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The Sabre Codex 5.2: Opposition trajectories

Previously on Competitive, we covered the concept of using pre-determined blade trajectories to reduce the complexity of winning the ‘box of death’ at the start of the bout. We focused on the application of a classic ‘short/long’ tactic to win the immediate attack *and* the long attack against the opponent’s fall short. In a nutshell, we pre-determined blade trajectories that would hit the opponent at both short and long measure, and avoid an intervening parry. All a sabreur had to do was to track the distance to the opponent during the initial part of the bout and make minor adjustments to their flight path and impact speed, instead of making a more difficult ‘A/B’ choice on whether to attack short or long.

Confused? It’s easier said than done, but when it works it’s devastating.

But it gets better. See, it you can also pre-determine blade trajectories that act as attacks with opposition while also fulfilling all of the conditions above for the ‘short/long’ tactic. This means that you’re not stuck with a ‘draw’ with your opponent if you both attack short. You can also win. With single light.

This week, we expand on the use of pre-determined blade trajectories with the addition of opposition arcs. We revisit the cheeky cutovers from the last class, but now we’ll make them less cheeky and closer to outright cruelty. We will (carefully!) go over the modifications to the initial arcs to cause an opposition clash with your opponent’s blade if they select your desired line for the short attack while still enabling you to finish with simultaneous attacks if they pick a different line or disengage. We will also introduce Max Hartung’s totally-not-cool special and its sinister variant (aka, the left hand version) on special request. No cameras though: it’s top secret until after the Tokyo Olympics.

Pictured: Not The Real Hartung Special
Pictured: Not The Real Hartung Special

Students will be required to wear breeches in this class.

The Sabre Codex 4.2: Fake Sweeps

Previously in Advanced, we introduced the technique of ‘sweep’ as a defensive action used to clear an Attacker’s blade. If you recall, sweeps clear an entire plane in space of the Attacker’s blade and can be chained together to trick the Attacker into placing their blade in a position where you can hit it, and regain priority. Yet Attackers with superior bladework skills can still avoid multiple ‘real’ sweeps during a bout.But why use real sweeps when a fake one will do?

low sweep editThis week, we cover the use of fake sweeps to draw the Attacker into a predetermined line for either a real sweep or a counter-attack. We go through the setup for the situation with real sweeps which give the Attacker your rhythm so they get used to avoiding your blade and coincidentally reveal how they tend to react to your sweeps. We then explore the use of truncated, fake sweeps which are much faster than your real ones to break up your rhythm and get the Attacker’s blade into a predicted location. Then, depending the line, we either make a real sweep to regain priority or use attacks-on-preparation with opposition to win the point.

The Sabre Codex 3.2: Feint Hits

This week on Intermediate, we’ll be looking at feint hits, and how you can use them to trick a defender into making themselves more vulnerable.

feint 1 edit

To do this, you need to make a feint cut to one target but an actual cut to another target. In between, the feint attack traces an arc which evades the anticipated motion of the defender’s blade. Done right, this can induce vulnerabilities in the defender by 1. fooling them into parrying against the wrong cut arc, or 2.inducing sufficient uncertainty to make them ‘freeze’ their blade in position, or 3. drawing them into counterattacking at the wrong time and/or distance.

People are unpredictable though, so a good feint attack has to be able to deal with any one of the three possibilities above – though not to the same degree of effectiveness.

There are broadly two types of feint attacks: cutovers, which evade by going over the tip of the defender’s blade; and disengages, which evade under the guard. In Week 2, we start with basic cutovers to deceive parry 3 and parry 4. We cover why it is important that both the feint and true targets for a feint attack are open at the time of the attack, and how to work out the unique cutover arcs for different opponents.

Then we’ll move on to execution, starting with the basic feint attacks at the end of an attack sequence, then adding tempo variations to deceive defenders who have cottoned onto your basic version. We may even cover the ‘back-line bitch slap’ on special request, but please be warned the defender won’t be your friend afterwards.

How to ref the Russian Box of Death like a boss

As is understandable with any brand new set of rules, the New Russian Box of Death has been causing chaos with refereeing. Uncertainty will probably hang around for years before consistent conventions manage to shake themselves out.

But from the noise, some rather lovely patterns are already starting to emerge:

All of the calls in this video are from the men’s sabre team final between Korea and Italy in Gyor. Unfortunately, we have been unable to identify the referees, but the job they’re doing here is impressive. Calls are clear, consistent and razor-sharp.

Critically, they appear to be mostly mitigating the perils of the closer distance: that fencers are just going to run into each other with no margin for error. There’s one nasty guard-clash, but at least there’s no knee clashes (which is more than can be said for earlier rounds).

