Fencing Masters in the classical period commonly included a specific method of coming on guard in their fencing manuals. Today these seem strange to a modern fencer, but at the time the element of ceremony they represented was an accepted part of the sport. Maitre d’Armes Louis Rondelle’s 1892 text, Foil and Sabre: A Grammar of Fencing, provides a detailed seven step process for coming on guard. Rondelle’s description is essentially the same as Regis and Louis Senac’s 1904 description of coming on guard in The Art of Fencing, and the similar description in Maurice Grandiere’s 1906 volume How To Fence. Evidence suggests that this is a standard method of coming on guard in the French School in the period 1892-1906.
- From the position of attention (the common First Position with the feet at a 90 degree angle to each other on the directing line, the legs straight, the torso upright, and the weapon arm inclined downward to the front), the arm, with foil in line with the arm, is raised so that the hand is level with the fencer’s eye, the point in line and extended toward the opponent.
- The weapon arm is lowered with the foil in a straight line until the point of the foil is approximately 4 inches from the surface of the piste.
- The foil is swung down and around, the point to the inside, ending with the blade parallel to the surface of the piste across the thighs. The weapon hand reverses so that the fingernails are toward the body and downward. Simultaneously, the fingers on the non-weapon hand are placed along the blade, palm up, and the nails in contact with the guard.
- The foil, with both hands in the same relative position as in step 3, is raised vertically close along the body with the blade horizontal until the arms are completely extended above the head.
- Simultaneously both arms bend. The non-weapon hand releases the blade and the arm lowers to the bent arm position, upper-arm horizontal, the forearm vertical, and the hand forward and relaxed with fingers forward. The weapon hand moves downward in line with the opponent to chest height with the thumb upward. The arm is bent with the elbow approximately 8 inches from the chest. The blade of the foil is in line with the forearm and the point of the foil is in line with the opponent’s eye.
- With the feet in contact and at right angles, bend the knees so that the body sinks maintaining an even balance.
- Shift the body weight to the rear leg, and move the front foot forward in a direct line from the rear heel toward the opponent to land at an appropriate distance from the rear foot. The forward knee should be directly above the instep of the forward foot, and the body weight should be slightly shifted toward the rear leg.
More than ceremony was involved in this series of steps. The guard position is the basic physical position of the fencer’s body from which footwork and both offensive and defensive bladework flows. A balanced guard position was critical then, and remains critical now, to efficient movement on the piste. How one comes on guard contributes to achieving that balanced position, and this method results in a technically correct position. However, that is not the only advantage. The process of coming on guard serves as a tool to focus the fencer on the bout, and a technically correct execution may serve notice to the opponent that the fencer is a skilled opponent.
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