Sunday, December 13, 2015

This Week in 5 Minutes: Low and High

In our last post we worked on attacking to the low line from high line with a disengage from outside high to outside low. This week we will go from low to high. To do so we must first establish that an opponent has to lower the blade sufficiently to create a viable opening for the disengage into the high line prior to the start of the attack. The parameters for this threat are limited:

... in general the fencer's blade preparation to create the threat cannot overly expose her to an attack into preparation or a counterattack - thus an exaggerated lowering of the blade is to be avoided.
... in epee especially a blade presentation that appears to threaten the lower leg will draw a stop hit rather than an attempt to parry or to close the line.
... in sabre, the low line is limited to the underside of the weapon arm - the opponent will tend to react to threat by drawing the blade back, and opponents just do not fence from a guard of 2.

As a result in sabre, the low to high attack is probably only useful as a compound attack that feints low, drawing a parry of 2, and then disengages upward to cut the arm. In foil and epee the fencer has to create conditions in which the opponent feels a need to put his blade in a level or slightly down position in response to the fencer lowering the point to possibly threaten a thrust under the arm. The best way to do this is to attack under the arm from a lowered blade position, either a straight thrust attack or a dig with the hand lowered in pronation. This can either be an attack to hit, or a false attack that sensitizes the opponent to the threat.

Once the opponent's blade is lowered to match the fencer's lower presentation of the blade, and the opponent is concerned about the low line attack under the arm, the low to high disengage is mechanically very similar to that of the high-low attack - a progressive and tight disengage to come around the bell on the outside and hit in the high line on the arm or torso (epee), torso (foil), or arm (sabre). The ideal time to do this is as the opponent finally decides to move to a lower blade position, making use of the opening line possible.

And just as important is the preparation from previous actions - each attack is potentially the feint for the next action. Draw the opponent's attention to the low line, make him feel a threat he believes he must move his blade to be prepared to counter, and reward this preparation with a high line hit.


In the next week we will start transitioning our blog to the Salle's Website as part of our rebuild of We expect this week will be the last post of "This Week in 5 Minutes" on this site.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

This Week in 5 Minutes: High and Low

Fencers tend to be oriented to the high line. In all three weapons low line targets are more difficult to hit, they may require deeper penetration into the opponent's space, and in foil and sabre attacking them exposes the fencer to effective counterattacks. But the predilection for high line starts very early in your fencing experience. Think back to your beginner's class - what did you learn? That is right, attacks against the high line. Indirect attacks were nice complete U shaped disengages, or V shaped high line coupes, or circular counterdisengages. If you started with sabre, your experience was probably direct cuts to head, flank, arm, and chest. You were taught to come on guard in high line - the rules even require it. All in all, your formative experience in fencing was high line.

But there are four lines, two high and two low (although in sabre we tend to think of low line as one unified space, the underside of the forward target). Not using the two low lines cuts our attack options for simple and compound attacks in half and simplifies our opponent's defensive problem. So how do we attack low? In this post we will discuss one option that has two variants, the high-low attack, and we will consider it in its most probable use 6-8 or 8-6 in foil and epee, 3-2 or 2-3 in sabre.

These are semi-circular attacks. We normally think of semi-circular actions as parries that start in the guard, rotate the blade inward toward the center line, and then either downward (for 6-8, 3-2) or upward (for 8-6, 2-3). From our perspective our blade makes a pattern like a letter C, narrower in width than the depth of the U of the disengage. In a high-low or low-high attack in the outside line, your attacking blade makes the exactly the same movement (which means that for the defender it is the reverse of their parry).

Depending on the weapon adjustments are made to hit the desired target. In foil, the low action may require lowering the hand and raising the point to come up under the opponent's arm, especially against shorter opponents. In sabre the cut will have to adjust its trajectory to avoid the larger guard. In epee, the attack to the advanced target may require a dig upward or a flick from above descending over the bell.

This can be delivered in two forms, as a simple attack, or as a compound action. In the simple attack, you execute a one tempo disengage from the high line guard with the blade moving progressively forward as it descends vertically into the low line. Depending on the situation, this may include closing the fencer's own line with opposition to preclude an effective parry and riposte or counterattack. The action from low to high is a mirror image of the high to low.

The second form is a compound delivery. The first option is a feint to the high line, followed by the rapid descent to the low line when the opponent reacts to the feint (or the reverse). The second option is a vertical one-two. If at all possible the action should be set-up by a previous successful action in the line of the feint - thus a successful straight thrust (or direct cut) that drew a response of significantly raising the blade in the parry attempt, or a successful one tempo high-low.

