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Sabre Class Notes
June 29, 2010
We started out this week with some drills focusing on the timing of when the foot and blade land.
Remember, the attack ends when your front foot lands. If your blade hasn’t landed by the time your foot hits the floor, the attack is over, and you’ve lost an opportunity to get a touch.
This series of drills aimed to get us thinking about extending our arms to land the touch before our front foot hits the floor. Your feet and weapon arm will be moving at different speeds when you fence. This takes control and coordination, which requires a lot of practice.
Another aspect of these drills was to attack as the line (or target) is “opening,” rather than attacking an already open line. You’ll have greater success in scoring touches in a bout if you watch for target areas opening up, and finish your attack quickly. This approach will make it very difficult for your opponent to defend against your attack with a parry or other defensive action.
These drills were a review of the previous week’s lesson covering simple direct attacks. They were also intended to segue into the “theme” of this week, which was footwork and timing off the en guarde line.
You see a lot of simultaneous touches in sabre fencing. Getting off the line quickly to take right-of-way (referred to as “priority” in the rules of fencing) is usually the smart thing to do. And it’s tactically smart to get off the line for a simple direct attack at the beginning of a bout to give yourself a chance to size up your opponent. Maybe he or she is slow getting off the line, in which case you might just stick with the simple direct attack between the en guarde lines because you will have the right-of-way on most of the touches.
But what happens if your opponent is as quick, or quicker, off the line than you? If you get off the line at the same time (or the referee can’t see who’s off the line first, and won’t assign right-of-way), unless someone mixes it up with changes in speed and/or direction, you end up with simultaneous touch after simultaneous touch. Or you might get caught up in the “I’m going to get off the line before you do” game, and you start jumping over the line ahead of the referee’s call to start the bout. You can be carded for this in a tournament.
But the worst thing about sprinting off the line at the same speed and crashing into your opponent over and over again is that it limits you because it makes you predictable.
If your opponent is an experienced fencer, he or she will pick up on the fact that you don’t do anything off the line besides advance and attack, and will adjust accordingly. On the second or third touch, maybe he or she will advance off the line, making you think you’re in for another simultaneous. But as you’re approaching at your usual consistent speed, what happens if your opponent retreats out of distance at the last second? You’re going to fall short, and your opponent’s probably going to land a touch.
There will be times when you’ll want to proceed with your simple direct attack at steady speed off the line. But there will be many other times when, tactically, this just doesn’t make sense. If your opponent begins to retreat, perhaps you should accelerate to finish your attack. If your opponent is advancing off the line, preparing to attack, maybe you should retreat to make them fall short. My personal favorite is a forward check into a beat attack.
The off the line drills we did in the last class were meant to illustrate that you have a lot of options off the line, and that mixing it up will work to your advantage. The more you fence, the better your execution of these options will be, and the more effective fencer you’ll be.
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