170820 Exploiting the Low Line

Everyone has a low line target.  It may be small, it may be hard to get to, but it is there.  In the search for touches, you should always consider the low line.  In doing so, it is important to remember where the low line is:

First, the most basic definition – the low line is all target area below the bell of the opponent’s weapon.  It is not a static area equally divided by a vertical line drawn down the center of the jacket and a vertical line through the navel (the standard depiction in many old and beginner’s textbooks).  Like all areas, low line is dynamic, moving and changing size with the movement of the bell.  If you have not guessed it by now, that means the low line target area is constantly changing.

Second, in all three weapons, the low line is at its largest when the weapon arm is extended or when the fencer adopts a lifted guard or parry.

Third, the bottom of the low line in sabre is the smallest of the three weapons.  It is (1) the underside of the arm and (2) the bottom of the lame (based on the line drawn across the torso from the points of the hips) when an opponent has the arm in a higher than normal guard.

Fourth, the low line in foil is small, and effectively restricted by the angle of the torso the area under the weapon arm when the fencer is on guard.  Low line attacks further to the inside are problematic because of the possibility of the point sliding without arresting and the requirement for the attack to penetrate more deeply into defended area, although angulation can improve the potential for arresting on the inside target.

Fifth, the low line in epee is the largest of the three weapons, including the underside of the arm, the lower torso, the thigh, knee, calf, and foot … and back leg.  In one extraordinary shot in a World Cup in the early 2000s an attack landed cleanly on the back foot as the opponent stepped forward (and this was in a normal attack, not infighting).

Because of basic geometry, attacks to the low line require either that the attacking fencer be closer to the opponent or that the attack be longer, take more time, and penetrate farther into defended area.  To understand this, stand at full extension distance to put your point on a fellow fencer’s shoulder at the seam of the jacket.  Now keep your arm and weapon straight, and lower the point downward.  You will see the point gradually get farther and farther away from target (assuming an opponent with a normal physique).  This is an oversimplification because your arm will be at a different height in the lunge, but it makes the point that lowering the arm pulls the point away from the target.

So how do we hit low lines?  There are three basic approaches, and one very distinctive one:

(1)  attack with a straight arm and blade at a downward angle to slide under the opponent’s guard.  This is essentially a high line straight thrust aimed at a lower point, in epee all the way down to the toe.  It works when the target area exposed is vertically large, either with a raised guard or an extended arm.  Closely related to this is the epee attack with a flick to the thigh or foot, remembering that a flick is not a big movement, but rather a point accelerator executed with the fingers.

(2)  attack with the arm lowered and the point raised.  The traditional epee dig to the underside of the arm is an example, but the same technique works in foil against 8th.  This attack works best if it appears to be a normal straight arm attack with a quick rotation of the hand and lowering of the arm as the attack accelerates to hit.  Sabre has a distinct version of this as a scooping cut to the underside of the weapon arm.

(3)  attack with arm lowered and angulation.  In its basic form this is an attack to evade any parry and hit the slanted surface of the torso inside low line.  Its more complicated form is the cedute attack where the hand continues to drive low and the blade and point pivots instantly upward on the underside of the opponent’s blade as the opponent attempts to push your blade down in a horizontal parry (the flat version of foil or epee fifth).

(4)  and sabre has one very distinct low line attack, the belly or abdominal cut.  Executed from inside to outside as a pulling cut similar to the chest cut, it slices across the very bottom of the target area.  Unlike other sabre cuts which are intended to cut with the true (or forward) edge of the blade, the belly cut (and the pulling through chest cut) are designed to slice the target with the point of the sabre.  Properly executed it requires perfect timing, perfect distance, and perfect aim, or else a bushel basket full of luck.

Low line attacks require good aim to find a flat surface on which to arrest, in some cases on a target that you cannot see, obscured by the opponent’s bell or arm.  They require speed and deception in execution as the hand and blade pivot or as the blade drops to hit the foot.  They require excellent assessment of movement, distance, and timing to allow penetration into the defense.  They are a lot of work.  But the payoff is that the opponent is now forced to be ready to defend a larger target against a different attack, further complicating his or her defensive problem.

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