Keeping it clean and simple with today’s epic sabre hit. Montano v Anstett, Kazan 2014. There ain’t nothing quite as satisfying as a good solid parry-riposte. You know who won that sword fight.
An idle thought came to me the other day: sabre is a sport almost uniquely suited to GIFs. Exchanges almost universally take 5-15 seconds and frequently require multiple views to appreciate. I’ve been spamming people with time-specific YouTube links for a while, but GIFs are a much more elegant solution.
The series was in part inspired by Hot Fencer Of The Day, and in part by Andrew Fischl’s yearly Best Touches compilation. Unlike Andrew’s video, I’m putting a great deal of technical or tactical sophistication into my selections. Criteria are simple: the hit must either make me go WHOOOOAAAAAA, or laugh, or better yet both.
The series is running on Facebook under the tag #EpicSabreHit and on Twitter under @EpicSabre. Daily posts will be going up here, but we’ve got a bit of a backlog to start with. Here we go:
WOW: Apithy(FRA) v Chung (KOR)
Let’s get this thing started off with a bang. Here’s an incredible, amazing, ridiculous hit from Apithy at the 2014 Moscow World Cup. Astonishing athleticism from both fencers. It’s got almost every flashy move in the sabre repertoire in one 5-second exchange. Wow.
Hangon, what?: Ibragimov (RUS) v Berre’ (ITA)
Not all great sabre hits are flashy and athletic. Some are surprising, vicious trick shots, and they’re just as much fun to watch. Here’s a beauty from the 2014 Budapest Grand Prix:
No points for effort: Montano (ITA) v Kovalev (RUS)
In a nailbiting quarterfinal at the 2014 World Championships in Kazan, Kovalev’s balance and composure prompt a truly heroic display of athleticism from Montano. But is it enough to save him?
For the lulz: Gu (KOR) v Zalomir (ROU)
Not technically a hit at all, but one of my favourite points of all time. What good is sport if it can’t sometimes make you laugh?
BOOM HEADSHOT: Kim (KOR) in Korea v Japan
This one’s from Junghwan Kim during the slightly one-sided team final at the 2014 Asian Championships. God I love this point. My entire goal as a sabreur now is to pull this one off.
A thing of beauty: Homer (USA) v Iliasz (HUN)
Lest I get typecast as only being into vicious one-light trick shots and Gu Bongil falling over, here’s a legitimately beautiful hit from Daryl Homer at the 2014 Coupe Acropolis in Athens. Watch and learn, kids, this is how marching attack is done.
Wait, where’d he go? Kim (AUS) v Konovalov (UZB)
This one stars Sydney Sabre’s very own Donghwan Kim in the final at the 2014 Singapore International. I’m not sure even Donghwan expected to get away with this one, and that’s what makes it so great.
Oh snap: Gu (KOR) v Yakimenko (RUS)
For today’s epic sabre hit, I set a crack team of researchers a daunting task: Find footage of the current world #1, Gu Bon Gil, scoring a point with something other than advance-lunge or counterattack. What they brought back was beautiful.
From the business end of the brutal semifinal between Gu and Yakimenko at the 2014 World Championships:
A creature of extraordinary grace: Gu (KOR) v Yakimenko (RUS)
I just couldn’t resist this one. This is how you become world #1, apparently. Hey, whatever works.
Beauty v The Beast: Kim (KOR) v Kovalev (RUS)
Spoiler: the beast wins. Here’s two of my favourite fencers in the world, with Junghwan Kim doing what he does best. Crazy stuff.
Off tempo: Oh (KOR) v Apithy (FRA)
Continuing the Korean theme ahead of sabre teams at Asian Games, here’s an incredible point from one of my favourite matches of all time. Starring Bolade Apithy and Eunseok Oh at the 2013 Chicago World Cup.
The whole match is here:
How ’bout that attack, huh? Gu (KOR) v Szilagyi (HUN)
This one’s just here for the response from Gu. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2014 Asian Games Champion.
Birth of a new era: Won (KOR) v Limbach (GER)
To complete our Korean series before men’s sabre teams at Asian Games, here’s Won Wooyoung and the hit that made him 2010 World Champion. It’s got all his trademarks, right down to the sprint to the back when he wins. I’ll always have a soft spot for Won, who was the fencer who first made me pay attention to sabre.
Watch this space
From tomorrow, these will be daily. I promise, hand on heart, to not post another one of the Korean team for at least a week.
Or at least until I get video of the Gu v Kim final at Asian Games.
Sabreurs have a choice at the start line.
