All posts by Frances Chow

Why We Love Korean Sabre

Oh lunge

Regular followers of our work will know that we have a strong affinity for K-sabre. There are plenty of reasons: it is spectacular to watch, we’ve worked with them in the past with great success, and they’re nice guys.

But the real reason is this: They set sabre free.

Back in the distant bygone era of 2008 when we were just getting started in this sport, there was an iron-clad set of rules to follow if you wanted to win.

  1. Be European; or
  2. Go to Europe to train; or
  3. Hire a European coach.

Sabre was an art with a body of secret knowledge which was controlled by an Old Guard of Masters. To ever understand it, you had to go to the source and supplicate yourself.

This was clearly impractical for the enormous majority of humans on this planet, but it was an unavoidable price.

And then K-sabre happened, and everything changed.

Here was a squad who had never followed any of the rules. They never went to the source. They reverse-engineered sabre from first principles and hours of vidcam footage from 1990s World Cups. What they built wasn’t strict and regimented, but wild and diverse and individualistic. It bubbled with joy and ferocity.

The Old Guard shook their fists. They objected loudly to all of this. It was ugly. Simplistic. Unsophisticated. “This isn’t fencing, they’re just fighting like animals”, to quote one particularly memorable rant we heard.

But it worked. It didn’t just work better than it should. It worked better than anything that had been tried before. In an era of increasing professionalism and competition, it worked well enough to claim four consecutive World Cup titles and the current World and Olympic team championships.

Obviously there are peculiar conditions behind all this which are not easy to replicate, foremost lavish financial support for Olympic sports in Korea allowing the construction of a fearsome professional program, but the seeds were sown long before the system was in place.

What Korean sabre showed is that the old rules didn’t have to apply. That’s why we love it. It showed us there was another way.

Now, for all you kids who weren’t around when London 2012 happened, or those of you who may have forgotten, here is what a full-power Korean sabre team looks like.

Take the 30 minutes to watch it. It’s pretty great.

The Sabre Codex 1.6: Defensive Check

Welcome to Beginner Week 6!  Last week, we introduced you to counterattacks: defensive bladework where you both hit and lock out your opponent’s attempt to finish in one supremely filthy maneuver. This week we’re going to take a step back and show you how to use the threat of these actions to force the Attacker into a panicked early finish where, hopefully, you can make them miss completely.

This threatening, fake-counterattack is called check. The basic idea is to make what looks and feels to the Attacker like a legit attempt to hit them, to goad them into a rushed finish.

check parry

You have to be a bit theatrical, but also precise: this is not an exercise in noisy foot-stomping or wild jabbing at the air. We’ll show you how to suggest you’ve got a specific target in mind and make your action clearly visible. But, and this is absolutely critical: You also have to be ready to get out of the way. In tonight’s class, we’ll be covering how to make a good check, and then evade at a common range of attack distances. There’s no glory in successfully goading an attack if it catches you.

The Sabre Codex 0.6: Parry Drills

parry drill


Welcome to week 6 of footwork and bladework! We’ve spent the last 5 weeks working on the attack, and now it’s time to switch modes. We’ll be putting more of a focus on checks and retreats in the footwork session, and then turning the spotlight on to defensive bladework, starting with the most fundamental of them all: the four core parries.
The ability to correctly pick the line of an attack and block it with a clean, simple parry requires a huge amount of practice, and this week’s class focuses on the most fundamental drill you can use to build this skill. The “Parry Exchange” drill with four basic options (parries 2, 3, 4 and 5) done slowly, static and at close range is not anything resembling a simulation of a match, but it is extremely useful in developing the muscle memory you’ll need when things get real. It’s also, we have to admit, kind of soothing.
Don’t go crazy trying to “win”, but concentrate on controlling your actions and avoiding rushed guesswork. Efficiency is everything.

