jean-louis michel

Discussion in 'Fencing Discussion' started by rapier, Dec 20, 2006.

  1. rapier

    rapier Rookie

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    Does anyone have any info on the techniques of Jean-Louis Michele or the Salle Jean-louis in NZ? Sounds like a very interesting fellow but I have found little about him from the usual historical/biographical info, little of substance beyond his famous duels of the early 19th cent.
     
  2. striker

    striker Rookie

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    A little bit of information but not much more at this point. Perhaps
    our friends from France and New Zealand can provide more information.

    Jean-Louis Michel - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    This link has a reference to a french book at the bottom of the page.

    Fencing New Zealand - Clubs
    The Salle Jean Louis and the contact information is listed on this page.
    They have an interesting detail about that salle.

    "We cater for all levels from beginner to senior. We believe in fencing hard and then playing hard!"
     
    Last edited: Dec 20, 2006
  3. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    Techniques of Jean Louis of Montpellier

    Yes.... I can tell you about the technique of Jean Louis.... Used it for 20 years.... taught it for 10. What do you want to know?
     
  4. SaintDominique

    SaintDominique Made the Cut

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    I would just say to be careful of anyone who says "I fence in the style of ***Insert Dead Fencing Master's Name Here***.

    Jean_Louis had a student (whose name slips me now) who wrote down a lot of the old guy's teachings in a book -- I think Gaugler's book probably has the student's/book's name, though it's somewhat rare so expect to pay good $$$ for a copy if it's not in your library, which it almost certainly isn't unless you live in NY or DC.

    Really, I don't suspect J-L's technique was any different from that of his contemporaries, overall -- French fencing of that period tends to be French fencing of that period, though there are some variations (as there always are). I'm sure there are some interesting gems in the book, but if you really want to learn 19th century french fencing the best thing to do is get in contact with one of the very few people who REALLY know it (not bandana-wearers or disgruntled sport fencers) -- people like Sildar or Chris Umbs, who are on this forum.

    Hope that helps!
     
    Last edited: Oct 8, 2007
  5. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    Jean Louis

    Perhaps Dominique should check first… before speaking. Jean Louis did have a student…. He had several… after all he was a fencing master with his own salle. His provost was named Bruton who also taught several people… one of whom was John Millard.. an Englishman who because of other commitments could not pass on his skills. So…. he wrote it down… an unpublished typewritten manuscript which, on his death, was sent to his brother Victor Millard. This man, in his middle age, taught a young student Bert Raper who, after learning the method, quickly took out the National titles in Foil and Sabre. Bert Raper was my personal coach…. and I am almost certainly the only fencer in this part of the world … who was completely dedicated to using the techniques of Jean Louis. And if you are wondering what happened to that unpublished manuscript….. I have it.

    Dominique… you suspect wrong if you think that the method of Jean Louis was any different from others of his time… or of today either. He was a small man…how could he possibly have carried out the feats attributed to him … without some clever method of doing so. To learn his method the fencer must forget much of what he has learned… and start again. The skills of Jean Louis lay in elimination of every unnecessary movement. You think about that. How would you go about it? Many a modern movement would go west… including the flick.

    Well…I am not a bandana-wearer Dominique…. nor am I disgruntled… but I was a successful national and international fencer for many years. I don’t know who Sildar or Chris Umbs are… but if they really do know about the technique of Jean Louis… then perhaps we should discuss it.
     
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  6. SaintDominique

    SaintDominique Made the Cut

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    I apologize if I came across snootily -- fact of the matter is that there is so much disinformation about classical & historical fencing, spread by people who don't actually know what it is, that my first reaction is generally one of skepticism when I see statements such as the one you made. This is nothing against you or your knowledge or your school, merely a response against the plethora of people who say "I fence in the style of Capo Ferro" -- or Liancour or Angelo or Grisetti, or whoever -- who in fact do no such thing. When I saw a new name making a similar-sounding claim, I jumped to conclusions. I apologize again for that.

    Admittedly I hadn't brushed up on my J-L history before I posted, which I tried (and evidently failed) to make clear in my post; I am wondering if the manuscript you mention is the same one Gaugler talked about in his book? (I'll have to go see -- I would have sworn that he mentions a published treatise on J-L's technique but I could be mistaken) Yours is a fascinating piece of fencing history.

