Generations of fencing coaches have taught, and generations of fencers have believed, that the opponent’s blade represents a threat. At one level this is true. After all, a hit delivered by that blade on the target in accordance with the rules of the sport brings the opponent one touch closer to victory, and you one touch closer to defeat. However, I think this is a negative view. I encourage fencers to view the opponent’s blade as an opportunity, a gift that allows you to frustrate its owner’s designs, and to score on the giver.
This is certainly a contrarian view. However, let’s apply standard fencing logic to the tactical situation. If we use Czajkowski’s model of foreseen and unforeseen actions as a point of reference, the opponent’s blade on guard is a potential. But we do not know how that potential may be applied, for its actions are unforeseen; offense, defense, or counteroffense are all possible. We can make risk assessments as to the opponent’s course of action and assign probabilities, but we do not know when, where, or how it will enter the fight.
However, when the opponent commits the blade to movement, its course of action becomes at least party foreseen. We know it is moving, we know in what line it is (although it may change), and we may be able to make a more accurate assessment of the opponent’s intent. Commitment of the blade makes our tactical problem more difficult in some ways, but we know that the opponent is taking action.
As the blade comes forward, the opponent’s ability to camouflage intent is progressively reduced. We can see the blade, its movement, and where it is. We can assess what to do as our uncertainty becomes smaller.
For some actions, we absolutely have to have the opponent give us their blade in an attack. If you are playing a parry-riposte game, the opponent must be willing to attack for you to be able to parry and riposte. If you are doing second intention or countertime, the opponent must commit to offense or counteroffense. Without it you cannot do the technique.
For other actions, we count on the lateral activity of the opponent’s blade. Attacking into a closed line or a stable open line with an opponent whose ability to parry is unimpeded are hazardous undertakings. In these conditions we count on being able to attack into an opening line, whether that is the result of opponent error or our feint, percussion, or leverage against the blade’s position. Once the blade is in motion in response to our motion, our chance of success is increased significantly.
Some techniques require that the opponent offer us their extended or extending blade so that we can use leverage against it. The family of takings of the blade (bind, envelopment, croise) all need an extended blade to operate against. And defensively, ceding parries and derobements depend on opponent’s attempting to exert leverage against our blade.
It is a truism that you attack the opponent, not the opponent’s blade. That does not mean that the opponent’s blade is not a party to our actions. Unless we execute a simple attack at the correct distance with the correct timing and movement, and with the element of surprise, any action that we do will either be to exploit the opponent’s blade or to defeat its movement. If we view that blade as a negative threat instead of as a positive opportunity, we will spend our time trying to avoid it being successful instead of using it to guarantee our own success.