A number of dueling histories record the horrific duel between Colonel Barbier-Dufai and a young Captain, Raoul de Vere. According to most versions, the older adherent to Napoleon attempted to pick a fight with this member of the Royal Guard, but was initially unsuccessful. Barbier-Dufai, frustrated in finding the young man so unflappable, finally remarked that he was not insulting him, but his cockade, and after a heated exchange challenged the captain. However, when asked to select a weapon the captain replied that he had insufficient training in all of them. The colonel said he would not fight a child, a comment that irked de Vere and led him to slap the older man. A duel was now inevitable. In the ensuing sword fight, Barbier-Dufai disarmed his opponent several times. Finally, in frustration, the colonel suggested they hop into a carriage, arm themselves with daggers, tie their left arms to one another, and take two turns about the Place du Carousel. The young de Vere agreed and they set off in their mobile piste. When their seconds opened the carriage, blood was everywhere, Raoul clearly dead, and the colonel next to death. Both men died and honor was apparently satisfied. 
I share this story because it highlights the pure idiocy of fighting in close measure. There are times when it is unavoidable, but generally—unless one is in a confined space—there are means by which to extricate oneself from such proximity. One of the chief faults I see in both the wider community and among some of my own students is mismanagement of measure. Usually in my own classes, the culprit is a mix of well-intentioned aggression and fun—so intent on making the touch, some students neglect their own safety. I never want to chip away at the fun they’re having, especially among the younger students, because having fun is one reason people fence, but at the same time I need to ensure that they learn properly.
There are a few things we can do to ensure that our students have a proper notion of measure, and that can help them remember to use distance well in their bouts.
Teach them What Measure Is
First and foremost, from the off we need to teach them the various measures appropriate to their weapon or tradition. Regardless of the weapon or era my students study, I introduce them to the traditional breakdown of measure into three main categories:
- Out of measure
- In measure
- Close measure
Out of measure, what Giordano Rossi calls “double measure” and Luigi Barbasetti refers to as “normal distance,” is the distance that requires us to make an advance first in order to lunge to target. In measure means that one can lunge to target. Close measure is that spot were either opponent can reach one another without the lunge. There are some subsets to this, but to start this is ample.
I hesitate to say that “all” systems of measure reflect these basic breakdowns, but I feel safe to say that measure, being a fight universal, is common to all systems however described. Even in those like Rossi’s “measure” and “double measure” or Fiore dei Liberi’s “largo” and “stretto,” there is implied space between these two poles. Regardless of nomenclature, one must learn how to navigate any space along the continuum of “measure.”
Measure drills by definition involve footwork. Ideally, any footwork drill save perhaps those used in warming up a class—where everyone advances and retreats down the hall using various types of footwork—will work distance too. Below are several drills I typically use in classes:
Glove Tag is a crowd favorite and very much a game. One can run this as a linear partner drill, or, as a general melee. I usually ask if anyone wants to be it, and if not then select someone. Fencers must use the appropriate footwork only, and, can only target the wrist. There is no parry. One has to move, or, parry with the feet (in the non-pejorative sense).  Fun as this is, and much as it helps them move, making it a bit more realistic is helpful (see Mask Tag below).
Foil-Push or mask-push, have the students, in guard, suspending a foil/sabre/etc. or mask between their lead hands. The goal is to move back and forth without dropping the foil or mask. I emphasize that while they are taking turns driving, so to speak, they are working as partners—the only way to keep that foil up is to move in concert. If fencer A steps back, B needs to step forward, and vice versa.
Mask-Tag and 1-Touch Tag, fencers don their masks and use the weapon to tag. For sabre, students target only the head, and, cannot parry. Thrust fencers can only target the chest (or arm depending on what we’re working on), and, as with sabre, cannot parry. They must move their feet. Students must use distance to their advantage. Success depends on moving, recognizing someone fell short and is now vulnerable in the recovery, or, selecting the moment the opponent is occupied, such as mid-step, to strike. If the attack fails, then retreating under guard or behind the point is the best option, and the fencers reset.
Mask-Tag Plus takes this drill one step farther—each opponent can parry and riposte once per action, that’s it. So, if Fencer A lunges with a thrust to the chest, B can parry in quarte and riposte, but if A retreats half a step, then B must recover—B can’t redouble. For more advanced students one can allow the redoublement. This option should be included at some point as so many students starting out stop just shy of the target.
Two-Step Tag is something I’ve used with foil and smallsword students. Two of my foilists, for example, are offensively-minded, so tend to close quickly at “Allez!” and descend into a flurry of jabs, thrusts, etc. I don’t want to take that drive away, so I’m trying to channel it instead. In this version, the only attack they can make is an advance-lunge to the chest. It’s super hard to do, especially since one’s opponent knows what’s coming, so everything depends on precise and keen use of footwork, timing, and distance.
The goal with all of these drills is to emulate, as much as one can, the conditions of a bout, but restrict the options so that the students are forced to use measure. It’s not that good handwork is unimportant or cheating, but that it can easily become clatter and chaos instead of well-planned attacks and responses. It becomes reactive, not active. I teach them that if an attack fails or if something isn’t working, to retreat, regroup, and try something else. Persistence in the face of stout defense is brave, sure, but foolhardy—if what we’re doing isn’t working, we try something else. .
Reinforcing Proper Use/Awareness of Measure in Bouting
It does little good to encourage proper measure in drills if we fail to do so in bouts. There are a few way to do this. In both classes and individual lessons I save any bouting we might do for after any focus on technique and drills.  This helps prime the pump as it were—students are more likely to consider measure if they’ve spent a bit of time focusing on it before bouting.
