Category Archives: Analysis

So you want to fence like a pro, but also go to uni… here’s a German national team training schedule.

We recently published a little piece on the type of training schedule followed by Korean pro and wannabe-pro sabre fencers.

This was considered by many to be mildly demotivating. Yes, doing amazing stuff on the piste is fun and winning is cool. But what hope is there for the enormous majority who can’t dedicate 16 hours a day to intensive physical training (plus naps)?

Behold, there is hope.
Behold, there is hope.

We decided to get out and talk to some other successful teams.

german sabre team suits up
These guys just came to mind for some reason. No idea why.

Let’s start with the guys who beat Korea in the 2014 World Champs. They seem like a good data set.

We had a chat about training schedules with Max Hartung, who’s about to finish a politics and economy degree, has been interning in the European parliament and won bronze in both individual and team at Moscow.

His coach must be so proud.
His coach must be so proud.

FC: When did you start fencing? When did you start taking it seriously?

MH:  Age 8. My coach was very serious about it from the start and I won my first competition as a kid. Very serious 9-year-old business after that.

FC: How much did you train when you were in school?

MH:  I practised 5 times a week for ca. 2 hours when I was 13. Practice and training camps on weekends more and more until I graduated high school.

FC: Did you play any other sports seriously at any time?

MH: No. There was not time from the start.

Aw, not true. I played in the varsity soccer high school team in Minneapolis and got second in the state championship.

FC: What sort of cross training do you do?

MH: Running, athletics, jumps. Stability, core, power exercises. Short exercises, no marathons.

FC: What age did you turn pro? What exactly did that entail?

MH: I turned pro after I became junior world champion in 2009 and was in an army sports program. After 2012 I decided that I wanted to pursue my professional career as well, so I dropped from the army and started uni.

 This year I took my fencing more seriously and my preparation for worlds started in April.

FC: What was your training like in the lead up to worlds? What’s your normal schedule? 

MH: 2-3 times a week athletics. 5-6 times a week fencing and fencing related exercises. Each session is 2 – 2.5 hours.

A regular fencing practice is warm up, often soccer, and footwork, exercises from easy to complicated and fencing after. I get three lessons 30-45 minutes a week.

FC: What’s your rest and recovery program like?

MH:  I try not to have too many gin and tonics.

There you have it, boys and girls.

Of course, it helps if you’re 190cm tall, a champion athlete, train at a dedicated facility with a professional squad and a full coaching and support crew, and started your competitive career at the age of 9.

In our next instalment, we’ll be looking at options for those of us who maybe are more than 25 years old and don’t physically resemble something out of a comic book.

Sometimes quite literally.
Sometimes literally.

So you want to fence like a pro…here’s the Korean cadet training schedule

“Mom, I want to be like these guys!”

Every week, we get another hopeful kid sidling up to one of our instructors (sometimes accompanied by mom or dad) to shyly ask:

“How do I get really good at fencing?”

In the words of the venerable Mr. Lee Hyo Kun, head coach of the Korean Mens Sabre Team and childhood coach of world #1 Gu Bon Gil (and our very own Australian Champ Kim Dong Hwan):

“Practice. More Practice. No fun”.

But when it's all over...
But when it’s all over…

Here’s a translated summary of the typical schedule for a young Korean aspiring pro fencer:

6am: Wake up.
6am-8am: Go for a run, preferably with hills and sprints.
8am-10am: Eat breakfast and have a nap.
10am-12:00pm: Footwork and bladework drills.
12:00pm-2pm: Lunch and another nap.
2pm-5pm: More drills and bouting.
5pm-8:00pm: Dinner and another nap.
8:00pm-10pm: In off-season, weight training alternating with rest days. In competition season, more bouting.
10pm: Bed. No video games.

That’s the schedule Monday to Saturday. Apparently they get Sundays off.

Coach has high standards
Coach has high standards. And little sympathy.

In later weeks we’ll cover the finer points of what the practice entails, and what more seasoned competitors like us  with less time/youth/self-discipline can do to maximise their training outcomes.

Typical post-training nap
Typical scene at Sydney Sabre after youth (under-15) training. Not shown: older fencers relaxing in the attached cafe.

