The Technical Environment of the Stop Hit

The simple stop hit is probably the most frequently used of fencing’s counteroffensive actions. At the most basic level it simply tries to beat the opponent’s attack in speed or timing. However, successful employment of the stop hit depends on recognition of its unique characteristics and the environment in which it operates.

The stop hit is an attack into an opponent’s attack, stopping that attack from changing the relative score by meeting specific requirements in the fencing rules. In foil and sabre, it is delivered to hit before the attack, scoring a single touch for the fencer who is attacked. In epee it is delivered either to score before the original attack or to score simultaneously to preserve the relative difference in the fencers’ scores. As a practical matter, it is always a simple attack, most often a straight thrust.

Right of Way. Right of way is most influential in foil, as the stop must land before the initiation of the final movement of an attack. This is difficult to achieve, and requires the ability to identify the subtle signs of a developing compound attack so that the stop can arrive during the first action. The opponent can defeat the stop by accelerating the first movement into a simple attack. Right of way still applies at sabre, but the advanced target and the lockout time make the stop a more practical option. Right of way is not a factor in stop hits in epee (as right of way does not apply to epee bouts).

Target. Foil has the most restrictive target, the torso. Both sabre and epee have an advanced target, the arm, which the combination of distance to travel and lockout time makes both vulnerable and a useful stop target.

Distance to Travel. In sabre and epee the advanced target reduces the distance the stop hit has to travel. This means that the stop launched at the same speed against a sabre or epee arm target will hit significantly earlier than a stop hit against the torso in foil.

Lockout Times. Lock out time is the length of time between two hits after which the second hit will not register on the scoring apparatus. The foil lockout time is so long (300 milliseconds) as to not factor in blocking hits. However, in sabre the 120 millisecond lockout means that a cut to the advanced target combined with a rapid retreat has a real chance of timing out the original attack, resulting in a single light. In epee, the 40 millisecond (1/25th of second) lockout makes the epee stop hit a reliable action to either completely defeat the attack or to result in a double hit (when double hits are tactically desirable).

Double Hits. The character of double hits is a critical determining technical factor in stop hit employment. In foil and sabre the double hit (both red and green lights displayed by the scoring machine) requires the application of right of way to determine which hit scores. Only one of the two hits can be awarded the touch. This is a critical limitation for the stop hit in these two weapons because it means that the stop hit is subject to referee interpretation. In epee the stop that beats the attack by 40 milliseconds scores for the counteroffensive fencer; if the stop lands within the 40 millisecond window both fencers are hit, preserving the relative score between them. The ability to beat the attack by 40 milliseconds gives the stop hit exceptional utility as counter offense. Under any conditions, the stop thrust now can hit at any time up to 40 milliseconds after the attack, and still frustrate the attacker’s objective.

In summary, the stop thrust is technically the most difficult in foil, and therefore requires the best tactical preparation. In sabre the stop thrust or cut has the very real chance to time out the attacking action, especially when delivered to the advanced target. And in epee the stop thrust is potentially the most tactically useful because of the much wider time window in which it can be effective. This suggests that coaches should design their lessons to teach how best to exploit the specific technical requirements for the stop in the individual weapon.