When you invite someone to do something, what are you doing? Well, if it is to go to dinner or to a party you are trying to involve them in something in pleasurable. When you do it in business it may be to submit an application or a proposal for a project. But when you do it in fencing, you are (1) inviting them to hit you (what they think is happening) and (2) setting them up for you to hit them (what you are actually doing). Isn’t fencing a wonderful, friendly, straight forward sort of sport?
An invitation is a deliberate exposure to draw an opponent into an attack which you can then (1) parry and riposte against or (2) counterattack or countertime or (3) make fall short and take over. It is an action in second intention, that is to say one that capitalizes on the opponent’s first intention action that you have deliberately drawn.
In the classical period invitations were a formalized set of deliberate openings of a line, an invitation in sixth or an invitation in fourth for example. Hungarian and Italian School invitations have retained that character up at least until the 1980s. If you study the systems it is easy to recognize the invitation – it is almost as though they are creating an opening to dare you to try to hit through it.
But I would suggest that this is too limited a view of the invitation. First, invitations by opening the line against a good opponent must deceive the opponent and create the impression that you are making an error, have lost focus, have misjudged the tactical situation. Fencers are simply too quick and too good for an obvious invitation to work – if it does it is probably because your second intention is really their third intention. You think it is “open the line, get them to attack, and parry and riposte to hit.” But they are playing the game of “false attack into the invitation to draw your parry and riposte so that they can parry and counterriposte.” So, the invitation now needs to create a false narrative on the previous actions and your ability to simulate a condition that convinces them they can hit.
Second, the invitation described only as a blade action made sense in the classical period when footwork and distance exploitation was a smaller part of the game than they are now. Is it possible to invite by the direction of movement? Yes, a slower retreat than the opponent’s advance invites an attack and so does stepping forward apparently in preparation. Anyone who has ever deliberately created a situation where he or she could pull distance and take over the attack in a right of way weapon has done an invitation. How about variances in the speed of movement? A slow attack that draws a stop hit for your defensive, counteroffensive, or offensive countertime is an invitation. And could a false attack or counterattack be an invitation? If I make a false counterattack to induce you to accelerate and commit to your simple attack, I am inviting. And perhaps this extends more broadly – if an opponent fenced you in a pool bout and won, the tactical situations in which the were successful can be simulated to create the invitation in your victory in the direct elimination.
So think more broadly about the invitation and embrace the spirit of the deception, not just the technical definition of opening a line. Anything that you can do deliberately to induce an opponent to attack is a form of invitation and should be part of your tactical skill set. This is very much a mental game, backed up by highly proficient execution of the skills you need to defeat the attack you have drawn.