What do you want from us: A calibration tool for 4m refereeing in the 2014/15 season

We’ve made a new video:

Our philosophy is simple: Refereeing is an exercise in pattern recognition. The written rules tell you nothing, and you can’t learn refereeing from theory. Watch what’s actually happening on the current FIE circuit, learn to see the patterns, and apply them in your own practice.

We’ve put together a compilation of tough calls from the 2014/15 season, grouped by type, to help our refs keep their eye in. Hope it’s helpful!

As always, big thanks to CyrusofChaos for footage.

The background:

  1. You need to understand what both fencers are trying to do. The difference between Attack/Counterattack and Preparation/Attack cannot be reduced to “x did y with their hand”. You must be able to see and recognise what both fencers are attempting, and whether they succeed.
  2. Attempts to classify or explain priority involving specific elements such as “foot takes priority over hand” (or whatever) are doomed to fail, as they will rapidly be gamed by fencers trying to play the rules rather than the spirit of the sport.
  3. To prevent this, the interpretation of the rules changes frequently. This is a considered policy decision from the FIE, not random fads. To ignore or reject changes in interpretation means you are no longer playing the same sport.

Actual concrete training advice:

  1. Watch current FIE matches. Watch them often. Make the calls before the ref does, and compare your accuracy. Assume that what the FIE ref calls is correct unless you have very, very good reason to think otherwise.
  2. To get the feel for the patterns in the first place, follow these steps:
    • Watch close points several times. Watch once at full speed, looking in the middle. Call it. See if you agree with the ref. Watch again, focusing on left and what they’re trying to do. Watch again, focusing on right and what they’re trying to do. Watch again from the centre.
    • A couple of hours of this should give you a decent eye.
    • Take this new eye to your next training session and apply it rigorously to the bouts you see. Do not let fencers push you around.
    • For training purposes, video bouts you ref and review them later, once any emotions have cooled.
    • Repeat step 1 every tournament, with at least a couple of bouts by different refs. Make any adjustments necessary to your calls.

This assumes you already know the basic decision-making process for deciding calls in the 4m. Our guide to that is below. The steps above are for those nasty bits in blue, like “Does one person attack first?”

Basic sabre refereeing by Sydney Sabre

Why does any of this matter? Why can’t I just be cautious and call “simultaneous actions” whenever it’s close?

If refs don’t see and reward attacks over preparations, the entire tactical dynamic of the game is broken. Attack can defined in the most elemental terms as taking a risk. If that risk is not rewarded over the inherently more adaptable position that is preparation, none of the tactics of sabre will work. The game will degenerate into a couple of dudes just running at each other and screaming a lot. This will be incredibly familiar to anyone from anywhere with bad sabre referees.

For sabre to be the beautiful, dynamic and fluid sport it should rightly be, the referees must see and reward the attack. Good refereeing is essential for good sabre.

Serious Business: A cautionary tale on the role of the referee

I’d like to address an issue in referee training which been recently highlighted in my club, but which I am sure has broader applications.

Much ink has been spilled and much angst expended on technical elements of referee training. This is a fine and noble thing. Incompetent, biased or inconsistent refereeing can break the game. However, undue emphasis on the difficulty and subjectivity of refereeing raises a second set of problems which can be equally dangerous.

Let’s turn for illustration to a aggression-laden bout from the 2015 Seoul Grand Prix:

The real fun starts about 11 minutes in. Its roots originate in the high-pressure nature of the Olympic qualification season, where the lack of a men’s sabre team event at Rio means that for the big nations, everything hinges on a handful of individual events for critical ranking points.

The more immediate problem, though, lies with the referee. And it’s not technical. The calls are fine. There’s nothing particularly controversial about any of them. The truth is that sabre refereeing is really not all that complicated: if you ignore all the shouting and drama and debates, it’s an exercise in pattern recognition. It’s a sport with rules and conventions, and the job of the ref is to effectively and consistently apply them. This referee does a perfectly adequate job of that.

What he is unable to do is to control the bout.

