Week 15: Counterattack Timing

Dear Instructor,

Welcome to Week 15, almost halfway through Level 2.

We have spent the last few sessions exploring the idea of timing in sabre, focusing on rhythm. Much of this has been on applying timing to the main attack move – the advance-lunge, a 3-count move consisting of two linked actions – the advance and the lunge – in rhythm 1–2-3!

We expanded on this idea to introduce fake advance-lunges – a double-advance in rhythm 1–2-3-4 – and extending advance-lunges with a followthrough to a double-advance lunge in rhythm 1—2–3-4-5! We also briefly introduced how a Defender could adapt their own rhythm to make their parries more effective with the retreat jump-back in rhythm 1–2-3 so that their parry would rendezvous with the incoming attack at the correct moment, rather than too early or too late.

All this being said, the Defender remains at a substantial disadvantage. Today we even the odds by revisiting the counterattack from Level 1. But, this time, with timing.

Counterattacks occur ‘on 2’ when the Attacker is most vulnerable

Counterattacks, to recap, are a defensive action. They are defined as:

  • the Defender without priority
  • hitting the Attacker
  • without being hit within the cutoff time (180ms, as of the time of writing)

The last point is the most difficult to execute. A well-trained Attacker will usually be able to react to a counterattack and hit within the cutoff time. (While 180ms is shorter than typical human reaction speeds, an Attacker typically reacts to seeing the start of the counterattack rather than after being hit.) This means that the Defender has to do one or more of the following to execute a successful counterattack:

  1. Hide the counterattack, so that the Attacker doesn’t detect it until it is too late.
  2. Counterattack when the Attacker cannot hit, even if the Attacker can detect and react.
  3. Block the Attacker’s reactive hit, so even if the Attacker reacts in time they don’t hit.

We previously covered points 1 and 3; point 2, on timing, we have had to delay to now because first your students need to understand how rhythm works on the attack.

The fundamental attack action in sabre is the lunge. Virtually all other attack moves are based off this action: the basic lunge, advance-lunge, double-advance lunge, fake advance-lunge advance-lunge etc. All of these actions hit on an ‘odd count’, i.e. on a count of 1, 3, 5, 7 etc. For example, an advance-lunge hits ‘on 3’ (1–2-3!); a fake advance-lunge advance-lunge hits ‘on 7’ (1—2–3-4, 1–2-3!).

For most people, the movement of their arm is linked to the movement of their leg on the same side. That is, if you move your right arm, you will typically do so at the same time as your right leg. You can change this, of course, but it takes effort.

The implication is that sabreurs hit when their front foot lands. It is difficult for sabreurs to hit at other times.

So for an Attacker aiming to finish with an advance-lunge, their front foot lands twice (‘on 1’ and ‘on 3’), and they can react to a counterattack and hit on those counts. They will find it difficult to hit as their back foot lands, ‘on 2’, should they need to react to a counterattack.

‘On 2’ is when a Defender should counterattack. Or ‘on 4’ or ‘on 6’ – whatever even count they can select given the constraints of being close enough to the Attacker to hit and with consideration to points 1 and 3 above on setting up and using opposition after the counterattack.

What this means in practice is that the Defender should:

  1. Adopt Defensive stance and stay outside of the Attacker’s lunge range.
  2. Match the Attacker’s rhythm: sync rhythm to the Attacker’s advances.
    • Attacker step = Defender backstep;
    • Attacker backstep to finish advance = Defender frontstep to complete retreat.
  3. As a default position, be ready to retreat jump-back parry riposte, should the Attacker finish their attack.
  4. If the Attacker doesn’t finish, set up for a counterattack.
  5. Pick a moment ‘on 2’ and execute the counterattack.

Let the sabre tip pull and pivot Defender into the attack-on-preparation

We previously noted there are two broad classes of counterattacks: attacks-on-preparation and stop cuts. Attacks-on-preparation pull the Defender forwards after the hit past the Attacker; stop cuts pull the Defender backwards out of the Attacker’s range. Thus far we have focused on the attack-on-preparation because they are, on balance, conceptually simpler and easier to execute.

What’s not easy about the attack-on-preparation is actually moving forwards at the time of the counterattack, that is, ‘on 2’. The reason is that if the Defender has matched the rhythm of their retreats with the Attacker’s advances, the Defender’s front foot will be moving backwards (to complete the retreat) at the moment of the counterattack. Attempting to step forward or lunge from this position is detrimental; either the lunge occurs late (‘on 3’) or the Defender doesn’t move their front foot, thus telegraphing their intention to counterattack.

The trick is to use the momentum of the sabre to pull the Defender’s body forwards with the counterattack even as their legs move backwards. Hit as the front foot moves back, thrust the sabre forwards with force, and ride the momentum to pull the arm and torso forwards. At the extremes, this will cause the Defender to pivot horizontally in mid-air – make sure they can catch themselves before ground impact.

Opposition with semi-circle action to blockout the attack horizontally

Back in Level 1, we told the students to guess where the Attacker would attack from and block with opposition in that direction. This works well if the guess is correct, but the chances of that occurring are low: 1 in 4 or worse.

A technically more difficult, but otherwise more effective, approach is to simply guess which side – left or right – the Attacker will attack to and use a semi-circular opposition to sweep everything down towards to the ground. This leaves the Defender’s sabre in horizontal position, waist-high, with arm at full extension. The sabre guard should be held close to the Defender’s centreline – draw a line from nose to bellybutton – to block underflank / underbelly hits.

The reason this works is similar to how forward parries – discussed later – work: at very close range, you can always intercept the Attacker’s attack by sweeping the area near their sabre guard. In this case, the Defender moves forward with the attack-on-preparation and should be within half a metre of the Attacker, body-to-body; no matter where the Attacker aims to from this distance, the Defender should be able to intercept with a semi-circular action. The only consideration is whether the action sweeps the Attacker’s blade into or away from the Defender’s body, hence the need to guess which side the Attacker will attack to, and sweep away from that side.

Putting it together

  1. Revise advance-lunge, double advance-lunge, fake advance-lunge, double fake advance-lunge
  2. Defender timing match against above: 1–2, 1–2-3-4, etc.
  3. Add counterattack by AoP on 2, 4, 6, 8 etc.
    • Test against Attacker advance-lunge (counterattack on 2).
    • Then fake + advance-lunge (counterattack on 4).
    • Then double-fake advance-lunge (counterattack on 6).
  4. Add counterattack by AoP with Opposition to left and right, pre-planned.
  5. Attacker chooses from options in 1; Defender counterattacks or makes fall short. Defender should overlay lessons from Level 1: stay out of lunge range, use “fishing” to trick Attacker into getting too close, etc.

By the end of this session, your students should confidently use the combination of retreat jump-back and counterattacks to defend against Attackers using lunge-based attacks. Aim for a success rate of 50%, which is excellent for defence.

This success will likely be short-lived, however, as next week we will introduce the counter to the counterattack: the flying lunge, aka flunge, as the current incarnation of the flèche in sabre and the basis for attacks ‘on 2’.

One thought on “Week 15: Counterattack Timing

Leave a Reply