170402 The Logic of the Stop

A stop hit or stop cut is a simple offensive blade action executed as counteroffense to land before the start of the final action of the opponent’s attack (in right of way weapons) or within the 80 millisecond window of possible lockout times in epee (1/25th of a second, or 40 milliseconds, before the opponent’s hit up to 1/25th of a second after the opponent’s hit).  Many fencers talk about the epee lockout time as being 1/25th of a second; it is important to understand the before and after nature of this situation, because the counterattacker actually has more time than the simple statement of lockout time suggests.

It is important to remember that a stop hit is called a stop hit because it’s fundamental purpose is to stop the attack – in a duel, well executed stops ended the duel, injuring or killing the opponent.  The stop does its job in foil or sabre by landing with the right of way preceding the start of the final action of a prepared attack.  As a practical matter this is difficult to do.  First, you can’t stop a simple attack because a simple attack has one tempo to it.  You can’t land as a counterattack before the start of a simple attack.  If the stop hit lands before the initiation of a simple attack by the opponent, it is either the fencer’s attack or attack into preparation, not a stop hit.

Second, the speed of today’s compound actions is such that it is difficult to assess what is happening, choose a course of action, and initiate movement to beat the compound attack.  This means that in foil the stop hit is a risky action which depends upon an error in execution of the attack, the psychological power of the stop to induce the attacker to flinch or even halt the movement, or the opponent having poor point and blade control leading to a high percentage of misses.    In sabre, the presence of the advanced target (the arm) significantly increases the opportunity for the stop cut or stop point to score, when combined with a fast withdrawal or close out as the stop arrives.

All this means that stop actions are risky in the right of way weapons (more so in foil, less so in sabre), and the degree of that risk is highly dependent upon the opponent’s technique and the technical excellence and speed of the stop.  The stop hit succeeds when it results in one light for the counterattacker, or when the attacker commits a fault.  In terms of the flow of touches in the bout, a stop action confers no statistical advantage over the parry and riposte.

This changes when we examine epee.  The possibility of a double touch in epee is a significant determinant in the tactics of the bout, and the stop hit is a primary source of double hits.  There are separate tactical calculi for pool bouts and for direct elimination.

In the pools the objectives are to maximize victories (the victory percentage component of seeding for the direct elimination) and to maximize touches scored and minimize touches received (the indicator component).  In this calculus every touch counts, and the goal becomes to win every bout possible 5-0 and to lose any bout lost 4-5.  Maximizing touches scored increases your indicator values and has secondary outcomes of reducing your opponents’ indicators to your advantage in the overall seeding for direct elimination.  If you have teammates fencing in the tournament reducing the opponents’ indicators also potentially helps them in the seeding.  This means that:

(1)  if you have an opportunity to stop hit with little risk of a double hit, take it.

(2) if you are behind with a chance to win, avoid double hits – all they do is make you lose faster (the goal being  victories).

(3) if you are ahead, avoid double hits – they make you win faster but diminish your indicators.

(4) if you are behind with no chance to win, stop hit for a double hit – each hit improves you final indicator and hurts the opponent’s indicator.

(5) if you are caught off balance and have no chance to parry, stop hit for a double hit – you will at least preserve the current indicator, and hurt your opponent’s indicator.

Remember that victory percentage (bouts) and indicators (touches) from the pools determine not just seeding, but also your place within the range of positions in the round in which you are eliminated.

In the direct elimination, the calculus changes.  There are two key determinants: indicators no longer mean anything, and your and your opponent’s strategies for the one minute of overtime.  If you intend to win the bout in normal time, your goal is to get ahead and stay ahead from touch 1 to touch 15, while preventing the opponent from starting a successful run of unanswered touches to upset the goal.  This means that:

(1) if you have an opportunity to stop hit with little risk of a double hit, take it.

(2) if you are behind with a chance to win, avoid double hits and use parries and ripostes – all stop hits do is make you lose faster (the goal being  victories).

(3) if you have no chance to parry, stop hit – if you are ahead you move closer to victory, if you are behind at least you preserve your position if it doubles.

(4) if you are ahead and have an opportunity to stop hit in a likely double situation, accelerate your stop hit to increase the probability of a double hit – unlike foil and sabre stop hits and most epee stop hits, in this case it would seem to make sense to stop with forward movement with a step or lunge into the attack.

If a direct elimination bout goes into a one minute overtime as a result of a tied score at the end of regular time, the situation changes based on which fencer has priority:

(1) for the fencer with priority the goal is to take no chances that will result in an opponent scoring one hit – the stop hit with a clean opportunity is risky but may be justified, and the stop hit with double hit becomes a useful way to run out the time for the priority win.

(2) for the fencer without priority the goal is to score a one-light hit – the stop hit with a clean opportunity to score is justified but can be expected to be a rare opportunity, the stop hit to double hit is a must if the opponent attacks and you cannot riposte.

If a direct elimination bout goes into the final one minute after a third period non-combativity call, the situation becomes similar to that of the bout during regular time.  In this case your goal is to be ahead at the start of non-combativity and to stay ahead.  The oddment in the puzzle is what to do if the score is tied and time is running out.  Remember that this overtime has a priority assigned to it – in a tie the fencer with priority wins.


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