It’s often said that there are three people in a fight, and you can’t beat the ref. What this case graphically demonstrates is that in reality, you can. You can undermine and stress and rattle the referee until their confidence wavers, then exploit that weakness to lobby harder than ever. As their ability to make calls falters, a feedback loop is generated.

It is not the role of the referee to be engaging in debate with the fencers in the middle of a match, but that’s what’s going on here from about the fifth minute, and it’s a disaster. The fencers realise they can act out with impunity, and the situation degenerates as they (and their coaches) expand their challenges to the ref’s authority.

It’s natural to want to avoid rocking the boat too much, but when you have a situation where a coach walks onto the piste and demands that the match be stopped because he has no confidence in the decisions,  even when the coach is as senior as Szabo, a line needs to be drawn.

I am not intending to cast scorn on this particular referee, who was dealing with a hideous situation as best he could. While fully qualified, he’s not one of the big-name refs, and he was up against two World Champions, each on the raggedy edge of qualification for the Olympic Games, each with a powerful coach and a large and rowdy camp of supporters behind him. This match serves as a cautionary tale on the too-often unacknowledged importance of discipline and resolve by referees, and the difficulties they can face in maintaining control.

Everyone loves to bitch and moan about referees who are capricious tyrants, but the opposite extreme is just as destructive. We need to kill the cliche that refereeing is a fundamentally subjective exercise, open to personal interpretation. Consistency and professionalism are being built at FIE level, and need to be encouraged and protected from the base.

Limbach v Montano referee
That, and referees should be given tasers.

Guest post: A blow-by-blow analysis of Curatoli (ITA) v Seitz (FRA), 2014 Junior World Champs

Match Analysis – Tom Seitz v Luca Curatoli Plovdiv 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. We’re continuing the theme of up-and-coming young sabre fencers with an epic analysis of one of the most exciting Junior matches of the last season.

Luca Curatoli and Tom Seitz’s Semi-final at the Junior World Championships in Plovdiv really stands out to me as one of the best matches of the championships. One of the fascinating things about age group fencing is that, unlike the seniors, the fencers aren’t as well known to spectators, coaches and the other fencers. Unlike watching a senior championships, where there is so much footage and so much known about all the competitors, when watching a junior championships there can still be an unknown factor about many of the competitors. Therefore before we get started with the match, I want to present a bit of backstory about each of the fencers, as well as looking at how they fared in their run to the last four.

Luca Curatoli

Luca Curatoli

First off, let’s look then at Luca Curatoli, and you can forget everything I just said about “unknown factor” when we talk about the Italian. He came into the world championships in 2014 very much “known”. He was the world number 1 and in the run-up to the championships he had been in utterly majestic form. Of the last four competitions, he’d won three of them (including the European championships) and come second at the other. He’s also been a regular feature on the senior circuit since 2012, and has always managed at least a top 64 finish (including a top 8 in Chicago 2012). The term “red hot favourite” is thrown about a lot these days….but make no mistake, Curatoli was Red. Hot. Favourite.

Let’s have a look at his run to the semi-finals that day then, and try to get an understanding of his fencing. He went through Kisel of Belarus in the last 32, Voronov of Ukraine in the last 16 and Mackiewicz of the USA in the top 8. Through these matches we can get a feel for how he likes to go about his business. In the middle he looks to prepare deep, getting the distance close. He loves to draw the attack out, making his opponents miss then either replying immediately or sweeping them down the piste and finishing quickly against the counter-attack or with a big confident attack around a parry. If someone tries to rush him, he’s got a great feel for counter-offence and is able to pick off any attempt to charge him down. The only time he was really pushed was against Mackiewicz in the top 8, the American was able to throw Luca off his defensive game with some really well measured attacks through the middle, effectively nullifying his ability to make miss. Curatoli adjusted, slowing down his preparation in the middle and attacking the American early as he looked to start his attack. In summary then, expect him to look to keep the distance close, defeat his opponent’s attack, then reply immediately or sweep them down.

