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plewis66
-26th October 2003, 16:41
I've been browsing. I'm ued to pistonheads.com, where there are hundreds of posts a day, so due to the relative quietness here, I've had to taken to reading through the archives. It's nice, though, to have had the time to do that.

I've found on my travels, that very many people say that footwork is key. Now, I have over twenty years martial arts experience, and to me, the footwork in fencing seems fairly straightforward. Step forward and back, jup forward and back, ballestra, lunge and fleche. Much more restricted than in martial arts.

Am I missing something in footwork technique? Is there more than I've seen? Or perhaps when people say 'footwork' is so important, they mean as the foundation for balance, timing, pace and distance?

Has anyone here practised martial arts as well as fencing? Are there any gotchas? What should I really be aware of? (The most obvious is that no martial artist would ever stand with his/her feet in line!) Why do fencers stand with feet in line, even though it makes balance more difficult? Simply to reduce target area? To get power into the lunge? Something else?

I'm just worried that I might be missing something...

reposte
-26th October 2003, 17:16
You said it yourself:


they mean as the foundation for balance, timing, pace and distance

Fencing is much more of a precision sports them most martial arts, the phrasing of a fencing action is minimal in its
effort/efficiency ratio, bring the minimum effort to a maximum result, and bringing all the effort you have to achieve
absolute result, which is why the leg work is the top of timing - distance - speed dimensions' efficiency.

Jambo
-26th October 2003, 18:25
Keeping your feet in line is ideal in the narrow confines of a piste. It keeps you straight and keeps you in balance when lunging.

Robert
-26th October 2003, 19:42
I've found on my travels, that very many people say that footwork is key. Now, I have over twenty years martial arts experience, and to me, the footwork in fencing seems fairly straightforward. Step forward and back, jup forward and back, ballestra, lunge and fleche. Much more restricted than in martial arts.



When I started people told me footwork was the key to everything, they didn't tell me often enough.

The difference is very simple, fencing is a competitive sport, karate/kung fu are just art forms like ballroom dancing. If you look at boxers, who are competitive like fencers, they spend inordinate amounts of time training on footwork even simpler than fencers. This is because hitting someone in a competition is about doing simple things very, very well. And part of that is knowing that your feet will carry you to where-ever you need to be quickly, smoothly, and without even thinking about it.

Robert

plewis66
-26th October 2003, 20:30
Hmm, I know what you are saying, there, but boxers are not the only competetive martial artists! Most styles of martial arts include some form of contact competition. Most boxers don't actually spend that much time purely on footwork, either. It's usually combined with training on timing, distance and speed.

So is fencing footwork so different that you need to train exclusively on footwork to a greater extent than in other martial arts? By exclusively on footwork, I mean just on stepping technique, without consideration for distance, timing, speed etc? i.e. just practicing lifting your toe first, and landing with your heel first, etc. Or is the advice I'm reading on footwork actually meant to relate to (asyour answer implies) distance, timing, speed and balance etc.

Basically, by 'footwork', should I undertand it to mean 'not bladework'? i.e. those aspects of fencing that get your body into a position to minimise the effort required of the weapon hand.

Rdb811
-26th October 2003, 20:51
Yes - from pure footwork (i.e. basic movements - you still have to concentrate on them from time to time) through to 'not bladework')

Pointy stick
-26th October 2003, 22:40
The footwork is only *superficially* simple. When you look deeper, it's quite complex.

Yes, you're only moving forewards and backwards in a straight line - although I have seen one fencer who zig zags the full width of the piste, like he's avoiding u-boats - but the speed and direction changes constantly, and the fencer always has to be on the correct foot at the correct moment.

I watched a better fencer last time I was at the club - I've no idea how he compares in terms of national rankings, etc., but i know he's better than I am - and he seemed to score a lot of hits with simple direct attacks, without even a beat. As far as I can tell, he did it by accelerating his lunge at exactly the right moment.

I can't do this myself (yet) but it seems to me that hand speed can be as much of a handicap as a benefit, in some circumstances. Better to be in the right place at the right time to place the point where you want to - and that means good footwork.

As for the martial arts - fencing IS a martial art, every bit as much (or as little) as karate, judo and boxing. Yes, it's stylised, specialised, and 'unrealistic', but basically, it's hitting someone else with a weapon and trying to stop them hitting you.

