How to Parry in Fencing

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One of the first and most important movements in fencing is the parry. Whether you’re fencing foil, épée, or sabre, 9 times out of 10, parrying is an almost mandatory skill.

You may be brand new to fencing and are hoping to learn a new move, or maybe you need to brush up on your parrying skills. Don’t embarass your coach or your team, by not knowing the most basic move! You Either way, here is your guide to the perfect parry.

What is a parry?

Chances are if you’ve fenced once before then you’ve used the parry, and may not know the name. 

A parry is a movement a fencer makes with their sword, in order to deflect or block an opponent’s attack. Although there are very specific ways to do this, any action of deflection can be considered a parry.

Fencing Parry

Parrying is necessary if you don’t have the right of way (in foil and sabre). If your opponent has the right of way, parrying their attack will give the right of way to you. 

(However, you can still score a point without parrying, if you land a hit before your opponent. But gaining the right of way has more advantages, so parrying is a must.)

More specifically, there are four different basic actions of parrys used in fencing, which parry you use depends on the motion of your sword. Each parry is used when your opponent’s sword comes at you from different angles.

When to Parry

Now, before we start learning how to parry, we should know when we’ll need it. Which is well, basically always.

If your opponent is thrusting or cutting their sword at you, you have three options:

  1. Parry the attack and attempt to counter it.
  2. Dodge it, get out of the way asap!
  3. If you have the right of way, you can also thrust and potentially get the point first.

Nine times out of ten, you’re going to want to parry and counter (riposte), it’s just the most reliable way, and most valid way to achieve the right of way, and get that green light!

How to Parry In Fencing

Now that we know what a parry is, and when we need to use it, let’s learn the different motions so that we can start using it.

So simply, in order to parry an attack, you need to move your blade, into your opponent’s blade. This action of deflection of your opponent’s blade is a successful parry. A good parry uses the beginning of your blade (the forte), and touches the end of your opponent’s (the foible).

Remember to only parry as far as you need to, DO NOT move your sword more than you need to, the smaller the parry the better; moving your arm too far when you parry, leaves you wide open.

Key factors to remember when parrying:

  1. The motion and direction in which you parry (we’ll learn that next)
  2. The timing, make sure the forte of your blade touches the foible of your opponent’s
  3. The size of the parry, do not overswing your parry
  4. Point your blade towards your opponent (if you can)

Before we get started, you should know that if your right hand carries the sword, an inside wrist turn is a counter-clockwise turn of the wrist, and an outside wrist turn is clockwise. 

If your left hand carries the sword,  then an inside wrist turn is a clockwise turn of the wrist, and an outside wrist turn is a counter-clockwise turn.

The Four Parries in Fencing

The Four Parries in Fencing

Parry Six (Sixte)

  • High outside block
  • You’ll want to turn your wrist outside and and pointing high towards your opponent’s head, or higher
  • Depending how high you need to parry, you may need to twist your elbow as well

Parry Four (Quarte)

  • High inside block
  • You’ll have to turn your wrist inside and pointed high, toward your opponent’s head, or higher
  • To successfully parry attacks to the high midsection, you’ll need to move your arm with the motion of the wrist.

Parry Eight (Octave)

  • Low outside block
  • Turn your wrist outside, and point your blade towards your opponents low-mid section
  • Depending on how low you need to block, you may have to straighten out your arm a bit, or point lower

Parry Seven(Septime)

  • Low inside block
  • Turn your wrist inside, while moving your balde to the inside of your body
  • Your blade should point towards your opponents low mid section
  • Depending how low you need to block, you may need to point your blade lower.

When making a parry action, ensure you do them in a way that your sword is pointed to your opponent’s target area, to make a quick and easy riposte.

These are the four main motions of parrying, out of the nine that are used in fencing. These parries are all you need to block any incoming attacks, the other variations depend on the height of the parry, and all follow these four basic motions.

Remember not to overdo your parries, and counter-attack as soon as possible. Pointing your blade at your opponent while parrying is the key to a quick riposte to the target area.

Practice Your Parry

Now that you know how to parry, be sure to get some reps in, using all four motions. 

Start by doing the parry and riposte with no partner, then grab a fencing buddy and have them slowly attack from different angles, while you block and counter. As it starts to grow into your muscle memory, speed it up.

Well, what are you waiting for? Grab your epee, your foil, your sabre, whatever it may be, and parry, parry, parry!

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