Unveiling the “Fantastic 4 Method”: An Inspiring Interview with Clément Schrepfer, Fencing Maestro

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Unveiling the “Fantastic 4 Method”: An Inspiring Interview with Clément Schrepfer, Fencing Maestro

Hello everyone,

Today, I am thrilled to share a special conversation that has been a great source of inspiration and learning. As many of you know, I have been diving deep into fencing for quite some time now. During this journey, I came across a book titled “How to Fence Epee: The Fantastic 4 Method” written by none other than Clément Schrepfer, a french seasoned fencer who has spent more than two decades in competitive practice, even achieving the #8 world ranking in the 2003 FIE Junior category. 

Intrigued by his novel approach to the sport, I contacted Clément on Instagram. To my surprise, he responded! What followed was an enlightening exchange, filled with rich insights about his book and valuable advice tailored to my fencing journey. His accessibility and willingness to engage with a fellow fencer like me were humbling and heartening.

Clément’s Fantastic 4 Method has been revolutionary for my fencing practice. The concepts he introduces in his book and our subsequent discussions have greatly enhanced my understanding of the sport and have offered a fresh perspective to tackle various situations on the strip. His method is not just about mastering the technical aspects; it’s about cultivating a deep understanding of oneself, the opponent, and the sport’s nuances.

In the hope of sharing some of these insights with all of you, I asked Clément if he’d be open to a more structured Q&A that I could share. He kindly agreed. So, without further ado, let’s dive into this enlightening conversation with Clément Schrepfer, author of “How to Fence Epee: The Fantastic 4 Method“.

Thomas: Can you describe the inspiration behind your “Fantastic 4 Method” and how it came to be?

Clément Schrepfer: Certainly, it all began when a talented young fencer from my fencing club, Levallois Sporting Club, approached me and asked if I could text him the “4 things” I often advised him to focus on. I thought about it and realized that these “things” resulted from more than ten years of competitive practice, encompassing various advice and analyses. It was impossible to condense all of that into a single text message.

My natural inclination as a teacher led me to write what I initially thought would be a “10-page” document for him. However, it ended up becoming “The Fantastic 4 Method.” The name came to me as I was writing and conceptualizing the approach. I was astounded by how fantastic these “4 things” were!

Consider this: every touch in every bout is caused by a deficiency or imbalance in one or more of the Fantastic 4 (excluding the basic technical fundamentals, which are also detailed in my book). The goal of the Fantastic 4 Method is to identify which aspect is incorrect, correct it for the next touch, and gradually eliminate all errors until you become untouchable! Isn’t it fantastic? 😊

Thomas:  How would you suggest a beginner apply the Fantastic 4 Method in their fencing practice?

Clément Schrepfer: My main suggestion would be for beginners to view each touch as an opportunity for improvement. Regardless of whether the touch is in their favor or against them, they should take the time to analyze the cause of the hit, not just from a technical standpoint, but through the lens of the Fantastic 4 Method.

During the hit:

  • Were you focused on the correct fixed target?
  • Were you at the appropriate distance?
  • Did you exercise enough patience?
  • Did you execute one of the three correct intentions?

Identify any errors, make adjustments, refocus on the Fantastic 4, get back into en garde position; Prêts? Allez! Halte! Repeat this process consistently in your practice sessions.

You can also focus on identifying whether you or your opponent provoked or committed the mistake. This is an important factor. Did you commit the mistake due to a lack of technique, focus, distance, patience, or forward intentions? Or did your opponent provoke your mistake? In both cases, you can correct your approach in the next action, but in one case, by adjusting your own efforts and, in the other, by being more cautious of your opponent’s attempts and intentions. The strategic game of fencing revolves around provoking mistakes without committing one simultaneously.

Thomas: In your book, you mentioned that “knowing yourself” is key. Can you elaborate on this? What specific aspects should a fencer focus on when trying to understand themselves?

Clément Schrepfer: In all aspects of life, lacking self-awareness often leads to mistakes. When it comes to “knowing yourself” as a fencer, it means not blindly imitating someone else’s style of play or attitude simply because it seems cool or because it works for others. Each individual is unique, and attempting to mimic someone else’s approach leads to personal errors.

I’m not referring to technical moves specifically but rather to aspects such as attitude, energy on the strip, and emotional management. Understanding oneself in these areas is crucial for minimizing mistakes. Fencers should focus on:

  • Attitude: Assessing how they approach the sport, their mindset, and their overall approach to challenges.
  • Energy on the strip: Recognizing their own energy levels, how they handle pressure, and their ability to maintain focus during a bout.
  • Emotional management: Understanding their emotional responses to various situations on the strip and learning how to channel and control those emotions effectively.

By gaining insight into these aspects of themselves, fencers can better understand their strengths, weaknesses, and personal style, which ultimately leads to improved performance and fewer mistakes.

