Q&A: On training without electrics and games to teach right-of-way and gaining priority

Hey Sydney Sabre,

I started a free youth sabre club in the States in XXXX.  Not a lot of parents can afford electric gear so I have been coaching dry. This has the kids fencing clean as I am training them to ref as well. Without electric gear would you say they will be behind the speed game of electric fencers? 

A beginner game we play is toss a coin to see who gets priority first and that person cannot stop moving forward (any speeds) until an attack is made and if it misses or is parried then the other person now cannot stop moving forward until an attack is made. To stop is to give a point away. I did this because some kids would never be able to gain priority first due to various physical conditions vs other students and it helps grasp row.

I’d be happy to know your thoughts. 

Thank you.


Hi A,

Great to hear from you, and what a wonderful initiative you’ve made in XXXX.

Re: electric gear.

I don’t think your fencers will be behind the speed game of ‘electric fencers’ because they train without electrics, though there may be some other areas where they may find themselves at a slight disadvantage. This disadvantage may well be more than outweighed by the advantages of training without electrics – which is why we typically train all of our students in classes and lessons without electrics, and only give them electrics for bouting and a handful of drills involving counterattacks.

Electrics give your fencers feedback on the cut-off time of 180ms. This is only applicable in the following situations: 

  1. Counterattacking without (a complete) opposition, e.g. counterattacking forwards (“attack on preparation” or “AoP”) without entirely blocking out the attack.
  2. Counterattacking and dodging, e.g. counterattacking backwards (“stop cut”) while attempting to pull out of distance (e.g. with a “draw cut” or “skyhook”)
  3. Remising through a parry before the opponent can riposte.

These situations should be rare.

Training without electrics means you must do 1 and 2 perfectly (i.e. AoP with complete opposition, and stop cut without getting hit at all), and either avoid 3 or, if you do attack and get parried, counter-parry the opponent’s riposte. These are good skills to train.

Training with electrics means that you can score with 1, 2 and 3. These are easy to do when the opponent is a beginner, and when you have a significant physical or technical advantage over them. These are also bad habits; while you may score with them in a bout, they are not skills that you would want to rely on.

Electrics are useful in situational drills where two fencers of similar ability are practicing counterattacks, and in bouts. In bouts, electrics helps the referee make the call, especially in exchanges where there is messy blade contact or grazing hits, and helps fencers maintain good technique – mainly by enabling their opponent to score opportunistic counterattacks when bladework is wild or distance misjudged.

Re: your beginner game.

Sounds like a good drill! 

We used to do similar variations: e.g. replacing the coin with rock-paper-scissors; giving one fencer the initial priority 5 points in a row, then switching to the other; etc. My grandcoach Nikolay – and us, these days – favour a variation where we start near one end of the piste. We call these the “March” and “Wall” drills; they are useful for two fencers of similar ability to practice attacking with priority and defending without.

Re: “I did this because some kids would never be able to gain priority first due to various physical conditions”.

We teach many young students with physical and psychological conditions; we’re glad fencing seems to help them, and somewhat irked that we seem to get them after other sports and sports clubs have given up on them.

One of things we say to students, of all ages and abilities, is that the sabre is a great equalizer. There’s always a way to win, no matter who you’re up against. You just have to know how, for this opponent, in this moment.

Which brings me to the subject of winning priority, or right-of-way (ROW) in the 4m zone.

While it is not always possible for a particular fencer to attack fast enough to be given priority by the referee against an opponent who also attacks, but faster, there is always a way for a particular fencer to win priority. The way may be difficult, and the window of opportunity may be small, but there is always way.

For example: 

  • The fencer may pretend to attack – badly – and pull away from their opponent’s attack at the last moment to make it fall short.
    • Or they may substitute the fall short with a parry riposte with a retreat. 
    • Or they may substitute the retreat with an advance, a “forward parry riposte”. 
  • Or they may do none of these things, and pretend to retreat, anticipate the opponent extending their attack or chasing, then attack-in-preparation with a short lunge. 
  • Or pretend to rush forwards to induce their opponent’s “attack-in-preparation” and stop cut.
    • Or substitute the stop cut with a parry riposte. 
    • Or combine the two – a stop cut parry riposte. 
  • Or deploy a point-in-line from the start, disrobe their opponent’s beat and take priority. Or just substitute the disrobement with a fall short, parry riposte, etc. 

I’m sure you’re all across these anyway and I appreciate you humouring me by reading this far. 😃

For our part, the most common situation we encounter of this type is when we have veterans or children still developing their gross motor control. We usually teach them initially as a “tank” archetype with double-advance preparation, then tweak from there.

Hope this helps.



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