Practicing fencing at home keeps your game at its best.
Although practicing at home is inadvisable for beginners, you should definitely start doing some at-home fencing exercises once you’ve nailed the basics. After all, when you don’t practice at home, it’s harder to retain what you learn during your lessons and progressing becomes more difficult.
If you’re just fencing for fun and aren’t concerned with competing or even becoming the best fencer at your club, practicing fencing at home probably isn’t your first priority. But even if you belong to that crowd, you shouldn’t dismiss the importance of doing fencing exercises at home.
Practicing your fencing techniques at home cements what you learn from your coach, reinforces good habits, and makes you a better fencer. All that means more winning in the long run, and who doesn‘t like winning their fencing bouts?
No one, that’s who. So let’s get down to business: Here are seven ways you can practice fencing at home.
Good footwork is the foundation of excellent fencing, so let’s start there. Here are three fencing footwork exercises you can practice at home.
Fencing Exercise #1: Shadow Fencing
This exercise involves moving around as if you’re fencing someone, but the opponent is in your head. Shadow fencing works best when you imagine your partner executing specific actions and then you respond with an action that would effectively counter it.
Focusing on the most minute details of how you execute these actions and doing it repetitively will help turn them into automatic responses. You can also use shadow fencing to make your footwork smooth and balanced. We also encourage you to practice different footwork combinations so you don’t get stuck in a rut during your bouts.
You can get the most out of this exercise by specifying which scenarios you want to run ahead of time. For instance:
Opponent attempts to execute feint-disengage from six to four on a flèche or flunge. You maintain optimal distance by taking quick retreats and executing parry circle-six to parry four, then riposting from a standing en garde position before your opponent passes.
Shadow fencing will also benefit you the most if you time yourself rather than simply stopping whenever you feel like it. We recommend doing this exercise for 20 minutes at least weekly.
Fencing Exercise #2: Footwork Sequences
You can also get out of your footwork rut by practicing sets of pre-planned footwork sequences. Imagining an opponent isn’t crucial for this exercise, but doing that as you’re creating the sequences will increase the chances that they can actually work on the fencing piste.
Here are some footwork sequences you try at home:
- Two slow advances, fast lunge, recover backward
- Two quick advances, jump back, lunge, recover backward
- Two slow advances, balestra, lunge, recover backward
- Cross-backward, two quick retreats, half-retreat, lunge, recover back
- Quickly advance and lunge, recover forward, three slow advances, lunge, recover back
- Quickly advance and short lunge, quickly recover back and retreat twice, lunge, recover back
As you can see, the best way to do this exercise is to alternate between offensive and defensive sequences that progressively become complex. We also highly recommend building tempo and size changes into the sequences.
As with shadow fencing, we recommend timing yourself. If you want to use this exercise to build endurance, do each one for two minutes and take a minute break in between. And remember, carefully paying attention to your technique while practicing with intensity will yield the most benefits.
Fencing Exercise #3: Mirror Practice
You can use a tall and wide mirror to refine the tiniest components of your footwork. By executing your footwork slowly in front of the mirror and paying attention to what your legs, feet, torso, arms, and hands are doing, you can identify your problem areas and correct them on the spot.
Let’s take your lunge as an example. If you were to practice your lunge in the mirror, you’d lunge slowly, pay attention to its component parts, and focus on correcting errors on subsequent lunges. Here are just some of the things you’d focus on when lunging in front of the mirror:
- Extending first
- Landing heel-toe
- Keeping your chest up and back straight
- Throwing your non-weapon hand back
- Straightening out your back leg and bending your front leg
- Keeping your feet flat on the ground
- Recovering smoothly and quickly with balance
Unlike the other two exercises, this drill works best if you aim for a certain number of lunges. We recommend doing 60 lunges to begin with, the first 30 being slow and the last 30 being explosive. Ideally, the last 10 should be perfect (assuming you put in the right amount of effort).
Of course, fencing isn’t all footwork; it’s also bladework. Let’s discuss how you can achieve dexterous and elegant bladework by practicing at home.
Fencing Exercise #4: Target Practice
You can use a martial arts training dummy to practice hitting in different target areas. Alternatively, you can create a makeshift target with a few heavy jackets and a coach’s training vest, which you can easily purchase from H.O.M. Fencing Supply. You can also hang a tennis ball from the ceiling or some other kind of beam to practice your point control.