    But regardless of idiosyncracies of his system, I would be willing to bet that the techniques outlined in J-L's treatise are largely faithful to the canon of the french school of his period. It's generally acknowledged by late 19th century french writers that J-L was instrumental in the changes that occurred in the french school in the 1800's -- part of which was a desire to eliminate unneccessary movements, and which you can still see in later authors. But this influence shows that he was INVOLVED in the evolution of fencing and not separate from it, and that by looking at contemporary fencing masters and the next generation thereof you'll still find much that's similar. There may be differences in exactly how certain movements are performed and in the philosophy of his approach, but the character of the french school is very distinct and, since he learned from french masters, I would expect that he wouldn't have overhauled this -- tweaked it, definitely. Certainly he would have adopted it to fit his own personal characteristics and demands -- but every great fencer does this. That's why you can have two very different students from the same teacher. Differences in size do not necessitate a complete reworking of the school, though, or of the theory, or of the technique; they necessitate differing applications of these, according to the circumstances of each fencer and each opponent.

    But this is all only a reasoned hypothesis, based on my overall knowledge of classical french fencing history -- a knowledge which is certainly less than perfect and contains no direct input from J-L or his descendents as far as I am aware. So it is entirely possible he italianated or hispanicized his system or completely overhauled it in some other idiosyncratic way, and that this is what is preserved in the manuscript. These seem less likely to me than what you suggested: him modifying what he had already learned by trimming it down and making it more efficient -- which in my mind is completely in accord with french fencing trends of the day, and much of which would probably be similar to the content in La Boessiere or Gomard.

    This in mind, my suggestion was not to focus so much on the teachings that any one master may have written down in a book, but to learn about the tradition in general from someone who has been taught it and understands it; this would then enable a better understanding of that book. After all, back in the day, no one learned their fencing from books. They learned it from people. :)

    Anyhow, hope that clears up any misunderstanding or rudeness on my part. Fascinated to learn that a lineage like yours exists!
     
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2007
  7. JEC

    JEC Podium

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    Would you be able to upload a video of yours giving a lesson or while fencing? You could do it via Youtube or by contacting Craig via personal message.
     
  8. SaintDominique

    SaintDominique Made the Cut

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    Yeah, something like that would be really neat to see.

    Cheers,
    StDom
     
  9. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    jean louis michel

    Thank you for your reply Dominique (may I call you Dominique.. I have no other name) and I am most impressed with your knowledge of historical fencing masters, far more complete than mine. You were right to be sceptical and you are also right in suggesting there may be more than one such manuscript… after all many fencers pass through a line of coaches… any of whom could have written something down. All I know.. is that I have one of them… and was taught by a man who was coached by the fencer-brother of it’s author. In truth, I never saw the manuscript until my coach retired and bequeathed it to me… and I doubt I have ever even read right through it. It was never referred to during my learning process… My coach merely taught me what he had been taught.

    You are also right in saying that size, shape, age or height matters little. One merely adjusts to the fencer opposite. Strength, on the other hand, has to be dealt with…. yet Jean Louis preferred a light rapier against heavier weapons. How did he deal with that? Would you fence foil against epee in a crucial bout? Jean Louis did… and the stakes were much higher for him.

    And so we return to the idiosyncracies of the technique in question. As stated above… I know little of the style of French masters of that period. Perhaps you could enlighten me of the then accepted foil technique. Which en guard position did they usually adopt?….How did they hold their sword?….What were their preferred guard positions? How did they execute their parries? Did their lunge differ from today’s attack at all? And in their moments of combat… where did their point hover?…..quarte, sixte, octave, septime.. or did they merely trail it nonchalantly near the ground like some do today?

