180415 Synchronicity

Okay, big word warning – synchronicity is the state of being synchronous … in other words, occurring in the same time period.  I am using the term in the context of synchronized, events happening in an arranged manner in the same time period.  If you are confused as to why this blog has become enmeshed in the definitions of the English language, bear with me.  Words have meanings, and the word serves as a marker for important concepts – in this case concepts important to fencing.

For example, it is possible to undertake a simple fencing action and perform it in a number of different ways.  To take an advance-lunge, we could:

… drop the back arm, advance the rear foot forward to contact with the front foot, lunge with the front foot, and then extend the weapon arm after all the footwork is complete.

or we could:

… extend the weapon arm, feint a disengage, advance the rear foot forward to contact with the front foot, drop the back arm, bring the front forward to complete the step, lunge, and then complete the second disengage of the one-two.

or we could, when the opponent attacks:

… step forward, parry, lunge, and the extend the weapon arm in the riposte.

Each one of these options might conceivably work under some condition in some bout, sometime.  However, it is more likely that they would result in your being hit.  Why?

(1)  the action of the blade is not synchronized with the action of the feet.

(2)  the action of the feet is not synchronized with the demands of the tactical situation.

(3)  the action of the blade is not synchronized with the tactical reality.

In short, all three examples are uncoordinated, not synchronized, and what my English colleagues might call bloody awful messes.

For tactical applications of technique, there are two absolutes.  The execution of either blade or footwork must be coordinated, have a functional connectivity, so that each step flows logically from one to the next.  And the execution of footwork and bladework must be synchronous at the appropriate points in the execution of the technique.  There will be cases which appear to be deliberately asynchronous, broken tempo actions as an example, but even these must return to being synchronized at some point if they are to be delivered efficiently.

More complicated is the idea that your actions must be synchronous with the tactical reality on the strip.  This is not an absolute – contrarian actions may well succeed because of their surprise value or their ability to disrupt an opponent’s tactics.  However, if the time to attack is nigh and you choose to defend, it is fairly obvious that you will miss the scoring opportunity.

What this boils down to is the right part of the overall technique in the right order at the right time.

The choice of order depends on what you are trying to achieve.  For example, take the problem of delivering an attack by advance lunge.  Effectively the advance-lunge is now considered one one tempo footwork movement.  Your execution of this movement depends absolutely in foil and sabre on the interpretation of right of way by your referee: 

… if the referee believes that an attack starts with forward movement of the blade, you may have to sequence the action: (1) start of extension, (2) advance, (3) lunge with the completion of the extension.

… if the referee believes that the extension only must precede the start of the lunge, you may have to sequence the action: (1) advance, (2) start of the extension, (3) lunge with the completion of the extension.

… or if the referee believes that the attack starts with any forward movement, you may sequence the action: (1) advance, (2) lunge with the extension started during the lunge and completed as the hit arrives.

Of course, in epee you are free to conduct the action in any way you like, but the third alternative has the advantage of protecting your blade as long as possible and generating the highest point hit speed. 

Doing blade preparation offers another example of alternatives.  When do you do your feint or beat or press or …?  If you do it on the movement of the front foot of the advance, you may provoke a counterattack or a rapid retreat.  If you do it as the back foot of the advance comes forward, you are positioned to immediately deliver the attack on the lunge.  Or you can hold the feint until the start of the lunge.

With multiple feints, footwork allows you to synchronize blade feints with each foot movement, combining forward (or backward in the case of feint parries) movement to close the distance with feints to distract the opponent and cause him or her to create openings for your attack.

What all of this means is that sequencing (getting the components of an action in the correct order), coordination (getting the components of the action to mesh together in a seamless flow), and synchronization (getting footwork and bladework coordinated sequences in the proper place at the proper time), are critical to a successful outcome.  

The problem is that this can only be achieve by deep, deliberate practice.  Just doing a lot of something does not do it.  You have to do the parts correctly, chunk parts together so that they work correctly, and then build the complete action.  This has to be done slowly with exquisite attention to even the smallest details, correcting and smoothing performance, going back over your execution time and time again to eliminate any error.  If you do five repetitions the way most people do them in class, as quick as possible to get them over with, you are learning nothing, perfecting nothing.  This is true in every sport, in every activity in life, in which perfect performance is demanded.  In fencing, a sport of millimeters, milliseconds, and milligrams, it is absolute truth.

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