In earlier posts I have argued that a one tempo action can be subdivided into a start, an in-between period, and an end and that these subdivisions are what allow actions into an opponent’s tempo. This is the explanation of how a counterattack succeeds against a one tempo attack and its footwork in epee.
But this is not the only set of divisions that we need to consider in training and executing fencing actions. Every fencing action has 3 time periods that we must be aware of and be prepared to exploit. Actions are not events separated from the flow of the bout or the time period of a bout. They exist as part of the overall continuum in time, space, and direction that determine the rhythm and flow of the bout.
(1) The Before – in a bout everything that happens has something that happens before it. It may be footwork, it may be a phrase leading to a touch, it may be a pause in the action, it is even the referee calling “on guard, ready, fence” to start the bout. The before sets the stage for the coming exchange. It is the place where the overall tactical situation of the bout changes, where the fencer learns (or fails to) from success or failure, and where the next step is formulated, even if that formulation is the result of automaticity in response.
(2) The During – this is the action in progress. It is the attack, the defense, the counteroffense from its start to its end. The end comes with a hit, an opponent’s parry, etc. It is composed of the tempo or intra-tempo actions of the fencer.
(3) The After – this is what happens after the action succeeds or fails. It may be the attack into preparation, the parry-riposte, the renewal of the attack.
What this means is that there is a continuing before-during-after flow in a bout with the time periods constantly changing. Each time period allows a new action by the fencer or the opponent or both. And each fencer is running in a different time period (excepting in simultaneous attacks).
For example, let’s take the simplest possible phrase. Left steps forward, attacks, Right parries and ripostes hitting. Breaking this down:
(1) Left steps forward – BEFORE … Right remains in place – BEFORE.
(2) Left lunges with a straight thrust – DURING … at the initiation of the attack Right is in the BEFORE
(3) Right parries laterally and starts a direct riposte – DURING … Left starts to try to recover – AFTER
(4) Right’s riposte is complete and the referee calls “Halt” – AFTER … Left completes the recovery – AFTER
At each step there is an opportunity to change the result. In step (1) Right had the option to retreat once. In step (2) Left might have used a feint to get Right to commit to a DURING early while Left’s DURING was in progress. Right might have committed to DURING as a step forward closing the distance or use an advanced parry to get inside Left’s action. In step (3) Right might have used a different parry and an indirect riposte (note that I treat parry-riposte as one action with the riposte being automatic). Left might have chosen to remain to fight from the lunge with a parry-riposte, a new During in place of the AFTER.
This suggests that in any action the two fencers are likely in different phases, and that each phase offers the opportunity to choose multiple options in its execution. The ability to be prepared with more than one course of action in each phase thus becomes critical whether that choice is preplanned or facilitated by automaticity. That means that even at the earliest point in training fencers must be taught that there are choices to be made throughout an action and what those choices are. And the choices must be practiced if their exercise in combat is to be practical.