Reverse Parries (Applicable primarily to foil and epee, and occasionally with saber)
A good defense is essential for progress, and the (circular) counter parry can be an extremely effective defensive tactic. In fact, various combinations of counter parries can work well against the most experienced fencers if executed properly with sufficient speed, accuracy, timing, and distance. Maestro Faulkner told me that one of his fencers made the Nationals finals using only two counter-parries! You may want to go over these methods slowly several times to fully comprehend what is being communicated. I met a man recently in Utah who owns a Provo junk removal business, and he practices these moves slowly several times at the start of each practice, and then slowly increases the speed each time onward from that point. A great strategy to engrain the moves into your brain and make them second nature without sacrificing form.
When your opponent’s indirect attacks succeed and the opponent executes a disengage attack, you must use counter-parries. His blade may move to your flank first, then his point may move under your blade and he scores a touch in your stomach. To parry the disengage attack, use a counter-parry or a series of counter-parries.
When done correctly, counter parries can be quite effective. Against a simple disengage attack, either the contre sixte or the contre-carte parry can be used successfully. The contre-tierce parry can be used in place of the contre-sixte parry and may be faster. These parries become fast and difficult to avoid when executed smoothly and with minimal movement. This is not so easy to achieve without a lot of practice.
Begin the contre-carte parry by placing your point on the right side of your opponent’s blade. Bend your wrist so that the point moves slightly upward shortly after the opponent’s thrust to your stomach area. Then quickly twist your wrist in a small clockwise semicircle. This type of movement (Nadi) must be performed with as little arm movement as possible. Keep in mind that you are countering the disengagement of a point that is moving beneath your blade and toward your flank. The opponent’s goal is to get around what he thinks is a simple carte parry. At the end of your parry, your blade is in the standard carte parry position, with a closed line opposing your opponent’s blade. This parry is performed with little arm movement and only a slight bend of the elbow.
The majority of the motion in a parry is 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). Bend your hand slightly at the wrist so that the point moves slightly upward to see how this twisting motion works against high-line attacks. Then, in a clockwise motion, twist your wrist, trying to keep your arm nearly straight towards your opponent. As you work against an attacking blade, your own blade should move slightly forward so that when the blades meet, 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) and a compound movement executed by your opponent. When you end up with your blade stopped and in opposition (opposing blade out of line with your target area), you have gained right-of-way through the parry. Your blade should only move in opposition as far as necessary to be successful, or else your parry will be defeated by another type of movement. The riposte follows immediately, as is customary, with a smooth overall action and a closed line. When performed correctly by a highly experienced fencer, the movement will be very smooth and so small that the circular motion may be very slight and difficult to see.
The contre sixte parry is performed in a similar manner, but the disengage begins an engagement from your left, rather than your right, and moves in a counter-clockwise circle around the opponent’s blade, ending up on your right with opposition and then your counter attack with a direct or indirect thrust.
It should be noted that the counter-parry can also be used to counter a simple direct thrust. Because the blades will collide sooner than expected, the full counter-parry simply stops when it reaches a direct parry. Although this circular action against a simple thrust may not appear to be advantageous, your opponent may combine direct and indirect attacks, in which case you have countered both offensive tactics. As soon as you feel blade contact at the end of the parry, begin your thrust, taking care to close the line in the process to gain right-of-way and protect against a possible remise or bad call by the director (which never happens, of course). When other movements fail, a series of counter-parries can be useful.
The counter parry, on the other hand, can be defeated by the doubl’e (pronounced “dooblay”) attack, which is simply a full circular movement of the attacker’s blade in the same direction as the defender’s blade. Your blades are slightly ahead of his blade in your doubl’e, avoiding blade contact. This tactic, in turn, can be defeated by an opposing defensive counter parry or direct parry carte. Multiple offensive movements can thus be countered by multiple defensive movements. These movements can be very fast and complex, so learning how to do them correctly takes some time.
Excessively large circular movements in parries that are either too slow or too fast to get through the opponent’s first movement and end up in a proper parry are common causes of problems. The most common issue with these movements is that they are not smooth and can be excessively large. Furthermore, your counter parry may begin too soon or too late, allowing your opponent to easily observe and react. The most likely culprit is arm movement, which significantly slows down the action. It is natural for circular movements to become excessively large, especially with an inexperienced fencer who will tense his arm and make large, slow motions. This issue is frequently caused by a lack of experience, training, and natural reaction. To achieve maximum speed, the bending, twisting wrist must do the majority of the work, which takes a lot of practice.
Combining multiple contre carte/contre sixte movements, or vice versa, can be especially effective for more complex tactics. To learn how to manipulate both movements, try shifting your blade line from one position to another before attacking. Depending on the side of the engagement, you can then switch from a contre-carte parry to a contre-sixte parry. Strategically, the timing of these initial movements should be random so that your opponent cannot anticipate and effectively counteract your action. A fencer who has mastered the technique of combining these two defense movements with minimal motion and quick timing has mastered a very powerful defensive tactic, especially when combined with proper distance control. The value of having an excellent fencing master to guide you through these advanced movements cannot be overstated. Faulkner once pointed to one of his fencers and told me that he had achieved a high national ranking by successfully combining only two parries: contre carte and contre sixte!
