Modern Sabre Fencing: What’s Going On.


In this video, I’m going to show you how
to watch a modern sabre match and understand what the hell is going on. I don’t want to do the giant wall of text
thing, so I’m going to talk you through it. I love this sport. It’s dramatic, it’s emotional, it’s
just freaking sexy. Wild upsets happen all the time. It’s great theatre. But it’s also got a reputation for being
super complicated. I don’t buy that. I love live sports from ice hockey to cricket
to American football, and the rules of sabre are right down there on the simple end of
the spectrum. In this video, I’m going to teach you enough
that you can heckle and throw stuff at your TV when the ref gets it wrong, because we
all know that’s where the real fun is. Let’s start! If you’ve never watched a match before,
this bit’s for you. If you already know how scoring works, you
can go to part 2. Let’s start with the absolute basics. The aim of the game is to hit the other player
with a sword. You can hit anywhere from the waist up. When a player hits, a light will turn on. Red for left. Green for right. If only one player hits and there’s only
one light, then that player scores and there’s no arguments. If both players hit, the ref decides who gets
the point. This will be based on who controls the momentum
or the initiative in the fight, or the priority. Priority can be roughly understood as possession
of the attack. You win priority by taking over the momentum
before your opponent. Once you’ve got priority, you’ll get the
point even if both players hit. Just make sure you hit something, and you’re
ok. You lose priority by making a mistake. Any mistake. You miss, or you get parried, or blocked – you
lose priority. Your opponent gets the right to pick it up,
and they probably will. The same applies if you hesitate. You stumble. You trip. You make any kind of mistake, you lose priority. Once you’ve lost priority, it’s up to
you to do the same thing back to them, and this is where the really flashy stuff happens. But there’s also a technical limit. Once you’ve been hit, you have a limited
time to hit back and still get your light to turn on. That window is 170 milliseconds, and in practice,
this forces players to be fast and decisive. If you hesitate, you lose. You’ve been hit with a counterattack. This is, frankly, my favourite part of sabre. There’s also one more way to score: if you
get the other player properly on the run, you can just chase them off the back of the
strip. Sabre’s super fast. But you get used to it. Exchanges in priority can happen multiple
times in a second or two and it takes some practice to learn to follow, but it’s conceptually
super simple. It’s really not rocket science. Where things can get intense is how players
establish priority in the first place. The bulk of actions in sabre take less than
two seconds. both players go immediately forward and try
to hit. Frequently, drama happens. This is the 4-meters, or the box. It can get gnarly, but it’s not conceptually
hard. When the two players face off on the start
lines, nobody has the priority. The first order of business is usually trying
to grab it. There are two core concepts here: You win control of priority by making a clear,
decisive attack before the other player, and Once you’ve got priority, you keep it unless
you make a mistake. So players are trying to do two things when
the ref says go: Attack before the player, or Make a trap, so when the other player attacks,
it ends in a mistake. When your goal is to show the ref you’re
in control of the attack, the simplest way to do it is just attack. If you do this faster than your opponent,
you win, so the incentive is to push pretty hard. Because nobody knows what their opponent is
going to do and nobody has the advantage, it’s super common for both players to make
a simple short attack at the same time: Assuming both players hit, nobody wins here. It’s a draw. Actions are simultaneous. You’re going to see a bunch of these, and
the most common sort is when both players legit just attack at the same time. Simultaneous actions can also happen when
both players make a similar sort of mistake. Both hesitate, or both try to block. It can also happen when both of them make
different types of mistakes. These ones can be a bit confusing because
the actions look different, but the effect is the same: both of them have made a mistake,
so nobody wins. Now let’s look at what happens if one player
actually attacks first. If they make a clear, decisive attack faster
than their opponent, then they’ll win, even if both people hit. If the gap between the start of the attacks
is big, these are pretty easy to see, but professional referees are trained to split these really fine. If you let players get away with hesitating,
it makes setting traps much more difficult, so nobody makes defense, and everything degenerates
into running forwards every point. Splitting attacks properly is super important
for the rest of the game to work. Pro refs will split things with a razor: the
fencer on right here is only slightly ahead, but it’s enough. But what even is an attack? Is it just going real fast? No. You actually need to be making an attempt
to hit. The rule book calls it “threatening target”. If you’re not doing that, nobody really
cares how fast you’re moving. You’re “in preparation” – maybe moving
towards making a hit, but not actually doing it yet. If your opponent hits you during this time,
you lose. The same applies if you’re making a giant
long attack expecting the target to be far away, but your opponent goes forwards instead. You were preparing to hit at long range, and
while you were doing that you were attacked. A feature of these attacks into preparation
is that the blade shoots out really quick. It draws the eye. This flashy blade action is a good way of
spotting the attack, but you have to have a bit of caution with it. If the big fast flashy extension is made by
a fencer who’s paused to see what’s going on, then that pause will kill their momentum. No matter how fast their blade goes out, it’s
not an attack, and they won’t win. This is called a counterattack, and even an
opponent who’s just kind of trundling forwards will win. As always, the thing is really who makes more
of a mistake. If the attacker is super late, you can get
away with a longer pause. If they’re really moving, you need to launch
straight away. Referees are trained to split these really fine, but not so fine they can’t be seen with naked eye. Never judge an action based only on frame
by frame: you need to feel the flow. Remember, though, that players have two basic options: What happens if a player starts by making a trap? The first big class of traps is parry/riposte. Block and hit back. We’re not going to go into this much, because
it’s usually pretty obvious. Even if it’s two lights, the player who
blocked will score as long as they took parry before the attack hit target. If they didn’t, that’s a whole other thing,
and the attacker will score. The second big class is where things get messy
as hell, and as of 2018/19 season is the major area of contention in professional sabre refereeing. This is when you try to make the attacker
fall short. Obviously if you make them miss completely,
it’s super easy: Now let’s extend that a little bit, If the
target clearly wasn’t where the attacker wanted it to be but they kept going and made
contact with something anyway, the point will go to the defender. It doesn’t have to be a complete miss, but
there does need to be a clear miscalculation of the distance. What this looks like is usually a visible
glitch in the flow of the attack. Here’s the opposite: the attacker hits right
when and where they wanted to. The defender tried to get away, but didn’t. You’ll hear this called attack composee. The kicker here is being able to see the difference
between a smooth action that hits something at a clearly correctly estimated distance,
and something that’s a mistake that kind of gets lucky anyway. A single continuous action, vs a broken action. A hit made with momentum, and a hit where
the momentum is lost. The same applies where the defender is obviously
fishing for a parry and doesn’t find it. This is a mistake, and it kicks the benefit
of the priority back to the attacker even if their attack is perhaps a bit underbaked
at that range. And that, ladies ad gentlemen, about covers
the 4m. To recap: Actions are simultaneous Attack Preparation/attack Attack parry/riposte Attack no/attack and Attack composee There’s also a few basic technical rules
you’ll come across: Don’t jump the gun! Don’t run on the attack! It was banned for being too hilariously dangerous. Don’t fall off the side of the strip! And Don’t fall over. I would respectfully submit that when compared to, say, baseball, that’s really not a lot of rules to remember. Also, official refereeing is in French, for
weird historical legacy reasons. I don’t speak French, and neither do most
other refs. Refereeing French has about 10 words,
everything has a matching hand signal, and it’s really not that hard. Before we wrap up, a final disclaimer:
This is intended as a primer for what you can expect to see as a spectator at a professional
sabre match. It is NOT intended as a referee training guide. It’s SUPER NOT intended as a statement on
how sabre should or should not be refereed. I’m a licensed ref. but I’m authorised to tell anyone how the
rules should be interpreted. All I’m doing here is laying out what you
can expect see when you watch a match, and how to understand it. And yes, as a ref, I’m not a massive fan
of getting heckled and yelled at, and neither are any other refs I know. One of the tricks of doing righteous armchair
refereeing right is to do it from a nice safe impersonal distance, preferably in a bar and
not at the venue, or at least at the back of the stands. If you’re using the information in this video to getl up in a ref’s face at a comp and tell them they’re wrong, you fully deserve to
get your arse carded. That said, referees in any sport can’t be
too precious. Mistakes will get made and people will get
mad. Crowds booing decisions they don’t like
is a tradition as old as competitive sport. Perfection is boring. Just enjoy the show. Thanks for watching! If you have any questions, requests, suggestions
or feedback, you can hit me up in the comments. I also run an actual physical sabre club,
so if you’re in Sydney and want to learn how to do this stuff rather than just watch
it, please drop in. That’s all for now: go watch some sabre. Cheers!