    I am no stranger to scorn and derision Dominique. I’ve heard it all…..’out of date’….. ‘old fashioned’ …’why don’t you learn the correct way’. This has come many times from fencers and coaches alike….. that is until I beat them.. or their pupils. I remember visiting Salle Paul in London once in the very early sixties… and was offered a lesson by old Poppa Paul… the great Leon Paul himself. After a couple of minutes he said “Where on earth did you learn to fence .. girl?” I told him. He smiled…”Come back to me next week and I’ll teach you how to lunge”. At that time my national placing was 2nd in my own country and 4th in another…. and a short while later I took out the London Ladies Title…most probably displacing some of his own pupils. I then approached the London Fencing Club and had a few lessons from Cav. Leon Bertrand…a tyrant who made no secret of his opinion of my fencing style and roared at me constantly throughout the lessons… so much that other members afterwards declared “We heard your lesson…. again” . However, after the London title… with his arm around my shoulder I was thereafter proudly presented as “his pupil”. ! !

    Ah.. but although this discussion should be about the method of fencing in question …and not about me personally……I feel that if I mention memories like the above, the reader will understand that there were differences… and they were scoffed at… yet I continued to win tournaments…. or was rarely out of the placings. (Obviously I am not implying World Champs or Olympics here… merely Nationals, Provincials and International tournaments between other countries etc.) I was no superb athlete…. hated training intensely and avoided physical exertion like the plague. A dreamer from a family of gentle musicians and destined to be a string player. So why was I so often bewildered to find myself standing on the winners dais with a medal round my neck. What the heck was I doing there? Possibly the best example was early in the British Commonwealth Games when I won the first gold medal …...the prize that hundreds of world class athletes of various sports from all corners of the globe were desperately trying to win. To me it seemed like another planet? ….a wrong person in a wrong place?

    So… was it a slender strand of Jean Louis magic ….. or was I just…. odd.?

    Well.. I have waffled on for too long…. but felt that unless I described the above I have no doubt that if you or any reader is interested in knowing the half dozen or so differences between the current ‘accepted’ technique… and that which I was taught….which I have always accepted as originating from Jean Louis….. it would still be unanimously declared ‘totally untenable’. They no doubt said that in the 1830’s …they certainly said it in the 1960s…and they were wrong. Whether it would still work today….who knows .... it would be a brave fencer indeed to try it. I’m now over seventy, happily retired and don’t really care.
     
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  10. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    jean louis michel

    Hello Craig….. regret I have no video of teaching methods…. only a 20 second clip of my final bout in 1962 British Empire Games from NZ archives. Not a lot of videos around in those days. You’re welcome to that if you want it but it is about 45mb Cheers. Dot Gard
     
  11. HDG

    HDG Podium

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    So you are Mary Glen Haig?
     
  12. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    jean louis michel

    Well HDG… a guess is a guess I suppose.. No I am not Mary Glen Haig…. though our paths crossed a couple of times but not on the piste. I believe she was an excellent fencer and great ambassador for her country. However… this discussion is about a fencing technique… and whether or not it stemmed from the old master.
     
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  13. Durando

    Durando DE Bracket

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    Whew, Dominique, you really put your foot in it. Do go on waffling dot. Just so you know, I find the evolution of technique absolutely fascinating.
     
  14. HDG

    HDG Podium

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    Sorry, I posted before seeing your reference to the 1962 Commonwealth Games; careless on my part. I was going by your previous reference to the first time a medal was awarded to a female fencer which was 1950 I think.

    So can you say something about what the differences in technique are?
     
  15. SaintDominique

    SaintDominique Made the Cut

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    I certianly did put my foot in it! Hope I've corrected that to some degree now. :)

    As for the application of "old stuff" to new fencing, and whether it works, you'll see debates about just that sort of thing all over the place if you care to look for them. Unfortunately, few people ever get to see really old stuff anymore, and it's refreshing to hear about another bastion of it out there in the world. It's an important piece of heritage to hold onto.

