160529 Footwork Invitations

Understanding bladework invitations sets the stage for footwork invitations.  In blade invites the movement of the blade from a stable position creates the conditions that attract an opponent’s attack.  The drift into an opening for a straight thrust, the lateral take that provokes the disengage, and the circular engagement change triggering a counterdisengage, all depend on movement from a stable guard into the creation of an opening in a line.

The same basic thing happens in footwork invitations.  Foot movement from a static on guard creates instability that an opponent believes can be exploited to hit.  Because fencing today is a highly mobile activity, there will always be some element of instability in any situation after the command to “fence.”  The question becomes how to create the illusion of instability without actually being unstable at the critical moment.  The fencer who invites wants to be stable, able to move the blade to intercept the attack, and able to use footwork to establish the correct distance for riposte, taking over the attack, or counterattack at the moment of the opponent’s action.

Opponents can attack the moving fencer in two dimensions – when the fencer is moving forward or when the fencer is retreating.  In foil and sabre, the attack into forward movement is complicated by the tendency of many referees to view any forward movement as the attack and to assign this “attack” the right of way.   All the fencer stepping forward has to do is extend and lunge in one continuous movement, and the supposed advance lunge will defeat any attack against the step forward (unless that attack into the attack is a false one to get the fencer to commit so that the opponent can parry and riposte).  Because hope springs eternal in opponent’s minds, this makes any step forward, whether stable or not, a useful invitation.

Two other footwork options expand the opportunities for invitation.  Both depend upon the basic assumption that if one foot moves the other must immediately follow, an artifact of the days when footwork consisted almost exclusively of the advance, retreat, and lunge.  If an opponent has been taught to lunge when the fencer’s back foot is in movement, that lunge has to be launched when the front foot is down in an advance.  Against quick footwork there simply is not sufficient response time to see the back foot start to move and then initiate the lunge before the fencer is back in a stable condition with both feet down (unless the advance is a long step).  The half-step triggers the lunge at a point when the fencer is actually stable and ready for the attack.  The front foot landing on a marching step similarly creates a stable situation until the fencer moves the back foot as a separate action.

If the fencer is retreating, and has an open line (a bladework invitation), the temptation for an opponent to attack the retreating fencer may be almost irresistible.  Against the opponent willing to attack a retreat, a slow movement, half-step back, or short retreat (followed by a rapid tempo change or jump back to avoid the attack) may be all that is needed to get the opponent to commit to an attack that can be hit by a counterattack in sabre or epee, parried and riposted, or be made to fall short and taken over.

And then there are footwork traps, combinations of advances and retreats designed to invite opponent movement into a tempo, distance, or direction change that will be to his or her disadvantage in a pointy way …

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