Most of the time, they're just whacking at each other's swords; even if they were actually trying to kill each other, nobody can block that many attacks. Please don't be that guy. I used to teach fencing to kids and adults; both think the opponent's weapon is the enemy, and modern cinema only informs their ludicrous misconceptions.

I've never seen anything like that in reality. James Bond makes it seem like sword fighting is an infinite loop of parries and blocks until someone makes a fatal mistake; truth is, you (or your adversary!) will make that fatal mistake within, like, seconds. Your adrenaline is pumping. You're angry. You can't think straight. It's the difference between pornography and reality. Once you can appreciate that, you'll have a huge leg up on any opponent.


Start with this mantra: Your enemy is the enemy, not his weapon. Every time you purposefully smack your sword into his, your chances of winning decrease dramatically. Finish your fight in one or two actions. If he knows what he's doing, he'll attack the body; this should be your objective as well. Don't watch this.

I couldn't keep track of how many times both guys have the chance to riposte (i.e., counterattack). Just fuck his face up! Keep it quick and dirty. Remember to keep your blade raised at all times. Do not lower it. And then, make your choice: attack or defend.


This is where your threat assessment can help. Is he eager for a fight, pissing beer, if not blood? Or is he coy, sweaty, and clammy, like he wants to dance around a little? Or, worst of all, is he a knight-errant in his Renaissance-fair community? In the first two cases, you've got him. In the third, it's a little tricky. So let's break those scenarios down:

A) He's a little excited.

If you've gotten on his nerves, he's begging you to take him apart. They say the best defense is a strong offense, which, okay, but I think the best defense is really just a really good defense. If he's itching to attack you, and you're as calm as you should be, a solid defensive action could trip him up and win your lady's honor back. Here's a helpful visual, courtesy of 18th-century Poland.


In addition to arc welding, certain anti-tank rifles, and vodka, the Poles helped invent modern saber fencing. Originally used on horseback to cut down enemy cavalry, the saber was adopted into dueling a couple hundred years ago. The top-left image there is your north star: That parry is called quatre, or four, and according to a few of the coaches I've known, it makes up about 70 percent of the blocks you'll make in your (likely short) dueling career. It's the body parry, protecting the non-dominant side of your body, and can counter almost any attack (so long as it's not to your dominant side). So if he's itching for a fight and plans on bursting out of the cage, metaphorical guns blazing, in all likelihood, he'll go for your non-dominant side. This is, of course, a gamble. But 70 percent isn't too bad. Hit that parry as his weapon comes at you, and when your weapon connects with his, it'll hopefully knock him off-balance. Now's your chance to hit him back and draw first blood. (Side note: Wear pants when you duel. Trust me.)

B) He's a little nervous.

In this case, be a wolf, not a sheep. Nothing spooks a nervous dweeb like confidence. If he's shuffling about and wondering where to start, he's not worth your time. Stab him right in the face. He'll try to dodge; he won't do it in time. For a proper attack, remember that any direct thrust or cut is rigid. As in boxing, use your shoulder, not your elbow. A swift cut or thrust is one, fluid motion, straight and true. This minimizes the time you expend on your attack while multiplying the force.


C) He knows what he's doing.

So here you have a problem. Though it's rare, it may be an experienced sword-fighter who has affronted you—perhaps an Olympic fencer or orc chieftain—and your only preparation has been to read a 1,500-word blog post. You probably should've taken this into account before challenging him to a duel. But you didn't. So now you're truly fucked.


But. Let me tell you that from limited experience, nothing is more frightening than going up against a newbie. They're unpredictable, unpracticed, and will probably try to kick you or stab you in the balls. If you're fighting an experienced bladesman, the rulebook must be thrown out. Your honor—perhaps your life—is on the line, so disregard honor entirely. It's time to go off-book. Scream in broken Chinese and attack. Take a pre-duel dump right in front of him. Or, fine, go pantsless. Whatever it is, you've forfeited your safety by challenging someone who has a good amount of experience. More practically, then, here's my advice: Feint (or pretend-to-attack) the non-dominant side. You know, an attack requiring a quatre parry. Then, when he presumably takes said parry, flick your weapon to the dominant side, which should be exposed like a babe in the sun. Take a cut. Hopefully he's slow enough on the uptake and you can draw first blood.

Finally, assuming you're still alive, win with honor. Don't showboat, brag, or otherwise come off like an asshole. You've just beaten the asshole. Shake the broken man's hand and say, "Good game." Burn. However, if you killed him, you should probably get a lawyer. Killing someone with a sword is still not cool. Well, not really.


Ben Radding is an editor at Men's Fitness and tweets from @raddingbot.

Image by Jim Cooke.

Adequate Man is Deadspin's new self-improvement blog, dedicated to making you just good enough at everything. Suggestions for future topics are welcome below.