Last week we discussed how to develop continual pressure on an opponent through continued, forward moving attack. This week we look at the other side of that scenario – what to do when the opponent is chasing you. The first and most important rule is to stay relaxed under the pressure so that you can maximize your ability to use the strip, see the actions, and think. Remember that, as you retreat, pressure normally builds on both fencers – on you to do anything to avoid being run off the strip and to somehow counter the relentless forward pressure, on him or her to complete what the attack with a successful hit. Allow the pressure to play on the opponent, but do not allow yourself to succumb to the pressure of the dwindling strip length behind you. You must keep a clear head.
The reason someone is chasing you is that they think they have the advantage and that they can use this advantage to score. Underlying the fencing reason is the evolutionary reason that we are predators, we chase opponents because they run – it is a basic instinct. Use both reasons to your advantage. The opponent expects to overtake you. The opponent expects for you to be rattled by the brilliance of the attack. The opponent expects to score. All of these are wonderful expectations – your job is to destroy expectation, take away all hope. demoralize the opponent, and score.
The second rule is that your job is simple. You are not worried about the success of your attack in this phrase; your only concern is defeating the opponent’s attack. Admittedly, this is one of the most difficult tasks in fencing, statistically more difficult than scoring with the attack. But you have a number of advantages that compensate for the difficulty.
First, you know what you are doing. All the opponent knows is that you are going backwards.
Second, in the right of way weapons, you know exactly how the referee is going to call this. Referees give great deference to even poorly executed attacks, simply because the fencer is moving forward. Because you know how it will be called, your task is clearly defined – you have to get the opponent to commit to an attack when your chances of a one light solution are best.
Third, you can pick the time and place of the attack. By managing distance, creating invitations, and using destructive parries you can channel the attack into the line you desire at the distance you desire, under conditions that allow successful defence-offense or counteroffense.
The third rule is know the tools available and how to use them. Managing distance is key. Open the distance when you are under real threat, or when you wish to parry by distance and riposte (pull and take over the attack), close it by reducing the size of your retreat steps when you are ready to execute your defence or counteroffense.
If you plan to counterattack in epee or sabre, be prepared with an attack to the advanced target, combined with a reassemblement, backwards lunge, or jump back as the hit arrives. In foil, counterattacks normally are going to require an avoidance (duck, inquaratata, exaggerated torso twist, etc.).
If you plan to use second intention, have a good feint of stop hit to either force a commitment to the attack which you can then parry and riposte or have a fast parry and riposte ready to defeat the attacker’s countertime action.
If you plan to parry and riposte against the attack, you have several possibilities. You can use destructive parries to channel an attack into your preferred tactical envelope. You can use invitation to draw the commitment of the attack. Or you can feint with a half-step forward to draw the attack into what the opponent thinks is your advance so that you can parry and riposte. And you can use the half-step forward to draw the attack so that you can parry by distance and riposte as a taken over attack.
And you can be more creative. As the over confident opponent advances. you can attack into their advance with strong opposition (perhaps with a half-step back feint), collapsing the distance and closing the line to hit. Or you can change your position on the strip by moving laterally as well as back. If the opponent persists in a straight down the strip approach, target will be opened; if the opponent zigs to your zag, their rate of movement is slowed, and you have taken the initiative away from them (probably without their realizing that they have become reactive).
Finally, there is the truly irrational surprise attack. There are certain points in life where an opponent expects an attack. For example, if you are slowing down and entering the warning area, an attacker could well expect that you will do something under the pressure of running out of space. Instead, try picking a point on the strip where there is no reason to expect that you will attack. When you get there, attack with your best speed and full commitment, automatically, regardless of what the opponent is doing. If you score, great, and don’t do it again in this bout. Even if you do not score or even if the opponent hits you, the surprise may cause doubt and a slower advance next time.
What I believe you don’t want to do automatically is stick out your blade and wiggle it around in a circle. This seems to be a favored tactic for slowing down the advancing opponent, and to some degree it works. It offers the defender the chance to derobe if the attacker tries to take the blade, or can be withdrawn with a parry in the final line of the attack. However, the extended blade is vulnerable to beats, if the circle is big enough to counterdisengagement, to attacks right down the center of the cone of wiggling (the bell of the attacking blade clears out the defender’s blade), and to plain fast attacks at the right distance. Unless established as a point in line before the start of the attack the circular movement does not confer right of way. The big danger is how the referee is going to call the resulting action.