Category Archives: Comps and news

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!



You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry: Chung (KOR) v Dolniceanu (ROU)

Welcome back to Epic Hit of the Day! First up, have a bloody gorgeous counterparry, then I’ll give the backstory.

That’s a thing of beauty, right there. Tell me again about how the Koreans have bad bladework. No really, do go on.

On the left we have Tiberiu Dolniceanu. He is an incredibly competent and powerful fencer, probably the best all-rounder on the circuit. Everything about his game is clean, solid and well-executed. He’s been world #1 on several occasions and has won swathes of world cup medals. I watch his bouts when I’m having trouble sleeping, and they fill me with a soothing reassurance that some things are still right in the world.

On the right we have Chung Hojin, one of the new generation of Korean sabreurs trained by Lee Hyokun in Busan, following in the footsteps of Gu Bongil and, before him, Oh Eunseok. He’s very young and has developed remarkably just in the last twelve months, and is turning more and more into something really interesting, but he’s yet to break into of the world top 50 despite a couple of top-32 and top-16 finishes.

The two met in New York in the 32 and the first section of the bout went pretty much exactly as you’d expect: Dolniceanu was strong, confident, assured and curb-stomping the fast but jittery young Korean. Then Chung went off-script, abandoned the 4m, and pulled off a series of jaw-droppingly cocky fall-shorts,  stop hits, and counterattacks.

Wait, that didn’t go according to plan. Try again.

Well that was horrible and traumatic. Better close the distance just a- OH WAIT

Angry now! More power! Big attack is big –

Right, dude, get your act together. He’s given up ROW again, just settle down into the march, you got this – FAIL

After that little performance, Chung led Dolniceanu staggering into the 8 point break with a two-point deficit.

After the break Chung returned to the 4m, and Dolniceanu got his act back together and tightened his attacks. Even got a lovely flunge in, as he likes to do.

Ooooooooooh nice.

He built back a solid lead, but the tension left both guys a bit jumpy and Chung wound up with a yellow for an early start. Then this happened:

If anyone can explain to me why it’s Chung who gets the card here, I’d appreciate it. The refereeing in this bout was excellent, but this just seems a little weird. Chung certainly did not appreciate it, and unleashed a can of weapons-grade whupass on the Romanian, starting with that magnificent parry at the top. God only knows how it would have turned out if he’d had more than one point left to lose.


That was a Gu Bongil attack on prep, right there. That footwork hurts. You don’t do that footwork unless you seriously want to mess someone up. Chung’s a pretty chilled out kid, but I think he was annoyed.

The whole match is available courtesy of Andrew Fischl at CyrusofChaos, to whom this sport owes a great debt. Seriously, the guy is the best. Go check out his page.

Meanwhile in Australia: National Championships and a distinguished vistor

Sorry for the lack of updates! When I’m not writing this, I run a large sabre club in Sydney, and last week we had a rather exciting visitor:

master and apprentice

The gentlemen on the right is Hyokun Lee, the new head coach of the Korean men’s sabre team and the man responsible for unleashing this upon the world:

To say that the information gained in the past week has changed the way we think about sabre is to put it mildly, but we’re still trying to figure out how much is allowable for publication. Even if most of it isn’t, it’ll still be reflected in updates to the analysis we’re doing of matches, particularly in the technical aspects.

HKL DHK Lesson day 1

The reason Mr Lee was in town was to visit another one of his students, Donghwan Kim, who fences and coaches at our club. We all took a lovely road trip down to Canberra, a 3 hour drive during which many extraordinary things were learned about the history of Korean sabre, about which I will write later. We were visiting Canberra for the Australian National Fencing Championships. Here’s the final, which was a bit lacking in tension but had some nice sabre:

Hopefully I’ll have some more time to get back into some analytical stuff over the next few days. Then, the New York Grand Prix!

et voilá: Gu (KOR) v Szilagyi (HUN)

First off, apparently I’m not that bad at this sabre prediction thing!

