A key component of any system of fencing is renewals, the ability to press the attack when opportunity beckons and conditions warrant. Opportunity beckons? Yes. Opportunity for a renewal of an attack exists when the fencer has the technique to do so, the physical resources needed, and the will and confidence needed. These three components deserve further examination.
First, the technique. There are three commonly used fencing techniques for renewals. Although in older texts there are some differences in how these are defined, for the last 50 or so years most versions of their definition have been consistently:
Remise – a renewal of the attack in the same line as the original attack without an accompanying return to guard. You lunge, you are parried or miss, and you replace your blade for the hit. This is a conscious tactical choice executed with a specific technique, not simply continuing to shove forward after the parry in the hopes of hitting something (that is a continuation). The remise is done from the original footwork of the action (standing still with an extension, a step forward or backward, a lunge, an advance or retreat lunge). It can be a remise of the attack, of the riposte, or of the counterattack. Although the traditional expectation is that a remise does not use additional footwork, there is no reason that the remise cannot be done with an advance, extension of the lunge, or a lean.
Redouble – a renewal of the attack in a different line, for example by a disengage laterally or high to low, the redouble is functionally the same as a remise, just to a different target area. Redoubles can be done by disengage or by coupe.
Reprise – the reprise is a renewal of an attack after a return to guard. You attack and miss or are parried. You recover from your lunge. The opponent does nothing. You make an essentially new attack with a lunge to hit. Reprises may be done with a recover back to guard or a recovery forward to guard. The recovery forward makes a useful attack sequence in pursuit of a retreating fencer. In the case of an opponent who parries and then steps back, the reprise forward recovery comes as the opponent steps and after a complete lunge. However, the mechanics are more complicated and faster if the opponent steps back to evade the lunge. In this case if the movement is detected as or before your front foot hits in the lunge, the recovery is initiated as soon as the front foot hits and before the lunge is actually completed.
The second is the physical resources needed. Reaction and movement time are very important. So is having the physical strength, endurance, and ability to manage your energy state. These are all high speed actions that demand precise sequencing, excellent blade control, and speed. This is where practice comes in. You have to be able to recognize instantly the opponent movement that creates the opportunity and take advantage of it in a highly accurate way. You can be lucky without practicing these actions as a regular part of your training, but you cannot be consistently successful.
The third is the will and the confidence. People say these are risky actions. Of course they are. Everything in fencing carries an element of risk. You have to assess the tactical conditions and decide if the reward of a touch merits the risk of the opponent’s touch. That risk will not be the same in every bout, or even during the individual bout. Accepting the risk requires that you be confident of your abilities and technique (practice builds confidence) and have the will to win.
So when do the conditions warrant a renewal. Again we have components of this part of the problem – the score, the opponent’s technique in the parry, the opponent’s execution of the riposte. The score? If you assess that a forward reprise is risky because the opponent has a fast counterattack against forward movement, you have a one touch lead, there are 10 seconds left, do you do a forward reprise into the likelihood of that counterattack? Probably not. You are fencing foil, and your referee gives any riposte, even if delayed and slow as molasses going uphill in the winter, the right of way; do you remise when the score is 4-4? Probably not.
The opponent’s technique is important. Perfectly executed, fast, precise, and effective parries with fast ripostes are risky territory for an renewal. However, if there are errors in technique, the value of the renewal increases. These errors must allow you to either gain the right of way or to exploit an opening. For example, an opponent who holds the blade and pushes it away is a good candidate for a redouble in any weapon – in a right of way weapon this moves clearly into the territory where the parry becomes a neutral event and the first person off gains right of way.
And execution of riposte is important because that is the opponent’s opportunity that you are trying to beat. If the opponent routinely misses with their ripostes (because of poor point and blade control or because they are rattled by your attack), be prepared to renew frequently. In epee. if the opponent detaches from the blade prematurely or attacks without covering the arm, be prepared to remise frequently. If the opponent is slow, unsure, or vacillating in the riposte, your quick remise may actually stop the riposte.
A special case is the remise in sabre. The shortened 110-130 millisecond lockout time in sabre made it difficult to score with two lights, making the remise as a quick second cut in a two tap rhythm against the riposte to time it out a popular option. It is uncertain how the new timing will finally change the game, but it would seem that the primacy of the remise over the quick riposte is probably finished.
How do these renewals fit into your system of fencing actions. First, like any other system component, find the particular renewal. Second, explore how you can use it with every one of your favorite attacks, ripostes, and counterattacks. Hone it to perfection. Then use it judiciously, often enough to make a difference in your scores, but no so often that it becomes the one action everyone expects you to use.