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Thread: Preserving a hard-earned advantage

  1. #1
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    Preserving a hard-earned advantage

    Hello All,

    I am getting to the point where I can gain an advantage in the beginning of a pool or direct elimination bout and I am starting to do this more often even against more seasoned fencers. However, I feel that the threat of my fencing deteriorates as the bout goes on. Even against considerably less practiced fencers, I can see a large lead go south as the bout wears on and I even come close to loosing bouts like these sometimes.

    I do not feel like my problem is one of getting so excited about a lead that I become very sloppy. However, something clearly changes after I have consistently delivered a message of "I can consistently get a touch against you" somewhere near the middle of the bout cycle (I do a little better "preserving the threat" if I have stolen the show near the end of the bout).

    A little about my style of late (I mostly fence foil btw): I will tell you that in terms of technique and strategy, what has helped me gain early advantages these days has been a deliberate attempt to keep very tight "opportunity windows" and remain relaxed/poised enough to respond appropriately to a misjudged opportunity. For example, my preparation attacks are done with a goal of keeping my relaxed arm ready to strike and my feet/balance ready to shift if I am late. As another example, my marching attacks are done with an attempt to change the distance of the start and finish of my advance or lunge based on reaction of opponent while remaining relaxed enough to punish a search for the blade or finish calmly against a stop-hit/counter attack. Against opponents that desire a love affair with my blade, I will sometimes delay my hand while attacking.

    I am more successful with pre-planned second intention actions against a desperate opponent who is down than I am with a calm one. More often than not I get hit when I try second-intention against calm/smooth styles. I will admit to trying to sneak in more second intention actions when I am ahead.

    I would imagine others have faced a similar psychological hurdle (it is psychological right? or maybe I'm a poor tactician?) in terms of building upon early success in a bout so I would be grateful for any feedback I am especially interested in how to PRACTICE dealing with this issue as previous threads have underscored the importance of practicing dealing with the mental game.

  2. #2
    Senior Member cplmontana's Avatar
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    That's an awesome description of how you fence. I'm sure more experienced fencers will input shortly, but 2 cents.

    Lately, I've been having as similar problem. Down in the beginning, rally to lead by as much as 4-5, and losing in the end. I find making little changes at certain points preserve the lead for longer.

    SO, I guess to sum up. Have you tried making little changes throughout the bout, rather than switching from strictly different modes?

    No experience, just a ponder. Good luck.
    Sometimes adrenalin is more instructive than meditation. So, in between screaming, try and pay attention.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Grasshopper's Avatar
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    Instead of telling us how you fence, why not tell us why you think you lose?
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    FOR THE LOVE OF GOD WON'T YOU BUY MY TACTICAL WHEEL!!!????

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    As relates to the issue of being comfortably advantaged then falling behind, I am still trying to wrap my head around what happens. I do note that I tend to hang back a little more in this situation and I allow a little more development in the attack of the aggressive opponent in an effort to get them to become larger and/or over-commit. This strategy works sometimes but there are other times when I'm caught by a direct attack. Cplmontana's response probably hits home as well: When I go to change something, I guess I end up making the preparation larger or the timing is not as tight. Next week I will try and practice smaller changes to see which subtle variations are most effective against different situations. I have had issues with arm fatigue over time but that has not been a problem as of late.

    Regarding adaptation, I am becoming more creative as I get more experience and draw upon a larger set of actions. However, I am still often rattled by a fencer who drastically changes strategy (for example someone who goes from counter-attacker to compound counter-riposter).

    I'm sure there is more to why I sometimes easily let comfortable leads slip but that's all I got for self analysis presently.

  5. #5
    Senior Member D'Art's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Grasshopper View Post
    Instead of telling us how you fence, why not tell us why you think you lose?
    Without having tons of video to trawl through (which I doubt many people would do on here anyway) or seeing you training, this is one of the best pieces of advice you'll get. If you can't come up with answers, ask the question of your coach (assuming he/she's seen you competing). I suspect there will be more than one reason for this happening, some of them mental, some technical, some tactical.

