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At MASHS, both the French and Italian systems are explored.  Resource material for the French system is derived from a book by 19th century fencing master Claude La Marche entitled, The Dueling Sword (translated by Brian House and published by Palladin Press, 2009).  Supplemental resource for the French system is from Clovis Deladrier’s 1948 book, Modern Fencing (Arco Publishing Company, 1973).  The resource material for the Italian system is from the work of Maestro Luigi Barbasetti, as presented in his book, The Art of the Sabre and the Epee (E.P. Dutton, 1936), with supplemental material from Maestro William Gaugler’s, The Science of Fencing (Laureate Press, 1977, 2004).


Goal/Milestone:  Understanding the theory of dueling with the epee, and the basic mechanics of its use.

  • Historical context

  • The weapons, the differences between French and Italian swords.

  • The target areas, the four quadrants.

  • The basic guards and hand positions:

    • French:  Prime, Seconde, Tierce, Quarte, Quinte, Sixte, Septime, and Octave

    • Italian:  Prima, Seconda, Terza, Quarta, 2nd in 3rd, and 3rd in 4th

  • The fencing measure.

  • Footwork; advance, retreat, lunges (both forward and reverse), and the Fleche.


Goal/Milestone:  Learning how to attack with the dueling sword.

  • The Theory of the Attack; Understanding Tempo.

  • Invitations, Engagements, Disengagements.

  • Simple Direct Attacks:  Straight Thrust.

  • Indirect Attacks: After the Disengage.


Goal/Milestone:  Learning the use of feints to set up compound attacks.

  • Simple Feints.

  • Feints After the Disengagement.

  • Feints During the Advance.

  • Double Feints.



Goal/Milestone:  Learning how to attack your opponent’s blade in order to open lines for offensive actions against your opponent.

  • The Beat.

  • The Press.

  • The Glide (Coule).

  • The Cutover (Coupe).

  • The Expulsion (Froissement).


Goal/Milestones:  Learning how to defend against opponent’s attacks.

  • The Parries: French  (* most commonly used parries)

    • Quarte*: to protect against attacks to the high line inside.

    • Low Quarte (Septime)*: to protect against attacks to the low line inside.

    • Sixte*: to protect against attacks to the high line outside.

    • Low Sixte (Octave)*: to protect against attacks to the low line outside.

    • Tierce: to protect against attacks to the high line outside.

    • Seconde*: to protect against attacks to the low line outside.

    • Quinte: to protect against attacks to the low line inside.

  • The Parries: Italian

    • Prima:  to protect against attacks to the low line inside.

    • Seconda:  to protect against attacks to low line outside.

    • Terza:  to protect against attacks to the high line outside.

    • Quarta:  to protect against attacks to the high line inside.

  • Parrying with Opposition

  • Parrying with the Beat

  • Parrying with the Bell Guard


Goal/Milestones:  Learning what to do after you’ve successfully parried your opponent’s attacks.

  • The Riposte: simple direct, indirect.

  • Counter Riposte.

  • Actions with First Intentions.

  • Second Intentions:  Remise, Redoubling.

  • The Bind (done as an attack).

  • Cross, Envelopment (done as a parry riposte).

  • Actions into Tempo upon the Opponent’s Attack:

  • Stop Thrusts.

  • Disengagement into Tempo.

  • The Inquartata, Volta.



Goals/Milestones:  Understanding the dynamics of bouting and dueling.

  • The Bout and the Duel.

  • General Principles:

    • Assessing your opponent.

    • Maintaining your cool, being patient.

    • Excel in point control, and keep point on line.

    • Fencing engaged or disengaged.

    • Measure and timing.

    • Think attack and counterattack, rather than defense.

    • Keep moving, and stay in guard while moving.

  • Fencing Against a Left Hander.

  • Dealing with Opponents of Differing Height.



As part of our training in the use of the dueling sword, great importance is placed on the need to have a good body posture and good footwork.  This is true with all of swordplay, and is absolutely vital to achieve success in the duel (or in the case of the modern practitioner, the bout).  The goal is to be able to move in a manner that provides stability for successful blade actions, yet allows for the flexibility needed to adjust to the subtle changes in tempo and measure that is characteristic of fencing.  Put simply, you have to have good footwork so that when you encounter your opponent you can focus most on your blade work.  The integration between blade work and footwork is paramount to good swordsmanship.  Thus, equal importance is placed on the hand positions with the dueling weapons.   The hand positions are the foundation from which all the guards, invitations, engagements, and ultimately the attacks are derived. 


