The term “preparation” has many meanings. Yes, today you got up, cleaned up, had breakfast, put your clothes on, and came to open fencing. The getting up, cleaning up, eating, etc. was all preparation. Not what this post is about. You warmed-up, a nice, quick 10 minutes of light work so you would be prepared to fence. Not what this post is about. You practice on the wall target to make sure you could hit a target 1 foot by 1 foot square. Not that either. All of these things are preparation to fence, along with all your previous practice sessions, conditioning work, etc. But, no, not it. So what are we talking about when we say “preparation”?
Preparation is everything we do to ensure the success of a desired tactic in the fencing phrase. It is the use of psychological techniques and deception to mislead the opponent, the use of footwork and tempo to create opportunities, the creation of distance, timing, and movement conditions for your desired action, and finally the blade actions needed to make your hit successful. Exceptional preparation is why elite fencers can score with the same action time-after-time against opponents who know what the fencer is going to do as the go-to technique.
Let’s focus on blade preparation and the attack for this session. The problem is how to create an opening line. Remember that in most cases we will not attack a closed line, and we will not attack an open line when the opponent is stable. Doing either enables the opponent’s parry and riposte.
There are four ways to create an opening line:
ENGAGEMENT or CHANGE OF ENGAGEMENT – the reality is that fencers do not fence from engagement. However, it is possible to engage the blade or change lines to create an engagement in movement. In this case think of engagement using the definition that engagement is a domination of the opponent’s blade (as opposed to being a neutral position, the more common American definition). If the opponent does not react, your blade may be deep enough to make an attack by lateral prise de fer successful. A lateral reaction creates the opportunity for a disengage, and a circular reaction for a counterdisengage, attack.
COMPOUND ATTACK – compound attacks prepare with the feint as discussed in our last post. In this case, the success of the preparation depends upon the opponent’s reaction to the feint.
ATTACKS ON THE BLADE – in modern fencing the press is still possible under some conditions, but the most common way to set the opponent’s blade in motion is the beat. Beats should be sharp, quick, and without sitting on the opponent’s blade. To the greatest extent possible avoid cocking the hand or arm, as this allows an opponent to derobe. The attack flows immediately from contact with the opponent’s blade as that blade deviates from the line. Depending on the opponent’s reaction the attack may be a straight thrust, with or without opposition, or any other simple attack.
TAKINGS OF THE BLADE – most of the takings of the blade work best with the presentation of a straight, extended blade by the opponent. And it is unlikely that an opponent will leave that out for you to take advantage of. That means that, unless you are attacking with a riposte, the action to take the blade is probably off a sweep or as a lateral prise de fer. I use the term “lateral prise de fer” because there is wide variability in the terms used and in subtle gradations of difference in degree of lateralness between glide, graze, coule, opposition thrust, and even froissement. These actions have to be progressive and almost diagonal in character – one cannot go grab the blade and then go forward. Blade taking and the forward thrust must be an integrated continuous movement.
In summary, we have four purely blade possibilities as preparations:
- One requires the opponent to do the work of creating an opening line – the feint in the compound attack.
- Two use your blade action to remove the opponent’s blade – by percussion in the attack on the blade and by leverage in the taking of the blade.
- One can do either depending on the opponent’s reaction – the change of engagement.
In each case the preparation is the first blade action – it must be followed by at least one more blade action. At the most basic, a straight thrust into the opening line when the opponent does not attempt to counter the final action off the preparation in time. If the opponent does start to react in time, the fencer must either run a preplanned play in the case when there is reasonable certainty the opponent will react and what that reaction will be, or react to the reaction eyes-open.