The most important skill you will ever learn in fencing is footwork. It is the basis for success at any level. You will find that you will need to practice it regularly throughout your fencing career. When you first start fencing, you may get a lot of touches at first by over-lunging or by using very big footwork to startle your opponents. But that will truly only take you so far. Picking up bad footwork habits can really hinder your progress and will keep you from moving on to the next level in your fencing.
In sabre it is vital to do small footwork. You need to be able to change direction quickly; in order for that to happen you need to do small advances and retreats as a general rule. You also need to get into the habit of using your back foot to push you forward when you advance; your front foot should push you backwards to retreat.
Here’s how to check and see if your footwork is “saber small”: find a straight line on the floor somewhere. Put your front foot behind it and come On Guard. Take one complete advance. Look down at your front foot. That foot (between your arch and your heel) should be on the line. If you have stepped over the line then you have taken too big of an advance.
There are definitely times when larger steps will be necessary but if you practice small footwork like this, your footwork will get faster and more fluid.
Here’s a video to show you basic footwork (en garde, advance, retreat, double-advance, double-retreat, lunge, advance-lunge): Basic Footwork
My next post will be about how you can practice footwork mindfully.