200405 More Thoughts on Distance

I have addressed distance a number of times over the years in this blog. Today I am going to summarize my current thinking and suggest how distance interfaces with tactics.

First – distance is often defined in terms of how far one fencer is from another on the piste. The problem with this definition is that we fence in the immediate near term, not in how things are right now. Saying that two fencers are in lunging distance ignores the potential that as the lunge progresses the opponent may retreat, opening the distance, or advance into the lunge crushing the distance. Our definition of distance must account for our potential and actual actions as well as those of the opponent.

The distance from the other fencer model is commonly divided into infighting (close combat), short (extension), medium (lunge), long (advance-lunge), and out of distance (preparation steps required) distances. These are commonly taught as fixed measurements. In reality, the goal of any attack or riposte is to achieve short distance in the final tempo of the action, propelled by the appropriate footwork.

Less frequently you hear distance defined as the length of physical travel that the blade must do in order to hit the target. In modern fencing this is a far more useful measurement and more closely ties to the tempo of the action.

Thus, if your opponent is at the distance in which a lunge is necessary, the actual required blade action against a similar speed fencer who does not move is one tempo. If the opponent steps forward into the attack it becomes almost half-tempo (there is an entire separate argument that tempo is separable), and if he steps back either the attack falls short or you have to elongate or reprise, becoming either one very long and vulnerable tempo or two or more tempos.

The possible relationships, including how the tempo changes in the changes of distance, are (this is not an evaluation of the value of any of the possible choices listed):

A. attacker at close combat distance (half tempo) – (1) opponent provokes corps a corps (half tempo), (2) opponent stays at the distance (half tempo), (3) opponent retreats to short distance (one tempo).

B. attacker at extension distance (one tempo) – (1) opponent closes to close combat distance (half tempo), (2) opponent stays at the distance (one tempo), (3) opponent retreats to lunge distance (one tempo), (4) opponent jumps back possibly as far as advance-lunge distance (two tempo).

C. attacker at lunge distance (one tempo) – (1) opponent closes to extension (one tempo) or close combat distance (half tempo), (2) opponent stays at distance (one tempo), (3) opponent opens the distance to advance-lunge distance (two tempo), (4) opponent flees (pursuit with preparation steps followed by two tempo advance-lunge).

D. attacker at advance-lunge distance (two tempo) – (1) opponent closes to extension (one tempo) or lunge (one tempo) distance, (2) opponent stays at distance (two tempo), (3) opponent retreats to out of distance (preparation steps followed by two tempo advance-lunge), (4) opponent flees (pursuit with preparation steps followed by two tempo advance-lunge).

E. attacker at out of distance (preparation steps followed by two tempo advance-lunge) – (1) opponent closes to advance-lunge distance (two tempo), (2) opponent stays at or opens distance (pursuit with preparation steps followed by two tempo advance-lunge).

This analysis highlights one of my favorite teaching rules: do not attack to where the opponent is now, attack to where the opponent will be when your attack is complete. Because the distance in both tempo and physical measurement is dependent on the actions of both fencers (deliberate, habitual, or accidental), the tactical situation changes continually during the phrase. Understanding, and being able to accurately predict where the distance is going with this opponent in the time frame of of the phrase is vital to both your attack and your defense.

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