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Reader Comments

  1. NaughtyFencer

    dat aussie accent 😀 Finally this day has come! We can hear Frances' voice and don't stop the video for text reading. Sometimes it was given too much text for a very short amount of time. I don't know about the others, but as for me, for a not-native English-reader, I couldn't read those sentences that fast in English. Thanks, Sydney Sabre, keep prospering and enlightening people about this spectacular sport!

  2. krrrattt

    Started out as an epee fencer, ventured into foil, now sabre is becoming more and more attractive. I do like the drama 😀
    Thanks for this great video. It really helps to understand what is happening!

  3. Ichi Ban

    Am I the only one who hates how people yell and pump their fists and stuff when halt is called? The point doesn’t go to the most enthusiastic or dramatic

  4. n air.

    I find this too fast to watch.
    I think watching less elite athletes
    Would be easier.

    I wonder with the quick explosion of energy and speed. Can be compared to elite sprinters and their initial start.
    That's what this reminds be of.

  5. Сергей М

    Давно пора менять правила в Сабле. Смотреть нельзя, ни чего не понятно. Даже профи, а зрителям и тем более не понятно. Убрать явный приоритет атаки. Т.к. получается не фехтование а быстрые старты на короткие дистанции. Зрители уходят,мало рекламы, уходят деньги. Сабля это не фехтование а быстрые старты.

  6. Сергей М

    В сабле нет фехтования! Если твоя атака значит можно бежать грудью на саблю противника.

  7. boiniq

    i think it sucks for casual watchers is because it is hard to relax and follow the thin fast moving sabers, people often say how fast the sabers move like it is a good thing while in practice it sucks for the watchers

  8. sam signorelli

    3:24 "Frequently, drama happens."

    And you didn't use Occhiuzzi to illustrate this?? ducks and runs

    GREAT vid…am forwarding it to my students….and I think the verbal is better than the wall o' text.

  9. Jason Miller

    This is by far one of the best videos I've seen on this! I just started taking interest in this, and this video was very informative and incredibly entertaining. Keep up the good work!

  10. Cascade L

    best thing about sabre is that it makes us all rely solely on instinct, not thinking too much before we attack and simply just doing it and JUST MOVING. a perfect example for everyday life

  11. Mechafinch Personal

    I started fencing with Sabre but switched to foil after a while. A while ago I stopped fencing entirely because my club was too competitive for me. Now I want to return because my old coach opened a more casual club, and cause I’m seeing this

  12. Zhuanzhuan Liu

    very clear and easy to follow, sending it to all of my friend right now so they can get into watching sabre as well! 🙂

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