Fencing is an open-skilled combat sport (23), which includes 3 different weapons: foil, épée, and saber. Nowadays, all the weapons are equally used both by men and women, even if the competitions are divided by sex.
Apart from some common features of the rules and regulations, the 3 weapons differ from a technical point of view, such as the target that the blade must hit, thereby creating different styles and strategies for each weapon. Foil and épée swords are 110 cm long, whereas a saber sword is 105 cm long; foil and épée swords weigh 550 g, whereas a saber sword weighs 770 g (17). As for the target, it differs for each weapon, moreover the hitting technique and the strength required to carry out the hit vary.
In épée, it is possible to hit the opponent's entire body using only one end of the weapon and with a contact strength that is more than 7.36 N. In saber, a valid target includes the head, trunk, and superior limbs; it is possible to hit with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade, and you only need to touch the opponent for the hit to be successful (17).
Only in foil fencing a white light indicates that an invalid target has been hit. In foil and saber, you must respect the convention that any attack carried out properly, that is, the initial offensive action, must be completely dodge or parry. In épée, however, this rule does not exist and if the 2 athletes touch each other at the same time, a point is assigned to both (18).
The field of training and competition is a piste that is 14 m long and 1.5 m wide. At the beginning of the match, the 2 fencers stand in the middle of the piste 4 m apart.
The matches are distinguished by the weapon used, the gender, and age of the participants and if it is an individual or team match.
Each individual match is held as an Italian turn round, which is composed of 6 of 7 participants with a 5 thrust bout, followed by a 15 thrust bout. In the 5 thrust bouts, the maximum duration is 3 minutes; in the 15 thrust bout, the duration is 9 minutes divided into 3-minute periods with a 1-minute rest between the 2 periods (18). When the match ends in a draw at the end of the regulation time, an additional minute is given. If the score is still equal at the end of this minute, the athlete who won the priority draw at the end of the regulation time is declared the winner (18).
In team competitions, each team has 3 athletes plus 1 reserve player. The typology is like the relay where each athlete incurs 3 assaults in 5 thrusts, inheriting his teammates' score from the previous bouts: There are 9 matches in all that end at the 45th thrust (18). The maximum time for each bout is 3 minutes (18). Foil and, especially, épée, because of their static and often reflective nature, often go on until the end of the available time and use up the extra minute; on the contrary, in saber, a more dynamic assault weapon, the match always ends by reaching the 5th or the 15th thrust and not because of time limits. It is precisely for this reason that in the 15 thrust knockout bouts, a minute break at the eighth thrust was introduced.
The saber is the weapon, more than any other, that has remained a discipline only for men (1997/98), is the least practiced, and is the last to incorporate the use of electrical equipment; paradoxically, it is the first to have accepted the introduction of wireless scoring system between the athlete and the scoring equipment and slow motion that has led to important technical and tactical adjustments to promote and teach saber. Unlike the other weapons, saber does not allow movements that involve cross as a forward step, cross-step, or flèche (arrow) (18). There are frequent long chases across the piste and sudden direction changes.
There are a few scientific studies on fencing in general (19), and in particular, there are none on saber.
It is a sport that results in significant asymmetries (20): in the upper limbs, using a weapon for long periods produces significant asymmetries both in the strength and in the cross-section area of the forearm muscles (13). The lower limbs, responsible for walking on the piste and for the constant direction changes and speed, have different requirements for dynamic strength (14); moreover, the functional evaluation using Bosco's protocol (3) highlighted how high-level fencers do not always have good flexible, explosive, and reactive power. In addition, sometimes the percentage of fast fibers seems to be quite low. No significant correlations were identified between the morphologic characteristics (biographic information, anthropometric data, flexibility testing, muscular strength, and endurance, power) of the athlete and his competitive value (22), for both the complex and changeable matrix of physical and mental factors that influence this sport and for the difficulty in finding objective criterion to evaluate the actual level of an athlete. It could be supposed that reaching high performance levels and conditional abilities, both general and specific, is not important as neurophysiologic factors such as perception, analysis and synthesis of the situation, anticipation ability, and simple and discriminating reaction times (5). Furthermore, there seems to be a strong correlation between the reaction times and the hit accuracy because of muscular coordination (24), above all in relation to the good synergistic muscle organization. In fact, a fencer's physical needs are closely connected to perceptive and psychologic factors and they are subjected to continuous changes with respect to the opponents (19). It is extremely important to make fast and precise movements and to be able to surprise the opponent: Many studies on the lunge (4), a technical movement performed by the lower limbs to complete a hit, have been done. It has been pointed out that the determining factors for good lunge performance are the attained distance and speed, even if the effects of training on a simple movement can be only seen in a more complex and global movement (25).
