Cal Fencing Club

Parries and Ripostes

Most fencers train their ripostes so they are fast and reflexive. After a while, they occur without conscious thought on the fencer's part. However, this is not to imply that ripostes are machinelike and thoughtless. There are several tactical variations on parries and ripostes - opposition, detached/beat, interception, ceding, flying, and destroying parries, and then the direct and indirect ripostes. With enough time, fencers can intuitively use the perfect combination for any situation (or perfect one combination for every situation). The key thing about every parry and riposte is that the fencer must stay calm.

During an action, the attacking fencer has all the options. They can give false signals, they can indicate their target and then change, they can pick any point on the opponent's huge target surface to hit with their little wand of surgical steel. The defender has a harder time of it. Forced into a reactionary mode, they must pick out the real attack from a series of threats, move their blade to it, and block it. The defender must be too calm to become embroiled in the action, too clueful to swing at every pitch.


Simple ripostes
Riposte to the back
Counter-parry riposte
Parry with distance
Lefty-righty, go to flank
Deep attacks can be parried
Ripostes can be messy
Parry with relaxed hand
Set up the parry
Parry and riposte at the same time

Beating the parry:

Deceive the blade
Strong hand prise ignore the parry
Parried? Eh, Remise!
Machine-gun through parry
A tiny disengage
Hit before the parry-
Invite a parry and go around

Simple ripostes require the opponent's commitment

Fencer right takes her parry after fencer left has committed to the attack. In this instance, fencer right has given her opponent just enough rope to hang herself with. If she'd tried to break into her opponent's attack, or if she'd excitedly made an early parry, the action would not have been as definitive.

Deep attacks can be parried, no big deal

In this action, the far fencer is making whippy attacks to Alexander Romankov's high deep inside line. He even rehearses the action, showing Romankov where he's thinking of going.

Many fencers complain about whiparounds, but the simple rule is: The closer the opponent, the stronger and larger the parry. Watch Romankov deal with this attack using nothing more than distance and good hand technique.

Fencer right attacks with a lot of fakes and preparations, but Romankov has already been tipped off (by the rehearsal) where the attack wants to land. He guards his outside line when it seems wise, but mostly he's waiting for that last attack to the chest.

Riposte to the back

When riposting against a fencer with a long, low attack - or a fencer who falls forward during their attack, frequently the front target is hidden.

In this situation, you can either flick to the back, or placidly receive the touch against when the opponent remises.

Notice also, fencer left is being attacked in her deep low inside line - but she still doesn't make a parry seven. Parry seven is not exactly useless, but then again, it isn't the parry that many high-level fencers use to defend the seven target.

Ripostes can be messy

Attack parry riposte for left. This riposte is neither clean nor pretty, but notice how calm and deliberate fencer left is, when she does her action. This is one situation where a rushed or mechanical riposte would've missed, going over fencer right's duck.

Fencer right disagrees with the call, but we (and the director) have a better view.

Counter-parry riposte

Right prepares, left attacks on preparation.
Right parry ripostes, left counter-parry ripostes, touch!

The trick with counter-parry ripostes (and all fencing) is maintaining your composure. A fencer never knows when their opponent has one more action up their sleeve, so it's wise to be calm and deliberate for as long as possible.

In this clip, fencer left keeps her composure by using second intention. Her first attack (into opponent's preparation) isn't really meant to land, so she's ready to manage the opponent's riposte.

But there's more! Fencer right was probably inviting her opponent to attack into her preparation. She invites, receives the attack, and parries. Normally a good plan, but too bad for her, fencer left is ready for this.

Parry with a relaxed hand

You're in the finals, and your nation and team-mates need you to win. That's no excuse to let your arm get tense.

Fencer left receives an attack and makes a difficult riposte to the high outside line, making it look easy. It's only because her hand was relaxed, and took its time to complete its riposte, that she scored. Slow and steady wins the race, sometimes.

Note how fencer left jumped forward with her hand low. She was able to be so calm and relaxed because the whole action was a setup. She invited the attack from the right, and was completely ready with the parry. The tip-off is the solid footwork; a surprised parry riposte would have been accompanied by sloppier distance.

Parry with distance

Attack from left, parry riposte.
Counter-parry riposte.
Counter counter-parry riposte. Touch.

This is a long footwork action with a flurry of bladework at the end.

