Premise 4. No bout is over until it is over, no pool is over until it is over, no direct elimination is over until you either win or are eliminated. In this every touch is important. That seems obvious, but for many fencers it is not.
Let’s take the touch. Why is the touch important?
(1) to win a bout you have to score 1 touch (modern pentathlon epee), 5 touches (pool bouts), 10 touches (veterans direct elimination), 15 touches (direct elimination). Allowing for simultaneous actions in foil and sabre, you may have to fence as many as 35-40 hits (yours + the opponent’s + simultaneous + off target in foil) in a direct elimination bout to get to 15 touches, and more than 10 to get to 5 touches in a pool bout. Each hit represents a risk situation. If you are winning you want as few bad-odds risk situations as possible. If you are loosing, you want as many good-odds risk situations as possible.
(2) certain touch situations have very specific impacts associated with them. Winning the first touch provides a boost for your morale, and the possibility of an identical decline in the opponent’s morale. It also means that your opponent must score 2 unanswered touches in order to get the lead, and that your job becomes to allow no unanswered touches. At 3 touches, your lead means that your opponent has to rethink the bout plan, find ways to answer your actions, and score 4-2 (Score 3-1 in your favor) or 3-2 (score 3-2 in your favor) to win, a challenging situation. Can it be done, yes; is it easy, no.
(3) when you win your positive indicators (touches scored – touches received) and your victories establish your position in the pool and in the subsequent seed of the direct elimination. We all know that – no surprise. But when you lose, your indicators are critical within the pool to place you ahead of someone who has the same victory percentage when the direct elimination seed is made. One touch may make a substantial difference in your seeding in a large tournament, and if a cut off is being applied to the field, may make the difference between your tournament being over or getting to try again in the direct elimination.
(4) each touch you score in the pools also depresses your opponent’s indicator. You may end up seeded higher than someone who beat you in your pool (if the number of victories and defeats are identical if you have a better indicator). This is not just for you. If your Salle or club has multiple entries, your hits on an opponent may end up helping your clubmate in the seeding.
All this means that in the pools every touch is important; every touch must be fought for. Never give away a touch to an opponent who is losing badly just to be kind.
The direct elimination poses a more interesting problem. Conventional thought over the years has been that you may throw away two or three touches to figure out what the key parameters of an opponent’ game are. There are three factors that argue against this. First, it means that your scouting efforts have been insufficient. Scouting in fencing is difficult. There are no generally available databases that record results in a tactically useful way, video coverage is sporadic, etc. About all that you can access is the names of entries and their classifications and national points.
Second, giving away two touches in reconnaissance simply means that you now have to score 3 unanswered touches to get ahead in the bout. Is it possible against an alert, more experienced opponent, who can easily change tactics to account for what you have learned? Not with certainty.
Third, direct elimination bouts are won. The only thing that counts is that when time runs out you must be in the winning position. However, each bout represents an energy expenditure. The fewer hits you have to fence for, the lower your energy expenditure (all other things being equal). And that potentially means that you will be physically in a better place for the next bout.
But there is another component here – your psychological state. Losing bouts in the pool, especially the first bout or a critical bout that means you will be in the bottom half of the seed, changing tactics to defend a victory, drawing an opponent in the direct elimination that you “know” you can’t beat, being down by a significant amount in a direct elimination bout, etc. are all potential triggers for a psychological collapse. Each individual touch bolsters your morale.
And so do unexpected events. An opponent who you have not yet fenced is injured and has to withdraw from the pool (impacting the results of those who have fencer him) or has to withdraw from your direct elimination bout, a psychological collapse by an opponent, bad tactical choices by the opponent, penalty cards, etc. all can change your position in an instant. The smart and mentally tough fencer fences cold (not hot) emotionally and is prepared to take advantage of any opportunity presented by the events of the competition.
So, our premise is that (1) every touch counts, (2) you must be ready to take advantage of unexpected events, and (3) you must conserve your physical resources and maximize the impact of your touches. This extends from the first touch in the first bout to the last touch of the last bout. And you must train to do (1), (2), and (3).