In fencing the terms strategy and tactics are not well defined, and are often used interchangeably. Discussions of fencing tactics in the current literature address how actions are chosen and delivered in specific situations. The tactical tree (Szabo 1977, Barth and Beck 2005), the 4 or 6 category tactical wheels (Szabo 1977, Bradford, Thompson 2007), and various rules of thumb help the fencer make decisions about how to fight the next touch. However, these are not a well integrated, systemic view of how to fight the continuum of a bout, a tournament, and a season.
If we examine the elements of fencing, we can identify three different levels of activity: individual actions, bouts, and everything outside the bout.
(1) Offensive, defensive, counteroffensive, preparatory, etc. activities, typically termed actions or techniques or strokes. These are:
… recognized as single actions or combinations of actions within a fencing phrase,
… taught as individual techniques,
… executed in the moment,
… happen multiple times in a bout, and
… are the building blocks of phrases which have a start and ending.
(2) Bouts, whether 1 touch (modern pentathlon and classical epee), 5 touch (pool), 10 touch (veteran direct elimination), 11 or 15 touch (three weapon individual and team), best of 3 bouts (youth direct elimination), 15 touch (direct elimination), or relay (in team competition), are:
… a defined period of fencing, in time, space, and number of hits,
… a period in which the fencer must operate autonomously, with little outside advice,
… with problems that are highly dynamic in speed, timing, distance, line, and technique,
… in which the fencer must operate with his or her own capabilities, analysis of the situation, and choices of actions to defeat an opponent who is doing the same
… with time for analysis and decision making limited, forcing changes within the action or between phrases, while under psychological pressure, and
… constant pressure to perform at a level higher than the opponent with immediate consequences for incorrect choices
(3) Everything outside the bout – the pool, tournament, competition cycle, season, career period (high school, college, senior, veteran), career, differ in that:
… outside advice from a coach is available,
… pressure is relaxed, even if only briefly,
… more information can be analyzed and decisions made after more thorough analysis,
… time is available to change direction (between bouts), technique (between tournaments), physical performance, and even major objectives, and
… this period requires prolonged concentration and dedication.
If this analysis is essentially correct these three major arenas are those which the fencer operates – the action or technique level, the bout, and a long term (everything beyond the bout), Each level’s characteristics call for a different approach, approaches that can be defined by three key terms – actions, tactics, and strategy.