All posts by Frances Chow

Errhm? Impossible Ref Call of the week: Limbach (GER) v Szilagyi (HUN)

Just to keep the flamewars lively, I’m going to throw in an epic hit every so often where all of the awesome fencing leads to a totally ambiguous outcome. This lovely exchange is from the round of 16 at the 2014 World Championships between Nicolas Limbach and Aron Szilagyi, and suffice to say it goes to video.
Work it out amongst yourselves.


HTML5 version with slow-mo option is here.


Reflexes of a rattlesnake: Tokunan (JPN) v Reshetnikov (RUS)

So I was looking for counterparries for a little side-project I’ve got going on, and I stumble onto the bout between Kenta Tokunan and Veniamin Reshetnikov in the L16 team match between Japan and Russia at the 2014 World Champs. And damn, if almost every hit in that bout isn’t worth its own post. There’s an incredible 6-hit sequence which kicks off with this little beauty:

Tokunan v Reshetnikov counterparry 9 WigglyRashFrogmouth

I’ll link the original HTML5 with speed controls, because you need it.
I think I have a new fencer to watch.


Successful troll is successful: Occhiuzzi (ITA) v Kim (KOR)

OK, I know I said no more Koreans, but this is Occhiuzzi’s hit. I also know he was putting on a spectacular display of poor sportsmanship through the entire bout, but this hit almost redeems it.  Extra points come from the fact that Kim tried (and got away with) the exact same move at 14/14 against Montano in the previous round, but this time around he clearly neglected to correct for the age-and-guile factor. That counterparry:  oh man.

2014-09-25 Occhiuzzi v Kim counterparry RepulsiveGlassAgouti

Let me sing you the song of my people.


Welcome to a new series: Epic sabre hit of the day

An idle thought came to me the other day: sabre is a sport almost uniquely suited to GIFs. Exchanges almost universally take 5-15 seconds and frequently require multiple views to appreciate. I’ve been spamming people with time-specific YouTube links for a while, but GIFs are a much more elegant solution.

The series was in part inspired by Hot Fencer Of The Day, and in part by Andrew Fischl’s yearly Best Touches compilation.  Unlike Andrew’s video, I’m putting a great deal of technical or tactical sophistication into my selections. Criteria are simple: the hit must either make me go WHOOOOAAAAAA, or laugh, or better yet both.

The series is running on Facebook under the tag #EpicSabreHit and on Twitter under @EpicSabre. Daily posts will be going up here, but we’ve got a bit of a backlog to start with. Here we go:

WOW: Apithy(FRA) v Chung (KOR)

Let’s get this thing started off with a bang. Here’s an incredible, amazing, ridiculous hit from Apithy at the 2014 Moscow World Cup. Astonishing athleticism  from both fencers.  It’s got almost every flashy move in the sabre repertoire in one 5-second exchange. Wow.

Hangon, what?: Ibragimov (RUS) v Berre’ (ITA)

Not all great sabre hits are flashy and athletic. Some are surprising, vicious trick shots, and they’re just as much fun to watch. Here’s a beauty from the 2014 Budapest Grand Prix:

No points for effort: Montano (ITA) v Kovalev (RUS)

In a nailbiting quarterfinal at the 2014 World Championships in Kazan, Kovalev’s balance and composure prompt a truly heroic display of athleticism from Montano. But is it enough to save him?

For the lulz: Gu (KOR) v Zalomir (ROU)

Not technically a hit at all, but one of my favourite points of all time. What good is sport if it can’t sometimes make you laugh?

BOOM HEADSHOT: Kim (KOR) in Korea v Japan

This one’s from Junghwan Kim during the slightly one-sided team final at the 2014 Asian Championships. God I love this point. My entire goal as a sabreur now is to pull this one off.

A thing of beauty: Homer (USA) v Iliasz (HUN)

Lest I get typecast as only being into vicious one-light trick shots and Gu Bongil falling over, here’s a legitimately beautiful hit from Daryl Homer at the 2014 Coupe Acropolis in Athens. Watch and learn, kids, this is how marching attack is done.

Wait, where’d he go? Kim (AUS) v Konovalov (UZB)

This one stars Sydney Sabre’s very own Donghwan Kim in the final at the 2014 Singapore International. I’m not sure even Donghwan expected to get away with this one, and that’s what makes it so great.

Oh snap: Gu (KOR) v Yakimenko (RUS)

For today’s epic sabre hit, I set a crack team of researchers a daunting task: Find footage of the current world #1, Gu Bon Gil, scoring a point with something other than advance-lunge or counterattack. What they brought back was beautiful.