In executing this type of attack make your actions as tight as you can to increase their speed and to minimize your exposure to counterattack. In the compound actions use a tempo change to initially draw the parry response and then accelerate the final.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

This Week in 5 Minutes: Ripostes by Counterdisengage

As we have remarked before, any simple attack can be delivered as a riposte or counterriposte. Doing so only requires that the conditions required for the simple attack are present in the riposte's time period. Thus a straight thrust works if the line is open and unstable or opening. A disengage works against pressure in a line or against a closing line, or even to the opposite side of an unstable partly open (or partly closed) line. However, how do we use the counterdisengage? After all, a counterdisengage requires that the opponent initiate action, a circular attempt to take your blade.

That raises the obvious question - when in a parry-riposte exchange does the opponent ever do a circular action to try to take the blade? After all your attack come in in 4th, she parries 4th and ripostes 4th, and you parry 4th, etc., etc. All of those parries are lateral; not a circular action to be seen anywhere.

However, there are two parries that use circular motions:

(1) circular parry - picks up the opponent's disengage and returns it to the original line. For example, circular 6 (Sabre 3) takes the disengage into 4th and puts the attacking blade back in 6th (Sabre 3rd).
(2) change parry - picks up the opponent's straight thrust and transports it to a new line. For example, change parry 6 takes the straight thrust in 6th and puts the attacking blade in 4th.

Note that I have not used the term "counterparry" - I avoid "counterparry" for four reasons. First, people conflate counterparry with counterripostes and confuse everything by calling the parry against the counterriposte a counterparry. Second, counterparries have always been circular movements but exactly which circular movement has changed several times in the last 200 years. As I teach historical, classical, and modern fencing, sometimes to the same students, using a descriptive term that avoids the confusion makes some sense. Third, change parries and circular parries do tactically different things in terms of setting up the riposte, and different terms adds clarity. Finally, using the term "change parry" is consistent with the way the blade moves in the change of engagement and the change beat.

In doing this I accept one added bit of confusion. Remember that a circular parry is not actually circular. Completing the action as a circle adds a circular vector to the opponent's movement, facilitating a rapid roll off to escape the parry. The correct blade movement is a teardrop. This is so for both circular and change parries - there is no difference in the mechanics of blade movement, only in what we are using that blade movement to accomplish.

So we have these teardrop shaped circular movements that can be used by a defender to achieve several key objectives:

... capture a disengage (the circular parry)
... capture a straight thrust or cut (the change parry)
... transport the opponent's blade to a line other than the opponent's desired line (both circular parry and change parry)
... set up the riposte in your desired line rather than his (both circular parry and change parry)
... introduce an element of surprise (both circular parry and change parry)
... and when the movement ends in a 6 (3 for Sabre) move the opponent's blade to a line with reduced likelihood of a successful completion or remise (both circular parry and change parry)

This means that your riposte must be prepared to deal with the opponent who reacts with a circular motion as a parry. This is particularly true of the opponent habitually does circular parries on recovery from the attack to clear the lines - normally this is circle 6 in Foil and Epee and circle 3 in Sabre.

The answer is the counterdisengage. Some definitions of the counterdisengage describe it as a disengage followed by a second disengage to return to the line of the original disengage to hit. That is technically correct, but has two faults, one theoretical and one practical. The theoretical separation into two disengages loses the continuous circular flow, and makes it into a two tempo compound action, which it cannot be if it is a simple attack or riposte, and which it clearly is not in operation. Practically, describing it as two disengages makes it more complicated than it needs to be. In simple terms a countedisengage is a circular movement to return to the original line of attack and deceive an opponent's change parry, circular parry, change of engagement, change beat, or other circular attempt to take the blade. It is executed by following the opponent's circular movement progressively inward toward the target throughout the circle to hit as it is completing.

So, we now have a logical set of ripostes to deal with the most common responses:

... direct riposte if the opponent's lateral parry is defective or slow or if we wish to set up a second intention or a disengage counterriposte.
... disengage riposte if the opponent's lateral parry is effective or if we want to surprise the opponent or complicate his defensive decision making.
... counterdisengage riposte if the opponent habitually uses a circular parry on the recovery.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

This Week in 5 Minutes: The Indirect Riposte/Counterriposte

Let's start with some basic theory. Fencing consists of:

(1) offensive actions,
(2) defensive actions,
(3) counteroffensive actions,
(4) and actions not intended to result in a touch.

If we look at:

(1) offensive actions
(1a) Among the offensive actions is the riposte, which is subdivided two ways:
(1a first) by its place in the phrase as:
(1a first i) riposte - the first riposte
(1a first ii) counterriposte - every subsequent riposte by either fencer
(1a second) by how it is executed:
(1a second i) simple direct
(1a second ii) simple indirect
(1a second iii) by transport
(1a second iv) compound
(1a second v) with broken tempo

The riposte is simply defined in all three weapons as the attack a fencer executes after a parry.

