In the big scheme of things, absent your opponent throwing himself or herself on your point, there are essentially two ways to hit him or her, with offense or with counteroffense. Offense is the whole family of attacks, ripostes, renewals and many of the second and fourth intention actions. Counteroffense is a smaller set, the counterattacks, the point-in-line (although whether the point-in-line is offense, defense, or counteroffense can be debated), the planned attack into preparation, and some second, third, and fourth intention actions. So this week we are going to narrow things even further and focus on the counterattack.
The counterattack family is small, essentially the stop hit/cut and the time hit/cut. Regardless of the provisions of the rules, these are essentially intra-tempo actions. The counterattacker is inserting the counterattack into the tempo of the attack. These two actions are distinguished by one simple identifying characteristic: whether the action is direct (or indirect in the case of the disengage in tempo) or uses opposition to close the line of the opponent’s attack. The goal in both cases is to hit an incoming attack in a way that the rules allow you to score a touch and deny the opponent a touch.
This means that a key component of the counterattack is the rules combined with the referee’s interpretation of them. Foil and sabre both have the general concept that a counterattack can be successful if it lands before the initiation of the final tempo of the attack or the opponent makes a fault in its execution (see t.89.5.d) and e) and t.106.4.d) and e)). In practice, it is very difficult to execute a counterattack by stop hit against a correctly executed attack with a lunge or advance lunge because of the requirement that every correctly executed attack be either parried or avoided. The attack with advance lunge in a series of advances is almost automatically interpreted as correctly executed. This is regardless of whether the opponent is advancing to attack or to invite the counterattack, actually initiating the blade action of the attack after the counterattack.
This leaves the fencer who intends to stop hit in foil or sabre with four situations in which the stop hit/cut makes sense:
(1) The opponent who regularly makes a clear and obvious pause, arm withdrawal in sabre, or other significant technical fault in execution that can be predicted or that is long enough to allow recognition and reaction in time.
(2) The slower opponent who can be hit with sufficient time to allow close-out, parry riposte following the stop, or an escape to either time out the initial attack or to avoid it completely.
(3) The situation in which the combination of distance, speed, and timing makes evasion possible, either in place as in the inquartata or duck, or by rearward lunge or jump.
(4) The situation in which failures of technique, fatigue, concentration loss, sensory deprivation (possible with high pulse rates or sun in the eyes), or decision making overload make it probable that the opponent’s attack will miss.
The stop hit thus must always be considered in terms of how much risk you are willing to accept under the current conditions of the bout. Absent one of these four criteria a stop hit in these two weapons becomes a significantly risky action.
The epee tactical criteria are significantly different. Priority depends upon when the point lands: (a) 40+ milliseconds before the opponent for a one light touch or (b) in the window from less than 40 milliseconds before to less than 40 milliseconds after the opponent for the deliberate double touch. This means that the epee fencer’s decision criteria are different from foil and sabre.
(1) What is the tactical objective of the stop? Is it to (a) score a one light touch, (b) to maintain the current balance of scores to reach victory in the direct elimination, (c) to maintain the current balance of scores in a situation in which the fencer knows that a parry is impossible, or (d) to maximize the fencer’s indicators and minimize the opponent’s in a highly probable loss.
(2) Is there an available target? Or is the incoming attack going to reveal one in time to stop in your desired time window (either by a fault or just by the target in the line of attack)?
Again, the stop hit thus must always be considered in terms of how much risk you are willing to accept under the current conditions of the bout. However, given reasonable point control, the stop is much less risky in epee than it is in foil or sabre, and very successful epeeists have built their tactics around a well-managed stop hit game.
The time hit is a different story because its entire purpose is to hit while denying the opponent the ability to hit through opposition with the guard and blade in all three weapons. Effectively it is a combination of parry and riposte as a counterattack intra-tempo of the attack. In classical fencing the time hit was considered particularly difficult because with multiple blade action attacks, it required the fencer to identify and intercept the final tempo of the attack.
However, two trends have to some degree simplified the problem for the counterattacker. First, the traditional 3 or more part attacks have largely disappeared. Those actions that do extend over a period of actual time tend to be executed more widely and with a simpler trajectory for the defender operating on interior lines. Second, the advanced or active parry is an ideal mechanism for intercepting the early line of an attack, rather than waiting for the final tempo.
This means that the time-hit as an intercepting-stop-hit-advanced-parry-riposte makes sense in all three weapons. There is no need for a close-out; the action provides its own. There is no need for considering tempo; it is delivered intra-tempo. The priority concern is dealt with by one light. But, it requires three things:
(1) That the time-hitter commit to an attack into the attack as the attack launches.
(2) That the time-hitter has correctly diagnosed the opponent’s likely action and predicted the point of interception.
(3) And that the time-hitter has practiced the action until recognition of the opportunity based on the opponent’s movement and execution of the time-hit is automatic.
So, you know what is coming next … start practicing.