I've noticed a few 'martial arts' types who give fencing a try, who have already tried 2, 3 or more other martial arts. Typically, they are easy to identify because they stand with their weight 80% on the back foot, and often with a wide stance. That shortens the lunge, and makes it harder for them to step back when parrying/avoiding an attack. On the other hand, if a fencer joined a karate club and stood with his/her weight equally distributed, (s)he would struggle to launch the simplest of kicks.

whizzkid1982
-26th October 2003, 22:57
as for why so much time is needed on just the simple mechanics of a step forward. the action involved in performing the perfect step forward is totally the opposite from any movement you do naturally with your legs, eg walking.

when walking your hell leaves the floor first lifted by pushing the knee forward over your toe. when you perform a step forward in fencing the toe is lifted first and then kicked out in front.

since it is such an alien action it takes time for your muscles to get used to what is going on. this is why so much time is spent on getting the action correct.

i personally think that not enough emphasis is put on the distance aspect of footwork when practicing because exact distance is not something that many people pick up naturally, i know i don't. footwork in fencing is all about trying to get your oppent at a distance where you can hit them when you want to be able to do so. so it is truely vital, without it it is impossible to perform at a high level.

plewis66
-27th October 2003, 07:43
Whizkid, yeah dair enough, but after five minutes, the mechanics are completely natural. Maybe not for some, I guess. Again, you also emphasise distance, so I guess I'm beginning to see that 'footwork' means a lot more than just how to lift your foot!

Pointy stick, thanks. That's exactly the kind of information I was looking for! (Not that the information everyone else has given isn't! It is! Thanks everyone!)

chortler
-27th October 2003, 08:39
I have just started fencing after spending years doing other martial arts (Judo, Karate, TaiChi)

The main difference that I've noticed between fencing and the other martial arts is based on the fact that in most MA you are un-armed & therefore equally able to attack/defend with either your right or left side of your body. In fencing you are always defending from one side & therefore the footwork is designed for that.

Crouching Tiger
-27th October 2003, 09:46
The main difference that I've noticed between fencing and the other martial arts is based on the fact that in most MA you are un-armed & therefore equally able to attack/defend with either your right or left side of your body. In fencing you are always defending from one side & therefore the footwork is designed for that.

exactly what i was thinking.

i found this difficult to adjust to, especially as you're not using the other hand for anything (apart from lunging to propel you forward and balance). Coming from a karate and kickboxing background i just thought the other arm was 'hanging around' waiting for something to do!
Used to it now though. :)

plewis66
-27th October 2003, 09:57
This is true, but it's not really what I was asking.

I'm probably fortunate in that having twenty five years in the martial arts, I've done lots of very different and diverse movements (from Shotokan to Ba Gua, via Shaolin, Iai Do and many more besides), so it didn't take me that long to figure out why the footwork is the way it is. What I'm wondering is, is it really so different and so hard that you have to spend ages just learning to pick up your feet and put them down again?

I think the answer 'm getting is, no, the foot work (as in, the awy you move your feet mechanically) is not that difficult. The difficulty is in making practical tactical use of the mechanical movements to get correct timing, balance, distance and speed.

whizzkid1982
-27th October 2003, 10:13
i would say that you have somewhat of advantage when it comes to learning the mechanical movements in comparison to most other beginner fencers lots of experience with other martial arts is very useful when starting.

i would say that another major difference, although please correct me if i am wrong because i have very little martial arts experience, with fencing is that you are not required to get very much force into hitting your oppent. at sabre there is no force required. this means that any part of your blade can score the hit. you cannot afford to be too close to your opponent therefore.

even as i write this though i realise that it is still not the actual mechanics of footwork that is difficult but more the distance that you keep from you opponent.

Gav
-27th October 2003, 10:19
I suspect that the answer you are looking for is yes .... and no. Is Fencing footwork hard? No not really. Is it difficult to get right? Yes/No. Yes because hits are scored more with footwork [from which you will derive timing and distance] than with the arm. No because all you need to do is practise.

