The basic fighting position of fencers is the guard position. This seems to be a simple thing, not deserving of much attention after the first sessions of a beginner’s course. In reality an efficient guard position requires constant attention to ensure that it is good to start with and that it does not decay over time.
The basics are simple:
(1) feet shoulder width apart in an L shape with a straight line connecting weapon foot tor, weapon foot heel, and back foot heel.
(2) torso relaxed and upright, not leaning inward or outward, forward or back.
(3) weight centered in the triangle formed by front toe, rear heel, rear toe.
(4) weight equally distributed between forward and rear legs.
(5) legs bent with 45 degrees being the optimum for power generation.
(6) torso at a 45 degree angle front shoulder forward.
(7) arm in the appropriate position for the weapon.
(8) outside high line closed and forearm not exposed as appropriate for the weapon.
(9) rear arm raised to the rear in the classic position, arm and hand relaxed.
(10) head level, eyes to the front.
Practice coming to this position, check its correctness with a mirror, at least 10 times a day. Come on guard, check the mirror, relax and walk around, come on guard, etc. Correct even the most minor deviation from the standard. If you do it 10 times a day every day, without fail, in a year you will have done 3650 repetitions. Do that for three years, and you should have a good, reliable guard that you automatically assume.
But the guard is not everything. You need to be able to move efficiently in the guard, and execute extensions and parries from it. The movement part is easy to practice. Once on guard, advance and retreat and then check your guard. It should not have changed. Then watch as you do the two steps – you should not bob up and down, twist your torso, or move your weapon arm. The guard should remain stable throughout movement.
And then, the next step. Can you execute a simple attack from guard and maintain stability? Can you execute a simple parry from guard and maintain stability? To take the attack first. Practice extending the arm to hit:
(1) smooth extension to full extension of the arm at shoulder height (slightly lower for sabre, higher for epee)
(2) no leaning – if the hit requires a lean on your part, close the distance the amount you need to have a solid touch with no lean.
(3) practice with (a) no torso rotation and (b) with rear arm drop and torso rotation.
(4) make certain the shoulder is relaxed when the extension is complete.
(5) hit a target – if you miss you are either working faster than your ability to aim (slow down) or your arm and shoulder are tense (relax with a shrug).
Then try the same thing with a step forward. When you extend is based on your tactical doctrine and your weapon. In epee it does not matter, and holding the extension until into the advance ensures the fastest point speed at the touch as well as not committing the weapon until relatively late in the attack. For foil and sabre be guided by the current vagaries of how referees are calling the attack.
And finally do the exercise with a parry. Complete the parry as both feet come down. Try the parry remaining on guard in place, with a step back, and with an advance.
In all of these exercises your guard should not change position. Move from the knees, and keep the torso stable. And yes, this will require practice, and more practice. The nice thing about fundamental skills is that they always require practice.