How we defend against takings of the blade varies from weapon to weapon, and can be divided into four approaches: avoidance, withdrawal, counterattack, and ceding parry. Each has specific conditions under which it is most effective, and each has limitations.
The simplest, avoidance, is based on not presenting a straight arm and extended blade. By definition a taking of the blade requires that the blade be available to be taken. Fencing from absence of blade, and avoiding points in line contribute to this approach by reducing the amount of time the blade is vulnerable, but you have to extend the arm and weapon if you attack or riposte. The answer is that the fencer must remain vigilant when extending, fence eyes open, use feints and compound actions to draw any attempted taking in the wrong direction, and be ready to immediately derobe any attempt at gaining blade contact.
Slightly more complicated is withdrawal. On contact initiated by the opponent, immediately retract the arm and take a retreat step. Against a slow or heavy handed opponent, this pulls the blade out of danger. However, you have to be very alert, understand the opponent’s tactics, and have faster reactions than he or she does. The contact may be a simple parry and riposte that you could easily defeat or an ineffective parry against which you could easily remise or redouble, situations in which you would not want to pull out of contact. In addition, hypersensitivity to contact may limit your willingness to commit to an attack. Withdrawal thus may be either an emergency response or a planned trap to draw an attempt at taking that you can avoid, but that unblances the opponent, allowing an immediate reprise.
In epee, and possibly in sabre, the answer may be to counterattack, with reassemble or retreat step. If you maintain a light hand, the force of the taking can actually give impetus to a rapid circular counterattack. This requires readiness to execute the circular movement on pressure and the ability to control distance in the opponent’s attack while landing far enough ahead of the opponent to exploit lock-out time in your favor.
The final approach is the ceding parry, which also uses the force of the taking. On pressure the fencer pivots his or her weapon on the opponent’s blade to form a parry. In sabre, my sense is that pressure on the outside of the blade in an opposition cut answered with a fast pivot to prime is probably the only useful version of this – theoretically one could meet pressure on the inside of the blade with a cede into sabre 7th with a moulinet riposte, but that is a slow process and the number of referees who would recognize what just happened is probably vanishingly small.
However, in foil and epee, there is a well established set of ceding parries that can be used. Two, pressures on the outside of the blade, result in easily understood parries:
- Pressure on outside of blade in high line – pivot into prime parry.
- Pressure on outside of the blade in low line – pivot into 5th parry.
The cedes on pressure on the inside of the blade are more complex. You have to relax and allow the opponent’s point to pass your bell before rolling around the blade to end up in either a low or a lifted parry:
- Pressure on inside of the blade in high line – roll under the blade maintaining contact and lifting the bell into lifted 8th parry.
- Pressure on inside of the blade in low line – roll over the blade maintaining contact and lowering the bell into low 6th parry.
All of these approaches take considerable practice to master. Develop sentiment de fer to be able to sense the start of a taking. Develop your awareness of opponent tactics and execution skills to be able to differentiate the taking of the blade from presses that could be defeated by immediate disengage or coupe. Improve those components of reaction and movement time that can be improved through incessant practice. Work to avoid movement patterns and errors in form that needlessly expose your blade. And practice, practice, practice your chosen approach.