Week 10: The Tactical Wheel

Dear Instructor:

Welcome to Week 10. This is the last session for Level 1; we typically use these end-of-Level sessions to revise everything we have done in the Level and prepare your students for the Level 1 grading.

The organising structure for this session is the concept of the Tactical Wheel.

Tactics can be organised logically by move-countermove in a Tactical Wheel

In sabre, tactics are the pre-planned responses that a sabreur prepares before the bout in response to their opponent’s action. Examples that we have covered so far in this Level include:

4m zone

  • Opponent short attacks -> Sabreur defends
  • Opponent defends -> Sabreur chases
  • Opponent chases -> Sabreur short attacks



As depicted above, each set of tactics can be arranged in a cycle or Tactical Wheel, progressing from tactic to tactic in a logical manner with each move defeating the last move:

  • 4m zone: (Rock-Paper-Scissors) short attack defeats chase defeats defence defeats short attack
  • March-Defense: disengage defeats parries defeats skitter defeats sweep defeats preparatory beat attacks defeats counterattack defeats disengages

Sabreurs should guess the opponent’s next move, verify, then use a counter tactic

One of the fundamental skills for a good sabreur is to accurately recognise what their opponent is doing and react with the appropriate counter move. This extends to tactics: recognising what tactic their opponent is using, from previous points, then selecting the counter tactic in the next point.

For example, at the level of individual moves, a Sabreur recognises that their Opponent is using a disengage to finish their attack on the March. The Sabreur responds by parrying.

Over the course of a bout, the Sabreur remembers that their Opponent on the March alternates between disengages and preparatory beat attacks. The Sabreur responds by alternating between counterattacks and sweeps, predicting when the Opponent will use each move.

As the Sabreur becomes more confident in their prediction, they compel their Opponent to disengage by faking the parry and actually counterattacking; then compels the preparatory beat attack by faking the counterattack and actually sweeping.

This is the start of the mental aspect of the sabre game. We will explore this in far more detail in the rest of the Course, but the fundamental idea of guessing, verifying, and countering should be introduced now so we can layer additional moves and considerations in later sessions.

Tactics and Technique are the main equalisers in sabre

Fencing is one of the rare sports where there are no height or weight categories. That is not to say these physical attributes aren’t important: they are, as are others such as reaction time, range, speed, acceleration, and strength.

A Sabreur’s physical attributes, combined with their technical ability, makes their moves more effective. The more effective a move, the more likely it will counter the opponent’s move, whether that move is the correct counter or not.

For example, a Sabreur may have an amazing parry: it is executed with perfect technique with minimum effort to the ideal position, by a sabreur with short reaction times, great speed and acceleration and strength. This parry will work well against an Opponent’s short attack; it may even work against an Opponent’s disengage or beat attack or skitter.

The more physically and technically capable a Sabreur, relative to their Opponent, the more margin for error they have with their moves. An adult in their prime can probably defeat a small child with nothing more complicated than simple direct attacks, regardless of what the child might attempt to do.

In practice, the more likely scenario is that the two Sabreurs in a bout will have different physical and technical attributes within comparable ranges. One might be stronger and taller, the other faster and more technically proficient; both will have moves and tactics that they can effectively execute on the other. The one who figures out the effective moves and tactics, for them, sooner will likely win the bout.

Putting it together and preparing for Grading

Becoming a good tactician is difficult so guide your students gently through the above with lots of revision: run through all the moves and scenarios from the Level 1 sessions and gradually introduce the Tactical Wheel. By the end of the session, they should have a least a rudimentary understanding of how to select moves and tactics; for example, if you tell them their opponent is doing Move X, they should know to respond with Move Y.

Level 1 Grading is typically conducted as a round-robin competition of 5 point bouts. What we’re looking for is that your students to be able to play the game effectively. This means:

  • Suiting up in full electrics.
  • Connecting and disconnecting from the piste.
  • Refereeing (without hand signals) the 4m zone, March, and Defence
  • Being able to adapt within a bout; e.g. if their opponent spams short attacks, they know to respond with parries.

The passing standard is that they can referee and fence at another standard fencing club. They don’t need to win bouts or referee perfectly; they do need to understand the basic rules of the game, how to conduct themselves, and have fun without needing others to suit them up, or connect them, or teach them how to play. Contrast with Intro, where the Instructor does all these things for them.

That’s it for Level 1! In Level 2 (Weeks 11-20) we will build on the moves they learned in Level 1 and add the element of Timing.

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