So there you are on the strip. It is a good day in the Salle except for one thing … you parry-riposte combination isn’t working. Or more correctly it is working just often enough to keep you using it and isn’t working just often enough to keep you losing touches. The opponent attacks in 4, you parry 4, direct riposte in 4, and sometimes you score … but sometimes you are hit by the opponent’s 1st counterriposte in 4. What is going on here?
The first thing that is going on is that you have committed two deadly sins. First, the sin of being predictable. If the opponent attacks in 4, they know that you will parry and riposte in 4. It is therefore fairly easy for them to use a second intention first counterriposte in 4 to score … or to just beat you on speed because they know what is going to happen and have preloaded their OODA loop with that knowledge.
The second sin is the sin of not using what you know. Every graduate of a beginner class in foil and epee knows 4 simple actions – direct straight thrust, disengage, counterdisengage, and coupe. And if you were trained in a classical program you might know the countercoupe. If you are a sabre fencer you should have learned the coupe cut and perhaps the disengage cut or disengage point thrust. So everyone should have at least one indirect attack that can be executed with some degree of skill.
But, you ask, “what has that got to do with anything? Those aren’t ripostes, they are attacks.” Yes, they are. What is a riposte? A riposte is an ATTACK after the parry. In the last blog post I talked about the parry as an offensive preparation of the riposte. So a parry and riposte is PREPARATION by parry followed by an ATTACK. If you have fallen for the stovepipe mentality that ripostes are somehow different from the simple attacks, compound attacks, attacks on the blade, and takings of the blade, you have been cheated by whoever taught you that twaddle. Go get your money back, now.
The bottom line is that any technical movement that is an attack when executed as an attack can be executed as the attack after the parry (which has prepared the conditions necessary for the hit).
The reality is that almost all fencers have learned how to do direct ripostes. And that direct riposte becomes for the majority their predictable, intellectually lazy, automatic action after the parry. So what do you gain by not doing a direct riposte? For the purposes of this post we will focus on substituting an indirect riposte and leave the ripostes by attack on or taking of the blade for another day.
The indirect riposte does two very important things. First, it deceives the opponent’s parry. If the opponent expects the riposte in the same line as the attack, where will the opponent parry? Yes, in the same line as their attack, your parry, and your riposte. To beat this you need to change the geometry, and the indirect riposte does that. Against the lateral or semi-circular vertical parries, the choice is a disengage or a coupe into the line that is opening due to the movement of the parry. Against the opponent who habitually recovers with a circular or change parry to clear the line, the answer is a counterdisengage.
The second thing is equally important. By changing the geometry, you force the opponent into another decision cycle. And if their parry is a habitual response to the same line geometry, you force them into their OODA loop while they are in the midst of an action that they have to stop and reverse. This significantly increases your chance of hitting.
There is a third very important thing. If you use preparation correctly you significantly complicate the opponent’s problem in dealing with your indirect riposte. If the opponent operates with the assumption that your riposte will be prepared by a lateral parry in the line in which the attack is executed, your parry in preparation for that riposte can add to the complication of dealing with the indirect riposte. For example, if you attack with a straight thrust in 6, I have two obvious choices: (1) to lateral parry in 6th and (2) to change parry into 4th. My parry in preparation is the first chance to force you to rethink the problem. But, if I add the indirect riposte, you are confronted with a second set of decisions. Instead of a simple lateral parry-direct riposte in the same as the attack, the possibilities become:
(1) Lateral parry 6, direct riposte 6,
(2) Lateral parry 6, indirect riposte 4,
(3) Change parry to 4, direct riposte 4, or
(4) Change parry 4, indirect riposte 6.
The situation can become even more complex – each indirect riposte has a different movement pattern and potentially different defences, there is the possibility for going to the low line rather than staying in high line, etc.
The bottom line is that predictability with a parry and riposte in the same line as the attack may be setting you up for failure against a faster or better trained opponent. Use the parry as preparation to either (1) stay in the same line or (2) change the geometry to a different line, followed by (3) the direct riposte in the same or different line or (4) the indirect riposte to change the line or to return to the original line. Having four choices in your parry-riposte combination improves your chances of not committing either of our two sins: (1) you can choose to not be predictable, and (2) you can choose to use the full range of what you know. Either way, you are likely to score more touches, and that is a good thing.