- Prepare: Commonly an advance (medium prep) but can take a wide variety of forms including skitter and advance steps (fast prep), skips, steps and ballestras (slow preps) and more exotic actions (point-in-line, retreats, etc). Preparations give the fencer an opportunity to see what their opponent is doing and react accordingly, but sacrifice the ability to win priority immediately in the 4m zone.
- Attack: Almost always an advance lunge, though a handful of fencers also flunge (e.g. Szilagyi) or double advance lunge (e.g. Kovalev). Attacks are enable a fencer to get the priority immediately in the 4m zone or a simultaneous action if their opponent also attacks, but is vulnerable to defensive actions such as check-fall short and stop/draw cuts. They also run the risk of trapping the fencer in long rallies of simultaneous actions in which both fencers are afraid of doing anything other than attack.
Two members of the Korean men’s sabre team, Gu Bon Gil and Kim Jung Hwan, use combos of unusual techniques to attack in the 4m without completely sacrificing the tactical flexibility of preparations.
Here’s a video:
The overall idea of these combos is to use a very direct long-range attack to beat (or match) the opponent’s preparation and defensive actions, then occasionally abort the attack with an aggressive check fall-short based on the cross-over. We’ll look at the attack in this post, and follow up on the fall short at a later date.
Part 1: The Attack (aka the Gu Bon Gil Special)
Gu Bon Gil regularly employs an attack which enables him to hit an opponent anywhere from the middle line to their start line during a single advance lunge, without requiring Gu to pick an attack distance prior to launch or make adjustments mid-air. The attack is composed of:
- A composed advance which is relatively short (back foot lands near the start line) which gives the fencer momentum to launch the lunge.
- A long and direct lunge that covers around 2.5m – 3.0m in mid-air, with another 0.5m to 1.0m remise range.
- A series of blade actions which continuously threaten different targets at different stages of the lunge. The most common combo starts with: a) flat hit to flank during the early part of the lunge; b) disengage to flat hit to belly in the middle of the lunge; c) remise to feint head then hit chest (rarely belly) after the lunge lands.
In case you didn’t watch the video, it looks something like this:
We’ll look at each component in turn.
The primary role of the advance is to give the fencer sufficient momentum to launch the lunge. The advance thus needs to be fast enough to impart momentum to the fencer but not so fast that it causes the fencer to lock up or hesitate prior to the lunge. We figure it’s probably around 80% power for most people.
The fencer needs to keep their weight and focus on driving through the back foot, minimalise weight on the front foot, stay upright and not lean forward. When done correctly, the advance looks like it ‘skims’ the ground with the front foot releasing for the lunge just as the back foot touches the ground at the end of the advance.
Should the fencer detect a hesitation or a retreat in their opponent during the advance, the fencer can extend their attack range by bringing their back foot all the way forward to their front foot before launching the lunge. This action can extend the attack range by another 1.0m -which will hit an opponent well behind their start line.
Alternatively, the fencer can ‘soft abort’ their attack by driving their back foot softly into the ground at the end of the advance to convert their lunge into an advance lunge. We recommend this option over the long lunge because it gives the fencer more control during the attack, more opportunities for feints and other preceding actions, and greater range. However, conversion from lunge to advance lunge may not be possible if the opponent’s action is well-disguised or late.
The lunge is long and direct. Its range is around 50% more than a lunge from standing position. This extra power comes from the momentum of the preceding advance. The fencer must therefore avoid any deceleration of their attack during the transition from advance to lunge. As noted earlier, Gu efficiently transitions from advance to lunge by keeping his weight off the front foot and releasing it as soon as his back foot touches the ground.
A good advance lunge has a characteristic tempo signature of 1-2…pause…3, or “bada…boom”, from the advance…lunge.
Gu’s blade actions are direct but have flexibility to disengage to different targets during the lunge to deceive the opponent’s parries without being called as preparations.
The first attack is a flat cut to the opponent’s flank (assuming same handed opponent). This flank cut is designed to hit an opponent that advance-lunges, in their arm or flank, early in the lunge. The cut is flat to whipover the opponent’s guard if it comes in the same line of the attack.
If the opponent hesitates, usually because they are preparing and/or looking for the parry, Gu disengages his flank cut to hit flat on the belly. He sometimes replaces this with a cutover to chest. Either way, the chest/belly cut hits during the mid to late phase of the lunge and is highly angulated and flat to hit through the opponent’s parry.
All of the actions described above are done while Gu is still in mid-air. If the opponent manages to retreat out of range of these attacks, Gu remises his disengage-belly-hit to the high line. This remise looks like an attack to head…but it’s only a feint. The real hit occurs as Gu lands his front foot for the lunge and is either a belly or flank cut, depending on opponent’s hand position.
