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.

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