With both fencers in the on-guard position, the match is ready to begin. The distance between them is such that one fencer could almost, but not quite, touch the other with a full lunge forward. The object of a fencing bout is to close that distance just enough to be able to hit your opponent—without getting hit yourself.
The lunge and the recovery
The lunge is the classic method of attempting the touch. It has two distinct motions. First is the straightening of the right arm, thrusting it forward directly from the shoulder toward the target. Under the rules of competitive fencing this is recognized as a formal threat to the target area of the opponent, thus giving the "right of way" to attack.
The second motion is the actual lunge, which is designed to move the foil tip as quickly as possible to the target. It is accomplished by snapping the body forward with a fast extension of the rear leg. The rear foot remains flat on the floor, while the front foot skims forward until the rear leg has been fully extended. The left arm is straightened and brought down to a position just above the extended rear leg (see above). With practice the two motions, extension of the foil arm and lunge, become one coordinated movement. Recovery is accomplished by a hard push with the right foot, simultaneously bending the left knee. This returns the fencer to the on-guard position, where he is again safely out of reach.
This is part of the continuous back-and-forth footwork in fencing. The footwork is simple (see below). Its object is to lure your opponent within reach at a crucial moment, while staying out of reach yourself.
The basic attacking movements
After practicing the footwork and lunge—a full-length mirror can be a great help with this—a novice is ready to try the basic attacks.
The simplest of these is the straight thrust. This is nothing but a long stab at an unprotected area. The least effective form of attack, it involves no deception, so it must be very fast. Even then it is easily parried.
Slightly more complicated is the disengage. In this the attacker moves his foil from one side of the defender's blade to the other by passing the point under the opponent's wrist. It works best against a defender who has put considerable pressure on the attacker's foil while trying to push it aside. The attacker relaxes suddenly under the pressure, describes a U with his foil tip and comes up on the unprotected side.
The double disengage is a one-two punch. The attacker fakes a disengage, the defender parries hard against that threat, and before his victim can recover the attacker dips his foil tip back to the side he started from.