A Flèche is not a Running Attack

According to my 4000+ touches of thesis research, a fleche is occurring on 16% of actions at the highest levels of international fencing. In modern fencing, it remains one of the most important pieces of one’s repertoire, but there’s an opportunity to revisit how we define it.

Nearly every piece of fencing literature references the fleche as a “running attack” in some way, shape, or form. Take a look at the following glossaries below and their definitions of the fleche, and you’ll see “running” as a common thread:

USA Fencing: “Explosive, running attack (Foil and Epee only)[1]” 

Imre Vass: In his book Epee Fencing: a Complete System, Imre Vass defines a fleche as a “running attack or attack with crossover.” (Vass, 1965)

NBC Sports Engine: “A short running attack towards the opponent.”[2]

To me, the incorporation of the word “running” in the definition implies some form of a hearty jaunt in the attack as the attack is initiated. In a fleche, running really occurs in the follow-through of the action when executed properly.

Take a look at the following video examples of the fleche with some visual annotations included below to illustrate my point, and pay close attention to when the touch is scored. Spoiler: it’s occurring usually the moment the back foot eclipses the front foot, or the moment the back foot crosses over and hits the ground:

Example 1: Eszter Muhari Fleche

Muhari: Pre-Fleche
Muhari: Hits as back foot crosses over

Example 2: McDowald’s Fleche

McDowald: Pre-Fleche
McDowald: Hits as Back Foot Crosses Over

Example 3: Cuomo’s Fleche

Cuomo: Pre-Fleche

Example 4: Bardenet’s Fleche

Bardenet: Pre-Fleche
Bardenet: Hits as Back Foot Crosses Over

So if it’s not a Running Attack, then what is it?

We’ve established that the “running” component of the fleche occurs in the follow-through of the action. A fleche that breaks out into a full run before the hit lands has likely been executed from out of distance, or it’s done in desperation as time is expiring at the end of a bout.

So to decide when an attack becomes a fleche, look to the FIE Sabre rules (t.101.5) which forbids: “movement in which the rear foot completely passes the front foot.”[1]

This definition, combined with components of Imre Vass’s “attack with crossover” definition I like. So, I submit the following definition of a fleche:

“A crossover attack in which the rear foot completely passes the front foot as the hit lands.”

You might be thinking: “this definition is almost identical to that of a crossover lunge,” and you’d be correct. However, in nearly all of the thesis research I’ve done, few to no actions end in a pure “crossover lunge” with exceptions of infighting and/or unplanned actions. An intentional crossover lunge is all but irrelevant in today’s fencing meta, mostly due to the fact it doesn’t have the same kind of speed and power as that of a fleche.

What do you think of this definition of a fleche? Sound off in the comments below. 

[1] https://static.fie.org/uploads/28/141642-technical%20rules%20ang.pdf

[1] https://www.usafencing.org/glossary-of-fencing

[2] https://www.sportsengine.com/fencing/terms-to-know

6 thoughts on “A Flèche is not a Running Attack

  1. Good points. Absolutely correct with the hit occurs on or before the cross over leg touches the ground, the earlier the better. The French School would be in agreement. The cross-over assumes the fleche starts (traditionally) with a cross-step forwards, which creates the forwards loss of balance and requirement to cross the legs followed by a recovery forwards. However this is not always the case. The fleche can often start with the fencer moving the front foot rearwards, behind their centre of gravity and driving off their front foot, generating the forwards instability which then requires the rear foot to move forwards (cross) in order to regain balance. In the lunge, the drive comes from the rear leg, through the foot ground contact. In the fleche the drive comes from the front leg, through the front foot-ground contact. The relative position of the front and rear foot determines the difference in reach available to the fencer from the lunge vs fleche. A lunge occurs when the drive and control is from the rear leg and foot (the first part of a step forwards). The fleche occurs when the drive and control is from the front leg and foot. The fact that in sabre the possibility of an offensive action with the drive from the front leg and foot is retained (now called a flunge) suggests for a classical fleche people generally consider the legs should cross. This also points to the reality for the effective “business end” of the fleche, as noted, occurs right at the beginning and has little to do with the crossing of the legs, running, or even stopping in the crossed over lunge position, irrespective of what we call it.

