Intro to Modern Sabre Fencing

Just realised I hadn’t posted this here. Might as well:

This was made on request for a corporate group coming to do a 3 hour fencing session with us, just to give them a clearer idea of what the hell they were getting themselves in for. It’s pretty much what we teach people to get them fencing sabre in an hour, only sexed up a bit.

We’ve broken it into sections to explain the basic rules and dynamics of the game.


  1. The basic aim is simple: Hit your opponent anywhere above the waist with your sword. When you hit, your light goes on, and you get a point
  2. Once the ref says go, each fight lasts until someone scores. An entire match is usually first to 15 points (individual) or a relay to 45 points (team).
  3. If only one person hits, that person scores. No questions asked.
  4. If you chase your opponent off the end of strip, you win the point.
  5. If both people hit, the referee decides who scores. They’re looking for who controls the initiative. The first way to win the initiative is to attack faster than your opponent.
  6. If your opponent has launched an attack, you can win back control by making them miss. This is called a fall-short.Then you can hit them with an attack of your own.
  7. If you can’t make your opponent fall short, you can block their attack. This is called a parry. Then you can hit back. This is called a riposte.
  8. You can also win or maintain control by knocking your opponent’s blade out of the way. This is called a beat. It’s like a parry, but you don’t have to wait for them to attack first.*

It’s freaking fast and there’s a lot of tactics going on, but that right there is the core of it.

*Someone on internets raised the issue of Point In Line. To this I say: pfffft.

Close, but no cigar: Apithy (FRA) v Montano (ITA)

Continuing our series of Fencers I Want To See More Of In 2015: Bolade Apithy. Regular readers will know I have a soft spot for quick, aggressive fencers with powerful attacks and startling defense, and Apithy fits this description perfectly. We know from history he can make World Cup finals, and I’d very much like to see him doing more of it.

He had a pretty good tournament in Warsaw last season. After demolishing Kim Junghwan in the 32 (seriously, he’s the only fencer who’s been able to kick Kim’s ass like that in a very long time), he moved on to face Aldo Montano. Unfortunately we only have video of the end of the match, but there was some cool stuff happening.

What an awesome parry! Damn! Way to go, Aldo!

Except there was just one thing wrong: look at where his feet were. Score one for Apithy, pretty well earned from that relentless march.

Full match is here, thanks to CyrusofChaos. Commentary track this time is largely left to the Italians:

And here’s Apithy v Kim, a masterpiece of distance work.

Let’s see some more of this on the weekend!

Slick moves: Oh (KOR) v Wagner (GER)

Yeah, I know, been ages.

While club stuff is nuts over the next little while, I’m going to be returning the Epic Sabre Hit series to its roots and skimping on the hardcore analysis a bit. I’ll be leaving that stuff to Rob Cawdron, who’s got another column in the works as we speak.

The first A-grade of 2015 is coming up in Padova this weekend, and I’ll be running a few hits over the next few days from fencers I’d really like to see more of this season.

Oh Eunseok has had a rough patch in the last couple of years, but as the first of the modern generation of K-sabre he deserves a lot of respect. The prototype for everything the rest of the team uses can be seen here, from the fluid power of the offensive footwork to the utterly bamboozling trick shots. What I’m really excited to see is what happens now he’s been reunited with his old coach: at 31, he may well be able to bounce back.

Oh Eunseok
See what I did there?

Anyway, he had a pretty lively bout against Benedikt Wagner in Warsaw last year. He lost, but some good sabre happened along the way, including this ridiculously flashy bit of bladework:

And here’s another, just as a freebie:

More of this kind of thing, please.

Full bout is available here, with hilarious snarky commentary from Mr Fischl and his colleagues:

As far as Padova goes, I’m going to phone it in and just run with same prediction as the last two comps.

Pick one, either one.
Pick one, either one.

The cynics say an Italian’s gotta win it, but remind me of how that went last year?

Yup. The rematch has already been done twice, and neither looked good for Szilagyi. Actually kind of hoping for something a little different this time: more on that tomorrow!

