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Fencing and History Nut Extraordinaire. While I am tending toward 16th century at the moment, I am and have been interested in history for a long time. Hence the fencing focuses more on the Renaissance period than the modern. This explains two out of three of my blogs. The third is a more personal one focusing on fibromyalgia. What I write in these blogs, I hope will be of use to people.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tactics in Fencing

“Fencing is a competitive sport. The will-power and the intelligence of the opponent have to be reckoned with in it. In such a sport tactics, stratagems have equal weight and an equal role with technique. One without the other is worth nothing. The fencer’s performance cannot be productive, however brilliant the development of his technical skill, if he is utterly lacking in tactical imagination,” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:29)

The title of this blog, as you can see above is tactics in fencing. This is a very important consideration for all fencers. Some of this was discussed in the previous blog about the thinking game. This blog will be a more in-depth discussion of fencing tactics and the details associated with them. The first thing to examine in this discussion is to see exactly what fencing tactics means.

“The process of fencing is your blueprint for producing touches. It is the combining of the mental and physical components of fencing into an effective whole.” (Evangelista, 2000:88)
As stated by Evangelista (2000) above tactics is a part of the process of fencing and provides the blueprint of how you may strike your opponent, of course without being struck yourself. It is tactics which makes fencing a thinker's game as it involves the fencer examining the situation, evaluating what is going on, formulating a solution for the situation, and then acting on it. This involves a level of thought by the fencer in order to perform. Fencint tactics is more than just reaction, they are planned actions and show the difference between the thinking fencer and thos who just react to the actions of the opponent.

“Strategy is how you relate to your opponent ... This is the science of fencing. How successful you are in strategy will underscore your effectiveness as a fencer. A good strategic game adds much depth and variety to your fencing.” (Evangelista, 2000:192)
Tactics demonstrates and shows the relationship between the actions of the fencer and the opponent. This is an important point. Not only do your tactics need to take into account what you want to do, but it also must take into account how your opponent will respond to your actions. In many ways, your tactics are answers to the questions posed by the opponent in the actions that they perform against you. These answers are made on the basis of the evidence supplied by the actions of the opponent.

“Tactics are the brainwork of fencing; they are based upon observation and analysis of the opponent and upon intelligent choices of actions against him." (Palffy-Alpar, 1967:47)
There are tactics in fencing at all levels, from the purely responsive actions of the physical fencer to the complex and detailed actions of the thinking fencer in response to the opponent. The level of thinking behind the actions defines where in this scale the actions of the fencer sits. It is important that we strive for the higher end of this scale in order that we are more successful in fencing, and this reauires thinking, “more than anything a good fencer has brains.” (Barth and Barth, 2003:84). This thought process supplies the prepatory material for compound actions performed by the opponent. Any complex action performed by the fencer requires a level of thought behind it, this means evidence gathered by the fencer and used in order to plan a response to the opponent's actions. There are requirements in order to be able to use fencing tactics and these requirements will be discussed next.

“This [tactical application] requires cool judgement, anticipation, opportunism, bluff and counter-bluff and the ability to think at least on move ahead, combined with courage and controlled reaction of muscles and limbs which enables the fencer to carry out simple or complex movements of his weapon as required by the situation at any given moment.” (De Beaumont, 1960:197)
The first requirement for fencing tactics is the ability to perform the actions required. This means that the fencer needs to learn the fencing skills and gain technical competence in them before he is able to perform them at will, on demand. Without the technical ability firmly in place, the fencer can see what he wants to do, can plan ahead in order to be able to perform it, but if he does not have the technical skills in order to perform the action then the process is a waste of time. This highlights the importance of practing the fencing skills in order that they can be called upon to be used at a moment's notice. Of course this is the first requirement, to add to this, there are others,

“A fencer poor in tactical thinking is like a well-trained army with a poor general, lacking imaginative leadership.” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:30)
What is being spoken about here is simply the ability to think. The use of the fencer's brain. It is necessary for the fencer to be able to use their brain in order to use tactics and fence well. The purely physical fencer can do quite well, but will be defeated most often by the fencer who has progressed past the physical and into the mental side of fencing. The ability to think while fencing enables you to use the information that you gain from your opponent in order to plan how you will deal with him, in other words form tactics. Without the thought process in action tactics can only be used at their most basic, reactive level. In combination with raw intellectual power, there is more. There psychological aspects which are involved in fencing as well and these abilities are also necessary.

“Among the psychological qualities we must also emphasize diligence and will-power. The development of these ensures that the physical and psychological inhibitions arising in a competitive fencer can be overcome.” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:30)
Diligence is being attentive to what is going on. A diligent student can overcome almost any obstacle which is placed in their path. Only the diligent student of fencing will really grasp what fencing is all about and be able to see the importance of the skills that are being learnt. A fencer with diligence can utilise those skills which they are most proficient at and reduce the importance of those skills which they are not so talented at, but they need to be aware of this. Tactically the student needs to be diligent in order to be able to pay attention to all which is going on around them and in order to be aware of these things so that they can act on them. The thinking process is enhanced by willpower as it is what drives us to succeed where we may fail.

“Will-power, with which we can overcome the physical and psychological inhibitions is more important in fencing than physical dexterity and flexibility, because psychological inhibitions play a major role in fencing.” (Beke and Polgár, 1963:31)
Willpower is of great importance to fencing not only for the sake of tactics but in order to drive us to succeed. This is most important in those situations where one fencer is clearly more experienced than the other. Where the less experienced combatant has the willpower he can through striving and using his skill actually overcome the opponent. Willpower in fencing is about having the strength to fight even where the odds are not in our favour and also giving all we can in order to succeed.