The 2014-2015 FIE season got started in spectacular fashion last night in Budapest. There were some major upsets in the 64 and 32, with Kovalev, Kim, Won, Samele, Homer and Dolniceanu losing early, and Berrè and Wagner injured. There was a whole herd of dark horses in the 8:

Budapest T8

From the 8,  nature took its course pretty quickly, with Szatmari, Yagodka, Hwang and Huebers being fairly comprehensively overpowered by the top 4. The full stream is available here:

Szilagyi and Montano’s bout was tense and dramatic, with some excellent fencing on both sides. Yakimenko v Gu, on the other hand, was a massacre. By the time they were about 5 points in, I’d already called the comp for Gu.  The only thing that could have stopped him would have  would have been Szilagyi at the absolute peak of his game. There were two possibilities for the final:

  1. Under enormous pressure to win on his home turf in the 100th anniversary year of his national federation, Szilagyi would rise to the occasion with incredible heroics and the greatest fencing of his life.
  2. Under enormous pressure to win on his home turf in the 100th anniversary year of his national federation, Szilagyi would lock up, and Gu would toy with him in the same way he’d earlier toyed with Limbach and Yakimenko.

Take a careful look at the following clip and try to figure out which scenario happened:


The first half of the match was cold-blooded murder. It wasn’t until around 10/4 until Szilagyi finally stopped thinking about the big trophy and started taking things point by point.  By 14, Gu was just slightly tense, and Szilagyi started to fight back.

This one in particular was a classy hit:

Gu’s lead was so commanding, however, that it was a futile effort, and Gu brought things home with a ludicrously fortuitous counterattack. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is your epic hit of the day:

Gu will, fairly obviously, maintain his #1 world ranking with an expanded lead. Szilagyi will move into second place, ahead of Kim. The next comp is in just three weeks, in New York.

Budapest podium

Nice work, gentlemen.

Changes to the 4m

A proposal from Russia to the FIE Congress:

“t.17.3. In saber fencing The Referee places each of the two competitors in such a way that the back foot of each is 2 meters from the center line of the piste (that is, in front of the ‘on-guard’ lines).”

I’d like to address this in the kind of serious and systematic fashion it deserves:

lol wut?

I guess they’re sick of getting hit with this:

2014-2015 FIE men’s sabre season starts tonight!

It’s that time of year again: The first comp of the men’s sabre FIE season, the Budapest World Cup, starts tonight.

  • Preliminary rounds: 12am AEDT Saturday
  • IndividualTableau of 64 starts 8pm AEDT Saturday
  • Teams starts 6pm AEDT Sunday.

Live results will be available right here. Live video streams are here.

Here’s a reminder of how last year went down:

There were some concerns that last year’s champion, Kim Junghwan, was out of action due to injury, but it seems he’s there and ready to defend his title. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Hungarian Fencing Federation, so I suspect they might be out for some gold themselves. Wonder who might be the favourite here?


Impossible to say.

Szilagyi, like the rest of the top 16, will be having the day off today, but if you’d like to get yourself in the mood for tomorrow, try this out if you haven’t already:


Battle Royale: Gu (KOR) v Kim (KOR)

Today’s epic hit comes from the much-anticipated deathmatch between two team mates, World #1 and World #2, Gu Bongil and Kim Junghwan. The winning point from Gu in the 2014 Asian Games final is one of the most beautiful fencing actions I’ve ever seen. It’s the last word on attack-on-prep in the 4m.  Here it is from a bootleg HD version of the official coverage (which unfortunately only covers the last 3 points):

It also gave us what must be just about the best sabre photo of all time, captured by David Sim. Incredible.

Gu v Kim

Anyway, after a month of searching, we’ve finally got video (albeit unofficial) of the whole match. Took a lot of wrangling of the Korean fencing grapevine, but we got there in the end. Unofficial video of the full match is available on Youtube, thanks to Lee KyuJun:

Pretty full-on match. Rowdy crowd is rowdy. Much excitement! Kim is crazy tense, and Gu knows exactly how to exploit that, as that last attack makes only too clear. My only question is why Gu gets so many video appeals: I counted at least 4 unsustained. If anyone can enlighten me, please do.

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.