… to do the same thing, but in different ways. Over the past year we have discussed on several occasions the reality that there are many cases in fencing where the same movement pattern is used to achieve the same basic goal, albeit with a different name. Today we are going to consider four movements that can be used in three different ways, on the attack, the defense, and the counterattack.
First, some basic doctrine that every fencer should have committed to memory. Actions that actually involve blade contact can be divided into three categories:
(1) Offense – actions executed by the fencer when he or she has the initiative with the intent of scoring touch on the opponent in first or second intention.
(2) Defense – the doctrinally pure definition is actions which prevent the opponent form landing with an attack, but do not themselves attempt to score – in other words, parries and evasions. The riposte and the taken over attack after a distance pull are doctrinally attacks. However, operationally both are absolutely and indivisibly linked with a defensive action – in the case of ripostes you have to have a parry by blade, and in the case of taken over attacks you pretty much have to have a parry by distance. Yes, yes, I know. There are any number of experts who say you cannot have a parry by distance because you don’t have blade contact. In this case I will take Italian doctrine over nitpicking; Italian doctrine through at least Edoardo Mangiarotti identifies the parry by blade and the parry by distance. I will accept Mangiarotti’s trove of Olympic, World, European, and Italian gold medals as establishing the validity of his approach.
(3) Counteroffense – actions designed to prevent an attack or take the time of the attack initiated by the opponent.
Second, we have four simple blade actions that are intended to hit the opponent. These are termed simple because: (1) they are executed in a single tempo, (2) they are executed in a continuous flow, and (3) they do not change direction in doing (1) and (2). These actions are:
STRAIGHT THRUST – a direct action executed by extension of the blade threatening the target. This fills either an incompletely closed line or an opening line.
DISENGAGE – an indirect action executed around the bell of the opponent’s weapon to land in a different line, either laterally, vertically, or diagonally. This reacts to a sweep to pick up the blade or an attack on the blade or attempt to take the blade (opening lines), or from a closed line into an open line when the distance and timing is optimal.
COUPE – an indirect action executed around the tip of the opponent’s blade to land in a different line, either laterally, vertically, or diagonally. This reacts to a sweep to pick up the blade or an attack on the blade or attempt to take the blade (opening lines), or from a closed line into an open line when the distance and timing is optimal.
COUNTERDISENGAGE – a circular indirect action executed around the bell of the opponent’s weapon generally to return to and land in the original line. This reacts to the opponent’s preparation of an action by a circular movement to take the blade, filling the opening line.
The first three can be done either in reaction to an opponent’s blade movement or at the initiation of the fencer. The fourth requires the opponent’s blade action.
So how can we use these four actions in our three categories?
OFFENSE – all four actions as described above. In addition, we can use them as feints to prepare compound attacks.
DEFENSE – all four actions can be used as ripostes. The straight thrust is the direct riposte in the same line as the opponent’s attack. The disengage and coupe are indirect ripostes to exploit an opponents habitual recovery to parry in the same line as the attack. The counterdisengage defeats the circular or change parry against the expected riposte.
COUNTEROFFENSE – this is where it gets a bit more complicated. The straight thrust can be used as a point in line to force the opponent to deal with the presented blade in preparation for the attack, as a stop hit, or as a time hit (a stop hit with opposition). The disengage can be used as an indirect stop hit, as an intercepting stop hit (with a vertical disengage), or as an indirect time hit (with opposition). The counterdisengage is doctrinally messy because a referee will call this as a derobement (deception) of the attempt to take the blade with an attack, even though it is really initiated as a counter to the opponent’s preparation. Conceptually, you can do a coupe as a stop hit, but such an action is rare, except as a flick stop hit.
So, the same four actions, executed in the same mechanical way, with differences in timing and movement, fill the needs of all three categories of fencing action.