This blog is about time and distance as will be noted by the title. This will be a discussion about these concepts and will examine the various elements involved in each of them. First the importance of these concepts to fencing will be discussed. Along with an important realisation about them that must be highlighted in order to understand them properly. Following this will be a discussion of each one of the concepts in some detail in order that each one of the parts of time and distance can be understood.
Time and Distance are key concepts in fencing and indeed all martial arts. Any form of martial arts which involves the engagement of two combatants with one another will involve elements of time and distance. They are so important that they should be included in some way in every lesson that is taught in fencing. They are also important to the development of the fencer as with out them their understanding of what they are doing will be severely limited. Only with a complete understanding of these concepts and how they apply to fencing will the fencer be able to excel. One of the most important realisations of these concepts is that they are relative and not concrete. This means that they cannot be measured in increments of seconds for time or metres or feet and inches for distance.
Time is also known as tempo, in many ways these two terms are interchangeable, so when one is spoken about so is the other. Tempo is about the relative movements of the individual and the opponent. This is important as often time is discussed only with the movement of the individual. It is important that the moevements of the opponent must also be taken into account in order to understand this principle completely. It was stated by Di Grassi that every movement is accomplished in time. What he is stating is that each movement takes time. This is a basic understanding of the concept, but it in some way fails to bring to light that it is not only movement that must be taken into account but stillness as well.
A motion of stillness, or the lack of movement is also a tempo. Thus when counting the tempos it is important that an action must be completed and there is a stillness there. For example, the parry and riposte is counted as such, there is one tempo for the start of the movement, a stillness. There is a tempo involved in the action of the parry, a movement. There is a tempo in the completion of the parry a stillness. There is a tempo involved in the movement of the riposte, and finally a tempo in the completion of the parry, a stillness. In this there will be counted five tempos used.
Time is a concept, timing is the action performed in relation to an opponent. In this it must be noted that while time describes all actions in fencing, timing discusses the actions of fencing in relation to an opponent's actions. It is important that both of these are understood. Time is the overall concept but, timing is also important as it describes the movements in action against an opponent who is also moving. With regard to this time must be understood as a concept, while timing must be felt while fencing against an opponent.
There are some important elements that must be understood with regard to time in order for it to be completely understood. In general for the starting student most of their actions as described by the teacher will be completed in dui tempo, or double time. This means that they will be encouraged to make a solid defence before attempting to make any sort of counter against their opponent. This ensures that the combatant is safe from their opponent's attack before any counter is made.
Stesso tempo, often called single time, literally means self time. This is an action which combines the action of defence and counter-attack in a single motion, hence being referred to as single time. This motion is often developed from the smooth motion of a fencer who knows dui tempo well and is able to combine the two actions into a single one. What is important with regard to this concept is that there is a defence made, but it is done in combination with the counter-offensive action.
Contra-tempo, means against time. This means that an attack is launched when the fencer should be parrying the opponent's attack. What is important in this particular concept is that the attack is not launched without any concept of defence, the defence is usually ensured by displacement of the body or the blade engagement witht the opponent. Without this defence in place it would be highly likely that both fencers will be struck.
Mezzo tempo, or half time, is one of the more difficult concepts to understand. What it means is that an action is performed in the middle of the opponent's action in order to counter it. This is often confused with contra-tempo. The most common action performed in mezzo tempo is an attack to the opponent's hand or arm as it is moved forward in the attack, a stop hit to this part of the body. This effectively counters the opponent's attack before it is completed. This is the primary goal of the mezzo tempo action, to counter the action of the opponent before it is completed.
The slowest form of time is dui tempo as more tempos are spent in its action, but it is also the safest from the straight attack. Stesso tempo is highly effective when used and very fast as it uses very few tempos in its execution. The same could be said of contra-tempo as a similar action is often being performed when compared to stesso tempo. Of the times mezzo tempo is actually the fastest as it counters the opponent's action before it is allowed to be completed, this in half time. What needs to be taken into account with regard to these concepts is how they affect fencing and how each of them use time to their advantage, and what each advantage gains the opponent. This is one of the keys to developing timing.