The years of practise that you have had at other martial arts will be both of benefit and also hinderence. Those that I have met that have done a lot of martial arts in the past have had little difficulty adapting to the physical aspects of Fencing but, have often found it difficult to get over the mental conditioning that they have had in the past. Also your average UK fencer doesn't have any previous MA experience to draw up on. As a consequence the only frame of reference that they have is Fencing itself and this may make it appear that [fencing] footwork is harder than it probably is. Additionally your average fencer doesn't practise their footwork and it's an aspect of many fencers games which is conspicuous in its absence.

So is Fencing footwork hard? For the absolute beginner yes, for someone with experience probably not.

The best way to look at is not that Fencing footwork is hard rather that you have to work hard at your footwork.

Hope that all makes sense.

plewis66
-27th October 2003, 10:27
Thanks all. The situation is revealing itself.

Interestingly, the biggest problem I had at my lesson last week (the first in a long while, in case I haven't mentioned that enough yet!), was getting correct distance. I kept falling short on the lunge.

I think it was probably a case of over-compensation. I knew I had a big pointy stick in my hand (and that the other person did, too!) so I knew I had to be further away than normal, and in the end I was too further away!

OK. Bottom line is, practice the galumphing (as my mate called it)!

whizzkid1982
-27th October 2003, 10:27
very well put!

Crouching Tiger
-27th October 2003, 11:59
in the beginning i always seemed to have a problem keeping my feet the correct distance apart from one another whilst moving forward (though strangely moving back i didn't have a problem with). i was either standing with them too close together or doing the splits, however lots of practice at home seems to be sorting this problem out.

ceprab
-27th October 2003, 13:16
Originally posted by Robert

The difference is very simple, fencing is a competitive sport, karate/kung fu are just art forms like ballroom dancing.

Robert

Ballroom dancing is also a sport. Practiced competitively the difference between proceeding from a round and getting knocked out is often the quality of the basic techniques used, not their complexity and variety. You may know every step it is possible to perform in a waltz, but if you hold your partner at a distance and fail to make good heel leads on your steps you will not participate in round 2. On the other hand I know of a couple who, early in their career and dancing against other people at the same stage, reached a final without doing any figures at all because they were correctly performing the basic steps (heel leads, foot tracking and toe rises) and had a good solid frame.

This principle is very similar to the concept of footwork in fencing: it doesn't matter if you can feint, decieve and prise-de-fer at will if your opponent can overmatch you in the footwork as they will simply step out of range and wait for you to give them an opening.

/rant

randomsabreur
-27th October 2003, 13:24
You are all right

My analysis is slightly different though.

Yes the footwork is the easy bit, but you have to get it so you don't have to think about it, so it just carries you to the right place without any conscious decision on your part.

You can't be thinking about what the feet are supposed to be doing, while you do it, chances are you get hit. If you stuff at the right distance, if is so much easier than if you are too close or too far!

I have to keep reminding myself to practice footwork, miss my home club where there is a footwork part of every session

plewis66
-27th October 2003, 13:36
Is that analysis any different? It sounds to me like you are talking about timing and distance, and the importance of those is kind of the whole point of what I was asying. I only ask because I'm still not utterly sure I'm not missing something...

randomsabreur
-27th October 2003, 14:11
OK, I probably didn't interpret everyone's replies in the same way you did.

What I meant to say was that you don't practice footwork for its own sake, but as a means to an end. At junior level, the most successful fencers and the also rans is in the footwork. That is the main difference between british and foreign fencers. The hand skill level of the Brits is as good as if not better than that of the French, Italians..., the difference is in the ability to use the feet to get out of (or into) trouble.

Also you can't practice it in a fight because there is too much else, that is much more interesting to think of! A good time to practice footwork is at the end of a tough session, so that you get used to doing it correctly while you are tired and would rather be in the pub.

Pointy stick
-27th October 2003, 17:57
I'm far less experienced as a fencer than most or all of you, but I like to think too deeply about things, which sometimes helps and sometimes hinders. Here's some of my ideas:

The first bit of 'footwork' is the on guard position - what martial artist might call the 'stance'. In fencing, your weight should be evenly distributed, 50% on each foot.

Now, what happens when you move? Your weight distribution changes. Also, your ideal on guard position might be with your feet 18 inches (45 cm) apart, but where are your feet after three steps forwards and two back? They could be anything from touching each other to 24 inches apart!

The ideal is that if you move your front foot forwards 10 inches, you move your back foot forwards 10 inches, so you are always in that balanced position.

