Not every attack arrives on target as a hit. We will dispense with the attacks that land off target in foil for this conversation. However, let’s look at the attack that is (1) parried by blade or (2) parried by distance (today commonly called a distance pull, although theoretically it is a parry). In both cases, the answer is that in a substantial number of cases the opponent’s blade may be headed at you. This action is termed a riposte in case (1) and theoretically correctly as a riposte in case (2), although it is more likely to be termed a taking over of the attack.
The question is “what do we do with the riposte?” Regardless of what we call it, a blade is coming at you with velocity and the first intention purpose of hitting you. And you have to deal with it. It is a simple problem ..
However, the solution can be complex because it involves (1) what is possible given reduced distance and shortened time, (2) your inventory of techniques, (3) your bout planning rules, bout plan, and most recent adjustment, and (4) OODA loop decision making:
(1) the reduced distance (presumably you were parried in the lunge and thus are starting from a position closer to the opponent than is optimum for defense) and shortened time (because of the distance the opponent’s riposte will be quicker, even if his or her speed is the same as yours) collapses the problem both in available space in which to execute your response and in the time to react and execute.
(2) your technical inventory restricts your response in two dimensions. First, do you have a large catalog of opponent actions that you can recognize, and therefore have some chance of responding to? Second, do you have simple techniques that are well practiced enough to be successfully executed under pressure?
(3) your current state of bout planning (what tactical rules you are using as the basis for your actions and how have you planned to employ them) and the adjustments you have made to fight this touch can have preplanned a response to the parry. Such planning has the potential to reduce reaction time. Or you may have simply attacked without any plan to deal with an undesired outcome (the opponent’s parry and riposte).
(4) the efficiency of your use of the OODA loop or other decision making tool. If you have practiced decision making under pressure deliberately, you will be faster. If you have not, you are relying on native ability, and the outcome may not meet the threat.
The situation can be reduced to three key elements: (1) the attack, (2) the opponent’s parry and riposte, and (3) your parry and counterriposte. As a memory tool, I term this the APC problem. And, yes, you can remise into the riposte with opposition or execute an appuntata against a compound riposte, but those are a different problem from what we are addressing this week.
The first major tactical decision in the APC exchange is whether you recover from the lunge or decide to fight from the lunge at the end of your attack. Recovering from the lunge gives you more time to understand and react to the opponent’s riposte. It also gives you more space in which to meet the riposte and more options in the parry and counterriposte. However, it allows the opponent more time to deceive your defense and more room for indirect or even compound ripostes. If the opponent retreated with their parry (whether blade or distance), the distance may require an advance-lunge delivery of the riposte.
Staying in the lunge collapses the distance and may be a surprise to the opponent. It constrains both of your actions in terms of the available target and the possible riposte and counterriposte, and your actions in terms of the possible parries. It is probably most effective against the opponent who makes the parry in-place and does not use footwork to materially open the distance during your initial attack. You want an opponent who has committed to short distance.
The second major tactical decision in the APC exchange is the choice of parries. The fencer who recovers to guard has the full range of parries available, including a retreat to parry by distance. Selection of the parry is driven by the line of the riposte and the role of the parry as preparation for the counterriposte. The fencer who stays in the lunge is far more constrained by distance and time; luckily the opponent is constrained as well. There probably is neither enough room or time for circular parries. Although the low line is theoretically available, the likelihood is that the riposte will be high line. Although indirect ripostes are possible if the change of line is done at the very start of the riposte, it would appear that the opponent’s riposte is likely direct in the same line as the parry and the initial attack. This means that 6 (3 in sabre), 4, and 5 in sabre or an equivalent raised parry to deflect the beat the opponent’s blade upward in the point weapons are probably good choices.
The third decision is the counterriposte. After a recovery to guard and a parry that prepares the desired line for the start of the riposte, consider an indirect counterriposte. This forces the opponent to fall back into a decision cycle – if combined with a parry that changes the line, the result is two cycles with the potential to get inside the opponent’s response time. For the fencer who fights from the lunge, the game is simpler. Now pure speed of execution with minimal chances of getting tangled up in the opponent is needed. That means a fast, accurate direct riposte.
There are of course any number of factors that may change the choices and the outcomes in the APC combat. Practice and experiment, because the parry preparation and counterriposte execution is a critical part of your tactical toolbox.