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Op/Ed: Training With The Afterblow

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By Keith Cotter-Reilly


The thrill of the touch can often make one forget the basic tenants of fencing: the basic need to hit your opponent without getting hit. This is not the same as going for a valid attempt with correct timing and cover, but having the opponent deliberately double you—which is in of itself a debate for another day, one which has a challenge already in the making.

No, this is about the time you think that you see an opening that is not there and still go after it. Or, as more often happens, you do aim for an opening that is valid, but in the ecstasy of the clean blow forget to cover your retreat.

This is not an attempt to start a debate on the after-blow, but rather an attempt to give options for safely withdrawing after a successful blow. These are issues that we face both in the various training venues we use, as well as any events that we take part in.

Broadly speaking, defending the after-blow falls into what is known as Abzug (Withdrawal) in the German tradition.  Meyer refers to three types of Abzug:

  1. Before the Opponent

This is where you attempt to withdraw before the opponent realizes it. Often with a departing cut that both covers your retreat and keeps your opponent unaware of your intentions.

  1. After the Opponent

Here there are two types:

  • You wait for your opponent to withdraw, sensing he is about to do so, and then make sure that you cover her strike as you retreat.
  • Pretend that you are about to withdraw, hoping to make your opponent chase you. Void her strike, and cut back with your own. A version of Nachreisen (chasing).
  1. At the same time as the Opponent

If this occurs then make sure that in your stepping out you always are over her cut with yours.

That is too say if she cuts from her left then you cut upon her blade from her right while    stepping out to her right side, and visa versa.

From these three types one should be able to safely retreat after a clean strike. In most cases it seems to me as if the third version is closest to the most common action seen in free fencing and tournaments. The struck opponent striking back at you as you attempt your withdrawal is in essence the third Abzug.

However, while Meyer advocates cutting on your withdrawal, retreating to a hanging point type guard or a going into wrestling distance are valid also. After all, an opponent who has been thrown onto the ground will have a hard time scoring an after-blow upon you.

Hopefully you will find below some drills that are useful. I am sure these drills have been stolen from several sources, but I cannot remember who these sources are, so please do not get annoyed at lack of citation. Should you have variations of your own, please do not hesitate in adding them to the comments section.

Agent – Person starting the drill

Patient – Person waiting for first action

Drill 1:

Simple training to be prepared to defend against an after-blow

Patient: Remains in 1 guard
Agent: Strikes with logical cut or thrust at opening
Patient: Takes cut or thrust. Responds with logical cut or thrust at Agent. Response given at 50% speed
Agent: Must defend response

Reset after each attempted after-blow.

1. Patient may respond with more than one strike.

2. Patient may choose not to respond with a strike.
3. Patient is free to move through guards. Agent can strike when an opening appears. Patient responds with cut  or thrust once hit.

Drill 2:

More fluid after-blow drill which also instructs defense, recognition of openings, and combinations. It also can be used to teach Meyer’s three types of Abzug: Before, After or At the same time as your opponent.

Agent: Has three chances to attack Patient

Patient: Attempts to defend strikes

If Agent hits

Patient: Responds with cut or thrust.

Agent: Must defend response.

If Patient defends successfully

Patient: May attack with a cut or thrust

Agent: Must defend response.

Reset after each attempted after-blow.


1. Patient may respond with more than one strike. This can be done as a give and take version of the drill.

2. Agent may choose to advance upon the Patient after hitting, or after successful defense. Patient must attempt after-blow, or ringen. If no successful action after a set period of time then reset.

3. Agent does not have to physically defend the after-blow attempt, but may attempt to void before the Patient has gathered himself for his responding strike.

Drill 3:

Make sure that in free fencing you actually attempt an after-blow when your partner hits you!


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