From the business end of the brutal semifinal between Gu and Yakimenko at the 2014 World Championships:

A creature of extraordinary grace: Gu (KOR) v Yakimenko (RUS)

I just couldn’t resist this one. This is how you become world #1, apparently. Hey, whatever works.

Beauty v The Beast: Kim (KOR) v Kovalev (RUS)

Spoiler: the beast wins. Here’s two of my favourite fencers in the world, with Junghwan Kim doing what he does best. Crazy stuff.

Off tempo: Oh (KOR) v Apithy (FRA)

Continuing the Korean theme ahead of sabre teams at Asian Games, here’s an incredible point from one of my favourite matches of all time. Starring Bolade Apithy and Eunseok Oh at the 2013 Chicago World Cup.

The whole match is here:

How ’bout that attack, huh? Gu (KOR) v Szilagyi (HUN)

This one’s just here for the response from Gu. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Asian Games Champion.

Birth of a new era: Won (KOR) v Limbach (GER)

To complete our Korean series before men’s sabre teams at Asian Games, here’s Won Wooyoung and the hit that made him 2010 World Champion. It’s got all his trademarks, right down to the sprint to the back when he wins. I’ll always have a soft spot for Won, who was the fencer who first made me pay attention to sabre.

Watch this space

From tomorrow, these will be daily. I promise, hand on heart, to not post another one of the Korean team for at least a week.

Or at least until I get video of the Gu v Kim final at Asian Games.


Brutal and effective: The 4m tactics of the Korean men’s sabre team (Part 1)

Sabreurs have a choice at the start line.

  • Prepare: Commonly an advance (medium prep) but can take a wide variety of forms including skitter and advance steps (fast prep), skips, steps and ballestras (slow preps) and more exotic actions (point-in-line, retreats, etc). Preparations give the fencer an opportunity to see what their opponent is doing and react accordingly, but sacrifice the ability to win priority immediately in the 4m zone.
  • Attack: Almost always an advance lunge, though a handful of fencers also flunge (e.g. Szilagyi) or double advance lunge (e.g. Kovalev). Attacks are enable a fencer to get the priority immediately in the 4m zone or a simultaneous action if their opponent also attacks, but is vulnerable to defensive actions such as check-fall short and stop/draw cuts. They also run the risk of trapping the fencer in long rallies of simultaneous actions in which both fencers are afraid of doing anything other than attack.

Two members of the Korean men’s sabre team, Gu Bon Gil and Kim Jung Hwan, use combos of unusual techniques to attack in the 4m without completely sacrificing the tactical flexibility of preparations.

Here’s a video:

The overall idea of these combos is to use a very direct long-range attack to beat (or match) the opponent’s preparation and defensive actions, then occasionally abort the attack with an aggressive check fall-short based on the cross-over. We’ll look at the attack in this post, and follow up on the fall short at a later date.

Part 1: The Attack (aka the Gu Bon Gil Special)

gu lunge 2

Gu Bon Gil regularly employs an attack which enables him to hit an opponent anywhere from the middle line to their start line during a single advance lunge, without requiring Gu to pick an attack distance prior to launch or make adjustments mid-air. The attack is composed of:

  1. A composed advance which is relatively short (back foot lands near the start line) which gives the fencer momentum to launch the lunge.
  2. A long and direct lunge that covers around 2.5m – 3.0m in mid-air, with another 0.5m to 1.0m remise range.
  3. A series of blade actions which continuously threaten different targets at different stages of the lunge. The most common combo starts with: a) flat hit to flank during the early part of the lunge; b) disengage to flat hit to belly in the middle of the lunge; c) remise to feint head then hit chest (rarely belly) after the lunge lands.

In case you didn’t watch the video, it looks something like this:

Gu bon gil special small


We’ll look at each component in turn.

The Advance

The primary role of the advance is to give the fencer sufficient momentum to launch the lunge. The advance thus needs to be fast enough to impart momentum to the fencer but not so fast that it causes the fencer to lock up or hesitate prior to the lunge. We figure it’s probably around 80% power for most people.

The fencer needs to keep their weight and focus on driving through the back foot, minimalise weight on the front foot, stay upright and not lean forward. When done correctly, the advance looks like it ‘skims’ the ground with the front foot releasing for the lunge just as the back foot touches the ground at the end of the advance.

