The nuance of fencing becomes automatic to people who have been in it for a long time, but to newcomers, whether fencers or parents, the terminology can sound very unfamiliar. The detail can be challenging to master for those who are new to it. Epee grips are one of these instances.
Often it just takes a clear, simple, high level explanation of what these things mean to facilitate mastery of the concept. A newbie might still not totally understand the intricate differences, but it lays a solid foundation that can inform fencing in the future.
The grip is simply the part of the fencing sword that the fencer holds. Think of it as being the other side of a handshake, the place where the sword unites with the fencer to become an extension of their own body. How that interface happens is important, and over the years there have been many various grips developed by fencers. It is one of the most important parts of the fencing sword because the comfort, agility, mobility, strength, reach, and many other factors are affected by how the hand holds the weapon.
Over the centuries, grips have been developed by master sword makers to to uniquely address different facets of fencing and different styles adopted by fencers. In modern fencing there are two primary grips, namely the pistol and the french grip. Those two are actually broad categories however, and there are variations on each of the grips. Eventually each fencer chooses her or his own style, or modifies an existing grip to suit their own style.
Almost every fencer will start fencing with a french grip, whether they are a foilist or an epeeist. This is because the french grip handle “forces” a new fencer to correctly hold the weapon and to work with their fingers. Those novice mistakes in holding technique are much more visible to a coach with a french grip and thus this grip provides a better mechanism for a coach to correct such mistakes.
Eventually with experience, foil fencers will transition to the pistol grip, while epee fencers will split into two major camps – french grip fencers and pistol grip fencers. It means epeeists have the luxury of choice, and neither is strictly correct or incorrect. That choice can be challenging if you don’t understand the good and the not so good of the two mainstream epee fencing grips.
Let’s break down the advantages and disadvantages of each.