How many of us do that 'naturally'?

And how many of us gradually straighten our legs during a series of steps? Straight legs = toppling lunges, instead of explosive lunges.

Then there's the moment at which you beat the blade, or extend the arm. If your weight is on the front foot, how do you develop the attack into a lunge?

Or if you are attacked and need to step back, what do you do if your weight is on the back foot?

How long will your lunge be if your feet have mysteriously become twice as far apart as they should be?

How is your balance if your feet are suddenly only inches apart, and you need to retreat suddenly?

The point seems to follow the line of the front foot. So if that front foot starts to turn, your attacks will be out of line. And you may twist your knee or ankle.

So the footwork might be simple in form, but it needs to be done with care and precision, so that after every step, you are balanced and poised to attack or retreat as circumstances dictate - and not only that, but at exactly the right distance from your opponent, It's as simple as that!

A lunge that puts your point 1 inch from the target exposes you to an almost inevitable riposte. A lunge which bends your blade 90 degrees is one in which you have exposed yourself to unnecessary risk, then wasted precious energy.

Schultz could put a wealth of expression into Charlie Brown's face with only 3 or 4 strokes of the pen - but they had to be exactly the right strokes. Something can appear simple until you have to do it just right - and fencing footwork seems to be one of those things. I'm not good at it, but I do know that my best moments in fencing have come from the well timed simple attack, rather than the more 'glamourous' complex blade work.

Like most beginners, I started with a preconception that fencing was all about clever swordsmanship. Now I see the majority of hits are scored with (fairly) simple bladework, done at the right time and distance - and that comes from what the feet are doing, not the torso, arm, wrist or fingers.

Crouching Tiger
-28th October 2003, 07:56
well said.


The first bit of 'footwork' is the on guard position - what martial artist might call the 'stance'. In fencing, your weight should be evenly distributed, 50% on each foot.

This is probably why i've been told my on guard position is very good considering ive not been doing it long and the fact i can stay in that postion for a while without it hurting too much.
in MA stance is equally as important and all those years of staying in a 'torturous' position as i use to call it has paid off.

plewis66
-28th October 2003, 08:05
Originally posted by Pointy stick
I'm far less experienced as a fencer than most or all of you, but I like to think too deeply about things, which sometimes helps and sometimes hinders. Here's some of my ideas:...

Very well put indeed.

However, it's still the fact that the basic footwork is very simple (even learning to keep the distance is not difficult...or maybe I've been doing it so long, I've just forgotten how hard it was...?). Also, as you say, the distance is (one of) the really critical thing(s).

But never mind my nit-picking, I'm really get loads out of the answers on this thread. Thanks all.

plewis66
-28th October 2003, 12:55
BTW, I just took delivery of 'Foil Fencing' by Prof. John 'Jes' Smith. I've only flicked thru in my lunch hour, and it looks very good indeed.

Especially Appendix B: Footwork development. This gives lots of exercises for developing your footwork (surprise surprise). It looks very interesting...

Petch66
-1st February 2004, 14:08
The only real problem i have with footwork is keeping my foot straight when lunging. Anyone else share a similar problem? I'm an epeeist so getting split second hit on an advancing oponents foot is quite tricky when u cant keep your foot in line to promote a straight strike.

foilerist
-1st February 2004, 19:22
on a sidenote one of the most celebrated and famous martial artists who studied loads of different disciplines to make his own martial art (Bruce Lee and jeet kune do), used the footwork techniques and speed of fencing to promote balance whilst traveling at light speed. I find i'm alright going forwards but am not nearly as fast or balanced going backwards, so i try and think more about my steps when retreating.

Threestain
-1st February 2004, 21:05
Obviously plewis hasn't been fencing people who are that much better than him. because then he would know that keeping distance and then breaking the distance is extremely tricky and is something that the best fencers have spent years perfecting and train to keep it good. That way you can get a hit before the other person has any chance of replying. That way it minimises the risk to you.

Unlike in martial arts, fencing is one point at a time, whereas you can be hit more than once in most martial arts (I believe at least - my house mate does Wu Shu)

plewis66
-2nd February 2004, 07:28
At the time I posted this, that was quite right. Not only had I never fenced anyone much better than me, but I hadn't even seen anyone much better than me fencing ata ll.

