Depending on where you’re from, five foot seven may not seem that short. The trouble is that epée fencing, with its lack of priority or right of way rules, makes epée all the more attractive for the taller fencers.
Having the whole body as the target means that, unlike foil, almost anything goes. You only have to hit somewhere on your opponent before the 1/25th of a second lockout to score before they do. And if you’re in the lead, you can afford to take a few risks, concede double hits and still win the bout.
Having a choice of shallow target – the hand and arm – over deep target – the rest of the body – enables the fencer with the longer reach to lay off and indulge in sniping attacks whenever their opponent dares to approach.
While fencers come in all shapes and sizes, all genders, all ages, there remains a belief that the high-climbing sunflowers are harder, perhaps impossible to beat.
Unlike David facing Goliath, we can’t just play to a different set of rules and throw missiles from afar.
What is required is a re-think of our approach to the whole game. Regardless of your height, weight, age, IQ or general fitness there are strategies, tactics, exercises and drills you can employ to rebalance or even turn the odds to your favour.
Winning against any opponent is as much about confidence and self-belief, the psychological approach to the bout, as it is the physical plays.
This book is not a scientific study of world ranking competitors. Rather it is a book for the rest of us not enrolled in the semi-professional programmes of top-flight International tournaments. The full-time training programmes of these dedicated athletes produces a whole other level of fencing which is not the focus of this book.
However, looking at the International rankings over the last few seasons, we can spot a couple of things.
The top ranking male epéeists are increasingly, but not exclusively, of above-average height; but so are the top ranks of foilists and sabreurs. The top ranks of female epéeists features a significant number of average height fencers.
This says more about the athletic nature of the elite competitive scene and the direction of training and techniques at that level. Height is not a mandatory criterion for success if you are fast and fierce enough at this level. It just helps.
Unlike, say, basketball and volleyball where tall athletes progress through a clear height advantage, there is no ideal build of fencer guaranteed to succeed over all others.
More epée fencers happen to be taller, not because of any innate requirement for success, but because it may be easier for them to achieve early success against the rest of us who may be fencing the weapon poorly.
That is as much to do with how we learn, or, how we are coached. In fencing, as in any other aspect of life, one size does not suit all. If you ask your coach ‘how do I beat the giant over on piste number three’ and the coach just shrugs and says ‘try harder,’ you probably need to change your coach.
Your fencing style, as well as your thinking, needs to adapt and evolve. Any decent coach will recognise this and help you get there.
So where do we begin?
The full text of Winning at Epee: Techniques for the Shorter Fencer by Robin Catling will be available soon from our online shop.