190203 The Second Exchange

One of the most dangerous situations in a phrase (a series of blade exchanges with or without footwork in one continuous action) is when you enter into a series of attack-parry-riposte-parry-1st counterriposte-parry- 2nd counterriposte-etc. The distance often shortens; in fact it may convert from an identifiable distance to infighting at which the outcome cannot be assured. As the distance shortens and the number of exchanges increase, the natural tendencies are to try to go faster with increased force, to become less controlled with wider actions, and to commit even more completely to predictable action in one line. As these effects kick-in, the outcome becomes less certain, and more likely to be governed by who makes an error first and whether or not the opponent can take advantage of such an error (or stumble into the hit by luck). If the intent is to win, the exchange sacrifices the advantages of planned and controlled action to chance.

The key to success in attack and defense is to create the conditions of the exchange such that the opponent will predictably do what you want and what you are prepared to defeat. We can define three cases in which the direct and indirect ripostes can be used to create favorable conditions. Central to these cases is the assumption (not proven by published research but a reasonable assumption based on anecdotal evidence) that the majority of ripostes are delivered in the same line as the attack and the parry against the attack.

Case 1 – you know by observation that the opponent parries and ripostes in the same line habitually. If the opponent’s attack is in 4th, the opponent will assume that your riposte will be in 4th and be preparing to parry and 1st counterriposte in 4th. There are two ways to immediately disrupt this happy assumption. First, you can execute the unexpected parry to change the geometry of the action. A change-parry to take the line to 6th (3rd in sabre) will disrupt not only the attack, but also force the opponent back into the decision making loop, increasing movement time. Alternatively, you can execute the riposte as an indirect action into the unexpected 6th (3rd) line. Or, if time permits you can do both to force the opponent to rethink his or her action twice, sequentially and cumulatively delaying the response. We can characterize this as a FIRST CONTACT ACTION, as it is executed from your first parry.

Case 2 – you are the attacker and are unsure of the opponent’s parry-riposte proclivities. Your interest now becomes (1) can I hit with a fast 1st counterriposte in the same line or (2) can I train the opponent to respond in the desired way? If you have a speed advantage, the fast 1st counterriposte in 4th makes some sense. However, if in doubt option 2 makes sense. If the opponent parries your attack in 4th and ripostes in 4th, the likelihood increases that he will expect your 1st counterriposte also in 4th and be mentally committed to that action. Instead execute an indirect riposte laterally (disengage or coupe) or vertically (disengage) to hit as your 1st counterriposte. We can characterize this as a SECOND CONTACT ACTION, as it is executed from the sequence of the opponent’s parry and then your parry.

Case 3 – you are the defender much as in case 2 above. The opponent attacks in 6th (3rd), you parry and riposte in the same line. If you hit, so much the better, but if the opponent parries and 1st counterripostes in 6th, you have established the ground rules in the opponent’s mind that this is a battle to hit in 6th. You parry, the opponent is already mentally responding to 6th as fast as they can. Instead execute an indirect riposte laterally (disengage or coupe) or vertically (disengage) to hit as your 2nd counterriposte. Again we will call this a SECOND CONTACT ACTION as it comes from your second parry.

Will all opponents be so accommodating? No – a well-trained opponent will try to do their own version of how to hit indirectly, either on the first or second of their ripostes. But if you can execute cases 1 through 3 above, understand what they look like coming at you, and can fence eyes open, you will have a reasonable probability of getting the touch in a counterriposte exchange. So practice setting up opponents to use their assumptions against them when you fence practice bouts.

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