Back from a training session. Two of my least experienced fencers were fencing against each other, and a fencer their age that is significantly more experienced.

First time around, both of the less experienced fencers fenced at a low tempo against the more experienced fencer, with predictable results. They fenced at tempos such that they felt that they could manage to get the movements right. While the movements were more or less OK, the low tempo gave oceans of time for their more experienced opponent to execute straight attacks, set traps, predict attacks so as to prepare parry-riposte actions, and whatnot.

Then they were up against each other, after both having heard that I wanted them to increase their fencing tempo. At first, the bout was a bit tentative, but then one of them took my lesson ad notam. The results were very instructive indeed.

The fencer that first set the higher tempo forced his opponent to react – and to react only. At a tempo that was considerably higher than the maximum one for either of them to execute technically well, the fencer who was the reacting fencer had no time at all to get out of reacting mode and impose his will on the fencing phrase. At that speed, the attacking fencer made a lot of errors in his attacks, so the scoring percentage was not that high. That did not matter at all – while the scoring percentage of a given attack was not high, the rate of attacks per second was high, and since the opponent was completely tied up with defence, the ultimate result was that the fencing phrase ended with a series of unopposed attacks until one of them managed to score.

They did two bouts after getting a second helping of coaching. The result: 10-1 to the more aggressive fencer. You cannot argue with success.

Take-home lesson: If you, in a training bout, are fencing at a tempo that makes it possible for you to execute what you want to do flawlessly – or nearly so – then you are fencing at a too slow tempo. Keep on repeating it, and you will be (technically) good and slow. Meanwhile, someone else will increase his tempo during training, and do a lot of technical errors in so doing. However, if he keeps working on the higher tempo, he will eventually become better technically. Once he has succeeded, he will be (technically) good and reasonably fast. That is enough to beat you any day.

Remember: in a fencing phrase, you do not need to have perfect technique to score (even if it helps!). What you want is better technique than your opponent, and sometimes it even works with having a technique that is not too much weaker than the opponent. The fencer who has the can fence at the higher tempo than his opponent can impose his will on the bout – if he wants the fencing to be fast-paced, there is little indeed that his opponent can do about it. If he wants to decrease the tempo – to rest, or to burn the clock – that is a viable option also. Once he increases the tempo to a level where it is workable but difficult for him, it is often overwhelming for the opponent with a lower tempo maximum.

During free bouting: Push yourself to the limit, and beyond! Once things are going so fast so that you are starting to do a lot of technical errors, you have reached a speed at which you can train to become better at high speed. Do that, instead of decreasing the tempo!

Next post: What the more experienced fencer did in order to deal with a high fencing tempo, seen from a OODA loop perspective.