171015 Matrixing the Footwork

In the last blog we discussed the idea that we can identify standard elements of one technique as components of many techniques.  The example of the straight thrust/straight cut showed how this simple direct attack is either the start or the finish of a range of actions including compound attacks, attacks on the blade, and takings of the blade along with attacks prepared by the parry (ripostes) and attacks into the attack (counterattacks including point in line).  This week’s blog matrixes footwork and distance.

The basic purpose of footwork is to hit the opponent.  It accomplishes this by closing the distance to allow the blade action to hit, opening the distance to create opportunities to take over the initiative and allow the blade action to hit, and maintaining the distance briefly to frustrate the opponent’s plans and allow the development of a new attack.  As a result, in the modern game, footwork is the critical element that allows bladework to succeed.

Distance, the physical distance between two opponents, is traditionally divided into short (extension distance), medium (lunge distance, and long (advance lunge distance).  The standard three result from the classical period in which footwork was less dynamic than it is today.  There clearly is an intermediate distance between short and medium at which the step forward can be effectively applied.  For years I have taught that there are two additional distances, infighting (the distance at which normal right of way disappears in practical terms and creative body movement must be used to hit) and out of distance (the distance at which footwork preparation is required to close to advance lunge distance).  Today I believe that we must think of footwork in very different terms.  For example, against a fast, alert opponent who has not committed to forward movement in preparation of his attack, lunging at lunge distance will not result in a hit – the opponent simply steps back to allow your attack to either fall short or to allow the best conditions for his attack prepared by the parry of your action.  You have to use a short-advance-lunge to accelerate inside his or her decision loop and land on the completion of the opponent’s first step back.

Instead, I think we have to think in terms of tempo.  Tempo is defined as the time required to execute a simple action, either blade or foot or the two simultaneously.  I recognize that referees today consider an advance-lunge (clearly two footwork tempos, an advance and a lunge, and potentially multiple blade tempos) to be a single tempo attack – for that matter some referees consider any combination of multiple steps in pursuit ending in a hit by the pursuer to be effectively a one tempo action.  Instead I am dealing with the reality of what the fencer has to physically sequence, coordinate, and do, not how it is perceived by the referee.

This results in a different analysis of distance in which single tempo blade actions must be done against a static opponent, an opponent within lunge distance, an opponent who is stepping forward, or an opponent who has lost mental focus.  Two tempo blade actions must be done either with acceleration in a one tempo footwork action as above, or within two or three (in the case of an early preparation followed by forward movement) footwork tempos.

The following matrix may make the whole concept clearer:

One tempo opponent static One tempo opponent committed to closing Two tempo (not committed to closing) Multiple tempo
Traditional definition Extension, step forward, or lunge distance Lunge distance Lunge distance Advance lunge distance
Expected opponent footwork Static or on completion of attack Advance, lunge, fleche Retreat on start of fencer’s attack Depending on initiative
Bladework – simple attack or attack into the attack Yes Yes Yes
Bladework – one tempo attack with opposition or attack into the attack with opposition Yes Yes Yes
Bladework – one tempo attack prepared by parry Yes Yes when opponent is attacking Yes when opponent is recovering
Bladework – one tempo attack prepared by advanced parry Yes
Bladework – one tempo attack into the attack or the preparation Yes when opponent is attacking
Bladework – two tempo attack within single footwork tempo Yes Yes
Bladework and footwork – two tempo actions prepared by feint, attack on blade, or taking of the blade with an advance Yes
Bladework and footwork – two tempo actions with footwork preparation Yes
Footwork Static, advance, lunge, fleche Retreat, static, advance, lunge, fleche Advance-lunge, balestra lunge, fleche (if opponent inside lunge distance) Footwork preparation to create one or  two tempo distance


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