You can get the most out of your target practice by hitting from your maximum scoring distance, depending on whether you’re trying to hit with just an extension, a lunge, or a lunge preceded by a footwork sequence. Your maximum scoring distance is the absolute furthest away you can be from your opponent and still get a touch. That varies depending on which weapon you use, however.
- Sabreists should try to hit with the top inch or two of the blade.
- Foilists should bend the blade just slightly when hitting.
- Epeeists should also just barely bend the blade on the touch.
Either way, you should start simple and progressively become more complex. Here’s an example of that: Extensions > Advance-Extensions > Lunges > Advance Lunges > Advance, Balestra Lunges > etc.
Fencing Exercise #5: Door Parries
You can use a door, post, wall, or even a bookshelf to practice making small parries. It’s simple: you stand in en garde close enough to the surface that you can’t move your hand more than a few inches when you parry. You can also strengthen your riposte reflex by extending your arm immediately after each parry.
We recommend starting with 80 parries, not necessarily in the following order:
- 20 circle-six ripostes
- 20 parry-eight ripostes
- 20 parry-four ripostes
- 20 parry-seven ripostes
Just make sure you wear a glove while doing this exercise so you don’t hurt your hand. This exercise works best for parries four, six, seven, and eight.
If you feel like practicing your disengages at home, all you need is a round doorknob and your foil, epee, or sabre.
Your goal is to disengage around the knob, keeping your blade as close to it as possible without ever touching it. You can manage that by using your wrist to do the disengages, but you’ll perfect your disengages by using only your fingers to maneuver the weapon.
You should also alternate between complete circles and half circles, both clockwise and counter-clockwise. And when doing the half-circles, you can further focus on disengaging around the doorknob’s left hand side, right hand side, bottom half, and top half.
Use that martial arts dummy to practice making 100 quick and smooth touches. The touches can be of any sort — straight attacks, parry-ripostes, in-fighting — but you can get the most out of it by following five simple rules:
- Use a variety of parries and feint-deceptions
- Hit in different target areas
- Start simple before going complex
- Never do the same action twice in a row
- Move quickly — no long pauses in between touches
The first fifty touches should be made from extension distance and the last fifty touches from lunge distance. And remember that you should always try to hit from maximum scoring distance, whether you’re hitting with an extension or a lunge.
Maximizing At Home Practice
Those are all the exercises you need to start practicing at home. But before you start using them, let’s discuss five tips that will help you maximize these exercises.
Pro-Tip #1: Practice Slowly
You should always start each exercise by going slowly. Either do the first half of the exercise slowly, or warm up to the exercise by doing a few slow iterations of the actions.
The point of beginning slowly is to reinforce good form and technique. Practicing slowly also allows you to execute proper form when you use the techniques in actual fencing bouts.
Pro-Tip #2: Be Mindful
Along the same lines of practicing slowly, pay attention to what your body is doing at every stage of practice. For instance:
- Keep your knees bent when in en garde
- Maintain a proper en garde position with your hand
- Keep your shoulders relaxed whether you’re attacking or defending
You should also stay aware of how your arm or feet recover from attacks and recover to good distance whenever you finish an attack.
Pro-Tip #3: Use Your Phone
You can take fencing mindfulness to the next level by recording yourself as you practice. The recordings should only be about 20-40 seconds long. When you review yourself doing the fencing actions, you’ll be able to identify problem areas that you might not have been aware of before.
Pro-Tip #4: Practice Routinely
Good fencing requires consistent at-home practice, so it should be a weekly or nearly daily occurrence depending on your fencing goals. Just like maintaining a workout routine, make sure you set aside time for at-home practice and keep it sacred. Also make sure that you practice with as much intensity as you would during a lesson with your coach.
Pro-Tip #5: Be Safe
Most importantly of all, please stay safe! Stretch out and warm up before beginning your practice sessions so you reduce your risk of injury. Please make sure no one else is around when you’re practicing with a weapon in hand so they don’t accidentally get hurt. Similarly, vacate the area of all fragile objects. And if you plan on practicing with someone else, make sure you’re both completely geared up!
Before you start using these exercises, talk to your coach about what they think you should be working on at home. They can help you put together an effective at-home fencing practice plan that’s best for you.
And if you are ready to start practicing at home, that means you’re ready to fence people with considerably more experience than you. If you want to take your fencing to the next level, visit Swordplay LA on Monday nights for open fencing at 7:30pm. See you soon!