Problem Assessment


When you're having problems scoring touches or problems figuring out how to cope with what your opponent's doing, replay "your mental VCR" and see the various plays again. Then start with the phrase--

ASSUME THE POSITION and RELAX, DAMIT (Distance And Movement In Time)

And analyze what happened or didn't happen based on the five major components of any good touch: Position, relaxation, distance, movement, and tempo.


  • Position Problems?
    • Did you neglect a "shortest" line attack? The "shortest" line is the target directly in front of your swordpoint when you extend fully at the shoulder level.
    • Did you neglect a "short" attack and take the long way to another target? If you're not in The Alley (see the next bulleted item), shoot for the closest target available (the "short" target) .
    • Did the opponent own "The Alley"?  "The Alley" is my name for an imaginary ellipse surrounding each fencer's sword arm. Most hits occur there in épée. Whoever establishes a position in the opponent's Alley first and has the shortest path to a target "owns" The Alley.

      If the opponent "owned" your Alley, you either had to use a blade action or an angulated hit to remove him from his superior position. Next time do so.
    • Should you have disengaged back to The Alley or shortest line? 


  • Hyper?  Too much adrenaline flow? Holding the weapon too tightly?
    • Adopt a relaxed grip. Monitor and perfect your fingerwork. If a move can be done strictly with the fingers rather than the entire arm, do it that way . . . it'll be stealthier as a result.
    • Work on centering "ki" (an imaginary ball of energy) in the elbow to "support" the arm
    •  Figure out some ways to calm yourself down, and use them when you feel hyper.
    • If you've been too hyper, analyze why. If the Worm of Worry is gnawing at your psyche, squash it. If The Bear's rearing its ugly head, cage him!


  • Distance Problems?
    • When blades are in contact, lunging. (You're too close for a full lunge; you're probably overshooting target)
    • Planting," instead of "floating" during play. (You're not giving your brain time to react to the situation; the opponent's being allowed to close too fast. )
    • Don't grow roots, or the opponent will know exactly where to find you. (It's far easier to hit a target that's stationary than it is to hit one in motion.)
    • Stress that distance is gauged head to head. (If you stare at the weapon, your opponent can move his weapon yet not be changing his position at all. Result: you'll mis-gauge the distance to any target other than the arm/hand.)
    • Maintain your "TV picture" so that the distance can be gauged correctly head-to-head.
    • Any given parry changes as the distance between you and the other fencer changes, the parries must get wider as the distance gets shorter (they change to fall along "The Wedge") to avoid being hit .
    • Point control is a matter of both how you move or don't move a blade and how accurately and quickly you perceive distance changes that occur in a fencing action.


  • Movement problems?  (Your goal should be: A "stable table"--a perfectly and consistently balanced torso position with the hand/arm "locked onto" target; small movements when taking the blade or evading it; perfect distance-gauging with just the right amount of footwork to make the hit)
    • Have you been focusing on a specific target instead of seeing the entire "TV Picture"? Try harder to keep see your opponent and the environment around him in your "TV picture"
    • Has your wrist been rolling? The rolling wrist is your worst enemy--it's one of the two most-often-occurring reasons you miss 
      • Wrist turning from supination to pronation when it shouldn't
      • Wrist wandering from 12 O'Clock on coupe's when it shouldn't
      • Wrist wandering from pronated 9 O'Clock when it shouldn't
    • Work on "freezing the hand" (in a relaxed way)--once your weapon's point is "superimposed" on a good target in your TV picture, don't move it unless your opponent's blade contacts yours
    • What's been happening with your feet? Has the front toe been pointing to the inside or outside line rather than straight at the opponent?

      Your front foot is your "gunsight" to target; wherever it points your weapon's point will tend to go. So keep your front foot pointed at the heel of the opponent's front foot.
    • Have you been moving out of a standard en garde to a "standing tall" position as you try to hit the opponent?

      If so, you're not doing yourself any favors. Your point moves up, instead of moving straight to target, and you expose more target. In addition, your center of gravity moves up and your balance shifts to the detriment
    • Is your back shoulder moving forward, exposing more target and throwing your balance off?
    • Are you leaning over the front knee when lunging?
    • Are you "balling-up" when attacked?
    • Is your butt sticking out? This is often linked with back shoulder moving out and/or toe pointing in to the inside line.  If so, your balance is thrown off, your mobility is lessened, and you're straining your lower back muscles unnecessarily
    • Are you lunging before your thrust to target? Basic principle: foot movement will almost always draw a reaction from an opponent; it usually screams "Here I come!" An extension usually looks like a feint to an opponent, until the feet move. Then he knows an attack is coming.

      Feet usually move after the extension . . . or at the same time, NOT before

      Your extension lets you see exactly how much farther you have to go to cover the remaining ground to target
    • Are you "telegraphing" your attacks and other movements?

      Do you "set" (sometimes looks like a momentary hesitation) before flèching or lunging?

      Do you tighten up through the shoulders or move your head forward a bit or shift your weight forward just before you flèche?

      Does your non-weapon arm move in some weird way that screams that a certain move is coming?

      Do you consistently tense or go limp before attacking?

      Do you always retreat after making one attempt at a point (a "one-sy")?

      Do you cock your head before attacking?

      Do you always do the same move when responding to a specific probe by the opponent?

      If you're not sure of your answers to any of these, have a fencing friend observe your bouts and report back to you what he or she sees.


  • Tempo Problems?
    • Are you mis-timing attacks? Are they too late? Are they too early?
    • Is your opponent "tempo-ing" you--and stealing the touch--before you can finish an attack?

      If so, work on tempo attacks. Learn how to feel the tempo. Learn to be aware of your opponent's and your own.

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Copyright 1998 Rich Hamper 

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Last Updated:

Sunday, January 20, 2008