The energy requirement analysis is limited to heart rate, oxygen uptake, and lactic consumption analysis (7–9,11,12). A fencing competition usually lasts a day, even if the effective fight times vary between 17 and 48 minutes (16,20,21), and a single action can be extremely short, less than a second, or very long, more than a minute. In every bout, there are preparatory movements that are generally longer in duration and submaximal in intensity and they are followed by some very intensive movements of shorter duration, often associated with the final lunge to touch the opponent (19). During a bout, the fencer covers a distance of 250–1,000 m (11). The aerobic metabolism characterizes the submaximal intensity phases of study and shift, whereas the anaerobic alactic metabolism is typical of the final phases of an action. Aerobic metabolism is characterized by accelerations and rhythmic changes, whereas anaerobic lactic metabolism functions in short duration and high-intensity actions with intermittency and incomplete recovery times (21). Surveys on adrenaline (epinephrine) levels (6) highlighted a similar value after a training bout and before a competition bout. In fencing, physical demand is affected by different factors, such as age, sex, training level, and the technical and tactical models used in relation to the opponent (19).
Scientific works are available on physical symmetry: In the upper limbs, using a weapon for long periods produces significant asymmetries (13) and the lower limbs have different requirements for dynamic strength (14); on muscular power, high-level fencers do not always have good flexible, explosive, and reactive power and sometimes the percentage of fast fibers seems to be quite low (3); on neuromuscular factors connected to technical movement, there seems to be a strong correlation between reaction times and hit accuracy because of muscular coordination (24); on energy factors of fencing in general, limited to heart rate, oxygen uptake, and lactic consumption analysis (7–9,11,12).
But it was not possible to find data on the performance analysis of the saber. In the available literature, there are a few descriptions of fencing actions and actual action times, especially in men's saber. During the 2009–10 season, there were 2 kinds of competitions in the World Cup: “FIE GP” and “A.”
The differences between the 2 types of competition are as follows:
- In FIE GP bouts, the final score for the world ranking is double than “A” bouts.
- In FIE GP bouts, the use of slow motion has been introduced to help the referee judge and it can also be requested by the 2 fencers, up to a maximum of 2 times, if the judge has not changed. In “A” bouts of the 2009–10 season, this innovation was not present.
- In FIE GP competition, each country can bring a maximum of 8 participants, whereas in “A” competition, there is a maximum of 12 participants.
In the present study, 7 FIE GP and 4 “A” competitions were observed. Given the differences in regulation between the 2 kinds of saber competitions (FIE GP and “A”), and differences in technique between the 3 weapons, a study of performance analysis during official events may provide useful information to describe the characteristic commitment of the saber.
The primary aim of this study was to determine, through performance analysis, some indicators that could be useful in defining a performance model for the saber and to verify if it could be influenced by the different kinds of competitions and if there are differences between men and women.
The examination of saber performance can be useful to coaches to define a correct training model and to help sports researchers choose more specific tests for this kind of sport.
Experimental Approach to the Problem
A descriptive observational study was used to describe performance in men's and women's saber fencers. A notational analysis was carried out using survey grids to record some technical and tactical aspects useful in the description of the performance model.
To reduce operator error, every bout was watched 3 times and analyzed by more than 1 technician. Two competent observers (National Saber Coach) watched each bout.
To avoid disagreement among the observers, a 95% limit of agreement (1) for each variable was used. No difference was reported for the intraoperator congruence and random analysis, which was not associated with the operator, and no observation errors were deemed satisfactory.
