Category Archives: Sabre technique

The Sabre Codex 5.2: Opposition trajectories

Previously on Competitive, we covered the concept of using pre-determined blade trajectories to reduce the complexity of winning the ‘box of death’ at the start of the bout. We focused on the application of a classic ‘short/long’ tactic to win the immediate attack *and* the long attack against the opponent’s fall short. In a nutshell, we pre-determined blade trajectories that would hit the opponent at both short and long measure, and avoid an intervening parry. All a sabreur had to do was to track the distance to the opponent during the initial part of the bout and make minor adjustments to their flight path and impact speed, instead of making a more difficult ‘A/B’ choice on whether to attack short or long.

Confused? It’s easier said than done, but when it works it’s devastating.

But it gets better. See, it you can also pre-determine blade trajectories that act as attacks with opposition while also fulfilling all of the conditions above for the ‘short/long’ tactic. This means that you’re not stuck with a ‘draw’ with your opponent if you both attack short. You can also win. With single light.

This week, we expand on the use of pre-determined blade trajectories with the addition of opposition arcs. We revisit the cheeky cutovers from the last class, but now we’ll make them less cheeky and closer to outright cruelty. We will (carefully!) go over the modifications to the initial arcs to cause an opposition clash with your opponent’s blade if they select your desired line for the short attack while still enabling you to finish with simultaneous attacks if they pick a different line or disengage. We will also introduce Max Hartung’s totally-not-cool special and its sinister variant (aka, the left hand version) on special request. No cameras though: it’s top secret until after the Tokyo Olympics.

Pictured: Not The Real Hartung Special
Pictured: Not The Real Hartung Special

Students will be required to wear breeches in this class.

The Sabre Codex 4.2: Fake Sweeps

Previously in Advanced, we introduced the technique of ‘sweep’ as a defensive action used to clear an Attacker’s blade. If you recall, sweeps clear an entire plane in space of the Attacker’s blade and can be chained together to trick the Attacker into placing their blade in a position where you can hit it, and regain priority. Yet Attackers with superior bladework skills can still avoid multiple ‘real’ sweeps during a bout.But why use real sweeps when a fake one will do?

low sweep editThis week, we cover the use of fake sweeps to draw the Attacker into a predetermined line for either a real sweep or a counter-attack. We go through the setup for the situation with real sweeps which give the Attacker your rhythm so they get used to avoiding your blade and coincidentally reveal how they tend to react to your sweeps. We then explore the use of truncated, fake sweeps which are much faster than your real ones to break up your rhythm and get the Attacker’s blade into a predicted location. Then, depending the line, we either make a real sweep to regain priority or use attacks-on-preparation with opposition to win the point.

The Sabre Codex 3.2: Feint Hits

This week on Intermediate, we’ll be looking at feint hits, and how you can use them to trick a defender into making themselves more vulnerable.

feint 1 edit

To do this, you need to make a feint cut to one target but an actual cut to another target. In between, the feint attack traces an arc which evades the anticipated motion of the defender’s blade. Done right, this can induce vulnerabilities in the defender by 1. fooling them into parrying against the wrong cut arc, or 2.inducing sufficient uncertainty to make them ‘freeze’ their blade in position, or 3. drawing them into counterattacking at the wrong time and/or distance.

People are unpredictable though, so a good feint attack has to be able to deal with any one of the three possibilities above – though not to the same degree of effectiveness.

There are broadly two types of feint attacks: cutovers, which evade by going over the tip of the defender’s blade; and disengages, which evade under the guard. In Week 2, we start with basic cutovers to deceive parry 3 and parry 4. We cover why it is important that both the feint and true targets for a feint attack are open at the time of the attack, and how to work out the unique cutover arcs for different opponents.

Then we’ll move on to execution, starting with the basic feint attacks at the end of an attack sequence, then adding tempo variations to deceive defenders who have cottoned onto your basic version. We may even cover the ‘back-line bitch slap’ on special request, but please be warned the defender won’t be your friend afterwards.

The Sabre Codex 2.2: Advance Lunge

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

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

advance lunge 2

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

The Sabre Codex 1.2: Rhythm and Tempo

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

attack on prep

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

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

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

The Sabre Codex O.2: Opportunistic Cuts

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

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

opportunistic wrist hit

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

The Sabre Codex 0.1: Direct Cut

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

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

Footwork 1 direct cut edit

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

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

The Sabre Codex 5.1: Blade Trajectories

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sabre Codex 4.1: Sweep Defence

Advanced comprises weeks 31 to 40 of the Sydney Sabre syllabus and is all about defence.


We start by revisiting the core concept that in sabre, defence is ultimately about evading or intercepting the arc of the Attacker’s blade. While in many cases this is straightforward – retreats/ducks/jumps to evade, beats and parries to intercept, and counterattacks for multi-taskers to hit and intercept and evade at the same time – strong Attackers are accustomed to dealing with these comparatively simple actions. So we start this cycle with the introduction of your first compound defensive action: the sweep.

Sweeps are a class of actions used to clear an entire 2-dimensional plane of the Attacker’s blade. All sweeps begin with a check, or a feint counterattack, to the Attacker’s eyes to encourage them to finish their attack and/or present their blade. The sweep then clears a pre-planned plane of the Attacker’s blade. Each plane follows a path which makes it easy to parry an attack during the sweep, and ends in a parry position. Sweeps are thus different to beats, which generally clear a smaller arc plane and are made against the current rather than anticipated position of their blade.

In week 1, we cover three common sweeps: the headlock, in the horizontal plane; the barrell-roll, which covers one diagonal plane; and the seconde, for the diagonal plane. We will go over some of the tricks to draw the Attacker’s attention to a defensible target, and make them forget your blade so you can catch theirs. If time permits, we will also pull off the same effect by chaining multiple sweeps together, or even coupling fake-sweeps which look big and slow with real sweeps that are deceptively small and fast.

The Sabre Codex 3.1: The March

Intermediate comprises weeks 21 to 30 of the Sydney Sabre syllabus and is all about the attack.


March – the term for what a sabreur with priority does to put themselves in a position to finish their attack. The aim of the March is to wear through your opponent’s defences to get to the point where you can strike with impunity. It is less about rushing after/into/through your opponent as it is about systematically shredding through the bits of their defence while tiring them out. Think Roman legions, not barbarian hordes.

In this week we cover the footwork part of the March to fool your opponent into fleeing from a fake attack, counterattacking out of distance against a fake hold, or frankly giving up and allowing you to enter their defence zone for the kill. A successful March depends on the Attacker knowing the correct distance to finish and the range of the Defender for their actions. We will spend some time playing that fine line between the range that the Defender thinks they can defend at and what you know they defend at, and revisit some of the footwork techniques from earlier courses to deceive the Defender.

The focus for the week, however, will stay firmly on developing the core concept of distance control. Remember: there is nothing wrong with just advancing into an opponent who has poor distance control and hitting them. Or running them off the end of the piste. And there is a special place for people who like to stick their opponent on the back line before finishing them off with a massive feint attack. We will cover this on request.