Basic Rapier Footwork

Indicates previous foot position
Indicates direction of movement
Indicates foot rotation
In the footwork positions below I have used a modern fencing stance as the initial position to make it clearer how the feet change position.

Modern Fencing Guard Position
Left foot forward Right foot forward

Alternate Renaissance-Style Guard
Left foot forward Right foot forward
In this guard, the body is turned somewhat towards the opponent. While this presents a larger target area, it brings the off-side shoulder forward so that the secondary hand can be used in defence. In a modern fencing guard position the secondary hand is much further back and thus far less useful.

Left foot forward Right foot forward
1. Begin in the guard position.
2. The forward foot is moved forward by a short step. For a faster advance a longer step can be taken, but do not overextend yourself.
3. Once the forward foot has been planted, the rear foot is brought forward by the same distance and you are once again in your initial position. Take care not to drag the foot along the ground, this is an invitation to stumble when on uneven ground.

Why should you move the forward foot first?
It is primarily a matter of balance and manoeuverability. If you move the rear foot first, you will end up with your two feet touching or almost touching. This does not leave much room for play for your centre of gravity, so it is very easy to become unbalanced - especially if your opponent presses an attack at that moment.
An advance is also a threaning move, either a prelude to an attack, or the attack itself. Shifting the front foot first make several options available to you: you can simply lean forward into a half-lunge, or you can follow with the rear foot and complete the advance, or you can pull back into you previous position. All of these movements can be accomplished with ease from the intermediate position.

Left foot forward Right foot forward
A retreat is the exact reverse of an advance: the rear foot is lifted up and moved one step backwards, after which the front foot follows. On a retreat it is even more important not to drag your feet on the ground - stumbling on a retreat is usually much more disastrous than stumbling in an advance.
As with the advance the order of the foot movement is important. Should you move the front foot first you will end up in a very precarious position, and even if this is for only a short moment it can be enough to see you run through.

Forward Pass
Left foot forward Right foot forward
The forward pass is a quick advance combined with a change in position: the primary hand moves to a defensive position closer to the body, while the secondary hand moves further out and becomes the primary threat. This manoeuver is very useful for changing between a more offensive and a more defensive position.

1. Begin in the guard position.
2. Lift up the rear foot and bring it forward, placing it down a step in front of the other foot. As you take the step, turn the foot so that it faces forwards, and as you place it on the ground rotate the other foot by ninety degrees. You will now be in the mirror position of your previous guard.

Backward Pass
Left foot forward Right foot forward
Like a retreat, the backward pass is the exact reverse of the forward movement: lift up the front foot, bring it back one step past the other foot, turning it by ninety degrees as you bring it down, and rotating the other foot to face forwards.

Slope Pace Outwards
Left foot forward Right foot forward
As its name indicates, the slope pace is a movement not directly towards or away from your opponent, but diagonally across. It looks awkward, and feels awkward when you first practice it, but it is of great value.

1. Begin in the guard position.
2. Lift the front foot and move it forwards and outwards, rotating the foot so that it points towards your opponent. As you place the foot down, shift your body weight forwards slightly.
3. Pick up the rear foot and bring it into normal guard position.

What does this movement accomplish?
This is a prime example of what di Grassi calls 'voiding a blow', ie not being there when your opponent's blade lands. As you take the diagonal step, your body automatically moves out of your opponent's line of attack. In addition, it moves you closer to the opponent, on a side he is undefended on, so you will be in an ideal position for a strike, preferably while you opponent is still extended in his thrust.
Your attack will usually take place at the same time as your first step, striking your opponent as you put the foot down. To this end it is important to remember that where the foot points, the hand follows. It may feel awkward placing the foot down at such an angle, but it means that you are still facing your opponent and your body is in a position which virtually makes it attack by itself.
Should you not angle the foot, ie point it in a diagonal line past your opponent, you will effectively end up side-on to your adversary. Not a position you should be caught in!
If your attack misses or you choose not to strike after the first step, you are nonetheless in a balanced position from which you can either halt the movement and return to your original position, or complete the slope step and face your opponent from the side.

Slope Pace Inwards
Left foot forward Right foot forward
The inward slope pace feels even more awkward than the outward slope pace. It is useful against attacks on the outside of your primary hand, as well as against left-handers. :)

1. Begin in the guard position.
2. Pick up the front foot and move it diagonally across your body, placing it down a step forwards and pointing towards your opponent. You will end up in what feels like an unbalanced, crosswise position, but it is less unbalanced than it may seem.
3. Pick up the back foot and bring it into position for a normal guard stance.

Like the outward slope pace, the inward slope pace moves your body out of the line of and attack, and simultaneously moves you forward into an attack of your own. Again, it is important that you point your front foot towards the opponent, and strike as you bring it down. Remember, these moves were meant to to deliver a blow with as much force as possible and run someone through, and thrusting from the side as you do the first step brings all your body's momentum into the thrust. So, be careful to calibrate your thrusts well!

Occasionally maintained by Guntram von Wolkenstein.
Last modified 8/4/2004.