170604 Back and Forth

The past two blog postings have dealt with the maintaining the attack going forward and defeating the attack going backward.  So let us assume that neither works and you end up in the last two meters.  What now?

First, if you are being chased, never, ever, not in this life, not in the next, step over the back line with both feet.  Never give up the touch by stepping off.  Always fight.  If you step off, the opponent’s calculus is that you have no chance of scoring and he has scored.  This is a 1-0 solution with 100 percent certainty in his favor.  If you fight, the possible outcomes are now 1-0 for him or 1-0 for you, with risk for him and some probability of success for you.  Even if that probability is small, it is better than the certainty of 1-0 for the opponent.

Second, understand that both fencers are under psychological pressure.  The retreating fencer is quickly running out of options and losing his or her mobility.  The advancing attacker is under increasing pressure to score – if you chase them all that way and don’t score you have wasted all that effort, your parents will disown you, people will point and giggle, etc.  This pressure generates stress, erodes both physical and psychological control, and can lead to bad decision making.  The result is that the fencer who has practiced this scenario and is comfortable in the last two meters has a greatly increased probability of success over an opponent who has not.  The last two meters to one meter to one inch has to be fought with a clear head and a deep inner calm.

Third, understand that there are three possible outcomes:

(1)  the chaser hits,

(2)  the pursued hits,

(3)  neither fencer hits, or

(4)  the chaser abandons the chase and starts to retreat.

If (1) or (2) happens, the phrase is over, and we go back to the on guard line.  Although I have no statistical data to support my conclusion, it seems logical that the advantage tends to belong to the chaser.  The exception is the fencer who has trained in fighting in the last meter – in that case the pursued probably has the advantage.  But, if neither fencer hits, the day likely belongs to the fastest remise, redouble, or reprise.  This is particularly likely if the referee is out of position, cannot see the details of the close combat, and relies on the timing of the lights.

The more interesting problem is what happens when the chaser (fencer A) abandons the chase.  He has reached the conclusion that the risk is too high to press in against an opponent (fencer B) who communicates that they are ready for and welcome the attack.  And, as a result, she starts a retreat.  It is tempting to view this as the new chaser (fencer B) having the advantage.  However, much as fencer B was prepared for the attack on the retreat, now the fencer A is ready and looking for either an error or an opportunity to draw an attack into the pursuit to hit with either a finish of the pursuit as an attack or with a parry and riposte on the march forward.

Four things let you survive this out and back movement.  First – you have to have good, controlled footwork with the ability to accelerate, decelerate, or change direction at will.  Second – you have to be physically fit enough to sustain the movement without losing speed to fatigue or fine motor control to rising pulse rate.  Third – you have to be alert, focused, with an understanding of the possible actions, and the ability to rapidly employ them.  Finally – fourth – you cannot believe your own press.  Perhaps the opponent is retreating because he is scared to death of your fitness, prowess, and reputation as a fencer.  It is far more likely that she is constantly assessing the risk and rewards and waiting for the right moment to take advantage of you.

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