The vast majority of ripostes today will be simple direct ripostes – in the fast modern game, this is the fastest choice. A smaller number will be simple indirect ripostes – still quite fast, with the advantage of the surprise of a line change getting inside the opponent’s OODA Loop. Both of these riposte categories are single tempo actions, meaning that they should hit as the opponent finishes the forward motion of her parried attack or starts his recovery. Thus the fencer executes one blade action and at most one footwork action by advance or lunge n the case of the recovering opponent.
Let’s interrupt this discussion by asking the question: “why do we even parry and riposte, why not just counterattack?” There are valid reasons to counterattack in all three weapons, and the counterattack plays an increasingly larger role as you move from foil to sabre to epee. However, the riposte does several things for us:
(1) it allows you to use an invitation as a trap to hit an aggressive opponent.
(2) it converts an uninvited attack by an opponent into your scoring opportunity.
(3) it is central to second intention attacks.
(4) its is the basis for defensive countertime.
Most of these obviously will be single tempo tactical situations. The first, the invitation trap, is effectively within the tempo of the attack, almost as a time hit. The third and fourth, second intention and defensive countertime, are multiple tempo actions, but the parry and riposte portion of the action is one tempo country. In each of these, the opponent is deeply committed to the action. Where the opportunity for the compound riposte comes is in multiple tempo actions.
Compound actions are, by definition, two or more tempo actions, the first of which is a feint. So, to have time to execute them, you need an opponent who can be forced to work in two tempos. Let’s pose a situation: (1) your opponent attacks, (2) you parry, (3) as your riposte starts the opponent is rapidly recovering to guard, (4) you start the lunge to carry the riposte to the withdrawing opponent, (5) who extends the withdrawal with a retreat step, (6) giving them the second tempo to parry your one tempo simple riposte. The blade is just there in space to be had by a parry in the second tempo of your riposte.
This is the time for the compound action. If you executed the riposte in (3) as a direct riposte, now is the time to convert to a feint of straight action-disengage (and with the point in sabre for the extra reach). If you executed an indirect disengage riposte, now is the time to convert to a one-two (or a second coupe or disengage point for the sabre fencer who started with a coupe). There is a difference between executing these compound actions and compound actions on the initial attack. Instead of progressive action, the second tempo will most probably have to be made with the arm already extended if you have made a serious effort to hit with the initial start of your riposte. The timing is tricky – you do not want the referee to see your initial riposte extension in the first tempo as a miss, but rather as a logical part of one continuous, accelerating, compound attack delivered with an advance-lunge (in place of the lunge in (4) above).
Do we do this eyes-open … maybe. Is it an opportunistic response to an opponent’s attempt to parry and counterriposte … possibly. Could it be a planned action to deal with the opponent who either escapes quickly or is trying to set up second intention … could be. Regardless of when, it is an option that requires neat management of tempo and good synchronization of foot and bladework … in other words, practice.