Basics of Dueling

The Basics of Dueling goes over the bare necessities of safety and the process needed to start dueling with other fencers. There is nothing like getting a sword into your hand and facing off with an opponent, but we want to make sure that everyone can do it safely and feel comfortable trying things out. Learning something new can be overwhelming, but taking it slow and trying to absorb as much as you can, until you get a little experience, is usually the best way to go.

Points of safety

The following Points of Safety should be considered and gone over to make sure we call all be safe. Fencing is a contact sport, but if try to be safe fencers, we are confident that anyone can engage in combat and avoid any major injuries.

  • Always Get Geared Up: Any time you fence, you need to wear all the appropriate safety gear. This includes your helmet, gorget, vest, gloves, and proper base clothing.
  • Don’t Be Stupid, Don’t Feel Stupid: As you’re wielding a sword and fighting your friends, try to avoid doing anything stupid or unsafe. If you do happen to make a mistake though, please don’t feel stupid. Everyone makes mistakes and this is a safe place to learn and grow.
  • The Dueling Hold: Whenever you hear the word ‘Hold’, you need to stop what you’re doing immediately. You or anyone else can call a Hold whenever something is wrong so we can prevent injuries or avoid dangerous situations.
  • General Things to Avoid: There are a few things that you will want to avoid doing as you fight. Those are:
    • No Hacking and Slashing
    • No Body Contact
    • No Pummeling
    • No Grabbing Blades
  • Safety is Your Responsibility: You are responsible for your safety and the safety of those around you. Be aware of what you’re doing, your surroundings, and how you are fighting. Always emphasize safety.

General Points

When it comes to the Basics of Dueling there are a lot of moving pieces, but after a while, you just get used to the routine and things become second nature. Most, if not all, of these General Points, will be used every time you fight so take your time in learning these foundational skills and never be afraid to come back and review them.

  • Gearing Up: Like any sport, Fencing has its own unique equipment. We focus on proper base clothing, a helmet/mask, a gorget, a vest, gloves, and a sword. We provide loaner helmets, gorgets, vests, and swords, but you will be responsible in bringing your own gloves and coming dressed to fence.
  • Basic Stance: How you stand while fighting can greatly impact your fencing. It helps facilitate good footwork and maintaining your balance as you fight and defend. Work with an experienced to find a stance that feels comfortable and works for you.
  • Basic Footwork: You will be moving a lot while you fence, so it will pay off to learn how to move around quickly and efficiently. Once you’re in a Basic Stance, you’ll want to focus on your Advancing and Retreating steps along Sidesteps and Lunges.
  • Basic Blocks: There are a couple blocks that you’ll use over again and will probably save your life more times than you can count. We call them Blocks 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. You’ll learn the other blocks later on, but focus in on these blocks because of how often they are used.
  • Basic Attacks: We may be swordfighting, but we’re not actually trying to kill our friends. That means we aim more to tag our opponent’s with enough pressure that they can feel it without it hurting. That’s called Positive Pressure. Whenever you go in for an attack, you want to reach out with your arm so it’s fully extended. If you still need a few more inches, use your feet to get closer rather than reaching. Start out slow and speed up as you practice.
  • Taking Shots & Kill Zones: Any time you get hit in the following areas with the tip of your opponent’s sword, you are “dead” and lose the fight. You should loudly declare yourself dead, so you’re opponent knows to stop stabbing you. The Kill Zones are:
    • The Head
    • The Neck
    • The Torso
    • The Pelvis
  • Shots to an Appendage: It’s very possible that you will take a shot to your hands, arms, or legs during a fight. Luckily, you may be “wounded”, but you can continue fighting. If you get stabbed in the hand (fingers to wrist), you’ll lose the use of that hand. If you get stabbed in the arm (wrist to shoulder), you’ll lose use of that arm. If you get stabbed in the legs (toes to your hip), you’ll lose the use of both of your legs and have to sit down on the ground.
    • Additionally, you may block a shot with an appendage that would have normally been a kill shot. If you feel that shot would have ordinarily “skewered” your appendage to your body, that’s called a Staple and is considered a killing blow.
  • How to Duel: When you’re all ready to go and face someone, there is a little bit of a ritual to it. When you are both ready, you’ll salute to each other in some way to indicate that you are good to go. At that point, the fight is on. The duel will continue until someone dies or yields. It is on each fencer’s Honor to call any valid shots against themselves or any non-valid shots given to your opponent. If there is any question on what happened, we follow the One Ask, One Tell rule. If there is a question, the person ask their opponent what they thought and your opponent makes a simple ruling, usually in the form of “Yes, it was good” or “No, it wasn’t.” Whatever the response is, it’s on your honor to accept it without argument.

Training Ideas

  • Review the Gear: Go over the gear and review how each piece works and how to get geared up.
  • Basic Stance & Footwork Drills: Practice your Basic Stance by moving through various steps, by yourself or from a caller. You could also see how long you can remain in stance to test your endurance.
  • Basic Block Drills: Slowly move through each block to work on technique and muscle memory. Don’t worry about speed. When you feel comfortable, grab a partner and have them attack you in random areas to work on recognizing which block to use and when.
  • Basic Attack Drills: Aim at different kill zones and targets and practice striking at each. You can do this with a partner or by yourself, but focus on your arm extension and keeping your point on target.
  • Taking Shots & Kill Zone Training: Practice receiving and hitting different targets with a partner. Work on calling yourself Dead whenever you receive a valid strike and calling back any attacks that weren’t good.
  • Dueling Practice: The easiest way to practice dueling is to challenge someone to a duel or jump into a Bearpit (a bearpit is just a line of fighters all waiting to fight each other. Usually the winner stays and the loser goes to the back of the line).


  • Dueling Safety: Do you understand and feel comfortable with all the Safety rules and principles? We want every one to feel like they can fight safely with others.
  • Dueling Basics: Can you use the dueling basics in a fight? Can you maintain your Basic Stance as you move around the fight? Are you using the basic blocks and attacks? Do you know how to call yourself dead or what to do when you have questions or concerns?
  • Dueling Training: When you finish the lesson, do you have ideas and plans on how you can train or what you need to work on? If you don’t, try asking a teacher or a swordsman on ways to train or what you might consider focusing on.

What’s NEXT?

  • Suggested Next Lesson: Basics of Melee, so you can fully participate in all the activities at practice. You could also take Four Levels of Importance to learn what the Order of the Rose focuses on.
  • Activities to Try: Go up to a few fencers and ask them to duel. Afterward, ask them their name and introduce yourself. You can also go and watch a few duels. There always tends to be a fight happening somewhere.
  • Conversations To Have: Find an Officer and tell them how your fights went. Include those epic moments where you got the kill or narrowly escaped death.