Robin Catling… has published a fascinating, easy to read guide aimed specifically at the more vertically challenged épéeists amongst us, who have become frustrated at being constantly faced opposite a taller fencer, regardless of age or gender. Although this book is certainly not one of those detailed technical manuals that aims at providing an easy route to the Olympics, it does provide an easy to assimilate series of chapters that allows anyone to put together a toolbox of winning moves, both physical and psychological, to ensure that height is no barrier to winning at épée.
Robin is a qualified three-weapon coach in West Devon… and you really get the feeling that his interest in writing this book was borne out of that same frustration that many of his pupils were confronting both in club sparring sessions and at Open competitions. As he points out, épée is so much more attractive to taller fencers owing to its lack of priority or right of way rules. With the whole body as a target therefore, almost anything goes. This leads to a belief that the taller the fencer the harder it is to win against them.
Robin goes about describing how a rethink of our approach to the whole game is required. Regardless of a fencer’s height, weight, age, IQ or general fitness, there are strategies, tactics, exercises and drills which – once employed – can rebalance the fight and turn the odds in your favour.
This book has a number of secrets hidden between its covers. Firstly it is so easy to assimilate. Each chapter is short (two or three pages at most), incisive and witty and easy to read in a few minutes. Secondly, it provides practical answers in an understandable format… Lastly, it is a template for winning. The shorter fencer can now grasp the tools necessary to see off a taller opponent; these range from dictating the fight by knowing when and how to close up into that “danger zone”, the use of tempo, second intention and controlling the opponent’s blade whilst finally, it provides some drills and lessons to work at with the reader’s coach or even a taller friend – although they may not remain one if you keep on beating them with these new found skills!
I really like the chapter regarding psychology. Many British Fencing members will have been following the work of our Head of Pathways, Steve Kemp and the ADP coaches in developing a change in competitive fencers’ mental attitude and psychological development… Robin encourages this way forward and pushes us all to go outside our comfort zone and believe in one’s own skills and capabilities. In so doing, this allows us to level the odds and achieve the will to win more than the fencer at the other end of the piste, regardless of his/her build or reputation.
It is a rallying cry for the shorter épéeist… heed it well!
– Lawrence Burr, The Sword Magazine (British Fencing), January 2021