The Value of Timing in Tactics
by Zbigniew Czajkowski
"Fencing is a game of subtlety, and bluff can be met with counter-bluff"
Charles L. de Beaumont
The following could be considered among the most important aims of a
tactical fight and the most salient aspects in fencing.
Purposeful and efficient application of tactical principles on the
strip depends upon the general physical fitness, tecnical skill and degree
of psychological prepardness.
- Very generally one may say that the main purpose of a fencing action is to
forestall or be ahead of the opponent. In epee this is literal.
One has to forestall the opponent in time. A hit, to be valid has to be a
fraction of a second earlier. In sabre and foil forestalling takes a more
subtle form. A sabreur or foilist, when counter-attacing, must either
close the line of the opponent's attack or be ahead in a period of fencing
time. In offensive actions he fights to be ahead in gaining the right of
way - he must be first to initiate the attack and that not only in his own but,
above all, in the president's opinion. The conception of forestalling or
keeping ahead of the opponent is expressed not only by the mere speed of
movment but also, and perhaps above all, by the necessity for more
selective and acute perception and by the necessity for faster
translation of information. To put the idea colloquially the fencer has to
be a thought ahead of his opponent.
- A factor of immense tactical importance is surprise - the
ability to act in a way unpredictable for the opponent. The more skillful
the fencer in exploiting this element of surprise, the less his opponent
will be able to anticipate the time, speed type and intention of the
- A very important feature and aim of tactical combat is the ability to
gain the appropriate distance in a situation
most inconvenient for the opponent. For example, if, after manoeuvring,
one gains lunging distance at a moment when the opponent is concentrated
and waiting for an attack, it is not sufficient. It is far more valuable
to gain the distance when the opponent is temporaily off balance, not
concentrated or expectiong something quite different. Generally speaking,
one may state that practically all fencing actions and the fotwork
accompanying them aim, in a way, at gaining "nearness" while
preserving combat initiative.
- Of equal importance in tactics is recognition and understanding of the
opponent's actions and intentions, at the same time concealing one's own.
and misleading him (confusion of display).
- Tactics in their application are connected with technique and other
factors of training and fights. This point will be discussed below.
- The main task of tactical fencing activities are: a) to avoid beeing
hit, b) to prepare an action and, c) to score a hit. These tasks are given
here in a logical time sequense, but in preactice they are intermingeles.
The ability to conduct a bout and use proper tactics is closley connected
with the fencer's psychological state, his power of concentration and
self control Undue nervousness, over exciatation, lack of confidence,
overestimation of the opponent's strenght, apathy, insufficient warming
up, prevalence of inhibitory processes - all these factors may hamper the
fencer in conduction a tactical bout, realisation of tactical solutions
and display of his tecnical abilities. Conversly, self control, adequate
degree of excitation and consciousness of his own experience and tecnical
and tactical abilities positivley influence the pyschological stat of the
fencer, increasing his calm assurance, dexterity and courage in action.
Choice of time (l'a propos)
L'a propos est la faculte qui nous permet de choisir le moment le plus
favourable a l'execution d'une action d'escrime"
Paul Pattesti and Louis Prost
For tactics to be successfull careful attention must be paid to choice of
time. Every fencer, even one who has just begun to do loose play, has been
told and realises from experience how important it is to choose the right
time for attacking his opponent. Of course we realise that the expression
"choice of time" is inadequate. There is also a question of distance,
tactical situation and taking the opponet b surprise, all of which make a
very complicated phenomenon nerly as difficult to describe as the conception
of time or space.
It has been noticed long ago that certain situations are more conductive to
scoring a hit. This has been called in English "timing" or "choice of
time", in Italian "scelta di tempo", in french "L'a propos". The
expression used by Polis fencers "zaskoczenia" (literal translation -
"surprise") or "wyczucie zaskoczenia" (feeling of surprise) better depicts
the situatuin than an expression which only consideres the element of
Most fencers textbooks, while stressing the element of "choice of time"
delicatly side step the difficult problem of defining, describing and
The well-known fencing masters Paul Battesti and Louis Prost simply call
it the ability to choose the moment most favourable for the
execution of a fencing action.
Kazimerz Laskowski, the director of the military scool of fencing before
the war in Warsaw stated that "tempo or surprise is the moment of
taking unawares an opponent who, at that particular moment, is hit most
easily by an unexpected action".
Janos Kevey gives his conception of timing as follows: "by the expression
Tempo we mean the moment which is the most favourable for the
beginning and execution of fencing action... in such a moment the opponent
is helpless and not capable of makeing a defensive moment".
