Our previous posts on matrixing the straight thrust as an initial attack and as an attack after the preparation by the parry and the class work following them highlighted several key factors in success on the strip:
(1) You cannot think the way a referee thinks. The referee’s task is to reduce the actual movements to a right of way solution and apply hand signals to that solution. Your task is to score the hit.
(2) This means that the traditional attack > parry > riposte logic that has been imposed on fencing is false. It encourages you to think of these as actions that happen in this order and that are taught as individual events only theoretically connected to each other. Generations of fencing coaches have taught these as three distinct things. They are not – they are a continual continuum of action.
(3) We have to understand that an attack has three parts independent of what a referee calls – the start, the in-between, and the finish. As an attacker you control when the attack starts, the duration of in-between mostly, and the finish mostly. I say “mostly” because there are two parts to the in-between and to the finish – the part that is your motion and the part that happens upon and after an opponent’s intercepting action (time hit, stop hit, parry). In right of way weapons the part after the opponent’s action only is relevant if the opponent has the right of way and misses. In epee the part after the opponent’s action is only relevant if the opponent’s parry is ineffective or the counterattack late.
(4) As a result the time line of the in-between between the start and the finish of the attack is absolutely critical. As an attacker you have to accelerate your attack to remove the opportunity for the opponent to successfully parry and attack or counterattack. This can be done by committing the blade late and accelerating it to reach maximum point speed in the critical gap for scoring. Harmenberg defines this as the last 4 to 6 inches – I think it is actually longer, representing the point at which the opponent intends to apply the parry or counterattack. The alternative solution is to accelerate the attack by attacking from a shorter distance – shorter blade travel means less time for the defender to act, effectively giving you a higher tactical speed (as opposed to actual physical speed) in your attack.
(5) As the defender this means that preparation by the parry and the attack after the parry must be seamless. You cannot parry and then riposte. The millisecond that the preparation intercepts the opponent’s blade, your attack must be moving forward, accelerating to maximum point hit speed. Eliminating any delay between parry and riposte is your first tool in accelerating your attack.
(6) The second tool is to decrease the initial attacker’s in-between time by launching the parry preparation into the attack. This is not moving laterally to close the line; it is moving forward and laterally at the same time to close the line or to beat the incoming blade. The shorter the distance the initial attacker can travel without the preparation of your blade the shorter the distance your blade has to move in the riposte. In addition, an opponent’s expectation is that the in-between is determined by his action. As a result she is attacking to where you were expected to be. That means that the parry arrives on a blade that is moving forward, contributing the opponent’s speed to your riposte speed, and generating an actual closing speed and shortening the distance your blade must travel for the riposte to arrive on target as the speed of the sum of the two movements and the distance as the difference between the two movements. This forward moving preparation makes a parry of your attack as riposte difficult.
So, never again think of the flow of combat as attack > parry > riposte. Think of it as attacker’s start, in-between with your start of parry, your attack after the preparation by the parry in the in-between, your attack arrives, finish. There are more parts to this view, but then there are more parts to the actual action, not just what the referee calls with the hand signals.