Week 12: Accordion – prep steps, fakes, and finishes


Dear Instructor:

Welcome to Week 12. This week, we expand on the timing ideas we introduced in the previous session for watching in the 4m zone to the Attacker on the March.

Back in Week 2, we introduced the three things the Attacker must do to land their attack:

  • Get into Range
  • Launch your attack
  • Hit the defender at least at the same time as they hit you

To do this, the Attacker should:

  1. Accurately ascertain range to the Defender.
  2. Anticipate where the Defender will move to.
  3. Launch to where the Defender will be.
  4. Hit one of the Defender’s open targets, before they can parry it or hit you and dodge your attack.

The problem is that the Defender can disrupt all of these attempts. The topic for this session is on how the Attacker can counter the Defender’s disruptions using timing: changes in rhythm during the March and the finishing advance-lunge in a technique we call the accordion.

Surprise is a fundamental principle for attacks

We very briefly discussed surprise during attacks in previous sessions. Attackers should always attempt to surprise the Defender with the attack at the end of the March. Catching the Defender off-guard essentially freezes the Defender in place; they can’t retreat or parry or counter-attack in time.

It’s important to understand that the Defender is reacting to the Attacker in this situation. (This is not always the case; see later in the Course). When the Defender sees the Attacker advancing slowly on the March, the Defender stops or slows their retreat. When they see the Attacker accelerate or finish the attack, they pull away and defend.

The more suddenly the Attacker accelerates and finishes, the more likely the Defender will be surprised.

It follows that the simplest way for the Attacker to surprise the Defender is to March slowly and finish fast.

This doesn’t guarantee that the Defender will be surprised. The Defender may be able to out-accelerate the Attacker, and/or react fast enough to pull away or counterattack in time. This just a case of physicality: the Defender can simply pull away each time the Attacker accelerates, in the assumption that this telegraphs an attack.

“Accordion” the Defender backwards using feint-finishes

But the Attacker doesn’t have to finish their attack every time they accelerate. They can accelerate and fake.

This can fool the Defender into pulling away early, tricking them into conceding distance on the piste. An Attacker can use acceleration to fake the finish several times on the March, “pushing” the Defender backwards each time, until the Defender either goes over the back line and loses or is forced to hold their position.

The distance between the Attacker and Defender compresses each time the Attacker accelerates, because there’s a delay during while the Defender reacts and pulls away. Similarly, the distance expands each time the Attacker decelerates and the Defender slows their retreat. This leads to an off-sync distance relationship between Attacker and Defender where their relative distance expands and compresses as both Sabreurs move along the piste: akin to the hand motions of an accordion player.

Another factor is that Defenders tend to pull away more when the Attacker is close, and to slow sooner as they approach the backline. This means the range of maximum and minimum distances between the two sabreurs will tend to increase the longer this accordion process continues.

At some stage, the minimum distance between the Attacker and Defender will be zero – that is, the Attacker’s acceleration will carry them within strike range of the Defender.

It is worth practicing this with your students without hitting, just so they get a feel for how this works. Have the Attacker practice accelerating and the Defender pulling away; then have the Attacker slow down before the Defender slows. Repeat until the Attacker feels they are close enough to launch the attack and hit.

Obviously, this will happen eventually when the Defender reaches the back line – they can’t go any further back. In a real bout it is likely to occur sooner, when the Defender realises this is happening to them, and prepares to hold their position or counter-attack.

Use preparation steps before each fake and the finish

One of the easiest ways to a) make the fake finish look realistic, b) surprise the Defender with an accelerated attack, and c) give the Attacker time to see what the Defender will do is to precede each fake or finish with a ‘preparation‘ or ‘prepstep. This is a slow step which loads the quadriceps under tension, tension which can be released to augment the next action.

The important part about the preparation step is that it is dynamic, in motion, like all other steps. It is this dynamic movement which loads the Attacker’s muscles and ligaments with potential energy; this energy is wasted – at least in part – once the step stops.

This is a common mistake for students, especially those who have been referring to static images: the prep step is often depicted as touching just the heel of the front foot on the piste, with the toes pulled back and up off the ground. That’s just the starting position; the action itself is in constant movement and must transition to the next action, e.g. back-step lunge, when the action reaches its limit.

Putting it together

Accordion is difficult. I suggest you break this up into each part as follows:

  1. Practice advance-lunge finish with 1–2-3!
    • 1– is a slow step, the “preparation” or “prep” step.
    • 2- is the back-step moving up to the front foot to complete the advance.
    • 3! is the lunge to hit.
  2. Practice advance-lunge fake with 1–2-3-4 (becomes a double advance lunge):
    • 1– is a slow step, the “preparation” or “prep” step.
    • 2- is the back-step moving up to the front foot to complete the advance.
    • 3– is a fake lunge, which starts like a lunge but lands softly as a step.
    • 4 is a second back-step, to end the move as a double advance lunge.
  3. Accordion footwork with advance-lunge fakes, up to 3, then an advance-lunge finish. Focus on making the fakes as similar to the finish as possible without abruptly stopping or otherwise looking like “attack-no”.
  4. Revise accelerated advances and bringing feet together for the advance-lunge. Use blade feints during the accelerated advances to simulate finishing the attack.
  5. Pair exercises with one Attacker and one Defender. I typically run this class in the “Wall Drill” zone between the start line, warning line and end line on one half of the piste. Put the Attacker on the start line facing their own back line; put the Defender on the warning line.
    • Attacker: 1-3 accordion fakes, then finish with advance-lunge. Defender: retreat with sweeps, attempt to parry or fall-short in reaction to Attacker.

This establishes the foundation for timing on the March for the Attacker. Next week, we focus on timing on the Defence for the Defender, with the retreat jump-back parry riposte.

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