The Hungarian author of a known textbook on sabre fencing Zoltan Ozoray
Schenker wrote "a fencer must catch the moment when his opponent
it totally or partially incapable of an action", and "such favorable
moments occur when the opponent executes badly thought out
purposeless blade movments or footwork, when his attention is distracted
and his readiness for action is diminished. Such moments occur also when
the opponet is, for example, preoccupied with planning the bout or is
distressed by its unsuccessful course".
"L'a propos... c'est l'art de profiter des inattentions ou des fautes
adverses a l'instant precis ou elles se produissent". Paul Clery.
Well known to British readers, Professor Leon Bertrand in his "Cut and
Thrust" describes timing in sligtly more detail and in combination with
other elements. He advises that, in construction of attacks the fencer
should employ three essentials: "what the italias call 'scelta di tempo -
choice of time, judgement of distance and speed. They are three further
lodes in the main stratum. The first is by far the most important of the
tree. Assuming the possession of the highest technique, the sabreur stands
or falls by the presdence or lack of this vital sense. Choice of time means
the selection of psycholociga moment to launch the offensive. It means
executing the movment when your opponent is unprepared or least expects
it. That is choice of time in broadest significance. The final definition
of 'scelta di tempo' is the seizing of the precise fraction of a second
to move at the slightest sign of mental irresolution on the part of
your rival. He may be keyed up to the highest pitch of concentration yet
that fractional measure of time must come when, by some movment of thought,
that concentration wavers. This lapse must be reflected by some sign,
infitesimal perhaps, but it is your "cue", your signal, and on this golden
opportunity you must act immediateley. If we could imagine a higly
sensitive machine registering a graph of your adversary's mental
concentration, we should visulise an undulation line and we should attack
with every downard turn of the pen, with the recording of each
Generally it is accepted that when a fencer catches his opponent by surprise,
when the opponent is off balance and not fully concentrated that the fencer has
chosen the right "tempo". Everybody knows that it is extremly difficult to
sustain the highest concentration of attention for a very long time and invariably
lapses of attention occur in a bout; a fencer, concentration on his own attack,
may forget about his defence; a competitor manouvering on the stip may expose
himself dangerously to his opponent's action; a fencer executing blade movments
may open certain lines of his target - such and similar situations may be
taken advantage of for surprise action. The ability to take advantage of and
instantly take advantage of such situations is usually inborn but it may be
further developed by special exercises and constitutes the "sixth sense" of a
When describing the clever seizing of opportunity to score a hit and in the
majority of definitions (see above) the expression of "movment" and "time" are
commonly used. Even the names given to the "sixth sense" of the fencer by
various fencing schools are closely connected with the conception of time.
And yet it is very obvious that this is not a question of mere time. The
opportune application of an action in a bout, taking the opponent unawares is
closly connected with many factors of the tactical situation such as distance,
movments of the two fencers, the opponent's state of attention etc. etc.
"Timing" or fencers "feeling for surprise" may be, perhaps, a little more
exatly described as the choice of occasion, closley connected with the
opponents activities and attitude with the general situation of a bout, most
favourable for the successful execution of an action.
A fencer may take advantage of potentially suitable situations or he may
himself create situations suitable to his purpose by careful preparatory
The above definition, like all attempts at simple definitions of complicated
phenomena, is inadequate. In order to better understand the "scelta di tempo", so
complex and difficult to define, and yet so important in fencing, we have to
discuss it more fully on the base of personal experience as competitor and
coach, observation of many tournaments, reflections and literature.
The right choice of time using the expression in English for as I know no
better expression in English, means, in a very broad sense,: to surprise, to
attack, to take by surprise etc.
Prof. Tadeusz Kotarbinski, one of the creators of praxeology, writing his
general teory of conflict, when talking about surprise, stated: "We may assume
that taking the opponent unaware derives its techical value from
anticipation and from misleading the opponet or, at least, from taking
advantage of the opponent's mistakes or lack of knowledge" (this last
here meaning lack of information or inadequate appreciation of the
Let us now analyse this element in a fencing fight. Since a tactical
intention (task, resolution, solution) has changes of success only when
it is executed in the right time (Greek "kairos", French "l'a propos"
Russioan "moment") and is adequate to a given solution it is obvious that it is
very important a) to be able to seize the opportunity to launch an
attack or any other, b) to display psychological resitence in view of
the opponent' sudden attack.
Every manifestion of "timing" ("fencing surprise") understood as an
opportunity to score a hit, has two aspects:
Neither positive nor negative time occurs separatley. In a fight they
occur as two aspects of the same situation, comprising both external
and psychological factors. What is "positive" for one fencer is
"negative" for his opponent and vice versa.
a situation - a complex of conditions - giving possibilities of
reciving a hit (beeing caugth unawares, beeing attacked when one least
expects it.). This might be called "negative time" or "negative
a situation favourable to scoring a hit (catching the opponent by
surprise, catching the opponet unawares). This might be called
"positive time" or "positive surprise".
