Week 9: Point-in-Line

Dear Instructor:

Welcome to Week 9.

This session introduces Point-in-Line (PiL): a move built specifically into the modern fencing ruleset which – unlike virtually all other sabre rules – serves no practical purpose but is important for the modern game.

Point-in-Line supersedes Priority

Back in Intro we introduced the Three Rules of Sabre:

  1. Hit, don’t get hit
  2. Run them off the back line
  3. If and only if you must get hit, hit with priority.

As with all rules, there are exceptions. Point-in-Line is one exception. From the FIE Technical Rulebook, if one sabreur adopts the “Point-in-Line” position:

The point in line position
The point in line position is a specific position in which the fencer’s sword arm is kept straight
and the point of his weapon continually threatens his opponent’s valid target (cf. t.84.1/2/3,
t.89.4.e, t.89.5.a, t.102, t.103.3.e, t.106.4.a/b).

FIE Technical Rules November 2022 – t. 15

Then they effectively supersede priority:

To judge the priority of an attack when analysing the fencing phrase, it should be noted that:
1 If the attack is initiated when the opponent is ‘point in line’ (cf. t.15), the attacker must, first,
deflect the opponent’s blade. Referees must ensure that a mere contact of the blades is not
considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade (cf. t.89.5.a).
2 If the attacker, when attempting to deflect the opponent’s blade, fails to find it (dérobement),
the right of attack passes to the opponent.
3 Continuous steps forward, with the legs crossing one another, constitute a preparation and
on this preparation any simple attack has priority.

FIE Technical Rules November 2022 – t. 84

5 Only the fencer who attacks is counted as hit:
a) If he initiates his attack when his opponent has his point in line (cf. t.15) without deflecting
the opponent’s weapon. Referees must ensure that a mere contact of the blades is not
considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s blade.

FIE Technical Rules November 2022 – t. 89

There’s a lot of nuance in these rules, so knowing the current interpretation (“convention”) is crucial.

The Point-in-Line position is straight, threatening, and pronated

To adopt the Point-in-Line position, the sabreur (almost always the Defender) must:

  • Establish the point-in-line position with a straight arm
  • Threaten the Attacker’s target area using the sabre tip
  • Hold their hand in pronation (knuckles up)

Current convention is that establishment requires two fencing periods to be considered a point-in-line. Two fencing periods is the time needed to make two simple actions, e.g. two advances, two retreats, or an advance then a retreat.

Once the Defender was in the point-in-line position, they superseded priority for as long as they maintained that position. They could advance, they could retreat, they could move from side to side. But what they couldn’t do was to move out of, or “break” the point-in-line position; if they did, they would no longer supersede priority.

A former chief instructor of Sydney Sabre, Phil “Professor Bond” Carson, was partial to using a retreat then advance to establish line because this put the Defender back in their start position and made it obvious to the referee (and video referee) that two fencing periods had elapsed during establishment.

I concur.

There are many ways to break “the Line”

Once the point-in-line is established, you can move forwards and backwards but you cannot attack or move your arm out of position without “breaking” your point-in-line. Your opponent can also break your line by hitting it with their blade, usually with a beat but occasionally with a bind. Then you have to go through the process of establishing it all over again.

But so long as you have line established, you take precedence over priority.

That is, if your opponent hits you, and you manage to impale them with the sabre tip in your point-in-line — cuts or glancing slashes don’t count — you get the point, even if they have priority. This is why the point-in-line is almost universally deployed by the Defender; there isn’t much reason to use it otherwise.

The point in line remains valid so long as you keep your sword-arm in position, with a couple of caveats. You are allowed to disengage around the Attacker’s attempts to beat, provided you keep your sword-arm straight and your sabre continues to threaten the Attacker’s target. If you move your sabre too far out of the way, you break your point in line.

If this all sounds vague and subject to the vagaries of your referee, you are absolutely right. It is vague and subjective.

It is entirely up to the referee as to whether the Defender is awarded the point-in-line or is dismissed as a counterattack. Reputation helps the Defender here; good luck getting it called for you on the circuit against a well-known opponent, but don’t be surprised when the same action is called against you.