Tom Seitz

Seitz by comparison has had a strong, but more inconsistent season leading upto the worlds. He came 3rd at Dourdan, 7th at Udine and made a top 16 finish at the Europeans. It’s a strong set of results, but didn’t have the same level of incredible consistency that Curatoli had. He’s begun to take his steps onto the senior circuit, but having only started in February 2014, was very much dipping his toe. He then fits the bill of the “unknown factor”.

I hadn’t seen him before his semi-final match up with Curatoli and so went back to watch his progress through the tableaux with real interest to see what he was all about. He came through Yildrim of Turkey in the 32, Singer of Hungary in the 16 and Affede of Italy in the quarter-finals. He fences extremely aggressively, particularly in the middle, preparing to very close distance before looking to either attack with a big deep finish around parries or attack on preparation. Its explosive, its powerful and oh so French. He defends rarely, but usually accompanies it with changing up the distance to make his opponent miss, before pushing down the piste, very close, and finishing with that strong powerful lunge again. Like Curatoli he was only really challenged once, and that was in the last 16 against Singer. The Hungarian was very good at remaining calm, triggering Seitz’s attack in the middle early, then either parrying it or landing a counter-offensive action on the wrist. Seitz found himself 3-8 down at the half-way point, but was able to slow himself down in the second half, letting Singer show his intention to attack or parry, then either attacking on preparation or letting Singer parry before attacking to the open line. We can expect then that the Frenchman will be aggressive, looking to keep it close, attacking with big confident attacks, before drawing the attack out and then closing down the space and finishing strong.

The match

Let’s move onto the match then, and see what made this one so special.Here’s the complete match, if you want to watch through it first, but we’re going to be breaking it down one hit at a time.

Right away from the first point we can see Seitz is tuned into both his game and his distance. Both of them are preparing very deep, but Curatoli shows an intention to attack long too early and Seitz is relaxed and able to punish it with a really clean attack on preparation. It’s a great sign for Seitz that he’s calm enough to make that decision so late.

The second hit feels very much the same. Deep preparations from both, but again Curatoli jumps early and shows his intention to defend too soon. Seitz is still very relaxed, sees this and punishes with an immediate deep attack. Two hits down and Seitz has already been able to use both the actions that worked so well in his run to the semis. Curatoli is look very jumpy.

Oooh, something new! Same preparations though, Luca feels the opportunity to attack against Seitz who is quite stationary. Seitz gives no indication of giving ground, so Curatoli probably anticipates something counter-offensive from Seitz and finishes short. BANG! Outta nowhere, Seitz produces a really strong parry-riposte against Luca’s short attack, works a treat. Possible early sign of a strategy from the Frenchman?

Luca changes up his start on the next hit, preparing shorter, then into his attack earlier. Seitz sticks with what’s been working with his deep preparation. Curatoli again sees Seitz not looking to move back and makes the same kind of short finish he did on the previous point. Seitz once again though pulls out a fantastic parry from standing against the short attack, if anything more emphatic than the last. This feels like a definite strategy now from Seitz. Trigger Luca’s short finish against the counter-attack by being brave with the distance, then punish it with strong front foot parries.

More of the same from Seitz, strong deep preparation, Curatoli swaps back to his close distance preparation and does a much better job this time of showing his intention late, he’s able to make Seitz miss and finally has an attack of his own to take up. He’s clearly thinking about the parry when he takes up his attack though, and launches a big finish unnecessarily early which is a piece of cake for Seitz to make miss. He gathers his composure quickly though and calmly holds a close distance on defence, hinting at a desire to make Seitz miss. Tom bites and goes for the big attack and Curatoli is able to stand his ground and counter-attack into Seitz’s action. Much better from the world number 1, but still showing signs of edginess

Now Luca’s starting to work the timing in the middle. He again prepares deep, with a slightly slower prep than he’s used previously, it works perfectly. Seitz goes for the attack early and Curatoli is able to make it miss and reply immediately. This was very similar to how the previous point started, but Luca is able to reply immediately, possibly emboldened by successfully making Seitz miss the previous point.

Its like a game of who blinks first now in the middle. Both make deep preparations, inviting the mistake from the other. Curatoli feels the attack coming again and makes to take a parry, but Tom, not wanting to make the same mistake three times in a row, commits to a really full-blooded finish and goes around Curatoli’s parry easily. Luca was quite flat-footed here, possibly expecting the same short finish he got on the last two points.

