190210 Beating the Riposte

So there you are, the perfect attack into the opening line and all is well with the world because the next touch will be yours. And then you feel it – blade contact. You know what that means – parry – and that a riposte is on its way. What is a fencer to do under those conditions?

The traditional answer to this question is either (1) recover to guard, parry, and first counterriposte or (2) jump back so that the riposte falls short. And those are still reasonable answers. However, with the speed of the modern game and the likelihood that the parry that intercepted your blade is a forward parry catching you in the air, you need some other tools to finally get the touch you believed you had.

The first solution depends on the opponent’s actions after a parry. There are four possibilities for what the opponent will do:

(1) immediate, fast, accurate riposte – we will defer that option for the second part of this post,

(2) hold the parry, either deliberately to let you reveal your recovery and the inevitable open line, or because the opponent has not properly integrated the parry and riposte,

(3) make a structural error in the riposte – the epee example of detaching from the blade to riposte is an excellent example,

(4) or just have poor accuracy. If your opponent misses a substantial percentage of his or her ripostes, what to do with their riposte becomes a risk decision.

If cases (2), (3), or (4) apply consider making the immediate remise, either as a straight remise (case 4), as a remise with opposition (case 3), or either a straight remise, with opposition, or with angulation (case 2). A remise is a deliberate tactical choice to renew the attack in the same line from the lunge, with new extension, a replacement of the point in the line after the parry, and perhaps a short gravity lunge to deliver the thrust. It is a stop hit against the riposte. The straight remise is the fastest and works well when the opponent’s blade is no longer a threat in the tempo. Opposition gives you the capability to block any counteraction or the late riposte. And angulation by ceding allows you to place your point or cutting edge inside the parry.

There are caveats that you should consider. First, do not bend or withdraw your arm. Your point at the time of the parry is most likely closer to the opponent than the opponent’s is to you. In other words you have penetrated further into the opponent’s defenses than she has into yours, and your action, properly executed quickly, has the likelihood of landing first. Remises depend on speed for their survivability. For the referee who is only watching the box, your light is first. For the referee who sees the parry in the last moment of the attack, the possibility is that the parry may be seen as late. And in all cases you need to make the hit and move on immediately to the next step.

The next step is that, in foil and sabre, the opponent has parried you and in all likelihood gained the right of way for the riposte. The standard current answer for this problem is that you must now execute a close-out, a fast and hard lateral blade movement that drives the riposte out of the line. I am not necessarily a fan of the closeout for several reasons:

… If your remise misses, the force of the closeout puts your blade in a position where there is little opportunity to eventually score.

… If the opponent executes an indirect riposte, the odds are good that the closeout will be deceived by the disengage or coupe.

… The closeout mindset is defensive – “I have to block their blade.” Defense does not score touches. In all fairness you are doing the close-out to preserve the chance that your action that lacks right of way will be able to score, but you have stopped being oriented toward opportunities for new offensive action.

There is an alternative, but it requires practice, lots of practice, tens of thousands of executions to build the necessary speed and disciplined control required. The sequence becomes attack->remise->parry->1st counterriposte. The parry must be a forward parry executed with a quick lateral movement immediately after the hit. There is insufficient time to pull the arm back to make a traditional parry because the opponent’s riposte is already inside your blade. This is a sequence that must be drilled to automaticity, and there must be no hesitation or inefficient movement anywhere in its execution.

The immediate reaction is “but I hit them with the remise, so why do I need to hit them again?” Well, what if you hit them, but hit with insufficient grams of penetration or flatted the hit, in other words with no light? What happens if you hit them the first time on the nice large dead spot on the lame that worked for testing because it had been sprayed with water, but has now dried just like it was supposed to? Or what if your weapon malfunctioned? It is easy to think one no-light hit is your fault. Two no-light hits in the same action is an automatic “Sir, I believe I hit twice with no light – may I test?” Remember the adage from the good old days of visual judging: “you need to hit your opponent as many times as is necessary to earn enough touches to win, whether that is 5 or 20.”

Let’s assume, however, that your attack and their parry does not allow a remise (or its cousin the redoublement). Now your answer is an attack->parry->1st counterriposte combination. In executing the parry you must aim for two audible clicks of the blade (his an then yours) and make certain that the opponent’s blade is controlled by your opposition. Again the parry is forward to intercept the attack and push it off line with opposition while leaving your blade in line. With luck the opponent will lunge onto it. Without luck, your blade is positioned inline and closer to the opponent than the opponent is to you. Make the riposte with forward body movement, perhaps a short gravity lunge to signal your action as a legitimate attack. And yes, this sequence also requires thousands of repetitions of deliberate practice.

You might notice that these two actions share the parry->1st counterriposte sequence. The big difference is in how you conceive of using the sequence. In the remise, it is purely offensive even though it uses a parry, second and a half intention to guarantee that your stop hit against the riposte will be successful. In the forward parry and riposte combination it is advanced defense-offense to break up the opponent’s riposte and score.

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