June 20, 2024

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Classical Fencing: Three Counterattacks

3 min read

The counterattack is one of four basic types of fencing actions (along with offense, defense, and actions not intended to hit). It’s purpose is to prevent the successful execution of the opponent’s attack while creating an opportunity for you to score on that action. Today, the range of counterattacks is limited, falling into stop hits (actions without opposition) and time hits (actions which used opposition to close the line). However, in the period 1880-1939 there was considerable variance in the character of counterattacks and what these actions were called. In this article we will examine only actions without opposition.

Sir Richard Burton, in his The Sentiment of the Sword: A Country House Dialog (1911), discusses two actions without opposition, the coup d’arret (stop hit) and the coup sur la temps (hit on time). The later he dismisses as useless because it results in double hits. George Patton, in his Diary of the Instructor in Swordsmanship (1915), identifies three actions, the Stop Thrust, Counter Thrust, and Time Thrust.

When we examine the contents of Burton’s and Patton’s descriptions of actions, we can identify three variants of counterattacks without opposition:

1. The Stop Hit or Thrust (coup d’arret). The Stop Thrust, as described by both Burton and Patton, is a counterattack delivered on an opponent’s attack, when, in a long compound attack, a vigorous rush, or a fault in execution, he exposes target.

2. The Counter Thrust (possibly the same as Burton’s Hit on Time). The Counter Thrust, as described by Patton, is a direct action delivered at the very moment when the opponent starts an attack to exploit a slight delay between conception and initiation. It depends on sensing the moment of initiation. If we parse the difference between “on time” or “in tempo,” stop hits are delivered in tempo, within the tempo of the opponent’s attack. The idea of “on time” seems to imply at the start of the same tempo. This action would seem to meet Burton’s criticism of resulting in double hits.

3. The Time Thrust. The Time Thrust, as described by Patton, is a counterattack delivered without opposition when the opponent changes the line, makes a slow feint, starts to react to an invitation, etc., exposing himself. It is effectively an attack on the initial preparatory blade work of a multiple part action. Note that this is a very different action than the modern Time Hit (the stop hit with opposition) or even the use of the term by contemporary authors.

This set of three types of counterattacks provides a continuum of actions that may be used throughout the life cycle of an opponent’s attack. The Counter Thrust (or Hit on Time if this analysis is correct) attacks the initiation of the attack. The Time Thrust interrupts the tempo of the attack by hitting preparatory blade work before the final action. And the Stop Thrust deals with exposure of the attack in its full development.

The obvious question is whether this level of subdivision is necessary or useful. After all, does it really matter if your conception of a counterattack is that you see him coming and stick out your arm in reaction? Probably not. But if we address the tactical opportunities present in an opponent’s attack and measure the risks against the phase of that action, the concept of three different phasings of the counterattack without opposition has merit.

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