What follows is a partial list of some of the ROTs I give to my epee students to help them improve their fencing. I hope you find them thought-provoking and useful.
Relax . . . DAMIT!
DAMIT = Distance . . . And Movement In Time
Relaxation is the key to fencing well, especially in epee where fine motor control is often critical. The more relaxed you are, the more likely you're going to react appropriately to an opponent's attack; the more likely you will be to hit the small targets; and the less likely you are to open up a lot of target area.
Distance is paramount. A given move will only work best at the proper distance. For instance, if you close the distance too fast, then extend, you'll overshoot your target; if you try to make a hand touch at infighting distance or out-of- distance, you'll miss.
Getting your hand, feet, and overall body movement just right is essential to making touches that score and score quickly. If you roll your wrist from a supinated position as you approach certain targets, you're likelier to miss your initial hit. If your front foot curls toward your inside line, you're likelier to find yourself off balance in some fencing actions, and you're likelier to miss small targets like the hand. If your torso is constantly leaning over your knee, you'll find your forward and backard mobilitiy severely hamstrung.
Timing is everything . Feints and attacks on the appropriate "tempo" have a higher probability of scoring. For you music enthusiasts, syncopation is one of the not-so-obvious keys to good fencing. The final action of a compound attack should always involve a change in speed (usually faster).
Point Your Toe, Supinate, Angulate
While other on-guards are often taught by fencing instructors, I stress a supinated on guard--thumb at two-thirty/three o'clock for right-handers, thumb at nine-nine-thirty for lefties--as the base hand position for most moves. With the appropriate ninety degree stance and the front foot pointing at the opponent, my epee students learn to hit the hand with their eyes closed. Some can make the hand touch 80 to 100% of the time.
The front foot is a fencer's "gunsight" on the target. When the front foot "wanders," the fencer tends to subconsciously compensate for his or her point "being pulled along the line of the foot." The result: the touch takes more effort to get, because the movement needs to be greater to get back to target; and the probability of missing target increases.
Angulation increases the likelihood of certain hand touches being made, and it lends power (leverage) in infighting situations and when taking the blade in bind and opposition attacks.
See Everything; Focus on Nothing
I call this maintaining the "TV Picture."
A good "TV Picture" is essential to good fencing. The key is too look the opponent in the eyes, while seeing everything "in the Box" (see below). The primary reasons for maintaining a good TV picture are to:
watch the distance between you and your opponent ,
register patterns in the opponent's blade movements, and
spot openings for attacks and counterattacks .
Often opponents will look at the target they want to hit . . . and their eyes will telegraph the attack beforehand. With the proper TV picture, you'll be able to spot this, and you'll react more quickly to the impending threat.
Never, ever look at where you're planning to hit. If your distance is right, your movement correct, and the timing optimal, you must hit the target . . . you won't need to look to ensure the hit. In fact, if you do look, you'll--more times than not--miss.
Small is Lethal; Stay in the Box
"The Box" is an imaginary rectangle circumscribing the opponent. If you keep your parries, beats, opposition attacks, binds, etc., small and adequate, within that box, you'll be much tougher on defense and more lethal on offense. Small movements open less target, use less energy, and enable you to hit the target faster.
YOUR game; not theirs
Fencing is a game of control. He or she who controls the bout usually wins the bout. By forcing the opponent to play your game--to play against your strengths, to focus on what you're likely to do to them--the higher your probability of winning. If you play your opponent's game, you're playing into his or her hands, and you're likelier to lose.
Use "Worry Spots"
A "worry spot" is a target you hit or threaten that gets the opponent worrying about getting hit there subsequently.
For instance, if I successfully hit you on the underside of the hand, and then subsequently threaten the hand again, you're going to worry about being hit there. It's probable that you'll react to cover that target with a bell parry or some other move that I can use to "mess with your head."
Suppose I feint to the hand that second time and, at the last minute, coupe to the upper arm (which you probably won't see because mine are small). Now you're frustrated and thinking you dropped your arm too much; and I'm up two to zero. On the third move, I hit the underside of the hand again. Now you're really worried; your arm movement seems to be a major problem. Now suppose on the fourth attack, I feint the underside hand hit yet again; and as you react to cover, I sixte bind to your arm or head. Now I've really got you on the run.
Notice how I have you worried about the underside of the hand. That's the "worry spot." By getting you to worry about something like this, I take control of the bout. You worry about what I'm going to do to you instead of what you're going to do to me. If all really goes well, the opponent will decide they're "doing something wrong," when, in fact, they're really being outsmarted.
A worry spot can be made of any target. How often have you worried about an opponent hitting you in the toe? One attempt by your opponent and, in most cases, you're worried about subsequent toe touches. Your "expectation" has been "set." Some fencers use this worry spot very well. Similarly, the head is a good worry spot.
