… is the one that lets you hit the opponent. Remember, that defense does not score any hits. You can parry until the last referee gives up in disgust and leaves the building, but if that is all you do, you will never score a hit. Eventually the other fencer gets lucky or figures you out, and that is the end of it. Therefore, you have to do something more, and that more is called a riposte. The quick definition of a riposte is an attack after a parry … and attacks score hits.
This means that the parry has to keep you momentarily safe and then allow the blade to immediately transition into the riposte. So, how do we do that? Thankfully the answer is reasonably simple and pretty much true for all three weapons.
First, the parry needs to be as small as possible a movement executed to keep the blade within the parry envelope.
Second, it needs to be as fast as possible. By this I mean make your parry, and get on with hitting the other person. If you spend time continuing to push after the opponent’s blade is controlled or diverted, you are allowing him or her every opportunity to escape and hit you. Occasionally you will run into a referee who tells you that you did not push the opponent’s blade far enough away or that you did not hold the parry long enough. This reflects a complete lack of understanding of fencing – a parry is not a static memorial to the fact you made contact, it is a dynamic combat act. Even a light parry will deflect an opponent’s blade from the target, something we have known since Leon Bertrand wrote Cut and Thrust in the 1920s.
Third, it has to allow a creative response. A parry that prevents you from a quick and tactically adaptive response misses the whole point. The parry should allow response by direct riposte, indirect riposte, or taking of the blade.
I watched three women’s epee bouts in the Rio Olympics that perfectly demonstrated these points. Note that I am not criticizing or second guessing the fencers in these cases – under the conditions of high stress even highly trained elite athletes make performance errors. Often victory goes to the fencer who makes the smallest and least frequent errors.
One fencer took strong circular second parries. Unfortunately, she took the blade out of the envelope and continued to push the blade away after the line was cleared. This gave her opponent the time needed to roll out of the parry and stop hit the riposte.
One fencer did a superb job of keeping her blade and point in the envelope, allowing her to execute extremely fast short range ripostes against the attacker.
One fencer took a high line sixth parry, and executed a bind into 7th with a lunge for a fast toe touch on the opponent’s recovering front foot.
So, a good fast parry executed within the envelope allows a creative response to maximize the contribution riposte touches make to your score.