Thirty-two men's saber fencers and 25 women's saber fencers took part in this study. To make the match analysis more reliable, official bouts during international competitions (World Cup Circuit 2009–10) were analyzed. The bouts were chosen randomly for each round of the competition (30 seconds, sixteenths, eighths, quarters, semifinals, and final). Some athletes were studied more than once during the same competition but with different opponents (35 men's saber bouts and 25 women's saber bouts were recorded and 32 men's saber fencers and 25 women's saber fencers were studied). The study was conducted according to the Declaration of Helsinki, and the protocol was fully approved by the University of Rome “Tor Vergata's” Ethics Committee for use of human subjects before the assessments began. Written informed consent was obtained from all the players before the study began. All the players were fully informed about the procedures used in this research and were told that they could withdraw from the study at any time without a penalty.
Fifty percent of the men were in the first 16 positions of the international ranking (2009–10 season), 78% were in the first 50 positions (age 26.8 ± 4.6 years; weight 78.6 ± 7.6 kg; height 184.6 ± 6.3 cm), 50% of the women were in the first 16 positions of the international ranking (season 2009–2010 season), and 83% were in the first 50 positions (age 24.2 ± 3.7 years; weight 61.9 ± 7.2 kg; height 171.2 ± 4.7 cm).
All the subjects were studied at the same time of the year (May 2010 during the World Cup competitions). Twenty-one percent of the men and the 28% of the women were left-handed fencers.
Thirty-five men's saber bouts and 25 women's saber bouts were analyzed, and all the bouts were part of the World Cup competition in the 2009–10 season.
Both fencers were always observed. Twenty FIE GP and 15 “A” bouts were analyzed for men, whereas 13 FIE GP and 12 “A” bouts were analyzed for women.
Two high-speed digital cameras (Casio, Tokyo, Japan), Dartfish 5.5 Pro software (Dartfish, Fribourg, Switzerland) were used to perform the relevant video analysis.
The type and quantity of actions carried out during the bouts were recorded as follows: offensive, defensive, and counterriposte actions were identified and the number of these actions carried out in the 4 central meters of the piste was analyzed. Simultaneous actions were also mentioned: These are all the actions in which the 2 fencers execute the same attack, usually in the center of the piste. In this case, the hits exchanged are annulled for both fencers.
Offensive actions aim to hit the opponent: They include all the offensive actions and the remises (18). The remise is a simple and immediate offensive action that follows the initial attack, without withdrawing the arm, after the opponent has parried or retreated when the latter has either stopped contact with the blade without riposting or made a riposte that is delayed, indirect, or compound (18). Defensive actions are made by the fencer who incurs the attack and tries to stop it by carrying out a parry with his weapon or removing the target (18). Counterriposte actions are made during the opponent's offensive action, not with a parry but with an action that does not allow the opponent to hit or causes him to hit late: among the most common actions identified were the stop hit and the stop hit made within a period of fencing time (18). We also considered all the actions in which the bout was halted by the president of the jury before the end of the action because of a fault or an error by the electronic equipment.
Both in “A” and in FIE GP competitions, the number of lunges, the direction changes, the effective bout times and breaks, and the times of single actions with breaks were analyzed, so that the ratio between action and pause could be calculated.
The lunge is an explosive movement of the lower limbs usually used in the final phase of an action; the direction changes are the changes in walking direction during an action.
The bout time refers to the time between the referee's first call: “on guard” to the last call: “Halt,” which gives the 15th thrust to 1 of the 2 fencers. The action time refers to the time from the referee's on guard call, which is the beginning of the action, to the following “Halt” call, which represents the end, even if the fencers are not given the thrust (which is what happens in the simultaneous action). The break times include the times between one action and another and when 1 of the 2 fencers reaches the eighth thrust. All the studied variables were analyzed in relation to the kind of competition.
All the data were gathered and organized in a database (Microsoft Excel 2010) and then processed by SPSS version 15.0 for Windows statistical software (Chicago, IL, USA, 1999).
For each variable, the probabilistic distributions were evaluated with the aim of testing the adaptability to the Gaussian curve by the Kolmogorov-Smirnov Test and examining the histogram of the frequencies.
Therefore, the continuous variables with a Gaussian trend were described as the median ± SD, whereas the categorical variables, or with order scale and/or with a trend other than the Gaussian trend, have been described as median (minimum; maximum). Consequently, the comparison tests of the variables were performed with one-way analysis of variance, whereas the categorical variables tests were carried out with the nonparametrical Mann-Whitney Test. For all the comparisons, we chose p ≤ 0.05 as the significant level of probability in the statistics.
