In my first blog post on goal setting, I pointed out that there are two types of errors with regard to those considerations, and this post is about an example of the second type of error. Let me repeat the definition of that type of error:
Excessive risk taking when an easier goal is sufficient. Here, the circumstances are so that what is usually the necessary goal in order to accomplish the desired end result is in fact more than enough to do so. By working towards a harder goal than necessary, one exposes oneself to risks that one would have avoided – if one would have focused on an easier task.
Put otherwise: instead of the fencer focusing on some goal that is so easy so he would have a very small risk of messing it up, he went for a more difficult goal where the risk of failure is significantly higher.
Let us consider this sabre team bout, a bronze medal bout in a junior world cup in Sochi, Russia. The two teams are Kuwait on the left – fencing under FIE colors – and Japan, fencing on the right. Background: Kuwait had started out the competition with two 45-44 nailbiters against Iraq and Poland, and then lost against Hungary in the semifinal. Japan, on the other hand, had sat out the first round, won fairly comfortably over Georgia 45-36 in the second, and got badly beaten against Russia – 45-23 – in the semifinal. Japan is ranked #6th and Kuwait is #11 in the Jr MST world rankings, so both them have so far overperformed.
After 34:50 into the bronze medal bout, the ninth and last bout starts. Fencing for Kuwait is Yousef Arshamlan, ranked #5 individually in the world. His Japanese opponent is Kento Hoshino, ranked #23. The score is then 24-40, Japan has a great lead. In all of the following text, I write the Kuwaiti scores first, since that is how they appear on the screen. With that score and those rankings, it appears that the prudent thing to do for the Japanese fencer would be focus on preventing his probably better opponent from completely overwhelming him. Notice that the Japanese fencer does not have to score as many points as his opponent – far from it. If the Kuwaiti fencer scores 3 points for each Japanese point, then the last bout will have a bout score of 15-5, and the total team match score is 39-45, a not super-close result.
Put otherwise: If the Japanese fencer scores in one of four fencing phrases his team wins, despite the Kuwaiti scoring in the other three phrases. If the Japanese fencer can score in one of three, it all ends with a comfortable 45-34 win to the Japanese.
Let us now look at what really happened:
Phrase 1: Time 35:21. Both fencers advance, Kuwaiti retreats after they meet, he regroups and advances, and there is a two-light situation which the Japanese wins after a video check. Score 24 – 41, so far so good seen from a Japanese perspective.
Phrase 2: Time 35:50. Similar movements on the piste as in the previous phrase. This time, the Japanese fencer initiates an attack behind the Kuwaiti guard line that starts from too far away, and misses. The Kuwaiti can seize the initiative, and while advancing score a single light. Score 25-41, no cause for concern for the Japanese.
Phrase 3: Time 36:01. Both advance, but the Japanese fencer is just off in timing, a classical attack-counterattack situation. The phrase ends on the middle line. Score 26-41.
Phrase 4: Time 36:11. Again, the whole phrase is between the guard lines, with neither fencer retreating before it ends. Japanese attack is parried and riposted. Score 27-41.
Phrase 5: Time 36:21. Third consecutive phrase that concludes within the guard lines. Here, both advance, but the second Kuwaiti step is somewhat smaller. This causes the Japanese attack to fall short, and the Kuwaiti fencer just has to parry-riposte on a lunged-out Japanese. Score 28-41. Still a 13-point lead, but the fact that 4 straight points have been scored against him should be cause for a rethinking.
Phrase 6: Time 36:38. Phrase 3 all over again. Score 29-41.
Phrase 7: Time 36:50. And again. Score 30-41.
Phrase 8: Time 37:05. This time, is it phrase 5 that is repeated.Score 31-41. The Japanese fencer tries to stall for time to think things over by taking off his mask and combing his hair with his fingers.
Phrase 9: Time 37:21. Yet another phrase that starts and ends between the guard lines. For once, the Kuwaiti is a little bit indecisive, and the Japanese fencer can start the attack first. Score 31-42. Japan has broken a 7-point run. Japan only needs to score 3 more points in contrast to the 14 that Kuwait have to score, so even if Kuwait scores on 80% of the following point-giving phrases, Japan will win. If the Japanese fencer can manage to score on 25% of the following encounters, his team will win by 40-45. This is still Japan’s match. Japanese teammates cheering on, seemingly feeling a bit of relief.
Phrase 10: Time 37:32. Phrase 3, yet again. Score 32-42. The Kuwaiti fencer regroups instantly, as he must. The Japanese fencer slips and stumbles, but appears unhurt.
Phrase 11: Time 37:44. Phrase 3, yet again. Score 33-42.
Phrase 12: Time 37:55. And again! Score 34-42.
Phrase 13: Time 38:05. The Kuwaiti explodes out of the guard position, but the ref gives the point to Japan – first attack – almost instantly. However, the Kuwaiti demands a video replay, and the ref reverses her decision. One sees on the slo-mo that the weapon arm extension of the Kuwaiti starts just before the Japanese one. However, that is easily missed in full-speed video where the impression of the overall body movement overwhelms the impression of the arm movement on the Kuwaiti side. Score 35-42.
Phrase 14: Time 38:42. After a little bit of back-and-forth, the Japanese fencer takes the initiative and gets the Kuwaiti to retreat while behind his own guard line. The Japanese fencer flunges, and appears to have scored. However, the ref checks the video replay on her own accord, and decides that it is a simultaneous attack.
