A Further Observation on the Rear Arm…

William M. Gaugler (Vol 42, no2 American Fencing)

Prof. Charles Simonian, in his article, "Some Observations On the Rear Arm," has touched on a subject that, in my opinion, concerns all fencing masters. I share his conviction that there are advantages to teaching the student to hold his or her rear arm in foil and épée in the classical elevated position. The reason why most competitive fencers today have abandoned the classical position is simply lack of discipline: it takes more effort to keep the rear arm in its correct raised position, than it does to let it hang loosely near or below shoulder level. Yet all of the most successful fencers prior to 1950 adopted the classical position for the rear arm because it contributed to the efficiency of their fencing; the list of Olympic champions since 1920 who were noted for their classical guard position includes Nedo Nadi, Lucien Gaudin, Gustavo Marzi, and Giulio Gaudini. Nedo Nadi, in his article on fencing technique in the Enciclopedia Italiana, states that the guard and lunge serve as a foundation for all fencing actions. His brother, Aldo, the most formidable professional fencer of our era, describes the classical position of the rear arm in his book, On Fencing (New York: 1943), p. 51. Maestro Nadi writes:

As for the left arm, it is arched out behind you like a scorpion's tail, bent at the elbow, and again at the wrist. The upper arm remains parallel to the ground and the forearm is almost vertical to it. The hand is open, the four extended fingers contacting each other and pointing toward the opponent, thumb out. Arm and hand are held thus for balance, and to keep them in constant readiness for the final powerful impetus they impart to the lunge.

The last comment concerning the relationship between the elevated rear arm and the lunge is of the utmost importance. When the arm is thrown straight back and downward, it gives impetus and direction to the thrust. If it is flung back from an unorthodox position, the point will very likely drift off target, for like the rudder of a ship, the rear arm helps guide the point to its destination. So it is not simply a matter of aesthetics; there are practical reasons for holding the rear arm in the classical position.

William M. Gaugler

San José State University

San Jose, Calif.