Drills play an important part in teaching fencing and in training fencers for competition. The acquisition of any physical skill requires repetition, and the smooth execution combined with speed and accuracy required for fencing demands extended repetition. One of the oldest and simplest drills used in fencing is the drill at the wall.
As the name implies, a drill at the wall requires immobility on the part of a defender (although he or she does not have to stand literally back to the wall). The defender is placed on guard with the back foot at a set point on the strip, and is not permitted to move in any direction. The attacker comes on guard at lunge distance. When both fencers are in place, the attacker initiates an attack at fencing speed, and the defender must defeat the attack with an appropriate defense or counterattack. Both fencers know the distance and the actions to be executed. After a set number of repetitions, the fencers exchange places and repeat the drill.
This drill thus replicates one of the three defensive cases:
(1) retreating on the attack (to gain time and distance for the parry),
(2) standing in place (possible if the defender has reasonable assurance of the nature of the attack and sufficient speed to parry it), or
(3) stepping forward to parry (thereby collapsing the attackers distance and disrupting any multipart action).
The drill at the wall was a favorite drill in the classical period when retreating from an attack was considered somewhat inappropriate for gentlemen. However, in today's modern footwork oriented sport, it is of less value because mobility in the face of the attack is an assumed requirement. Even if the fencer does intend to stand and meet the attack, the point at which that occurs is in the midst of movement and is not known in advance to the attacker.
However, the drill at the wall has utility, especially if modified to reflect current competitive conditions. Three options may be worth consideration:
… First, it can be used in its original form to build confidence in attack and defense for beginners. It should not be the only type of drill used, and transition should be made quickly to exchange drills with movement. It can also be an occasional variant in the training of intermediate fencers to stress speed and accuracy of attack or quality of the parry.
… Second, the wall can be made mobile. The defending fencer can be free to retreat on the opponent's advance, with instructions to stop retreating and react to the attack or attack into the preparation at random numbers of steps. If the attacker is simply advancing prepared to attack but unprepared to react, this collapses the attacking distance, and opens up opportunities for the defense.
… Third, the drill can be shifted to front foot immobility as a last stand at the end of the strip drill. The front foot is on the strip, and the torso and rear foot are off. Now the defender can adjust distance to some degree with the rear foot and can attack or counterattack if the attacker misjudges distance or has flaws in the attack.
The drill at the wall in any form is a specialized drill in the modern fencing environment (of course, if you are a classical fencer it retains its original value). As a specialized drill for training for specific training needs or tactical cases, it retains value and should be in the coach's toolkit for building varied and effective lessons.