Week 4: Disengage


Welcome to Week 4. Your students should be able to fence and referee a complete bout. They can fight in the 4m zone and outside, whether on the March with priority, or on Defence without.

This class is about attackers using disengages to defeat a defender using parries.

Last week, your students learned the core concept of defence in sabre: make the attacker make a mistake.

A successful attack, by definition, requires the attacker to reach the defender and hit to an open target. This requires the attacker to:

  1. Accurately determine how far away the defender is.
  2. Anticipate where and how far the defender will displace during the attack (e.g. lunge)
  3. Hit a valid target – i.e. above the waist – on the defender without being intercepted, with a parry or a counterattack.

The defender can disrupt all these. Revise these, quickly, with students as defenders and you the instructor as the attacker. Students should:

  1. Move several metres away then come close into almost counterattack range to exploit people’s poor depth perception.
  2. Make random erratic body motions to signal running away or counterattacking, to disrupt attacker predictions.
  3. Open an obvious target to draw an attack along a predictable path.
  4. Potshot counterattack, often, to trigger an attack at a predictable moment.

Then split the students into small groups, ideally pairs, to practice defending like this and attacking despite this.

Attack along awkward paths to parry

An attacker will acclimate to the defender’s tricks and adjust their attack trajectories to reach the defender. This does not mean their attacks will hit. The defender’s disruptions will likely cause the attack to land at the wrong, i.e. extreme, distance with little power and to a target which the defender can easily parry.

An attacker can make defender’s parries difficult by hitting to ‘corner’ targets. Superimpose a rectangle over the defender’s torso, with the corners at the hips and shoulders. Attackers should hit to the corners of this rectangle, i.e. (for a right-handed defender):

  • Diagonally down and to the right to the sword-arm shoulder.
  • Diagonally down and the left to the off-side shoulder.
  • Diagonally up and to the right under the sword-arm hip.
  • Diagonally up and to the left under the off-side hip.

These targets are difficult to parry with orthodox guard positions e.g. classical tierce, quarte, quinte (and sweep seconde, although your students don’t know this yet so don’t mention it). Use these instead of the standard targets: head, flank and chest.

I suggest pairing your students, one as defender, one as attacker. The defender should parry to a guard position (e.g. tierce, quarte, quinte) and allow the attacker to hit to an open corner target. Start stationary, then progress to step, advance lunge, marching.

Disengage from open to open target

Parrying to corner targets is difficult. But possible. Attackers should hit around parries. There are two ways:

  1. Cutovers, which go over the tip of the defender’s sabre.
  2. Disengages, which go under the guard of the defender’s sabre.

Today we do disengages.

Disengages are good against both parries and counterattacks. They also require less precision in technique and timing to succeed.

The main thing about disengages is that they are small spiral movements: the sabre tip keeps moving forwards towards the defender, with the distance to target decreasing at every point in time.

The tip of the sabre should initially approach the defender’s parry in a flat arc, then deflect underneath the sabre guard in a tight spiral to an open target on the opposite side.

The hit should be a light slicing action forwards; it should not be a hack or slash or chop or cut.

(Power in disengage attacks comes from body weight and impact speed, rather than muscle strength)

Put students in pairs. Defender adopts a guard position (tierce, quarte, quinte). Attacker aims an attack to one (barely) open corner target near the parry, and disengages to the opposite open target.

Why open target to open target? Because you can’t rely on the defender to parry!

  1. DON’T disengage from open to closed target: Don’t assume defender will parry: they might stay still.
  2. DON’T disengage closed to open target: Don’t assume defender won’t parry: they might panic parry.

Attackers also lie

Sabreurs should deceive their opponents in the 4m zone. Defenders must deceive attackers outside of the 4m zone. Attackers don’t have to deceive defender to win – but it does make it easier.

Attackers should show their defender where and when they aim to attack. Then attack elsewhere at another time.

The attacker can do this by literally showing the defender where their sabre is aimed at: edge to head, to shoulder, to hip etc.

The attacker should show edge often, during the march, to open targets. Then disengage attack to another open target, often the opposite one.

(This is the precursor to feint-attacks, but don’t introduce feints just yet).

There are certain restrictions, however, based on what the referee would consider a lie and what they would consider a failed attack; the latter strips the attacker of priority and gives it to the defender.

For now, restrict the lies to showing edge to open target before finishing the attack. Don’t delve into blade feints and accelerated or syncopated footwork etc.

The main things for your students to understand at the end of this session, as attackers, are:

  • Attackers should see through the defenders’ lies and reach the target
  • Attacks should be sudden, by surprise.
  • Hits should disengage, from open target to open target.

Everybody lies. It is not enough to see through the opponent’s lies and hide your own intentions. Attackers should lie too.

Leave a Reply