We have looked at beats (one of the Attacks on the Blade or attaque au fer), and we have looked at feints (in compound attacks), as preparations of the attack. What about takings of the blade (prise de fer)? Surely they are just attacks? After all, properly done, they are all one smooth motion without pauses or anything else that would separate them into two or more tempos? Well, yes, and no.
First, I am going to use a different term for takings of the blade to clarify what we are talking about. These are a class of movement known as transports. They are called transports because in the preparation you employ leverage to transport the blade from one line to another or in the original line to displace the blade from its covering position. The objective is to (2) open a hole in the opponent’s defense into which you can insert a straight thrust or (2) create a reaction that you can deceive to attack a hole that the opponent is creating in his or her efforts to escape the transport.
Thus the transport has two clear parts that we can define for training and for theoretical discussion. First, there is the preparation which uses leverage to create the opening. Second, there is the direct straight thrust or cut (or the indirect thrust or cut if the leverage is to elicit a response). Properly done this is a progressive attack – the blade moves forward in the transport simultaneously controlling and moving the opponent’s blade to create the opening and moving forward as the thrust/cut. The degree to which this happens is constrained by the necessity to hit the target, much as it is with the compound attack and the attack on the blade, but is one progressive movement to clear the line and then hit. Operationally, the days when the blade preparation is distinct from the attack in any of the three types of blade preparation attacks are long gone, unless you are deliberately doing broken tempo.
So what are the transports? Well, here we run into some disagreement. Traditionally there were three attacks on the blade (press, beat, froissement) and three takings of the blade (bind, croise or flanconade, envelopment). The bind transports the blade diagonally from high outside to low inside, low inside to high outside, high inside to low outside, low outside to high inside. The croise or flanconnade originally transport the blade vertically high outside to low outside, low outside to high outside, high inside to low inside, and low inside to high inside. Finally, the envelopment transported the blade in a circular motion from the original line to return to hit in the original line. Over time the bind tended to only be taught from high to low, and the French taught croise only from fourth.
There is one problem with all of these actions – the opponent has to give you a straight arm, preferably one that will provide resistance and not roll off, and one far enough in towards your target. When leverage is applied, it is most effective forte to foible. So when will an opponent give you that combination of elements for success? Theoretically you could do any of these against a point in line, but the opponent with the point in line should be expecting the attempt, and simply derobe it and lunge to your discomfort. Other than that opponent’s tend not to wander about with their blade fully extended, except … in the attack or in a counterattack. That means that the transport is not very useful as an attack, but comes into its own as a combined parry and riposte against the attack or as offensive countertime against the counterattack.
And then there was the family of lateral movements of the blade, variously termed the glide, glissade, coule, opposition, etc. Some consider these attacks on the blade; others think they are transports. I view them as transports because (1) they involve the continuous application of leverage throughout the attack and (2) they logically complete the movement patterns of transports as circular, diagonal, vertical and lateral. For simplicity I will use the term glide, and avoid the discussions of minute differences found in the classical period.
These lateral transports exist in two basic forms, (1) the subtle use of the opponent’s blade at the edge of the line to glide down the blade to target and (2) a more robust removal of the opponent’s blade from the line. Both ensure control, an open line, and one light. In the first, the opponent may not even realize that the blade is being used as a guide for your attack, and there is less chance of a reaction. In the second you rely on speed and strong control to negate any attempt to escape. In both the blade contact is progressive as a result of closing the line. What is different about the glide is (1) it is applied very effectively against an opponent’s bent arm in your attack, (2) it is equally effective as a riposte after the parry, (3) it is a nice preparation for a disengage against the opponent who resists, and (4) it is the only one of the transports that is commonly practical in modern sabre, where it works very nicely in third, fifth, and second.
So, the key things to remember – a transport properly executed controls the opponent’s blade with a progressive forward movement of the blade in a preparation that seamlessly transitions into a thrust or cut. Transports can be used as the preparation for an attack, as a preparation to draw a reaction to facilitate an indirect attack, as a riposte, and in countertime. The vertical, diagonal, and circular transports need an extended arm; the lateral transport in the attack needs a bent arm, but is equally effective in the riposte. The glide is the one transport effective in modern sabre. And finally, properly executed all of these actions result in one light.
Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III.