Counteroffensive Fencing Actions Classified

Counteroffensive actions offer the fencer a variety of options against the opponent’s preparation or actual attack. To be able to use these effectively, you must understand where they fit in the tactical opportunities offered by an opponent’s intent to hit you. Czajkowski calls these actions offensive-defensive. I prefer counteroffensive because the action is specifically designed to deny the offense a hit.

Every attack consists of a situation, preparation, and final attacking action. The situation is the combination of the phrase, the distance, and timing that creates the opportunity for attack. Preparation may be mental, the conception by the opponent that an attack is possible, or it may be physical, the footwork, engagement, feints, attacks on the blade, or takings of the blade that advance the final attack. And the final attacking action is the delivery of the final action with intent to score. Into these phases counteroffensive action can be delivered:

The point in line (in the situation). A point in line denies the opponent the opportunity to attack without removing the point, making the preparation of the attack to some degree predictable. In turn it provides the fencer with the point in line the opportunity to debrobe the attempted attack.

Attack on preparation (in preparation). The attack on preparation is executed on the opponent’s attempt to close the distance without effective blade action or when the attack is incorrectly executed (for example, on the step forward of an advance lunge if the arm is not extending, or the attack by derobement when the opponent attempts to take or beat the blade). In some cases it is simply a question of timing. You instinctively attack into the opponent’s action because you somehow know that it is coming, even though the opponent has not yet started to move. I should note that Tau considers the derobement a separate type of counter-attack, but I believe it is a technique that can be used in both attacks on preparation and in stop hits.

Stop hit (in preparation or final attacking action). The stop hit in foil or sabre is a counterattack that lands before the initiation of the final action with the intent of stopping the attack. However, as a practical matter, a stop hit against an attack that is short or that does not land because of poor aim, is effective because it results in one light. In sabre, the situation is even more complex because the stop hit delivered on the advanced target with a step back may arrive early enough to time out the final attack. In epee it only must land more than 1/25 of a second ahead of the attack.

Intercepting stop hit (in preparation or final attacking action). The intercepting stop hit closes a line through which the opponent’s action must pass, effectively serving as a parry and riposte and preventing its completion. For example, an intercepting stop hit can be executed into 8th against a disengage from 6th to 4th in foil or epee.

Time hit, also called a stop hit with opposition (in final attacking action). This action differs from the intercepting stop hit in that it is delivered closing the final line of the attack so that the attack does not arrive. Like the intercepting stop hit it combines the features of parry and riposte. This requires a neat sense of timing and a high degree of confidence that you have identified the final line.

Although most counteroffensive action belongs to the opponent of the fencer who is attacking, there is one counteroffensive action open to the original attacker. The remise or redoublement is effectively a stop hit against the riposte, and is effective if the defender executes the riposte incorrectly or inaccurately.

This range of actions gives you a variety of ways to interrupt the opponent’s attack. They all require judgment, steady nerves, excellent timing, and a high degree of accuracy. When properly executed they are a thing of beauty, and mark superior technical and tactical skill.