IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME IN TODAY’S FENCING
Gil Pezza – September 2019 (Sketch by Stephen Renico)
Unlike a madeleine dipped in tea, a modern foil bout is not imbued with the potential to evoke memories of things past, given how much foil fencing has changed over the years. Yet, it may still be possible to experience a Proustian moment if one searches in it for the elusive “temps perdu.” But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself and it might be wise to dwell on the meaning of temps perdu and how it has evolved over the years. As a matter of fact, the main purpose of this short article is to suggest a more comprehensive definition of temps perdu.
Temps perdu, (in English lost time) is considerably under-appreciated under the current FIE rules, which, by implication seem to dismiss it as a mistake of execution by delaying the riposte with a moment of pause (temps d’arrêt) after the parry; the penalty for which is the loss of the right of way (ROW). This rule, of course cannot be interpreted in a vacuum because the referee must look at the actions of both fencers when adjudicating a touch. Regardless, T86 states:
The parry gives the right to riposte: the simple riposte may be direct or indirect, but to annul any subsequent action by the attacker, it must be executed immediately, without indecision or delay.
This interpretation of the temps perdu, seems to be aligned with other definition of temps perdu found in glossaries of French Fencing theory:
Riposte à temps perdu: it is said of a riposte that does not immediately follow a parry. This expression is also used for counter-riposte (Se dit d’une riposte qui n’est pas portée aussitôt après la parade. Cette expression est aussi employée pour la contre-riposte.)
It is Maître Camille Prevost (who drafted the original FIE rules in 1913), who attributed to temps perdu a more meaningful tactical application. In his treatise entitled L’Escrime et le Duel he devoted two pages to the ripostes à temps perdu in which the moment of pause has important tactical applications (with some exceptions) because it allows to a) modulate the speed of the riposte to the movement of the opponent, (b) deceive an opponent too quick to react into a counter-parry, (c) deceive an opponent who hesitates to counter-parry, (d) correct an imperfect parry, (e) hit an opponent who ducks while attacking. It is interesting, that the danger of getting hit by a timely remise (which is the focus of the FIE Rule) is mentioned almost incidentally by Prevost in his discussion on the riposte à temps perdu. The table below includes the pertinent original language -with translation in English- from the section on the “Riposte à temps perdu” from Prevost’s L’ Escrime et le Duel (1891). I apologize for any imperfections in the translation, but it is not easy to translate fencing terms from one language to another because of the differences among the various schools of fencing.
|ORIGINAL FRENCH||ENGLISH TRANSLATION|
|Les ripostes à temps perdu sont celles qui sont précedées d’un temps d’arrêt, en quittant le fer, pour donner le temps à l’adversaire de dessiner une parade afin de la lui tromper. Lorsque la parade est juste, mais que l’on est incertain de ce que fera l’adversaire, le temps d’arret permet de régler la riposte sur ses mouvements, et si l’on a jugé ces mouvements, le temps d’arrêt facilite le règlement de sa propre vitesse sur celle de l’adversaire. Lorsque la parade n’est pas absolument juste, le temps d’arrêt permet de se remettre en ligne et d’exécuter la riposte avec justesse. Si l’adversaire se couche en attaquant, le temps d’arrêt permet de saisir, pour riposter, le moment où il se relève.
Toutes le ripostes directes, sauf celles d’opposition, et toutes le ripostes en changeant de ligne ou composées, sauf celles par le liement, peuvent se faire à temps perdu; ces dernières sont surtout utiles lorsque l’adversaire hésite dans l’exécution de ses parades. Il faut néanmoins être sobre de ce genre de ripostes, car il prète beaucoup à la remise. Le ripostes à temps perdu se parent comme les ripostes non précédées d’une absence de fer, en réglant sa vitesse sur celle de l’adversaire.
|The ripostes with lost tempo are those which are preceded by a moment of pause before leaving the blade, this to give time to the opponent to react into a parry with the scope to deceive him. When the parry is correct but we are uncertain of what the opponent will do, the moment of pause allows us to adjust the riposte to the opponent’s movements, and if we anticipate such movements, the moment of pause facilitates the adjustments of one’s own speed to that of the opponent. When the parry is imperfect, the pause makes it possible to realign the parry on the correct section of the opponent’s blade and execute the riposte with accuracy. If the opponent ducks while attacking, the moment of pause allows you to catch him with the riposte when he straightens up. All direct ripostes, except those with a glide and all ripostes to another line or compound ripostes (except those that transfer the blade from a high line to a low one or vice versa), can be made with lost tempo; they are especially useful when the opponent hesitates in the execution of his counter-parries. However, one must be careful with the riposte with lost time, because it lends itself to a remise by the opponent. The riposte with lost tempo – just is like the ripostes not preceded by an absence of blade, allows to harmonize one’s speed to that of the opponent.
Be that as it may, all the references to temps perdu have one thing in common. That is, the temps perdu seems to be tied only to the riposte (and counter-riposte) and to no other fencing action. That is, in my opinion, a very limited interpretation of temps perdu because it does not reflect the reality of its usage in fencing. There is one definition of temps perdu from 1977, however, by Maître Jean Jacques Gillette that rightfully broadens the scope of temps perdu to any fencing action and gives it a more “musical” connotation by applying the concept of syncopation to fencing; Temps Perdu: fencing actions executed with a pause or syncopation.  (Maître Jean Jacques Gillette -1977).
