We have attacks – the objective is to hit the opponent. We have defense – the objective is to hit the opponent. We have counteroffense – so what do you think the objective is? Yes, you are correct – to hit the opponent. So what is counteroffense?
We can define counteroffense as actions to halt or to successfully hit the development of the attack. The traditional actions that fit in this category are the stop hit (a direct, simple counterattack) and the time hit (an intercepting stop hit that diverts the opponent’s attack with opposition). Unlike the parry-riposte which typically waits for the attack (although the line becomes much more blurred with the active parry-riposte), these two actions are attacks into the attack, starting with the extension of the arm.
Again, traditionally these are taught as being delivered from a static position, from a reassemblement, with a backwards lunge, from an inquartata or other esquive, or from a retreat to keep the body clear for long enough for the counterattack to land clearly ahead of the attack. But is this automatically the best way? For the time hit, it may well not be. If you deliver the time hit as a lunging attack (even a short lunge) immediately on the start of the opponent’s attack, you collapse the distance and greatly increase closing speed, reducing the opponent’s chance to deceive the opposition and increasing the chance that any multiple tempo action will be intercepted before the implementation of the second tempo. At the same time you increase the viability of the time hit to the body in all three weapons. The time hit used to wait for the final line – given the simplicity of modern actions in all three weapons, the attacking time hit would seem to obviate the need to wait.
The stop hit still must avoid for long enough to land in the tempo prior to the final tempo. In practice what this means is that it must not result in two lights. This means that stops to the body in foil must be exquisitely timed and are a low probability of success without an evasion that removes the body from the track of the original attack. In sabre, the advanced target and lock out time means that stops to the arm, especially with the point, have a reasonable chance of success. In epee, the tactics of the double hit in the pool and direct elimination (discussed in a previous posting) determine the advisability of the stop.
But this is not all there is. Two other actions are effectively counteroffensive, even though they are not universally recognized as such. The point-in-line, established before the opponent starts the attack, exists to do two things. It hampers the development of the attack by presenting a threat of a potential action with the right of way against whatever the opponent does. To safely attack you must remove the point in line or induce the opponent to remove it. And your attack provides the point in line the opportunity to hit by bringing your target to it. If you attempt to take or beat or press it, all the opponent has to do is deceive and lunge, and the touch is hers. If you attempt to attack direct or with feints, all the opponent has to do is lunge, and the touch is his. Waiting for the opponent simply to impale himself on your blade (the way the technique traditionally has been taught) has enough risk that delivery of the point with an immediate lunge seems a safer option.
The fourth counteroffensive action is the attack on preparation. Must fencers would probably consider this an offensive action. But to make an attack on preparation what do you have to have? Yes, you have to have a preparation of the attack. And what does a preparation presuppose – yes, that there is an attack following. The opponent has started her attack; it may have not yet reached the distance or desired timing or achieved the desired blade preparation, but you are under attack. If you do nothing what will happen? Yes, one thing will lead to another, the preparation to the final, and you will be hit.
So, we have a total of four actions in counteroffense. The attacks into the attack (stop hit and time hit) work best when you can control the opponent’s blade (time hit) or can hit the advanced target (stop hit). The point-in-line works to hamper the attack by restricting how the opponent can act and provides a potential attack that the right of way even if the opponent is moving forward. And the attack on preparation takes the opponent’s timing and distance and makes it yours.
Classifications of fencing actions have evolved into a four category system of (1) actions not intended to result in a touch, (2) offense, (3) defense, and (4) counteroffense. If we look at the three hit producers, offense is tied to your having the initiative and executing your attack. Defense and counteroffense are dependent upon the opponent executing an attack. In reality, fencing actions fit into a system of (1) tactical preparation (actions not intended to result in a hit, but which pave the way for future actions), (2) offense, and (3) actions against offense (defense and counteroffense). The purpose of all three is to hit the opponent.