In the old days, with a shorter strip and a slower bout, you could attack at long distance (also called advance lunge distance) with an advance and a lunge. That is to say with two distinct footwork steps, the advance to medium distance and the lunge. Today, if you can do that, it is either because the opponent is waiting deliberately for you with a superior defense or because the opponent can no longer retreat. And in the second case it is just as likely that he or she will launch an attack into your preparation. Footwork has changed from step by step into a flow of steps to achieve the desired outcome.
So how do we do an advance-lunge? My use of the hyphen in advance-lunge is deliberate. The two footwork actions, advance and lunge, are now a distinct flow. Even though they remain in actuality two tempos, the rules of fencing now effectively recognize them as a single tempo action(see t.56 and t.75). Before the introduction of the “Russian box of death,” sabre referees had even started to consider the small advance-small advance-lunge off the on-guard line as a single tempo in awarding right of way. What this means is that the advance must flow immediately and continuously into the lunge in one action (two tempos in reality, one tempo as far as the referee is concerned).
The hit with the advance-lunge footwork the fencer is confronted with three problems:
(1) getting to lunging distance. Notice that I did not say advance-lunge or long distance. With the modern opponent, using the advance lunge as an attempt to close from long distance is a non-starter against an alert, mobile opponent. You take a step forwards, she takes a step backwards, you lunge, you are short of the target. So preparatory footwork, footwork traps, etc. must be used to close to medium, or lunge, distance.
(2) getting inside the opponent’s time. The accelerating advance-lunge allows you to use response time (reaction time plus movement time) to your advantage. Because you initiate, you are always milliseconds ahead of your opponent in movement. A short, accelerating advance combined with continued acceleration in the lunge gets you to the hit as your opponent completes the step back. The advance is not close the distance, it is to preserve lunging distance by getting inside the opponent’s physiological and OODA loops. This is the best operational area of the quickstep-lunge, a two-tempo (quick-step, lunge) flow.
(3) getting inside the opponent’s retreat distance. If you are attacking at the edge of medium distance or you face an opponent who has a fast and relatively longer retreat step, an option is the marching step advance lunge. This is a three tempo action – first, front foot advances; second, rear foot comes forward to gain measure (also called a distance stealing step); third the lunge. This allows more variation of the acceleration than the quickstep advance-lunge, and covers more distance.
It is important to understand that when we talk of tempos in all of these cases, we are separating the flow into constituent parts for synchronization of the action. In no case should there be a significant, recognizable break between the tempos. Both options should be one continuous motion, with the acceleration timed to deliver maximum point speed (or blade speed in the sabre cut) in the last 12 inches of the attack.
In most cases there also should be a smooth transition from preparatory footwork to the advance-lunge. This means that the final advance-lunge component should be practiced from a series of advances in a chase, and from a series of retreats as an attack into a befuddled preparation. Smoothness in this transition cannot be achieved without considerable practice under a wide variety fo distance and timing conditions.