All posts by Frances Chow

The Sabre Codex 5.3: 4m Blockouts

Previously on Competitive, we covered the concept of using pre-determined blade trajectories or arcs in the classic ‘short/long’ tactic. These arcs reduce the complexity of winning the 4m box at the start of the bout. We expanded the concept last week with the addition of opposition arcs to the ‘short measure’ component to win the simultaneous situation with single light. We worked through some of the possible attack arcs including the infamous Hartung special.

In week 3 we explore the other side of the situation: using the same concepts for defence. See, most people launch most of their attacks from only one or two hand positions regardless of the target. This means that their blade arcs tend radiate out from visible origin points. The arcs are clustered together near the origin, so it is possible to a) predict where in space most of the possible arcs will go through and b) intercept most arcs with a single action like a parry or a stop cut.

parry 3

If you’ve ever wondered how to defend against a strong attacker, this is the equalizer.

We start with a review of good blade positions for different parries in the 4m, and how late to parry after the initial check (answer: as late as possible). We then cover the pros and cons of common parries for intercepting multiple potential attack arcs, and why parry 5 and parry 2 are used so much more often in the 4m than outside it. Then onto the fun stuff, two variants of the classic draw cut from opposite sides of the world: K-style, which tends to leave a mark; and the Teutonic version. The latter hurts less, physically, but is more emotionally damaging. You’ll see why.

The Sabre Codex 4.3: Stop Cut

Previously in Advanced, we introduced the technique of ‘sweep’ as a defensive action used to clear an Attacker’s blade. Sweeps clear an entire plane in space of the Attacker’s blade, terminate in a parry position for safety, and can be chained together to trick the attacker into placing their blade in a position where you can hit it. Last week, we also introduced fake sweeps to efficiently fool the attacker into being vulnerable to beats and attacks-on-preparation. This combination of real and fake sweeps forms a potent defensive ‘wall’ which can be used to blunt most attackers.

The efficacy of sweeps is highly dependent on the threat of the attack-on-preparation to make the attacker present their blade (for the beat) or finish their attack (for the parry). With the new 180ms timing this threat has been greatly reduced. Attackers are now more able to launch attacks from close-range with wide arcs which are difficult to parry or avoid. Defenders must be able to combine both the threat of the attack-on-preparation and the protective parry to defeat such Attackers.

stop cut

This week, we introduce stop cuts to wrist with opposition as an additional defensive finish to the check or sweep. We cover stop cuts to each of the main wrist targets, the recommended opposition positions to block the attack, and how to safely absorb the impact of large/aggressive/heavy Attackers. As a bonus we will also over two flashy variants which are massively overused at the A-grade: “fade-away” under-wrist cuts, and “draw” or “skyhook” cuts.

The Sabre Codex 3.3: Disengage

This week, we’ll continuing our exploration of feint cuts with a new, more brutal cutover and an introduction to disengages.


Previously on Intermediate, we introduced feint attacks as a class of actions used to deceive a Defender into becoming more vulnerable to the cut by fooling them into parrying into the wrong line, freezing in place, or counterattacking out of distance. Good feint attacks are able to deal with any one of these three options.

In Week 2, we introduced the cutover as a sub-class of feint attacks where you avoid the anticipated parry over the tip of their blade. We covered the cutovers against parry 3 and 4 with emphasis on getting the right distance and arcs to handle parries and counterattacks in the same action – though many of you would have noticed that cutovers work better against parries than counterattacks.

In Week 3, we continue with feint attacks by moving onto head cut feints. There are two common variants: a feint head cutover to chest with a through cut (aka the barrel-roll, aka the bunderoll, aka the pain train); and the less painful feint disengage to underarm. On the surface these moves appear to be big slow actions, but we will go over the subtle details of what makes these moves work, particularly how they deal with counterattacks via either disengagement or bind, respectively.

There also some nasty angulation stuff we will cover on special request for disarming people who counter-attack too much. I dislike counter-attackers.