Most of the threats created by both fencers are handled with distance. Simply by retreating out of reach, most threats can be nullified. When fencer left does her first attack, fencer right keeps such good distance she decides to not use her blade at all.

The hand movements of both fencers are casual, just-in-time, and never over-committed. They don't need to be. If your distance is good, then parries are almost unnecessary. They are merely added insurance against an attack which has already been handled. With good distance, blade contact is idle and unhurried, small and controlled, because it hardly matters if they find the blade. It's only when these fencers close distance that the urgency reaches their hands.

If the distance is bad, then your hand has one setting only: As fast as possible, because you're always fixing emergencies. Since surprise is generated by change, then a hand that always moves as fast as possible is not surprising but rather predictable. It's much better to have a hand that can change when you need it to: Slow fast, fast slow. Surprise is change in speed.

Set up and plan the parry

Fencer right attacks once, twice (a small one), three times. For the first two attacks, fencer left gives ground and parries, but she's out of distance to score with a riposte. It seems like fencer left ought to work harder for a riposte, but she's just biding her time. She's working smarter, not harder.

For each of her opponent's attacks, she gives ground. Her opponent becomes comfortable with this idea… indeed, her opponent starts changing the distance so she can get more reach with her attack. If fencer left is going to retreat, then she'll just chase her down!

But fencer left is expecting this. When the next attack arrives, she doesn't even retreat. She roots to the ground, parries and ripostes.

Lefty versus righty, go to flank

In this action, fencer right charges forward. Her opponent sees distance closing, and launches a direct, simple attack of opportunity. She's ready, however - making a strong parry 4, she is perfectly situated to finish on the flank.

Lefty to righty, flank shots can be prefaced by a strong beat or parry 4 (one of the strongest hand moves a fencer can make), which leaves the opponent's tip far away from target. The flank itself sometimes seems small, but with the vagaries of movement in the bout, it can actually extend from the hip to the shoulder. A whole swath of target that can only be protected by the comparatively weak 6 and 8 parries. The fencer can also lunge a bit to the side, for better access to the flank, but a side effect is that this exposes more of the chest to the opponent.

Parry and riposte at the same time

This action finishes very much like Counter with Close-out under Attacks.

The regular parry riposte combination has a predictable hand rhythm - first the parry, then the riposte. If your attack is parried, there's always time (or it often seems like there's time) to take a counter-parry, if you're quick and prepared.

Fencer left is launching an attack, feeling pretty ready for anything. What comes, however, is a complete surprise. The close-out disposes of the normal back-and-forth rhythm. The parry is the riposte, it happens in one move. Add to that a sudden closing of distance, and an esquive, and you have a situation where that attacking fencer's tip is leveraged into space, and the attacker impales on the opponent's blade.

Closeouts aren't always easy to do. First, you need your opponent to commit to a certain target, not only so you can find the blade but so you can get leverage against it when you do find it. Then, when you take the blade, you must take it fort - against foible (the closer to your bell guard the better), so that the more the opponent extends to hit, the further away from your target their tip goes. Then, you have to be ready with distance, so that you're not too far away to hit. Once all that is achieved, the actual close-out movement is a simple matter of riding the opponent's blade back up to their target.

In this clip, fencer right takes a slightly different approach. She puts the point on target, and finding her blade close to her opponent's, closes out afterwards.

Beating the parry - deceive the blade!

Despite being one of the foundational actions in fencing, there is nothing simple about a disengage. It's difficult to execute against high-level fencers who spend years building omniscient parries. It's also the first thing discarded under pressure by a fencer, who must often sacrifice control and wit for speed.

Fencer left is across from a German, and knows the Germans' predilection for sweeping parries. She executes the safest kind of deception there is, a low-high attack, which draws her opponent into trying to find the parry at the expense of distance.

(The term disengage used to mean un-engaging the blade, as from an engaged position. Nowadays, it's used almost interchangeably with the term deceive. D-robement also means the same thing, but in the context of an extended arm, say with a Point in Line. These are all ways of Refusing the Blade - yet another term for avoiding the opponent's actions on the blade, and thankfully one that we don't use anymore.)

A tiny disengage is all you need

Fencer left chases her opponent down, unleashing a lunge at the end of her attack. This all seems quite manageable, to fencer right. She eventually stops retreating, makes a parry, and leans into the attack.

But the whole nature of the action changes when fencer left throws in a final disengage. Her low attack draws a parry 8 from her opponent, but fencer left has already changed her attack to the high line. She catches her opponent so off guard that it takes a moment for her to be able to extricate her blade after the action.

