190225 It Is A Stovepipe

Okay, sometimes I take a different view of fencing from the traditional understanding of strategy, tactics, and technique. But what does fencing have to do with a stovepipe? To answer that question we have to answer another: what is a stovepipe? I am not talking about the relatively narrow metal tube that comes out of an old wood or coal fired stove to vent to the outside. Rather I am talking about the management concept of a stovepipe as a process, separate from and unrelated to all other processes in our view, and devoid of context, but which actually is closely related to all the things that it is artificially separated from. Stovepiping, the act of separating things into stovepipes, most often results in ineffective and inefficient work.

So what in the world does that have to do with fencing? Traditional instructional patterns in fencing stovepipe all the time, treating techniques that are really either the same or very similar as though they were completely different. We stovepipe techniques and tactics, teaching students how to do techniques without teaching them the when, where, and why of the use of that technique. We stovepipe individual techniques, insisting that students learn them as discrete actions, rather than as varied uses for essentially similar movement patterns. Take, for example, the circular change of engagement, the circular parry, the change beat, the change parry, and arguably the counterdisengage. All of them depend on the same basic teardrop shaped movement of the blade. But I am willing to bet that almost all fencers learned them as different things. And that is stovepiping.

So where is this discussion going? Let’s examine the three standard categories of attacks taught as the next level beyond the simple attacks. For the last 150 or so years these have been compound (or composed) attacks, attacks on the blade, and takings of the blade. They are all different, taught as different, thought of as different, etc. So, instead of looking at them as stovepipes, let’s look for the commonalities (and I am going to address these in the context only of the actions as two parts for simplicity’s sake):

(1) they all consist of two (or more) discrete blade actions (even if those actions blend into one continuous forward movement of the blade).

(2) the first movement is always a preparation (something that creates the conditions needed for the attack to score).

(3) the intent of the first movement is always to put the opponent’s blade in motion in order to create an opening line into which the attack can be delivered.

(4) the final movement is always a simple attack, flowing directly from the previous movement.

If we look at these assertions, we see that a compound attack has a feint and a simple attack. The feint causes the opponent to start to move his blade to parry in the expected line of the attack, opening up (usually) the opposite lateral or vertical line for the following actual attack. A one-two from sixth first feints into fourth to draw the fourth parry so that it can reverse direction and hit in the opening line of sixth.

An attack on the blade (beat or press) does exactly the same thing, except that we use percussion to put the opponent’s blade in motion. A beat-straight thrust in sixth drives the opponent’s blade toward the inside (fourth) so that there is a straight path for the thrust into sixth. A beat-disengage relies on the opponent’s reaction to execute a beat parry to create the opportunity for the disengage into the opposite line.

And the taking of the blade (bind, envelopment, croise, flanconade, glide) uses leverage to displace the opponent’s blade from the line to either open a clear line or to cause the opponent to try to close the line, allowing an indirect final. These transports are perhaps the most difficult to recognize as two part actions because they seem to flow in one continuous movement. However, if you analyze the direction of blade movement the two parts become clear.

Thus what we have is three categories of attack that (1) start with the same objective (to create an opening line for the final attack), (2) use different ways to put the opponent’s blade in motion (feint, attack on the blade, or transport), and (3) end with a simple attack to finish. If we treat them as stovepipes, we have to teach them separately. But if we teach them as cousins that share a lot of the same blood, we can teach them as closely related, alternate ways to solve the same tactical problem.

So, let’s posit that they are related, one large family of attacks prepared by bladework. Now I can hit the opponent with a one two into fourth, a beat-disengage from sixth, or a glide-disengage from sixth into fourth, each a different preparation. But what was final action that we wanted to create the opportunity for … yes, a disengage from sixth into an opening line in fourth. That is a critical realization. Now we are thinking about how we want to hit, and can shift our focus from the preparation (as important as that is) to the final attack. And that, I believe, is a critical step in developing tactics in the bout …

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