170903 Taking the Blade

As we have described before, there are three basic approaches to creating an opening with blade preparation in the attack.  You can get the opponent to move in reaction to your feint.  You can use percussion to move the blade from the line.  Or you can use leverage to open the line.  In this post we will discuss the last of these, leverage.

One of the problems with leverage is that it is a theoretically messy category.  Leverage actions are commonly called takings of the blade.  Several leverage actions also might be described as attacks on the blade (percussion actions).  One comes in a variety of different French and Italian language terms, each with subtle historical differences.  And one is considered to be a normal part of an attack.  In this discussion I am going to take the broadest possible approach and consider as leverage preparations any action that establishes sustained contact with the opponent’s blade to remove it from the line of attack by maintaining the advantage of force by a stronger part of the blade against a weaker opponent’s blade.  Note that I say weaker opponent’s blade – theoretically this must be forte (yours) to foible (his).  However, a weak or unprepared hand can render a position of blade strength weak against a well timed and forceful attack.

We can subdivide the collection of leverage actions into two categories based on whether they start and end in the same line.  There is a family of actions that start in a line and stay in that line by lateral pressure on the blade.  In general, these are executed against a bent arm and blade not held horizontally.  We can describe them as:

(1)  Opposition – an attack with opposition closes the line in the attack itself with a lateral arm and hand motion moving the blade so that the opponent cannot riposte or counterattack in that line.  Opposition does not necessarily start with blade contact; it may only make contact in the last stages of the attack or not at all (if the opponent does not attempt an action in the line).

(2)  Glide – an attack executed with contact on the opponent’s blade when the opponent’s arm is not extended.  Glides and glide-like attacks vary from light contact with the opponent’s blade to hinder a reaction as the straight thrust progresses to the target to increasing degrees of lateral opposition displacing the opponent’s blade completely from the line.  Graze, coule, glissade, filo, etc. are all versions of this action.

(3)  Expulsion – a hard and fast action starting with a capture of the foible with the forte with strong downward pressure as the blade slides down the opponent’s blade.  The expulsion (French term froissement) is difficult to control, and if the opponent escapes, the force invested in the movement makes recovery in time difficult.

The actions which take the blade from one line to another are often termed takings of the blade.  All depend on an extended arm, and work better when the opponent has some strength in that extension (a loosely held blade has the annoying habit of flopping out of the take and replacing itself in the line from which you were trying to remove it).  However, a term that better captures their meaning is the European usage, transport.  We commonly, and to some degree inaccurately, describe these as diagonal, vertical, and circular movements:

(1)  Bind – a diagonal transport, taking the foible of the opponent’s blade with the forte and moving to the diagonally opposite line – for example, from fourth to eighth.  This is the simplest, fastest, and most easily executed of the transports.  The two binds starting in the high lines of fourth and sixth are the most common.  The low line to high line binds from seventh and eighth require confidence and excellent timing as they drag the opponent’s blade right across the torso.

(2)  Envelopment – a circular transport, taking the blade from its original line, around in a circle progressively moving toward the target, to return to hit in the original line.  A double envelopment can be used if the opponent attempts an escape.  This has been described as a double bind, but that is not actually accurate – a double bind would be a larger, diagonal movement.

(3)  Croise and Flanconnade – these actions are often described as vertical.  However, in terms of the lines involved that is not necessarily accurate.  For example, the croise and one of the flanconnades, as commonly taught, starts with a parry of fourth, a pivot over the blade and downward movement to land in eighth, thus hitting in the diagonally opposite line.  The Italian flanconnade of fifth, moves from third to fifth, downward and across to the right landing on what could be described as seventh or fourth under the arm.  The two distinctive features of these actions is that the attacker’s blade moves to a lower line, and that the attacker’s blade remains in contact with and above the defender’s blade.

A few thoughts about how to do these actions is in order.  First, all of these actions, except the expulsion, work best when executed very smoothly, rapidly, tightly, with no hesitations.  The wider the blade movement, the slower the movement, the less chance of an opportune hit with the point kept toward the target, and the greater the opponent’s chance to recognize what is happening and escape. And all of these actions need to be progressive, moving the blade forward continually to maximize the penetration and minimize the distance the point has to move when finally in the line.

The lateral pressure actions pretty much need a bent arm to work with.  The transports really don’t work very well with a bent arm; they require an extension.  So these neatly subdivide the field into actions done against an opponent’s guard position … and now we have to ask the question “when will the opponent ever give you a straight extension?”  It seems to me that the answer is when she is on the attack (and the transport becomes an integrated parry and riposte) or with the point in line.  Distance and the ability to derobe seem to make the point in line a largely impractical target for a transport unless you have a significant speed and skill advantage over the opponent.  This suggests that the following is the tactical logic for foil and epee:

  • Your Attack – condition is that the opponent is on guard – use the opposition and glide lateral takings.
  • Your Opponent’s Attack – condition is that the opponent’s blade is extended or extending – use the transports as a combined parry and riposte.

For sabre fencers, the use of the transports is theoretically possible, and was certainly taught in the classical period.  However, the speed of the modern game makes these actions largely impractical.  What is practical is the opposition and glide family executed with either point or cut as either an attack or a parry-riposte.  The opposition is particularly important in avoiding two light situations, but keep the action obvious and uncomplicated to the referee.  Do not run into the opponent’s bell, and try to avoid ending up with your foible anywhere near the opponent’s forte, even if you have the opponent’s foible cemented to your forte.  Even if it is obvious that you are attacking and that the opponent is not in control of the action, a foible on forte solution may cause the referee to rule your hit parried in favor of a subsequent contact by the opponent with your lame.


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