The Simple Direct Attack

Success with the simple direct attack depends on speed and acceleration, the correct distance, an unstable condition, the correct moment, and in some cases denying the opponent two lights.

The least complicated offensive bladework a fencer does is the simple attack, the least complicated simple attack is the direct attack, and the single form of simple direct attack is the straight thrust (in foil and epee) and the point thrust and direct cut (in sabre).  This one tempo action starts in a line and ends in that same line, making the movement pattern highly economical, and therefore capable of being accelerated to as high a speed as the fencer can achieve.   It can be employed in any line, and in any standard hand position, although we use it in 6, 4, 8, or 7 (foil, epee) or 3 or 4 (point thrust in sabre) and 3, 4, 5, and 2 (as a cut in sabre).  However, because this is a simple direct action, it is also theoretically easily parried (all three weapons) or stop hit (sabre or epee).  That means that the devil is in the details.

To succeed the simple direct attack depends upon:

(1)  speed and acceleration (two very different things) (and possibly even deceleration).  Although it is tempting to rely on speed to solve the attacking problem, research shows that raw speed (unless there is an overwhelming advantage) is not a foolproof advantage.  Acceleration of footwork and bladework is instead the key to using speed.  This means that you should use foot speed, hand speed, torso rotation speed, and in flicks and sabre cuts finger speed to ensure the attack lands with maximum speed.

(2) the ability to launch the attack at the correct distance from the target.  This is defined as the distance at which you can arrive with the final attack footwork, even allowing for the opponent’s standard retreating footwork.  Acceleration plays a role in this, as does the ability to predict where the opponent will be when the attack ends, the length of footwork, the use of distance stealing footwork, having the initiative, and being inside the opponent’s OODA loop.  Always attack to where the opponent will be when the attack finishes, not where she is when you start the attack.

(3) an unstable condition with the opponent’s foot or bladework in motion.  Instability is created by movement.  In terms of footwork, uncertain, chaotic footwork makes a fast reaction to your attack less likely, and an advance into your action effectively accelerates your attack.  Instability in bladework results from the blade starting to move to a new position.  Simple attacks into a stable closed line or a stable open line are to be avoided if possible.  Hit the opening line.

(4) the correct moment created by surprise, seizure of the initiative, deception, or a psychological lapse by the opponent.  Techniques which mask the initial stages of development of the attack or which force the opponent to reorient to a changing situation, thereby getting inside his decision loop, create favorable conditions for any attack.

To increase the probability of success we can add one additional component:

(5) the ability to deny the opponent two lights by closing the line of the opponent’s blade in the attack or executing a closeout immediately subsequent to the hit.  Obviously two lights in epee means that both of you are hit.  If your bout operational art is tolerant of double hits denying two lights is relatively unimportant.  However, in foil and sabre, two lights create the opportunity for a decision of fact by the referee, and with a light watcher, a home team caller, or a referee with a shaky sense of right of way, that is problematic.

All of this means that hitting with even a simple direct attack requires mastery of blade and movement technique and tactics to gain the hit.  Simple is not necessarily simple.