“How do I hold the sabre?” is one of the most common questions we get at Sydney Sabre.
This is the traditional way of holding a sabre:
This is the modern way to hold a sabre:
Things have not changed much in over 100 years.
However, the process for teaching someone how to hold a sabre usually goes like this:
(Before the first lesson) Student waves the sabre around like a club.
- Student learns how to hold the sabre properly.
- It feels weird.
- Student reads an article/spots another fencer/watches a video showing someone holding a sabre differently.
- Usually also notices that said person seems to be moving the sabre much faster than said student.
- Switches to new method of holding the sabre.
- Something goes horribly wrong (broken thumb, elbow tendonitis, rotator cuff pain, etc.).
- Student asks instructor “How do I hold the sabre?”.
This is how you hold a sabre.
1. Wrap your middle finger around the bend of the sabre grip.
2. Place your thumb on the flat part of the grip
3. Wrap your index finder around the grip, in front of where your thumb is.
4. Wrap your ring and pinkie fingers around the bottom of the grip, behind your middle finger, holding the grip against the muscles at the base of your palm pad.
When you squeeze your fingers the sabre should cut forwards, as the ring and pinkie fingers push the grip into your palm pad.
You should hold the sabre firmly in your fingers and palm, with enough give for it move in your hand when you squeeze.
The older texts describe it variously as “holding a baby bird in your hand – not so hard as to crush it, but not so loose as to let it fly away”.*
I prefer to think of it as holding a giant paintbrush, or a long drumstick. Your finger actions, along with the natural accompanying wrist and elbow mobility, should suffice to you to move the tip of the sabre in whatever direction you desire.
Why is this the right way to hold a sabre, and not the others? Here are some reasons:
It gives you range: Holding the sabre with your fingers near the pommel gives you the maximum possible extension from your shoulder to the tip of the sabre.
This extra range is often 3 or 4 inches once you add in all the transient extension of the various muscles and ligaments along the kinetic chain of the arm…in other words, enough to make the difference between an epic counterattack and an embarrassing fail.
It keeps you safe: You keep the thumb well away from the guard – about an inch or so, unless you have gigantic paws. You also put the middle joint of your index finger between your thumb and the guard.
All up, the next time you clash guards with your opponent the worse that will happen is a bruised knuckle and possibly a blister on your thumb from slipping forward – a much better outcome than the fractured and dislocated thumb joint.
It forces you to do things right: Or at least passionately encourages you to adopt good cutting and parrying actions.
The grip forces you to manipulate the sabre like a precision tool, not a hatchet. It makes it easy to guide the tip effortlessly towards your target for whip-fast touches.
Indeed, it shows you why the hoary old farts keep insisting on calling sabre cuts “touches”, because that’s what they feel like to deliver (they still feel like cuts on the receiving end). It lets you make actions as fast as you can type on a keyboard, giving you staccato parry-ripostes that your opponent cannot hope to escape.
Most importantly, a good grip prevents you from overloading your wrist/forearm muscles. Elbow tendonitis will be a thing of your past.
There you have it. Hold your sabre properly, learn to hit straight, and next time you see a cool alternative way of gripping the sabre go and check if they are sporting a compression bandage first.
*This is a terrible analogy, and your bird will bite you.