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)”
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.”
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
Example 2: McDowald’s Fleche
Example 3: Cuomo’s Fleche
Example 4: Bardenet’s Fleche
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.”
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.