We see the first change now from Seitz, looking to take advantage of that previous point and swing momentum back his way. He prepares much shorter than he has done up til now. Curatoli does the same, but is looking to take the attack, it proves a mistake, Luca has grown used to that really close distance Tom has been holding so far and suddenly finds himself with an ocean of space to charge into. The space proves disorientating and Curatoli rushes through the middle, Seitz’s attempted counter-attack misses, but Curatoli obligingly falls into a short finish and Tom can take a really strong parry. Arguably a lucky break here for Tom, but he earned that luck with a clever change in the middle that left Luca floundering.

An example of Curatoli’s sharpness and decision making wins this next point. Both of them prepare deep, and then immediately break. Possibly both of them are aware that defence in the middle is proving more successful than attack. However Luca is much quicker on the change of direction and is able to take the second attack up immediately against Seitz who looks stuck in the mud by comparison. A timely reminder that any sloppiness will be punished.

Two deep preparations and once again Curatoli is able to trigger the attempted attack on preparation from Seitz and makes it miss. As before though, Luca is far from composed on his long attack and throws the big finish far too soon, Tom once again makes it miss and takes up his attack. This time he doesn’t hang around as much on his long-attack and at the first indication of Curatoli opening the distance, Tom sweeps in with a strong accelerating finish. Curatoli, perhaps not expecting Seitz to take the attack on so early, is forced into a desperation counter-attack which lands nicely on Tom’s guard and is then eaten by the Frenchman’s strong attack. Really positive from Seitz, calling Luca’s bluff on his fake attempt to open the distance.

That successful attack proves extra valuable in the next point. Deep preparations, but Luca jumps early, possibly wanting to cancel out Seitz’s attack and he plays right into Tom’s front-foot parry game. A short finish and the Frenchman just stands his ground and takes a huge parry to take us emphatically to the break.

The story of the first half then, has been all about decision making. Seitz was able to race into an early lead playing off Curatoli’s initial jumpiness. Curatoli was able to settle back down and start to get parity, but the real difference has been the aggressive front foot parrying of Seitz which has completely neutralised Luca’s short sharp finishes up close.

First point of the second half and…..You gotta be kidding. Both prepare deep and break immediately. Luca seizes the chance to take up the second attack like he did in the first half. But once again Seitz, cool as you like, just stands his ground and takes a massive Seconde parry/riposte, you know, as you do. He’s pumped up and rightly so, great bit of clear thinking from the Frenchman.

Curatoli gets his act together quickly, preparing deep, draws the attack on prep as he’s done previously in this bout, making it miss and then starting his long-attack. Its another brilliant change from Seitz though, Luca is so worried about the parry that he winds up to go round it as soon as the distance starts to close, Tom capitalises on the wind up and dives in with a counter-attack, he gets a massive guard to the face for his trouble, but it’s a great change up from Seitz. He’s one step ahead on everything at the moment and its showing on the scoreboard.

After the break we see a hit completely out of character for this match. Both prepare quite deep, but there’s a bit of caution (maybe both wary of guards to the face?), Tom jumps on the attack and he’s off on the charge. Curatoli flies back towards his back-line, possibly the first time we’ve seen this all championships. Tom gets over-excited though, he doesn’t recognise Luca regaining his balance and gets caught not ready to finish. Bit of a weird hit in the context of the match that one.

Ahhh that’s much more like it. As you were with the preparations, Luca looking to defend against Tom’s attack, but the Frenchman throws out a giant finish and hits with relative ease. Much like the big attack he landed in the first half after missing a couple of times. He’s got some power, this boy.

Signs of a change from Curatoli. He doesn’t prepare as deep and with the extra space, is able to parry Tom’s attack much easier and can now start his own attack. There’s a marked difference in the attack too, he gets up close and stays there, much calmer, holding back his finish, being more patient. Seitz eventually buckles under the pressure and goes for the parry, Luca is able to finish strong around the parry this time rather than guessing when it will come. Much, much better from the Italian.

