Over the past several blog posts we have discussed how to defeat the opponent’s actions, how to go for one more exchange, and how to recognize what the opponent is doing. Today, we are going to add one more item to the mix – what is possible? There are a relatively small number of simple actions in offense, defense, and counteroffense that an opponent can use. A fencer serious about developing as an athlete will learn all of these to an acceptable level of performance in the first year of fencing. So what is the problem?
Professor Ricardo Manrique, a Cuban born and French trained Fencing Master, elegantly stated the problem in his 1920 text Fencing Foil Class Work Illustrated: “… the complex attacks are without limit …” Italian Fencing Masters tried to address the “without limit” by developing synoptic tables. Synoptic tables have been used for a wide variety of purposes, ranging from comparison of religious texts to guidance to police officers in gathering evidence. A good example of such a table in fencing can be found in Holzman’s translation of Maestro di Scherma Masaniello Parise’s works; it lists in columns:
(1) the offensive action, (2) the number of movements in the action, (3) whose invitation or engagement precedes the action, (4) what parries it eludes, (5) what the final target is, (6) the most correct final parry, (7) the possible ripostes, (8) the counterattacks that can be used against it in the first, (9) second, and (10) third tempos.
The exact number of columns and what those columns contain varies by author, but the idea is simple, list every possibility, memorize them, and be ready to do them. I am not suggesting that you try to do that.
However, the synoptic table approach has considerable merit as a tool to think about what you are going to do and what you expect your opponent to do. So this week we are going to try an experiment. Take a standard white 3 by 5 file card and write down:
(1) what the opponent does (the guard they are in, the opening, the attempt to take your blade, the invitation, the attack, etc.) in which line,
(2) the name of a simple action (it can be offense, defense, or counteroffense) that you would use to defeat the opponent’s action, and the line in which you would employ it,
(3) how you would expect the opponent to react to your action (type of action, line, tempo), and
(4) what you would do to defeat that reaction (again action, line, tempo).
When you have finished that you have defined one of the thousand or more possible interactions that can occur in the fencing phrase. What does it look like? Let’s take an example:
(1) opponent on guard, advancing, with the line of 4 open,
(2) compound attack starting with a feint of straight thrust into the open line,
(3) opponent does not react to the feint,
(4) complete the action with a straight thrust for your second tempo of your compound attack.
Of course your question is “but what if he had tried to parry 4 on the feint …” And, of course the opponent might have tried to parry lateral 4 or change parry 6, or even foil or epee 5th or 1st, each of which could have triggered a disengage or coupe or counter-disengage or counter-coupe. Or she might have tried a time hit, or stop hit into your action, or simply parried by distance. Each of those is a different 3 by 5 card. And each of those is a different possible outcome to the action you started, at least 8 of them.
Here is a simple assignment for this week’s practice, do a card for an attack and one for a defense. Think about what you would do and how you would do it. Bring it to practice. Be ready to do the action you have described.
This approach to developing the ability to apply techniques as tactics to score the hit requires disciplined thought and a good understanding of the techniques you know. Fencing is a learning activity – if you do not think critically about what you are doing, about what the opponent can do, and how that can be defeated, you are not learning. If you do not learn constantly, you have self-selected not to be a fencer, but to be a target.