A parry is a blade action which diverts an opponent’s blade or blocks it so that the opponent’s offensive action does not hit the fencer. That sounds simple enough, but it is too simple by far. On one level it is important to note that there are a seemingly endless variety of parries. A previous blog post cataloged the obvious variants. On another level a blog post on the good parry highlighted the parry’s role in scoring the hit by riposte, and emphasized that the role of the parry is to facilitate the fencer’s efforts to score on the opponent. As part of this week’s study take the time to review these two blog entries.
This week we are going to focus on two specific characteristics of the parry. The first is the concept of denying the opponent’s hit. In foil and sabre this is fundamentally subjective. The argument is that the correctly executed parry blocks the attack, allowing the immediate riposte to score. The devil is in the details of “correctly executed.” This has two parts:
… first, the parry must be executed with the one third of the blade closest to the guard of the weapon. This is determined visually by the referee,
… second, the parry is graded based on its relationship to the hit landing on the fencer. If the parry occurs before the hit lands, it is a parry. If the parry occurs as the hit lands, it is a parry. If the parry occurs after the hit lands, it is nothing. This is determined by the referee visually, by the sound of the blade on blade or blade on guard, and by the display on the scoring machine.
Note that I have said “determined by the referee;” in fact, this is a matter of fact wholly at the discretion of the referee. You can improve your chances that the parry will be seen as a parry by using a blade position that a referee who knows the weapon will recognize as a parry. You can improve your chances by a parry that results in a crisp click of the blades well before the scoring machine signals the hit. However, regardless of your best efforts, it is still a matter of fact. This makes observing how the referee calls parries in your pool or early in your bout an important thing to do.
If you have a referee who continually fails to recognize what you believe to be properly executed parries, you have one option – fence for one light.
The problem for the epee fencer is different. Now you must do one of two things.
… first, control the opponent’s blade so that the initial attack does not land and so that a remise or redouble does not land within 40 milliseconds of your riposte. Note that this is actually an 80 millisecond window – if the opponent hits as early as 1/25th of a second before your riposte to as late as 1/25th of a second after your riposte hits.
… second, as an option delay the opponent’s blade for the same time period. A percussion action that deflects the blade from the target, such as a tac parry, may do this, especially if the deflection is significant and the riposte speed very fast.
These options in the three weapons demand that you pay attention to the second major characteristic. There are legitimate doctrinal differences in how parries are executed. We believe that a good parry:
… stays in and protects the box formed by the lateral and vertical dimensions of the target. Going outside the limits of this box may be necessary in some circumstances. However, in general outside the box increases the opportunities for the attacker to deceive the parry and means that the riposte travels at an increasingly challenging angle to the target’s surface and arrives later because it has to travel further.
… maintains both a defense and an offensive or counteroffensive threat of an immediate direct thrust or cut at the target.
We teach parry systems, a subset of all the possible parries selected for their utility in meeting the range of threats and pared to the smallest number consistent with covering the box and meeting the requirements of Hick’s Law. Know the system applicable to your weapon, practice the system, and be able to do it with high reliability under the stresses of the bout.