Within the bout, I have students actively bouting and those observing analyze the action, not only because it reinforces attention to measure, but also because it buttresses other important aspects, from recognizing who had initiative/started the attack to breaking down each action within a given exchange. Too few fencers learn to analyze bouts well, and the sooner they start the better.
Why Measure Matters
If you view most any bouting footage posted to sites like Youtube you will see, or should see, why better attention to using measure is worth one’s time. In one recent video, for example, one fencer analyzes his bout, but misses the reason that he found himself in the situation he did—they were fighting too close to one another.  If their sabres cross near the middle, they’re too close. Certain actions are harder to thwart at such proximity—in this case, a slip of the leg will likely fail because there is insufficient measure to remove the leg and strike the opponent’s head without being hit. More likely, and we see it in this example, both parties will be hit.
In fairness to this fencer, the rule-set he’s likely fighting under is not as doctrinaire as I am about the guiding principle of “don’t be hit.” Even when a rule-set is explicit, so much depends upon judges who know what to look for and how to make sense of what they’re seeing, and by and large tourney HEMA lacks a reliable pool of judges capable of analyzing the action at such a level. Add to this the excitement and/or nerves in a bout and of course things can turn out less ideally than we plan. It is not my intention to denigrate my fellow fencer, only to point out something important he didn’t address (his focus was on the slip). Were he my student, we’d likely work on this very set of actions at the proper distance, that is, set it up so that he is just about a step or so farther back then we see in the video. From punta spada/sword tip one is more likely in a place not only to make the attacker’s feint and strike more successfully (i.e. without be clobbered doing it) but also provide the defender sufficient measure (and thus time) to assess and adjust.
Not all clubs or instructors take the same view I do. The more I read, the more I teach, the more I see how fencers learn, the more inclined I am to championing the goal of “don’t get hit.” It does change how we fence; it makes for a more circumspect, conservative, and hesitant game. The flash and fire, the dynamic move and rococo blade-work tend to impress, and that is what attracts many of us in the first place. It looks cool and we want to do that cool thing. While perhaps less flamboyant and exciting, I’d argue that there is as much beauty to the cold efficiency, exactness, and finality of a one-touch exchange. Moreover, training this way adds something else extremely important—improved confidence. The more one succeeds in gaining the line, striking, and getting out without suffering a counter-attack or double, the more one trusts themselves and the weapon they have in hand. In no way does that make one invulnerable, of course but confidence does much to help us cultivate the calm we need to fight with our heads and not our hearts. 
 There are a number of popular histories and websites that mention this duel, few with adequate citations. See for example Robert Baldick, The Duel: A History, New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 1965, 164-165; Major Ben C. Truman, The Field of Honor, New York, NY: Fords, Howard, & Hulbert, 1884, 236, available online at [https://archive.org/stream/fieldofhonorbein00trumuoft/fieldofhonorbein00trumuoft_djvu.txt]; Thimm records a duel with daggers, minus a carriage, between two men in Italy in 1891, A Complete Bibliography of Fencing and Dueling, Reprint (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing, 1998), 457.
 Giordano Rossi, Sword and Sabre Fencing, Milan: Fratelli Dumolard Editori, 1885; translated by Sebastian Seager, Melbourne Fencing Society, 2021, 49-50; Luigi Barbasetti, The Art of the Sabre and Epee, New York, NY: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc, 1936, 15-16. Cf. Gustav Arlow, Sabre Fencing, 1902, translated by Annamaria Kovacs and edited by Russ Mitchell, Austro-Hungarian Sabre Series, Vol. 3, Happycrow Publishing, 2022, 35.
The term “normal measure” is revealing–this is the distance from which one is still safe, but close enough to mount an attack. In other words, one isn’t four meters away from the opponent, and, isn’t in their lap.
 The “Coward’s Parry” or “Ninth Parry,” according to Morton, is the derisive term applied to those who avoid at attack by means of a step back. Where this idea originated I’m not sure, but it’s alive and well in HEMA. My guess, like Morton’s, is that this harkens back to the time with salle fencing, particularly in France, sought complex, elegant handwork over retreating (a “ninth” parry suggests an acceptable eight, and the French school in the 19th century looked to that number). See E.D. Morton, Martini A-Z of Fencing, London, UK: Antler Books, 1990[?], 43, 126.
 There are instances, of course, were it’s wiser not to break off the attack. If say one thrusts to the chest but lands short, and the opponent isn’t reacting properly, then redoubling to strike makes good sense.
 Most of my bouts are teaching bouts, that is, bouts in which I present what we covered in a lesson so that the student may work on those topics in real time. For classes, I still do this, but often include a little free-bouting at the end of class provided the students have enough in their toolkit to do so, otherwise I have them engage in restricted bouts where they move at real speed, but are restricted in what they can do.
 I do not know “@HEMA_Fight_Breakdowns,” and again, do not wish to disparage them in any way. Their video provided a great example of what I cover here, but my topic was not the same as theirs and I want to make that clear. To blast someone for not covering something we want them to, when that isn’t what they set out to do, is silly if all too common. This fencer has some good things to say about slipping the leg and one response to it–the topic of the video–it can be found here: https://youtu.be/Bk32YMYqiwA
 For this notion, see Master Perigore of Paris in the film adaptation of “Scaramouche” (1952): https://youtu.be/FQfsvMENYgc