View Full Version : A Critical View of The Olympic Fencing.

Barry Paul
-27th August 2004, 07:34
I was lucky enough to watch our two fencers in Athens they both fenced brillianty and with a little luck both could have gone further.

The Mens foil final was disapointing, but according to Laurance and Richard how fencing is these days. Alot of great footwork. Italians waving the blade doing attacks with sucessive cut overs at least threatening flick attacks. Some of these fencers are going to struggle with the new regulations so there is hope for a different (in my view better foil) to evolve.

Below is a article taken with permission from the Net written by Wflaschka, Hope you find it interesting

Much of the fencing looked like a close relation to the 2003 World Champs. For sabre, the USA squad mixed things up... it doesn't seem possible for USA's opponents to pull enough distance and let the attack fail. In 2003, there was a lot of was jumping back, willy nilly, into the air, to make the opponents' attacks fall short -- and then deliver a counter-attack that would hit. A sort of reverse tschuszlatar (sp!?). I saw an attack on Covaliu miss -- he left his arm out but twisted it so the attack went between his arm and body, and then cut hand. It's nothing groundbreaking, except that (to me) it's exceptional for sabre fencers to let go of their form like this. They usually stay very tight and controlled, so to be able to utilize reflexive parries and stop-cuts. Smart and Lee seem to love chasing the opponents down, they seem happiest when they've crossed the whole strip. Pulling distance wasn't working against them -- so their opponents (I saw Podzniakov and Touya mainly) opted to double-out and use a (perhaps finer) sense of tempo to squeak out priority.

In Women's sabre, USA is setting the pace for footwork. Sada Jacobson will pull distance but maintain composure, and when she turns the corner after retreating from an attack, she's as put-together as when the action started. You can tell the Jacobsons' emphasis on form -- they get en garde, and freeze there, long before the director says "fence." In a lot of ways, sabre is like baseball, where you define your game, put it up against opponents, and then "live in the now" and grok the zen of it.

Sabrists have a good feeling when they're going to attack, and when they're going to retreat, before the action starts. Clarified actions like attack parry-riposte are more probabilistic than in other weapons -- the attacker's and defender's pre-chosen actions must "line up," and Sada in particular seems very good at predictive fencing (she won the 2004 Div1a Nats with parry-3 riposte, and scored a few during her bronze match). Zagunis is a fighter, but Sada Jacobson is the one to watch for where women's sabre is going.

In sabre, the "new" game will be to predict those clear actions and make them. If the fallback strategy is to merely double-out -- well, the results are dissatisfying. It's a sort of fight-by-attrition. Every fencer saw Smart get edged out in the team competition twice, and Lee got slowly picked apart by Pozdniakov in individuals. The fencers and coaches will be wanting to take back more control of the action from the director -- so the director doesn't assign touches based on fine shavings of tempo (e.g., randomly).

Team USA's attacks show that it won't be easy for defenders to make attacks fall short... and if doubling-out is not an option, then look for a re-emphasis on hand technique. I know where elite lessons focus -- distance, distance, distance. It's hard work; it will get harder now that virtuosic handwork is a requirement. I'd even say that some of our coaches will grow in importance, and some will shrink -- a good distance coach is not necessarily a good hand coach. Besides, an excellent hand can mean you don't have to worry about precision tempo as much -- with a hand, it's not how you start the action, it's how you finish it. Montano running away from Nemscik had nothing, so he made a hand solution with an awesome feint in time for his 2nd-to-last touch (the one people called the line).

In foil... someday I'm going to feel solid enough to talk about the Italian game. I think it's fascinating. It's what's going on right now. They have two games -- men's and women's. The women are tight, favor short actions, a simplified library of moves... and a sort of dark intensity... but they're aging out of competition. Their replacements may look like the men (hopefully) unless there's a genius Italian maestro making all their women.

The men are cheerful, improvisational, and have truly whacky tempo that can confuse opponents and directors alike. Many non-Italian fencers can be strong and decisive, but their actions look like reflexive mouse-traps (oh, you're doing this? click whap! Got ya). The Italian method is more zen; structurally it's like water running down hill through some rocks -- it splatters everywhere but covers everything. In some world cup video, I saw an Italian take away the tempo from a Bissdorf simple advance lunge. You have to have galactic skills, and the ego of an opera singer, to make that happen.

The box-timing changes will clamp down on some of this improvisational stuff -- fencers will need more planning/time to get the tip around in time. In the short term, I see the French and Russians (and old eastern bloc) seeing immediate gains for their styles. But the Italians are already working towards strong hits (and the Germans, too). An example is Sanzo charges forward, hand high, threatening a flick to the back -- but changes at the last minute for a downward point-strike under the defender's block (against Joppich in 2003 World Champs?). Those hits probably hurt because there's no place for the blade to bend, but it will set off the stickiest tip.

A while ago I wrote an article called "Future of Foil" about the box-timing changes. I still think I'm pretty on target, and since then I've been working out the hand technique for this new kung fu. The hand technique is actually old technique, but we've gotten sloppy because we can drag the tip on the target and still get a point. The handwork places a premium on the fixed wrist, and strong, decisive hits. In the middle of an action, the fencer will be able to make the most definitive moves after the opponent has committed to an attack.

These committed attacks will come earlier (see the article), so the fencer will have the opportunity to: coulé, bind, close-out. Offensive/defensive single-actions that happen when you know where the opponent's blade is, and have some tension to push against. Examples -- Vezzali did a nice close-out on Gruchala in the 2003 World Champs; I saw the Germany's Wessels do this a lot and I associate him with 2nd-intention way of killing a Point in Line. These actions work best with a good hand -- and I haven't seen many Americans with that sort of hand.

Hand technical coaches will be very useful in the future, and we should THROW OUT all those how-to books that show fencers with a broken wrist position. The rule of thumb hand position is (via a french handle) the pommel never leaves the wrist. Blade actions will be -- I hate to say it -- a little more epee-y, but with back-and-forth Right of Way foil goodness.

The footwork doesn't need re-imagining -- it's sabre in a broth of epee. It will probably start looking long and pretty, like the Polish women's foil squad. Right now we're locally (USA) seeing a lot of upright fencers charging forward and bumping chests -- in expectation that the opponent will close distance. Closing distance won't be as useful, so fencers will "open out" and keep the opponents in front of them -- more Romankovy. To quote David Littell -- "Big as a house." In men's team foil, the USA squad much too often charged forward onto the tip. USA was thinking "hit from behind", Russia was thinking "keep them in front."

For Epee... too complex for me right now! I didn't see enough of the action. Watch the French, I'm thinking.

Woo I feel better! And that was a lot easier to write than something that had to be supported by evidence!