Continuing with the fundamentals, the fundamental means of carrying the attack forward is the footwork movement known as the lunge. It is important to distinguish between the attack and the lunge, and to understand that modern fencing has really muddied the waters. The attack is the bladework action that carries the blade forward with the point or edge (as appropriate) threatening the target. It may be delivered from the static on guard, with an advance, with a retreat (although no modern referee will recognize an attack with a step back as an attack), with the lunge, advance lunge, balestra lunge, patinando, forward pass lunge, fleche, flunge, etc.
The muddy part comes in when referees interpret the attack as the forward movement of the body, for example, the attack as the culminating advance-lunge of a long pursuit down the strip with the blade only extending in the lunge itself. This mixing of footwork and bladework drives classical fencers nuts, but it allows the modern fencer to tailor the actual attack to the prejudices of the referee, gaining an advantage over the opponent who cannot readily do so. More about this later.
So, regardless of when the attack actually starts, there are a sequence of mechanical things that have to happen to make a lunge work:
FIRST – get to an attacking distance. A long lunge is a thing of beauty, a slow thing of beauty. The lunge is a simple time, speed, distance problem. Time equal distance divided by speed. If the distance increases and the speed is the same, the attack will take longer to land. Longer time gives the opponent more time to run his or her OODA loop and solve the defensive or counteroffensive problem. If at all possible, you want to attack with a short, rather than long, lunge so that you get inside the opponent’s reaction and movement times.
SECOND – make sure you are in attacking position. Although there are footwork differences between the weapons, as a physiological matter, you get the greatest power when you initiate from a 45 degree bend in the legs – less or more bend equals less power. As a simple delivery constraint you want to attack from a stable, balanced position so that you can control movement. And you want as little muscular tension in your body as possible, consistent with maintaining your movement and balance. Relaxed muscles initiate faster and perform faster.
THIRD – see the target. Use relaxed arm movement toward the target with the point or edge pulling the extension out. Place the point, or the edge in the cut. This is true even if you are executing a flick. If the blade does not arrive on target, the whole reason for the attack disappears, unless you enjoy giving the opponent an opportunity to hit you.
FOURTH – use all of the speed components. Harmenberg tells us in Epee 2.0/2.5 that you have two speed generators, leg speed and arm speed. Correct timing of these gives us maximum point speed in the last critical 8 to 10 inches to the target. However, Harmenberg is only partly correct. In addition, torso rotation driven by the backward lowering of the rear arm from the classic position generates acceleration and gives you 6-8 inches of greater reach, as well as keeping the head up, your eyes stable, and the shoulders level, allowing the rise in the forward arm. Finally, in the flick or the sabre cut, the action of the weapon hand fingers give the point a final added acceleration.
FIFTH – make sure you use the full extension of the back leg and the kick of the front leg, even on short lunges. One gives you the initial acceleration of the lunge, the other its sustained power and the ability to accelerate and elongate. As a side note, when you land the front foot, land on the heel in the pipe-smoker position to dissipate impact – when you are a veteran fencer your knees will still work. If you land on the flat of your foot, you maximize the concentration of impact in the knee.
SIXTH – time the extension. It you are hiding your blade to avoid counterattack on it or forward parries, hold the blade back as long as possible (if you have a referee who accepts any forward movement as the attack) to deny the opponent the ability to intercept the attack in its slower phase. If you have a referee who requires the start of the extension first, make that start as small as possible.
SEVENTH – arrive on target at maximum speed. The four components kick-in in order: (1) leg speed, slow and then accelerating, (2) arm speed with the acceleration, (3) torso rotation speed as the arm gets into its acceleration, followed by (4) finger speed as the point closes within the last few inches. This sequence presents the defender with acceleration throughout the attack, with variability based on your timing, making defense more difficult as the attacking blade approaches.
EIGHTH – see the threat. If you expect a counteraction or parry riposte for which you will have to execute a close-out or parry-counterriposte, watch the opponent. If you know on which side the opponent has positioned his or her blade you have gone a long way to solving the next stage of the phrase.
NINTH – recover. The easiest recovery is simply bending everything you straightened in the attack at the same time. At the same time, see EIGHTH. If you recover forward in a reprise or patinando or simply to pick up the ground, do not recover upward. Standing up in recovery exposes your low line and unloads your legs. Recover to the bent leg position you adopted in SECOND.
Now go practice.