To hit an opponent a large number of things have to come together at the same time. You have to have the right technique for the tactical situation and the opponent’s actions and the referee’s interpretation. The timing of your action in terms of cadence and tempo has to be correct. Your speed and acceleration must be correct for the situation. You must have the psychological moment on your side. Your choice of action must hinder an effective response by the opponent and be in your desired tactical envelope. You must be able to conceal your intentions until the right moment and be able to seize the initiative. Or you just have to be very lucky and the opponent has to make a serious error in his or her choice of what to do in the moment. Needless to say, trusting to luck and the opponent making a muck of it is not a recipe for success.
But that list of stuff that has to go right must seem almost impossible to achieve. How do we do it? Well, one proven way to attack a complex problem is to find a part that you can solve, and solve it, then another part, etc. And that is what we are going to do this week.
What part does distance play in this? First, what is distance? Distance, or measure, is defined in a number of ways, but from an operational standpoint, a common definition is the distance between the tip of your weapon and the opponent. That is not exactly accurate – for example, if you have to use angulation to reach a target, you have to be closer to the target than you do if your attack is direct. It is probably more accurate to say that distance is the amount of travel needed to hit the desired target with the intended technique.
The classical definition of distance was always based on two elements, the extension and footwork:
(1) short or extension distance – you can hit the target with an extension from a static guard.
(2) medium distance – you can hit the target with an extension and lunge.
(3) long distance – you can hit the target with an advance, extension, and lunge.
In previous blog posts, I have discussed a number of reasons why these definitions are misleading and inaccurate in modern fencing. However, for the purpose of today’s post they are a convenient way to think about distance and blade and feet if we make two caveats caveats. First, few targets are static. If the target is moving forward, your problem collapses by one category:
… if you are at short distance, the distance becomes infighting distance.
… if at medium, it becomes short.
… if at long, it becomes medium.
… if out of distance, it may become long.
And the reverse is true. If the target is moving backwards, your problem expands by one category:
… if you are at infighting distance, the distance becomes short distance.
… if at short, it becomes medium.
… if at medium, it becomes long.
… if at long, it becomes out of distance.
Second, all attacks, ripostes, and counterattacks must be delivered to where the target will be when the attack ends. If you execute a medium distance attack and the opponent steps back to long distance you have (a) missed and (b) given the opportunity to take over the attack. And this also applies to actions the opponent takes to collapse the distance – collapsing the distance provides a significant opportunity for the opponent to hinder your attack, parry and riposte at short distance, or go to infighting. This means that you have a very short period of time (the difference between your combination of reaction time and movement time and that of your opponent) if you are fencing eyes open to adjust the length of your attack to account for the start of opponent movement. Alternatively, you must have a good sense of the opponent’s probable reaction to your action. Or you must be able to catch the opponent either static or already committed to movement.
What this means is that you have to be prepared to use the right foot and blade combination for each situation:
(1) at short distance, opponent starting to close – (a) simple direct attack or counterattack from guard or (b) execute your infighting plan.
(2) at short distance, static – (a) simple direct or indirect attack from guard.
(3) at short distance, opponent starting to step back – (a) simple attack by step forward, (b) simple attack by lunge, (c) simple attack by fleche or flunge.
(4) at medium distance, opponent starting to close – (a) simple attack or counterattack from guard, (b) simple attack by step forward, (c) counterattack with reassemblement or backwards lunge, (d) and in epee counterattack by lunge if you wish to increase the probability of a double hit.
(5) at medium distance, opponent static – (a) simple or prepared attack (compound, attack on the blade, taking of the blade) with lunge, (b) actions with invitations or second intention, (c) slightly inside medium distance simple or prepared attack with fleche or flunge.
(6) at medium distance, opponent starting to step back – (a) prepared attack with advance-lunge or preparatory step, advance-lunge, (b) if anticipated use second intention to fix opponent in place
(7) at long distance, opponent starting to close – (a) simple or compound attack with lunge, (b) combinations of advance, invitation, parry riposte, (c) compound counterattacks and feint in tempo and counterattack in tempo.
(8) at long distance, opponent static – (a) prepared attacks from a preparatory step and lunge, (b) invitations to induce opponent to advance.
(9) at long distance, opponent starting to step back – (a) prepared attacks with preparatory step, advance-lunge
This is by no means a complete catalog. The described actions may be successful with some opponents and unsuccessful with others. Note that the advance-lunge and balestra lunge are not techniques to close the distance but rather to get within the opponent’s decision cycle. It should be noted that riposte situations are generally at short distance, although with fast opponents or with advanced parries a lunge is likely required. And if you are going to have to advance as a preparation for a lunge, that advance has to be covered by a feint, by an attack on the blade, or by continuous blade control. That is true of both attacks and ripostes.
So, the simple answer is to choose the correct combination of footwork and blade work to get to the target. At the same time remember that your advance-lunge is someone else’s opponent closing situation, simplifying their parry-riposte or counterattack problem to an advance or static action.