Sabre: Remedial Cutting and Moulinets

Students with any kind of athletic background will find performing the basic cuts to be easy.  The problem for them is not that the cuts are difficult, but that they will be perceived as too boring to practice.  These students will believe that they have mastered basic cutting when they have not.

An alternate problem happens when a student has no athleticism upon which to draw.  Some students will not have engaged in “watch a movement mimic a movement” behavior since they learned to mimic their parents’ gaits as small children.  It is very important that these students not be left behind while other students are being held back until they can actually perform the cuts that they think they are performing.

This challenge should not be under-estimated: many individuals go through life not actually knowing where their bodies are in space.  If introduced to the joy of elegant movement, these students will often turn out to enjoy practice immensely, and to practice more diligently than their supposedly more-gifted peers.

Here is an alternate method for teaching the basic cuts and moulinets.

  1. The fencer holds the sabre forward, with the point high and to the right. The student then makes Cut 1. The instructor takes care to make sure that the cut is perfectly linear and does not wobble.
  2. Once the blade reaches the end of the cut, the blade should be pointing down and to the left. The student flips the blade over, and makes Cut 4, bringing it back to the original position. The instructor coaches the student to keep the cut purely linear, retracing the line of Cut 1.

The process is inverted for Cuts 2 and 3.

Though the classic targets of Cut 3 and Cut 4 are to the inner thigh, in this case, the student is made to perform the cuts at a higher angle so that he learns how to recognize the location of his limbs in space, and how to regulate his movements.  Usually the student will need to look at a target, thinking of bringing Cut 1 down into the joint of the neck and shoulder, and out of the ribs under the armpit, and vice versa for Cut 4.

Once the student has a reasonably-firm grasp of how to regulate his arm’s movement in space, keeping his cuts on the proper angle, you can introduce moulinets.  At this point the student is very likely to be frustrated because this cutting method fights the weight of the sabre, rather than using it to advantage. This is especially a problem for students who have never been graceful or physically powerful who are likely to wear out quickly.

We teach remedial moulinets as follows:

  1. Have the student start with the sabre forward, and make Cut 1. The student then proceeds to make Cut 2, repositioning the blade in order to be certain the angle is right.
  2. The instructor has the student make Cut 1 again.
  3. The instructor, standing closely behind the student, then physically assists the student in making a moulinet from Cut 1 to Cut 1, taking care to help the student feel the power generated by the moulinet.
  4. The instructor helps the student moulinet Cut 1 and Cut 2 while another student parries, making sure that the student can feel the cuts change from somewhat-awkward “line movement” to feeling more like hammer blows.

The moulinet is introduced to this student not as a way of transitioning between angles of attack, but as a way of gaining power in order to make an attack. This will allow even the smallest, weakest, and clumsiest of students to throw powerful cuts within a session or two.  The instructor physically assists the student in making these cuts so that the student can get a “body memory” of what the correct motion feels like.

Once the student has reached the stage where the basics of the cut can be performed, he or she can join the other students in practicing cut angles and blade alignment.

Common recurring problems and simple solutions: it is helpful to have raw materials for same handy.

Problem: Solution:
Student cannot distinguish edge from flat Provide student with wide cardboard sword/sabre to improve tactile awareness of edge alignment.
Student cuts a low horizontal and then up rather than making a rising diagonal cut Student has allowed cutting-hand hip to drift forward out of a correct On Guard position, affecting motion of lead shoulder.
Student shortens the cut, tightening the bicep Tie fabric gently around the elbow, providing the student tactile feedback.

Sabre: Counter-cutting

Once your opponent has come to close quarters and both of you are attempting to gain advantage over the other, it is very common for beginning fencers to lapse into a pattern of “take an action, return to guard, take an action, return to guard.”  This “act then reset then act” pattern is unavoidable when one is first learning how to put the various pieces of fencing together, but it’s hugely counterproductive when actually fencing. We want to take an action, and then continue taking action until we win the encounter.

A solution to this is counter-cutting, using attack as offense. We counter-cut specifically because many times our opponent will launch an attack when we are not on guard, and our blade is positioned somewhere else.    The point to counter-cutting isn’t simply not to get hit – we do not counter-cut simply to ward off the opponent’s blade!  Instead, just like our basic parries, our counter-cuts are intended help us achieve a point of advantage.

Counter-cutting achieves one of two things:

  1. Stopping the attack by striking the opponent
  2. Redirecting the opponent’s attack so that the attacker is left vulnerable

Here are various examples of ways which we can counter-cut:

Opponent: Fencer:
Cuts 1 Cuts 1 at opponent’s hand
Cuts 2 Cuts 2 at opponent’s forearm
Cuts 3 Cuts 2 at opponent’s wrist
Cuts 4 Cuts 4 at opponent’s wrist
Cuts 1 Cuts 2 and thrusts
Cuts 2 Cuts 1 and thrusts
Cuts 3 Cuts 4 and thrusts
Cuts 4 Cuts 3 and thrusts

And so on.  This is by no means exhaustive – for a fully-developed list of examples, see the synoptic tables at the end of the manual.

In the first examples, we are not simply standing still while attempting to cut the opponent. We are moving our body so that we redefine the geometry of the engagement (just like we do with basic parries), while cutting in such a way that even if we do not stop the blow outright, we deflect it onto an angle where it will not hurt us.

In the second four examples, we use the curve of the sabre to our advantage by cutting into the side of the opponent’s blade and pushing it past us.  To finish the action by thrusting into the opponent, all we need to do is return to On Guard, and the fighting geometry places the thrust for us.

What our system will never do is to assume that a counter-cut will stop the opponent.  For instance, our method explicitly defends the legs, whereas most systems either ignore the legs, or treat it as an invitation, “refusing the leg” by stepping backwards while striking at the opponent’s head.  This is fine for a sporting bout where the action is stopped on a hit. But what if the blow does not stop the opponent?  What if it misses, or the blow simply lands flat out of sheer bad luck?  What if fighting has dulled our blade, or his hat stops the blow?  Numerous historical cases exist where an opponent was struck several times in the head without being stopped.  In this case, nothing stops the opponent from simply continuing his attack with a thrust into our torso.  By actively protecting the leg, we ensure that this doesn’t happen.

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