The advent of new timings to the scoring machine in 2005 changed two things: they increased the dwell time of the the foil hit (the amount of time that the tip must be depressed before lighting light); and reduced the time allowed between two opposing hits on the box. These changes were implemented by the FIE in the hopes of reducing the "marching attack" ending in a thrown thrust or "flick" against the opponent. By increasing the dwell time, it was hoped that thrown thrust would not be in contact with the opponent's lame long enough to score. By reducing the time between the lighting of two successive lights on the box, it was hoped that attacks into marching attacks would more often result in only one light on the scoring box.
Even though the changes in both timings were a matter of tenths of a second, the impact of both were widely felt. The use of the "flick" had made many targets: including the back, easily accessible, even if the opponent was attempting to twist or dodge out of the way. Defenders found that ducking and twisting would present an unfavorable target aspect to the attacker, delaying the finish of the attack or causing it to miss. This often allowed the defender to counter-attack with a strong body motion and a high chance of scoring.
The ability of one light to "lock out" an opponent's like was intended to give the attack in preparation more validity, but it also meant that a fast remise could often time out a defender's riposte. In its attempt to return fencing back to its more conventional roots, the FIE, instead, gave the counter-attacker/remiser a technological window of opportunity.
The attacker now faces a defender who may use body evasion, counter-attacks, and remises, with a high chance of scoring. What follows are some simple suggestions to help the attacker defeat these unconventional tactics. Do keep in mind that as no two fencers are the same, no two counter-attackers are the same. With each piece of advice, the fencer should consider their own situation.
Counter-attacking has a higher chance of success when the attacker "out-runs" their preparation: the attacker closes distance to the defender while still "preparing" to finish. If the attacker does not coordinate their attack with their hands and their feet, the defender may have a window to score in, before the attacker can there point on the defender's target.
The attacker must coordinate the finish of the attack very carefully. As the attacker gets into lunge distance, the attacker's point must be between the attacker and the defender. This does not rule attacks with a absence of blade, but the attacker must plan on finishing with their point ahead of the foot (This is true in most cases. There is still a role to play for a very late finish of an absent of blade attack, but this depends on the behavior of the defender). Most fencers hide their blades from the defender at the start of their attacks, but they must be ready to put the point on the target in the face of a sudden collapse of distance, or an attempt by the defender to hit and get away. Slowing down allows the attack to be better coordinated, and gives fewer windows for the defenders to catch the attacker with their blade out of position, and unable to finish.
When attacking over more than one-tempo, the initial start of the attack should be slow (however, see the contrary advice below), with controlled steps. The goal is to never let momentum control the preparation. By starting slowly, the attacker lessens the chance of outrunning their own preparation, and denies the counter-attacker a possible window to collapse the distance in surprise. One of the disadvantages in starting slow is that the defender may switch tactics from counter-attack to parry and riposte. However, often this will happen only after the attacker has gotten very close, allowing the attacker an easier time in making a second intention parry riposte, or feint and disengage (in the lunge). More rarely, the counter-attacker will attempt to "jump" on the start of the attack and make an attack into preparation. This will allow easy counter-time by the attacker, since they are not collapsing the space quickly, and should see the defender start much earlier.
There is still a role of a fast attack off the line. A fencer who faces an opponent who counter-attacks regularly might want to start the bout off with a very powerful, fast attack, with an idea showing the opponent a willingness to "go fast". This can then set the opponent up for a slower start and finish, leaving the opponent never quite sure if he should be keeping distance or closing distance to set up his preferred action.
Lots of complicated blade actions, false feints, and disengages give the counter-attacker more opportunity to exploit the attacker's preparations. Simple blade actions make it easier for the attacker to keep the point between hims or herself and the target as the attacker enters the critical distance to the defender.
Very advanced fencers which have the technical skills required can return to the use of thrown attacks (flicks) and angulated finishes. However, flicks are not the panacea they once were in defeating counter-attacks, especially involving the displacement of target. The flick requires that the opponent be kept in a very tight distance "box". The new timings seem to prevent the sort of "wrap around" flicks of the past that allowed attackers to defeat opponents who closed the distance aggressively. It takes strong technical skills to be successful with a flick.
Rather than use large blade preparations to keep the defender off balance, the attacker should use false attacks to keep the opponent off balance as to the timing of real attacks. The attacker should also consider dissimilar preparations from the real attacks to disguise their attacks even more. For example, the fencer can make false attacks with a preparatory beat, but the actual attack should be made with no preparation at all. Again, the goal is to keep the counter-attacker from accurately judging the start of the attack, either in time or in space.
An attacker use to making and finishing attacks from the low line can often goad a counter-attacker into a late attack in preparation while finishing his or her own attack to the flank or stomach. However, this can be difficult against an opposite handed opponent, who usually covers the outside low line (the preferred target) with portions of the weapon arm, and are prone to attempting to close out the line while they make their counter-attack. Absence of blade attacks also open up the attacker to a straight stop and subsequent escape from the defender. Again, coordination of the finish of the hand with the foot is key here.
A counter-attack needs a tempo difference to exploit in order to score. In decreasing the distance between them, the attacker does not give the counter-attacker a tempo to exploit. Simple attacks (direct and indirect) in the proper distance are difficult to score against with a counter-attack. However, being close gives the counter-attacker an opportunity to make attacks of their own. A very high state of alertness is necessary to fence close to a counter-attacker. In addition, the attacker will be limited in the types of preparation they can do to make an attack. Actions will primarily be false simple followed by real simple direct or indirect attacks.
Beating the opponent's blade does two things: it alerts the counter-attacker to the start of your attack, and can bring your point out of line, making it difficult to coordinate your hand and foot. If you have decided to make a beat on the attack, make the beat as close to the start of the lunge as possible, to give the opponent little warning to the start of the attack, and to prevent them from getting their own point back in line before your attack starts. Often the counter-attacker will simple step in when they feel the sudden impact of a beat. to throw you off balance and surprise you A soft hand after the beat will let you place the point on target.
The answer to the counter-attack is counter-time. Counter-time should executed with blocking or holding parries, in most instances. A beat parry clears the line quickly, but also takes the your blade out of line almost as much as the opponents. The harder the beat, the more both blades are displaced. It's better to make a blocking parry and control the opponent's blade: reducing the chance that the opponet can remise, and giving you time to put your point onto a target that may be closing rapidly.
Holding parries will often cause the counter-attacker to prematurely parry, allowing you an indirect repost to an open line.
An Expert's Opinion
At a clinic in North Carolina in March of 2009, Maitre Michael Marx presented a different take on dealing with the counter-attacker. He advocates an attack against the counter-attacker at high speed, with small steps. In this case, however, the attacker should plan to stop slightly
This approach has merit. Rather than avoiding the counter-attack situation completely, the attacker triggers it at his or her own choosing. This method, however, requires that the attacker have a good sense of where on the strip the counter-attacker likes to make his or her attack, and also requires a good grasp of technical footwork to accelerate, and then suddenly stop in the right distance. For the experienced fencer, however, this is an approach that should be considered.
Copyright © 2008 by Allen Evans. This article may be reproduced freely, as long as it remains unmodified and his copyright notice is included.