Gu’s attack combo is very effective at hitting the opponent while maintaining priority across most situations in the 4m. The only way for an opponent to win is to either take parry in the 4m – risky – or retreat both late and so quickly that Gu misses the attack. In the latter case, the opponent will almost always be so off-balance and distant that Gu can mount an effective defense.
Work on your parries.
Although there’s always the chance this will happen.
The net effect is that the opponent is left with very few options other than to attack every time in the hope that they get a lucky attack or the simultaneous.
Men’s sabre teams starts today with the round of 32 from 2pm Kazan/8pm AEST. Here’s the big table:
We’ll be watching France v Georgia (go France!) and Iran v Egypt. Live results are available here.
The round of 16 onwards is tomorrow from 1pm Kazan/7pm Sydney. Given the way the individual fencers were performing on Friday, I’d love to see an epic showdown between Russia and Korea in the final. This will depend on both Russia and Korea being able to get past their traditional kryptonite opponents; Germany and Italy respectively. I have a fair bit of faith in the Russians being able to pull this off, but the Koreans are less of a sure bet. They’ve never had a great deal of trouble against Romania, but their record against the incredibly consistent Italian team is weak.
If Gu is well rested and Oh and Won continue their sudden return to form, they may be able to pull it off even if Kim is still injured. If the other three are even vaguely awake and Kim stages the kind of recovery he did two weeks ago at Asian Championships, they should have it in the bag.
A Russia v Italy final would also be highly worth watching. The Italians showed a few weeks back at European Championships that they’re capable of taking down the Russian team on their home turf, and a rematch is pretty sure to make for some good television.
First off, congratulations to Nikolay Kovalev of Russia for landing his first individual World Championship title. The 28 year old right-hander is known for his very dynamic fencing style and has long been my favourite sabreur on the Russian team, and it’s great to see the him return from a long spell of bad luck and ill health to the top of his game.
To say that an a-grade sabre competition was tight and had a lot of upsets is enough of a bland cliche as to be almost totally meaningless. As noted in my last post, the margins in this sport are so small as to make a mockery of attempts at casual punditry. I don’t think Kovalev had many serious backers predicting gold at yesterday’s event, with the numbers favouring Kim, Szilagyi and Reshetnikov and most coaches favouring Szilagyi in particular.
The results last night played out very differently from these comfortable expectations.
|3||ROU||CSM IASI||DOLNICEANU Tiberiu||1988|
|7||GER||NR||TSV Bayer Dormagen||HARTUNG Max||1989|
|8||KOR||WON Woo Young||1982|
|10||ITA||Fed. Italiana Scherma||BERRE´ Enrico||1992|
|12||FRA||09||DIJON CE||ROUSSET Nicolas||1988|
|13||GER||NR||TSV Bayer Dormagen||LIMBACH Nicolas||1985|
|17||RUS||National team||RESHETNIKOV Veniamin||1986|
|20||RUS||National team||IBRAGIMOV Kamil||1993|
|22||BLR||SC TUFB||PRYIEMKA Valery||1983|
|25||UKR||Musketeer Odessa||YAGODKA Andriy||1988|
|27||GER||NR||TSV Bayer Dormagen||WAGNER Benedikt||1990|
|29||GEO||FC Kutaisi||BAZADZE Sandro||1993|
|30||FRA||09||DIJON CE||APITHY Bolade||1985|
|31||GER||NR||TSV Bayer Dormagen||SZABO Matyas||1991|
Reshetnikov was taken out in the round of 32 by Won Wooyoung, who was fencing well above the form he’s shown so far this season. Kim was on track to cruise to a comfortable victory over Kovalev in the round of 16 when his hand was injured yet again, a moment which ended any chance he might have had of claiming the gold. Szilagyi, as I had feared, was clearly worn down by an arduous bout against a thuggish and unsubtle Sandro Bazadze and was subsequently outclassed by Gu Bongil in the round of 8.
The result was a top 4 which had only one of the pre-comp favourites. Dolniceanu had a pretty easy run of it up to the quarterfinals, but was crushed by Kovalev in a brutal and one-sided semi. The bout between Gu and Yakimenko showed all the classic hallmarks of the Korean’s game, with Gu trailing 8/5 at the break before surging back to a 15/12 win.
After those performances, I do not think I was alone in expecting a close final. I felt that Gu had put in a stronger performance on the day and probably had the edge on Kovalev, who had benefited from a series of lucky breaks (Kim’s injury, favourable refereeing against Aldo Montano, a fairly lackluster semifinal from Dolniceanu). Then this happened (start from 2:30:00, fixed start times are not possible from the streams for some reason):
Not a nice bout.