  2. One must look at the meaning of the word Flèche -which just like its Italian counterpart Frecciata- means arrow. Hence, the emphasis on the upper part of the body in which the blade as an extension of the fencing arm, is aligned with the shoulder line and the trailing arm, thereby looking as an arrow propelled towards the target. The propulsion coming from the backwards push of feet. Indeed, those who do not know how to fleche in epee push down vertically resulting in a somewhat upward push, which my Fencing Master Janos Kevey used to call “ helicopter” Flèche. And yell “ no helicopter”. In fact, we used to practice the Flèche from the starting position of the 100 meter dash, so that we would learn to push backward with foot rather than downward. Interestingly, the German used Sturzangriff for Flèche which translated “ falling attack”’maybe because if your point did not hit the target during the arrow part of the touch, youbwould fall flat down on the strip and, indeed, the crossover step was executed to prevent the fencer from falling. The Flèche evolved from the Polish flying flèche (taught by Maestro Kevey ) from out of distance to a Flèche in effect executed from lunge distance. The term running attack was adopted when in the conventional weapons especially in the mid 70s and 1980 the run attack – culminating in a Flèche became so powerful that the strongest fencers in the world excelled in counter offense.
    In epee, the running attack was not adopted for obvious reasons, unless a fencer had to run because trailing in points with time about to expire. In this respect, as you pointed out, you run away after the flèche in epee because that is the time to pop smoke or be hit.
    In epee fencing today you “call” (chiamata in Italia) and you enter into distance with a1/2 step on the advance of the opponent or as a counter-call, in Italian contro chiamata, with a 1/2 retreat, so in many of the actions executed in flèche, you hit on the first propulsion of the arrow phase whether an offensive/counteroffensive action or an a reply Flèche ( after defending by distance). A Flèche against an opponent who is subtracting speed has a high risk of failure especially if (there is a height differential) unless you take advantage of a temps perdu or you set it up as a pull and and sudden push ( with Flèche) taking advantage of the fact that the law of inertia will impact more the fencer changing direction backward.
    In epee, given the 40 mms lockout the upper part of the arrow is key; of course with the tactical context of the footwork and whether speed is added or subtracted to that of the opponent. The sooner the arrow hits the opponent the better. To the point the hit of flèche should be taught within the context of Mozambique drills ( for those familiar with firearms); with the second shot (hit) landing on the landing of the rear foot and the third one on the landing of the next step. The last shot not being valid if scored but preventing a hit from the opponent. A focus on the feet derivesc from the conventional weapons where the feet are used to determine ROW. In epee the arrow part is key just as the the feet provide the propulsion forward; so a description of the flèche should contemplate both. I would also stay away from ROW terms like “attack”’ and use the term “action” or offense/counteroffensive etc. The Flèche in video in which the fencer squats, shows that he is loading the Flèche so the “ arrow”’would have more propulsion forward.

  3. I agree with your analysis, but not your conclusion.

    IMO: A fleche is an attack by extension in which a hit is scored after the torso passes fully over the leading knee.

    I don’t think the crossover/footwork is relevant. Firstly, a full sabre fleche, which is not a flunge, is still a fleche. Secondly, most of the footwork associated with a fleche happens AFTER the hit is scored, and so is technically an action after the attack, not part of the attack.

  4. Yeah, not really a running attack. When I first started, I was told it meant arrow attack (french) and the horizontal aspect was stressed. It’s an attack with no chance to recover. You’re launching yourself at the target. It starts with both legs driving hard and transitions to the front foot until you’re stretched out to the target. Ideally, the touche should land before the front foot stops pushing while you’re driving to the target. The run out is just to keep you from landing on your face and to carry you past in the unlucky event that the attack fails. The later you bring the back foot into play, the longer the energy stays in the attack.

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