Should the fencer detect a hesitation or a retreat in their opponent during the advance, the fencer can extend their attack range by bringing their back foot all the way forward to their front foot before launching the lunge. This action can extend the attack range by another 1.0m -which will hit an opponent well behind their start line.

Alternatively, the fencer can ‘soft abort’ their attack by driving their back foot softly into the ground at the end of the advance to convert their lunge into an advance lunge. We recommend this option over the long lunge because it gives the fencer more control during the attack, more opportunities for feints and other preceding actions, and greater range. However, conversion from lunge to advance lunge may not be possible if the opponent’s action is well-disguised or late.

The Lunge

The lunge is long and direct. Its range is around 50% more than a lunge from standing position. This extra power comes from the momentum of the preceding advance. The fencer must therefore avoid any deceleration of their attack during the transition from advance to lunge. As noted earlier, Gu efficiently transitions from advance to lunge by keeping his weight off the front foot and releasing it as soon as his back foot touches the ground.

A good advance lunge has a characteristic tempo signature of 1-2…pause…3, or “bada…boom”, from the advance…lunge.

Gu’s blade actions are direct but have flexibility to disengage to different targets during the lunge to deceive the opponent’s parries without being called as preparations.

The first attack is a flat cut to the opponent’s flank (assuming same handed opponent). This flank cut is designed to hit an opponent that advance-lunges, in their arm or flank, early in the lunge. The cut is flat to whipover the opponent’s guard if it comes in the same line of the attack.

The Disengage

If the opponent hesitates, usually because they are preparing and/or looking for the parry, Gu disengages his flank cut to hit flat on the belly. He sometimes replaces this with a cutover to chest. Either way, the chest/belly cut hits during the mid to late phase of the lunge and is highly angulated and flat to hit through the opponent’s parry.

All of the actions described above are done while Gu is still in mid-air. If the opponent manages to retreat out of range of these attacks, Gu remises his disengage-belly-hit to the high line. This remise looks like an attack to head…but it’s only a feint. The real hit occurs as Gu lands his front foot for the lunge and is either a belly or flank cut, depending on opponent’s hand position.

The Result

Gu’s attack combo is very effective at hitting the opponent while maintaining priority across most situations in the 4m. The only way for an opponent to win is to either take parry in the 4m – risky – or retreat both late and so quickly that Gu misses the attack. In the latter case, the opponent will almost always be so off-balance and distant that Gu can mount an effective defense.

wagner parries gu

Work on your parries.

Gu Counterparry

Although there’s always the chance this will happen.

The net effect is that the opponent is left with very few options other than to attack every time in the hope that they get a lucky attack or the simultaneous.

This sets up the next part of the attack combo: aborting the attack for the fall-short with crossover, which we’ll discuss in the next post.
Kim crossover fallshort
In the mean time, enjoy this hit.

2014 World Championships: Men’s sabre teams start tonight

Men’s sabre teams starts today with the round of 32 from 2pm Kazan/8pm AEST. Here’s the big table:

World Champs teams big table

We’ll be watching France v Georgia (go France!) and Iran v Egypt. Live results are available here.

The round of 16 onwards is tomorrow from 1pm Kazan/7pm Sydney. Given the way the individual fencers were performing on Friday, I’d love to see an epic showdown between Russia and Korea in the final. This will depend on both Russia and Korea being able to get past their traditional kryptonite opponents; Germany and Italy respectively. I have a fair bit of faith in the Russians being able to pull this off, but the Koreans are less of a sure bet. They’ve never had a great deal of trouble against Romania, but their record against the incredibly consistent Italian team is weak.

If Gu is well rested and Oh and Won continue their sudden return to form, they may  be able to pull it off even if Kim is still injured. If the other three are even vaguely awake and Kim stages the kind of recovery he did two weeks ago at Asian Championships, they should have it in the bag.

A Russia v Italy final would also be highly worth watching. The Italians showed a few weeks back at European Championships that they’re capable of taking down the Russian team on their home turf, and a rematch is pretty sure to make for some good television.

2014 men’s sabre world champs: individual wrap-up

First off, congratulations to Nikolay Kovalev of Russia for landing his first individual World Championship title. The 28 year old right-hander is known for his very dynamic fencing style and has long been my favourite sabreur on the Russian team, and it’s great to see the him return from a long spell of bad luck and ill health to the top of his game.

Image:  Mikhail Shapaev
Image: Mikhail Shapaev

To say that an a-grade sabre competition was tight and had a lot of upsets is enough of a bland cliche as to be almost totally meaningless. As noted in my last post, the margins in this sport are so small as to make a mockery of attempts at casual punditry.  I don’t think Kovalev had many serious backers predicting gold at yesterday’s event, with the numbers favouring Kim, Szilagyi and Reshetnikov and most coaches favouring Szilagyi in particular.

