Week 4: Disengage

Dear Instructor:

Welcome to Week 4. By this stage, 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. The Attacker must:

  1. Accurately determine the Range, i.e. how far away the defender is.
  2. Anticipate where and how far the defender will displace during the attack (e.g. lunge)
  3. Launch to reach the Defender.
  4. 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 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. Fake counterattacks, 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.

Attacks to “corner targets” are difficult to parry

Canonical targets are easily parried by canonical guard parry positions; the latter are those you see in textbooks and I suspect these came about because both these targets and parries are physically comfortable to hit and to execute, respectively. For example, the following combinations of canonical targets and guard positions usually result in a successful parry:

  • Target = Head -> Parry Quinte / 5
  • Flank (under sword arm) -> Parry Tierce / 3
  • Chest (off-side) -> Parry Quarte / 4

Attackers can make a Defender’s parries difficult by hitting to “corner targets“. These attacks traverse a path which avoids canonical parry positions.

To identify the corner targets, superimpose a rectangle over the Defender’s torso, with the rectangle’s corners at the Defender’s hips and shoulders. The corner targets are at the corners of this rectangle, i.e. (for a right-handed defender):

  • Cut diagonally down and to the right to the sword-arm shoulder, which slips between Quinte and Tierce.
  • Cut diagonally down and the left to the off-side shoulder, which slips between Quinte and Quarte.
  • Cut diagonally up and to the right under the sword-arm hip, under Tierce.
  • Cur diagonally up and to the left under the off-side hip, under Quarte.

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 withe students hitting from stance, stationary, at hit distance. As they gain comfort, progress to hit with step at lunge distance, hit with advance lunge at advance lunge distance (Defender retreating with parry), and hitting from the March starting outside advance lunge distance.

Disengage from open to open target

Parrying to corner targets is difficult but still possible, provided the Defender can see where the Attacker is aiming their attack. Up to this stage, Attackers have been using “direct attacks“, i.e. attacks that aim to one target and hit to the same target.

Attackers should now use “indirect attacks” to deceive the parry, by aiming to one corner target but actually hitting to another, ideally the opposite corner target.

For any combination of aim (aka start) position and target there are two groups of “indirect attack” paths:

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

Today we do disengages.

Disengages are good against both parries and counterattacks. They also require less precision in technique and timing to succeed, compared to cutovers, which is why I recommend starting with disengages.

The main thing about disengages is that these paths are small and spiral: the sabre tip keeps moving forwards towards the Defender, with the distance to target decreasing at every point in time. (This is not the case for cutovers).

Things to note:

  • 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).
  • The tip of the sabre should initially approach the aimed target in a flat arc, then deflect underneath the Defender’s parrying sabre guard in a tight spiral.
    • A common challenge for students is making the sabre tip spiral around the guard to the target; this is especially the case for disengages from high line targets (shoulders) to low line targets (hips). They should slowly practice rotating their wrist to curve the sabre tip at full arm extension, rather than pivoting their arms from the shoulder or elbow.
  • Aim to one open target then hit the open target on the opposite side.

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, and your attack will hit their sabre for their inadvertent parry.
  2. DON’T disengage closed to open target: Don’t assume defender won’t parry: they might panic parry, and there is little practical difference for a Defender to parry a direct attack to an open target and one that goes from a closed (i.e. protected) target to an open target.

I suggest practicing these with the students in pairs:

  • Defender adopts a guard position (tierce, quarte, quinte).
  • Attacker aims an attack to one open corner target and disengages to the opposite open target. Work through the 4 options:
    1. Aim sword-arm shoulder, hit off-side hip (aka “underbelly“)
    2. Aim off-side shoulder, hit sword-arm hip (aka “underflank“)
    3. Aim underbelly, hit sword-arm shoulder (this one requires good precision to slip between quinte and tierce)
    4. Aim underflank, hit off-side shoulder.

Attackers should aim to multiple different targets during the March

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

A simple deception for Attackers is to aim to different targets on the defender, multiple times, during their March. Then attack elsewhere, e.g. the opposite open target, suddenly at an unpredictable moment.

First, the Attacker can simply show the edge of their sabre to different targets: edge to shoulder, to hip etc. The Attacker should show edge often as they advance during the March.

(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 exercise to showing edge to different positions during advances. Don’t delve into blade feints and accelerated or syncopated footwork etc yet; we will cover them in later classes.

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

  • Aim to different targets during the March as they advance into range.
  • Attackers should try to see through the Defenders’ lies to set a suitable path and launch their attack.
  • Attacks should be sudden, by surprise.
  • Hits should disengage, from open target to open target.

Practice this by extending the previous exercise: again in pairs, have the Attacker aiming to different places on the March and the Defender attempting to parry.

Putting it together

Use the same 4m setup as in previous classes:

  • Sabruer 1 (“Coach”, Defender): a) short attack or b) chase.
  • Sabruer 2 (“Student, Attacker): a) short attack or b) fall short.

This should result in scenarios where the Student makes a successful fall short and becomes the Attacker.

The odds will now likely shift back to ~ 9:1 in the Attacker’s favour. This is normal – explain that to your students. Main reason is now the parry becomes much more difficult to execute; this has flow-on effects to enable the Attacker to launch from further away and also reducing the effectiveness of simple counterattacks.

Next week we will tilts the odds back again, with sweeps to disrupt the disengage.

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