Phrase 15: Time 39:33. The fencers start again, centered so that the Japanese fencer starts one meter from the guard line of the Kuwaiti. Bang together, the Kuwaiti has the fastest hand yet again and there is only one light. Score 36-42.
Phrase 16: Time 39:42. This a replay of phrase 13, but this time the ref gives the point to the Kuwaiti right away. Score 37-42. The camera pans to really worried faces on the Japanese side.
Phrase 17: Time 39:57. Simple simultaneous attack in the middle of the piste. No point to either fencer.
Phrase 18: Time 40:04. The Kuwaiti fencer starts moving a little bit slower than usual, so when the Japanese attack comes it falls quite a bit short. The Kuwaiti fencer easily takes over the initiative, and pushes the Japanese back behind his own guard line. The Kuwaiti triggers an attack with some erratic-looking bladework, but he beautifully parries that and ripostes immediately to score a single light. During his advance, the Kuwaiti is jumping forward on his back foot, holding his front foot up in the air for several steps. A long phrase, and quite something to look at!. Score 38-42. Pan to the Kuwaiti side – is Papa Touré coaching Kuwait? It sure looks so.
Phrase 19: Time 40:24. Attack simultaneé. The japanese fencer flunges and falls off the raised piste.
Phrase 20: Time 40:49. Kuwaiti explosion off the guard line, and a Japanese extension – two lights within 1 second after the Alléz command. Ref gives the point to Kuwait, but the Japanese fencer demands a video replay. After a lengthy check-up, the ref stands by her decision. On slo-mo it seems as if the arm extension came a fraction of a second earlier from the Kuwaiti. Score 39-42. This is the eighth unanswered Kuwaiti point.
Phrase 21: Time 42:05. They advance together at the same speed, but both lose their nerve just before they commit to attack. After a simultaneous break of the primary attacks, the Japanese fencer is just a little bit faster to get his second attack going. Score 39-43.
Phrase 22: Time 42:17. The Kuwaiti explodes of the guard line again, and the Japanese neither gets an attack going, nor does he retreat early enough. Single light. Score 40-43. So far, Arshamlan has scored 16 points, in contrast to 3 by Hoshino.
Phrase 23: Time 42:33. Attack simultaneé.
Phrase 24: Time 42:41. This is similar to phrase 18. Yet another Japanese lunge attack that was well out of distance, and the initiative thus passing to the Kuwaiti. This time, his offensive footwork is more conventional. It all ends with a long attack initiated when the Japanese fencer is pinned to the back line. The Japanese counterattack hits first, but that counts for nothing when the attack was already underway. Score 41-43.
Phrase 25: Time 43:05. Another fast start and long last step by the Kuwaiti. However, this time he slips with his front foot, so the Japanese kan easily parry and riposte. The Kuwaiti almost goes down into a full split, and falls partly off the raised piste. Score 41-44.
Phrase 26: Time 43:31. Another fast Kuwaiti attack, this time without the Japanese even managing to get a light. However, the landing clearly hurt the front leg of Arshamlan, and he takes a medical break. Score 42-44.
Phrase 27: Time 44:37. Attack simultaneé. The front leg of the Kuwaiti is clearly giving out under him, another medical break is taken.
Phrase 28: Time 47:17 Arshamlan is limping, but he forces through his pain to score a single light – this looks like phrase 22 again. The Japanese is scared out of his wits, and just stands there for for the crucial time when he is being attacked against. Score 43-44. After the scored point, the pain hits Arshamlan again. He tries to stretch his groin so that it will hold up for two more points. He uses his remaining medical break time.
Phrase 29: Time 56:55. Ashamlan is not so fast this time, and Hoshino can extend into his blade, and thus taking the point through a one-light parry riposte. Score 43-45, and finally Japan has won. The Japanese look more relieved than happy.
The bout score is 19-5 in favor of Arshamlan, or almost 4 points for each point by Hoshino. Per my count, the score is 6-1 if one only counts the phrases which ended at, or behind the Japanese guard line. Of the phrases that in their entirety took place between the guard lines, the score was 10-4 in Kuwaiti favor, where 2 of the Japanese points were scored after the Kuwaiti injury. That leaves a score of 3-0 for the phrases that ended behind the Kuwaiti guard line. If one adds together the first and last group, one sees that of the points scored outside the guard lines the total score was 9-1 in favor of Arshamlan. Those are much worse odds than those for what happened between the guard lines. It appears that the Japanese fencer should have tried to force the phrases to end between the guard lines.
However, if one looks at another set of phrases one sees a different pattern. If one looks at the phrases in which Hoshino neither attacks out of distance, or is late, the score is 4-4 per my count.
To me, this points to a clear conclusion: Hoshino should have tried to force the phrases to end as soon as possible, by attacking as soon as he was within range. He would probably not have won a majority of those short phrases – Arshamlan could have parried several of them – but Hoshino did not have to win a majority of them. If Hoshino would have engineered simple phrases in which Arshamlan could not have used his clear superiority in complex phases with a lot of back and forth, then the Japanese team would probably have won this one without it getting so close. Hoshino let the fencing evolve into far too many long phrases where he was clearly outmatched, and it almost proved the undoing of his team. Hoshino was a weaker fencer in the short phrases also, but not by as large a margin.
So, there we are. A weaker fencer was up against a clearly better fencer, but the former did not have to win – he simply had to avoid falling apart. The best choice in that situation is to steer the fencing to a scenario in which the better fencer cannot use all of his superiority, but instead focus on a creating a scenario where the weaker fencer can score now and then, even if he never can score as many points as the better one.