Time actions (the stop hit and the time hit) are actions made into an attack to steal the time from the attack by landing first (the stop in epee), by landing before the final action commences (the stop in foil and sabre), or by intercepting and blocking the final action (the time hit). Countertime actions steal time from the time action; in other words the Countertime steals time from the attempt to steal time. We can distinguish three levels of Countertime actions:
(1) Countertime: There are two basic Countertime actions, defensive countertime and offensive countertime:
Defensive Countertime is often referred to simply as Countertime, and is the form the action most often discussed in fencing texts. Against an opponent who stop hits the fencer initiates an action to draw the counterattack. The fencer then parries the stop hit and ripostes to score in Defensive Countertime. This action is called defensive because a parry is used to defeat the counterattack. In terms of what the opponent and the referee see, this looks like a parry and riposte, and is not easily discernable as a specific tactical choice.
Offensive Countertime is rarely discussed in the fencing literature, perhaps because the prevailing theory is that you defeat a stop hit with a simple attack. However, the idea of Offensive Countertime is important to understanding the tactical flow of the bout. Against an opponent who stop hits the fencer initiates an action to draw a stop hit. The fencer then executes a stop or time hit against the counterattack. This action is called offensive because an offensive (or more properly counter-offensive) action is used to defeat the stop. In terms of what the opponent and the jury see, this looks like a simple attack that accelerates at the end as the opponent attempts to counterattack. However, the fencer has made a distinct choice to defeat the stop hit, not a choice to execute a simple attack against an opponent’s defense.
(2) Feint In Tempo: Feint in Tempo is used by the stop hitting fencer to defeat Defensive Countertime, and to ensure the arrival of the counterattack. In sequence: (a) the opponent starts an attack to draw the stop, (b) the fencer initiates the stop, (c) the opponent starts to execute a parry, and (d) the fencer deceives the parry and hits. The initial action of the stop hit becomes a feint to draw the parry so that it can be avoided.
(3) Counterattack In Tempo: A Counterattack in Tempo is a stop hit on the opponent’s reaction to Defensive Countertime. If the opponent executes Feint in Tempo, the fencer who was attempting to execute Defensive Countertime executes a stop hit into the stop hit. In sequence: (a) the fencer starts an attack to draw the stop, (b) the opponent initiates the stop, (c) the fencer starts to execute a parry, (d) the opponent disengages to deceive the parry, and (e) the fencer stop hits on the disengage. Because the parry in Defensive Countertime should be made while moving forward, this action most probably will appear to the referee as one continuous simple attack.
It is important to note that these actions are complex, require eyes open fencing at attacking speed, and are as much in the mind as in the bladework. In particular offensive countertime and counterattack in tempo look and feel like simple attacks. The difference is in the conception of their application, not in how the blade moves.