When we started Sydney Sabre there were few guides for teaching adults how to fence. The syllabi and books we found focused on children and the foil, the standard training weapon of civilian duelists for centuries. Rarely did people pick up the sword for the first time as adults; rarer still to do so for fun.
The sabre, of course, was a military sword and taught to soldiers through drills and manuals. But these are minimally applicable to the modern sport.
So we developed our own guide. The Sydney Sabre Course (hereafter, “the Course”) has gone through about a dozen revisions in the last decade, occasionally snapshotted in print, but more often ephemeral in the minds of the instructors.
Please note that these Course articles are written for the instructor. It assumes the reader knows how to fence sabre and is teaching students who have never fenced before. It is not designed to be read by people new to fencing. Those topics are covered in the book.
The Course follows three principles.
The first is that sabre is meant to be fun. No one should be training for a swordfight, college entry, or Olympic glory. Sabre is a game, like tennis or chess or Streetfighter Turbo Edition. We teach the most important parts of the game first, and those parts are how to play and referee it. We leave the full range of moves and tactics and technical details to the end, if we cover them at all. Those of you who have learned fencing before will recognise that this is the reverse of a traditional approach.
The second is that sabre is a combat sport. Both combat and sport can only be learned by doing. Underpinning but unmentioned in the notes for each class — the contents of the Course — are the many hours of bouts and mentoring that we thrust students into from their first exposure to sabre. Not for the us the old dictums that a student should only train with the master, perhaps even without a sword, for their first weeks or months or years and only afterwards be permitted to bout for the first time, for fear that they would adopt bad habits from too early an exposure to combat.
We don’t agree. Better to fight ugly than get thrashed prettily. We can always make an ugly fighter prettier. We can’t always make a pretty poser a fighter.
The third principle is that sabre is diverse and ever changing. There are many ways to win, and new ways are developed every year. The idea that sabre somehow crystallised into a platonic ideal ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years ago is wrong. Sabre is combat, and combat is alive.
The sabre is an equaliser. You can always win, no matter how tall or strong or fast you are. You can always do something that will work for you, against this opponent, at this moment. You just have to figure what that is, in time.
Thus the purpose of the Course is to teach how sabre fencing works, not a definitive way of doing sabre, or even a particular style of sabre.
Each Level focuses on a theme, divided into 10 classes. Each class introduces a new concept or move. A class about a move is typically followed by a class about the countermove. Every class should start from the 4-metre (4m) situation – the start of each exchange in sabre – even if the class is about a different situation.
As long as you can move, you can fence, regardless of age or form. You just have to fence your way.
Introduction to Sabre
Level 1: Basics
Week 4: Disengage Attack
Week 5: Sweep Defence
Week 6: Lunge
Week 7: Counterattack
Week 8: Beats
Week 9: Point-in-Line
Week 10: The Tactical Wheel
Level 2: Timing
Week 11: Watching in the 4m zone
Week 12: Advance-Lunge
Week 13: Retreat Punch Parry-Riposte
Week 14: Double-Advance-Lunge
Week 15: Counterattack by Attack-on-Preparation
Week 16: Flying Lunge (“Flunge”)
Week 17: Crossover-Retreat
Week 18: Lunge-Extensions
Week 19: Forward Punch Parry-Riposte
Week 20: Tempo and Footwork Variations
Level 3: Trajectories
Week 21: 4m zone Attack-in-Preparation
Week 22: Low-line Attacks
Week 23: Guard Parry 2 (Seconde) and low 4 (Quarte)
Week 24: Through-cut/Bunderoll attack
Week 25: Guard Parry 1 (Prime)
Week 26: Feint-Disengage Attack
Week 27: Circle Parries
Week 28: Feint-Cutover Attack
Week 29: Counterattack by Stop-Cut
Week 30: Blade Trajectories and the Point-of-no-Escape
Level 4: Tactics
Week 31: 4m zone Traps
Week 32: Defence by feint-opening / feint-sweeps / ‘fishing’, counterattack with opposition
Week 33: Preparatory feints on attack
Week 34: Defence by feint-counterattack, parry-riposte
Week 35: Beat-attacks
Week 36: Disengage stop-cut, parry-riposte
Week 37: Bind-attacks
Week 38: Point-in-Line Traps
Week 39: Counterparries
Week 40: Vorschlag, Nachschlag, Ausweichplan
Level 5: Strategies
Week 41: Archetype – Watcher (Reaction)
Week 42: Watcher with step-bounce preparation
Week 43: Watcher with slide preparation
Week 44: Archetype – Grinder (Intimidation)
Week 45: Grinder with lunge-extension
Week 46: Grinder with opposition-attack
Week 47: Archetype – Tank (Interception)
Week 48: Tank with double-advance preparation
Week 49: Tank as Reaper
Week 50: The Trickster and your unique Style