As children, today’s adults from my generation played with a variety of toys that stimulated the interest in building things of various parts – one of these, two of those and three of the other thing and you had a castle or a fort or a machine of some sort. Tinker Toys, Erector sets, red plastic bricks, wooden logs … all had a special wonder because you could create your vision of what you wanted to create. The popularization of Legos is only a recent manifestation of the same creative urge.
So what does this have to do with fencing? We only use one weapon out of three and only one of that class of weapons when we fence. Somehow building a model of Trump Tower using broken blades seems to be a futile gesture, no matter how great one wants America to be again. And, although you could construct a fencing weapon with an Erector set, why bother? It would be cheaper just to buy the real thing.
The answer is that we put things together with actions. We have three sets of first intention (actions with which you intend to hit) building blocks: simple attacks, attacks on the blade, and takings of the blade. We have sets of actions that can be employed in second intention (actions to provoke an opponent to take an action that allows us to counter and hit). So, are we creative enough to use these parts to build something that will score to our advantage?
Some first principles of building:
(1) Our objective is to get the opponent’s blade in motion in a direction that is not to his or her benefit. If the opponent’s use of the build is not a hindrance to our attack, then just use a simple attack and hit them. The moment the blade becomes a hindrance, you have to deal with it by getting it out of the way.
(2) There are three basic ways you can remove the opponent’s blade from the equation: get her to move it herself, use percussion to remove it, or use leverage to remove it.
(3) You can do all this in either first intention or second intention. Third and fourth intention are theoretically possible, but modern texts do not address third intention, suggesting that its use is rarely taught or used, and even in the classical period fourth intention was widely regarded as very difficult and impractical to do.
(4) Build using the last action as the preparation for this action, and always leave room for growth or options for broadening laterally.
(5) Don’t become so enamored of your genius as a builder of actions that you miss the opportunity for a simple attack into an opponent’s error in timing, distance, or tempo.
(6) Initiative is critical. The fencer who executes the attack should have the initiative. But the fencer who crafts the conditions to draw the attack deceives the opponent into the trap of thinking that the initiative is his.
Let’s look first at actions in first intention. Your construction of your attack is based now on the opponent reacting to your first tempo with an essentially defensive response to which you apply the appropriate response. For example:
(a) The opponent who reacts laterally to a feint of straight thrust or disengage or a feint of direct cut is deceived by the actual attack by disengage or coupe.
(b) The opponent who reacts to a beat with a lateral beat back is deceived by your disengage as the actual attack.
(c) The opponent who reacts to your action in opposition (a glide for example) is deceived by your disengage as you feel her pressure trying to close the line.
In each case we used one type of action (feint, percussion, or leverage) to draw the defensive reaction to close the line of what the opponent perceives to be the attack and is really your preparation. This puts the opponent’s blade in motion in a direction that we could deceive by one of the standard simple attacks (in this case a disengage, or sabre coupe).
But what if the opponent attempts to escape our preparation by percussion or leverage? Feint the beat, the opponent disengages, intercept the opponent’s blade in the new line with an opposition straight thrust. The opponent attempts to escape from your bind from high to low, complete the double bind, returning diagonally to the original line.
In second intention our goal is to provoke the opponent into an action in response to our initial action that allows you to finish with your desired action. In general, this means that you wish the opponent to commit the blade so that you can parry it and riposte. Some examples:
(a) Against an opponent who reacts to beats with a stop hit, beat lightly as a feint to draw the stop, parry the counterattack, and riposte to hit. Be careful with this construction if your referee decides right of way by the number of blade clicks and assumes that second click is the opponent’s parry instead of yours.
(b) Attack with a false attack to draw the opponent’s parry and riposte, then parry and 1st counterriposte to hit. This is the cliché way in which second intention is generally taught. If an opponent tries to do this to you, regard the false attack with caution, false riposte, and parry and 2nd counterriposte to hit … and that is third intention.
(c) When being chased, feint a stop hit into the attack. When the opponent attempts to finish, advancing his blade into range, parry and riposte.
(d) Invite a simple attack. Parry and riposte to score.
In this process it is really important to build using the last action as the preparation for the next action. My straight thrust that scores or that scares the opponent is the feint of the straight thrust disengage attack, my disengage for the double, etc. And always leave room for growth – first intention creates the conditions for second intention, which in turn creates them for third intention:
…. first – simple attack hits
…. second – false attack, opponent parries and ripostes, I parry and counterriposte
…. third – opponent tries the same thing – she false attacks, I parry and false riposte, she parries and 1st counterripostes, I parry and 2nd counterriposte to hit.
And do not forget options for broadening the selection laterally. We make the assumption that if one simple attack does not work, all simple attacks will not work. For example, a straight thrust fails, but will a disengage or coupe work? If your opponent figures out your one-two (feint of disengage, disengage), why not use a beat disengage – the same final attack with different first tempo preparation?