Up to about 6/0, I admit I was wondering when Gu was going to quit playing around and initiate his usual game plan: allow his opponent to build a convincing lead, then launch a vicious 10/0 run of heavily-angulated flat hits and point-counterattacks. By the break, 8/0 down, it became apparent that the cavalry was not coming, and that the notoriously delicate young Korean sabreur had run out of gas even more catastrophically than he had against Szilagyi in the final at Padova earlier this season.
In the end though, it was a very well-deserved win by Kovalev, and a podium which neatly reinforced the perils of idle speculation before sabre competitions.
In the aftermath of the comp, the rankings table has undergone a major reshuffle. Gu had done enough to leap to world #1 for the first time since 2010, narrowly edging out his team-mate Kim, who retained his #2 spot. Reshetnikov has suffered a major fall from grace, allowing an impressively consistent Italian team to round out the top 10 behind Szilagyi, Yakimenko and Dolniceanu. Kovalev has been joined by a resurgent Won to jump back into the top 16.
I know I’ve just declared that prediction is a mug’s game, but I sure am looking forward to a tight race between Russia, Korea and Italy in Monday’s team event.
I guess that means stay tuned for a Romania v Germany final.
Facebook turned up something interesting this morning, via the guys at the fantastic Swordsport Productions page:
It comes from the guys over at The Fencing Coach. They’ve used the Elo rating system, which was developed for chess but is now used across a range of sports to track player performance and predict match results. It’ll be fascinating to see how it stands up to the experimental test tomorrow in Kazan. It pretty much exactly mirrors my predictions last week, which have been based largely on anecdotal observation of the 2013/2014 A-grade season. Here’s to a Kim v Reshetnikov final!
Those of you who’ve trained at Sydney Sabre may already be familiar with Elo: it’s the system we use for our internal ranking scoreboard. The data we collect is not as useful for predicting the results of a standard competition, as we include the results of matches fenced with handicaps, but it is an extremely powerful predictor of match outcomes under our standard club training conditions, and functions very well in its primary role as a matchmaking system.
It’s worth noting that this isn’t based on the win/loss results over the season, as a true Elo model should be, only on the FIE ranking at the end of the season. The aim is apparently to do a proper Elo model over 2014/2015, and it will be very interesting to see how that stacks up against the more traditional FIE points-based rankings.
As far as Friday goes, my personal suspicion is that an on-form Szilagyi has the edge on Reshetnikov if the two should meet in the semifinal. Szilagyi, however, is likely to face a couple of difficult early matches against the kind of awkward fencers he traditionally has trouble with. Given the table above, my pick is for a Kim/Szilagyi final, in which Szilagyi will probably have the upper hand given Kim’s recent spate of injuries.
That said, margins in sabre are so small that attempts at casual punditry are unlikely to end well. This is why a true Elo model for 2015 would be so tremendously exciting.
The FIE rankings have been updated before World Championships, which starts next week in Kazan, Russia.
After their utter domination of European Championships, where they took 1st, 2nd and 3rd in individual and 2nd in teams after a nail-biting 44/45 loss to Italy, the Russians are back on top, with 412 points giving them a commanding lead over Italy (332) and Korea (328). The won the world team championships in 2013, and are looking pretty unstoppable again this year.
In individual men’s sabre, Veniamin Reshetnikov has narrowly edged out Jung Hwan Kim of South Korea to take the world #1 ranking, which he had previously held at the end of the 2013 season. The experienced left-hander was also the 2013 World Champion, deafeating team-mate Nikolay Kovalev in a surprise upset in the final in Budapest.
Kim lost his position after being elimated in the round of 8 at Asian Championships after being injured in a (frankly highly questionable) bout against Ali Pakdaman (Iran). He now trails Reshetnikov by just 5 points (308 to 303).
Video presented without further comment.
Kim, however, recovered his form three days later in the team event at Asian Championships, putting on a spectacular performance in the final against Japan.
Narrowly behind Kim in 3rd place on the individual rankings is Aron Szilagyi, on 194 points. Both Kim and Szilagyi have fenced Reshetnikov this season, and both defeated him. I’d be pretty happy to see a rematch of either bout in the finals in Kazan next week.
Moscow 2014: L4: Kim v Reshetnikov
Athens 2014: L4: Szilagyi v Reshetnikov
However, if he’s recovered from his injury scares and is fencing the way he was last weekend in the teams in Suwon City, my money is on Kim to regain his individual #1 spot. The open question is whether he, along with a recently revitalised Gu Bongil, can drag the Koreans over the line to their first team World Championship title.
Whatever the outcome, Kazan is shaping up to be an interesting comp.