Fencing depends on two things: (1) being able to do what you want to do, and (2) getting the other fencer to do what you want him to do. If you can make your opponent’s actions predictable by getting him to do what you want him to do, allowing you to do what you want to do, you are well on your way to winning. And significantly, you are on your way to winning courtesy of your tactical ability to outthink the opponent.
To do this, you could always tell your opponent before the bout what you intend to do, and what you want them to do. They might actually do what you want. But the odds are not good, and besides which someone might decide this was collusion, something that is against the rules. So, you may have to resort to lies, deceit, and treachery, the three horsemen of victory. Let’s look at each of these.
Lies – a lie is a false statement with a deliberate intent on your part to deceive the other person. As we talk with our weapons, a lie becomes an untrue creation that plays upon the opponent’s credulity and greed. We paint a picture of opportunity for the opponent. a picture that is deliberately false, and the opponent takes the offered opportunity. We reward them for doing so with a hit. There are many ways to do this – one of the simplest is the invitation. We practice invitations by blade action, by footwork, by distance, and by tempo every time we drill – from a teaching perspective we call them cues. Deliberately opening a line with tactical intent is a lie that the line is open. When the opponent attacks based on that lie, you parry and riposte and hit.
It is easy to become a better liar. Use practice drills to perfect your technique. Practice having a range of invitations – small and subtle for strong opponents, large and obvious for the beginner or the gullible. Practice blade, footwork, distance, directional, psychological, and tempo invitations. Work with your training partners to develop the skill of making the invitation irresistible while maintaining stability and the ability to immediately respond to the opponent’s action. If you are not working on these every time you drill, you are missing 50% of the purpose of the drill.
Deceit – deceit is the act of using a trick; in fencing it is avoiding an opponent’s blade action (either on offense as trompement, or on defense as derobement). Our deceits are a standard range of fencing actions, but I am going to expand the range from the normal disengage on a press, counterdisengage on a circular attempt to take the blade, and feint to draw a parry that can then be deceived by a disengage. Let’s also use deceit to include those actions that get the opponent’s blade in motion so that she will react in a way we want. For example, I beat an opponent’s blade in 4th. They immediately react to close 4th. I disengage to hit in 6th. My attack was not straightforward manly fair play – a beat straight thrust would have been fair play by revealing the line of the attack with the beat. Rather I was deceitful with my attack in a different line.
And finally treachery – treachery is a betrayal of trust. I intend to create a condition in which you will trust that what I am doing is to your advantage. Then I will betray that trust by making it not so. A simple example is building a pattern of actions that the opponent can believe he understands. For example, I hit you with an unexpected straight thrust as you step forward. What are you now ready to deal with – yes, every time you advance you will be ready for my straight thrust. You trust that I am going to take advantage of you, and you have your strongest parry ready, your riposte programmed in your mind. And here it comes a straight thrust, you react, and I hit you with the second tempo of my feint of straight thrust-disengage. More complex examples are second intention and countertime actions because they exploit your initial success in thinking that you will hit me on your attack or counterattack.
Normally in our society we do not think of lies, deceit, or treachery as good things. And you should not think of the actions I have described as being unfair or dishonest in fencing; they are well established parts of the fabric of combat on the piste. But our three horsemen work when they take advantage of what people want to believe. and because they get people to do what someone else wants them to do. And that is a great thing in personal combat of any type. So call these categories anything you want, but be prepared to use them in the mental game of tactics in our sport.