There is an old mantra in fencing about hitting without being hit. It is a worthy goal. However, data on actual duels shows that this was never actually true; often the outcome was that both parties, and their seconds in the periods before the development of dueling codes, suffered wounds. And for modern fencers the problem is that it is very difficult to hit without being hit in the modern game given the athleticism of fencers and the characteristics of the weapons. A strong continuation or fast remise has a relatively high probability of hitting you even if you hit your opponent with a correctly executed riposte, leading to either a double hit (in epee) or a right of way decision by the referee (a risky outcome when compared to a single light).
So what are we trying to do? Let’s rephrase hitting without being hit to reality. You want to hit your opponent (1) with the clear and unambiguous right of way (foil and sabre) and/or (2) so that they do not hit within the lockout time of the weapon (foil, sabre, and epee). If they hit without the right of way and you hit with it, given a competent referee who is following the action, their hit is irrelevant. In fact, it is reassuring because it means that they failed to do something that would negate your hit. If they hit outside lockout time, the scoring machine renders their hit equally irrelevant. If this is a correct formulation, hitting without being hit is reduced to the following cases:
(1) hit, and they miss.
(2) hit with unambiguous right of way (foil and sabre), and they do not have right of way.
(3) control their blade so that they cannot hit, but you do.
(4) hit, and hamper their action so that it does not arrive within the lockout time of your hit.
These cases introduce a variety of technical and tactical applications to the problem. In this week’s lesson we are going to focus on one, the use of opposition. Opposition includes both opposition in the defense, the opposition parry, and opposition in the offense or counteroffense. Let’s take the hit producing oppositions first.
Oppositions in the offense are called by a bewildering variety of terms: glides, coules, glissades, grazes, opposition, prise de fer, filo, presa di ferro, etc. These are all intended to displace the opponent’s blade to close the line of attack and prevent a successful action into the attack in that line. At the less obtrusive end of the spectrum, your blade takes their foible and maintains a gentle pressure down the blade as it hits with minimal lateral movement. Increasing levels of opposition force the opponent’s blade further laterally from the line of the attack, until you arrive at Mangiarotti’s presa di ferro which combines a full extension of the weapon arm and guard against the opponent’s blade, a sharp angle between the extension of the arm and the opponent’s blade, and a step in or lunge in a fast, coordinated action. All of the effective oppositions in all three weapons rely on:
(1) quick establishment of control by seizing the foible at the outset.
(2) lateral displacement sufficient to prevent the opponent’s effective reaction resulting in a hit on you.
(3) constant maintenance of contact with the opponent’s blade.
(4) constant maintenance of leverage with strong against weaker on their blade as your blade moves down the opponent’s blade to hit.
(5) fast execution to deny the ability to execute an escape or ceding parry.
(6) and, need I say it, point control so that you hit (missing while making the opponent miss is a silly waste of effort).
(7) all executed with the aggressive footwork and total body movement needed to close and accelerate the attack.
These actions depend upon the opponent giving you their blade through engagement or through an attack or your successful search for their blade.
Opposition in the counteroffense is by the time hit, sometimes called a stop hit with opposition or an intercepting stop hit. The time hit is not a stop hit, and should not be described as a stop hit “with” something or other. It is philosophically very different from the stop hit in three important dimensions. First, it is a predictive action that depends on the fencer’s ability to identify the final line of the attack. Second, it is a covered attack into the attack, not an uncovered action, combining the characteristics of the parry and riposte in one action. And third, it is executed to hit while denying the opponent their hit. All of the characteristics of opposition described above apply.
Finally, opposition in the defence is the opposition parry. By itself, no parry ever scored a touch, unless the opponent simply impaled himself on the blade. The opposition parry denies or delays the initial landing of the attack so that the opposition riposte can score. Making an opposition parry and then abandoning it to riposte without opposition carries with that course of action the very real possibility that you will be hit by a remise or by the opponent’s successful parry-counterriposte combination.