Week 1: The Box of Death


This one is an easy class.

The main thing is to help the students revise what they learned from Intro, and apply those moves to playing rock-paper-scissors in the 4m zone.

This analogy goes surprisingly far in explaining how rhythm and distance and decisions and trickery works for this part of the game. You should seed these ideas now. Your students won’t understand but they will later.

The 4m zone, aka “The Box of Death”, is the most important part of the game. Every exchange starts in the 4m zone. Most exchanges end here. Almost all exchanges are won here: either because someone scores the point, or because a person gains priority and goes on the March (covered next week) and has the advantage to winning the point.

Rock Paper Scissors

There are broadly three things a sabreur can do in the 4m zone:

  1. Make a short fast attack.
  2. Defend against a short fast attack.
  3. Pretend to make a short fast attack, but actually chase the opponent down the piste.

These correspond to “rock”, “paper”, “scissors”.

As Kim JungHwan explained it:

  • Rock loses to paper loses to scissors loses to rock.
  • Short attacks lose to defence lose to chase loses to short attacks.

I suggest you now cover the simplest implementations of these concepts as a game of rock-paper-scissors, e.g.:

  • Rock: Advance-lunge.
  • Paper: Advance, then cross-over retreat to make opponent fall short. “Fall-Short”.
  • Scissors: Advance step, then finish second advance to lunge.

Use these to show how execution is important in sabre. Rock vs. Rock is a draw, in theory, but in practice it matters who launched first and, if the launches were simultaneous, who hit with the more ideal distance. Other scenarios I suggest you show include:

  • Rock vs. Paper, where Paper doesn’t pull back far enough = Rock wins.
  • Paper vs. Scissors, where Scissors stops too abruptly and Paper takes over = Paper wins.
  • Scissors vs. Rock, where Rock delays launch and Scissors launches first = Scissors wins.

Watching and Preparations

The sabreur who can see what their opponent will do ahead of time has a huge advantage.

Problem is that good opponents hide what they will do until the last possible moment. Skilled opponents can also switch mid-action. Smart opponents will even trick the sabreur or the referee into seeing one action but actually executing another.

This is when you teach your students the fundamentals of how to watch in the 4m zone. Nothing complicated; just the three things all sabreurs should do:

  1. Pick a preparation.
  2. Match rhythm with the opponent.
  3. Enter the 4m zone only enough to reach the opponent.

The preparation to teach them now is advance. You can show them other preparations. Stick to advance for now: it is easy to execute, works for most situations, and simplifies subsequent actions such as lunge.

They should make an advance in the same rhythm as their opponent. If two sabreurs are of wildly different physiques, e.g. height, they will have advances of different sizes and speeds to match rhythm. This is also true should they face an opponent using a different preparation.

The reasons to match rhythm are to:

  • Hide the final action to the last moment.
  • Know the precise moment to watch for the opponent’s action.
  • Avoid abandoning priority to the opponent.

The size of their advance, aka how far they enter the 4m zone, is also set by how far they may need to launch to hit their opponent. A simple test: the advance-lunge should just reach an opponent also doing an advance-lunge.

When the two sabreurs in a bout are of similar size, their advances and lunges will also be of same size. When it is a short sabreur against a tall sabreur, the short sabreur’s advance should be small and the tall sabreur’s advance should be long. This should result in matched rhythms and good hit distance for both sabreurs.

Refereeing the 4m zone

Your students won’t bout in electrics until the end of Level 1. This gives you time to take them through the refereeing and the 4m game without the distractions of lights, and complex rules, and sideline referees.

Go back to the Three Rules of Sabre:

  • Hit and don’t get hit.
  • Stay on the piste.
  • If you must get hit, hit first with priority.

I suggest you run some non-electric (“steam”) bouts in the 4m zone with the students refereeing. The questions to ask are:

  • Who launched an attack first?
  • If launches were simultaneous, who had the better distance?
  • If launches were simultaneous and of similar distance, did both hit?

It is important for them to ask these questions in this order. It is also important for them to understand that good sabreurs will try to pretend to launch, but not actually launch, to gain an unfair advantage. This is only possible if they sabreur fools the referee.

The role of the referee, then, is to not play the fool. This forces the sabreurs to fight: to boldly attack, risk defeat, and generally make a spectacle worth watching.

As Vladimir Nazlymov said: “One must dare.” In the “box of death”, it is better to commit to the wrong action well than to not commit at all.

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