Selected Definitions from Martini, A-Z of Fencing E.D.Morton, Macdonal Queen Anne Press.

French Foil.

The traditional French foil has a handle which, although slightly curved to fit into the palm, is perfectly plain and destitute of the vestigial cross-hilt and pas d’ane rings of its Italian counterpart Hence the distinguishing mark and glory of the French school was its subtle finger-play, not possible with other types of grip, which in turn lead to further particularities and tactics. To take but two examples, the French tended to keep the elbow of the sword-arm appreciably bent, it being much harder, with their grip to parry effectively with and extended arm, in the manner of their Italian rivals Similarly, the French tended not to commence their attacks until within distance, being much more adept at the trompement, or deception of a parry, than the representatives of the other nation, whose fingers were fixed almost rigidly on the handle, which, moreover, was strapped to the wrist.

Gaining on the Lunge.

A method of greatly increasing the length and penetration of the lunge. Immediately before lunging, the rear foot is brought forward so that it touches the heel of the leading foot and much distance is thereby gained on the opponent.  As an alternative to the balestra and step forward. It has a valuable element of surprise.
Some fencers favour gaining on the reprise in somewhat similar fashion:
In this case, following the initial lunge, the rear foot is carried forward, not to the resumption of the normal on-guard position, but again so that it touches the leading foot. This tactic can be employed very successfully against the perpetually retreating fencer. But is difficult to execute quickly and imposes a severe strain on the thigh muscles. Rene Paul was seen to exploit it to some effect.

French Grip.

1) The handle of the French foil.

2) The method of holding the foil in the classical French tradition. The thumb lies flat along the top of the handle; the top sections of the second, third and fourth fingers rest lightly upon its inner surface. By principally using the thumb and forefinger (the manipulators) the circular and semi-circular movements of the point can be controlled very precisely.


Pronation is when the sword-hand is held with knuckles uppermost; supination when the palm is uppermost. The midway position, with thumb on top, should therefore logically be styled neutral, or some such term; instead it is usually called half-pronation, though, obviously, just as apt a term would be half-supination.

Battre de Main.

To parry with the hand


The slight curve in the blade (both in the modern fencing weapon and in the small-sword) which allows of its correct ‘arching’ in the classically executed hit.

Spanish Fight.

Silver’s term for the tactics of the sixteenth-century Spanish rapier-play. The exponents of this school stood very upright and were continually on the move ‘as if they were in a dance’;but the distinguishing feature was their habit of maintaining their sword-arm at its full extent, with the point of the weapon directed straight at their adversary’s body or face.


“Molinello, (it.) A sabre cut to the head often following the parry of prime. It involves a considerable wrist action for not only must the blade describe the better part of a circle, but it must also be retracted following the parry to allow the point to clear the opponent’s blade. Some masters of yesteryear were in the habit, after a long and arduous lesson, of requiring their pupils to finish with twenty or thirty Molinellos, executed one after the other at high speed. Professor A.T. Simmonds offers a somewhat different interpretation following lengthy discussions with the Hungarian masters, Nagy, Beke and Polgar. He defines it as a circular cut which can be directed to the chest as well as the head, passing through the prime position and , to quote his own words, “both losing and gaining time.” In effect, it can form a broken-time attack, almost invariably causing the opponent to expose his target by a superfluous action. Leon Berstrand classifies any circular cut, be it vertical diagonal or horizontal as a Molinello”.


” The practice in Elizabethan times was not to advance and retire up and down the narrow rectangle of the piste, as is the case today, but to circle cautiously round and round each other, anti-clockwise. It was for this reason that the Spaniards evolved their complex theories of the Mysterious Circle. To reverse, therefore, was to change the direction suddenly and then attack, hoping to take the opponent by surprise. The action was similar to the reverse in an old-fashioned waltz, where the effect on one’s partner was often similar.”

Orthopedic Grip.

“A grip, or handle of a weapon, molded to fit the user’s hand and fingers. It is so called because, when originally introduced, it was for the benefit of those whose hands were in some way deformed or mutilated. Subsequently, the idea was seized upon with avidity by all who found the French grip and technique complex and troublesome, or who affirmed that they could thus obtain more strength in their parries and attacks on their adversaries’ blades. The invention was anathema to the older school of foilists, because, of course, it militated almost entirely against anything in the nature of finger play. So far, the orthopedic grip has been confined to the foil and epee it being impossible to adapt it to the sabre without abandoning altogether the modern wrist and finger technique and reverting to the older cut delivered from the elbow. The chief varieties of the orthopedic grip at present in use are Crosse, Contine, Gardere, Dos Santos, Hern, Pistol and Spada traditional Italian foil grip which may fairly be said to have been the progenitor of this monstrous brood.”

Scannatura, (It).

“A form of counter attack described by Capo Ferro, which involved the use of the left hand to parry, while simultaneously thrusting. (See Mercutio.)

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