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Advanced Fencing Techniques-I

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1. Counter Parries (Applicable primarily to foil and epee, and occasionally with saber)

A good defense is essential to becoming proficient, and the (circular) counter parry can be a very effective defensive tactic. As a matter of fact, various combinations of counter parries can work well against the most experienced fencers, provided that they are executed in proper form with sufficient speed, accuracy, timing and distance. Maestro Faulkner told me that one of his fencers reached the finals of the Nationals using mostly just two counter-parries! It is of great advantage to know all of the eight simple parries first. You may want to go over these methods slowly several times in order to fully understand what is being conveyed.

The need for using counter-parries is required when your opponent is successful in his indirect attacks where the opponent executes a disengage attack. The first movement of his blade can be to your flank and then his point moves under your blade and he scores a touch in your stomach. The counter-parry, or a series of counter-parries can be used to parry the the disengage attack.

Counter parries can be quite effective when executed properly. Either the contre sixte or the contre-carte parry can be used successfully against a simple disengage attack. The contre-tierce parry can as well be used in place of contre-sixte and may actually be faster. When executed smoothly, with minimal movement, these parries become fast and difficult to avoid. This is not so easily accomplished without a great deal of practice.

The contre-carte parry begins with your point on the right of your opponent's blade. Shortly after the start of the opponent's thrust the to your stomach area, bend your wrist such that the point moves slightly upward. Then immediately twist your wrist smoothly in a small clockwise semicircle. This type of movement (Nadi) must be effected with minimal arm movement. Remember that you are countering the disengage of a point that is moving under your blade and toward your flank. The opponent's object is to get around what he believes to be your simple carte parry. At the end of your parry, your blade ends up in the normal carte parry position with a closed line in opposition to your opponent's blade. This parry is executed with minimal arm movement and only a slight bend of the arm at the elbow.

Most of the motion in a parry consists of a bending and twisting of the hand at the wrist (the first three fingers exert the main control for this parry, so loosen the other two fingers). To see how this twisting motion works against high-line attacks, bend your hand slightly at the wrist so that the point has moved somewhat upward. Then twist your wrist in a clockwise motion, all the time trying to keep your arm pointed nearly straight towards your opponent. As you work against an attacking blade, your own blade should be moving slightly forward such that at the instant of the meeting of the blades, your forte (strong part of the blade) meets his foible (weak part of the blade). This circular movement works well against both a simple disengage (single movement) that is executed by your opponent or a compound movement. Once you end up with blade stopped and in opposition (opponents blade out of line with your target area), you having gained right-of-way gained by the parry. Your blade should move in opposition only as far as to be successful, or your parry can be defeated in another type of movement. As is normally the case, the riposte follows immediately with a smooth overall action and ending up with a closed line. When a highly experienced fencer perform this movement properly, the movement will be very smooth and so small that the circular motion may be very slight and hard to see.

The contre sixte parry is executed similarly, but the disengage begins an engagement from your left, instead of your right, and moves in a counter-clockwise circle around the opponent's blade and ending up on your right with opposition and then your counter attack with a direct or indirect thrust.

Note that the counter-parry can also be effective against a simple direct thrust. The blades will meet sooner than expected, so the full counter-parry simply stops when at a direct parry. Although this circular action against a simple thrust might not seem to be an advantage, your opponent can mix direct attacks with indirect attacks, in which case you have both offensive tactics countered. As soon as you feel blade contact at the end of the parry, you should initiate your thrust, being careful to close the line in the process so as to gain right-of-way and protect against a possible remise or a bad call by the director (which never happens, of course). A series of counter-parries can also be helpful when other movements are not working.

The counter parry can, however, be defeated by the doubl'e (pronounced "dooblay") attack, which is simply a full circular movement of the attacker's blade that moves in the same direction as the blade of the defender. In your doubl'e, your blades is moving slightly ahead of his blade, thus avoiding blade contact. This tactic can, in turn be defeated by a second defensive counter parry or direct parry carte in opposition. Thus, multiple offensive movements can be countered by multiple defensive movements as well. These movements can be very fast and complex, so it does take some time to learn how to do them corre

Problems typically occur with excessively large circular movements in parries that may be too slow or too fast to get through the opponent's first movement and end up in a proper parry. The most common problem with these movements are that they are not smooth and may be too large. Also, your counter parry may either begin too soon or too late, giving your opponent the advantage of easily observing and reacting. The movement of the arm is the most likely culprit, which slows downs the action considerably. It is very natural to see circular movements end up being too large, especially with an inexperienced fencer who will tense his arm and generally make large and slow motions. This problem is commonly due to lack of experience, training and natural reaction. The bending, twisting wrist must do most of the motion so that maximum speed is attained, which takes a lot of practice.

For more complex tactics, the combination of multiple contre carte/contre sixte movements, or vice versa, can be particularly effective. To learn how to do manipulate both movements, try to change line of your blade from one position to another prior to any attack. Then you can change from a contre-carte parry to a contre-sixte parry, or vice versa, depending upon the side of engagement. Strategically, the timing of these initial movements should be random so that your opponent cannot preempt your action and counter it effectively. A fencer who has mastered the technique of combining these two defense movements with minimal motion and fast timing has mastered a very strong defensive tactic, especially when used in combination with the control of proper distance. In these advanced movements, the advantage of having an excellent fencing master to guide you cannot be overestimated. Faulkner once pointed to one of his fencers and told me that this fellow had achieved high nationally ranking by successfully using the combinations of just two parries: contre carte and contre sixte!

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