Thirty-five men's saber bouts were analyzed as follows: there were 20 FIE GP and 15 “A” competitions (8 of them were in the 30 seconds, 6 in the sixteenths, 5 in the eighths, 2 in the fourths, 8 in the semifinals, and 6 in the finals); we also analyzed 25 women's saber bouts, 13 of which were FIE GP and 12 were “A” competitions (5 of them were in the 30 seconds, 5 in the sixteenths, 3 in the eighths, 4 in the fourths, 4 in the semifinals, and 4 in the finals).
In the men's analysis, none of the reported differences between the 2 kinds of competitions are significant, whereas in the women's analysis, the difference in the total number of actions is significant and is greater in the “A” competitions.
Comparison Between the 2 Genders
The number of offensive actions is higher (men's: 55%, women's: 49%) than defensive (men's: 26%, women's: 31%), counterriposte (men's: 12%, women's: 14%), and simultaneous actions (men's: 7%, women's: 4%); besides, it is important to emphasize the high number of actions performed in the 4 central meters of the piste (men's: 72%, women's: 67%).
Table 1 shows how, in men's and women's saber bouts, the number of lunges is high, whereas the number of changes of direction is average; in particular, if we make a correlation between these data and that relative to bout length times (Table 2), it can be noted that a change of direction is carried out every 9 effective seconds in a men's saber bout, and every 10 effective seconds in a women's saber bout, a lunge is carried out every 3 seconds both in men's and women's bouts; whereas, if we consider the total time, a change of direction is carried out every 65.3 seconds in a men's saber bout and every 59.7 seconds in a women's saber bout, a lunge is carried out every 23.9 seconds in a men's saber bout and every 20 seconds in a women's saber bout.
Table 2 describes time spent in some typical saber actions in men and women.
It can be noted that the effective fighting time for men is 13.6% and for women is 17.1% and that the ratio between the action and break time is 1:6.5 (men) and 1:5.1 (women): this analysis can provide information on the kind of metabolic commitment to that fencers are subject to. The actions are at maximum intensity, and the breaks are characterized by low intensity (walking back to the starting position).
In the comparison between men and women, the differences relative to the number of offensive actions, the number of the actions performed in the 4 central meters of the piste, the total break time, the total bout time, the total number of actions, and the ratio between action and break resulted to be significant.
Therefore, women have less recovery time between the high-intensity actions and the difference is to be considered in the training plan.
The noted differences among the various specialties are emphasized in the variety found in the secondary variable "ratio action/break"; however, a statistical analysis was not possible because the data regarding the foil and the épée were taken from other authors (16,20,21).
Comparison Among Different Kinds of Competitions
For each bout, the following data were measured: the number of offensive actions (men's: 16 ± 3.4 in FIE GP competitions and 14.7 ± 2.6 in “A” competitions; women's: 11.7 ± 2.0 in FIE GP competitions and 13.2 ± 2.5 in “A” competitions), defensive actions (men's: 6.7 ± 2.6 in FIE GP competitions and 7.8 ± 2.1 in “A” competitions; women's: 7.0 ± 1.9 in FIE GP competitions and 8.5 ± 3.1 in “A” competitions), counterriposte actions (men's: 3.1 ± 1.6 in FIE GP competitions and 3.6 ± 2.6 in “A” competitions; women's: 3.6 ± 1.9 in FIE GP competitions and 3.7 ± 2.6 in “A” competitions), simultaneous actions (men's: 1 [0;9] in FIE GP competitions and 2 [0;5] in “A” competitions; women's: 1 [0;3] in FIE GP competitions and 1 [0;6] in “A” competitions), and the number of these performed in the 4 central meters of the piste (men's: 19.8 ± 4.7 in FIE GP competitions and 21.1 ± 3 in “A” competitions; women's: 15.2 ± 4.2 in FIE GP competitions and 19.2 ± 3.5 in “A” competitions).