The results last night played out very differently from these comfortable expectations.

1 RUS KOVALEV Nikolay 1986
2 KOR NZ GU Bongil 1989
3 RUS YAKIMENKO Alexey 1983
5 HUN Vasas SZILAGYI Aron 1990
6 ITA MONTANO Aldo 1978
7 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen HARTUNG Max 1989
8 KOR WON Woo Young

9 KOR KIM Junghwan 1983
10 ITA Fed. Italiana Scherma BERRE´ Enrico 1992
11 ITA OCCHIUZZI Diego 1981
12 FRA 09 DIJON CE ROUSSET Nicolas 1988
13 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen LIMBACH Nicolas 1985
15 ROU BADEA Alin 1988
16 KOR OH Eunseok 1983
17 RUS National team RESHETNIKOV Veniamin 1986
18 ITA SAMELE Luigi 1987
19 USA HOMER Daryl 1990
20 RUS National team IBRAGIMOV Kamil 1993
21 BLR RCPhES BUIKEVICH Aliaksandr 1984
23 UKR Netishyn PUNDYK Dmytro 1989
24 KAZ MOKRETCOV Ilya 1984
25 UKR Musketeer Odessa YAGODKA Andriy 1988
26 USA SPEAR Jeff 1988
27 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen WAGNER Benedikt 1990
28 HUN Kertvaros DECSI Tamas 1982
29 GEO FC Kutaisi BAZADZE Sandro 1993
30 FRA 09 DIJON CE APITHY Bolade 1985
31 GER NR TSV Bayer Dormagen SZABO Matyas 1991
32 IRI ABEDINI Mojtaba 1984

Reshetnikov was taken out in the round of 32 by Won Wooyoung, who was fencing well above the form he’s shown so far this season. Kim was on track to cruise to a comfortable victory over Kovalev in the round of 16 when his hand was injured yet again, a moment which ended any chance he might have had of claiming the gold. Szilagyi, as I had feared, was clearly worn down by an arduous bout against a thuggish and unsubtle Sandro Bazadze and was subsequently outclassed by Gu Bongil in the round of 8.
The result was a top 4 which had only one of the pre-comp favourites. Dolniceanu had a pretty easy run of it up to the quarterfinals, but was crushed by Kovalev in a brutal and one-sided semi. The bout between Gu and Yakimenko showed all the classic hallmarks of the Korean’s game, with Gu trailing 8/5 at the break before surging back to a 15/12 win.

Gu's chasing game is almost as characteristic as his lunge.
Gu’s chasing game is almost as characteristic as his lunge.

After those performances, I do not think I was alone in expecting a close final. I felt that Gu had put in a stronger performance on the day and probably had the edge on Kovalev, who had benefited from a series of lucky breaks (Kim’s injury, favourable refereeing against Aldo Montano, a fairly lackluster semifinal from Dolniceanu). Then this happened (start from 2:30:00, fixed start times are not possible from the streams for some reason):

Not a nice bout.

Up to about 6/0, I admit I was wondering when Gu was going to quit playing around and initiate his usual game plan: allow his opponent to build a convincing lead, then launch a vicious 10/0 run of heavily-angulated flat hits and point-counterattacks. By the break, 8/0 down, it became apparent that the cavalry was not coming, and that the notoriously delicate young Korean sabreur had run out of gas even more catastrophically than he had against Szilagyi in the final at Padova earlier this season.

In the end though, it was a very well-deserved win by Kovalev, and a podium which neatly reinforced the perils of idle speculation before sabre competitions.

Photo: FIE
Photo: FIE

In the aftermath of the comp, the rankings table has undergone a major reshuffle. Gu had done enough to leap to world #1 for the first time since 2010, narrowly edging out his team-mate Kim, who retained his #2 spot. Reshetnikov has suffered a major fall from grace, allowing an impressively consistent Italian team to round out the top 10 behind Szilagyi, Yakimenko and Dolniceanu.  Kovalev has been joined by a resurgent Won to jump back into the top 16.

Current FIE rankings MSI, 2014-07-19
Current FIE rankings MSI, 2014-07-19

I know I’ve just declared that prediction is a mug’s game, but I sure am looking forward to a tight race between Russia, Korea and Italy in Monday’s team event.

I guess that means stay tuned for a Romania v Germany final.