Week 41: Archetypes in Sabre

Mom, I want to be like (one of) these guys!

Dear Instructor:

Welcome to Week 41, the beginning of Level 5.

Up to this stage, we have taken your students through a large number of moves and countermoves, and their underlying mechanisms, as a single large moveset with complementary tactics within a single style.

We have probably mentioned to them that this is not how sabreurs really work; real sabreurs come in a wide variety of styles, each built from a relatively small number of carefully selected moves.

Level 5 is when we start developing your students’ individual styles.

Over the next 10 sessions, we will show them a range of different styles and explain how they work, what attributes complement them, and the pros and cons of each style. The idea is that by the end of Level 5, each of your students will discover at least one style that they are attuned to; the rest of their sabre journey then be for them to refine their own, unique style.

This is the core of strategy in sabre: positioning yourself in terms of move selection – akin to a loadout – which fits your personality and attributes, to defeat a specific opponent.

In this session, we start with an overview of the main style groups in sabre – the Archetypes – and revisit the base style that your students have been trained in to date: the Watcher.

The three Archetypes: Watcher, Grinder, and Tank

There are countless styles in sabre. Virtually all fall into one of three Archetypes:

  • Watcher: Quick, agile, reliant on reactions. Wins by reacting sooner, faster, better than their opponent. In high-fantasy parlance, the Elf or Rogue.
  • Grinder: Powerful, aggressive, intimidating. Wins by crushing their opponent’s defences. Think Barbarian.
  • Tank: Strong, steady, perceptive. Wins by countering their opponent’s actions to enter range and strike. Like old-school Dwarf or Paladin.

The dominating 2015-16 Korean Men’s Sabre team had good examples of all three Archetypes (caveat: note none of this is so neat in reality): Kim Junghwan and Won Wooyoung were both Watchers, albeit very different; Gu Bongil was a particularly tricky Grinder; and Oh Eunseok was an preternaturally perceptive Tank.

We will revisit each of these Archetypes and sub-styles during Level 5 so it is not necessary to provide an in-depth explanation now. I suggest demonstrating an example of each at the start of the session, in the 4m zone, against volunteer students. Use moves they have already learned so far and show the key distinguishing features of each.

Watcher: React

Your students should be familiar with how Watchers work – they’ve been training this way for the entire Course! I suggest quickly demonstrating your preferred version of this then moving on; we will come back to revising this later in this session.

I suggest noting the main attributes that Watchers rely on: reaction time and acceleration.

Grinder: Intimidate

Grinders rely on breaking through their Opponent’s defences with strong attacks.

In the 4m zone, Grinders use their short attack as the preparation; unlike Watchers who use short attacks as one of several actions after their preparation.

This Grinder preparation is sometimes referred to as “making simultaneous” or “simultaneous and better” in the 4m zone.

Instead of making a preparation then selecting an action, Grinders always start with their short attack then alter it mid-flight to another action: attack-on-preparation, chase, defence – or simply letting the short attack continue unchanged.

Their plan is to prevent their Opponent from gaining priority in the 4m zone, by matching their Opponent’s short attack (simultaneous) or defeating it, and defeating their Opponent’s chase.

Over several exchanges, this grinds down their Opponent’s desire and ability to attack, compelling them to defend. This then enables the Grinder to either crush through the defence with a strong simple (direct or indirect) attack, circumvent it with a compound attack (e.g. feint disengage), or to chase.

A Grinder can also use their attack to compel their Opponent to make very short attacks in an attempt to make simultaneous actions. This helps the Grinder switch in subsequent exchanges to defend successfully, with a parry or fall-short.

I suggest demonstrating this on your students, noting how this Archetype benefits from superior range, speed and the strength to change flight paths or direction mid-lunge.

On the March, grinders typically finish with deep, slow, and heavy attacks which make the most of their superior top speed and range: feint cutovers, flunges, long low-line disengages. A very popular variant of the March for Grinders uses the skip to gradually build up potential energy and speed before unleashing it to devastating effect.

Grinder defence is typically simple and based on range: fall-shorts with guard, stop cuts with fadeaway, counterattacks with attack-on-preparation. It is not unusual to see Grinders tire out their Opponent by drawing them over the entire length of the piste, only to drop into splits with a fall-short parry or duck counterattack at the back line.

Tank: Intercept

Tanks rely on accurately predicting and blocking their Opponent’s action with counters such as guards, binds, and beats.

In the 4m zone, Tanks use their superior parrying ability to intercept the Opponent’s initial attack. If no attack is forthcoming, the Tank either interrupts the Opponent’s chase with an attack-on-preparation – typically supported by a counter-parry followthrough – or proceeds to take up priority on the March.

A Tank on the March is slow, steady, and relentless: deflecting everything the Opponent throws at them while chewing up distance on the piste at a leisurely pace. This continues until the Tank has pushed the Opponent to the back line or the Opponent refuses to retreat any further; then the Tank finishes their attack, typically preceded by blade-clearing action such as a beat or bind.

Tanks on defence are deceptively slow, holding their position for longer than other archetypes, and using “noisy” tricks such as fake counterattacks and slow cuts and sweeps to trap the Opponent into finishing close into a pre-prepared target. Then the Tank parries; often this takes the form of forward punch parries or even opposition counterattacks.

Watcher revision: the advance-step preparation and takeovers

I suggest you take the students through a full revision of the advance-step Watcher at medium rhythm, using the main moves they have learned through Weeks 1-40 in this Course. Focus on:

  • Rhythm Matching in the 4m zone, including peripheral vision filtering and tripwire cues.
  • Accordion acceleration on the March, finishing with feint disengage.
  • Change-in-distance and body cues for the Defence.

For the 4m component, your students should revise the pendulum and lean-back techniques for the advance-step to store excess momentum, momentarily, to power their next action. This is important for takeovers: your students should be comfortable finishing their preparation, store the momentum, then be able to either:

  • Pull away with a jump-back parry riposte, if the Opponent attacks.
  • Rebound with a takeover on the March, if the Opponent defends.

The main thing to prepare the students for is in the relationship between preparation, distance, and rhythm. Next week we will start on a new preparation for Watchers which trades rhythm for distance: the step-bounce-step preparation.

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