Drills for Foil Fencing
Develop impressive skills via perfect practice
Drills are an important part of developing new skills, and Foil is no exception. They can be formal or informal. General or highly specific, low or high intensity. They vary by instructor, teacher, club, and discipline: so if you need/want to modify one of these, do so. The important thing is to learn the techniques correctly, specifics of how that is done are immaterial.
Centering Drill: Feet in ready position, 90 degree angle, leading foot pointing forward and its heel rests against the rear foot. Raise front toe, hold for 10 count, relax back down. Raise rear heel, hold for 10, relax. Repeat both steps. Now, raise both front toe and rear heel - don't fall! 10 count and relax back down. That was the centering drill, I usually tack this next progression on to develop comfort with the on guard position. Ready? From the Ready position, step out onto on guard, repeat foot movements and counts from the centering drill. The only difference is now there is a shoulder width of space between your heels. Got that? OK, now from on guard, go up on your toes, straighten your knees (they weren't straight before I hope...). Then sink down as low as you can, staying on your toes, without touching the ground. And back up again. Repeat 5 times, go slow, and do not touch the ground with anything but your toes.
Slow Advance: Advance slowly the length of a basketball court. Start at on guard, Raise front toe, step one foot length, bring rear foot back to on guard. If in a small room, go a few times across the long way. This can be done holding a foil, however the foil will need to be gripped correctly.
Slow Retreat: I usually couple this one with the slow advance for greater efficiency (advance down, retreat back). From On Guard, raise the rear heel, step about one foot length back, and bring the front foot back into On Guard. Go for the same distance as you did for the advance.
Footwork Combo's: Typically I do something like Double advance, retreat, lunge! down the floor and Double retreat, advance, lunge! back. Sometimes a half advance, parry, crossover, or ballestra will be included in the combo. Parries should go immediately before the lunge to mimic the parry-reposte. The idea is to get people comfortable with transitioning between different footwork and to make movements automatic. Common errors include: not watching ones own footwork, not maintaining minimum feet spacing, and sloppy lunges. Do not tolerate these errors. Heap on extra drills to reverse mistakes, like sloppy lunges trigger practice lunges...lots of practice lunges...
Simon Says: periodically play Simon says. You are well aware of how the game works, so I won't bore you with details. Just do it using foot work and footwork combo's. People who move at the wrong time or fail to move when they should have to start over. Don't allow sitting around by losers, it breeds loosing on purpose to take a break or to chat. Take water breaks for resting or chatting, it does not belong in the drills. Simon will give his instructions concerning footwork, the winner is the one that traverses the length of the floor first.
The Following exercise: Line up students along a wall (or a couple of steps out from it), then take your place front and center, half the room length away and advance, retreat, reposte, or lower your arm. The students need to maintain their distance from you the whole time. You advance, they retreat. You retreat, they advance. You reposte, they retreat. You recover, they advance. Lower your arm and they lunge, bring it back and they recover back. If footwork and timing are proper, distance will be maintained. If not, you will end up with the students (or your fellow clubbers) very close. Another benefit of this exercise is it trains visual clues and responses, which shortens the OODA loop.
Lunges: Find a mirror or a partner and do 10-20 lunges from right handed on guard and left handed on guard positions. Go slow and watch your form, try to get your lunge perfect. It does not have to be super long, just maintain a solid, well balanced lunge. Recovery from the lunge to on guard should be done as lightly as possible. Proper form for the lunge is to have your rear foot firmly on the ground, 90 degrees from the direction of lunging; rear leg straight, body upright and relaxed, weapon arm extended (lead the lunge by extending the weapon arm), front knee directly above the front ankle. If the ankle is too far out, recovery will be slow - if the knee is too far out, it will be damaged by the stress of repeated lunges. These can be done with or without a foil.
Circling: This is an elementary blade control exercise to build fine motor control and teach proper blade movement. Find something round and trace circles around it with the point of your foil. Ideally the round object will be small or very far away (clock from across a large room, doorknob from across a regular/large room. something on that order). If the exercise is too easy, find something smaller or double check your form. Make 10 clockwise circles, then 10 counter clockwise. Now do 10 "U" shaped arc's along the bottom of the object, and 10 upside down "U's" to round out the exercise.
Parry-Reposte: the parry reposte combo is to fencing what blocking and tackling is to football: the bread and meat. The heart. This is what makes fencing, fencing - and not grappling or darts. I find that beginners detest this exercise, but do it anyway because it is useful for developing correct responses. Go slow, this is a drill, not a stupid waste of time. The standard drill runs thusly: Fencer A extends his foil toward Fencer B, in a slow reposte, Fencer B Parries, and repostes. Hitting Fencer A in the chest. Usually all action is carried out in the four line, which is most natural and will probably be done automatically. To mix it up a bit, try the action on a different line, or specify a target that must be hit in the final reposte (eg., sword arm shoulder). Rotate partners every so often and make sure everyone has a chance to be Fencer B (from above). New partners every so often will help keep interest.
Golf Ball: Hang a golf ball on a string in an odd corner of your garage and practice point control by lunging or reposting and hitting the ball. Don't go crazy on this one, Stop the ball from swinging after you hit it. Later as you improve you may let it keep swinging, but don't let it destroy your form. This is one that you can do with a stick if you don't own a foil yet, it's a great skill builder.
Target Specific bouting. Fence a three touch bout, the target is a specific part of the body like sword arm shoulder, back, stomach, groin, throat, chest, rear shoulder, etc. only hits on the target count. No lines or other marks should be made to identify the target area, the hits need to come in places where everyone can agree that it is on target. For inst ace, a hit to the shoulder needs to hit the shoulder, not the pec muscle or the lung region, the actual literal shoulder.
These drills and there infinite variations should keep you, your friends, and your club busy with training exercises for all occasions. Check by my blog periodically for new variations or drills to keep going. In the mean time, you now have every thing you need to begin your journey in to the wide world of foil fencing. Have fun and be safe!
Erik Schlagel, December 7, 2009