Nine Parries

Fencers (c) Sylvain Sechet, Creative CommonsBy Robin Catling.

To parry: to defend yourself from a weapon or an attack by blocking or pushing the weapon away.

In sports fencing there are nine parries commonly in use. The positions are the same at foil and epée, we’ll leave aside the variations at sabre for now. The nine parries are spread across the notional lines of defence: high, low, inside and outside (which we’re illustrating for a right-hander).

They are also split according to the hand positions: supinated (in blue) which are palm up and pronated (in green) which are palm down.

Neuvieme – 9th
High Line
Inside      –      Outside
Quarte (4th)

Quinte (5th)
Sixte (6th)

Tierce (3rd)
Low Line
Inside    –    Outside
Septime (7th)

Prime (1st)
Octave (8th)

Second (2nd)

The supinated parries (palm up):

  • Sixte (sixth)
  • Quarte (fourth)
  • Octave (eighth)
  • Septime (seventh)

The pronated parries (palm usually down) are:

  • Tierce (third)
  • Quinte (fifth)
  • Seconde (second)
  • Prime (first)
  • Quinte (fifth)

Neuvieme (ninth) is an unusual, high-line, pronated parry which is useful for covering the head and shoulders against whips and flicks from the thrusting weapons. It is not the same as the Quinte head parry at sabre.

Each of the regular parries covers a quarter (quadrant) of the target and should prevent the opponent’s blade from passing into the adjacent quadrant. A successful parry closes out both inside and outside on the same high or low line. In the priority weapons, a successful parry also gains the right of way to riposte.

The contact with the blade during the parry also give you some indication of the opponent’s distance, direction of movement, strength of attack, as well as blade position.

The opponent either has to make a further attack in a new line if they are to hit – either:

  • switch line (from low to high or high to low) by disengage or cutover,
  • go around the parry (inside to outside or outside-in) by disengage or cutover
  • transport your blade to open the line using some kind of bind.

Beat parries and opposition parries

What kind of parry you take is determined by what you intend to do next. Moving your blade to cover a line with a given parry should end your opponent’s attack. Having deflected their blade from your target, you can either detach to launch your own attack or maintain contact with their blade in order to control it whilst you land your hit. The first is a detached or beat parry, the second maintains opposition all the way to the hit.

Transporting the opponent’s blade

One way of maintaining control of the opponent’s blade once found if by executing some kind of bind or transport, which:

  • dominates the opponent’s blade preventing them from parrying your subsequent attack
  • opens a line to hit your opponent’s target.

Bind is often abused as an English term, covering more than the technical definition of a diagonal carry into a different line on the opposite side.

A croisé carries the opponent’s blade vertically from one line to the opposite line on the same side.

An envelopment is executed by starting in a line and then completing a full circular motion in order to return to that same line.

A vital part of these transports of the blade is to flip the hand from pronated to supinated, or supinated to pronated; this change of position from the parry makes for a strong motion applying leverage in your favour to dominate and control the opponent’s blade.

Image: Fencers (c) Sylvain Sechet, Creative Commons