If you have been around fencing for any length of time, you have heard a specific action, let’s say a disengage, described as either a strategy, tactic, or technique. Two of the three choices here for a disengage are wrong. Do you know which ones?
If you have been around the Salle for any length of time, you know the answer – technique. We use precise, standard terminology for things which are strategic, tactical, or technical because words and definitions matter. The terms strategy, tactics, and techniques define very different parts of fencing. To put them in their order as building blocks:
TECHNIQUE is how you execute a specific fencing action, footwork or bladework or in combination. Thus an advance step is a technique. A straight thrust is a technique, and the two together can be an advance with a straight thrust.
a TACTIC is how you combine one or more techniques with tempo, timing, acceleration, the initiative, distance, speed, the location on the strip, the psychological moment, the opponent’s intention, etc. to score a touch. Thus the decision to invite, draw the attack, parry, and an advance step and straight extension in second intention is a tactic. This extends to how you will fence a bout, the pool, and the direct elimination.
STRATEGY is the series of decisions you make about your objectives as a fencer. It includes when and how you will train, what club you will fence for, which tournaments are critical for your objectives of classifications, national points, team selection, and what tournaments are for practice, what your goals are for the quarter, year, quadrennium (the 4 year period between the Olympics and the Paralympics), and for your lifetime in the sport.
So how do these things fit together? First, you have to understand your strategy. Your trainers have worked with hundreds of fencers over the years – work with them to define a strategy. Perhaps your interest is to fence for recreation – in this case your strategy is not based on competitions, but rather on enjoying the comradeship, exercise, opportunities to learn new things, and friendly competition the Salle offers. This is a completely appropriate way to be a fencer, and fencing needs recreational fencers.
However, if you are a competitor, your strategy will be very different – a more intensive practice and lesson schedule, planning on which tournaments to enter, and set goals in terms of classifications, points list points, and qualifying competitions. In this process it is very important to recognize that there are tournaments that count, the results of which lead to your objectives. And there are tournaments that are for practice and learning. The value of the first are defined by your placement at the end of the day. The value of the second is in terms of what you learned. It is possible to go to a tournament and learn nothing, but win the gold medal. This is a complete defeat. It is possible to go to a tournament, work on a specific technique, get it to work on the strip, and yet win no bouts. This is a complete victory.
Tactics flow from your strategy. Tactics are keyed to whether you are aiming for a specific placement at the end of the day or whether you have a technique or tactic improvement goal in mind. Tactics to win are based on your having a specific set of techniques and a well developed understanding of when to use them. These are your best techniques that you can execute under the conditions of bouts in this event with a high probability of getting as good a result as possible.
Tactics to learn and perfect are different. Now you are trying to make a specific combination of factors with a technique either score or defeat the opponent’s attempt to score (and then score yourself). You will vary your tactics, try to develop story lines, all with the objective of creating the conditions in which your selected technique scores. The score of the bout is unimportant – making your selected tactic work is everything.
Techniques are the first building block of a tactic. Your goal is to go into the bout with techniques that you can execute with acceleration and speed at the appropriate moment. That means that you must have techniques that are smooth and tight, do not expose you unnecessarily, and on which you can rely.
There are two sides to this. To develop the skill level need to execute a technique on demand, you need repetitions. Thirty repetitions are approximately the number needed to start to build a habit. Between 3,000 and 11,000 repetitions in deliberate practice appear to be the baseline for developing championships level ability to execute a technique.
The second side is that you must similarly develop a large library of techniques that you can recognize when an opponent employs them against you. If you have ever said to yourself “where did that hit come from” or “I don’t know what happened,” you are making an admission that you were unable to recognize what the opponent was doing to you. That is not a good place to be.
Both of these sides drive a fairly small set of techniques at which you should be excellent. You never have enough practice time to be excellent at everything or to know everything. Work with your trainer to identify techniques with which you are comfortable, in which you have confidence, and which serve multiple purposes. Then practice those techniques until you can apply them tactically with success in a bout.
Tactics work one technique at a time. Bouts are won one tactic at a time. Tournaments are won one bout at a time using successful tactics. Your strategy is successful when one technique at a time, one bout at a time, one tournament at a time (whether the tournament is an informal Salle tournament or a Division 1 National Championships), all combine to meet your fencing objectives.
Copyright 2020 by Walter G. Green III