Guest post: Match analysis of Russia v France, Kazan 2014

This is a guest article by Rob Cawdron. Rob is a Sabre coach based at Shakespeare’s Swords Fencing Club in the UK. You can reach him on Facebook.

France v Russia – Kazan 2014: Analysis and Commentary


France v Russia should always be fascinating match up, but recently these matches haven’t quite lived up to the billing. Russian sabre is in a really dominant position, and has been since the appointment of Christian Bauer. French sabre has been, by comparison, stuck out in the wilderness a bit: they had poor results at London 2012 and haven’t had any fencer ranked consistently in the world top 10. But when you’re talking about top performers on the big stage, the form book can go out the window, and this match had some really interesting twists.

Let’s look at the lineups.

French men's sabre team 2014

Team France is made up of Bolade Apithy, Vincent Anstett and Nicolas Rousset as the finisher. There’s nothing too revolutionary here, the French have basically picked on form from individual results.

Rousset is enjoying the best results of his career to-date and, at 26, is the youngest member of this French team. His fencing exemplifies everything I love about French sabre: he’s really dynamic, his movements are powerful and he loves nothing more than sweeping down the piste with a big attack.

Next we have Anstett. He’s the oldest fencer on the team and has been around since 2002, but is currently enjoying a bit of a revival, with his best results since 2007. Probably the most consistent performer of this French team, he may not have the same penchant for outrageous flair that the other two do, but he’s a powerhouse and brings a great work-rate to the team.

Apithy is a name well known to a lot of people who follow the circuit, he’s exciting, he’s powerful, he’s fast and when he’s “on it” he can be utterly irresistible. He enjoyed a great period in the run up to London 2012, although he’s fallen away a bit recently. I’d love to see a return to peak form.

Russian men's sabre team 2014

The Russian line-up makes for interesting reading. Alongside Italy and South Korea, the defending world champions make up the real “Galacticos” of modern Men’s Sabre. All four of these guys are ranked in the world top 15: Veniamin Reshetnikov, Nikolay Kovalev, Alexey Yakimenko and Kamil Ibragimov. Reshetnikov and Yakimenko are both ranked in the top 10, Kovalev has just won the Individual title in Kazan, and Yakimenko came third. Reshetnikov was Senior World Champion in 2013. Ibragimov was Junior World Champion. Need I go on?

The thing to notice about their selection though, is two big calls; 2013 World Champion Reshetnikov is on the bench and the new boy, Kamil Ibragimov, is finishing. Both of these will shape the match to come.

Now we know the teams, let’s look at what to expect. One of the things that makes this most interesting is that both Russia and France generally favour similar tactics, but get there in very different ways. Both nations favour a more defensive outlook in the 4m, looking to defeat their opponent’s initial action, then scoring themselves, but the way this is achieved by both nations is very different.

The French favour fencing at a wide distance, in the 4m and out, and this informs their decision making. They generally look to make their opponents miss before setting up long attacks where they sweep in with a step-lunge. The Russians by contrast fence much closer, looking to get to lunge distance and work there. This means they are able to immediately punish mistakes and consequently score a lot of parry ripostes and attacks on preparation. This very different but also strangely similar ideology is evident throughout the match. Let’s take a look.

The first match up is Rousset against Yakimenko and right away we can see the different distance games at work from the two fencers. Rousset has some early joy keeping the distance wide in the 4m enabling him to make Yakimenko miss and score with a long attack on the first point. Textbook French sabre.

He also uses this distance very effectively on defence, scoring three counter-attacks to Yakimenko’s wrist as Alexey rushes into a wider distance than he’s used to. Yakimenko recovers with a change in emphasis. Looking to attack aggressively in the 4m, he takes advantage of some less than fully committed attempts by Rousset to make him miss and helping him get to 4-4.

Rousset closes out with some more classic French style, making Yakimenko miss before sweeping him down again.

5-4 France. The line in the sand has been drawn early.