    For comparison purposes in our "experiment" here, the nineteenth century french stuff tends to be very conservative. The guard position is generally more pulled back, with most of the weight over the back leg. It's hard to quantify the hand positions, since different people name them differently in J-L's time, but 3rd & 4th were the most important, with 2nd & 7th serving for the low lines (as the century went on, 6th & 8th gained increasing importance, in part because the weapons were changing). 1st was also well-used, but everyone seems to have had a different idea of 5th so not so useful. Lunges would have been a bit more conservative, as well, in that the feet would have remained planted. The hand was usually elevated in attacks, and there was a lot of emphasis on opposition. You still had a bit more variety of footwork, in that passes, reverse guards, etc. would still have shown up occasionally. Essentially, most of the fencing was designed around defensive concerns, but still held a lot of the specifics of the smallsword-era. So the point would have ALWAYS threatened the target (often the throat) -- because that's the best way to keep someone from stabbing you. Parries, again, would have been mostly in opposition, though beat-parries and circular parries weren't uncommon. Lots more action on the blade -- the idea here was, it's suicidal not to seek contact because then you can't control them.

    A lot of the unique character of this is better seen than described, as there's still a lot of overall continuity here with later French stuff (even down to the 2nd World War) -- and even with the stuff Maitre Pierre DeLaTolle (sic?) is teaching in Paris today. A lot of the difference is in the details and the core attitude. And I'm still in the long, painful process of incorporating these differences. As you said, learning old stuff means a lot of un-learning. :)

    I, for one, would love to see the video of you in action! And I'm always up for good stories! I'm completely fascinated by the survival of this system, so thank you for spending the time to share a bit of it with us. :)

    Best,
    StDom
     
  16. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Podium

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    Thank you for a great post that captures some of the feel and history associated with "doing things differently." I just want to assure you that I am thoroughly interested in a description of the technical and tactical differences associated with your training. One thing I have learned is that nothing is "untenable" and you can find a use for any and all ideas on the strip.

    Similarly, as a student of a coach (still alive and coaching) who coached for the French Military during WWII, I would love to hear your stories and experiences from fencing during the 50s and 60s.

    Don't let the skepticism scare you off. You are a great credit to this discussion board.
     
  17. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    jean louis michel

    Well here we are again. This is indeed getting interesting. Thank you Dominique for explaining the different facets of 19th century fencing. I continue to be amazed at your knowledge and my lack of same. I had no idea we were one of the last bastions of a dying breed. Fascinating.

    You are absolutely right …. The point WAS always in line… usually directed at the throat The reasons given however, weren’t quite the same. I had no knowledge of the relevance of small sword protection. The point was held in line for three reasons…. (a) to annoy the heck out of the opponent (b) accuracy…the instant a chink appeared in the defence…one merely had to extend the arm… and (c) speed…it’s not hard to miss at 12 inches or so. In order not to miss.. of course…. we spent countless hours extending on to a swinging pingpong ball…. so we could basically hit anything from anywhere. I hated that pingpong ball.

    These three facets…. point control… accuracy …. and speed… were all of paramount importance. To achieve this point control… the point was not supposed to leave the target area at all…. even whilst parrying, attacking or feinting. Re accuracy…we used a center guard… (a subject that has been shot down in flames so many times I have lost count)….however coming from the center not only halved the time taken to parry and riposte… but also allowed the relaxed rolling parries which in turn enabled the point to remain in the center… all primed for accuracy. The rotating parry has also been thrown out by all and sundry…but.. ending with a quick beat to bounce off a flying riposte…it ably countered the stronger orthopaedic grip weapons…. and.. more importantly… the point was still in line. We of course used a French grip… as I presume did Jean Louis himself. It would have been impossible for him to carry out his moves using anything else. His comment re the foil grip…. ‘Hold the sword as if it was a little bird… not too tightly or you’ll crush it… not too loosely or it will fly away’ is well known. I have repeated it many times to pupils. One wonders at the fate of the bird in the hand of a pistolgrip. Re speed…. we were taught to move .. er… glide really….quite relaxed… like a cat…. moving continuously…. forward…. sometimes backwards…often using our back foot and sword arm to slowly lessen the distance to the target without the opponent’s knowledge. Then the attack would come out like a streak…. no bumps… no ripples… no indication it was coming. In hindsight.. I think that was one of our fortes…..the fact that our opponents couldn’t see the attack coming… or where it was coming from.

    The foil was held between the thumb and forefinger and the heavy artilliary lay in the fingers which sat loosely on the handle until needed! But if the direction and accuracy came from the thumb and forefinger…. manoeuveability came from the wrist. Whereas other fencers made timeconsuming movements between parries and repostes etc….we merely needed a flick of the wrist. It was very relaxed and quite smooth.

