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Basics of Sabre Fencing

Updated on February 10, 2009


Men's Fencing


The fencing weapons

Sabre Fencing

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Basics of Sabre Fencing

Sabre fencing differs from either foil or epee fencing in that scoring could be done with both the point and the cutting edge. To the casual reader, this difference might look insignificant, but to the sabre fencer, this makes the game immensely more complex, and the tactics to win the game diverse.

As in foil fencing, the target is limited, being confined only to the trunk, arms, and head. Sabre fencing developed in the mid 19th century when the Italians introduced a light practice sword and wove the conventions of foil fencing around it. Later, the Hungarians changed the tone of the game by making fencing sabres no heavier than the foil, raising the excitement level of the game with the new emphasis on speed and coordination. In no time, sabre fencing rivaled – and in certain countries surpassed – foil fencing in popularity.

The sabre is cradled in the fleshy base of the player’s fingers clear of the palm. The handle is plain and slightly curved, and the blade V-shaped and narrow. The blade is inflexible on the cutting edge, but flexible in the flat plane. Sweeping around the back of the hand to the pommel, the guard affords the player ample protection for his sabre hand. 

Fundamentals of Sabre Fencing

The inclusion of the hand as a valid target and scoring touches made by both point and cutting edge give sabre fencing an abundant opportunities for one wanting to develop fencing skills. This also imbued the sport with an appeal all its own.

Correct Grip

The correct grip is important for proper control as heavy touches arising from incorrect gripsl is considered a discourtesy to one’s opponent. The hand must grasp the handle firmly, the blade’s direction guided precisely by the wrist and forearm, the shoulder and upper arm remaining as relaxed as possible.


Point touches are made with the palm of the sword hand pointing downward, causing the blade to form an arc. Slices aimed at the opponent’s outside line (the sword arm, flank, and right cheek) are delivered horizontally with the hand in pronation (palm turned downward) by a forward motion climaxing in a light tap dead on target of the blade’s front edge (the side away from the thumb). Cuts to the head or inside the sword arm are made similarly, except that the action is made vertically with the thumb uppermost. Slices with the hand in three-quarter supination made on the way back from a full extension of the arm are used for cuts aimed at the left cheek and chest. Full supination is not used unless one intends to hit the opponent’s low inside areas.

Guards and Parries

Sabre fencing has five basic guards and parries: 1st for low-inside, 2nd for low-outside, 3rd for high-outside, 4th for high-inside, and 5th for the head. The most common guard is 3rd: the elbow is brought close to the body, sword hand level with the right hip, with the wrist cocked making the fencing sabre almost vertical and turned so that the front edge will catch a horizontal cut to the outside. Meeting cuts with the front edge near the guard may also be used in parries in all positions. Straight blocking parries are recommended against cuts. Against point thrusts, circular or counterparries are used, the same is used to break up composite attacks.

The most important parries are the 3rd, 4th, and 5th—these offer abundant opportunities for scoring on the riposte. For that reason, cuts to the low line will likely be met by low 3rd and low 4th, although in some instances the 2nd and 1st may be preferable. Thus, a defender in 2nd is in a better position to parry a chest cut with 1st than with 4th, in the same way that if he’s in 5th, he’s in a better position to parry a flank cut with 2nd than with 3rd. A horizontal cut to the upper arm or right cheek is the fastest riposte from 2nd, while a vertical cut to the head accompanied with a clockwise quarter turn of the wrist and forearm is the most common riposte from 1st.

The myriad of possible actions from the use of both point and edge makes static defense inadvisable while enhancing the value of the stop cut or thrust. The arm being a target demands watchfulness against the stop , and makes highly advisable second intention attacks to draw the defender’s stop to be able to parry it and score on the riposte. The Hungarians, however, have a simpler solution. They advise players to keep far enough apart to deny the other the opportunity to connect by a simple lunge. A precise sense of distance, perfect timing, balance and mobility, decisive simple attacks on the fleche, and quick ripostes win sabre fencing competitions.


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