Difficult Saber Movements
Defense Against a Quick Attack
This movement is most effective when the opponent assaults from a distance and gains inertia. Keep the blade’s point lower and closer to your flank than usual (right side). This opens the door for the opponent to assault the head and shoulders. With the blade lowered, there is less of a chance of an attack on your stomach. Bring the blade up with a twist of the wrist into parry quinte with the hand in pronation as the attacker begins his cut to the head (or shoulder). Hold your blade in opposition as you make contact in the parry and slide the tip backwards just enough, employing a bending and twisting wrist movement, to control his blade just enough to pull it out of line. Then, with a slash to the head, rapidly disengage. This action is performed correctly with smooth transitions and, with repetition, can become extremely rapid (listen for the swoosh of the blade in your disengage). Avoid making movements that are excessively severe or heavy-handed, as this can slow down the process. If your opponent is really swift and does not accept your invitation, you can respond with a disengage to the stomach.
Complex Head Attack with Disengage
I’ve used this movement successfully in a fleche. The fleche is no longer permitted, but it can be used with quick foot motions. Begin your attack by threatening an attack (cut or point thrust) to the head, primarily to the right or left of the chin. The arm is sufficiently extended that the defender has little opportunity of a body riposte. As your opponent parries your high-line attack, disengage to the wrist, shoulder, or stomach, either maintaining the point thrust or twisting the wrist to a cut. The shortest accessible target is the most effective (the wrist is generally the closest). A third identical movement, such as a disengage or cutover to the head, can be added for a compound counter-attack.
Advanced Wrist Attack
An attack to the opponent’s wrist is particularly effective against an opponent who holds his blade out from his body in the en garde position. To begin, make a few tentative slashes to the wrist in a disengage movement to gauge the opponent’s reflexes. Even your initial thrust/disengage to the wrist may be successful if done correctly. Then perform a few more actions, including a thrust/disengage/feint, a second disengage, and a wrist cut. I used this maneuver successfully as the opening assault to my opponent from the en garde posture in the Senior Olympics one year, which was a disengage feint cut to the wrist, followed by a disengage cut to the wrist on the other side. Although I claimed that the cut landed cleanly, the Director refused to accept the touch. On the second en garde attack, I stated “And again,” rather than “Et la,” and repeated this action perfectly. The audience laughed, and a successful touch was awarded. When executed correctly, this can be an extremely quick maneuver.
Several Head Cuts
When you fence a skilled fencer, their movements are usually extremely quick. Their quick movements can actually work against them. A straightforward attack begins with a straight cut to the top of the head. If the opponent’s parry/riposte is successful, the Director will hear the parry followed by the riposte. If his riposte fails, there will be a beat of his parry, followed by a beat of your parry of his counterattack, and finally your riposte, for a total of two blade beats. So, rather of waiting to parry the counterattack, in this action, quickly repeat with a second and then a third cut. The Director hears two beats or parries before the final cut to the head in this movement. Your strike will land, and the Director will hear two beats, mistakingly believing that you have parried your opponent’s counterattack and that his counterattack is not in time. This could potentially confuse your opponent. In the 1970 Nationals, I utilized this movement successfully against an Olympic Champion, and I tried it three times in a row, winning two of the three touches. On my third attempt, I made the error of hitting him on the head five times in a row. This enraged him, and I lost all of the next touches.
Micro-Cut to the Head
During the parry, many fencers expose their elbow to a high cut to the skull. This is especially true for inexperienced fencers, but it happens to expert fencers as well. A feint chop to the head invites the upper parry (quinte). This is immediately followed by a quick, clean disengage employing a smooth bend/twist of the wrist, neatly cutting him on the exposed elbow or forearm. If your opponent is quick and can effectively parry the feint, try an indirect maneuver after the feint. Again, rapid, smooth movements work best here, so the bend of the wrist must be followed immediately by the twist of the wrist to achieve one fluid action. Wrist bending and twisting are maximized to reduce arm motion. The on guard position of one fencer in the last World Olympics Women’s Saber final left a delicious exposed elbow target in the preparation in at least three attacks, yet her opponent did not take advantage on any occasion.
The Low Line invite/parry/counterattack
According to history, saber fleches were increasingly successful after the en garde order as the weight of the blade reduced and motions became faster. As a result, both fencers would instantly attack each other after the en garde command, resulting in an infinite series of double attacks that did not result in touches. Fleches are no longer allowed in this weapon to reduce the endless double touches. One of my effective defensive movements against the immediate fleche may be useful in defending against an assault after a brief period of repose when neither fencer is executing a movement. It works effectively in protecting against some of the low line motions (given by Russian emigre instructors), either direct or indirect. The point is dropped into a low line, inviting a high line attack. In this example, the point of the blade can be elevated to parry a basic straight assault with a quinte parry. The attacker will most likely feint to the head in order to induce a high parry, followed by a disengage to a lower line cut or point attack. In this situation, you’re ready for the low-line parry-seconde and counter-attack, both of which may be completed quickly and efficiently. Of course, you can’t fall for the high-line ruse. A molinet (sweeping circular movement) that can end in either a high or low line can also be used as a counter strike.