Visual clues in epee

I suspect one of the greatest advantages a seasoned fencer has over the novice is the ability to read their opponents intentions.

Its true, advance fencers have more “tools” to draw from, meaning they have both numerically more as well as refined actions to choose from. Yet often the more advanced fencer chooses a more limited selection of fencing actions. It is the ability to use visual clues, that allows for the proper response in a timely manner, that gives the advanced student a distinct advantage.

So what do I mean by the term visual clues? On a basic level we can use fencing actions or invitations offered by our opponent as a guide to their intentions. Your opponent needs what has been termed as “hidden prerequisites” to insure his action is successful. An example could be, a simple beat attack to the arm, our novice fencer may choose to look for an extended blade and proper distance as the needed hidden prerequisites. Our more advanced student will also see the set up, perhaps the opponents hand telegraphing the beat action to come, combined with a closing of distance. Knowing a beat attack is likely our advanced student has several options open, a response with a disengage, with or without opposition, may well seal the novices fate. In the matter of reading our opponents “invitation” we have an even more clear example. The term invitation is used to describe basically a trap. It could be an open target such as the hand, foot or torso, purposely left open, usually for but brief moments in time. The more advance invitation, can be a series of actions, that should lead to the opponent being left open.These openings or invitations are often repeated in some sort of pattern so as to draw our opponent into thinking he has discovered a flaw in our game. A novice will often be all to obvious in these set ups. The more advanced game will require a more subtle approach.

How can we learn to see the visual clues? Well, experience is the great teacher. After enough strip time you will recognize certain patterns. We can accelerate the process however, in our training and in or fencing. In training I feel it is vital, when learning new actions or combination of actions, that we also see what these actions look like when done to us. Your coach or training partner should be able to help with this. With careful observation we can also learn watching others fence. If we observe our opponents as we fence, focusing on what they are doing instead of what we wish to do we will quickly learn to recognize visual clues. I am convinced that it is an advantage to focus on your opponents actions rather then your own. If you know what your opponent is doing, then the answer to what you should do was already answered, by your training.

As we advance we will learn to use visual clues in a different way, we can use them as a tool to lie to our opponents about our intentions, setting up second intentions and developing the bout by teaching our opponents in how we wish them to respond. Oh, such fun it is to play the game. Learning to read your opponent is where all tactics and strategy start. While some fencers use only the reptilian part of the brain to hit targets of opportunity, they will never advance to their full potential.

thanks for your time,

coach Geoff