Updated: Jul 30, 2020
Meme credit: The Fencing Coach
It’s been a few weeks since we sabre fencers received the word from On High that the en garde lines were to be moved back to 4 meters. The FIE graciously allowed us to explore the complexities of the sabre “off the line” game in three different distances this season–4 meters, back foot on the en garde line, 3 meters–and now we’re back to where we started at four meters.
I’ll tell you my thoughts on each distance but first, please take this informal poll:
1. Back foot on the line.
This was the first distance in the Great Experiment. Also lovingly termed the “Russian Box of Death” by Sydney Sabre Centre to award credit where credit is due, this distance was my least favorite by far. In a sport where a touch can be scored or missed by a matter of less than half an inch, making the starting distance dependent on the height of one’s opponent proved extremely challenging. It was too hard to pull off setups off the line due to the extreme variability. Referees had difficulty making calls since there was no time or distance to see the fencers’ intentions. If both fencers were tall (not remotely an issue for yours truly), their blades could cross while in the en garde position. Not only is this against the rules, but could have lead to major injuries.
2. Three meters
I LOVED THIS DISTANCE. Three meters proved to be the sweet spot for me. Suddenly I was no longer getting called for preparation while I was going for an attack off the line. I could keep up with the speed of the younger fencers. My setups were wily, oily traps from which few escaped. *Preplanned actions for the win!* I gained confidence in the middle. Once I got used to the discomfort of having my opponent closer during a push, the distance made defensive provokes and false counterattacks things of beauty that actually worked for me. My mobile game got more complex and more fun.
Unfortunately, this was not safe for the aforementioned tall fencers. I really think the main reason we went back to the 4 meters was because anyone three inches taller than me was in danger of being hurt. The very athletic nature of the elite fencers would have put them at risk too. Although I regret not being able to play more with this distance, I understand why it’s better for everyone to move back. *sigh*
3. Four meters
The first night we moved back to the four meters my legs wondered what in the heck was going on. They had to work so much harder. My opponent seemed so far away. We waved “hello” from across the en garde lines at each other in jest. Somehow I was still keeping up with the younger fencers (maybe all that confidence gained in the middle over the past few months will continue to serve me well) but they KEPT GETTING AWAY. Since we start farther apart, the pursuit and attack distances are also greater. It takes a lot more effort to get into the right distance to hit one’s opponent.
But…I have to admit that it’s fun to have the preparation steps back. Preplanned actions are still a must, of course, but now the “eyes open” aspect of sabre has returned. Although I have forgotten some of the slimy tricks I used to have in my repertoire, the greater distance gives me time to figure out new ones.
At the end of the day, I’ll fence at the distance the rules tell me to and will find a way to make it work. My only hope is that the powers that be will leave us alone now and stop changing the distance every few months. I don’t know of another sport that would have altered their athletes’ playing distance so often–imagine if the NBA changed the height of their hoops or the NHL the size of their ice four times in one season!
Which starting distance do you prefer? Why?