Recently, I was sparring against someone I had never fought before. At first, the fight went fairly well. I was landing a good number of hits both at good measure and, when things got heated and it came down to Zogho/Giocco Stretto, I was able to make some clean pommel strikes.
My opponent was an interesting guy. He laughed like a mad man as we fought and I liked him instantly. While I had the edge at first and I was able to land the majority of blows, the dynamic of the fight suddenly changed as we both started fighting more aggressively. Suddenly we were just landing double after double.
We took a break and I was given the tip that I should play it more defensively. It was a good call as my opponent had stopped caring about defending himself from my strikes and was instead determined to land blows on me. As I become more guarded, the flow and tempo of the fight changed again and it became more about exchanging the thrusts and setting aside his strikes so I could enter with my own. Now, reacting to an opponent, whether from the bind or to an opening, is the principle behind many of Fiore’s plays. The Zogho di Culpa di Villano (The Play of the Peasant’s Strike), for example, is a means of reacting to and overcoming an unskilled opponent who is swinging his (or her) sword wildly.
However, when I was trying to reconcile these ideas with the principles from Sigmund Ringek’s commentaries on Liechtenauer’s treatises referring to the Vor and Nach, I kept thinking of what happens when two fencers try to take the Vor at the exact same moment.
“When you are closing to an opponent, do not watch his blows and do not wait for what he might use against you. Because, all fencers who just wait for their opponent’s blows and not do anything else than warding them off do not succeed very often. They are often defeated.”
What are the Vor and Nach? In short (and I mean in short), the concept of the Vor (Before) is about taking the initiative, striking first and keeping the opponent from being able to counter thus forcing them into the Nach (after). This could be equated to being the First Master in Fiore’s work. I shall, for the time being, ignore Indes and Fuhlen as that’s a whole different can of worms that I’ll go into in a later article. I know that there are those who will say that acting from Indes would be a solution to this problem, but my issue is more about striking first or intentionally responding to your opponent’s strike.
Incidentally, one of my favourite quotes about combat comes from none other than Gandalf the Grey. “He who strikes first, if he strikes hard enough, needn’t strike a second time.” What a badass.
So, what happens when two people keep trying to take the Vor? Well, for one thing, I now know that I need to ensure that I’m doing a better job of covering my opponent’s line of entry as I make my strike. I should also consider how willing I would be to commit to a certain move were we fighting with live blades.
A great suggestion I read was taking off your fencing jacket and any kind of arm protection and continuing the fight from there. Pain is the best teacher, after all. The fear of getting hit really does change how fencer behaves. This would all depend on insurance and how far you’re willing to go to correct your mistakes of course.
Maybe I shouldn’t take it literally and think about taking the Vor rather than striking first, but striking in the right way to put my opponent off balance. In other words, aim to be the first to offset the balance in your favour rather than the first to make a move. Though, I confess that I might then be drifting into Nachshlag territory here. But, again, a can of worms for another article.
What do you do when you consistently double with a sparring partner? Do you have any interesting solutions you could suggest?