Premise 5 – It is all about the initiative. The fencer who can establish, maintain, and use the initiative has the advantage in the phrase and in the bout. At the start it is important to realize that initiative is rooted in the contest between the two fencers, not in what the referee sees and interprets according to his or her knowledge and understanding of the written and unwritten rules.
An example – fencer A starts a slow attack, fencer B counterattacks, fencer A executes counteroffensive countertime to score. What does the referee see? A straight thrust from A with an out of time counterattack from B. Alternatively (hopefully not), the referee may impose his own personal judgment of the value of an attack and say that fencer A lacked intent because the start of the attack was slow and therefore the action was an attack from B with an out of time counterattack from A. Neither of the two interpretations by the referee are accurate because the referee cannot see the underlying game being played by fencer A. Fencer A starts the slow attack as an attack and as an invitation. If there is no reaction by the opponent, A simply continues the attack to score in a simple action. However, if B thinks there is an opportunity and counterattacks, A simply finishes his action to stop hit the counterattack. Note that when we say stop hit in this instance, we are not talking a priority decision but rather a tactical reaction to preserve the priority of the attack executed in the same manner as a stop hit would be. The opponent’s counterattack actually helps A’s effort because it commits the opponent to a course of action that allows A to score without interference. Throughout the sequence A has the initiative.
A simpler example – Fencer A steps back and Fencer B advances. Fencer A continues to retreat and Fencer B continues to advance, finally attacking, an attack that B parries and ripostes to hit. What does the referee see … B is attacking all the way until A finally parries and ripostes. In actuality, A has the initiative, and B is reacting to A’s pull until B finally launches the attack A is prepared for.
The initiative confers significant advantages on the fencer who establishes it. Inherently, the opponent’s actions become reactive, not proactive, even if they appear to be the attack. With this the opponent is always behind the fencer with the initiative in the decision cycle, and will always be a small part of a tempo behind physically unless there is a significant mismatch in physical capability.
The initiative is established by the first movement in the phrase. As long as the opponent is reactive to that movement, the fencer retains the initiative. Initiative is lost by the opponent breaking the movement pattern; by the parrying of the attack by blade or distance; by the opponent changing the relationship by acceleration, deceleration, or manipulation of distance; or by attack in preparation or counterattack into the fencer’s actions that require a response.
This means that students must be taught about the initiative, how to use it, and how to recognize when the initiative may be changing.