It should be noted, however, that my Italian Fencing Master Marcello Lodetti was already using the term “tempo sincopato” (as he used to call it) in Italy during the 1960s. At any rate, this definition of temps perdu officially expands its scope far beyond the riposte to include offensive, defensive and counteroffensive actions, including those that start from absence of the blade. See, for example, a syncopated attack in saber at
Under Maître Gillette’s definition a syncopation in fencing is a temps perdu. Nevertheless, even Maître Gillette’s broader definition of temps perdu leaves me unsatisfied. First, because it does not expressly distinguish between intentional and accidental syncopation. In fact, an intentional syncopation morphs the temps perdu into a “broken tempo” which, might appear to be a distinction without a difference but for its important tactical implications. Secondly, the temps perdu has another important component that is not mentioned in any of its definitions; that is, in certain instances, the temps perdu is inevitable.
In fact, in fencing, there is a temps perdu in-between the completion of a movement and before the beginning of the next one. For example, if I do an advance, the moment I complete the advance but before I start the next movement (whether a retreat, advance, lunge etc.), that is an inevitable temps perdu. The same applies to blade movements, like a saber cut, a straight thrust or a riposte that fall short of the target or miss it; or as another example, if I engage in four and I execute a change of engagement in six – followed by a thrust, that moment in which I complete the engagement or the change of engagement (before I execute the thrust) is an inevitable temps perdu. Clearly, the use of beats, counter-beats, beat-parries and tac au tac actions reduce the temps perdu to a point in which one cannot act on it in conventional weapons.  The importance of the “inevitable” temps perdu is that fencers can find it by anticipating it (unless the pause is superior to the reaction time) or it can be induced. For obvious reasons, the inevitable temps perdu presents a more significant opportunity in epee than in foil or saber, where the right-of-way may prevail over the temps perdu when both hits are registered by the scoring apparatus. 
Therefore, I propose the following definition of temps perdu:
Temps perdu is a momentary pause in a fencing action or movement. It can be intentional, accidental or inevitable. If intentional, the temps perdu is called a broken tempo. (Gil Pezza – 2019)
Going back to where we started this discussion on temps perdu, modern foil with its uninterrupted movements of the fencing arm, moving constantly from circular passing beats to hyper invitations and amplified feints of coupe, strives to eliminate syncopation; (other than for breaking the tempo). The footwork too, within striking distance, reduces the possibility of an inevitable temps perdu by sliding the feet back and forth just a few inches at a time. What does this mean? It means that an attack does not need to be an attack. It just needs to look like one, especially when coupled with the forward movement of the feet. This because in a conventional weapon like in foil, if a fencer reduces to a minimum any interruptions while moving the blade or the feet as he moves forward, it reduces significantly the opportunity for the opponent to hit him in tempo or to establish priority by just counting on the blade to move first in direction of the target, which most often is perceived as a counterattack. So, the retreating fencer, is forced to either defend or create his own initiative to “enter” the action in tempo, which is not easy to do.
In conclusion, the temps perdu, as redefined above, has always had a multidimensional impact on fencing. Using the avoidance of temps perdu as a shield by minimizing interruptions in the footwork and phrase d’armes (especially when moving forward) has certainly an added value for the conventional weapon; with a different application in saber where the temps perdu is defeated by beating the opponent to the attack as soon as the referee says fence!. Of course, the intentional temps perdu -i.e., the broken tempo is equally important to all three weapons. The inevitable temps perdu predicated on pauses of the blade at striking distance, falls more within the realm of epee; while the one predicated on pauses in footwork, can be leveraged by all weapons especially, when the set-up involves a sudden change in direction. The accidental temps perdu, instead, intended as a mistake in execution, may get punished by opponents in all weapons.
by Gil Pezza
 This seems inconsistent with Rule t11. The riposte may be immediate or delayed, depending on what action takes place and the speed at which it is carried out— La riposte peut être immédiate ou à temps perdu, c’est une question de fait et de rapidité d’exécution.
 In French: : La parade donne droit à la riposte : la riposte simple peut être directe ou indirecte, mais pour annuler toute action subséquente de l’attaquant, elle doit être exécutée immédiatement, sans indécision ou temps d’arrêt
 Delaying the riposte can be useful in epee too, since one parries the attack and then the remise before hitting back
 A definition by Gomard of Temps perdu also states that it facilitates adjusting to the speed of the opponent’s movements. « La riposte à temps perdu est celle où le pareur en ne faisant pas suivre immédiatement la parade par la riposte, en règle la détermination sur les mouvements de l’assaillant » (Gomard). http://escrime-ancienne.eu/cahiers/glossaire/glossaire-escrime.pdf
 In dry foil, one had to hit the chest or the flank for the side judges to appreciate the hit.
 Foil Technique and Terminology by Maitre Jean Jacques Gillet at https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B_mchzfdROoAdWRaemUycGRhR3U3czlHTHZ5cXNubjdQZnhR/view
In music, like in fencing, syncopation creates an element of surprise. NB: Syncopation in music means more that an interruption but for the purposes of the temps perdu, it will be restricted to that meaning
Marcello Lodetti was Giuseppe Mangiarotti’s favorite student/apprentice; and his teaching methodology was predicated on (a) Giuseppe Mangiarotti’s school and, (indirectly through G. Mangiarotti) on (b) the school of Renaud. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcello_Lodetti
 In epee this still presents an opportunity for a double touch or a remise that is faster than the riposte.
 See, article entitled Choice of tempo in fencing by Maitre Giancarlo Toran (Jan7, 2009).
 Epee 40-50ms; foil 300ms +/-25; and saber 170ms +/-10
 It is difficult to parry in today’s foil because of the way hits are delivered
 Of course, there are intermediate tactical solutions, such as, for example, inducing the opponent to finish the attack to a target not of his choice.