Q&A: Direct, indirect, short measure, and long measure attacks

From a reader:

“I bought the book and I really like the information and content.  There are some section I need some help  understanding.  Mainly on indirect attack, short arc and long arc.  When you attack indirectly, is short arc part of long arc?  Is it separate action choice?  What does it mean indirect attack?  you have  distant  target, but you hit closest target en route to distant target?

As you can see, I’m little confused.  Do you have clip of video who does indirect attack? Maybe then I can understand more.”

The important part to understand is that an attack depends on:

  1. The starting position of your blade.
  2. The target you are trying to hit to.

If your blade is in Guard 3 or Tierce position, aka “high-line”, the starting position of your blade is in front of you, to your sword-arm side (e.g. right for a right-handed fencer) and with the tip above you.

A direct attack from this position would be to your opponent’s head (or more accurately, to their sword-arm shoulder).

An indirect attack from this position would be to another target, e.g. to your opponent’s flank underneath their sword-arm.

There are two arcs your attack can follow to this (flank) target:

  1. A short arc, which goes to your left and makes a ~120 degree arc to hit the opponent’s flank.
  2. A long arc, which goes to your right and makes a ~240 degree arc to hit the opponent’s flank.

The short arc is not part of the long arc; they are two different paths your blade can take from this starting position to this target. It is a separate action choice.

The main thing to note is that there are several possible starting positions, and several possible targets for each starting position.

For example, you may start in low-line with your sword horizontal across in front of you. Then your sabre will be pointed to your left, with the tip to your left and below your waist. The direct attack in this situation would be to your opponent’s sword-arm flank; the indirect attacks include attacks to your opponent’s head by short arc (left to the head, ~160 degrees) and long arc (right to the head, ~200 degrees).

Direct and indirect attacks are not the same thing as hitting to a distant target but hitting a closer target en route, but they are related. In this situation, short measure (to the closer target) and long measure (to the distant target) you use a single action which forms a single twisted arc which hits one target at the short measure distance then continues – still in front of your opponent’s target area – to hit the second, more distance, long measure target.

Famous example: Gu Bon Gil used to make a single lunge with the opponent’s sword-arm flank as the short measure target, continue across the opponent’s body afterwards, and hit the opponent’s offside shoulder (sometimes with a through cut) as the long measure target.

I mentioned earlier that short/long measure attacks and direct/indirect attacks are different but related.

This is how: on the most simple basis, the short measure target is often the direct attack target. E.g. if you start in Tierce, you would aim a direct attack to the opponent’s head as your short measure target, and then extend your attack to an indirect target such as the opponent’s flank for the long measure target.

Good fencers, however, will often pick two indirect targets in turn for the short measure and long measure targets. This helps deceive the opponent into parrying to the wrong position. For example, as noted earlier, Gu would often start in high-line, aim a short arc indirect attack to the opponent’s flank for the short measure target, then continue along the long arc with a second indirect attack to the opponent’s offside shoulder for the long measure target.

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