensive action that strikes the opponent’s blade on the outer two-thirds of its length from the guard. A parry is an action that defeats the opponent’s by interposing the inner one-third of the length of the blade, measured from the guard, to block the attack.

(16) Question – what is an invitation?

Answer – a movement to create an apparent, but false, opportunity to draw an opponent’s attack or counterattack.

(15) Question – what is a first intention action?

Answer – an attack or riposte executed to hit the opponent in one or multiple tempos of continuous attacking action.

(14) Question – what is preparation?

Answer – any actions taken to create the conditions for a successful final action of an attack or counterattack

(13) Question – what are the three standard hand positions applicable to all weapons?

Answer – pronation  (fingernails down), supination (fingernails up), and middle (thumb up)

(12) Question – what are the zones of the strip?

Answer – the box between the on guard lines, the two maneuvering areas between the box and the warning area, and the two warning areas.

(11) Question – what are the basic parries in each weapon? And what lines do they defend?

Answer - Foil and Epee – 6th outside high line, 4th inside high line, 7th inside low line, 8th  outside low line.

Answer - Sabre – 3rd outside high line, 5th head and high line, 4th inside high line, 2nd outside low line.

(10) Question – what are the five distances?

Answer –  Out of Distance, Long Distance (Advance Lunge Distance), Medium Distance (Lunge Distance), Short Distance (Extension Distance), In-Fighting Distance.

(9) Question – what are the three general types of renewals of the attack, and which ones are performed from the lunge?

Answer – Remise, Redouble (both performed from the lunge), and the Reprise (performed from a recovery to guard).

(8) Question – what are the common four simple attacks? Which ones are direct and which indirect?

Answer –  straight thrust/cut (direct), disengage, coupe, and counter-disengage (all indirect).

(7) Question – what are the five categories of attacks?

Answer –  simple attacks, compound attacks, takings of the blade, attacks on the blade, and ripostes.

(6) Question – what is a tempo?

Answer –  the amount of time required to perform a simple action, footwork and/or bladework.

(5) Question – when do you need preparation for an attack?

Answer –  whenever the distance the blade must travel or the geometry allows the opponent to successfully parry or counterattack.

(4) Question –  what are the lines and where are they measured from?

Answer –  high line, low line, inside line, outside line, all measured from the guard of the weapon.

(3) Question –  what is smoothness in movement?

Answer –  clean, steady progression of movement with no hesitation and the most direct track of the movement along that of the technique.

(2) Question – what is distance?

Answer –  the physical distance the point or edge of the weapon must travel in order to hit the target.

(1) Question – what are the parts of the weapon?

Answer – the blade, divided into the tang, forte, foible, and point and capped by a button or electric point (in foil and epee), the guard, a thumb pad, the grip, and a pommel.