Fencing has long had a fascination with tables. Older Italian fencing manuals, in particular, were distinguished by detailed synoptic tables that laid out all conceivable actions in the various lines, along with the counteractions and even counter-counteractions. The problem, of course, is that fencing is messy with many different ways to execute or respond to almost any action. If you attack in 6th or 3rd, my logical parry is 6th or 3rd. However, it is possible for me to execute a circular change parry to transport your blade to 4th. That is an uncommon, but not irrational, response if I want to riposte in 4th. But we know that I could never take the parry in 6th or 3rd, forcefully and quickly transport your blade up and to the inside to end in a parry of prime followed by a riposte under the arm to your flank. It is simply impossible to do that. And so, if you do it, it almost certainly is not in any table.
The bottom line, as fencing has become more fluid, the traditional synoptic table does not represent the actual range of fencing movement.
Recently I pulled out my copy of Al Case’s instructions for matrixing. Master Case is an original and innovative thinker in the martial arts community who has developed a matrix based approach to organizing the techniques of any martial art into a coherent whole. He has been doing this for a long time, and is a very senior practitioner in the arts he studies. His matrix technique is, despite his protestations about its simplicity, complex and comprehensive without being stultifyingly detailed.
I looked at Al Case’s matrixing and at the traditional synoptic tables, and thought about the two problems that face our fencers: how to do the technique and how to recognize the technique when it is being done to you. In that process I returned to the simple truths I have taught for some time – most techniques have multiple applications. In teaching fencing we tend to call each of these applications something different. Thus a stop thrust is completely different from a direct riposte or a straight thrust or a sabre point thrust. But this is fundamentally wrong. The technique is the same; the point lowers, the arm extends smoothly to the target – the difference is in the application.
And the application is key to solving how to do the technique and how to recognize the technique when it is being done to you. The key requirement is to be in the right place in the final tempo of the action. If you are executing the initial attack, everything before the final tempo is preparation to allow the final tempo to succeed in landing on the planned target. If you are executing a riposte prepared by your parry, the parry must be in the correct place to deny the other fencer’s initial attack. If you are counterattacking, you must understand the opponent’s action to place your hit at the correct time on the optimal target. And so, you have to execute the final action with precision in the attack and recognize the final action with great clarity in the parry-riposte or counterattack. But that is not all, we have to perform the preparation of the attack, and we have to able to recognize what the preparation of the attack portends.
So, I have started to work with Master Case’s matrixing – my approach will differ from his, but it will be informed by Case’s work. The table below is a first start at looking at the simplest of all actions, the simple, direct straight thrust or straight cut. Think about it, and come to practice prepared to ask questions.
|Simple direct attack||Simple direct action||Attack||Direct attack by point or cut|
|Attack prepared by parry||Direct riposte|
|Attack into attack||Stop hit|
|With opposition||Attack||Glide or opposition thrust|
|Attack prepared by parry||Riposte closing the line|
|Attack into attack||Time hit|
|Feint of compound attack||Attack||Compound attack|
|Attack prepared by parry||Compound riposte|
|Attack into attack||Feint in tempo|
|Prepared by attack on blade||Attack||Beat or press-direct attack|
|Attack prepared by parry||Rare – parry with beat riposte|
|Attack into attack||In nature of advanced beat parry-riposte|
|Prepared by blade taking (foil and epee)||Attack||difficult|
|Attack prepared by parry||The blade take as the parry in bind, envelopment, croise, flanconade combined with direct thrust|
|Attack into attack||The blade take as bind, envelopment, croise, flanconade combined with direct thrust|