The Sabre Codex 2.3: Double Advance Lunge

Over the first two weeks of Novice, we’ve been working on building a fast lunge and accelerated advance lunge to allow you to quickly close distance and finish your attacks against an opponent at relatively close range. Tonight, we’re going to build some more range with an additional advance, allowing you to catch an opponent who is trying to flee.

advance lunge

Double advance lunge comes into play when the defender is trying so hard to get away that they’ve ended up off-balance. This represents both a bit of a challenge and a wonderful opportunity for the attacker. Your target is outside the range of your standard attack, but your opponent is also in a compromised position where they will struggle to mount an effective defense.

The good news is that this vulnerability allows you to luxury of an extra step without being at much risk of being hit with a counterattack. We’ll be working on how to make a relatively slow preparation step, allowing you to gauge the distance, then launch an accelerated finish with a direct hit to any of the main targets. Hunt them down.

The Sabre Codex 1.3: Hits and Parries

Welcome back to Beginner week 3! Beginner comprises weeks 1 to 10 of the Sydney Sabre syllabus and about learning the fundamental rules and movements in sabre. You’ve now learned most of the basic footwork in sabre and how to use rhythm in your actions. This week we are going to start your training in the fundamental bladework actions, or simply, how to hit and parry.

Hits in sabre are made with the edge, and more specifically, the edge of the blade tip or top 2-3 inches of the blade. (As an aside, you can also hit with the back edge, but that is a topic for another day). As a result, it is vitally important that the you maintain full control of where their blade tip is at any given point in the cut – otherwise you risk overshooting or missing your opponent. Good control enables you to trace the most efficient arc between whether your blade starts in the on-guard position to the nearest open target. Good control also enables you to block the arc of an anticipated cut (or if you are lucky, to block the visible arc of a poor cut) with the strong part of your blade. This latter action is what we call a parry, and more specifically a static parry.

5 parry

This week, we’re going to show you how to hit straight to the three main targets. Once you’ve got that down, we’re going to show you how to block straight hits to the three main targets. Then comes the best bit: we’re going to show you that a good straight hit at the right distance should already be at its target before the defender can block, even if they already know where you are going to hit. If that isn’t motivation to control your blade well, we don’t know what is.

The Sabre Codex 2.2: Advance Lunge

Welcome to week 2 of Novice! Novice comprises weeks 11 to 20 of the Sydney Sabre syllabus and covers the basic techniques in sabre with an emphasis on distance and blade control.

Last week week, we revised the lunge, a simple short-range attack which lets you hit your opponent quickly. In practice, though, it’s rare that you can hit with lunge alone. On most attacks, you will be starting outside your lunge range. You’ll need to get in to the correct distance to launch, and you’ll need to do it without getting hit by a sneaky counterattack. The fastest way to do this is with the most common attack action in sabre: the advance lunge.

advance lunge 2

In this class, we’re going to be building an advance lunge with powerful acceleration. Advance lunge is a compound action which should start relatively slow, allowing you to recognise the correct time and range to launch a high-speed finish. Once you’re comfortable with the basics, we’ll show you how to adjust the speed and range of your attack, starting with short fast actions which will let you successfully hit against a counterattack, and then extending to longer but higher-risk extended lunges which will allow you to catch an opponent who bolts at the last moment.

The Sabre Codex 1.2: Rhythm and Tempo

Welcome to week 2! Beginner comprises weeks 1 to 10 of the Sydney Sabre syllabus and about learning the fundamental rules and movements in sabre. This week, we’re going to introduce rhythm and faking: the power of subtle timing tricks to manipulate your opponent’s decisions.

attack on prep

In week 1, we covered the “basic combo”, a set of tactical options you can use on the start line which fit together like a game of rock-paper-scissors. We also showed you how to deploy these options based on educated guesses about what your opponent was likely to do. But you shouldn’t be limited to making a guess: you can also work the situation to your advantage.

To do this, you need to be able to control and vary the rhythm of your actions. We’ll show you how to start slow, you can see what your opponent is doing, then accelerate to finish your action in time. From this, we will build a set of rhythmic patterns you can use to encourage your opponent to choose a particular action, while also setting yourself up in the right distance and timing to be able to beat it. We’ll also give you some tips on how to use subtle changes in your rhythm to confuse and disrupt your opponent.

Sound dirty? We did warn you in your intro class that sabre isn’t a very nice game.

