Modern Fencing: The Distances – A Tempo and Movement Based Approach

By | January 19, 2024

Distance plays a crucial role in modern fencing. The simplest is the distance problem: “Can I hit the enemy’s target area with my weapon, or do I have to use footwork to change the distance in order to hit?” Typically, this problem is described in terms of short, medium, and long range, in that order. In highly mobile modern fencing, this is an undercharacterization of the distance problem.

We must first define the distance. The distance was defined as the physical distance between the two fencers measured at the extension and whether footwork (the lunge and the forward lunge) is required to carry that extension of the weapon to the target. Given the differences in overall range, saber and sword, advanced aim, and multiple ranges depending on intended target and enemy mobility, this was never really satisfying. For example, a fencer may be at traditional middle range (lunge), but in order to catch an opponent, he must execute the attack through an advanced lunge, within the opponent’s reaction time and OODA loop.

The first change when thinking about modern distances is to reorder the distance from further away to closer to the target. We do not launch short-range attacks with overtime. We need to reach the distance where overtime can hit.

Second, there are two types of distances, yours and your opponent’s, and multiple subsets in epee and saber based on the target being attacked and the target being defended.

Third, we need to factor the opponent’s tactical intent into the equation. An attack by the opponent that breaks the distance is no longer within lunge distance and was actually never tactically intended by the two fencers.

Fourth, we must use actual tempo as the determinant of distance. A lunge attack, even a rapidly accelerated lunge, is a two-tempo action and inherently lasts longer and is therefore tactically slower than a lunge attack. This is independent of how the rules define a forerun lunge for right of way purposes.

Finally, there are three special cases. Counterattack occurs within a tempo. Melee distance and passing distance are two special cases where the action occurs independently of tempo (fight) and as an expanding tempo (pass).

So what’s a better approach? The old division into 3 or 5 distances is less relevant in modern fencing than an approach based on the fluidity of action. I propose distances that are actual envelopes of space and time:

Prep Distance – Distance at which prep foot and bladework is required to reach the distance at which you can expect to hit the moving opponent in a two-tempo action (where pace is actually defined as the time to take a simple complete blade or footwork action, regardless of how the rules define the pace for right-of-way purposes).

Two-Speed ​​Distance – Distance at which you can hit the opponent with a two-speed attack on the desired target. This can be the old distance when the opponent steps forward, or the middle distance when the opponent can be expected to retreat under an attack. For the defender, this is the distance at which either blade prep or final action can be defeated, and at which the defender’s action can control the pace required for the quid pro quo.

Single-Speed ​​Distance – The distance at which a single-speed blade move or a combined single-speed blade and footwork action can result in a hit. This can be anywhere in the old run or lunge distances. For the defender, this is the envelope to repel the final attack, or the distance at which the advanced parry intercepts the early development of the attack.

Internal tempo or counter distance – the distance from which the attacked fencer can counter hit. With fast footwork, this can be anywhere within the attacker’s two- or one-tempo distances. The defender literally moves within a pace of the attacker.

Melee distance – the distance at which pace is largely irrelevant, the action is confused with multiple attempts to place the blade, and unusual settings are required to reach the target.

Passing distance – the opening distance when the opponent is past the defender and in which the referee’s assessment of the immediacy of the defender’s shot attempt becomes the determining factor as to whether the shot is allowed.

This approach requires a good tactical understanding of the attacker’s and defender’s approaches by both fencers, identifying the category of actions each requires, considering the movement of both fencers, and sequencing the distances in the actual course of the fight at the beginning where the action begins. It’s not something you teach in a beginner class. However, for intermediate and advanced fencers it should make distance more relevant, not just something you read about in the first chapter of a fencing manual.

Thanks to Walter Green | #Modern #Fencing #Distances #Tempo #Movement #Based #Approach

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