Two classes of actions form the basis for defense in all three weapons in fencing. The first of these is evasion, moving the target away from the direction of the attack. The second is parry, an action to block the attack. Like the simple attack, we can classify simple parries as those that are completed in a single continuous action, in this case to intercept the opponent’s blade and close a line. This article concentrates on parries possible in foil and épée, only addressing the basic set of parries one through eight.
Classically there are differences in the stops executed in the French and Italian schools. However, in modern fencing there is essentially a set of basic simple parries that are in general use throughout the sport. These stops can be divided into lateral, semicircular, diagonal, circular and counter attacks.
Side stops move the sheet from one line to another in the same horizontal plane. The movement is a straight line through the body. Thus, an outside high line stop (6th) moves laterally inward to become an inside high line stop (4th). The possible combinations are:
(1) Full-back on the high line: sixth to fourth, fourth to sixth, first to sixth, sixth to first, fourth to third, third to fourth
(2) Sideline down the line: 8th to 7th, 7th to 8th, 8th to 5th, 5th to 8th, 7th to 2nd, 2nd to 7th.
Semicircular stops move from one line to another in a vertical plane. The movement approximates a half circle that rotates towards the center of the torso and then spreads out to the outer edges of the target. The movement can be from high line to low line or from low line to high line. The possible combinations are:
(3) Vertical on outside line: third to second, second to third, sixth to eighth, eighth to sixth, third to eighth, eighth to third, second to sixth, sixth to second.
(4) Upright on the inside line: fourth to seventh, seventh to fourth. Stops on the vertical inside line can also include first to fifth, fifth to first, fourth to fifth, and fifth to fourth. However, these stops are more of a vertical movement of the bell without the semi-circular movement of the blade.
Diagonal stops move across the body from one high line to the diagonally opposite low line or vice versa. These are sweep stops that clear the diagonal that ends at the finish line. The possible combinations are:
(5) High outside to low inside diagonal line: sixth to seventh, sixth to fifth, third to seventh, third to fifth.
(6) Lower inside to upper outside diagonal: seventh to sixth, fifth to sixth, seventh to third, fifth to third.
(7) High inside to low outside diagonal line: fourth to eighth, fourth to second, first to eighth, first to second.
(8) Outside lower diagonal line to inside high line: 8th to 4th, 2nd to 4th, 8th to 1st, 2nd to 1st.
Circle parries move the blade in a circle to return a blade that has executed an indirect attack from outside to inside or inside to outside lines to the original line. Thus, a withdrawal from sixth to fourth is returned to sixth by the sixth circular stop. In theory, any stop can be taken as a circular stop, although the frequency of use is probably much higher at the sixth circular and the fourth circular than at the others:
(9) High Outside Line Circle Stops: Sixth Circle, Third Circle.
(10) High Inside Line Circle Stops: Fourth Circle, First Circle.
(11) Low Outside Line Circle Stops: Eighth Circle, Second Circle.
(12) Low Inside Line Circle Stops: 7th Circle, 5th Circle.
The terms counterattack and circular parry are often used interchangeably. However, tactically they are clearly different stops. The circular parry returns an attacking sword to its original line; a counterattack takes the attacking blade and moves it to the opposite lateral line.
(13) High Line Winger: Counter 4th (move a lunge from 6th to 4th), Counter 6th (move a lunge from 4th to 6th).
(14) Full-back on the low line: counterattack 7th, counterattack 8th.
Counterparts are also possible with pronated stops. The two that seem practical are on the high line fast break third (from fourth to third) and on the low line fast break second (from seventh to second).
This catalog covers a large number of possible stops. Depending on the fencer and the defensive system adopted by the fencing master, the list can and should be narrowed down significantly in practice. Many of these combinations seem possible in classical fencing, but tactically impractical in modern fencing, especially épée. Trainers and fencers should scan the list to find those that create a defensive system that the fencer can execute under the pressure of combat conditions.