So, the FIE COMEX wants to change the rules of sabre again.
20-odd years ago, the rules of sabre were changed to ban all attacks where the back foot crosses in front of the front foot. Essentially, they banned running. They also banned the kind of flashy cross-step attack known as the flèche.
Now they want to bring it back.
We’re fine with this, with some reservations.
Here’s the official video where someone who may or may not be Dr Gennady Tyshler explains why bringing back the flèche is a good idea:
The basic argument can be summarised as:
- Flèche is an elegant, natural movement
- If you ban it, you get flunge, which the video’s maker feels is ugly
- If you allow flèche, it’s easier to make explosive defensive actions
We can make a few quibbles here: Most of the video shows bounce footwork, which is totally irrelevant to the proposal. Flunge is really not the cause of excessive leg musculature in fencers (and why this is a even thing we should consider bad I do not understand). We have never heard a single spectator complaint about flunge. All of the examples of flunge shown are from fencers who, much as we love them, are never very elegant doing anything (Dershwitz, Kim Junghwan, Curatoli) and not from fencers who make flunge a thing of beauty (Homer, Ibragimov, Berre, Kim Junho).
Leaving aside that subjective feelings about whether an action is “ugly” is a terrible basis on which to make rules in a professional combat sport, there’s some major pros and cons here:
Flèche is, yes, a more natural movement than flunge (an action I’ve never done successfully in my life). It may well be a safer way to finish fast attacks. We’re all for good biomechanics, and we can’t really argue that this is a much more normal way for humans to go forwards.
Also it looks pretty fun.
It allows faster change of direction.
If you’re going backwards, being able to flèche allows you to change direction and make a successful hit into an attacker who’s holding more easily than any existing sabre footwork. It could make counterattack more powerful and restore some of the imbalance that was created by the 2016 timing change.
It makes the attack even more overpowered than it is already.
We’re prepared to bet that giving the attacker a powerful new finishing option will more than outweigh any advantage that the defender gets from being able to change direction a bit quicker.
We leave as an exercise to the reader the question of how to defend against Oh Sanguk under a set of rules where Oh Sanguk is basically allowed to straight-up run at you.
The proposed implementation breaks the best bit of sabre.
So that we don’t have to deal with the true horror of having Oh Sanguk being allowed to actually just flat-out run at people (and hosing the blood off the walls afterwards), the proposal is to retain the ban on all forms of crossing except for “correctly executed” flèche.
This means that if a flèche fails to hit successfully, the match is supposed to halt, and the fencer who attempted to flèche gets a yellow card.
Picture this: We’ve finally managed to get a match out of the 4m box. Excitement is happening. The attacker launches, and with some feat of beautiful distance work the defender gets out of range. The attack misses.
And we all stop, stand there awkwardly for a few seconds, and start again from simul.
Raise your hand if you think this sounds like an improvement on the current rules.
Yeah, we thought so.
By all means, do the test. We’re skeptical, but that’s what tests are for. Show us it works, and show us it makes the game better.
But don’t ram it down our throats because you think sabre is ugly. Sabre is beautiful, sabre is growing, sabre is evolving.
Let it be free.