    This is not ideal by any means, but you could in the club, try bouting where you start off a few hits ahead and see how you cope with that. And if you find it a problem in the club setting, at least there will be more people willing to give you feedback. I've known some pretty good fencers who just can't handle it when they're a couple of hits up. They're fun to mess with
    I'm happy to answer pointed questions as respectfully as my mood permits

  6. #6
    Senior Member NeverWas's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by excited_to_fence View Post
    ...comfortably advantaged ... I tend to hang back ...and I allow ... attack of the aggressive ... strategy works sometimes ... other times ... I'm caught by a direct attack.

    ... fencer who drastically changes strategy (...goes from counter-attacker to compound counter-riposter).

    ... easily let comfortable leads slip.
    As has been (over)stated, there's no way an internet forum is going to give you a conclusive answer; I think you knew that when you posted and were just looking for brainstorm/tossups.
    I'm gonna go all psychomological on you. Boiling down some of your wording I get the sense that you have the sense that you're letting up once you're ahead. You mentioned that it's sometimes a tactic to let the opponent make a mistake, but... really? "I'm gonna take you to 4-0, get you freaked out that you might get shut-out, and then stand back and see how you react." I think in that situation I'd by-god transition from counter-attacker to compound counter-riposter as well! Seems to me that in that situation you've sent a clear signal to your opponent that you're going to stomp him if he doesn't do something about your attacks... such as forcing you to defend.

    Question: the second-intention that tends to fail against a more calm opponent, are you leading with a feint that you're allowing him to find or an actual attack? Are you getting hit by "(your)attack-no, counter-attack-yes" or just a quick riposte? You identified "pre-planned" second intention. Does that mean that your first intention was just a not-seriously-executed gambit or a true "Plan A?"

  7. #7
    Needs to get Outside Inquartata's Avatar
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    In my experience the phenomenon you're describing is not uncommon in DE's; but pool bouts, too? That's odd.

    There's a trick we used with one fencer in one of my clubs who had this trouble "closing": After each touch we'd tell her "New bout". That is, to consider each point the end of a bout, and to pretend that she was beginning another bout altogether.
    Use the Shift key, people! Keyboard manufacturers everywhere are ineffably saddened when you ignore what they made just for you!

  8. #8
    Senior Member MyrddinsPrecint's Avatar
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    Sometimes, when you're ahead, it's because you figured out one or two things that work. A specific action, that fencer's tell, a good area of the strip.... and so you do it again. And again. And then they figure it out, but you're not ready to give it up, so you keep trying to force it on the situation. Only it's not there anymore.

    When you're down, but start coming back, you're more likely to get..... creative. Think on your feet, try anything that might work.


    Not that this is all of it, or something that affects everyone. But it's pattern I've noticed with a number of people.
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  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by excited_to_fence View Post
    I'm sure there is more to why I sometimes easily let comfortable leads slip but that's all I got for self analysis presently.
    Perhaps your opponent is just good at adjusting, and you're not noticing what changes he's making. Some adjustments are subtle. It's really best to have a teammate or coach watch some bouts and give you a second opinion about what's going on. Note that sometimes the change is very subtle. (He's starting about a half step closer than before. He was waiting for you to trigger his final action, and now he's going on his own time. etc.) Also note that not all fencers and coaches are great at this kind of analysis.

    I'll also mention that it helps to have a actions that support one another. For example, in foil, you may be great at hitting one light counter attacks when the opponent prepares too big. That's one "game." You could support that action with an early sweeping parry-riposte game. If your opponent shows too much blade too early, you take the blade and hit. That encourages him to withdraw the blade more, and now it's easier for you to hit your counter attack. When he tries to finish earlier, and the blade is available for your parry-riposte game. So, you try to push him back and forth between those actions. If he breaks out of that game entirely, his adjustment will probably be more obvious for you to spot on your own.