Next up is Apithy against Ibragimov and it doesn’t get much more dynamic than these two! Ibragimov is a superb 4m fencer, he’s brave, he starts slow and he gets close. He reaps the rewards early on here, scoring two very clean attacks on preparation, but Apithy is no mug and scores a parry riposte by drawing that same attack on preparation and dealing with it. Emphatically.

Like Yakimenko, Ibragimov struggles to deal with the French distance while he’s attacking and he too gets picked off with some counter-attacks on the wrist. He keeps in touch though, largely thanks to his superb 4m game, and takes the score to 9-9. The last point is a biggy: Ibragimov gets the attack, but makes a big change to his finish, instead of closing the distance and looking to score with a lunge as he’s tried, and failed, to do previously, he attacks from a much wider distance with an accelerating step-lunge, completely catching Apithy by surprise.

Anstett and Kovalev are up next and this one starts off a bit scrappy. Both of these guys like to prepare deep into the 4m and both are pretty offensive. They pick off each other’s mistakes in decision making and sharpness early on, but neither feels in control. We do however have a continuation of the sub-plot which has been developing of Russians struggling to find the distance to finish their attacks. Kovalev is the one who makes the change in the 4m and since he’s trailing, that’s understandable. He starts making a shorter preparation and the match cleans right up. He takes a really sharp parry riposte off an Anstett reprise, a proper Russian hallmark.

But in the end it’s Anstett who comes out on top. Kovalev widening the distance gives Anstett license to be really aggressive with his own preparation and he takes advantage with a big committed attack and a big parry riposte to close.

We’re now a third of the way through and there’s some themes evolving. The Russians are really struggling to deal with a wider French distance while attacking and it’s causing massive headaches, but the French aren’t able to capitalise in the 4m because of how strong the Russians are when it’s close. Pretty much stalemate, but momentum slightly with France for now.

Apithy and Yakimenko take us into the fourth and it’s the same story playing out. Yakimenko is preparing deep and making good decisions in the 4m, able to rattle off the points. However he’s still having an absolutely mare on his attack, Bolade seems to be aware of this because he attacks seemingly without fear of missing, backing himself on defence. The scores tick up, the highlight being a trademark Apithy attack (Allez Bolade!!!), full of dynamism and explosive speed.

In the end though, it’s French defence and Russian attacking woes which seals the fight. Apithy capitalises on Yakimenko’s struggles with an outrageous counter-attack after opening the distance massively.

20-17, advantage; France

The fifth match is Rousset-Kovalev, and right away Rousset gets himself into trouble like he did against Yakimenko with some non-committed attempts to make Kovalev miss. He’s punished and quick as a flash, scores are level. Rousset however, goes back to doing what Rousset does best. He gets the distance wide in the 4m and goes to work on Kovalev with the same counter-attacks to wrist we saw earlier and then injects some real French Va-Va-Voom on his attack.

Kovalev gets one back with a classic Russian parry-riposte, but in the end it’s Rousset who closes it out. That makes it 25-22, Russia still with it all to do.

Anstett and Ibragimov take up, what could prove a big leg. Both fencers continue with deep preparations, picking off points. Ibragimov scores in the 4m, Anstett when it goes long. Ibragimov then begins to change up his preparation, sometimes preparing short, sometimes deep. Anstett looks rattled and Ibragimov is able to take Russia into the lead, continuing with his change of attacking from wider distance that we saw against Apithy.

30-28, the lead changes hands thanks to some really intelligent fencing from the young Russian.

Russia make the big call for the seventh match against Apithy. Reshetnikov in for Kovalev, 2013 World Champion replacing 2014. Reshetnikov is one of the absolute best defensive 4m fencers out there and he sets about proving it here with a mix of counter-attacks, parries and attacks on preparation. He’s preparing deep and punishing the slightest mistake. Apithy scores with a trademark flamboyant sweep down the piste, but Reshetnikov answers with an equally emphatic little number of his own.

35-30 to Russia and Reshetnikov has given the Russians a real lift. It’s on Anstett now to try and kill this Russian momentum.