Remember this straightforward principle: our weaknesses present opportunities for our opponents, while our strengths become their threats. As a result, it is crucial to focus on recognizing and developing our strengths while honing our observation skills to identify weaknesses in our opponent’s game that we can exploit to our advantage.

Thomas: How does your method cater to different types of fencers, such as those who are more aggressive versus those who prefer a more defensive approach?

Clément Schrepfer: The Fantastic 4 Method caters to all types of fencers, regardless of their preferred approach, fencing style, or technique. The essence of the Fantastic 4 lies in the interaction between two opponents. It is intended to be utilized during pre-bout preparation or before each “Allez”, as well as for post-hit analysis.

Whether you are a determined, aggressive, playful, strategic, defensive, or precise fencer, whenever a hit occurs, there is an underlying issue within at least one of the Fantastic 4 that needs to be identified and addressed more carefully in the next touch. The method provides a framework for fencers to analyze and improve their performance, irrespective of their individual style or approach.

Thomas: Can you talk more about the concept of “Patience” in the Fantastic 4 Method? How does a fencer develop and apply this patience in their bouts?

Clément Schrepfer: The concept of “Patience” in the Fantastic 4 Method emphasizes that a fencer should initiate their actions only when they have consciously decided to do so. It is not about passively waiting for something to happen but rather about choosing the right moment to execute a move. By exercising patience, fencers can avoid falling into their opponent’s traps or succumbing to premature invitations.

Patience is a fundamental concept in epee fencing and is closely tied to resource management. Being patient requires effectively managing both mental and physical resources, often surpassing those of one’s opponent. By mastering this aspect of the Fantastic 4, fencers can achieve better results. They will maintain clarity and composure for a longer duration and make fewer errors than their opponents, allowing them to capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes.

In order to cultivate patience, it’s crucial to improve physical abilities and focus while engaging in physical activity. This involves conditioning your body to maintain stamina and endurance while remaining mentally focused on executing actions at optimal times.

Thomas: Talking about Patience! Can you share your insights on how the sport of fencing has changed over the years, especially with the introduction of the passivity rule?

Clément Schrepfer: Indeed, the sport of fencing has undergone changes over the years, and the introduction of the passivity rule is one notable development. This rule aims to prevent fencers from prolonging exchanges and physically wearing down their opponents without taking decisive actions. It has added a sense of urgency and dynamism to the bouts, pushing fencers to engage actively and avoid passive strategies.

In addition to the passivity rule, modern fencing has become increasingly physically demanding. Top fencers are not only skilled technicians but also highly trained athletes. Physical conditioning plays a crucial role in their success, and being able to physically exhaust opponents to the point of losing focus and lucidity is a significant achievement.

However, amidst these changes, the concept of patience remains vital in fencing. It is about not falling into the opponent’s traps and choosing the right moment to execute a touch action. Fencing is often likened to a game of cats and mice, where patience allows fencers to observe and analyze their opponents, waiting for the opportune moment to strike. Patience, therefore, continues to be a virtue that fencers must cultivate in order to succeed.

Thomas:  You mentioned the importance of managing distance in fencing. Can you provide more insight into how a fencer can effectively control distance during a bout?

Clément Schrepfer: The concept of “Distance” in the Fantastic 4 Method emphasizes the importance of positioning yourself beyond the direct reach of your opponent while still being close enough to easily threaten them with your point without the need to get too close.

Effective distance management involves balancing risks and opportunities. It is a crucial factor in fencing. To do this successfully, you need to be aware of your attack range and accurately assess the attack range of your opponent.

You can imagine several zones about distance management:

  • Comfort Zone: This is where you are positioned outside the danger zone and are safe from a direct attack by your opponent.
  • Danger Zone: Stepping beyond your comfort zone puts you within reach of a direct attack from your opponent.
  • Learning Zone: This is the zone where you can observe and learn about your opponent’s reactions to your threats or preparations.
  • Growth Zone: This is your zone of reach of your target.

The game of controlling distance involves moving fluidly between these zones: transitioning from comfort to learning, back to comfort, and ultimately to growth. It requires caution when crossing the danger zone to minimize the risk of being hit by your opponent. Effective distance management enables fencers to create advantageous situations and capitalize on opportunities while minimizing the chances of being successfully attacked.

Thomas: How can a fencer balance staying dynamic and avoiding unnecessary, high-energy actions?

Clément Schrepfer: In order to maintain a balance between being active and avoiding excessive use of energy, a fencer should focus on making efficient and effective movements from front to back along the horizontal axis. Any other blade movements in the lateral axis can be used as information to identify potential weaknesses or preferred reflexes by your opponent. However, it is crucial to consider your energy type and playing style, as excessive blade movements can also overwhelm your opponent with too much information to process and distract him/her from focusing on your real distance or intentions.

