Terminator: Kovalev (RUS) v Montano (ITA)

The free-flowing, bouncing skip footwork which is becoming ubiquitous on the FIE circuit is not without its detractors. Personally I love it: it allows a lot of flexibility with speed and momentum on the attack, and it’s fun to watch. That said, there’s definitely still top-order sabreurs out there who prefer a more grounded approach. The best example is surely the 2014 World Champion, Nikolay Kovalev.

Regular readers may have noticed a certain selection bias towards the Korean team (largely because wherever they go, spectacular sabre happens), but there are other fencers out there I like just as much. Nikolay Kovalev is right at the top of the list. He’s just so freaking neat. Check out the footwork here: controlled, balanced, responsive.

That’s not to say he can’t jump when he wants to:

I’ve already posted this in our initial Epic Sabre Hit compilation, but here it is again just because it’s so damn great:

Ice cold. Ouch.

The complete match has just been posted on our YouTube channel, and is basically more of the above. Well worth a watch.

Won Wooyoung might be flashier, but Kovalev’s game is the one I most want to emulate.

A spirited exchange: Szilagyi (HUN) v Won (KOR)

I can’t express how much I love this hit. You could watch this for hours and keep getting valuable material. It’s about as perfect an encapsulation of top-level sabre as you could ask for: the best  footwork, bladework, distance and timing of two of the most exciting and dynamic fencers in the world, both on the top of their game, in a well-balanced and controlled rally. Exquisite.

I’d like to do a detailed technical writeup on it, but the thing is so sophisticated I don’t even know where to start. There’s literally hours of coaching data in there. I’ll put it on the project list.

In even better news, it’s not just that hit: the whole bout is great. If I had to pick just one match from the 2013-2014 season to watch, it would be this one. Aron Szilagyi on his home turf, Won Wooyoung on fire.  Video courtesy of CyrusofChaos:

Just brilliant.

No Surrender: Kim (KOR) v Kovalev (RUS)

Today’s hit comes from  one of the most exciting matches from the 2014 World Championships: a knife-edge battle between clinical tactics and ferocious combat instinct. In this particular exchange, we get to see just about the entire defensive repertoire of Kim Junghwan in the space of five seconds. There’s the incredibly rapid crossover retreat (which fails), the attempted point counterattack (which fails), a variety of dramatic and spectacular parries (which include, if my eyes are not deceiving me, a perfect rendition of the Aron Szilagyi 5-2-5 maneuver, which also fails). Finally, with one foot off the back line, he makes contact. My god, the bladework.

The whole match has just been published on our YouTube channel. Kim dominates the first half with his signature aggression and timing, but Kovalev regains control in the later part of the match with the same kind of cool and precise tactical game which later in the day allowed him to cruise quite comfortably through the final rounds to his first World Championship title.

There’s a few calls in there I’d raise an eyebrow at, all in Kovalev’s favour, but then I’ve got a fairly strong team bias and could be seeing things. It’s also unclear as to the significance of the recurring hand injury which plagued Kim all of last season, and which became so dramatically obvious in the team final against Germany. Even a tiny bit of hesitation can be fatal in a contest this close. Hopefully he will have had a chance to recover completely before the first world cup of the new season in Budapest in just under 3 weeks. After seeing Kovalev return to form after such a long run of illness and injury, it would be a shame to have another great fencer fall to the same sort of misfortune.

I’d really miss seeing this sort of thing on the circuit.

In the blink of an eye: Gu (KOR) v Wagner (GER)

Gu Bongil is rightly famous for his absurdly long advance lunge, but it’s not his only party trick. He’s also got a vicious point-counterattack which is both devastating and, it seems, infuriating. He seems to particularly enjoy deploying it at the most aggravating possible times, like when he’s on 14 having just fought back from a major deficit. I feel extremely sorry for Wagner in this one: I fall for this sort of thing far too often, and boy does it suck.

Gu’s other distinctive characteristic is his habit of trailing in the first half of the bout, sometimes dramatically, before fighting back very aggressively towards the end, with 10-0 runs not unheard of. It remains an open question how much of this is a result of his tactical style, which is very heavily reliant on predicting his opponent’s reactions and always takes a while to set up; and how much is just trolling. He certainly seems to do it a lot less against higher ranked fencers. This could be the result of having fenced them more often and studied them more closely, allowing him to go into the match with a better plan; it could also be the result of him just not wanting to screw around against someone he’s genuinely scared of.

The full match against Wagner is available on our YouTube channel, and is a perfect example of Gu’s chasing game.  Wagner’s playing a very effective defensive game in the first half, using very powerful parries to neutralise Gu’s attack in the 4m. It takes Gu much longer than it probably should to adapt, switch over to less aggressive tactics and start scoring with counterattacks and counterparries.

Here’s the official version:

Here’s an unofficial version from CyrusofChaos, from a different angle and with some commentary:

As it turns out, this was a bit of a foreshadowing of the team final between Korea and Germany a couple of days later. What is profoundly mysterious to me is why Gu, who learned the hard way in this match that the Germans had a lock on his 4m attacks, seemed to completely forget it a couple of days later and fell into exactly the same traps. He’s got a reputation as a seriously smart tactician, which makes it all the more baffling.

If anyone can provide some insight about what’s going on with the Korean tactical game here, please do.