The Sabre Codex 4.5: Compound Parries

Previously on Advanced, we’ve worked on ways to stop the Attacker before they get the chance to launch. Checks, sweeps, stop cuts and point-in-line all have their roles to play in the increasingly arduous game that is defence at 180ms lockout timing.

Now we’re moving on to the last line of defence: parries. Over the next few classes, we’ll be building your repertoire of the most powerful, dramatic and (okay) flashy defensive bladework out there, which should hopefully be able to bring even an experienced Attacker to a grinding halt.

We’ve covered the basic parries in the earlier courses. They’re quick and simple to pull off, but their utility can be limited against a sophisticated opponent who likes to use feint attacks. The good news is that you can turn this kind of duplicity right around and use it to build something to your advantage: compound parries. In short, we’ll show you how to lure the Attacker to a false target, then close the line when they take the bait. In tonight’s class, we’ll be starting off with a simple pairing of chest and flank. Expect things to escalate from there over the coming weeks.

compound 3

The Sabre Codex 3.5: Undercuts

Welcome to week 5 of Intermediate! This course is all about the attack, and so far we’ve focused on feints: making a fake attack to one target to draw a defensive response, before finishing with a real attack to another target.

Today we cover what everyone has been waiting for – the undercuts, aka the Hartung Special, aka the Gu Bon Gil special, aka wear breeches for this class.


Over the past three weeks, we have covered the four main cutovers and disengages constituting the traditional set of feint attacks in sabre. If you recall, feint attacks are consist of a feint to an open target to potentially draw the parry, followed by a real cut to a second open target. Feint attacks are great when the Attacker is on the March because they, in theory, work against any combination of parry, null parry, and counterattack. Feint attacks are long range, have great success stats, and look cool.

So far, we have used targets which are clearly ‘open’ in the sense that they are exposed and not protected by the blade. However, there are two targets which are almost just as open but not so obvious – the inside and outside seams of the Defender’s leg leading to the underflank and underbelly. Because these targets aren’t obvious, and are usually blocked by their front leg, Defenders typically aren’t very confident when trying to defend against these zones. As a bonus (?) hitting to these targets usually occurs at very high impact speeds due to the long arcs required to get there from the feint, and in one case the blade trajectory is designed to use the inside seam of the Defender’s front leg as a blade guide to the target. We’ll let you think that one through.

No cameras please. Wear breeches.

The Sabre Codex 2.5: Circle Parries

Previously in Novice, we introduced the low-line attacks – cuts that originate from below the waist which Attackers use to evade the common parries and counterattacks. Despite being slower and more difficult to execute than ‘regular’ cuts from the high-line, low-line cuts dramatically reduce your vulnerability to defensive blade actions like beats and their angle of approach makes it harder for your opponent to even pick the correct parry position, let alone get there.

This week we introduce the counter to low-line attacks, circle parries. Circle parries are variations of linear parries in that they ‘sweep’ the Defender’s entire target area before ending in the final parry position. The ‘sweep’ makes circle parries slower to execute than linear parries but allows the Defender to catch any slower cuts which enter their defence zone. This makes them effective against low line cuts, which have long slow arcs to a target which is hard to identify. On the flip side, circle parries are not very effective against direct cuts from high line.

parry seconde

In this first of two weeks devoted to circle parries, we go over the techniques for executing the most common examples used in sabre today: circle parry 5 (quinte) and the parry 2 (seconde). Parry 5 is used to stop low-line attacks to the head, upper chest, and shoulders; because of this versatility, it used to be one of the first parries taught to beginners. Parry 2 is used to stop low-line attacks to the belly, flank and underarm with additional applications against point hits. That should cover us for the day, but the instructors are happy to do sneak previews of the flashy variations if folks catch on quickly. Bonus points if you can guess what they are.

The Sabre Codex 1.5: Counterattacks

Welcome to Beginner Week 5! Last week, we focused on timing, and how the acting at the perfect moment vastly adds to the effectiveness of both cuts and parries. This week, we’re going to use the same focus on timing to expand your repertoire to the dark side: hits without priority, or counterattacks.


