181007 Tactics and the Riposte Part 1

Before we talk about tactics, we should probably define what we mean by them.  Tactics are the combination of actions and factors  that allow a technique to do its job during the bout.  Tactics are far more than just the technique you intend to apply to get the touch.  If you only think about the technique (for example, someone with an immature understanding of fencing says “I am going to hit him with a disengage”), you will only accidentally be successful against skilled opponents, and accidentally successful does not win tournaments in the long run.

So, let’s examine the two categories – actions and factors:

(1)  Actions – these are things that you specifically do to apply the technique, including:

  • footwork preparation,
  • blade preparation,
  • the technique, offensive, defensive, or counteroffensive and first intention, second intention, or third intention,
  • identification and exploitation of opponent weaknesses,
  • acceleration, deceleration in your cadence or broken tempo,
  • gaining the initiative,
  • use of correct sequencing of your technique
  • use of correct timing to initiate the tactic,
  • physical conditioning,
  • ability to use your vision correctly,
  • management of distance,
  • management of the fencing space on the strip,
  • bout and touch planning,
  • application of a programmed or eyes open action,
  • use of actions in previous phrases to set-up this action through creation of a narrative,
  • time management,
  • energy management,
  • focus, self-talk management, the resolution to win, the refusal to be beaten,
  • equipment reliability,
  • etc.

(2)  Factors – these are the things you do not control, including:

  • the opponent’s psychological strength and morale,
  • the opponent’s focus and ability to maintain that focus,
  • the opponent’s physical conditioning and energy state,
  • the opponent’s level of technical skill,
  • the opponent’s susceptibility to hindering, feints, and your narrative,
  • the opponent’s ability to use the strip,
  • the surface of the piste,
  • the lighting in the fencing venue,
  • the skill, knowledge, honesty, and focus of the referee,
  • the seeding of the pool,
  • the seeding of the direct elimination (your results can influence this, but cannot control it),
  • etc.

There are a lot of bullets in the two lists above, and those lists are not exhaustive.  Your problem is to maximize your control over the actions list, compensate as much as possible for the factors list, and pick the right time and distance to establish your initiative and apply your technique.

Of course, if you do not have the correct technique to achieve your goal, this all starts to fall apart, so we will go back to technique.  The focus of this and the next post is the tactics of the riposte.  So, to understand this, we have to understand the variety of ripostes and the conditions for their use.  Your riposte can be:

(1)  simple – all of the simple attacks can be used as ripostes (note that all of these can be executed in all three weapons):

  • direct thrust or cut – typically in the original line after a lateral or semi-circular parry.
  • disengage – to change the line laterally or vertically after a lateral or semi-circular parry.
  • coupe – to change the line laterally, vertically, or horizontally after a lateral, semi-circular, or point well out of line parry (French fifth as an example).
  • counterdisengage – to deceive an opponent’s expected circular parry or change parry against the riposte.

(2)  compound – any compound attack can theoretically be executed as a riposte.  This may be a slower action than a simple riposte, but can be used against the opponent’s simple parry against your riposte.

(3)  attack on the blade – theoretically, and in classical fencing, you can execute the parry and then a broken tempo beat on the recovering blade in preparation for the final simple riposte.  The danger is that the sound of two blade contacts may be interpreted by the referee as being your parry (it is) and the opponent’s parry (it is not), giving the right of way to the opponent.  The press is similarly dangerous in that it allows the referee to make a decision based on perception of who comes off the parry first.  These are very risky.

(4)  transports – after the parry and closely integrated into it, it is possible to seize and transport the opponent’s blade.  There are three likely uses of this:

  • riposte with opposition – opposition quickly applied with the parry and maintained with the start of the riposte can allow the blade to clear and hit in a the lateral line of the original attack.  This is the only transport riposte that is practical in today’s sabre.
  • riposte by bind – distance must be carefully judged to avoid being hit as the blade is transported diagonally across your target, but the bind riposte is a powerful movement that controls the opponent’s ability to parry and counterriposte.
  • croise/flanconade riposte – the vertical downward press of the opponent’s blade is useful in fourth, and very useful against an extend high arm in sixth.

(5)  broken tempo – a broken tempo riposte is one executed with a slight pause between the parry and the riposte to allow the opponent’s programmed parry to clear the line for your riposte.  This is a deceptive technique that is useful against the opponent who has a fast and hard parry that automatically goes to close the same line in which the opponent attacked.

(6)  flick riposte – the flick accelerates the tip of the point and the bending of the blade.  Done correctly it provides the last element of point hit speed in an attack.  As the final milliseconds of the straight thrust riposte, this makes that riposte more difficult to parry.  However, after a parry any wide movement requires overcoming inertia, and by covering more distance is inherently slower, allowing the opponent time to find an answer.  Wide sweeping flicks as ripostes are problematical.

So, there is a whole list of alternatives above.  Why should you do anything other than a fast simple direct riposte into the same line as the opponent’s attack?   What do beginners learn as soon as they are taught how to parry?  Although there is no research data to support a conclusion, what do most opponents do, especially at the intermediate and average competitive level?  What is the easiest thing to do under the pressure of a bout?  All of those considerations make the direct riposte a predictable action.  So why should you make your action absolutely predictable?

If we make the riposte unpredictable, then we can combine it with an unpredictable parry to complicate the opponent’s decision making.  For example, consider the options if your opponent attacks in 6th (3rd in sabre) and will try to parry your riposte with a lateral parry (note that to make this work for sabre and because 7th is a hard target, I have omitted actions into 7th, and left out the transport ripostes):

  1. Attack in 6th (3rd) – parry 6th (3rd) – direct riposte 6th (3rd)
  2. Attack in 6th – parry 6th – disengage riposte 2nd (8th)
  3. Attack in 6th – parry 6th – disengage riposte 4th
  4. Attack in 6th – parry 6th – coupe riposte 4th
  5. Attack in 6th – change parry 4th – direct riposte 4th
  6. Attack in 6th – change parry 4th – disengage riposte 6th
  7. Attack in 6th – change parry 4th – coupe riposte 6th

This boils down to the attack in 6th or sabre 3rd two different parries with 2 direct ripostes, 3 disengage ripostes, and 2 coupe ripostes in 3 different lines.  Because of the variety, the opponent has to redo his OODA loop process in any one of six possible ways if the attack-parry-riposte sequence is not the one for which she has prepared.  And note that this analysis does not include compound, transport, or broken tempo actions, which raise the numbers significantly.

This is the start of tactics – we have just considered the offensive actions (ripostes) and defensive actions in preparation (the parries).  Now go back to the list of actions, the things which you potentially control, and match which additional items contribute directly to proper execution of these techniques.

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