The tension is apparent in this crucial eighth leg. Lots of simultaneous actions, both fencers keen to avoid a mistake. Its Yakimenko though who’s the more creative with his preparation in the 4m and his bravery pays off, his attack finally clicks into gear at the right moment and he finishes Anstett off with some brilliantly varied actions in the 4m.

40-31 now, the lead is extended and it’s all on Rousset now to cause the upset against Ibragimov who’s been simply brilliant this match.

The young Russian does it in some style. His 4m game has been on all match, but he’s got the distance perfectly tuned on his attack now and it’s utterly unstoppable in this final leg.

He seals it with one of the cleanest Attacks on Preparation in the 4m you’re likely to see.

And there we have it. Russia advances to the semi-finals of the World Championships as 45-34 winners over France.

France started really well, and were pretty dominant out of the 4m. The Russians really struggled to adapt to the French distance, but the French were unable to really gain any control in the 4m, and that kept Russia in it. Kamil Ibragimov was superb, the star performer of the Russian team, he made the crucial adjustments to get his attack going and led the Russian fight back. Reshetnikov’s seventh leg really took it away from France, and they couldn’t recover at the end.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this commentary and found it entertaining and/or informative. Comments and discussion welcome!



Come and get it: Szabo (GER) v Yakimenko (RUS)

More today from the wonderful Germany v Russia team semifinal at the 2014 world champs, and a bit more resolution-fodder: this time it’s flexibility training.

As discussed previously, Alexey Yakimenko is a bit of a beast in the 4m. Matyas Szabo, already faced with a deficit in the third leg of the match, decided to go with a simple strategy: Run away. He either pushed for simul or abandoned the 4m completely, and with the exception of a couple of mistakes by Yakimenko in the 4, it was on the retreat where Szabo got his results. There were a couple of neat stop hits, but the stand-outs were a pair of spectacular Heroic Last Stand-type parries, where he went back just a little bit further than Yakimenko was expecting:

After getting limbered up with that, he decided to do the same thing again, only more so:

Awwwwwwwww yeah. Epic.

If you missed it yesterday, the whole match is on YouTube:

Go work on your front splits while you’re watching it.

Just crazy enough to work: Limbach (GER) v Ibragimov (RUS)

Duck counterattacks.  They’re great. They’re the preserve of the quick, the flashy, the risk-taking.

The Won Wooyoungs of the world.

And this dude. Who is this dude?

Now quickly, off the top of your head, name the 3 fencers on the A-grade circuit least likely to pull off a duck counterattack.

Was this guy on your list?


Nicolas Limbach is many things. One of the most notable things is that he is at least 9 feet tall, all of it legs. The idea that he would successfully displace target downwards is so absurd that nobody could possibly be expected to take it seriously.


Now I’ve seen everything.

Anyway, I’ve finally got around to uploading the full Germany v Russia team semifinal from Kazan, which is actually one of the best matches of the tournament. Check it out.

High explosive: Homer (USA) v Wagner (GER)

Happy 2015, everyone! I would like to provide a bit of motivation for some fitness-based resolutions, particularly those involving leg power. If this post doesn’t have people hitting the squats and box jumps, I don’t know what will.

Daryl Homer has built a bit of a complex reputation over the last few seasons. He’s an utterly extraordinary athlete, but he has a tendency to build a massive lead with his neat technique and blinding acceleration before locking up and losing matches he really shouldn’t.

In New York, however, he was coming at it from the opposite direction. Ben Wagner built a solid 8/3 lead by punishing Homer’s nervous overcommitments in the 4m. He was fencing very nicely, and looked like he was going to ruin the hometown hero’s day.

After the break, however, it was apparently time for Homer to break out his party trick:

Clean, simple, textbook.

Bit more setup for this one. This one is the real epic hit of the day. What an exchange.

Another nice one.

…and again.

…and again. Five of the damn things. Five!

Then there’s this frankly ridiculous parry-riposte which has already done the rounds a bit as a GIF, but needs to be included for the sake of completeness:

The full match is here, thanks to CyrusofChaos. Man, is it exciting. Drama, tension, awesome sabre, rowdy crowd, lovely fencers. 10/10.

Once you’ve watched that, pump out some squats.