Since then, I've seen quite a lot of fairly good fencers (people with GBR in their jackets). The necessity of good footwork is now quite clear.

Thanks everyone.

vision
-3rd February 2004, 16:11
I had to stop fencing because of a hip joint and hamstring injury, would not allow me to move conventionally. I spent a couple of years attempting to refine different methods from other diciplines starting with Tai Chi.

A very interesting experience.

I could not find any techniques that came close to allowing me to be competitive again.

However, 5 minutes of perfect practice is better that 10 hours of imperfect practice.

Do the simple things correctly, pay attention to detail and work hard.

You lucky people who can move without problems.

Petch66
-3rd February 2004, 19:17
A agree with vision on the 5 mins of perfect practice is better than 10 hours of imperfect practice.

Ouch an very unlucky on the injury!

Prometheus
-3rd February 2004, 23:19
What about cadence!!!!!

Practicing footwork is like saying practicing the piano, but there's a difference between banging away at the scale of c major and doing arpeggios.

If you watch someone like Laurence you will see clearly what the use of good footwork control can do in a bout.

If you get hold of the Lukovitch book there's a great chapter dedicated to footwork exercises that I would highly recommend (my cadets don't though - mwahaha).

Prometheus (dissapointed in only 2 medals out of four entries at their last competition :( )

Jumpit
-4th February 2004, 04:07
At the risk of beating a dead horse... Here's my .02:

It's important to keep that front foot and knee straight. If you don't, you put side strain on that knee on every advance and lunge... you risk eventually ruining it. Good form minimizes that wear. Also, if you fall and that knee and foot is turned in you can damage it very easily. If it's straight... you're more likely to just look stupid.

Turning that foot in is natural. It takes a while to un-groove that natural tendacy. Look around your club. Every student does it perfect during foot work drills. Then watch 'em bout. I promise you'll see a ton of feet turning in... especially when they begin to tire.

You have to practice foot work until your movements are smooth and autonomous. Footwork is the platform by which you launch your attack and defence. If it is "galumphy"... if you bounce up and down you will have a harder time hitting your target (The zero position of your hand relative to the target is contantly changing). If it is awkward, you will not reach your opponent. If your weight balence is constantly shifting, you telegraph your intensions. Plus you cannot change directions as quickly. If your steps are too big, you tell your opponent exactly where you'll be everytime you start a big, slow step.

It also can have an effect on whether or not you execute a hit correctly. For example: In Sabre, some directors maintain an attack is ended when the front foot lands on a lunge. The hit must occur slightly prior to the foot landing or you risk loosing ROW. I don't know if martial arts entertains such conventions.

And much, much more.

Footwork is huge. Huge.

It is integral to the sport.

plewis66
-4th February 2004, 07:44
Tai Chi is a very different movement from fencing. Have yuo tried yoga or pilates?

Those are very different movements as well, but (yoga at least) encourages a very wide range of movement in all joints, muscles and tendons.

gbm
-5th February 2004, 20:58
Don't forget when retreating from a lunge, you retreat by bending your rear leg and not by pushing off from your front foot.

And how many people who are not really good fencers know how to fleche off a lunge?

Fencing is easy. Anybody can to a carte-parry riposte and a direct attack. Anybody can maintain distance by using simple steps and parries.

The only problem is...
it's equally easy for your opponent to do.

If somebody could maintain perfect distance and perform a perfect simple direct attack, together with maybe one parry, they would be the world champion. Provided they had half an ounce of common sense, of course.

rory
-6th February 2004, 08:17
...carte...

"Quarte" or just "4", not "carte".


If somebody could maintain perfect distance and perform a perfect simple direct attack, together with maybe one parry, they would be the world champion. Provided they had half an ounce of common sense, of course.

Wrong.
Your perfect distance and attack are only useful if you can make your opponent fall for them. You need to make your opponent fence in your tempo, at your distance, fall for your feints, and not see your attack.

If you actually watch world class fencing, most of them have perfect distance and perfect simple attacks - their fencing is conducted at a much higher plane - it's tactical and mental, and the physical elements are cancelled out becuase they're of the same standard across the board.

Arturo
-6th February 2004, 11:18
Many reasons have been given as to why footwork is critical, and they are all correct. Distance control is critical.