The full an successful taking advantage of right timing - "positive
surprise" - i.e. scoring a hit, may happen only with the occurence of
adequate complex of various factors such as distance, speed, movments,
The feeling for "fencing surprise" is inborn but, under the influence
of training, it improves in that: a) the ability to recognise and take
advantage of appropriate situationsincreases with practice and
experience b) the resistamce to opponenent's surprise action is also
"Negative surprise" often leads to temporary escape of technique, both
in standard of execution and repertoire of strokes. A high degree of
fencer's skill, good automatisation and variety of motor habit
patterns and ease of application of technique are fundamental factors
in increasing the fencer's psychological and technical resistance to
"negative surprise". By developing in the course of training tecnical
prowess, general fitness, accuracy of perception, speed of reaction
and movments one and at the same time shapes "sense of fencing
surprise", choice of time.
In an attempt to penetrate more deeply into the phenomen of "timing"
let us try to classify it.
Thus a competition who "pics up" the initiative and begins a movment
may crate a situation in which he falls into "negative time" and
receives a hit or, to the contrary, a fencer who initates the
development of a certan tectical situation creates for himself the
advantage of "positive time" and so scores a hit.
Among the manifestations of "fencing surprise" are situations which: a)
a competitor, usually when defending himself, takes advantage of the
situation which has arisen mostly on the opponent's initative; b) the
situation given rise to the "fencing surprise" is created by the
fencer, mostly attacker, who imposes his movments and initiative.
We could further differentiate the ways in which a competitor percives
and assesses the tactical situation (only after the assessment of a
given situatuion its motor complemet in the form of a fencing action
may follow) as: a) visual, b) tactile, c) kinesthetic or d) auditory.
In assessing a situation not only one receptor is involved but
several, to varying degrees, e.g. not only touch but touch and sigth
and motor-muscular sense; not only sight but sight and hearing. For
example, in the execution of parry-riposte a very important role is
played by tactile sensation but under the control of sight;
in timing the beginning of attack to the movement of the opponent's
feet not only sightbut hearing the rhythm of steps plays a large part.
Usually, howerver, one sense a
role in the perception of a particular situation.
To give detalied examples of various manifestations of "fencing
surprise" would be space consuming and not entirely necessary as any
fencer will do this for himself, calling on the reservesof his rich
experience. The most important factors concerning "fencing surprise"
can be summarised in the following concise points:
In our discussion on "fencing surprise" instead of time and
Moment we have stressed the importance of a complex tactical
situation comprising many various factors (which, like all material
phenomena, takes place in time.
"Fencing surprise" is an integral part of any bout and an
essential factor in the result of the bout.
"Feeling for timing" is inborn but should be cultivated in
fencers by perfecting technique, reaction and tactics together.
The concious strengthening of a fencer's resistance to unexpected
situations requirea a very high automotisation of movment - a very
high degree of acqusition of motor habit patterns. This facilitates the
switch of attention from the execution of movments towards: choice of
time, tactical situation and variety of action.
The constant tempo and character of movements (rythm, direction,
amplitude and speed) makes the correct assessments of situation and
choice of counter-action comparatively easy. Every change in rythm,
speed, strenght and amplitude of movments interferes with the correct
assessment of the tactical situation. This caused the decisision to be
either delayed or incorrect.
The above is propably connected with various processes of
inhibition and excitation in the brain cortex and requires further and
detalied study by physiologists and psychologist.
Foil Fencing: Concepts and Terms
by David Glasser
Lines -- according to the French system of fencing, space above your bell
guard is high line; space below is low line. For right-handers, the space
to the right of their bell guard is outside line; space to the left of the
guard is inside line. Thus we have four quadrants known as lines:
high-outside, high-inside, low-outside, and low-inside. As the fencer's
bell guard moves around, his target surfaces they may be found in different
lines. For example, an octave invito with the bell guard next to the front
thigh would leave the flank in that fencer's high-inside line. Should that
fencer assume a lifted septime parry his flank would be in his low outside
closed distance -- The opposing fencer is so close that you must
withdraw your weapon arm to bring the point of your foil to
short distance -- You can reach your opponent's target surface by
simply extending your arm.
middle distance -- You can reach your opponent's target surface by
long distance -- You can reach your opponent's target surface by
advance-lunging, jump-lunging, or fleching.
out-of-distance -- You are beyond long distance.