The first riposte we teach beginners is the simple (one blade movement) direct (in the same line as the parry) riposte. For many fencers, that is THE RIPOSTE. My opponent attacks in 4, I will execute a direct riposte in 4 relying on speed and distance to ensure a hit.

But is this the summit of tactical and technical development as a fencer. I would suggest not. One of the great challenges of fencing is to force your opponent into predictability; one of the great faults in fencing tactics is to be predictable. In any form of combat, predictability makes you a grape to be plucked and eaten (unless you are overwhelmingly faster, stronger, with greater reach, better sensors, etc.). It is no different in fencing.

So what do we do to deny predictability in the riposte? One of the simplest ways is to exploit an opponent's knowledge of what THE RIPOSTE is. If the opponent knows that an attack in 4th will be met by a parry in 4th and a direct riposte in 4th, his OODA loop will be screaming "get back to parry in 4th" at him. So ... why should you make your riposte where he expects it and is ready to parry it? The answer is simple - you shouldn't be predictable, you shouldn't go back to 4th with a direct riposte, you shouldn't get parried and hit by his first counterriposte. Seems pretty obvious when we put it down on paper, doesn't it?

What should you do in this situation? If she expects your riposte in 4th, it should not be in 4th. It should be almost anywhere else based on two key considerations. First is to avoid predictability. Second requires that you remember some of the previous blog posts in this series. You may remember that a goal of good offense is not to attack a closed line or an open line where the opponent is stable. We can add to that that attacking a closing line makes not a lot of sense. However, we want to attack an opening line, where the opponent will have to recognize what we are doing, stop opening the line, figure out a new course of action, and then close the line - in other words to attack where we can get inside her OODA loop.

To do that we can use item (1a second ii) above, the simple indirect attack. Because a riposte is an attack, any simple attack (and some transports and some compound attacks) can be used as a riposte, depending upon the weapon and the opponent's movement pattern. In foil a disengage, in epee a disengage with opposition if necessary, and in sabre a coupe will all work well to get to the opening line. As your opponent attempts to parry 4, you hit him in 6th (sabre 3rd). The difficulty lies in timing the disengage (or coupe) and managing the distance so that the action is smooth, tight, and fast.

This becomes even more important in the counterriposte. Now the opponent is solidified in the attack in one line, parry same line, direct riposte same line logic. If this degenerates into multiple actions in the same line, the odds of an error in timing, speed, or technique determining the touch increase. Counterriposting by indirect riposte offers a viable way to ensure that your tactics win, rather than chance.

Monday, November 16, 2015

This Week in 5 Minutes: Second Intention

First intention actions are those which are intended to hit the opponent in the initial action. For example, a straight thrust with lunge, a beat disengage with lunge, a direct riposte, or a stop hit on the advanced target are all first intention actions. You may have to do something to remove the opponent's blade (a feint, taking of the blade, or attack on the blade), or you may have to move the attack to a different line (any indirect simple attack or compound attacks), but the intent is for the first action in the phrase to also be the last action, resulting in a touch for you.

However, not every attack has to be a first intention one. Enter the second intention attack. In second intention, your first action is not intended to hit; rather the intent is to fix the opponent in place so that you can hit with the third action - your second intention. Thus for fencer on the left (FOTL) and fencer on the right (FOTR) the phrase plays out:

(1) FOTL executes a false attack
(2) FOTR parries and ripostes
(3) FOTL hits with a fast parry-counterriposte combination.

The false attack was executed with no intent to hit. Its only purpose was to draw the FOTR's parry and riposte. In doing so it achieves several possible goals:

... it presents FOTR with what appears to be an excellent opportunity to deal with an attack that is executed at the wrong distance, drawing her blade forward in the riposte so that FOTL can act upon it.
... the opportunity keeps FOTR from retreating - the opportunity to score fixes her in place in what will be the correct distance for FOTL's second intention.
... it makes FOTR predictable - at the moment FOTR parries, FOTL knows what the course of the rest of the phrase.
... it controls the distance so that FOTL hs time to parry and counterriposte.

That means that the false attack has to be realistic. It should be launched as a real attack, with a clear threat to target. The tempo, distance, body mechanics, and mechanics of the action should look like a first intention attack. It also must penetrate deeply enough into the opponent's reaction zone (the point at which the opponent believes they must initiate an action to defeat the attack - in this case a parry) to trigger the parry response, but not so deep as to force a significant retreat.

I was teaching a lesson on second intention, and my student asked "if I am that close to him, why shouldn't I do the extra effort to hit?" The answer is that a properly executed false attack is an invitation to give you his blade and a reason for him to not open distance. It is not intended to go deep enough to make you vulnerable to a resulting parry-riposte action. If you go too deep, a fast opponent will either (1) be encouraged to open distance to avoid the attack, making your action just one more failed attempt to land or (2) execute his riposte at a close enough distance that you cannot escape or parry it.

