Footwork in fencing is essentially about one thing – control.
Good footwork allows fencers to control the distance between themselves and their opponent. During defense, we can use our footwork to move further away from their sword. During offense, good footwork allows us to move in closer to get that point before the opponent has a chance to. Understanding and having the ability to execute great footwork is what allows fencers to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves during a fencing match.
Fencing is a sport that’s lightning fast, and in those quick moments it’s footwork that lets fencers grab an advantage or lose one.
The Linear Nature of Footwork
Fencing footwork today is largely a linear endeavor. Fencers move forward and backward within a confined width. There’s very little option to move side to side (that’s why it’s called a “strip”). This limitation constrains the movements that are possible for fencers within a bout, forcing us to be incredibly careful about where we go. Working within the confines of modern fencing rules requires training and practice in footwork.
The stylized stance that is part of fencing has evolved through centuries of refinement to optimize the ability to both protect and attack. Leg muscles are used to propel the body forward and backward at sufficient speed to garner an edge in the match. The stance enables fencers to get the fastest movement possible without opening up the body for a touch from the rival. The sideways stance of the fencer allows the fencer to move up and down the fencing line, leading with the weapon from the dominant hand.
Though other combat sports don’t have the linear restrictions that are part of fencing, they nonetheless look to fencing’s linear footwork as a model for movement because it is so quick and effective. Linear battle also allows fencers to minimize the amount of the body that’s available for the opponent to attack. The sideways angle of the stance just leaves less of the body open for attack. Fencing footwork has been copied by boxers and kickboxers, by mixed martial artists and masters of combat. Among the fans of fencing footwork is none other than martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, who incorporated fencing footwork into his distinctive style because of its effectiveness for both defense and offense. That really cool way that he looks? It’s got a lot to do with linear fencing footwork!
What Does Great Fencing Footwork Look Like?
Fantastic fencing footwork is light and quick. It’s based out of a solid stance that offers the fencer grounding to move from.
Great fencing footwork is:
- Well balanced
- Quick from the quadricep to the toes
- Centered between the heels
- Slightly forward leaning
- Lead foot pointing forward
- Back foot perpendicular
The idea of all these aspects of great fencing footwork is that they facilitate quick movement that’s adaptable to any situation that might arise. Bursts of speed come from the large muscle groups of the legs, and balance is maintained through adequate core strength. Movements are easy, both forward and backward, as well as slight, detailed movements to the sides if necessary.
Foot placement in fencing matters, as does the angle of the body. Though we’re talking about the feet in footwork (technically), footwork in fencing is still a whole body endeavor. Fencers have got to look at the way footwork affects the movement of the whole body in order to use it effectively. It starts from the ground, but influences the body all the way to the top of the head. Great footwork drives motion from the feet through everything else.
How to Improve Your Fencing Footwork
This is one of those areas of sport that offers only one real path to improvement – practice! There is simply no substitute for putting in the hours to get the job done.
The good news is that fencing footwork can be practiced anywhere – you don’t even have to be at the club! We’ve practiced fencing footwork no matter where we’ve gone. From the beach to the living room. Fencing footwork practice doesn’t require a sword or a lot of room. The key is to train your body to hold the shape that you want it to hold without you having to think about it, then teaching your muscles to move in the right direction automatically.
Fencing footwork is very different from the way that we walk around naturally. In order to be effective, it’s got to be carefully taught. It’s never a bad idea to ask your fencing coach for specific exercises that you can do away from the club to help you improve your fencing footwork – he or she is certain to be happy to oblige. Even if you’ve been fencing for ten years, there are always improvements you can make in your footwork to do better.
One great way to improve your fencing footwork is to watch video of yourself. It’s truly amazing how quickly mistakes can be corrected when you see them from the outside instead of the inside! This video doesn’t have to be taken formally – set up your smart phone in the living room and go do it right after you read this blog! Then look back and you’ll most certainly see tweaks you can make in your footwork to make it better.
Again, there’s just no substitute for putting in those long hours to improve footwork. Those hours can include effective cross training to increase muscle mass and flexibility, all in service of improving speed and agility. You can control your body more effectively, and you can do it through improved fencing footwork.