One of the complaints tournament fighting often gets is the lack of defensive actions and people protecting themselves, and only attacking instead. At this article we will look at ways of increasing your success in some defensive actions. But before doing this, one thing needs to be said.
Offense is a statistically better strategy.
I’m sorry to say it but it is true. If you look at hema competitions, or even Olympic fencing, over 50% of scoring actions are offensive actions ( as in attacks instead of parry riposte or counter attack ). The reason is simple, and understanding it is the key to making your defensive actions better. The one who initiates the fencing phrase always has the advantage. The other guy has to react to his fencing action, and reacting takes time. It’s like running a 100m race but the one initiating the action starts at the 30m line. This means that if the relative skill level, speed & strength are the same between you two, you will always lose unless the other guy fucks up. Early KDF manuals keep telling us to take the Vor, and there is a reason behind it.
Even in defensive actions, you want to be the one starting at the 30m line. All defensive actions should start from you initiative. A great fencer decides not only how his opponent will attack, but also when. Preparatory actions play a huge role on this. If you don’t get to set these terms and the measure is right, backing up and retreating is a better choice than taking a parry riposte.
Let’s quickly categorise some fencing actions for the sake of better understanding this topic.
Ultimate actions: actions designed to hit or ward from a hit
Preparatory actions: all of the other fencing actions not designed o hit your opponent but which are done to for example: gather information from your opponent, maneuvering, directing you opponent to do what you want them to, disguising you own intentions etc etc. *
Defensive actions by category: Parry riposte, counterattack & evasion ( for example nachreisen in the german tradition, atleast in my own interpretation ). Also in my opinion parry riposte is a technique that best works on a closer measure, where as counter attacks & evasions better work on a bigger distance.
So what we want to do is by preparatory actions to guide our opponent to strike where we want them to and how we want them to. Lets take an example. My opponent stands in Vom Tag, and I’m in left pflug. Now I step into distance, and while doing it change slowly to left ochs. Now if my opponent retreats, I simply repeat the same procedure. By doing this, Im slowly teaching him that I will transition from pflug to ochs, and eventually he will try to attack while I do this. But since this is exactly what I wanted, it is much easier to me to take a parry riposte after my invitation. Also I have drastically limited his possible choices of attack, since there are only so many ways one can attack from VT against ochs ( krumphaw being the canonical way, and unterhaw something that many people seem to prefer ).
And if he does not attack my preparation, then I will simply attack him myself out of my choice, and thus have the initiative. Thus I have maneuvered the game into how I want it to be played. His choices are limited to either attacking how I want him to, letting me attack how I want to, or retreating until he hits the wall / ring out / cliff or whatever. Your opponent should feel like what ever choice he makes, he’s gonna get hit. This way he will lose confidence in his own attacks, and start making stupid choices, and picking him apart will be very easy. Also from competitive point of view now you get to decide that what are the skills required that will decide the outcome of the match. Obviously with your preparatory actions you should steer the opponent to your own strong areas.
Now an important part of preparing your actions is to do them slowly . If I transition from ochs to pflug as fast as I can, this does not provide my opponent a tempo to attack. Think about. Let’s say your krumphaw reaches its target in 0.4 seconds, and It takes 0.2 seconds for you to recognize the stimulus, then the guard change has to last longer than 0.6s to be a viable tempo to attack. In reality it should actually be even a bit longer, as you want your opponent to attack to the opening that you provide, and it is not an opening if you have finished your preparatory action already.
Another advantage this gives is an automatic change of rhythm in your fencing ( obviously both the parry riposte / attack should be done quick ). This means that your parry / attack will actually seem much faster than it actually is, which is much more important than the actual speed of action.
To make your preparatory action even more effective, you should be able to perform multiple finishing actions from it, while the preparatory action looks the same. For example in this case I could attack with a direct thrust, thrust feint and durchwechsel to the other side, or 2nd intention auswinden. This is much harder than it sounds. You want your opponent to keep guessing on which attack you will do, and that makes you succeed much more likely in all of them.
Back to he defensive aspect. Please note that while preparing your action, you don’t necessarily know that your opponent will act in first intention only. He might also feint his attack to your preparation and cut around. To be able to control this ( sort of ), notice in which distance you are doing your pflug à ochs preparation. The closer to you opponent you are, the more likely he is to attack with a direct attack, and from a wider measure a 2nd intention is more likely. As I explained earlier, intention and measure are related.
Now we’ve covered one type of preparatory action in quite some depth. For those who are familiar with manciolinos 5 tempos to attack your opponent, I think that you can use most of them as a invitation / preparatory action ( especially in sidesword, duh ) for the same purpose as the action I described previously. For example: from point in line guard lift your sword for a cut à creates a tempo to opponent to attack the handà if he does, parry riposte if not you get to attack. For those who are no familiar with manciolino: read it ;).
To sum up the points of this post:
-all defensive actions should start of your own initiative
-if they don’t and measure allows, retreat is better than taking a reactive parry
-you should prepare slowly, attack and parry fast for a rhythm change
-you should be able to perform multiple actions from the same preparation
Here’s a quick video of me and Eliisa Keskinen practicing the pflug to ochs preparation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0li2Ayb6Gvo&feature=youtu.be
From the defensive actions this post has only so far covered the parry / riposte. I will later write about setting up counter attacks & one on nachreisen / retreats / evasions. Stay tuned for that!
*Note that this is not my own definition, but more or less as zbigniew czajkowski defines it.