In addition, we calculated the number of direction changes (men's: 8.1 ± 4.3 in FIE GP competitions and 7.7 ± 3.1 in “A” competitions; women's: 6.8 ± 5.2 in FIE GP competitions and 7.3 ± 3.0 in “A” competitions) and the number of lunges (men's: 21.7 ± 4.0 in FIE GP competitions and 21.5 ± 3.4 in “A” competitions; women's: 19.5 ± 4.4 in FIE GP competitions and 23.3 ± 3.6 in “A” competitions); finally, we measured the total time of a bout (men's: 534.1 ± 71.8 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 492.3 ± 90.2 seconds in “A” competitions; women's: 388.6 ± 99.7 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 462.0 ± 88.9 seconds in “A” competitions), the total break time (men's: 461.5 ± 61.6 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 424.1 ± 82.9 seconds in “A” competitions; women's: 316.2 ± 91.0 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 391.5 ± 85.3 seconds in “A” competitions), the effective action time (men's: 72.5 ± 17.7 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 68.2 ± 16.8 seconds in “A” competitions; women's: 72.3 ± 27.5 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 70.5 ± 10.8 seconds in “A” competitions), and the time of length of a single action (men's: 2.6 ± 0.6 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 2.4 ± 0.6 seconds in “A” competitions; women's: 3.1 ± 1.1 seconds in FIE GP competitions and 2.6 ± 0.4 seconds in “A” competitions), and we calculated the ratio between the action time and the break time (men's: 1:6.6 in FIE GP competitions and 1:6.4 in “A” competitions; women's: 1:4.8 in FIE GP competitions and 1:5.6 in “A” competitions).
In a men's FIE GP bout, 60% of the actions were offensive, 25% defensive, 12% counterriposte, and 4% simultaneous. In an "A" bout, 52% of the actions were offensive, 28% defensive, 13% counterriposte, and 7% simultaneous. On the contrary, in a woman's FIE GP bout, 50% of the actions were offensive, 30% defensive, 16% counterriposte, and 4% simultaneous; in an “A” bout, 50% of the actions were offensive, 32% defensive, 14% counterriposte, and 4% simultaneous.
It is possible to note that the actual fighting time for men is 14% of the total time of the match, both in the FIE GP and in “A” competitions; for women, it is 19% in the FIE GP matches and 15% in “A” competitions.
In this study, a performance analysis of the saber (notational analysis) was carried out. Male and female athletes were studied during 2 types of competitions (“A” and FIE GP).
There were no differences between FIE GP and “A” competitions in the men's analysis. However, in the women's analysis, with regard to the total number of actions, the difference between the 2 kinds of bouts resulted to be significant and greater in “A” competitions. The doubled score and the presence of slow motion in FIE GP competition did not modify the technical (number of offensive, defensive, counterriposte, and actions performed in 4 central meters of the piste), neuromuscular (number of lunges and change of direction), and metabolic (total time spent in activity during a bout, action–break ratio) indicators that were analyzed. Therefore, the performance model analyzed in the 2 different kinds of competitions seems to be overlapping in both men's and women's fencing.
The comparison between men's and women's saber bouts highlights some significant differences that could be explained by a different technical-tactical approach: It seems that women need more time to finish an action, and therefore, they have less abilities overall to perform first intention offensive actions. This could be because of the fact that women's saber was only introduced in 1998 and thus has a lower level of technical development.
The data, in general, seem to show that saber is a more dynamic discipline than the other weapons that have longer bout times. The average length of an individual action (Table 2), the percentage of offensive actions, and actions performed in the 4 central meters of the piste—position taken at the beginning of each bout and after each assignment of thrust—indicate a faster and instinctive trend of this specialty's actions (Table 1) compared with foil and épée (15).
In saber, most actions are offensive. Although foil and the épée are weapons with which you can only hit with the point, the saber is a weapon used for thrusting and cutting with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade: this means that for foil and the épée, there is only one hitting direction, whereas for saber, the hitting direction may be leading, cutting, and back cutting (15). It is clear, therefore, that with saber, it is easier to plan an offensive rather than defensive action (15).