The upshot:

  • Attacks are being split very, very finely, but consistently. It didn’t feel like the refs were just calling things at random to avoid simultaneous hits.
  • It does appear that it is easier to separate actions in the closer distance, where there’s less time for the fencers to bluff.
  • Priority at the start is being awarded to attacks with early and aggressive direct extension of the weapon.
  • Any kind of holding, hesitation or pulling of the weapon is being heavily penalised. This is leading to a huge increase in the number of calls of preparation/attack.
  • Point hits > direct cuts to head > direct cuts to low line > cutovers  > indirect hits to low line
  • Very small hesitations or decelerations are being called “attack no”. You can’t just bolt forward off the line, slow down, and maintain priority.
  • However, if you do make your opponent fall short on their initial attack, you need to move forward immediately to claim priority. Any hesitation will allow the original attacker to take over.
  • Attack was being called very liberally on actions where the attacker landed the foot before hitting, as long as the defender was in range and looked like they were unsuccessfully fishing for any parry (including parry 3).

This all added up to fencers committing early, extending blade early, hitting from greater distance and reducing the number of collisions. The match was fast and fluid, with plenty of spectacular exchanges.

Overall, we now have a clear idea of how Russian Box of Death should be refereed. If this is going to be the new convention, we’re looking forward to where it leads.

Also we still get plenty of over-the-top victory posing, which after all is what sabre is all about.
And we still get plenty of over-the-top victory posing, which after all is what sabre is all about.

The Russian Box of Death: A quick taste

The other week, USFA announced it was implementing the “Russian Box Of Death” start line rules at all tournaments during the FIE test period. The internet freaked out. We decided to join the party by running a full tournament with Box Of Death rules.

We’ll be providing an in-depth analysis later, but for now, here’s what was quite literally the third hit of the tournament.

To quote the fencer on right (me):

“What??? That’s not supposed to happen!”

Either we’re doing it wrong, or putting people and lunge distance doesn’t magically stop simultane. But how could that possibly be true?

Space magic: Gu Bongil defies the laws of Nature, and also has rather good glutes.

We’re working on some new biomechanics projects at the moment. As regular readers may be aware, we’ve been interested in Gu Bongil as a beautiful example of how to move efficiently.

While we were digging around for data, we found this.


We had a chat with visiting biomechanics expert Kevin C. Moore about what’s going on here. Surprisingly, it’s not all done with magnets.

FC: Kevin, is this incontrovertible proof that the Korean sabre program has developed an anti-gravity device?

KM: Maybe not anti-grav, but certainly a method of getting pretty epic energy return.

What blows my mind the most about this is how the gait-like behaviour in the leading foot (the natural dorsi/plantar flexion cycle) is feeding entirely off the energy transfer of the the back leg. Not even tapping the floor with that right foot means that his abdominal wall and spinal column are absorbing enough functional reaction force  to momentarily replace the acceleration of freaking gravity as the source of forward momentum.

The internal relationships are so clean, in fact, that on landing he even manages to load all his initial impact in that dominant glute, which is hard enough to do well when you run, much less when you’re fencing and can’t cross your feet.

So not so much magnets a series of coiling springs. Which, after all, is what the musculoskeletal system is.

Either that or the rumours are true, and we’ve just proved that Mr Gu is a space alien.

All in all, a pretty astonishing demonstration.

“Equipment works perfectly in all situations”

Disclaimer: This isn’t intended as a dig at any particular recent policy decisions by the FIE. I have always used 2-pin, as does most of my club.

I'm sorry, what?
I’m sorry, what?

But the phrasing of the announcement was hilarious, and reminded me of one of the greatest moments of the 2015 Madrid world cup.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Equipment Working Perfectly in All Situations, such as 14/14 in a World Cup DE.

This got a spectacular reaction from Hyokun Lee:

After that little interlude, the last hit of the bout was also a complete debacle. The French were not impressed:

My favourite part is Gu Bongil, unable to watch, hiding his face in his hands: on the left of the Korean team, sitting against the wall. Such concern.

There’s only partial video of the bout, but what we’ve got is here. Highly amusing.



Mild trolling: Kim (KOR) v Szilagyi (HUN)

Kim v Szilagyi: If that billing doesn’t get your attention, you’re not doing sabre fandom right. The last match of the Moscow quarterfinals was the kind of lineup that forces foolish Australians like myself to stay up to 4am to watch the live stream.

Szilagyi had apparently recovered his equilibrium after his epic thrashing by Kim in New York and controlled this one pretty nicely, with a lot of elegant compound attacks. But regular readers should be aware that nice pretty Hungarian sabre is not really the sort of thing I watch for fun, so, because it’s my birthday, we’re instead going to see Junghwan Kim doing crazy things:

I get that the point of that maneuver is to draw counterattack, but in this case what it drew was more stunned incredulity. Hey, whatever works.

On an unrelated note, this is still my favourite parry:

After that, though, the ref decided he really didn’t like Kim’s attacks, and things went rapidly downhill for Team Korea. Then came the 8 point break, and with it, one of the greatest moments in sabre coaching I’ve ever seen:

Did… Did he just go up to Junghwan Kim in the 1-minute break at a Grand Prix quarterfinal, and pat him on the head like a puppy? Is this going to help? Or is it like the kiss of death in the mafia?

Shockingly enough, it didn’t help, as you can see in the full match below. Nice pretty Hungarian fencing etc etc.

Probably lucky it turned out like it did, or I would have been up until 5:30am for the final.