With any martial art footwork is the foundation for the rest of the movement. If you don't know this or are just beginning a martial art, then you will here this quite often. Fencing is no different, and in fact it can play into high-level strategy as well. Though what I am going to cover is pretty basic.
In both of the gyms we practice in, there is a problem with the stickiness of the floor and the potential for tripping and/or twisting an ankle. This is caused by humidity, a clean floor, and not having one of those fancy grounded-metal strips. The problem people have is that they don't quite pick their feet up all the way and their toe catches on the sticky floor, causing them to fall or reel. Sometimes it is just due to inexperience with the floor or basic footwork, but sometimes it is due to people trying to be sneaky by leaving their toe to slide along the floor so that it seems that they haven't lifted their foot. This can be used as a tactic but shows a few flaws.
The first problem is the physical part: The top of the foot becomes extended while the heel is lifted and the toe is left on the strip. This is bad for two reasons, first is that the foot is in a precarious position and if rolled it may sustain more injury because of already being extended. The second is that this shows poor conditioning for those fencers who do know better. I know that it may be hard at the end of the day to maintain good foot technique, but if the fencer is already tired in the middle of the first bout and can't keep the toe from dragging, then there is something that needs to be done, such as drills or cross-training.
The second problem is the audio part: The toe dragging on a sticky surface may make a squeak that is loud and clear, and alerts the opponent to the intended movement. Even when not on a tacky surface the sound of a shoe sliding can give warning, even if it may only be subliminal. But of course this can also be used as a feint, to make the opponent think you are going to do something. But this is along the same lines as stomping, just a bit more subtle.
The third problem is the knee: Someone who is trying to be sneaky about their toe may forget about the knee. Whenever the heel comes off the floor, the knee comes up, and the knee is closer to the opponent's focus than the toe. Some will even lift the heel very high as though it would help them. Again, it is more easily seen by the opponent and puts the foot and ankle in danger.
Footwork should consist of the feet leaving the floor in a normal manner but still promotes the correct posture. The feet should never be lifted far above the floor, this is wasteful and unproductive. The foot should travel parallel to the floor as close as one is able to control it without touching the floor accidentally.
I will probably write more on this subject later on.
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