What you do after the false attack is equally important. You must control the distance so that you can parry and so that your riposte will travel the minimum distance to target making it operationally a very fast riposte, even if the speed of execution is not fast. Some options to make this happen may include:

... a rapid forward recovery with parry-counterriposte.
... a shorter initial lunge (with rear leg not fully committed to extension) with parry from the lunge and riposte with an extension of the original lunge or back leg initiated fleche.
... a short recovery, active parry, and riposte with immediate second lunge.
... a full lunge with active parry and riposte from the lunge position.

This is one more version of the thrust (cut)-parry-thrust (cut) model that we have been working on. It looks very much like the attack-parry-counterriposte sequence. The difference lies in that in one case the action followed the failure of a first intention action and the second is a planned second intention to take advantage of the opponent's defensive reflexes.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

This Week in 5 Minutes: Continuing the Flow 2 with Defensive Countertime

Last week we considered the flow of action in the counterriposte sequence:

Fencer on the left (FOTL) attacks
Fencer on the right (FOTR) parries
FOTR ripostes
FOTL parries
FOTL counterripostes to hit.

If you look at this action from the perspective of the fencer who initiates it, it boils down to a simple sequence of three actions: (1) thrust, (2) parry, (3) thrust. So the question becomes: "how can I use this sequence for more than one thing?" After all, we have trained in the sequence mechanically, and we have worked on using the OODA loop to organize our mental decision making associated with it. So it is only reasonable to want to use it in multiple situations.

One of the problems in how we teach fencing is that often instruction is focused on how to do a specific technique for a specific problem. The fencer learns technique A for problem 1, technique B for problem 2, and technique C for problem 3. Now he has to recognize that it is problem 3 and apply solution C, not solutions A or B. But is this true? What if techniques A, B, and C are really all the same sequence of movements? By calling the movements different terms, and teaching them as different solutions to different problems, we complicate the learning process for the fencer as well as presenting more alternatives for her decision making on the strip. Doing so slows response in recognizing the threat and complicates decision making in how to deal with it, further slowing response, neither of which is a good thing.

This week we are going to apply thrust-parry-thrust as a sequence to a new technique, defensive countertime. Countertime actions are actions that we do to defeat an opponent's time action - his attempt to steal our time with a counteroffensive technique such as a stop hit or time hit. We can subdivide countertime into defensive, offensive, and counteroffensive countertime. This is long tactical wheel stuff, and thus much more difficult, or is it?

Defensive countertime defeats the counteroffensive action by parrying the opponent's stop hit on our attack and then riposting to hit. Typically this is explained in terms of making an invitation by a slower or exposed extension to draw the stop. I believe that is an incorrect assessment. If we understand that each action potentially sets up the next or a subsequent action (whether or not we choose to use that preparation), the opponent is actually creating a tactical invitation by attempting to stop hit in a preceding action. By doing so, she is inviting us to use countertime on a subsequent action, whether or not she realizes it. If she does realize it, her stop hit becomes the set-up for feint in tempo when we accept the invitation to use defensive countertime, something we don't want to happen. So it is important to recognize the element of risk in this sequence. The scenario in sequence:

... Touch 1:
FOTL attacks
FOTR counterattacks with a successful stop hit (or even a close, but unsuccessful, one)
... Touch 2:
FOTL starts a slow attack
FOTR counterattacks with a stop hit
FOTL parries
FOTL ripostes to hit.

When we isolate the actions that FOTL uses in Touch 2, we have the following:

FOTL slow attack - THRUST
FOTL parries - PARRY
FOTL ripostes - THRUST

In other words, it is the same sequence of action we used for the attack, parry, counterriposte scenario. There are differences in execution and in how we use the OODA loop, but these are differences in emphasis, not in the core actions:

Observe - we have to see the items in our own technique that caused the opponent to successfully stop hit
Orient - account for distance, how we were moving at the time, where we were on the strip as possible variables creating the stop hit
Decide - that defensive countertime has a probability of success that outweighs the risk involved
Act - create as many of the same conditions as possible and make the first thrust either slower or exposed or both
Observe - that the opponent is starting to execute a stop
Orient - to ensure the distance and timing are correct for your countertime
Decide - to go (if conditions are not right, than adopt a different course of action)
Act - parry the stop hit and riposte to hit.

If we have trained in using the OODA decision model, these two loops will be rapid enough to make a successful final riposte. Because we know the thrust-parry-thrust sequence the actual execution becomes no more complicated or difficult or mysterious than the counterriposte. And it becomes just as successful to the discomfort of our opponent.