To avoid unnecessary actions, focus strongly on the target, a specific and fixed point to focus on (between the chest and the shoulder), rather than constantly looking at your opponent’s hand or blade. Paying too much attention to threats can cause you to lose your sense of distance and make you vulnerable. By focusing on the target, you can better appreciate and control the distance between you and your opponent, allowing for more efficient and effective actions.

Thomas: In the book, you discuss “Making Act” and “Making React”. Could you clarify the difference between these concepts and how a fencer can effectively use them in a bout?

Clément Schrepfer: In the book, “Making Act” and “Making React” refer to different attitudes and intentions a fencer can adopt during their preparation and actions in a bout.

“Making Act” involves moving forward with the intention of extending an invitation to your opponent while remaining vigilant and prepared to respond to any attack that may occur. It is about proactively engaging your opponent, creating openings, and maintaining awareness of potential counterattacks.

On the other hand, “Making React” entails moving forward with the intention of observing and analyzing your opponent’s reactions to your threats or preparations. You can gather information about their reflexes, defensive movements, and openings by initiating actions and carefully observing their responses. Did your opponent retreat? Did she/he attempt a parry? Which line did she/he defend? This information can then be used to inform your next action and exploit any weaknesses or patterns you have identified.

Effectively utilizing these concepts involves a combination of strategic decision-making, keen observation, and adaptability. By incorporating both “Making Act” and “Making React” into your fencing approach, you can create opportunities, gather valuable information, and adjust your tactics accordingly during a bout.

Thomas: The book is divided into three chapters – fundamentals, the Fantastic 4, and putting into practice. How do these chapters build on each other, and what key takeaways can fencers expect from each?

Clément Schrepfer: The three chapters of the book, namely “Fundamentals,” “The Fantastic 4,” and “Putting into Practice,” build upon each other to provide fencers with a comprehensive framework for improving their fencing skills. Here are the key takeaways from each chapter:

Fundamentals: This chapter focuses on the essential building blocks of fencing. It covers three dimensions: technique, physical training, and mental training. Fencers can expect to learn about refining their technique, including their en garde position, footwork, and stroke approach. They will also gain insights into improving their physical abilities, such as endurance, explosiveness, and relaxation. Additionally, the chapter emphasizes the importance of sharpening mental focus and concentration during both training and competition.

The Fantastic 4: Chapter 2 delves into the core principles of the Fantastic 4 Method. Each of the four components (Fixed Target, Distance, Patience, and Intentions) is explained in detail, highlighting their significance, how they function, and providing examples. The chapter presents the Fantastic 4 in a pedagogical order, but fencers are encouraged to apply them in the order that best suits their needs and preferences.

Putting into Practice: In this chapter, the focus shifts to the practical application of the Fantastic 4 Method. Fencers can expect to learn about manipulation on the strip, effective concentration techniques before, during, and after each action, and bout management strategies. It provides practical tips and insights to help fencers integrate the Fantastic 4 Method into their overall approach to fencing.

The book is conversational, aimed at engaging and assisting fencers in understanding the concepts. It offers additional tips and advice throughout the text, reinforcing key topics such as sleep habits, nutrition, perseverance exercises, attitude towards advice, adaptability in gameplay, … and providing guidance on various aspects that contribute to an overall improvement in fencing skills.

Thomas: How can fencers, coaches, and non-fencers benefit from your Fantastic 4 method?

Clément Schrepfer: By applying the Fantastic 4 Method, fencers gain a deeper consciousness and understanding of their performance on every touch. They can identify the root cause of their successes or failures beyond purely technical analysis. 

With the Fantastic 4 Method, I aim to challenge the purely technical approach often heard from coaches, such as “keep your hand up in your attack”, “stay strong in your parry” or “he attacks you on the prep”. While these can be valid advice, they only scratch the surface.

For instance, having a good hand position in an attack is important. Still, the underlying issue may be attacking from the wrong distance, lacking patience, or a clear intention to hit. These fundamental aspects are more significant and need to be addressed. Even if a technical mistake occurs, executing an attack with the right intention, timing, and distance increases the chances of success, surpassing the mere focus on hand position alone.

The Fantastic 4 Method provides coaches with a simple yet comprehensive framework for explaining and understanding fencing dynamics. Coaches can delve deeper into their explanations and analysis, focusing on the core concepts of the Fixed Target, Distance, Patience, and Intentions. It allows coaches to guide fencers in a more holistic manner, addressing not only technical aspects but also the underlying principles of opposition management. The method is easy to explain, understand, and remember, making it a valuable tool for coaching and training.

For those not actively involved in fencing but interested in watching and understanding the sport, the Fantastic 4 Method offers a way to appreciate the balance of power in a fencing match. By considering which of the Fantastic 4 components is lacking in each touch, non-fencers can gain insights into the strategic aspects of the sport and better comprehend the dynamics of the bout. It provides a more accessible and relatable framework for understanding fencing beyond its technical intricacies.

