Week 2: The March


This is the third session in the Course, after Intro and the Box

I suggest, as always, that you start by revising the crucial basics from the beginning to re-familiarise your students with the context.

  1. Moving into Stance: stepping forwards and backwards over the line, then settling into their individually unique on-guard stances.
  2. Moving from Stance:
    1. Step-hit
    2. Step crossover retreat
    3. Step, back-step (feet together) hit
  3. Moving for Rock-Paper-Scissors:
    1. Advance-lunge
    2. Advance step (show target) cross-over retreat
    3. Advance step (feint stab to eye), advance-lunge.

For a large class, I would just put all the students behind a line (staggered along pistes, if necessary) and run these as footwork exercises. For a small class you can be more creative by pairing them up so they can mirror each other. I typically get them to do 10 reps of each; revision takes up to 20 mins.

Then they deserve a break.

While they have their break, recap the main points from the previous two classes on how sabre works:

  1. There are three rules in sabre:
    1. Hit and don’t get hit.
    2. Run them off the end of the piste.
    3. If you have to hit at the same time, be the attacker with priority.
  2. Every point starts in the 4m zone.
  3. A good way to play the 4m zone is Rock-Paper-Scissors, with all the guessing and watching and cheating we discussed.

Most of the time, the point is resolved in the 4m zone.

Some of the time, both sabreurs come out of the 4m zone without scoring a point. One will have priority and the other not. The sabreur with priority we call the “attacker” on the “march”. The sabreur without priority we call the “defender” on “defence”.

Why do we call it the March? Because the attacker has to keep moving forwards, even if slowly, to maintain priority. Also because my grandcoach Nikolay liked this analogy: it is like marching your army towards a fleeing enemy. You want to move at your pace into range, launch your attack, and hit them – even if they hit back. Or run them off a cliff.

This the fundamental goal of the attacker. You move forwards and hit the defender at least at the same time, or run them off the end of the piste. Rule 2 and Rule 3.

There’s a lot of complexity here but it boils down to these three things:

  1. Get into range.
  2. Launch your attack.
  3. Hit the defender at least at the same time as they hit you.

We’ll take them each in turn.

Get into range

What does “within range” mean? It just means close enough that you can launch forwards to hit the defender. Note I didn’t mention lunge or flunge or any particular technique. This principle is independent of technique.

Most of the time, “within range” means within range to take a big step forwards to hit the defender, i.e. lunge. This is typically 2-3 metres away.

Note that range is measured from your launching foot. For a step or lunge, this is your back foot. An easy way to effectively increase your range – or get within range stealthily – is to bring your back foot forwards to your front foot just before launching. This way you’re launching from almost where your front foot is that from half a metre back.

In the simplest scenario, the defender doesn’t move. I suggest letting your students do this to you: give them priority from the 4m zone, move back a few metres, then stand still. Have them practice launching from different distances to hit you. This will be fun for them.

Launch your attack

But defenders don’t always stay still. They can move as the attacker launches or even mid-launch.

Two things here:

  1. Launch trajectories
  2. Kill zone

Launch trajectories: Like throwing a spear or firing artillery: the closer to 45 degrees up from the horizontal you launch, the further your attack will go.

If you need to launch – e.g. lunge – at a short range, launch along a flat (0 degree) trajectory. If you need to launch for long range, aim higher: maximum 45 degrees.

You can adjust your launch trajectory right up to the last moment before launch.

Kill zone: Just like an artillery piece, this is the area of effect around where you initially aimed to hit.

In sabre this is defined mainly in terms of minimum and maximum effective hit distance. I.e. the minimum distance is the closest position where the defender could be for your sabre to hit them during your launch; the maximum is the furthest.

For most beginners the kill zone is about 1m wide. That is, your attack would hit the defender even if they moved half a meter forwards or backwards from where you aimed your attack.

This give us a more accurate description of range:

  • Bad range is when your attack barely reaches the defender even if they stay still. E.g. barely hitting them with the tip of your sabre.
  • Good range is when your attack reach the opponent even if they move forwards or backwards a bit.
  • Perfect range is when your attack will reach the opponent even if they move as far and as quickly as they conceivably can.

Hit the defender (at least at the same time they hit you)

So far we have focused on the defender moving backwards.

You might be thinking: who cares if the defender moves forwards? Just get as close as possible and use an attack with a big maximum hit distance so you hit even if the defender runs away.

(Or force them to parry).

It matters because the opponent can always hit you first and not get hit: Rule 1. That is, they can hit you and move closer than your minimum effective hit distance, so that you don’t hit them.

There are many ways to deal with this. Today we will just cover the basic common ways.

  1. Lancing: stick your sword horizontal in front of you and stab the defender, just like a lancer on horseback. This effectively reduces your minimum distance to 0. It also makes it easy for the defender to beat your blade or disarm you.
  2. Reacting: hold your blade back and wait for the defender to counterattack before finishing your attack. This is common and easy and effective, until you meet someone who knows how to fake counterattacks or forward parry or just counterattack really well.
  3. Surprising: stalk the defender slowly, then suddenly pounce to attack. This shocks or otherwise changes relative speed such that the defender is effectively standing still. This means they can neither move away or counterattack past the minimum distance in time. 
  4. Bombarding: launch attacks from far away – well outside the defender’s counterattack range – with such spread that they can neither move close enough to counterattack or move away to make the attack miss. In sabre, this means aiming your attack slightly in front of the defender then letting it cut through them to maximise the kill zone width.

Then put it all together again in the 4m zone: one side short attacks (rock); other size plays rock or paper, then March.

Flag that next week will be covering the defender’s side of this situation.

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