Poking Each Other With Sticks Since 2006

Thoughts on the Gardere Grip

Pictured to the left is my latest experimentation, the Leon Paul Gardere Grip.

The Gardere Grip has been said to be “The marriage of the French & Pistol grip” and is still illegal in most (if not all) U.S. competition circles.  Since 2005 there have been numerous threads on Fencing.Net listing the Pros and Cons of both practicing and competing with such a grip.

My stance is that this is more of a “political issue” than anything else.  What we are looking for when we decide if a weapon is legal or illegal is “unfair advantage.”  I would think that if this was the sole case, than pistol/orthopedic/ergonomic grips would be outlawed as well.  With the added ease of gripping, the fencer has an “unfair advantage” in power.  As for pistol grips being used as practice weapons (I strongly encourage French Grips in my school), I align with the more “traditional” coaches that postulate that pistol grips make the fencer more susceptible to heavier recruitment of the arm muscles, whereby proper fencing comes from the wrist and fingers.

This is the first time I’ve ever used the Gardere grip and I must say, I encountered an initial ‘liking’ to it and to the change in grips.  The prongs and grooves secure the hand onto the weapon whilst keeping the same control via the thumb & index finger (aides).  My only complaint is that the pommel draws inward and doesn’t align itself to the center of the wrist, as would be the case with the French grip.  A slight balance issue, but one that I’m sure I’ll gradually get used to.

To my students and readers, (in my opinion) the Gardere doesn’t give the fencer an “unfair advantage” as the superior fencer will prevail apart from any of these small changes (same feeling goes for pistol grips).  However, the best practice weapon remains the French/Italian grip (second, the Gardere).  For competition and for recreational activity, I would encourage my student to find The sword/grip that best suits you, personally.” 

While you’ll never see a modern Olympic fencer fencing without a pistol variation, it would be most refreshing to see someone representing and dominating with the French grip in the near future. 


Coach Michael Joyce

Winston-Salem Fencing Club



5 responses

  1. D Achilleus

    The issue is not merely political, but one of form and function. Sport gear (I refuse to call them weapons because they are not) is identifiable mostly by its grip and this is antithetical to a sword. Swords can be classified by their hilt types, but the hilt itself is determined by the blade. It is a clear signifier of how devolved sport fencing has become that the grip is such an important factor.

    Historically there was one “type” of grip on any sword “type”. This most closely resembles what we now refer to as the Italian grip (for foils, spada du duello, rapiers, smarras) and the issue is different for cutting weapons like sabres. The French grip was only ever used in training until the development of the epee du combat in the mid to late 19th century. This was essentially a big foil.

    Modern pistol grips, like the gardere, exist because of a false assumption about how a sword is held and how technique is executed. If you are teaching and training and fencing from a French canon of technique you must use a French foil and learn how to use it correctly. Difficulty is natural and part of the learning process, but avoiding it and relying on a crutch, like the modern pistol grip, is never an answer.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:02 pm

  2. Tom Smith

    Coach Joyce, there is a German epee fencer , whose name escapes me (Bodezci, perhaps?), who uses a french grip, and is very good. I believe I have seen another one or two who use french grips as well. I have a question, what if one cut the lower “grip piece off a pistol grip? One could argue it’s still a pistol grip, yet it would essentially look like a Gardere grip. I would think, in that case, either pistol grips would have to be rendered illegal, or Garderes would have to be made legal. I see no unfair advantage in Gardere grips over pistol grips, personally.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:19 am

  3. D Achilleus

    If you really want to talk about USFA legalities for some reason the issue with the Gardere grip is posting. Posting is the practice of holding the grip at its furthest position thereby increasing the length and therefore your overall reach. The Gardere grip is one of the only ortho/pistol designs that allows for true posting. For this reason it was universally banned.

    March 13, 2012 at 1:48 pm

  4. Tony

    Fabrice Jeannet (FRA), the silver medalist for men’s individual Epee last Olympics in Beijing, used a French grip.

    April 18, 2012 at 12:43 am

  5. Erik K arl Schärer

    Hello brothers ( and sisters) in arms ! I’ve been following the debates about gardere and italian grips on several forums and there seem to be a big confusion wether they are legal or not. I therefore quote the FIE rules : t.16 1. “With all three weapons, defence must be effected exclusively with the guard and the blade used either separately or together.”

    “1.16 .2 If the handle has no special device or attachment or special shape (e.g.
    orthopaedic), a fencer may hold it in any way he wishes and he may also alter the
    position of his hand on the handle during a bout. However, the weapon must not be
    — either permanently or temporarily, in an open or disguised manner —
    transformed into a throwing weapon; it must be used without the hand leaving the
    handle and without the hand slipping along the handle from front to back during an
    offensive action.”

    “1.16 .3 When the handle has a special device or attachment or has a special shape (e.g.
    orthopaedic) it must be held in such a way that the upper surface of the thumb is in
    the same plane as the groove in the blade (at foil or at epée) and perpendicular to
    the plane of flexibility of the blade at sabre. ”

    As you can see there is no prohibition what so ever. its even allowed on sabre although I don’t recomend it.

    So keep on fencing with italian or gardere grips ! I would be very pleased to see one on a competition allthough I as a referee can’t give you any points for elegance ! 😉

    p.s – there are a lot of “police apirants” on competitions trying to be important by telling you what’s allowed and whats not. In case of uncertanty just ask them to specify the rule and page in the rule book.

    Best regards ! Erik Schärer Prevot de Armes, Coach and Referee Stockholm Sweden

    June 7, 2013 at 8:13 pm

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