Point-in-line is best used as a trick

Actually scoring with the point-in-line is not the point of. It is the possibility that you could score.

Every time a Defender attempts point-in-line, their Attacker has to decide whether they think the referee will award it. It is the Dirty Harry manoeuvre of sabre: “Do you feel lucky, punk?”

This is the best use of point-in-line. A Defender should establish it then set themselves up for a more conventional defence. The Attacker will almost certainly slow down and start reacting to the Defender, judging whether they are able to simple launch their attack or need to beat the blade.

We will revisit point-in-line with the students later in the Course. For now, I suggest taking them through the basic establishment and tricks:

  • Establishing, then allowing the Attacker to run into the point-in-line
  • Single disengage (“dérobement“) around the Attacker’s beat then allowing the Attacker to run into the PiL.
  • As above, but the Defender advance with PiL to close the distance to the Attacker while still ultimately allowing the Attacker to run into the PiL.
  • As above, with a double disengage around the Attacker’s beat, twice, then advance to close distance and allowing the Attacker to impale themselves.
  • As above, but replacing the final impalement with a fall-short guard parry to take up priority.

Using point-in-line to take priority directly is difficult and best avoided

As per t. 84 quoted above, it is possible for a Defender to take priority by disengaging their point-in-line around an Attacker’s attempted beat. This is difficult because it requires additional cooperation from the referee:

  • First to award the PiL;
  • Then to recognise the Attacker’s blade action as a beat (instead of, say, a change in line or feint); and,
  • Finally to award the Defender priority (instead of, say, declaring that the Defender was late in taking up the opportunity).

I advise my students to avoid this move. If they must use it, do it with a double disengage – this makes it more difficult for the referee (or the Attacker) to claim they didn’t attempt to beat.

The Defender should also do it with a very unambiguous March; i.e. double disengage, then immediately advance before launching an attack. Avoid attempting to take priority with a simple lunge or flunge; these are often interpreted as counterattacks rather than taking priority.

Max Hartung believed that being able to take priority with the point-in-line, a form of reprise, was an important skill in higher level (read: A-grade) bouts.

He would do it by confounding the Attacker with his point-in-line while within lunge distance, disengaging every attempt they made to beat it, then take over priority after the Attacker made a big beat action. He’d do this by making a big show: pulling his point-in-line immediately back into Tierce after the disengage, then launching a fast short advance lunge, followed by an exuberant celebration for the referee’s benefit.

Sometimes, the referee would award him the point. Sometimes they wouldn’t.

If they awarded him priority, he knew that the Attacker would now be scared of making beats against his point-in-line; they occasionally even freaked out to the point where they’d give up priority.

If they didn’t, that would good for him too. Now he knew his opponent would preferentially finish their attack into the point-in-line reprise. He would use this in later points to set up the parry.

Putting it all together

I think its important for your students to understand the rules and conventions governing point-in-line at this stage, but not the huge scope of tricks that stem from it. I advise demonstrating most of the applications above, especially reprise, but to focus your efforts on getting them to establish and referee point-in-line in this session.

This means giving them ample time to play with point-in-line. I suggest the following schedule:

  • 15 mins: Revision, focusing on preparatory beats.
  • 15 mins: Demonstrate and drill the basic point-in-line actions: establishment, hitting, and disengages.
  • 30 mins: From the 4m situation, either full or short attack vs. fall-short scenarios, have the Defender incorporate point-in-line at the start of their defence.

As with preparatory beats for the attack, it is important that point-in-line is layered on top of your student’s foundational defence rather than replacing it. This is a common error for sabreurs: once they learn point-in-line, its low-effort nature tempts many into dropping the more effective but exhausting defensive moves they have been deploying to date. Point-in-line is a niche, nuanced defensive move of limited application. As your great grandcoach Nikolay used to say, use it as “spice”, not the whole meal.

Next week we bring everything in Level 1 together into a complete, if basic, repertoire for your students using the concept of a tactical wheel for structure.

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