With regard to time there is also the concept of the time of the hand and the time of the foot, these being the two most dominant. The time of the hand is any movement involving the use of the hand or the arm. The time of the foot is any movement of the feet. For the fencer it is important to realise that the time of the hand is faster than the time of the hand, and this needs to be taken into account. The hand should always be moved before the foot, this sounds contradictory to the speeds which have been described, but it is important that the defence, or offence of the weapon is in place before the foot moves the body. This is most important in the lunge. If the foot is moved forward first the body is presented as a target. If the hand is moved forward first then a threat is aimed at the opponent which they must deal with before being able to attack. The same things apply in defence. A parry should be made before a retreat is made in order to control the opponent's weapon for the same reason that the hand is moved first in the lunge.
Distance, also known as measure or misura. These terms are interchangeable and as with time it is a relative measurement which is dependent on the movements of both the individual and the opponent. Both of the combatants can and often do affect the measure. Every movement of the fencers either increases or decreases the measure. It must be realised that if only one moves then the measure is changed, if both move the measure may or may not be changed. It is the movement of the body through the use of footwork that increases or decreases measure. The choice of whether to move to increase or decrease the measure is dependent on the particular situation and the preference of the combatants.
With regard to measure there are two main distances which are discussed, stretta and larga, narrow and wide distance. Misura stretta, narrow distance, is where the combatants can reach one another by a simple extension of the arm, with or without the assistance of the body. Misura larga, wide distance, is where the combatants can only reach one another through the movement of the feet and the extension of the arm, with or without the assistance of body movement. These are two important concepts as they are integrally involved in the motions of fencing. Most simple attacks will be made at the misura stretta where a simple thrust is sufficient to strike the opponent, whereas more complex actions are required for use of an attack at misura larga. A fencer's on guard position should be adopted at the misura larga because the opponent requires foot movement in order to attack and this is more easily visible than a simple hand movement. This is related to the time of the hand and foot which were discussed previously. Essentially, misura larga is at the time of the foot whereas misura stretta is all at the time of the hand.
Two distances which are often not discussed as much as narrow and wide distance are close distance and out of distance. Close distance is a measure inside that of misura stretta, while out of distance is a distance outside that of misura larga. Close distance is often the result of two combatants closing with one another while at misura stretta, while out of distance is usually the result of one of the combatants retreating while at misura larga. Close distance as described is referred to by Capo Ferro as extra narrow distance or misura strettissima and is most often used for the execution of the mezzo tempo attack as described above, but it can also be used to refer to the situation as described above. Out of distance or fuori misura, is where the fencers cannot reach one another even with the use of a foot movement.
Some fencers may have a preference for a particular distance. This is often based on where they feel that they can gain the greatest advantage out of the situation. What is most important is that this consideration should be made dependent on the opponent rather than any personal preference. It would be foolish to close with an opponent who prefers to fight close, and it would be foolish to stay at range with an opponent who prefers that distance. With regard to this any preference for distance can actually limit the fencer, in all cases the fencer should be adept at being able to use distance to their advantage and use the distance which is most appropriate to the situation.
Just as time is affected by distance, so too is distance affected by time. At the misura stretta all actions are at the time of the hand, this makes for very fast movements and often single tempos being used. At misura larga actions are at the time of the foot, and thus two tempos are required for the effective use of an action, one of the foot and one of the hand in order to reach the opponent. At misura strettissima, half tempo actions are used this can make for a very messy situation if the combatants are struggling with one another. In general, when combatants are at fuori misura actions are much to slow to be performed against the opponent due to the time taken to close the distance. These examples describe the important relationship between the two concepts, and it must be realised that the should not be talked about separately as they are so intertwined.
Time and distance are two concepts without which a true understanding of fencing is not possible. They should be integrated into every lesson that is taught by the teacher so that the students get used to using the terms and how they affect fencing. It is important that the concepts which have been presented are understood not only alone but also in association with one another. Time and distance are very much intertwined and to discuss one means discussing the other. More than understanding the concepts the fencer must also be able to apply these and understand where they are present while actually fencing. This develops a feeling for the concepts while they are in motion and with this feeling the fencer will have a great advantage over an opponent who does not understand them and cannot feel them in motion.