As we continue this discussion, remember that the target can be divided into four quadrants as it relates to your opponent’s sword.  If you visualize two lines, one vertical and one horizontal, intersecting at the guard of the sword, you now have the four quadrants.  These are named high outside, high inside, low inside, and low outside as it relates to the body.  The phrase “lines of attack” characterizes the direction of your attack into one of the quadrants.


So how do the hand positions relate to blade work?  Here’s how:


  • The hand positions relate directly to the guards, each of which protects one of the four quadrants.  Once you assume one of the guards, you have closed that quadrant off from your opponent’s attack, leaving the other three quadrants vulnerable to an attack.

  • Because you are aware that the guard in which you position yourself only protects you in that one quadrant, you are “inviting” your opponent to attack in one of the other quadrants.  The key in the invitation is to anticipate and even direct your opponent’s attack so that you in turn can successfully defend and counterattack.  Note that often the guard and invitation have the same purpose and are interchangeable in fencing pedagogy.

  • In the invitation, there is no contact with your opponent’s sword.  The phrase “fencing open” is often used to describe this situation.   However, once you make contact with your opponent’s sword, you have now come to the engagement. 

  • From the engagement typically, but not always, comes the attack.  With the dueling sword there are many times when you can successfully land an attack without engaging your opponent’s sword, especially when you are doing a direct attack with a beat, or counter attacks such as stop thrusts or voids.  However, if you do a direct attack with opposition, you obviously will be making contact with your opponent’s blade.

  • The hand positions are essential to the defense against your opponent’s attacks.  When parrying you must use the proper hand position in order for the parry to be successful.


You can perhaps see that each part of blade work flows one from the other until it culminates in the attack, and all of this comes from the hand positions.  Thus:


Hand positions = Guards = Invitations = Engagements/Disengagements = Attacks + Parries = Riposte + Counter attacks


So what are the hand positions used in the dueling sword? 


In the French system, there are essentially two, namely the hand in supination (palm up) and the hand in pronation (palm down).  Prime, seconde, tierce, and quinte are performed in pronation.  Quarte, low quarte (septime), sixte, and low sixte (octave) are performed in supination.


In the Italian system, there are six hand positions as follows:


  1. Prima.  The palm of your hand is turned to the outside and the cross bar of the sword is vertical. 

  2. Seconda.  The palm of your hand is turned down (pronated) and the cross bar of the sword is horizontal.

  3. Terza.  The palm of your hand is turned to the inside and the cross bar of the sword is vertical.

  4. Quarta.  The palm of your hand is turned up (supinated) and the cross bar of the sword is horizontal.

  5. 2nd in 3rd.  The hand is turned so that the cross bar is on an angle with the high end pointed to the inside and the low end pointed to the outside.  In this position the flat side of the blade is facing downward.

  6. 3rd in 4th.   The hand is turned so that the cross bar is on angle with the high end pointed to the outside and the low end pointed to the inside.  In this position the flat side of the blade is facing upward.


An important observation to make is that within each of the systems, not all the hand positions have practical application to the art of the dueling sword.  In the French system the invitations, engagements and parries in Quarte, Sixte, Seconde, Octave and Septime have the greatest efficacy.  Tierce can also be used.  Prime and Quinte have limited application and is seldom, if ever, used.  In the Italian system, the invitations, engagements, and parries in first, second, third and fourth, with their respective hand positions, are the most practical.  However, note here also that the second and third invitations can be performed with one of two hand positions.  It is note worthy that the hand positions of prima, seconda, terza, and quarta are derived from the rapier systems of the Renaissance period.


This may all seem very confusing.  So, let me conclude with a few observations that may make this discussion less daunting.  First, just focus on the system of your choice and not worry about learning the other.  Second, despite the many variations between the French and the Italian systems, the two share many common hand positions.  Third, in the final analysis when it comes to the dueling sword there really are only a few ways in which the practitioner can execute successful blade work.  

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