190113 The Parry-Riposte

Note that the title of this post is Parry-Riposte, not Parry then Riposte or Parry and Riposte. Readers of the blog will be familiar with the concept that defense by itself does not win bouts, except in the limited range of cases where it is preserving a lead in the closing seconds of a bout. Instead, defense is one of a range of preparations for the attack (and a riposte is a type of attack), much as a beat, an engagement, or a blade taking is a preparation for the attack. Hence the use of a dash to indicate that the parry-riposte is one continuous offensive action composed on a preparation (the parry) and the final attack (the riposte).

If we accept this model, both parts of the action must be executed with precision and accuracy. It is not good enough to do a perfect parry, only to miss with the riposte. It is equally not good enough to execute a perfect riposte from a late parry which allowed the penetration of the opponent’s blade to target. That means that we have to look very carefully at three things: (1) the timing and technical execution of the parry, (2) the timing and technical execution of the riposte, and (3) the flow between the two.

From the standpoint of the parry-riposte what makes a good parry? Let’s look at the elements:

(1) Obviously, a good parry gains sufficient control of the opponent’s blade to deflect it from the line of attack (the straight line connecting the opponent’s blade with your target area).

(2) In foil and sabre this is further defined by having to be either a parry with the lower one third of your blade or a beat with the upper two thirds that finds and deflects the attack.

(3) In epee it includes control of the blade preventing a hit from landing during the parry and transition to the riposte. Detaching parries in epee are dangerous unless the opponent’s blade is actual removed from the line far enough to allow the riposte to close the line and score or unless the opponent starts a recovery on being parried.

These first three requirements deal solely with the defeat of the attack in preparation for the riposte. The next requirements address the simultaneous role of the parry in setting up the riposte. The parry must be executed in a way that all requirements are met.

(4) In the parry the blade must to the greatest extent possible remain a direct threat to the attacker. This means that it must provide as short a run to target as possible and a high probability of arresting when the riposte is executed. Yes, sometimes the blade and point are raised above or lowered below or taken to one side out of a short line to target, but limiting the cone of movement of the blade as much as possible reduces the distance to target. A point delivered in a straight line will always be tactically faster than a point that travels in an arc. Similarly a point that arrives perpendicularly to the target surface will have a better chance of arresting than one counting on arresting as it grazes the uniform.

(5) The blade is positioned to allow more than one response to the opponent’s response to the parry as preparation. Direct ripostes score because they are tactically faster than the opponent’s attempt to parry (or if the opponent’s defence is incompetent) in spite of the fact that they are predictable. If you can threaten one portion of the target with a direct riposte and another with an indirect riposte, you have added to the opponent’s decision making problem.

(6) The blade is positioned to hit high payoff targets, those with a good probability of hitting and a relative low risk. In epee can you take a low inside parry with the intent of hitting your recovering opponent’s back foot? Well, yes, you can. Is the probability of hitting high, no. Is the risk associated with going that deeply into the target low, no.

Almost any attack can be met with at least two and sometimes four or five different parries from the menu of lateral, circular, semi-circular, diagonal, or intercepting parries. It is worth exploring how each one can prepare the riposte and to which targets it presents the greatest potential threat.

The riposte is simply an attack. It can be made as a simple direct attack, a simple indirect attack, a compound attack, a prise de fer, or as an attack on the blade (for example, a beat intercepting the attack and straight thrust or disengage). Once prepared by the parry it must meet requirements also:

(1) Be executed at as high a speed as practical given the type of riposte. For example, a simple direct riposte is a high speed effort, but a compound or broken tempo riposte requires timing to allow the opponent to react to the first motion of the riposte.

(2) Be executed with as little non-tactical movement as possible. Big, looping actions with a lot of extra blade movement are slow and allow the opponent time to observe, orient, decide, and act with a good probability of defeating the riposte. Control the blade motion with the fingers, or at higher pulse rates with the wrist and forearm.

(3) Be directed to a high payoff target. There are certain obvious targets that appear to be high payoff. However, in reality the available target areas and the geometry to get to them change with the opponent’s movement. The little space of flank under the opponent’s elbow may be hard to hit when the opponent is in a traditional guard position, but suddenly be high-payoff as she moves her arm upward and to the inside.

(4) Like every other sequence of attacks, ripostes should build on each other, using the one before as a feint for this one if there is a chance that the opponent has learned from the last action.

This leaves only the integration of parry and riposte. Again we can define basic requirements:

(1) Ripostes should flow directly from the parry with no hesitation (unless you are executing a broken time action). It is not a parry and riposte as two actions; it is one action.

(2) Within reason the further forward a parry is made, as in an active parry, the shorter the distance the riposte must travel, and therefore the tactically faster it will be. And the more likely it will be successful as a simple direct action. The further back the parry is made the greater the distance traveled, the slower the action is tactically, and the greater the probability that the riposte will have to be indirect or compound.

(3) Against an opponent with a slow recovery, it may be possible to parry-riposte from a static position. However, a fast recovering opponent may require step forward, lunge. fleche, or advance-lunge to deliver the riposte.

(4) And finally, it is possible to prepare the parry-riposte by collapsing distance to simultaneously disrupt the opponent’s attack and prepare the distance for a fast riposte.

By saying that the parry-riposte is a parry in preparation and an attack in riposte, we have made the action significantly more complex in theory, but more likely to succeed in practice.

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