Category Archives: Sabre technique

One Kick: The Sydney Sabre Training Philosophy

Gu Bon Gil Special
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”                – Bruce Lee

Our Training Philosophy:

We are not a clone army. We are all individuals.

Every student training at Sydney Sabre starts by working their way through our 50-Week Course.

  • The 50-Week Course is a primer to the full core repertoire of modern sabre. It covers over 150 technical skills. This is far more than any fencer will ever use effectively.
  • Every fencer needs to identify a personal repertoire of 10-15 skills which they are good at and use successfully. They then need to master these skills.
  • The purpose of the 50-Week Course is to allow a new fencer to identify their personal repertoire.  This repertoire will be different for every fencer.
  • At the end of the 50-Week Course, every fencer should know what skills they need to master. They should know what kind of fencer they are. They should have a clear path.

The purpose of the 50-Week Course is to let us discover who we are.

A bit more detail:

There are two fundamental approaches to sabre training.

  1. The Generalist Method:  Learn a vast repertoire of actions, all of which are potentially valuable. Deploy them as needed on the fly.
  2. The Specialist Method: Figure out a minimal repertoire of actions that work for you. Drill them until you’re really good. Do pretty much nothing else.

The Generalist Method:

This is the conventional approach followed by a large majority of coaches out there. Learning sabre means constructing a complex swiss-army knife of dozens or even hundreds of skills which you can deploy to tackle just about any conceivable situation. On the plus side, this gives you (in theory) enormous tactical depth and adaptability. You’re a robust generalist who can cope with anything. On the minus side, it means you’re spreading your training efforts very thin. For someone with limited time (like someone starting sabre as an adult) it makes mastery of technique effectively impossible.

It also, in reality, means making tactical decisions in a fight is a confusing mess. With so many options to draw upon, picking the right one can be an overwhelming problem. Decision fatigue sets in rapidly. In practice, this limitation means pretty much all fencers end up trimming their own effective repertoires in matches to a modest number of favourite moves, but this is (in our observation) rarely reflected fully in their training.

The Specialist Method:

Gu Bon Gil is a textbook example of what we’re talking about: focused and relentless drilling of a highly limited skill set. Early on in training, the coach identifies what your strengths and natural inclinations are. What you do under pressure? How do you win your points? A core repertoire of at most 15 actions is picked, and drilled to the exclusion of everything else.

You become a specialist with a very narrow range of options which you’re extremely good at. On the minus side, this means you will probably end up in situations where you’re completely screwed and don’t have any backup plan. On the plus side, you can become properly dominant at a set of things that work, and be able to pick between options extremely fast. Hopefully this means you won’t wind up in situations where you don’t have a successful countermeasure very often.

At Sydney Sabre, we follow the Specialist Method. We believe it works better. We also believe that given our function of training amateur fencers with limited time, it’s the only viable way.

Here’s how it works:

Every fencer goes through the 50-Week Course as an introduction to the full sabre repertoire.

  • For each action you need to learn:
    • How to do it,
    • When it’s used,
    • What its limitations are, and
    • If you like it.
  • The goal of each stage in the course is to identify which technical elements work for you for each phase of the game (Basic actions, Attack, Defense, 4m)
  • At the end of 50-Week Course, you should be able to write a list of 10-15 actions which form your core repertoire.

Once you’ve done this you can then proceed to further training  with a clear understanding of what your style is and what you need to work on.

If you’re training with us, this is how you need to think about the content of each class.

Did you find today’s content intuitive and cool? Have you found yourself doing it already in fights? If so, awesome! Write down that your repertoire includes stop cut/circle 5/bind attacks/low line/bounce prep/whatever it is. Did you hate it and find it really hard? No problem, it just isn’t your thing. Let’s move on next week and find some alternatives!

In short: The purpose of the 50-Week Course is to let each fencer find their own repertoire. The purpose of post-course training is to master it.

Everyone has their own path to follow.

 Note: If you’re interested in what’s in the 50-Week Course, we’re in the process of outlining it in the “Sabre Codex” series of articles on this blog. We’re not going into technical coaching detail, but we are covering the big points: what an action is, when it’s used, and what its limitations are.

Whether you like it is up to you.

The Sabre Codex 1.6: Defensive Check

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

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

check parry

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

The Sabre Codex 0.6: Parry Drills

parry drill


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

The Sabre Codex 4.5: Compound Parries

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

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

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

compound 3

The Sabre Codex 3.5: Undercuts

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

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


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

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

No cameras please. Wear breeches.

The Sabre Codex 2.5: Circle Parries

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

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

parry seconde

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

The Sabre Codex 1.5: Counterattacks

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


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

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

The Sabre Codex 0.5: Counterparries

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

counterparry deep

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

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