Seitz takes a bit of time before this point, and it works beautifully, settling him right down. Luca prepares deep again but shows his intention to go backwards too early, Tom makes a really strong, calm attack this time, and finishing just as Luca tries to regain his balance.

Important change here from Curatoli, he swaps back to the short preparation and remains calm. Tom has now got a feel for those big attacks and jumps, attempting to sweep through again, but Curatoli launches straight into Seitz as he looks to build up. It’s a classic, give Seitz all the space in the world and let him mess up.

Bit weird this next one, both attempt to prepare at a wide distance and it essentially throws both of their rhythm off a bit. Seitz triggers too early though, jumping out then back in very quick. Luca is able to keep his composure and doesn’t stop his attack or lose his rhythm completely. Right idea from Tom, just goes for it too early. Maybe betraying a bit of eagerness to get the fight finished.

Wide distance preparation again from Luca but he’s upping the speed of it now, forcing Seitz to go. Seitz feels Luca winding up and goes for the attack on prep, but it falls into the trap and Curatoli makes a very calm and very late parry-riposte.

Same again from Luca and Seitz is furious with himself. The Italian sets it up with a simultaneous action on the previous point where he prepares to close distance, but once again its that fast, short preparation that forces Seitz to attack. Another parry-riposte for Curatoli and he’s suddenly in this.

Curatoli has really upped the tempo in the match now, he starts exactly the same as the last few points, Tom tries to adjust the distance to wider, but he’s being rushed now and jumps onto defence very early. Curatoli sweeps down the piste, gets close and once again lets Seitz show him the parry before finishing strong. This increase in speed has left Seitz reeling.

Big point this, and possibly symbolic of how the tables are turning. Curatoli is flying, he’s raised the tempo here to something that Seitz is just not comfortable with, so Tom returns to what’s been working so well for him – deep preparation then parry. However Curatoli is now making strong committed finishes and even though Seitz picks the right line to parry, Luca just powers through. One light. Seitz is in trouble now.

Seitz is now looking for the attack, and he sees the fast small preparation from Curatoli and starts to go for the big finish. But Luca is on it now and launches into Seitz’s big action. We’re level at 12-12.

Seitz tries to slow down his preparation here and give himself some more time, but Curatoli is in the mood now and not willing to give him the luxury, he feels the hesitation and jumps on it. Curatoli leads for the first time.

Total brain-fade! Having worked so hard to get back into the match, then take the lead, Curatoli completely switches off from what’s been working for him. Both break after the initial preparation and Curatoli jumps on the attack, but goes for the short finish and Seitz punishes him with the front foot parry he’s been doing all match. This is a gift of a hit and a reminder that if you’ve got a game-plan that’s working, don’t change!

And this is exactly what a world number 1 does. He gets straight back to what’s been working and immediately makes amends. Sharp, high tempo preparation and by now he’s so far ahead of Seitz that the Frenchman doesn’t even get a light on. 14-13 and the remarkable comeback is nearly complete, Seitz looks completely deflated.

This last hit is a bit messy, but the reasons for it are still rooted in the reasons why Curatoli has found his way back in to this match. Again its that short but very high speed preparation that gets Seitz to react early, he jumps out and flies back in, his distance is all messed up, he’s off-balance and as a result his counter-attack lands flush on Curatoli’s guard as the Italian comes storming through. Perhaps ironically, Curatoli finally lands an attack with that short finish of his.

At 6-12 down, the world number 1 was in serious trouble. Seitz came into the match with a really strong game-plan and those front-foot parries completely dominated the first half of this match. To get back into the match from that point needed something very special from the Italian. Changing the distance in the middle was part of the answer, but from that far down upping the tempo was also needed. Curatoli showed some real champion quality during his comeback. Seitz was having to deal with not just a different feel of distance in the middle, but also being rushed into making decisions. He completely lost his feel in the middle and by the end of the match looked lost. What makes this such a special match to me is that ability from Curatoli to change the whole complexion of the match. It wasn’t so much about the actions themselves, it was his ability to change so many of the variables and take complete control of the match.

I hope you enjoyed reading and any comments are more than welcome!

Rob Cawdron.

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.

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!