Sabre fencing from a French flipbook, 1880’s

This video is footage of sabre fencing posted by Christoph Amberger to Youtube.  He apparently filmed a flipbook from France in the 1880’s to generate the footage.  It is an interesting exchange, and while the commentary in Youtube talks about it being a French system, I don’t think this is likely to be true.  While the flipbook may be French, that doesn’t mean the system is — typical French technique from the 19th century does not involve leaning in from the waist in one’s attacks or using body-voiding movements from the waist to avoid attacks as done here.  Instead, the fencer would rely almost entirely on the parry-riposte, keeping the torso as a stable platform.  Likewise, French technique relies heavily on parries of tierce and quarte, whereas here there is much more reliance on prime and hanging parries — especially in the high line.  The hand positions don’t look particularly French either.  They resemble more Cerri’s hand positions from 1860’s Milan, though neither he, Radaelli, or other Northern Italians emphasize quite this degree of bendiness from the waist (there is a lean forward from the waist in these treatises but it is not as exaggerated as you see here).

Regardless of that, there are some good moulinet/molinello mechanics here, which you will not see on most current Youtube videos purporting to be doing 19th century sabre technique (and even some from as early as the 1920’s!).  If you watch it in slow motion (i.e., pausing it a lot), you will see that when an attack by lunge with molinello / moulinet is delivered, THE ACT OF ARM EXTENSION PRECEDES THE BODY MOVEMENT.  This is a fundamental component that almost everyone gets wrong in their haste to deliver “an incapacitating blow” with their sabre.  As a consequence, they open themselves to attacks into tempo.  Instead, the cutting motion from the arm should be nearly finished before the body moves so that you can still deliver the full velocity of your cut, without risking a skewering or slashed forearm on your way in.  The main instance in the film where the arm extension is delayed (from the fencer on the left, with the cut being delivered with the whole arm high), he receives an attack into tempo to the flank.  This is the proper response.

So here is solid evidence that this concept is not a 20th century one — even in the 1880’s, arm extension precedes the lunge.   Now go do it right.  🙂

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