Sabre: Counter-cutting

Once your opponent has come to close quarters and both of you are attempting to gain advantage over the other, it is very common for beginning fencers to lapse into a pattern of “take an action, return to guard, take an action, return to guard.”  This “act then reset then act” pattern is unavoidable when one is first learning how to put the various pieces of fencing together, but it’s hugely counterproductive when actually fencing. We want to take an action, and then continue taking action until we win the encounter.

A solution to this is counter-cutting, using attack as offense. We counter-cut specifically because many times our opponent will launch an attack when we are not on guard, and our blade is positioned somewhere else.    The point to counter-cutting isn’t simply not to get hit – we do not counter-cut simply to ward off the opponent’s blade!  Instead, just like our basic parries, our counter-cuts are intended help us achieve a point of advantage.

Counter-cutting achieves one of two things:

  1. Stopping the attack by striking the opponent
  2. Redirecting the opponent’s attack so that the attacker is left vulnerable

Here are various examples of ways which we can counter-cut:

Opponent: Fencer:
Cuts 1 Cuts 1 at opponent’s hand
Cuts 2 Cuts 2 at opponent’s forearm
Cuts 3 Cuts 2 at opponent’s wrist
Cuts 4 Cuts 4 at opponent’s wrist
Cuts 1 Cuts 2 and thrusts
Cuts 2 Cuts 1 and thrusts
Cuts 3 Cuts 4 and thrusts
Cuts 4 Cuts 3 and thrusts

And so on.  This is by no means exhaustive – for a fully-developed list of examples, see the synoptic tables at the end of the manual.

In the first examples, we are not simply standing still while attempting to cut the opponent. We are moving our body so that we redefine the geometry of the engagement (just like we do with basic parries), while cutting in such a way that even if we do not stop the blow outright, we deflect it onto an angle where it will not hurt us.

In the second four examples, we use the curve of the sabre to our advantage by cutting into the side of the opponent’s blade and pushing it past us.  To finish the action by thrusting into the opponent, all we need to do is return to On Guard, and the fighting geometry places the thrust for us.

What our system will never do is to assume that a counter-cut will stop the opponent.  For instance, our method explicitly defends the legs, whereas most systems either ignore the legs, or treat it as an invitation, “refusing the leg” by stepping backwards while striking at the opponent’s head.  This is fine for a sporting bout where the action is stopped on a hit. But what if the blow does not stop the opponent?  What if it misses, or the blow simply lands flat out of sheer bad luck?  What if fighting has dulled our blade, or his hat stops the blow?  Numerous historical cases exist where an opponent was struck several times in the head without being stopped.  In this case, nothing stops the opponent from simply continuing his attack with a thrust into our torso.  By actively protecting the leg, we ensure that this doesn’t happen.

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