Critical distance -- you are so close to your opponent that you can
hit him with an attack before he can physically respond.
Analysis: (the referee's account the of various fencing actions leading up to
a hit in combat):
"In line" or "point-in-line" -- The weapon arm and weapon are extended and
held pointing straight at the opponent's target surface. Such a passive
threat must not be lept upon by that opponent. This passive threat must have
been clearly established before any offensive action begun by the opponent if
it is to be recognized as a "point-in-line."
The attack -- the initial offensive action, wherin the attacker actively and
progressively threatens his opponent with being hit; usually begun by
extending the arm and penetrating across the fencing distance through the use
of footwork. Attacks may be simple (executed in one period of fencing time),composed (including one or more feints), prepared (as preceded by a beat,
a change of engagement, a pris de fer preparation, etc.), direct (into the
same line as the engagement), or indirect (into a different line from that of
The riposte -- thrust you make immediately after parrying an opponent's
A delayed riposte -- when a riposte is not made immediately after the parry
and the opponent begins a remise first, the remise of the attack will have
priority of action.
The counter-riposte -- the thrust made immediately after parrying your
The second counter-riposte -- the thrust made immediately after parrying your
opponent's counter-riposte, etc.
The remise -- a second thrust you make right after your first thrust into
that line fails to hit. Such an action should be analysed as a remise of
the attack, a remise of the riposte, etc. It is possible to make a remise
of any type of thrust. Remises are commonly used against opponents that do
not riposte after parrying. The remiser does not appreciably withdraw his
weapon arm in making his remise.
The counter-attack -- thrusting against an attack instead of parrying it.
The derobement -- avoiding your opponent's attempt to strike or take your
blade (usually during his preparation to attack).
The trompement -- made at the end of a feint, deceiving your opponent's parry
and hitting him. Note that deceiving your opponent's parry involves
completely avoiding it. No grazing contact may occur, else the feint is
considered to have been parried.
A period of fencing time -- the time it takes to execute a single fencing
action (such as a parry, a remise, a thrust, etc.). This is relative time,
not absolute time.
Cadence -- the rhythm and sequence of a series of consecutive periods of
fencing time. A skilled fencer will use changes in cadence to cause the
opponent to mistime his defence. Cadence is also sometimes called "tempo."
In-fighting -- fencing at closed distance.
Transitions (movements between parry positions):
Lateral (quarte to sixte, septime to octave, and vice-versa).
Vertical (octave to lifted sixte, octave to lifted septime and vice-versa)
Circular (the counter parries: contre de sixte, contre d'octave, etc.)
Semi-circular (sixte to septime, octave to quarte, and vice-versa)
Transfers -- moving the opponent's blade around with your bell guard and
Prises de fer (either as a preparation or as a thrust) -- taking the
Opposition -- deflecting the opponent's blade with your bell guard while
thrusting at him.
Envelopment -- transferring the opponent's blade around in circular
fashion to the same position the envelopment began from.
Bind -- transferring the opponent's blade around in semi-circular
fashion to the diagonally opposite position. For example, the sixth
bind thrust would begin with opposition septime and finish in
opposition sixte. The fourth bind would begin in octave and finish
Croise -- normally made as a riposte which transfers the opponent's blade
up or down to the vertically opposite position. Unlike binds,
croises are numbered from their starting positions. Also called
Engagement -- Fencing with the blades crossed in a contact state. Fencing
without engagements is fencing with "absence of blade."
Disengagement -- changing lines by going around the opponent's bell guard.
Counter-disengagement -- avoiding an opponent's change of engagement. Also
deceiving an opponent's counter-parry.
Invito -- inviting an attack by taking up an en garde in an exaggerated parry
Press -- forcefully opening a closed engagement. Also invites a disengage.
Interception thrust -- a strong thrust which interposes the bell guard or
forte athwart the path of an opponent's disengagement. This action is
usually made as a type of counter-offensive action. Also known as
Arret a bon temps -- a counter-offensive action which hits the opponent
before he initiates his final action. Thus it is a period of fencing time
ahead and gains priority of action. Also known as a "stop-hit" or
Coup de temps -- a counter-offensive thrust made with opposition which
deflects an opponent's thrust. Also known confusingly as a "time-hit."
Attacking in second intention -- attacking without the intention to hit
immediately, but rather anticipating the opponent's riposte and setting up
a dynamic counter-riposte action to deal with it.
Tension parry -- resisting the pressure of an opponent's opposition thrust
by forcing blade and arm into a strong opposition parry which through brute
force closes the threatened line. Tension parries are vulnerable to timely
disengagements and may also result in pulling a muscle in the fore-arm.