Set Expectations; Use Them
Setting an expectation tempts the opponent to anticipate your action(s) .
That can play right into your game. For instance, if I lunge attacking the hand, and then go back to on guard . . . and if I then do it again (it matters not whether I hit), the opponent may end up with a subconscious mindset that with every attack I go back on guard. So they retreat beyond my first attack, but just barely. Suppose I launch a raddoppio (redoublement) style attack on the third action. Uh-oh! The opponent may be caught unawares.
Another example: If I don't fleche much, the opponent may develop the expectation that I don't have a fleche or I don't use a fleche much--if at all-- and be lulled into feeling safe at fleche distance. How surprised they're going to be if I suddenly spring a well-executed fleche on them.
Yet another example: If I have the reputation of being a hand-touch artist, I can establish the hand as "worry spot" almost immediately.
There are other ways you can set an opponent's expectation to your advantage. Some of them are quite subtle. Let your imagination play with this expectation idea, and I'm sure you can come up with some other ways to set the opponent's expectation.
Use the Opponent's Strengths
It should be obvious that you should take advantage of your opponent's weaknesses; but an opponent's strengths can also be used against them. If you succeed in doing this, your opponent's psyche will be greatly disturbed, and he or she will begin to worry big-time.
For instance, if your opponent has a strong sixte, you can feint to draw that sixte reaction and then disengage to the now open inside line.
When in Doubt, Get Out (unless infighting)
If you're surprised by an attack . . . retreat! Fast! But, if you're infighting, don't retreat--or you'll get hit as you withdraw
Use Tempo; Be Wary of Tempo
When you attack, syncopate the opponent's natural rhythm. But also be wary of any natural rhythms you may have.
Rhythms that fencers often display involve forward and back movement, rotation of the blade, presentation of target, dropping of the weapon arm, bobbing, side-to-side movement, etc. Any repetitive action with a consistent frequency of repetition is a tempo to be taken advantage of. So watch your opponent for such opportunities, and vary your own rhythms so you can't be surprised.
When a tempo attack is properly launched, the opponent is often caught flat-footed and wonders how you managed to hit them so cleanly.
Minimize Energy Use
Fencing events take time . . . and energy.
Preliminary bouts take time . . . and energy. Direct Elimination (DE) bouts of 15 points take time . . . and energy. You only have so much energy to spend. Use it wisely.
The name of the game is to use enough energy to win the bouts that continue advancing you toward placing in the competition. If you energetically fence all your earlier bouts, you'll run out of energy by the time you get to the DE's. Conserve energy so that no matter who you fence in the DEs, you'll have enough energy to cause your opponents some heartburn.
How do you conserve energy? By keeping your motions small, by staying in The Box, by using the clock when you're able to, by bouncing up and down less, by looking for the attacks that work but are simpler to execute, and so forth.
Use the Clock
The clock is as much a part of the game of fencing as it is a part of football or basketball.
When you're ahead by a point or two, stall . . . and keep your eyes open for your opponent's mistakes. When you're ahead, the burden is on the opponent to score. If you're lucky, their adrenaline flow will increase, and their fine motor control will decrease. Stay relaxed and play the sniper; score touches off the opponent's mistakes.
Don't Look at the Machine!
All too many fencers look at the machine, when it sounds off . . . or they look at the machine when the one on the next strip sounds off. Bad move! Always key on the director's voice, not the machine. And if the opponent looks at the machine, take the free touch offerred. . . as fast as you can.
Winning isn't the primary goal of fencing. Having fun, fencing well, and scoring as many touches as possible for your level of ability is. There can only be one "winner" of a fencing event. So focusing on "winning" a fencing event is unrealistic for most fencers (especially beginners) and sets them up for a lot of unnecessary disappointment and frustration.
In fencing, the enemy is not the opponent; it's yourself. The opponent only represents a puzzle to be solved.
All of us have one or more bad habits--bugaboos that cause us to mutter under our breaths every time we repeat them. Every fencer has out-thought themselves from time to time. Every fencer who was ever pessimistic about their performance before an event began probably ended up being right. Every fencer who thought old so-and-so was going to be tough to beat was probably correct too. We've all run across fencers who throw temper tantrums when they lose a point they think they shouldn't have--ever notice how bad they fence after they let their temper get the best of them? How you think, what you do, and how well you do it, impact whether you score touches and win bouts. You are your worst enemy.
So one of your goals when fencing is to minimize your mistakes . Another is to control your attitude . And, your ultimate goal is to fence One Touch at a Time . Only that way, can you achieve enough objectivity to negate any psych that you yourself, or the situation, or the opponent lays on you.
And if you end up feeling you've fenced well at a meet, savor that feeling-- whether you've won the meet or not.
That's the feeling that you're playing the game of fencing for.