“In life, patience is considered a virtue. In fencing, it is a necessity – both in the learning process and on the fencing strip.” (Evangelista, 2000:216)
Patience is important to fencing. It takes time to develop skills and as such this requires patience on our part to take the time to learn and practice the skills in order that they can be used to their full potential. With regard to tactics, patience is necessary so that we take the time to properly read the opponent and gauge their actions. Patience is also about waiting for the correct response from the opponent, or waiting for a good opening or position to act upon. If the process is rushed the tactics may not be formulated properly and this will lead into hasty decisions and bad tactical choices.

“Use your brain. Gauge your actions. See if they are drawing the desired response out of your opponent. If what you are doing produces nothing, stop doing it!” (Evangelista, 2000:97)
In order to use tactics in fencing you must be able to observe, read and predict what the opponent will do. The observation portion of this is the first part of the process, taking in what you can see of the opponent. This is the simplest form of reading the opponent. The next part of the process is examining what is reading the opponent which involves examining not only what you can see but also the responses the opponent gives to your actions and also what you can feel through the use of sentiment du fer. All of these elements are important. Once you are have gained the information about the opponent, this needs to be applied logically in order to be able to predict what the opponent will do. It is from all of these elements that tactics are based, and each element is important to the process.

There are tactics which are of use and there are tactics which are of no use. It is the former that we should be aiming for as fencers and the latter that we should be avoiding at all costs. Each action that is performed must have a purpose. The purpose may be to see the reaction of the opponent or much simpler being a final blow in the tactical approach. It is the purpose behind the action which is important. A lack of purpose means the usage of energy where it is not used fruitfully against the opponent, and also wasted effort, this can lead to downfall and defeat at the hands of the opponent. The action should be thought about before it is performed and its purpose known before it is performed. No action should be performed without a purpose in mind.

The failure of a tactic used against an opponent supplies information, even if this information is as simple as that the approach did not work. The failures should be examined to see where the fault lies in order that a reason for their failure is realised. A failed tactic should not be used against the same opponent again straight after the tactic has failed. It may be used again later in the bout, but only if the evidence serves that the tactic may work the second time. A tactic should not be used a third time, especially if it has failed before.

The idea of fencing is to dominate the opponent and therefore the bout. This should be the aim of the tactics which are created there should be no other reason behind them. If you are able to dominate the opponent this is achieved through the use of effective tactics. How to dominate the opponent is revealed in the information gained from reading the opponent and this can tell us when and how to attack the opponent. The timing and placement of the attack must be based upon the information gained about the opponent in order for it to succeed.

“The tactical approach consists of three parts: prelude or preliminary analysis, preparation, and execution.” (Palffy-Alpar, 1967:47).

The three step approach to fencing tactics needs to happen, and does happen, even if you do not realise it. The simplest tactic, a hole in the opponent's defence is observed, the weapon is brought on-line and the thrust is made. This is a very simple example of the process in action. In more advanced forms of the process there is a great more detail in the process. The detail is what creates the more complex tactical approaches. The three step process is actually missing a step and that is one which comes after the execution and that is evaluation. It is necessary to see whether the tactic worked against the opponent. This is important so that a failed tactic is not repeated if the same evidence is presented. In some ways this can also be added to the analysis part of the approach where the process is used for a second, or further, approach to the opponent.

The first part of the process is analysis where the opponent is observed and information is gained about the opponent. This information is analysed to find where the opponent is weak and what approach would be best against the opponent. This analysis process must be detailed in order that the best planning may be made. The preparation phase of the process is preparing for the approach to the opponent and preparing for using the tactic against the opponent. The last part of this process is getting in the correct position for the first action to be performed. The execution part of the process is putting the tactic into action against the opponent. This must be performed correctly in order for the tactic to be effective. This is the most active part of the process. Finally there is the evaluation to find the final outcome to the use of the tactic against the opponent. This part of the process is important as it tells us what the result of the tactic was and how effective it was against the opponent. This part of the process should lead to the analysis part of the next tactical approach used against the opponent.

While the blog gave no specific ideas about fencing tactics. It is important that this blog focussed on the process and requirements for fencing tactics to be used along with other details of a similar nature. These founding principles are those upon which fencing tactics should be based. There are a different tactics for different approaches for different opponents. This means that if a person was to write about tactics specifically much would have to be taken into account. This would mean that a person could write a great deal on the subject, but it is more important for us to be able to use the process of developing fencing tactics in order that it can be used against all the opponents that we may face.



Barth, Dr. B. and Barth, K. (2003) Learning Fencing, Meyer & Meyer Sport Ltd, Oxford, UK
Beke, Z. and Polgár, J. (1963) The Methodology of Sabre Fencing, Corvina Press, Budapest, Hungary
De Beaumont, C.L. (1960) Fencing: Ancient Art and Modern Sport, Nicholas Kaye, London, UK
Evangelista, N. (2000) The Inner Game of Fencing: Excellence in Form, Technique, Strategy, and Spirit, Masters Press, Illinois, USA
Palffy-Alpar, J. (1967) Sword and Masque, F. A. Davis Company, Philadelphia, USA