Got the time? What is fencing time?

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Hitting your opponent is the goal of epee, well actually if you want to be correct, it’s hitting your opponent first.

Its even better if your opponent fails to hit you at all, but you can win if you are just hit 0.125 seconds quicker. Not sure how practical that timing would be in a duel, but this timing rule even by itself, (OK, the sharp point does have an effect too) is all that’s needed to change epee from the dueling tradition to the sport of epee. These timing changes alter the tactical situation in epee completely. From one all important touch, to “just” hitting first, is a big deal.

Timing therefore , is of vital importance in epee. Only point control is its equal, I mean even timing means squat if you miss. Your foot work, blade work, all are there to serve the timing, and timings purpose is to hit your opponent at the correct moment of opportunity. When discussing matters of time, I love teaching musicians, they understand time in a way many don’t. They understand the division of time is in relation to tempo. They are schooled in taking time here and adding it there. For those of us that are not musicians, let me try to explain.

Tempo is the rhythm or pulse (beat) of the fencing actions and is mostly dictated by the quicker of the two opponents. The pulse or tempo would be defined as the amount of time for one fencing action. Tempo is not necessarily a fixed amount of time, as it ebbs and flows during the bout. We steal from our opponents time by implementing our action before the tempo, I like to tell my students one quarter of a tempo before the actual beat. We add time by delaying our actions that same quarter tempo. What’s a quarter tempo? To reiterate, one quarter of the time it take to complete one fencing action, and that my friends is not very much time at all. I commonly see three fencing actions in as little as a second!

Why delay your timing? It is a question of forcing your opponent to commit to their fencing action. It requires speed, and good idea of what action your opponent is most likely to make, if your to respond in time to divert a hit by your opponent. In epee, this also will most often require that you deflect your opponents blade away from your target area, or hit your opponent on a closer target. Remember, you just have to be 0.125 seconds faster, that could be the difference between hitting the hand instead of the bicep. Stop hits in epee are most often done a quarter tempo ahead, even in a second intention situations, the final action should most often be ahead of the tempo.

How on earth does one respond a quarter tempo ahead of an opponents action? Mind reading helps. So does direct observation of your opponents “tells” and habits. You can also feed your opponent those stimuli that are prerequisites to their specific actions. Fancy talk for giving them an invitation or combination of actions, in a way that gives a target at a specific place and point in time, otherwise described as second intention, IE you’re controlling their action and timing! In essence this advances your decision to commit to your opponents action ahead of their decision to instigate their attack. You can then see their action coming, your stop hit can now arrive well before their arm fully extends!

This is but a brief suggestion of the possible ways time can be manipulated for your advantage. To truly become a “Time Lord," we must practice against different fencers as much as possible. As we learn to control and exploit time, it is often seen that our blade work is simplified and a more elegant game develops. Playing with timing is great fun, a lifetime does not do it justice. As always, enjoy the journey


Coach Geoff