The direction changes, and the lunges, are of significant importance in the saber performance analysis of high neuromuscular impact (3). The number of direction changes is not particularly high; the analysis performed on the other weapons shows higher values (21) and even higher in bouts in which 2 high-level fencers fight rather than bouts in which fencers with less technical skills fight (20). In saber, however, a direction change is carried out every 65.3 seconds for men and 59.7 for women. In the comparison with data from other specialties (Table 3), it is notable that in foil and épée, the length of the action is characterized by many direction changes, for the most part of long periods of study, whereas in saber, the action ends quickly: This shows that the direction change is a defensive measure, that is aborting an opponent's attack, rather than to search for the ideal fit as in foil and épée.
In fencing, the distance between the 2 fencers is very important to obtain a successful hit and to avoid being hit; however, in foil and épée, it is repeatedly sought through back and forth movements without necessarily completing the action, which does not occur in saber, because most of the thrusts are carried out by first intention.
A male fencer carries out 21.6 ± 3.7 lunges in a bout, and in particular, he carries out a lunge every 23.9 seconds, whereas a female fencer carries out 21 ± 4.5 lunges in a bout and a lunge every 20 seconds: It confirms the importance that a lunge has in the training program both from the performance and the preventive point of view. The lunge, in fact, is the movement of forward propulsion of the body at full strength, with which a thrust is carried out; moreover, it is very important to include exercises in training programs that will help prevent accidents because of the extreme stress placed upon the knee and, above all, ankle joints.
The data analysis collected on the action times, break times, and related reports can be useful to determine the metabolic characteristics of saber. The data indicate that the average length of an action is 2.5 seconds for men and 2.9 seconds for women and, in some cases, less than a second; in addition, the effective fighting time is 13% of the total time for men and 17.1% for women. These data suggest that, in saber, the primary metabolic commitment is anaerobic alactic and the length of breaks during the bout is 16.5 seconds for men and 14.5 for women, which may confirm the intervention of the anaerobic lactate metabolism caused by short duration and high-intensity actions with intermittency and incomplete recovery times (10).
The comparison between the data found for the saber with that already present in the literature for other weapons (Table 3) confirms the technical differences among the different weapons and the need for diversified and specific training for the saber fencer. In fact, whereas the épée and the foil are weapons that can only hit with the point, the saber is a weapon that you can also hit with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade; in addition, in foil, you can only hit the trunk and the bottom part of the mask, and in saber, the target is from the waist up, whereas in épée, you can hit the entire body. A nonvalid target is only signaled in foil with a white light, whereas it is not signaled with the other 2 weapons.
The foil and saber are subject to the convention that attackers have the right to hit, whereas if the defenders want the right to hit, they have to run for a parry; this rule is not valid for the épée.
Training methods are usually aimed at improving muscle power and strength for all specialties (2), the relationship between the length of an action, and that of a break (Table 3) highlights the need to diversify the type and administration of the method according to the weapon practiced. It may be of greater significance to focus on the rhythm changes rather than on the acceleration and deceleration periods during both the offensive and defensive phases. Moreover, it appears to require the use of training related to muscle power in the lunge.
Saber is a skill that is faster and more instinctive than épée and foil: The duration of the action is shorter, more offensive actions are performed, and high numbers of actions are performed in the 4 central meters of the piste that require important acceleration and deceleration actions.
Our work adds data that can be useful to understand the differences between the various fencing weapons and to then define the bout demands and training modality more clearly.
In the future, more detailed studies on acceleration and deceleration abilities would be useful to improve performance and for injury prevention. In both men and women, the differences of the rules do not seem to affect the athletes' performance, so it is not necessary to diversify training in preparation for the 2 types of competitions.
The end user before scheduling a saber training should consider that there are differences in the behavior in a match between man and woman and that the different type of regulation does not affect the characteristic of the match and, above all, that there is a difference in the performance demands among saber and other weapons.
- Performance analysis data can help the coach identify metabolic indicators useful in training planning.
- In relation to training planning, more attention should be paid to rate changes and then to the acceleration and deceleration phases in both the offensive and defensive periods. More training must be planned in the central area of the piste: a kind of intermittent training using short distances with an action to recovery ratio of 1: 6.5 (men) and 1:5.1 (women), which should be preferred over physical saber training.
- Our data confirm the need for diversified and specific training for men and women saber fencers.
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Keywords:© 2013 National Strength and Conditioning Association
fencing; match analysis; notational analysis