Tell-tale Twitch

Okay, one of the biggest problems a fencer has is a tell-tale. Well, from what I know that is the biggest problem any fighter has. A preparation before an attack, whether it is a twitch or a pattern it can still tell the opponent that you are about to attack. So there are two things to do with a tell-tale: Eliminate it, and then use fake tell-tales.

First, you either have to be good at self-criticism, or work with a partner. Second, you need a mirror, unless you have a trustworthy partner. The drills are as numerous as the potential situations in which you could show your intention, and also being lazy this late I won't list them but say that the lunge is one of the biggies.

A tell-tale before a lunge can be as subtle as a shift in weight, to a large rotation of the upper body as though trying to gain rotational acceleration from the movement and therefore make the point of the foil move faster. Whatever the physical or mental reason for the tell-tale, it signals the opponent, so whether or not it makes the point go faster, it will give the opponent more time to react.

Subtle: A pattern of breathing, shift in weight, small twist in torso, small pattern with the sword, shuffling, tilt of the head, and many others.

Pronounced: A sigh or making sounds, standing up, hunkering down, large twist in the torso or bringing the off-hand froward, a pattern of heavy beats, a pattern of footwork better defined.

None of the listed things are bad in themselves as long as the patterns don't get too extensive or are repeated often. But if every time you lunge is preceded by the same action, then the opponent will pick up on it, even if they aren't all that observant. Working with a partner should start with a bit of sparring just to watch the other closely. When you see something that is repeated before a lunge or other action, stop the sparring and point it out. Then it is time to breakdown the movement to try to get rid of the unintended movement, so take it slowly and build from there. Beginners won't have too hard a time ironing out a few flaws they have picked up in the first month, but intermediate and advanced fencers might have to work over several weeks to eliminate a habit.

Once you have successfully eliminated all of your quirks, good luck with that, it is time to throw them back in. But wait, isn't that what you just trained out? Yes, but using them as feints can be effective to an extent. This works well against observant, over-analyzing opponents, not against ones who just come in anyway. Make a non-opening tell-tale before lunging, and then do it again before another lunge. Now you have the opponent. You can now play with the opponent for a little while until they figure out that they have been tricked. There are two ways of using feint, one is not to use it at all on the third lunge and just make it clean, completely surprising the very observant, and the other is to make the feint so that they attack into it. Of course with an extremely observant opponent the first one will only work once, and the second may work twice if you are lucky.

There is a psychological side other than just tricking the opponent once. An extremely observant opponent will become extremely cautious because they realize that you have control over your tell-tales. When someone is overly cautious in a competition, it often, but not always, leads to defeat. However the same is true for over-confidence. So in taking control of the bout, don't forget that they might use the shift in their favor.

I shouldn't forget about the breathing thing, that has many interesting side-tracks. I did list breathing as a tell-tale up there, but if you don't breathe correctly or at all, you will be at a severe disadvantage. Just don't make discernible patterns of sounds without intention. So I will write on breathing more and soon.


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