January 28th, 2020

fly away

On a forgotten expertise

I used to spend a lot of my time fencing, and that old bone-deep knowledge reminds me of its existence on occasion. Take this photo, for instance:

  • The guy in the back is holding a saber--see how the hilt wraps around his hand? The guy in the front appears to have a rapier, given the straight cross-piece and complete lack of bend in the blade. Given that sabers are for cutting and rapiers for stabbing, they're going to have two completely different approaches to fighting.

  • This is a good thing for the guy in the front, given that he doesn't have a proper fencing jacket on, which always zips in the back or near the off hand, to prevent your opponent's blade tip from getting caught and breaking off. He's in a suit jacket instead, which would actually funnel a stabbing attack towards his armpit--a big issue. But a saberist is more likely to cut at his shoulder or neck, which have a modicum of protection. Still not great, but better than the alternative.

  • Despite the inequality in equipment, I would expect suit guy to best the saberist for a couple of reasons:

  • a) He has a much bigger reason to avoid getting hit, so he's going to guard his distance very carefully, while the saberist is more likely to try a riskier attack because it won't cost him in the same way.

  • b) Saberists tend to function purely in attack mode; they're allowed to parry, but they almost always go simply on speed in order to capture the right-of-way and so secure the ability the score. Rapier places more of an emphasis on controlling the opponent's distance and blade, and so if suit guy can match the saberist's speed, he can pretty easily predict and counter the saberist's attack. (I've seen this in action when people move from foil to saber; it's almost comical to watch their opponents become increasingly baffled because they just can't land a hit.)

  • c) Even though the saberist has a more complete fencing outfit, suit guy has much better balance and stance in general. The saberist's front toe is pointed significantly inward, which means when he lungest for suit guy, his body is going to follow, likely exposing his right arm and even his back to suit guy. He's also leaning forward, which further exposes his leading shoulder, and suggests that his weight is off-balance, and his off hand is out and could easily be caught by his opponent's blade. Suit guy, on the other hand, is holding himself very upright, thus protecting his back and shoulder, and has his off hand correctly tucked behind his hip and out of the way. His body appears to be fairly centered between his feet, meaning that he can more easily move in any direction as needed at any moment. And he is holding his blade in a deliberately low guard, to tempt his opponent into seizing his blade or targeting his arm--meaning that he can again better predict and plan for the attack.

I kind of wish this was a real match that I could watch, instead of just some clearly-staged photo/fashion shoot--it would be interesting to see if it would play out as I predict, to find out if my eye still holds true.