Lesson 1

Classical fencing is comprised of three different weapons (swords); the foil, the epee and the saber.  The foil is a practice weapon that was and is used in the classroom to teach combat technique.  The epee is the duelling sword and the saber is another type of duelling sword that employed cutting actions as well as thrusts.

The Italian Foil

The Italian foil is a unique weapon that has its foundation in the Italian rapier.  For information on the rapier and rapier combat you may go to http://jan.ucc.nau.edu/~wew/fencing.html.  The following picture shows a foil with the names of the major parts.

Foil Image

Pommel: Used as a counterweight on the sword and to hold everything together.  The part of the blade called the tang goes through the grip and the pommel is screwed onto the tang.
Grip:  The part of the sword that you hold onto.
Quillon:  The cross bar of the sword.  The blade goes through the quillon block.
Ring:  Helps to stabilize the guard against the quillon block.
Ricasso:  Unsharpened part of the sword blade that is held between the thumb and forefinger.
Bell/Guard:  Part of the sword that sits in front of the hand to protect it.
Blade:  The lethal part of the sword.  On duelling swords that point is sharpened. 

Hand Positions

Hand PositionsIn the Italian tradition (which dates back to at least the 16th century in this regard) the position of the hand is very important.  There are four cardinal hand position and three intermediary positions.  The cardinal or primary positions are numbered prima, seconda, terza and quarta (one through four).  The image to the right shows the four primary positions.  The secondary positions lie half way between the primary.  For example half way between first and second is called prima in seconda (first in sedcond).  These hand positions will be used a lot during the course and so must be memorized. 

Later we will discuss the onguard and invitations (an invitation is well... an invite to attack in a specific line.  This will be discussed in more depth later).  The guard positions are also number one through four and must not be confused with the hand positions.  So, you may be asked to take a specific guard with your hand in a specific position.  Unless otherwise noted the hand position will either be quarta (fourth) or terza in quarta (third in fourth).

The Onguard (stance)

Your on guard is your starting position.  It should be a defensive position that is used as the basis or starting point for your offence and defence. 

Third GuardThe picture to the right shows a standard onguard in the third guard with the hand in the fourth position.  Note that the body is upright and weight centered over the legs and the feet approximately a should's width apart.  The knees are flexed to facilitate easy movement.  The elbow of the weapon arm is bent with the elbow resting approximately one hand width from the torso.  The forearm just above parallel to the ground.  The non-weapon arm is held up and behind as in the picture, with the hand loose.  In fact the whole body must be loose.  This facilitates graceful movement.

Preparing to Fence

Every time to go to fence (or to do any other strenuous activity) you should get ready by stretching out.  You will need to stretch the following areas: the hamstring, achilles tendon, back, hips and sides, neck, shoulders, arms (including the wrists) and especially the groin.  A regimen for this will be given in class.  As soon as you get to the gym you should start stretching out and warming up.  Everyone should be ready by no later than 10 minutes after the class start time.  If you have a standard routine that you have used in other sports please use that routine.  If not, use the routine that is given in the class.

Sources of Extra Information

You may visit the following sites for more information on classical and historical fencing.