    Of course, if you're hitting your parry-riposte and then discover that he's better at his (late arm) attack than you are at hitting the one light counter attack, you'll need to do something different.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by tbryan; 02-19-2012 at 09:23 AM. Reason: typos galore
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  10. #10
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    People with a wide range of fencing styles have trouble maintaining leads... I don't think your fencing style matters too much. What does matter

    - You chose to tell us about the things you like to do but made no mention of your opponent. Maybe that indicates you are too internally focused and need to start thinking more about the other person is trying to do. This of course becomes more and more important as you fence higher level opponents. The difference between a mid level bout and a high level bout isn't always the mechanical execution of actions... it's the rate at which fencers recognize changes and adjust to them.
    - Nobody is forcing you to make too many second intention actions against calm opponents. If you understand that it's a weakness, and you understand that the other fencer is calm, don't do it! If you have trouble thinking about these things in the moment, come up with some kind of routine that you can run through in your head in between touches to keep you focused on what is working and what is not. In the short term this could simply mean telling yourself that if you are hit twice in a row when you have a lead you are going to tie your shoes...etc
    - It doesn't help to identify yourself as a person who loses leads, dude. "I lost a lead" =/ "I am the type of person who loses leads" but the more you think about it that way the closer it will come to being true...

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by tbryan View Post
    Perhaps your opponent is just good at adjusting, and you're not noticing what changes he's making. Some adjustments are subtle. It's really best to have a teammate or coach watch some bouts and give you a second opinion about what's going on. Note that sometimes the change is very subtle. (He's starting about a half step closer than before. He was waiting for you to trigger his final action, and now he's going on his own time. etc.) Also note that not all fencers and coaches are great at this kind of analysis.

    I'll also mention that it helps to have a actions that support one another. For example, in foil, you may be great at hitting one light counter attacks when the opponent prepares to big. That's one "game." You could support that action with an early sweeping parry-riposte game. If your opponent shows too blade too early, you take blade an hit. That encourages them to withdraw the blade more, and now it's easier for you to hit your counter attack. So he tries to finish earlier, and the blade is available for your parry-riposte game. So, you try to push him back and forth between those actions. If he breaks out of that game entirely, his adjustment will probably be more obvious for you to spot on your own.

    Of course, if you're hitting your parry-riposte and then discover that he's better at his (late arm) attack than you are at hitting the one light counter attack, you'll need to do something different.

    Good luck!
    This is good advice too... it can help you simplify a lot of your adjustments!

  12. #12
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    They key to good fencing is not to avoid giving up touches, but to give up touches constructively. Say you're up 3-1. You mentioned a little bit about second intention actions, so let's work with that. On the next touch, try to push the attack with a lot of preparation. Invite them to attack into that, but commit to the attack, and try to finish it. If that works, great. If not, it's 3-2. Next action, try to push the attack like the previous touch, except this time, you're drawing them in to counter, where you are ready to parry-riposte. 4-2.

    When you're fencing, you're not just "doing" actions. You're also teaching your opponent what you do. If you ignore the "teaching" aspect of fencing (and are not completely incompetent*), you will actually be a very effective teacher. Your opponent will be prepared for what to do next. You want to be a bad teacher. A really bad teacher. So bad that your opponent always fails the test. To do that, you must be simultaneously mindful of what you're doing and what you're teaching.

    *that is why beginners can often be so frustrating to fence. Their understanding of the game is lacking, so their actions become essentially random, and subsequently unpredictable. They couldn't "teach" if they tried.

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    Thank you very much for the public and private replies. I was hoping for some fresh ideas other than the feedback I get from my clubmates and coach, and this forum delivered. In addition to practicing keeping my head focused on the next touch, I am going to have a blast working on developing effective varieties of linked actions especially paying attention to subtlety. Speaking of subtlety, several of you have commented that I may be slow to notice changes in the telegraph or other aspects of my opponent's game so I am thinking of either asking a drill partner to deliberately change some aspect of their fencing (without telling me) or maybe fence a DE bout with the opponent switching out midway to force myself not to be so internal as one person put it.