The Sabre Codex O.2: Opportunistic Cuts

Last week, we revised basic direct cuts, where the tip of the blade moves in the shortest possible arc to the target. This week, we’re going to expand on this core and start developing blade control skills for compound attacks.

Once again, we’ll be starting with a short and intense footwork session focusing on distance control and acceleration on the attack. Then we’ll move on the bladework, practicing how to make opportunistic cuts to the wrist on the attack against an opponent who is leaving their forearm exposed, before finishing with a real cut to a deep target like head. The tricky part is to keep these wrist shots small, smooth and relaxed: so smooth, in fact, that neither the referee or the opponent will be able to see the difference between these opportunistic cuts and a feint attack. If you can pull this off, you will maintain priority even if the opponent withdraws their hand and you miss your wrist cut.

opportunistic wrist hit

This might seem like a pretty high-risk maneuver, but it builds a level of blade control which will allow you to exploit the tiniest of openings in your opponent’s defense, and which will form the foundation of more complex attacks in the coming weeks.

The Sabre Codex 0.1: Direct Cut

Due to popular demand, we’re going to post a short guide to the technical theme of each of our courses. We’re also doing the same for our updated Footwork and Bladework sessions, which now run on a 10-week cycle with a different focus every week.

We’re starting off the cycle with the most basic attack action of them all: the direct cut. A good cut is made with the tip of the blade moving in the shortest possible arc to the target. At the correct distance, aka the “point of no escape”, a good direct cut is impossible to parry or evade. A large part of sabre fencing is all about getting to that point and executing the attack.

Footwork 1 direct cut edit

This week’s Footwork and Bladework session is all about the direct attack. We start with footwork drills on how to track distance and make fast attacks that accelerate very suddenly to the finish. Come ready to push yourself, because the sessions are going to be short, intense, and with weapon in hand to train up your coordination. Then we move onto drills aimed at helping you recognise the point-of-no-escape, work out the correct cut trajectory, and execute the cut.

Footwork and Bladework is open to all of our fencers, and runs before daily scheduled classes. It’s included with any of our session passes or memberships.

The Sabre Codex 5.1: Blade Trajectories

Competitive comprises weeks 41 to 50 of the Sydney Sabre syllabus and looks at the bleeding edge of competitive sabre research: the new start game, aka the Russian Box of Death, aka RBOD, aka the 3 metres of lacerations.*


One of the most effective tactics at the start of a sabre bout is to make an attack which is short and fast enough to get the simultaneous action, but also gives you enough time to extend the attack into a different target if they move back and/or parry. If you can pull this off your opponent is at a massive disadvantage: unable to attack, barely able to parry, and resigned to either grinding it out in the middle or taking their chances on the defence.

It is also one of the hardest tactics to pull off in the entire sport. You have to start fast to get at least the simultaneous attack, but not so fast that you have no time to see what the your opponent was doing. For the same reason, you have to hit early and direct but not so early that you can’t change lines to extend the hit range if they jump back. Or hold so much that you are vulnerable to their attack-on-preparation. And you have to do all this mid-lunge.

Back in the old 4 metre box it was possible – barely – to see what your opponent was doing and adjust your attack range mid-flight. It was right at the edge of human reflex speeds. At 3m this is much harder (if you can do it, we’d love to hear from you: please bring your blood test results). There just isn’t enough time to see.

So how do you do it? The trick, after weeks of extensive testing on Max Hartung, our A-grade guinea pig, is to use pre-determined, compound, blade trajectories that intersect the opponent at different targets at short and long measure.

Confused? In this week, we will cover what this means in 3 dimensions with lots of blade tracking exercises and maybe some fluorescent tape + a high def camera. We’ll cover adaptations of two classic examples on how this can be implemented from the old 4m game, and some cheapskate variations that we came up with in the last couple of weeks or stole shamelessly from other people. Then we will bring it all together in bouting conditions so you can feel how it all works when its being done to you. Wear a plastron. And breeches.

*Editor’s note: Obviously, this has been somewhat overtaken by events. The good news is that everything here was adapted originally from 4m game, and can be adapted right back again. Turns out that pre-determining your blade trajectories works great at either distance.