Small, precise movements like this often seem more difficult than they are. When a fencer can reign in the urge to make big, sweeping movements, their tips will stay nearer to the opponents' targets. This makes the target easier to hit. In this action, it's a simple matter for fencer left to put her point on target, even when fencer right is closing distance, ducking, and trying to parry.

Strong hand prise - ignore the parry

Fencer right knows, from prior actions in the bout, that her opponent has a weak wrist. Left's wrist breaks (loses its fixed position), which complicates point control, and weakens all her actions.

So when left attacks, fencer right takes a parry, and just ripostes through the counter-parry. There is not enough strength in her opponent's wrist to make the counter-parry work. Note how fencer left's hand raises during the counter-parry (as if to make a desperate 4), but her blade is already captured.

Fencer right keeps ahold of her opponent's blade, and uses the strength of her fort - against the weakness of her opponent's foible. She hits fencer left during and in spite of left's attempt. It's a judicious application of strength that works wonderfully.

Hit through the parry with total commitment

The fencer on the right doesn't really hit before the parry. He's hitting through the parry (which must've been especially frustrating to his opponent), but the concept is the same.

Fencer right decides he's going to score, and no wimpy parry is going to stop him. Of course, it helps that the attack is an arc attack (flicky), which can wrap around an idle parry. Still, what sells the point is his commitment. He attacks into a closed line, which keeps his opponent from being worried - and then he finishes the attack, whereon his opponent finds that his defense was insufficient.

A committed attack can make late, laggardly, hesitant, or insufficient parries irrelevant.

This action is also under Concepts and Simple attacks.

Parried? No riposte? Remise!

If you're a busy, on-the-go fencer, you don't have time to wait around for a slow riposte. You have touches to earn, screaming to do, medals to collect. With the right opponent, and at the right time, you can occasionally grab a sleazy remise despite a parry (and even a riposte) from the opponent.

This works best when your opponent is not positioned to land a riposte, because then, of course, you won't get hit. In the clip, fencer right is moving backwards - he tries for a riposte, but can't reach. The attacker (left) has a decent amount of speed left over from his parried attack, and he can reach.

For fencer right, it comes down to a judgement call. Based on the fencer's experience and the feeling of the action, the fencer must decide between a half-hearted riposte, or a more conservative parry-no-riposte approach. If fencer right could do it over, he would have parried, waited, parried again and riposted. Or - he would have made darn sure to land his tip.

There is another immediate remise (also known as appuntata) under Tricks, Tactics and Strategy.

Invite a parry and go around

Fencer left beats the blade and moves forward, hand high. The opponent falls back, seeing the fencer's high tip.

That tip isn't threatening target, not really (and the hand is quite withdrawn). It's implying a threat to an area of target; it's merely suggesting where the tip can end up. It's hovering in the air, and it can score against the shoulder, the back, the breast, the flank. In effect, fencer left is reducing the options of her opponent.

That's what these vague tip movements do - they supress opponents. Whatever the opponent does must factor in the vague implied threat. In the same way, if your dog rests his chin on the coffee table close to your pile of oreos, you're going to move the oreos away. Not that anything would happen… but why not be safe?

As fencer left charges closer, her opponent's hand gets higher. The threat to the high line never really manifests (and it's never really a feint), and so the defender never really commits to a parry. That's fine - the best way to beat an opponent's parry is to never tell them they need one. Eventually, when her opponent's hand is high enough, fencer left hits the open low-line target.

An action like this is not a feint disengage per se. It's more like showing a flaw, so the opponent buys into it and doesn't do anything unexpected. The story is this: "My tip is high, so I'll probably attack high. My hand is pulled, which shows I have little confidence in this one. Why don't you move your hand higher to counter my threat? Clearly I haven't thought this one through."

Machine-gun through the parry

Fencer right is chased to the end of the strip, but does nothing to actively end the action. He parries endlessly, though his opponent's target is inches away from his tip. He flinches and reacts, but never decides to score a point.

Fencer left may have better presence of mind than his opponent. He knows that this ludicrous end-of-strip frenzy will not last for long. He finishes it quickly and dodges away. It's easy to defeat a parry when there's never a riposte. You just keep jabbing.

In an action like this, if you are the defender at the end of the strip, do yourself a favor and finish the action. Put on a light - any light. Same thing goes if you are the attacker.