Tactics in fencing, as in any struggle for superiority, involves stratagems, manoeuvres, diversions etc. Good tactics are based on good mechanics. One does not erect an edifice with defective materials. When opportunities arise to score or defend, technique has to be assured. A fencer cannot vacillate in determining which way to move. His conditioned reflexes, if properly tuned, will automatically respond for him. If a fencer has to ponder which action to take in that split second of opportunity it is already too late, and any tardy reaction then is an exercise in futility.
Experienced fencers make many more false attacks than genuine ones. They impart to these false attacks the character of real ones. The rationale is to lull an opponent into a sense of security and then surprise him.
Fencing is a neural activity. Emotions and fatigue go hand in hand in the intensity of conflict. Even the most experienced campaigners can become tired and edgy depending on their wellbeing, preparation, or lack of and the importance of the contest. No competitor has a mortgage on self doubt or apprehension when the stakes are sufficiently high.
Tactics are as numerous and varied as are the personalities of competitors involved. Every action can be met, thwarted or countered. This explains the chess player like attitude of experienced fencers as they deliberate, and calculate in second and even third intention what they intend to do. These same fencers, as the occasion demands, can in a split second explode into an intensity of effort that defies the calmness of the seconds before.
For the novice fencer, particularly those well trained academically but yet to confront the vicissitudes of intense competition it can be somewhat of a shock. Suddenly all their training appears of no avail. Aggressive unknown opponents come rushing at them with all kind of unorthodox and broken time actions. Many such opponents have had substantial experience, also with some successes. They can be enterprising and effective until they meet the more complete adversary who can cope with their limited skills. He will oppose their attacks by parrying at the very latest moment or using counteroffensive actions e.g. stop hits and or time hits. He will often hurriedly yield ground to cause the attacker to over extend making it easier to parry his enforced final action. Conversely experienced fencers will move in at the appropriate moment surprising the aggressor and causing him in most instances to move back. In this event a hit can be scored on the breakaway. If he stays put; maintain the closed position until the referee calls halt. The aggression has been frustrated and confusion will take its toll.
Generally, good tactics require concentration and focus at the highest level throughout the entire bout for any lapses a price will be paid. Awareness of distance, timing, and skilled observations of Mannerisms proclivities, inclinations and tendencies, and anything else that can be garnered by an imaginative competitor reaps a just reward.
(c) Maitre d’Armes Michael A. O’Brien 10/06/2008