The sword parry is one of the primary defences of the fencer in all forms of fencing, be it rapier, sport fencing, or even the katana. This is a technique which is taught in the earlier parts of a person's fencing career and it is important that the parry is done properly in order for it to be effective. This blog will be discussing the execution of the parry and some points about such. For the first time this blog will be including some diagrams in order to assist the discussion.
A sword parry is a defensive use of the weapon in order to stop or deflect an opponent's incoming attack. This technique can be used effectively against both thrusts and cuts. The technique in principle is relatively easy. It involves placing your blade in a position where you will intercept your opponent's weapon before it strikes you in order to stop or deflect their attack. The principle is relatively easy, the execution of the thrust can be somewhat more complex.
Much of the purpose of the parry has been discussed above, but we must look at it a little deeper. The primary purpose of the parry is to defend against an opponent's attack. This must be realised in its execution, that our safety against the opponent's attack is the primary purpose of the parry. The setting up for a riposte or following action needs to be a secondary consideration in comparison to the defence that the parry supplies. This needs to be realised and will affect the execution of the parry depending on what your considered primary purpose is. This will be revealed in a later part of the discussion on this particular subject.
With regard to sword parries there are many different kinds. This blog will be focussing on the simple, or standard parries. There are other parries available to us, such as hanging parries. These work on very much the same principles as the standard ones, but due to their different execution, they will not be addressed in any sort of detail. The standard parries will also be the focus due to their commonality with the various forms of fencing which are available to the fencer.
There are four lines which need to be covered, and two parries per line, one with the true edge and one with the false edge. In all cases the parry must cover the line, in order to be effective as a parry, and this relies upon proper execution of the parry. In all cases it is important to examine the position of the hand in relation to that of the parry. In the case of true edge parries the knuckles of the fingers should be facing the opponent's blade. In a false edge parry it should be the knuckle of the thumb which is facing the opponent's blade. This will ensure that you have an edge to the opponent's blade. The hand position in the parry is vital and must be considered. There is the question about whether a parry needs to be done with the edge or whether it can be done with the flat of the blade. The edge of the sword is much stronger than that of the flat, and thus makes a more secure parry. This being said, there are parries which when done with the flat are quite effective, but as a rule it is better that the parry is done with the edge.
The next question that comes up is whether the parry should be done as a beat or with opposition. Both of the methods have their advantages and disadvantages, and these will be discussed. The principle of the beat parry is that the edge of the blade is struck against the opponent's moving it away by the impact of one blade against the other. This is an effective technique because it forces the opponent's blade off-line by the shock allowing the fencer to make a counter-attack against the opponent. The disadvantage of this technique is because the blades do not remain in contact, knowledge of the location of the opponent's blade through the use of senso di ferro is lost. It is also relatively easy for the opponent to use the impact to roll the blade back on line. The parry with opposition contacts and prevents the opponent's blade from contacting its target by placing a wall against the attack, also forcing the opponent's blade off-line. The advantage of this technique is that due to remaining in contact with the opponent's blade it is easy to know exactly where the opponent's blade is. This also allows for the use of techniques which rely upon blade engagement. The greatest disadvantage of this particular technique is that it can allow for a slower riposte, and also gives the opponent some senso di ferro by the contact between the weapons. In general, while the beat parry is easier to execute and learn, the parry with opposition tends to lead to more advantages and more options for the fencer. This being said, both techniques can be used effectively.
In the execution of the parry, it is important to keep the parry small. The opponent's blade only needs to be deflected enough, and just enough to avoid striking the fencer. The blade does not have to be forced particularly far in order to be forced away from its intended target. This means that in execution the parry needs to be minimalist in its execution. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first reason is one of entropy. A smaller parry takes less energy to perform, this allows the fencer to conserve energy for future actions which require more energy. Another reason for keeping the parry small is that it will take less time to execute, thus giving the fencer more time in order to perform other actions against the opponent. The final reason that will be discussed has a great deal to do with the action that follows the parry once it is performed. If a parry is kept small, it is much easier to keep your point on line against the opponent, and thus make any counter-offensive action faster and more effective. With these reasons in place it is clearly advantageous for the parry to be made as small as possible.
The beginner fencer will come out and chase the opponent's blade in order to make a parry. This means that they will parry very early. The more experienced fencer will wait for the opponent's attack to come and then parry only at what they concieve as the last moment in which they can parry. This is about what is called parrying "late", it is late in the action of the opponent. This relates to what I tend to refer to as the "panic space". This is the zone in which the fencer sits in which if any attack comes the fencer will respond to. In the beginner fencer, this will extend to up to a foot out from the fencer. As the fencer becomes more and more confident in their skill, the "panic space" will reduce allowing them to parry later and later. The most experienced fencers will have a "panic space" which extends as little as 5cm from them. The advantage of parrying late is that you are less vulnerable to complex actions. A person who parries late is less vulnerable to a feint than a person who parries early. The late parrying fencer is also less vulnerable to changes in tempo. Because the attack is allowed to come close to the fencer it is easier to determine whether the attack is a feint or not. The fencer should only parry a valid attack, one that will actually strike them. This is achieved through parrying late. The late parrying fencer also achieves a better mechanical advantage over the opponent due to the fact that the later parry will result in the opponent's blade being caught further down the forte of the defender and further up the foible of the opponent.
Now that both time and distance have been discussed with regard to the parry, now it is time to discuss the angle of the blade in the parry. This is an important consideration and will come back to the discussion on the primary purpose of the parry. The larger the angle of the parry the more defense which is afforded to the fencer. The smaller the angle of the parry, the faster the riposte will be. Thus defense decreases as the speed of the riposte increases. This has been placed on a chart for your interest.
As can be seen by the chart, a parry which has a high degree of defence has a low speed of riposte, but a parry which has a high speed of riposte also has a low degree of defence. This comes back to whether the primary purpose of the parry being performed is for defence or for setting up for a following action. In the beginner fencer it is more important to focus on the defensive characteristics of the parry than the action which follows it. The more advanced fencer needs to balance the relationship and figure out what is most appropriate for them at the time. Into this discussion is also the fact that the larger the angle of the parry, the more of the fencer the blade will protect. This has been depicted in a diagram below.
As can be seen in the diagram the more that the angle of the blade in the parry increases, the more of the fencer the blade protects. With a point high, and thus large angle of the blade, the parry protects a large amount of the fencer. Whereas, if the angle is reduced, less of the fencer is protected. Of course referring back to the other diagram, this will also mean a slower riposte in response to the increased defense. It is better that we teach our students that it is better to have a sure defence than a speedy riposte. With a focus of striking without being struck, this is the only sure way to achieve this end.
The purpose of this blog is to discuss the general characteristics of the sword parry and how it should be performed properly against an attack delivered by an opponent. Various elements have been discussed in some detail and each one is important in order that the parry is performed correctly and effectively. What is really important to realise is that the purpose of the parry must be established and expressed to our students in order that they understand that defence is the primary purpose of the parry. A great deal of practice is required in order to perfect the parries and time needs to be spent on this on a regular basis. The sword parry is an effective technique when performed properly and this discussion has highlighted various points of importance in consideration of this technique. Each point is important in its own right, but also in relation to the whole. Focus on effective parries and your fencing will improve and your defence will be effective against your opponents.