You attack, and it falls short. You attack, your opponent parries but does nothing. You attack, and your opponent parries and ripostes. All of these situations present you with an immediate tactical problem – what do I do next? And while you are sitting out there in your lunge, milliseconds are ticking away, and your vulnerability to a bad outcome is increasingly.
Lets look at the bad outcomes. Your attack has failed, and a failed attack is an opportunity for the opponent. Each case is different, and each presents a different threat.
- The fall short – in right of way weapons, the opponent can now take over the attack. In epee, if you start to recover backwards the opponent can simply follow your recovering blade in to hit as it gives up ground (or more correctly airspace). On top of this you now know that either the opponent can make you fall short (forcing future attacks to find some way of fixing him in place), or that you lack the resolve to push to a distance at which the attack will not fail.
- The parry and does nothing – it is tempting to regard this as an error by the opponent, and it may be. It is also possible that she is waiting for you to repeat the action so that she can capitalize on an error in execution that she observed but was not in a position to take advantage of immediately. As you renew, you may be more likely to repeat that error. In simple terms, always suspect a trap, especially if the opponent has a perfectly good riposte.
- The parry and riposte – now you know that the opponent has an answer for your attack, and that he is happily trying to deliver it to you. If you are trying to recover, you are unstable and therefore vulnerable. If you are trying to fight from your lunge, you have minimum time to react.
Whatever you do, you have three basic problems.
- You have to deal with any blade coming your way.
- You have to regain the initiative and attack.
- You have to manage distance so that you maintain pressure and be in hitting distance when you end your next attack.
If conditions allow you to combine these steps into one sequence of renewed attack, your chances of success are increased. So how do you do that? First, execute a fast forward recovery. Closing the distance may seem counterintuitive, but it collapses the distance and time available for a riposte or counterattack, puts you in hitting distance even if he opponent starts to recover or step back, may surprise the opponent, and may get inside her decision making in the OODA loop.
At the same time as the recovery, close the line or parry to defeat a takeover of the attack, counterattack, or riposte. But, some would say, you don’t know where the opponent will attack. Well, you should be able to see where his blade is – a high percentage of ripostes will be in that line. If you have observed the opponent in other bouts or in the earlier phrases of this bout, you should know whether the opponent uses an indirect riposte and be able to counter a riposte that s not in the current line.
Accelerate and flow from the forward recovery into your next lunge, completing the reprise. Remember to control the length of the attack with your footwork, and not with the arm. Arm movement is quicker, and you want as early a hit as possible in this scenario.
Earlier, we said that a failed attack is an opportunity for the opponent. It is also your opportunity to fix the opponent in place, know where his blade is, and use her action to set up your final action to hit. There is risk associated with this. All of fencing is risky. Part of the challenge of fencing is being able to assess that risk, accept it, and make it work for you.