The defense we’ve covered so far has been based on defeating the attack once it has actually been launched. But what about an opponent with priority who just gets way too close? The good news is that you don’t have to just politely wait for them to do their thing. Always remember that a lack of priority is not going to get in the way of you scoring a sweet point if your opponent doesn’t hit you.

In this week’s class, we’ll be showing you how to make counterattacks to two major targets, and then use your blade to “lock out” the attacker’s panicked attempt to finish and hit you. You’ll have to pick your moment carefully and be quick, sharp and precise with your bladework, but the payoff is oh-so-satisfying.

The Sabre Codex 0.5: Counterparries

Welcome to Footwork and Bladework Week 5! This week, we start transitioning from the basic attack actions that made up the previous 4 weeks to defensive actions. We start with the offensive-defensive counterparry and timing of check parry-riposte in the new defence distance brought on by the timing change to 180ms.

counterparry deep

Previously in Footwork and Bladework, we covered the cut drills to the main direct cut targets of head, flank and chest. The key skills that we have been practicing for the last four weeks have centred around safely entering the distance for the direct attack (aka the point-of-no-escape, or PONE) and finishing with a fast lunge/step/flunge with the cut hitting before the front foot lands for maximum impact speed. Last week we expanded on these skills with the bind and beat to clear the opponent’s blade so that we could enter the distance. We ended the basic attack series with the last variant of the ‘Rumanian Drills’ – shamelessly copied and adapted from the German sabre team – to practice entering distance safely and finishing to the open target vs. attempted (stationary) parry or counterattack.

This week, we start moving through the basic defence series. We start with preliminary tips and tricks for the coaches to successfully take parry against direct cuts by subtly moving in and out of defence distance, and retreating just as the student launches their direct cut. Feedback so far has ranged from “this is insanely close” to “I can’t believe that just worked”. Once the coaches are comfortable with executing parries at will, we will cover the common counter-parries to 4 and 3, with distance, and vs. the parry, the ‘null’ response, and the counterattack.

The Sabre Codex 5.4: Forward Parries

Previously on Competitive, we looked at how you could position your blade such that you could efficiently cover multiple potential attack arcs for theparry riposte. The crux of the class was to observe where your opponent would launch attacks from, aka their attack ‘origin’, and how their attack arcs would radiate from that origin. Once you had a mental image of where all these arcs were, you could place your blade during the ‘check’ part of the check parry-riposte to cut across these arcs and be in an optimal position to parry.

The success of this tactic depends on a couple of assumptions. One is that the opponent is making a direct attack. The second is that they don’t recognise what you are doing and keep the same origin. Some of you may have discovered that this works great at the beginning of a bout and/or against unsophisticated opponents, but smart opponents quickly switch to feint attacks and change where they launch their attacks from.

It is in these situations that fortune favours the brave. You see, feint attacks and origin changes depend on you giving your opponent enough time to execute those moves, which typically occurs because you stop and retreat as part of the parry riposte. But you don’t have to do that if you parry while going forwards.


Forward parries are incredibly risky because they give you virtually no time to adjust if you pick the wrong position for the parry. The flip side is that they also give your opponent no time to evade your blade. You have an edge though. You know their attack arcs and you can predict how to cut across them. And should your opponent run away, you are in a great position to give chase. This contrasts with the opposition arcs which we covered back in week 2.

This week, we will cover the application of forward parries in the 4m box. We will start by revising the work we did last week on parry ripostes while moving backwards, then go over the modifications to convert these into forward parries. In particular, we will spend some time on how to do ‘soft checks’ which put your blade in the position to forward parry while also being convertible into attacks should your opponent decide to do a feint attack after all. Then we finish with the backup plan: doing ‘soft parries’ which you can convert into guard positions for the March if your opponent flees the 4m box.