When we discuss “control” in a bout, we are generally not talking about bullying the other fencer around (although we might be) but, rather, establishing a frame.
To be successful on the strip, we need to influence our opponent’s thinking. This means affecting both his logic and his emotions. The greater our ability to manipulate the opponent’s mind, the easier our victory will be. To have the greatest influence over our opponent’s thoughts, we need to control the frame of the bout. In other words, we need to impose limits on the way the other fencer is perceiving the situation.
Our first step to properly framing the bout occurs before we even step on the strip. We use confident body language and mannerisms to demonstrate superiority (I address this in more detail in an earlier entry).
In order to properly frame the bout while fencing, we must first control the movement. We must determine the rhythm, pace, and distance in which the bout is occurring–and we must be constantly changing these factors. We must immediately lead the opponent. By controlling the movement and cleverly using preparatory actions, we will begin to influence our opponent. He will find his choice of actions limited and, especially important, he also will find the time to use those actions limited.
A superior fencer does not simply have the ability to react to his opponent’s choices. He determines when the opponent makes those choices and what those choices might be.
A fencer may, for example, wish to make use of his defense. If he moves along with his opponent, waiting for an attack, he will–unless he is against a very weak competitor–be easily hit. If, however, the fencer is framing the bout properly, his opponent will feel unsure about the proper time to attack and will either attack too early or too late, giving the fencer a large choice of defensive actions that he may successfully use. With proper preparatory actions, the fencer can even limit the line that the opponent chooses to attack into. After a few successful defensive actions, the opponent may stop believing in his ability to make attacks–as though he had suddenly lost something he possessed only a few moments before. He may also become frustrated or angry with himself, leading to carelessness. If these thoughts and feelings are going through a fencer’s mind, it means he has accepted the frame and will be completely controllable.
Framing is an organic process and, when both competitors are of a reasonably high level, the control of the frame may be constantly in flux. In fact, the fight for control of the frame is what fencing is really about. Parries, feints, binds, etc., are all just tools to accomplish that.
In order to become superior, competitors (and, naturally, coaches) need to stop looking at fencing as a series of actions but rather as a fight to establish the frame. Once someone understands framing in a bout, he can truly begin to fence.