    To get back to the benefits of keeping the point in line with the target… herewith a short story: It was at the National Epee Championships in the late 50’s when a Jean Louis Academy fencer was fighting …for the title…. which he won. After a flurry of movement, he tripped and fell…sprawled out on the floor.. his mask went one way… his spectacles the other…. but his point was still directed at his opponent’s target. The fencer only had to move or lurch forward 4 inches… and he would have been hit…. by a man on the floor

    I would think none of this technique would work with an orthopaedic grip…and I feel that with the fashion of today being absence of blade and points darting all over the gym…the exhilaration and sheer enjoyment of a good ‘conversation’ with the blades has gone. To run through several moves before attacking was really stimulating. I feel sad that we seem to have destroyed the very heart and spirit of our sport. It seems the passion of a once noble sport.. is no longer there.

    O yes…there was a difference in our lunge. We are all taught the usual 4 movements …. extend…lunge.. recover… back to guard. However we did not automatically recover from the lunge… even in practice. We continued fighting whilst on the lunge using our back foot for another lunge or fleche or whatever if needed. The idea of recovering before parrying we thought ridiculous.

    And now another surprise for you…… this one for Dominique. This last ‘bastion’ didn’t end in the 60’s… it was still in action… and winning …in the early 90’s. I retired from active competition somewhere around 1975. I had again won the National Title the previous year… but knee problems told me the time had come and I had a family to look after. We had shifted to a small village in the far north of the country…miles away from any fencing activity apart from the farming type. In 1981 I started a small fencing club … with 6 adult members. Most had done a bit of fencing in the past and were aged 30 upwards. A few years later I started teaching the sport at the local High School. The stage was set. The Jean Louis style was back in action. Within a few years our students were taking out High School provincial titles and national placings..and in 1990 and 91…we had national reps travelling overseas. In 1991 I finally threw my old fencing jacket on the rubbish dump. 16 years later… the school fencing club is still operating….. albeit with a different technique.

    In conclusion I would like to relate yet another story. In the early 80’s with the school and village club up and running… I decided to run a special tournament annually… there in our little village in the back of beyond. I had run such a tournament in the city in the late 70s… a fun tournament to end the fencing season. Called the ‘Gilt Foil’ it was open to all fencers…Juniors, seniors, intermediates, national champions, international reps, veterans.. the lot and was a great success. I sent out the invitations. All were invited. There was only one rule…. anyone heard complaining or whinging… would be lynched. Fencers came from all over the country and were thrown in together with no handicaps. The juniors learned very quickly.. the seniors learned humility... the veterans had their day….again….and it was usually won by some senior whiz…. but not always. Of course in the evening after a rather hectic final… there was a party….and if Dangermouth wants stories… there are quite a few I could tell you about those parties

    However.. the main point of this story is one particular Gilt Foil in the late 80’s. This time we were delighted to receive an entry from one of the country’s best known fencers… Brian Pickworth… who had been National Champion about 14 times in various weapons, and was also an Olympic fencer. He had only one arm having lost the other in a hunting accident. He was also a Jean Louis fencer.. trained by Bert in the early days…. and still retained much of the skills learned. At this stage he was in his late 50’s and had not touched a foil for about 15 years.

    During the early competition I noticed several senior national fencers watching his moves…a certain perplexity on their faces. They had never seen him in action….and I smiled inwardly knowing they were thinking ‘what on earth can we do against this fellow’. Well… he won the tournament… of course. But what was even more gratifying for me… was that during the entire four rounds of fencing… he was beaten only twice…. once by a 16yr old pupil of mine… and again by one of my senior fencers. They had played him at his own game coached by another wily old Jean Louis fencer.

    Well that’s about it really. I feel Jean Louis did not opt for strength… he sought speed and accuracy. He also knew the value of stamina….hence the relaxed style it appears he adopted. He was 80 years old when he died….and had survived lord knows how many duels to the death.

    To Dominique…. I have two old books here which you may or may not have heard of: ‘The Swordsman’ A Manual of Fence for Foil Sabre and Bayonet by Alfred Hutton … printed 1891. and ‘How to Fence’ Foil and Epee by Maurice Grandiere printed in 1906. I have also two or three others but printed mainly round the 50s and 60s era.