It needs to be practiced because there are so many different things you can do with your feet. Different step sizes, different speeds (even one foot slow, one foot fast). There are also sneaky little tricks that some fencers will use to throw people off guard.

One I was taught, which works well, requires a lot of practice to get right:

Step back with your back foot only. Opponent begins to advance, thinking you are moving out of distance. Very quickly, step forward (front foot then back foot) and expolde into lunge. If timed correctly, it catches most fencers out.

But, it's difficult to do. There are so many elements to it, not least the simple mechanical action of moving one leg back and the other leg forward. To perfect something like that requires a whole lot of practice, both on your own and against opponents until it's correctly timed.

I can do it against fencers of my own level. Against the better fencers, it won't work, because I can't time it properly, and this is maybe the point. It isn't just about being able to do the footwork, it's about being able to put all of the elements of the footwork together at exactly the right time to get yourself in the right position with your opponent off-guard.

Then your bladework become important!

But then again, I'm not very good, so maybe you shouldn't listen to me!

plewis66
-6th February 2004, 13:08
I will always gladly listen to anyone.

Dr. Suzuki suggested one attempt to retain the 'beginners mind'.

I try.

gbm
-6th February 2004, 20:35
Originally posted by rory
"Quarte" or just "4", not "carte".

and also...

quote:
If somebody could maintain perfect distance and perform a perfect simple direct attack, together with maybe one parry, they would be the world champion. Provided they had half an ounce of common sense, of course.

Wrong.
Your perfect distance and attack are only useful if you can make your opponent fall for them. You need to make your opponent fence in your tempo, at your distance, fall for your feints, and not see your attack.

If you actually watch world class fencing, most of them have perfect distance and perfect simple attacks - their fencing is conducted at a much higher plane - it's tactical and mental, and the physical elements are cancelled out becuase they're of the same standard across the board.

Nobody's perfect (not even me!). If you could perform a perfect parry (which is of course impossble), then your opponent would be completely unable to hit you, since any attack can be parried if you are at the correct distance. And then your riposte would be impossible to parry. Obviously when I say the perfect parry, I mean your eyes are hardwired to your hand to parry the attack exactly as it passes the point of no return (to avoid feints) but before you cannot parry it (to avoid being hit). Which cannot actually carry out in practice. So I agree with you, that you could not win like this in practice, since you cannot react anywhere near that fast (maybe if you built a robot...), but have to some extent anticipate and use changing distance and (to bring it on topic again) footwork.

ceprab
-9th February 2004, 12:27
A single perfect parry is no use if your opponent attacks in a different line or commences their attack by taking your blade.

Plus a parry sometimes completely fails when dealing with an inexperienced but enthusiastic beginner who barrels at you doing something very strange and unexpected. Happens to lots of people.

Prometheus
-9th February 2004, 12:47
Originally posted by rory
"Quarte" or just "4", not "carte".



Wrong.
Your perfect distance and attack are only useful if you can make your opponent fall for them. You need to make your opponent fence in your tempo, at your distance, fall for your feints, and not see your attack.

If you actually watch world class fencing, most of them have perfect distance and perfect simple attacks - their fencing is conducted at a much higher plane - it's tactical and mental, and the physical elements are cancelled out becuase they're of the same standard across the board.

I think, Rory, that this might be a little too advanced for the level these chaps have so far reached, after all they only now realise that they need footwork, let alone good footwork - better let them try learning it before they can use it well enough for tactical application too! :rolleyes:

It would be interesting to hear their views on the tactical use of cadence and timing - as I fancy a laugh right now ;)

plewis66
-10th February 2004, 08:03
Originally posted by Prometheus
It would be interesting to hear their views on the tactical use of cadence and timing - as I fancy a laugh right now ;)

Cheeky bugger.

|
V

Prometheus
-10th February 2004, 09:08
snigger

Just look forward to the day you kick my a*** up and down the piste with your beautiful footwork.:)

indigogecko
-19th February 2004, 15:42
I like the idea of the half-step back and change of direction - I need to work on speeding up changing direction anyway so I might try and give that one a go.. once my knee has sorted itself out and is actually letting me lunge again...

oddball
-3rd March 2004, 07:37
Good footwork isn't much good if your bladework is naff and your opponent is also good at footwork. Think epee, think pincusion.....