Thursday, September 19, 2013

Fabris, Part Eight - Chapter 10

We're back!

(pages 17-18)

Chapter 10 - On Tempo and Contratempo - Which are good and bad; how to deceive a false tempo that the opponent gives you in order to wound you in contratempo.

Fabris begins by defining tempo for purposes of this discussion. Here, he says that "A tempo is a movement that the opponent makes within measures. If he were to move outside the measures, it would not be a tempo but merely a movement or mutation, because in this discipline, 'tempo' also implies an occasion to wound or at least to take some advantage over the opponent." I've seen other definitions before (specifically noting that it's a movement between two moments of stillness or a moment of stillness between two movements, using Aristotelian concepts), but I really appreciate Fabris including the point that the movement has to occur within a measure to even matter. 

Fabris goes on to point out that the time you use to make one movement cannot be used to make another movement - so if your opponent has an opening, is in measure, and makes a movement during which you strike, you will wound him because he cannot do two things at once. In doing this though, the tempo of your attack can't be longer than the tempo of the movement your opponent is making, otherwise he can still parry you and respond to your attack.

This is what Fabris calls an attack in tempo. (Or of tempo.)

Fabris further states that distance plays into attacks in tempo. If your opponent is sufficiently far away and only moves his arms or body but not his feet, you may well not be able to reach him with your attack because he can move his feet to break measure entirely. In this case, Fabris recommends using this opportunity to close the measure and take the next tempo to wound your opponent.

Very nearly any movement can give you a good tempo. Shifting around in a guard, moving feet and body, or sword and feet, or any combination can give a tempo if there's an opening. Naturally though, it's much easier to take a tempo if your opponent doesn't realize he's giving it, and if you already are in a good counter-posture. Because your opponent is already moving, he can't parry and counter because that's two tempi, and if you're already in a good counter posture, you only need one to strike.

Fabris states that even at wide measure, taking a tempo when your opponent moves - even if it isn't his feet - can be good because he probably doesn't know that he just gave you the tempo; this should let you close quickly.

At this point in the chapter, things are very straightforward, but there are some interesting conclusions we can take from what Fabris is saying. He doesn't outright say that tempi can vary in length from one another, but simply notes that it's a thing to be careful of and moves on. It seems as though it's just taken for granted, which I suppose, it should be. It only makes sense.

What does stick out to me though, is that Fabris doesn't seem to allow for the interruption of a tempo to do something else - what I tend to think of as aborting to a parry, or suddenly bailing out of measure. It's something we've all seen, and many of us have done. I suspect that this is because this may not fit into his view of proper fencing, because any attack is a commitment and if you're allowing for the possibility of hitting the abort button it's because you didn't correctly choose a counter-guard, gain your opponent's blade, and make a firm strike. 

While we haven't gotten to his chapter on feints yet (it's coming up soon), I'm going to guess that he'd consider a feint and attack as being composed of a number of short tempi, and not a single long tempo. That being the case, you wouldn't be interrupting the feint to parry or do something other than what you had planned, but simply doing something else as the next tempo.

Moving on to the remainder of the chapter!

Fabris states that some fencers will make a tempo to lure you into an attack and then have parried and countered your blow as you do so. This is what he calls "contratempo," and he goes on to clarify that technically, any time you counter an attack it's a contratempo action. He states that another possible result is both fencers are wounded, because either one didn't judge the contratempo correctly, the invitation was performed too close, or the invitation was too large.

If you want to avoid the contratempo, you need to be keenly aware of the tempo your opponent is giving you, and make sure that it's long enough so that your blow has time to reach your opponent. If you feel that it is an invitation, Fabris says that you should begin your movement, and then change to the opening made when your opponent moves his blade in the contratempo.

Fabris then says, almost as an aside, that "this discipline relies in great part on the ability to subtly deceive your opponent."

If you are in close measure, Fabris says you can take advantage of any movement from your opponent (unless they're breaking measure). Unless he's increasing measure (in which case he may have the time necessary to parry and strike you), you should have the advantage if you attack in that tempo. It is never good to be the first to move in close measure, unless you are attacking.

Additionally, if you are in close measure you can attack without your opponent giving you a tempo, if you are in a good counter-posture. If you are careful in your choice of targets and your assessment of your opponent's ability to parry, and you gain the blade well, you should be successful.

I must say that I enjoyed how Fabris pointed out double-kills, as well as how when you're sufficiently close, some of the rules about tempo morph somewhat into more of a gunslinging approach - although he does say that you must still have a good counter-posture lest you be wounded as well. This is a really tight description of tempi and what you can do with them.

Next up, the cavazione. Tune in!

1 comment:

  1. With respect to 'aborting to a parry,' and the related points, I would like to suggest that the concept of tempo is that it is atomic - it can not be subdivided. Therefore, if you can abort to a parry, your attack must have been in more than one tempo. - JB