    To Dangermouse….thank you for your words. Much appreciated. Yes .. after many years of fencing there are dozens of stories…but not sure what you’d be interested in. I'm sure your old coach will have valuable advice... remember it.

    I would imagine you have all seen the film ‘By the Sword’ filmed in America in 1991 with British Coach Bob Anderson as swordmaster. I loved it and thought it a great promotion for the sport.

    Re the film clip mentioned last time….although only brief ….at 45 mb .. I feel it is too big to send through the computer. However I’ll see if my son can reduce it somehow. Cheers everyone.
     
  18. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Podium

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    Your description of Jean-Louis' system is very similar to the style my coach uses, except for the centered guard position. He coaches from the old French military manual written in the early 1900s. Here are a couple links with information about him:
    USFA Oregon Coaches Profilies (pdf)
    Wikipedia
     
  19. dot gard

    dot gard Rookie

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    jean louis michel

    To Dangermouse: Thank you for the links. What a wonderful wonderful man…. And what a career he had. And what stories he could tell. How I would like to have met him. You were indeed lucky to have been coached by him.

    Yes.. the center guard has been a bone of contention… yet we found it easy, faster and less tensing. I wonder if Mr. Calvert took the flack that my coach and I did over the years as fencing moved into the modern age. Maybe he was such a famous identity…. no-one dared…. or perhaps folks are more tolerant in your part of the world. And did he teach the rolling parry and the simple beat riposte? I would be really interested to compare. I would also like to know his thoughts on footwork.

    The problem with chatting over the internet is that we don’t know who we are talking to. I have no idea if you are an Olympic fencer… or a social fencer. I would presume you were initially instructed using a French grip. Did you change to an orthopaedic grip? When? And why? And how did his teaching affect your later lessons with a more modern coach?

    It is good to chat with you Dangermouse.
     
  20. DangerMouse

    DangerMouse Podium

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    Maitre Calvert is still alive and teaching. I take lessons from him once every couple weeks. I would take more, but I have to drive 2 hours each way.

    I have taken lessons from numerous other coaches both before finding Calvert as well as while working with him. I have not had any issues working with other coaches, but that could also be because I don't argue with them. I take their advice and try it. I keep what works and get rid of what doesn't. I've found I usually come back to what Calvert has coached if the two don't complement each other.

    As for the hand position of enguarde in 6 rather than centered, that could be because I'm an epeeist. Calvert still has the foilists with en guarde in 6, but they work from a central en guarde more often than for the epee lessons.

    I don't know exactly what you mean by "rolling parries," but Calvert coaches that parries are made with the hand and the point remains in line to the target. He also coaches a lot of beat actions and croisse attacks, but clearly distinguishes between actions on the blade that take the point out of line and those that leave the point in line. I think he picked up some of his ideas from a top level Hungarian fencer he lived with for a period of time. He is also trained classically in both French and Italian systems (probably a biproduct of speaking 5 languages).

    I can't comment too much about the footwork Calvert coaches because at 83 years old, he doesn't move well enough to focus as much on footwork as I imagine he used to. He teaches traditional footwork movements, but focuses more on movement than form during lessons and on the strip. Lessons also include a lot of parry riposte drills from the lunge, but rather than following that with a forward remise, the drills usually follow the parry riposte with recovering for another parry riposte or a counter attack then opening distance.

    As for my fencing career, I am not an Olympic level fencer, but I compete regularly and have had a USFA classification of A for a few years now. As a graduate student, I don't get to the NACs regularly, but the ones I went to a few years ago (when I had not been working with Calvert for long) I finished in the round of 64. I finished similarly in the two world cups I've gone to.

    I use an orthopedic grip because I used to train with a hungarian coach. Calvert has mentioned switching to French grip a few times, but we both agree that it's a bit late in my fencing career to switch. All his other students use French grips.

    I have to say that, of the 10+ coaches I've worked with around the world, Calvert's techniques consistently work better than anyone else's and I just take bits and pieces from the other coaches to combine with a foundation from Calvert.
     

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