    Regarding my feints against calm opponents to answer NeverWas, against certain calm styles my moderately deep feint is ignored by a small opening of the distance. There is sometimes a late parry but often the opponent's confident attack after my miss suffices. If I try to sneak in a more expansive distance, I am often punished with an immediate parry-riposte as soon as my arm comes forward even slightly. In other words, I am being taught "you have no idea when I will search for the blade." My approach to feints is to intend to hit if there is no parry and I would characterize my feints in these situations as committed attacks that are relaxed enough to avoid a reasonably-timed parry as opposed to half-hearted extensions. Perhaps working on the things that have been suggested will put me in a better position to more effectively deal with this issue or avoid it entirely. In the meantime, my coach continues his quest to get his sometimes-slow student to see more while on the strip

  14. #14
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    Beat attacks when you step forward or early parry ripostes are a problem to the extent that you don't plan ahead. You say you don't know when your opponent will take your blade... there is a remarkably simple solution. If you don't want your opponent to be able to take your blade, hide it. You can control the moments at which he can take your blade by putting it there only when you are ready to deceive or counter riposte.

    Could also be a distance problem I.e you are getting into "hitting distance" and hesitating, or you are getting into that distance too quickly to recognize immediately that you are there. It s much harder to walk into beat attacks preparing slowly with absence of blade.

  15. #15
    Senior Member Mr Epee's Avatar
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    Some people are more comfortable than others, when it comes to thrusting a hand into an opponent's chest, tearing out his still beating heart, taking a vulgarly over-sized bite of it, watching the life drains from his eyes, mugging for the cameras, on-lookers and officials, then walking away and tossing the tough chewy bits in the waste basket with a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders.

    Here's to ice in your veins and murder in your heart.

    Cheers.
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  16. #16
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    None of us has seen you fence, and though you have given some detailed accounts, we really don't know exactly what problem/s is/are at the core of your issue. Some really excellent advice has been proffered and you'll do well to read it, and think on it, and try it. So, in that spirit, here is one more possibility I didn't see addressed for you to consider.

    I have seen many newer fencers (from fresh off the turnip truck to several years experience) do something interesting when they have built up a lead: Change strategies. There seems to be a feeling that being up requires a change in strategy...why? Here is a simple rule I follow: If I have built an advantage with a particular strategy I don't change it until the other fencer makes me change it. If they haven't figured it out at 3-1 or 4-2, why change it? At that point in a pool bout all one need do is be a little pickier about when to go or when to set up your touch. Mess with the distance, give them time to forget what they've learned, and go only when it's a gold plated opportunity to score the touch with your proven tactic.

    I am surprised how often I see a young foil fencer, for instance, score 3 touches in a row with a nice marching attack, using tempo changes and feints and then on the 4th encounter decide to lay back and be reactive, letting the other fencer lead the action. The attitude seems to be "No problem. I've got this. No need to do that anymore". Next thing you know it's 3-3 and they wonder why. If it's working and the other guy hasn't got an answer, don't change it! And don't get passive cause you've got a lead, remain active and press your advantage, maybe try to use a different disguise to set up the same touch; be the bad teacher described above.

    Plus here's is a less eloquent way of restating Mr. Epee's comment; if you're up, and you're hitting them with a particular action for which they have no answer, go ahead and kill 'em off with it. That's the idea.

    If the other guy has got you figured out, that's a different issue that has been too well addressed by others for me to add any value.
    notanotherlefty likes this.
    And, isn't sanity really just a one-trick pony anyway? I mean all you get is one trick, rational thinking, but when you're good and crazy, oooh, oooh, oooh, the sky is the limit.

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