Classical Fencing: The Four Lines

Throughout the Fencing equipment period and into modern times, fencing masters have divided the foil target into four specific areas. These are commonly termed lines, and sometimes lines of attack, lines of defense (Rondelle 1892), or lines of parry (Fencing sword name). The result is a division of the target into high and low, outside and inside lines, creating four quadrants. How you understand these quadrants depends on how they are described and illustrated.

The illustrations are key to how many fencers, even today, think about the target. They have appeared in multiple texts, and fall into two categories:

Illustrations that show the lines as subdivisions on the chest of the fencing jacket.

Illustrations What is fencing with the fencer holding a weapon.

The difference is significant. The illustrations based on as subdivision of Fencing sword, such as Colomore Dunn’s (1891), show the target divided Is fencing dangerous and vertically into four similar areas. The vertical division is down the centerline of the chest and abdomen; the horizontal division splits the target into two essentially equal parts. The weapon arm is not depicted, providing no reference to how the quadrants align with the weapon. classical-fencing-the-four-lines these are fixed segments based on the shape and size of the Fencing rules body.

In contrast, the illustrations (for example, Pinto Martins 1895 and Cass 1930) that include the weapon arm, show the quadrants in relation to the weapon. This is important, because a hit to the upper forward quadrant of the chest could be a hit in either of the two high line quadrants, depending on the location of the arm.

The quadrants themselves are described in the same way by most sources based on the French school. There are four lines High line – everything above a horizontal line drawn through the guard or the fencer’s hand.

  • Low Line – everything below a horizontal line drawn through the guard or the fencer’s hand.
  • Inside Line – everything from a vertical line through the guard toward the fencer’s chest and abdomen (to the fencer’s left if right-handed, or to the right if left-handed).
  • Outside Line – everything from a vertical line through the guard toward the fencer’s flank and back (to the fencer’s right if right-handed, or to the left if left-handed).

The combination of the lines results in the four quadrants:High Inside – also termed Fourth.

  • Low Inside – also termed Seventh. Rondelle terms this Low Fourth.
  • Low Outside – also termed Second or Eighth. Rondelle terms this Low Sixth.
  • High Outside – also termed Third or Sixth.

Note that in each case the point from which the line is defined is variously the guard, the hand, or the grip of the weapon, effectively the same place (Heintz 1890, Rondelle 1892, Manrique 1920). Because the guard moves, the lines themselves move upward and downward, inward or outward, with the result that the quadrants increase in size and shape, sometimes offering an extensive target area, sometimes a very small one.

Because both attack and defense are described throughout fencing in terms of the lines, understanding the terms is important. Because the way an attack or defense is described is in the context of the lines, applying the technique tactically requires an understanding of not only the location, but also the mobility, of the lines.

Walter Green is a Classical Fencing Master Trainer credentialed by the Classical Academy of Arms and certified as a modern Maitre d’Armes by the International Fencing Coaches Association and the Academie d’Armes Internationale. He serves as the director of the Classical Academy of Arms and manages the Academy’s online credentialing program. He currently is managing the Academy’s self-study for accreditation as a center for coaching education by the National Committee for the Accreditation of Coaching Education.

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