We tend to think of the opponent’s attack as threatening. After all, the blade is coming toward us with the intent to score, the opponent is fully committed to the action, and he or she is using every artifice at their command to get that blade on our target. Statistics show that in all three weapons the attack has a statistical advantage, scoring more hits than either defense enabled ripostes or counterattacks, in at least one weapon more touches than the other two methods of scoring combined.. And yet, this is a time of great opportunity for us.
What do I mean by opportunity? Let me count the ways (with apologies to the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning who used this line in an entirely different, and far friendlier, context in her Sonnet 43).
(1) The opponent who has committed to the attack is committed to something that has a definable end-point. In sabre this is clearly marked – front foot goes down, the attack ends. It is not so clear in foil, but at some point the original attack’s forward movement stops, ending the attack. And in epee the effectiveness of renewals sometimes masks the end, but at some point the attack stops and becomes something else. All the mystery is gone – you are facing an attack, and if you can avoid or block it, the initiative becomes yours.
(2) The opponent has brought you a blade to act upon. No more hidden blade, no more keeping the blade back to avoid your attacking it. The steel is out there, either extended or in the predictable arc of a cut or flick. Because it is out there, it can be attacked, taken, or parried.
(3) To get the attack to your target, the opponent has to do what? Yes, good guess – he or she has to carry the blade forward with the (1) arm and (2) legs and torso at (3) the right distance. You did so well on the first guess that we ought to try another one – what does that mean? Yes! The opponent’s target is now very much closer to you. No moving around just at the edge of distance, no footwork traps, just target behind the grip of their weapon and in range.
(4) Even better, the target is either still coming forward toward you (if you parry with an advanced parry) or has just become static (as the footwork and lunge ends). Now, the opponent is in your hitting zone, either closing or stopped, just waiting for your point or cut to land on them.
So how do we capitalize on this opportunity? First, you have to make the attack end. Attacks end when either they are diverted from the target (the parry by blade action), made to fall short (the parry by distance), or avoided by esquive (ducks, inquartata, etc.). Today we are going to focus on the parry by blade action.
This means that you have to select the distance at which you will fight. You can stand your ground in place, retreat, or advance (and we will discuss this in more detail in another posting).
Now you prepare your riposte with a parry that sets it up. And the parry is now part of your attack – it is not defense. No one scores a hit by defense. Fencing bouts are won by scoring hits (yes, yes, I know you can win them by coin toss but that is an artificial, and important, aberration for the convenience of all concerned from the basic purpose of fencing). That means that the parry’s legitimacy is as a preparation for the riposte. As a preparation it should create the conditions for you to hit in the line where the opponent is vulnerable, and that means we have to choose the parry to create the opening for the target:
… if you want to hit in the same line as the attack: a lateral parry preparing the direct riposte.
… if you want to hit in a different lateral line: (1) lateral parry with indirect riposte or (2) change parry with direct riposte.
… if you want to hit in the same lateral line but after putting the opponent’s blade in a different line: change parry with indirect riposte
… if you want to return the disengage attack to its original line: circular parry with direct riposte.
… if you want to return the disengage attack to its original ine and then hit in the line into which the disengage was directed: circular parry with indirect riposte.
etc., etc. There is a rich range of possible options you can exploit.
And then comes the riposte (the attack executed after a parry). Like the parry, the riposte requires precision because the opponent can be in any one of three states: still moving forward, static momentarily, or moving backwards to escape the riposte. Each one state has different requirements.
(1) With the opponent still moving forward speed and extension are less important than just simply immediately getting the blade into a hitting position. A delay in putting the blade or edge into the zone represented by the moving target may mean the distance collapses so far that you can’t maneuver the blade into a hitting solution, especially if the opponent starts to react. Don’t extend until the blade is in line.
(2) The static opponent who has attacked at a one tempo distance is in your one tempo distance. You should be able to hit with a simple riposte delivered by extension or by fast short advance or short lunge. Now speed and extension become critical.
(3) The opponent who is starting to withdraw. The opponent is working to create a full one tempo distance requiring a lunge, or even to open the distance to two tempo distance. The riposte will require a lunge or advance lunge, probably at least an indirect riposte, and often a compound riposte.
All of this discussion of the parry and riposte is fine if you are the defender. But what if you are the original attacker? Are you just supposed to sit there and get hit? No. The attacker has three options: recover to guard, fight from the lunge, or forward recover into the riposte.
Before we go there, a quick review of terminology is in order. In describing the phrasing parries are always parries. The term counterparry, used as a parry against the counterriposte, should be avoided – counterparry has at least three meanings, all of which confuse the discussion. The first riposte from the defender’s first parry is the riposte. The first parry by the attacker of a riposte made by the defender is the first counterriposte; successive ripostes are the second, third, fourth, etc. counterripostes back and for the between original defender and original attacker.
Recovering to guard is the traditional answer for the attacker. It has the advantage of lengthening the problem for the riposte – it has to travel a greater distance and stay in the air longer, making it easier to parry as you recover. However, this is not an automatically successful response, because you have to do two competing things, recover from the lunge to a guard position, and at the same time diagnose and deal with the riposte. To further complicate the problem, you will have to reverse direction to deliver your own first counterriposte. This is not simple to do, and requires considerable practice, especially if you intend to make the counterriposte indirect or compound.
Fighting from the lunge is an alternative solution. You stay in the lunge, parry and counterriposte. This has the advantage of allowing you to focus on the parry preparation and the counterriposte. It virtually guarantees a one tempo solution by extension and allows you to meet the riposte essentially with a forward parry to prepare your first counterriposte.
The most aggressive solution is a forward recovery. This collapses the distance for the opponent’s riposte, and eliminates options for the opponent to move forward. Now your counterriposte is one tempo, and almost certainly in the line of your original parry. If the defender starts to recover from the riposte, the original attacker’s advance maintains the distance allowing the delivery of the counterriposte with a successful lunge.
The parry and riposte, with its footwork, require the development of the ability to rapidly diagnose the opponent’s movement pattern and make appropriate choices of (1) which parry to prepare the riposte or counterriposte, (2) whether the riposte is to be delivered direct, indirect, compound, or with a transport, and (3) and how to manage mobility. And, yes, this requires considerable practice – at least 30 repetitions in one session to set each option in memory, and then thousands more in deliberate practice. So start now …
Copyright 2018 by Walter G. Green III
The Parry as Preparation by Walter G. Green III is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.