Brutal and effective: The 4m tactics of the Korean men’s sabre team (Part 1)

Sabreurs have a choice at the start line.

  • Prepare: Commonly an advance (medium prep) but can take a wide variety of forms including skitter and advance steps (fast prep), skips, steps and ballestras (slow preps) and more exotic actions (point-in-line, retreats, etc). Preparations give the fencer an opportunity to see what their opponent is doing and react accordingly, but sacrifice the ability to win priority immediately in the 4m zone.
  • Attack: Almost always an advance lunge, though a handful of fencers also flunge (e.g. Szilagyi) or double advance lunge (e.g. Kovalev). Attacks are enable a fencer to get the priority immediately in the 4m zone or a simultaneous action if their opponent also attacks, but is vulnerable to defensive actions such as check-fall short and stop/draw cuts. They also run the risk of trapping the fencer in long rallies of simultaneous actions in which both fencers are afraid of doing anything other than attack.

Two members of the Korean men’s sabre team, Gu Bon Gil and Kim Jung Hwan, use combos of unusual techniques to attack in the 4m without completely sacrificing the tactical flexibility of preparations.

Here’s a video:

The overall idea of these combos is to use a very direct long-range attack to beat (or match) the opponent’s preparation and defensive actions, then occasionally abort the attack with an aggressive check fall-short based on the cross-over. We’ll look at the attack in this post, and follow up on the fall short at a later date.

Part 1: The Attack (aka the Gu Bon Gil Special)

gu lunge 2

Gu Bon Gil regularly employs an attack which enables him to hit an opponent anywhere from the middle line to their start line during a single advance lunge, without requiring Gu to pick an attack distance prior to launch or make adjustments mid-air. The attack is composed of:

  1. A composed advance which is relatively short (back foot lands near the start line) which gives the fencer momentum to launch the lunge.
  2. A long and direct lunge that covers around 2.5m – 3.0m in mid-air, with another 0.5m to 1.0m remise range.
  3. A series of blade actions which continuously threaten different targets at different stages of the lunge. The most common combo starts with: a) flat hit to flank during the early part of the lunge; b) disengage to flat hit to belly in the middle of the lunge; c) remise to feint head then hit chest (rarely belly) after the lunge lands.

In case you didn’t watch the video, it looks something like this:

Gu bon gil special small


We’ll look at each component in turn.

The Advance

The primary role of the advance is to give the fencer sufficient momentum to launch the lunge. The advance thus needs to be fast enough to impart momentum to the fencer but not so fast that it causes the fencer to lock up or hesitate prior to the lunge. We figure it’s probably around 80% power for most people.

The fencer needs to keep their weight and focus on driving through the back foot, minimalise weight on the front foot, stay upright and not¬†lean forward. When done correctly, the advance looks like it ‘skims’ the ground with the front foot releasing for the lunge just as the back foot touches the ground at the end of the advance.

Should the fencer detect a hesitation or a retreat in their opponent during the advance, the fencer can extend their attack range by bringing their back foot all the way forward to their front foot before launching the lunge. This action can extend the attack range by another 1.0m -which will hit an opponent well behind their start line.

Alternatively, the fencer can ‘soft abort’ their attack by driving their back foot softly into the ground at the end of the advance to convert their lunge into an advance lunge. We recommend this option over the long lunge because it gives the fencer more control during the attack, more opportunities for feints and other preceding actions, and greater range. However, conversion from lunge to advance lunge may not be possible if the opponent’s action is well-disguised or late.

The Lunge

The lunge is long and direct. Its range is around 50% more than a lunge from standing position. This extra power comes from the momentum of the preceding advance. The fencer must therefore avoid any deceleration of their attack during the transition from advance to lunge. As noted earlier, Gu efficiently transitions from advance to lunge by keeping his weight off the front foot and releasing it as soon as his back foot touches the ground.

A good advance lunge has a characteristic tempo signature of 1-2…pause…3, or “bada…boom”, from the advance…lunge.

Gu’s blade actions are direct but have flexibility to disengage to different targets during the lunge to deceive the opponent’s parries without being called as preparations.

The first attack is a flat cut to the opponent’s flank (assuming same handed opponent). This flank cut is designed to hit an opponent that advance-lunges, in their arm or flank, early in the lunge. The cut is flat to whipover the opponent’s guard if it comes in the same line of the attack.

The Disengage

If the opponent hesitates, usually because they are preparing and/or looking for the parry, Gu disengages his flank cut to hit flat on the belly. He sometimes replaces this with a cutover to chest. Either way, the chest/belly cut hits during the mid to late phase of the lunge and is highly angulated and flat to hit through the opponent’s parry.

All of the actions described above are done while Gu is still in mid-air. If the opponent manages to retreat out of range of these attacks, Gu remises his disengage-belly-hit to the high line. This remise looks like an attack to head…but it’s only a feint. The real hit occurs as Gu lands his front foot for the lunge and is either a belly or flank cut, depending on opponent’s hand position.

The Result

Gu’s attack combo is very effective at hitting the opponent while maintaining priority across most situations in the 4m. The only way for an opponent to win is to either take parry in the 4m – risky – or retreat both late and so quickly that Gu misses the attack. In the latter case, the opponent will almost always be so off-balance and distant that Gu can mount an effective defense.

wagner parries gu

Work on your parries.

Gu Counterparry

Although there’s always the chance this will happen.

The net effect is that the opponent is left with very few options other than to attack every time in the hope that they get a lucky attack or the simultaneous.

This sets up the next part of the attack combo: aborting the attack for the fall-short with crossover, which we’ll discuss in the next post.
Kim crossover fallshort
In the mean time, enjoy this hit.

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