Overall, the Fantastic 4 Method enhances the fencing experience for fencers, coaches, and non-fencers alike, by focusing on essential elements, promoting a deeper understanding of the sport, and facilitating targeted improvement in performance.

Thomas:  Can you share any success stories or transformations you’ve seen in fencers implementing your Fantastic 4 Method?

Clément Schrepfer: One of the most notable success stories I have witnessed from implementing the Fantastic 4 Method occurred in 2019 when I defeated Yannick Borel, who was the top-ranked FIE fencer, in the French Championship with a score of 15-12. It was just one week before my wedding, and despite having a limited practice that year, I was in excellent physical shape and mentally focused. The weekend had already been successful for me as I had won the team championship of France in the third division the day before.

Throughout the bout, I vividly remember analyzing each action through the lens of the Fantastic 4 Method, calmly reminding myself between touches: “Not this way, wrong intention”, “Focus on distance”, “Maintain target focus, don’t be intimidated by his hand” and so on. Despite initially falling behind 0-2, I gradually turned the match around by continuously eliminating my mistakes. It was an incredible sensation.

In addition to my own experience, I have received numerous testimonials from fencing masters and fencers of all skill levels, expressing how they have gained a new perspective on epee fencing and found increased enjoyment in their practice, even after many years of training. Some fencing masters have even noticed a sudden transformation in their students’ attitudes, and upon inquiry, the fencers attribute it to reading my book. It is truly humbling and gratifying for me to hear these stories, and I feel deeply honored by them.

Thomas: Do you still actively fence, either competitively or recreationally?

Clément Schrepfer: After the pandemic hiatus, when we were finally able to resume fencing, my passion was still strong, but unfortunately, my knee was weak, and I got injured. The following year was a struggle to manage pain, which was not a pleasant experience. As a result, I decided to stop fencing this year, marking the first time in 30 years that I have been unable to participate. However, I still have a deep love for the sport. I watch championships and am actively working on new projects, including a book and video series that align with my YouTube channel, “Fantastic 4 Fencing – Progress in Fencing on and off the Strip.” As I approach the veteran category, I am considering a cautious and gradual return to fencing, starting with recreational fencing. Although it has been a challenging period, I remain hopeful that I will be able to enjoy the sport again soon.

Thomas: Have you ever considered or currently organize fencing camps or clinics?

Clément Schrepfer: Yes, indeed! In the spring of 2022, I was invited by “Les Seigneurs de la Rive Nord,” a fencing club near Montréal, to organize a fencing camp. It was a rewarding and enriching experience that I eagerly look forward to repeating. I had the opportunity to teach the Fantastic 4 Method and incorporate specific exercises for each fundamental and Fantastic, allowing participants to put the theory into practice. I also engaged in fencing bouts with the participants to help them better understand which Fantastic(s) to focus on based on their fencing styles.

The feedback I received from this week-long training session was extremely positive, as it provided the fencers with a deeper understanding, increased motivation, and new goals to pursue. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to Gilbert Gelinas, the fencing master who organized this remarkable event.

Thomas: What’s next for you in your fencing career, whether as an athlete, coach, or author? Are you considering a second edition of your book?

Clément Schrepfer: I am not only considering a second edition of my book, but I have also started writing it! Ever since I realized on November 4th, 2019, that the principles of the Fantastic 4 Method also apply to everyday life and project management, I have been eager to update and expand upon the original content. This revelation inspired my YouTube channel, where I have developed numerous concepts since the publication of the first book. I cannot imagine not including these new ideas in an enriched and updated book version. At the same time, the Fantastic 4 Method is continuing its journey as I have recently signed a publishing contract with a renowned academic publisher in Krakow, Poland, for the Polish-translated version of the book!

I am also in talks with the French fencing federation regarding some online course projects I proposed to them last year. This collaboration is still in progress and holds exciting possibilities.

I am truly excited to give back to the fencing community what fencing has given me: wisdom, values, health, mindset, enjoyment, friendships, travels, self-discovery, and so much more. Fencing is truly a sport that encompasses a wide range of benefits.

Thank you for these thought-provoking questions. I hope readers will embrace my world and discover the Fantastic 4 Method with the same passion I had while writing it!

Links:

The book on Amazon: How to fence epee -The fantastic 4 method

The Instagram of Clément

The YouTube Channel of Clément

Thomas Ferriere
Thomas Ferriere
Hello, I'm Thomas, a dedicated writer here and a veteran fencer at heart. Fencing isn't just my hobby, but a transformative passion for my entire family. With my wife and two kids equally immersed in this sport, we've found a unique way to bond while learning the values of discipline, focus, and determination. Through my posts, I share our journey with the hope of inspiring others to discover the joy and benefits of fencing.

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