Hitting vs Fencing

post by guest blogger

Dr. Matthew Mitchell

Some observations from my fall competition and refereeing experience will follow over the next little while, if you’d like to share them with other members.
Hitting vs. fencing
One night in practice, answering a question of mine about what to do when your opponent doesn’t respond when you offer the blade, Coach Lara said “then you’ve just got to hit them.”  She went on to say that there are some opponents you have to fence, and some you just have to hit.

That description unlocked a couple of the things that have been puzzling me the past year as I work on improving my skills and my results. First, it made sense of some of my recent tournaments, where I got thrashed by one bunch of teenagers and went 5-2 against another bunch.  Second, it helped me understand why many novice epées have surprising success in their first few tournaments and then seem to regress.

Novices are novices because they don’t know how to fence. They fence on instinct and reaction.  All they can do is hit.  They’re not going to do what you’re inviting them to do, and their responses to your actions aren’t predictable.  Worse yet, they’re not yet able to think about defending when they do react, so they just try and hit as directly and as fast as they can.  If it’s an athletic teenager doing it, they’re likely to blow right through your attempt to parry or step back: like fencing a mousetrap.  The teens who I got shut out against were that kind, and I was treating them like fencers.  I paid dearly for that mistake.

By contrast, the teens at the tournament in Jersey were fencers, though not yet good ones.  They were making beats and parries and preparing attacks, but their actions were still kind of messy.  I could use distance or offer a target to invite an attack, and more often than not, they’d go for it.  Sometimes they were too fast to get away from and too strong to parry, but I could anticipate where their arm was going to go and put my point there.

It works the other way too.  I started to break down my own bouts into ones where I was trying to fence, and ones where I was just trying to hit.  A couple of the bouts where I upset rated fencers came from timing a counter attack or surprising them with an action they didn’t expect: in other words, just trying to score a hit, but when I tried to match the good fencers on footwork and blade technique, they were clearly better.  With the fencers who were much worse than me, I could just go for hits, but it was more satisfying to try and use the tactical elements we’ve been learning in class the past month.

Are you fencing or are you just hitting?

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