Once known as the “two widows hit”, the double hit is today perhaps the most evident proof of the inevitable degeneration of the martial art of fencing, in its transformation into a modern sport: a common degeneration, in different forms, also in other martial arts . In dueling fencing, the double hit, or encounter as it was called, was the greatest mistake, something to be avoided or punished in training. Today it is unthinkable not to use the tactical opportunities offered by the deliberate pursuit of the double blow, in all weapons and not only, as one might think, in the sword.
The double hit occurs when both lights of the signaling device turn on at the same time: within the limits of the blocking time set in the device, as indicated by the fencing technical regulation. When a light is turned on, there is a limited time beyond which the light on the opposite side can no longer turn on. In foil, this time is 300 milliseconds, with a plus or minus tolerance of 25 milliseconds. In saber, 170 milliseconds, with a tolerance of ten. In epee, the time of the double hit is between 40 and 50 milliseconds, that is, between one twentieth and one twenty-fifth of a second: which is the same as 45 milliseconds, with a tolerance of five.
The evolution of the rules occurred in these recent decades, also considering the even more recent advent of electric signaling in saber, has led to the current times which in foil and saber have become, to simplify the work of the referees, much shorter than in origin, while in the sword they have remained quite constant, after the initial adjustments. In fact, in foil, officially electrified starting from the 1956 Olympic Games, the double hit time was fixed for a long time between one and a half and two seconds (between 1500 and 2000 milliseconds), leaving entirely to the referees the task of assigning the precedence, over basis of the evanescent concept of “fencing time”. In saber, electrification arrived much later, and the problems of a technological nature abundantly overlapped with those of the fencing technique: but this is a subject that deserves a more complex analysis, which would lead us off topic.
We have now to distinguish between the weapons governed by convention – the foil and the saber – and the sword: in the firsts, the double hit is nullified if it is the result of a common conception and execution of the action; or it allows you to assign the point to only one of the two, the one who acquired the priority of the action, because he attacked first or parried and responded, or had his weapon in line since before the opponent started the attack: with considerable weight of the arbitration interpretation, subjective and variable. In epee, on the other hand, the double blow allows you to assign the point to both the opponents: and this has even more notable consequences, as we will see later.
In all weapons, therefore, a good tactical competence allows you to use the less obvious consequences of these rules to your advantage.
In foil and saber, the “grey areas” of the regulation allow the unwritten rules to be exploited very well in favor of those who, on the other hand, have understood them well and have practiced applying them. For example, the perception of timing and of the correctness of the execution of an attack or of a reply or even of a beat, by the referee is very variable. Today it is common practice to consider the advancement as the beginning of an attack, even if the effective threat is missing or doubtful, which by regulation consists in bringing the weapon in line. This induces the less experienced to react to that advance with a blow, which is most often considered as a “wrong stop-in-time”.
Same thing for the “held” response (how long?) which leads to the remise, while the attacker or, in this second case the one who responds, concludes the offensive action, even with a certain delay, in any case not exceeding the time set on the signaling device, the only data that can be effectively measured.
Let us now consider the epee, which is the only weapon in which the double hit allows both the opponents to be awarded a point.
An important consequence of this fact is that the double hit is convenient for the one who has the advantage. Therefore, the technical and tactical tools that facilitate (or make it more difficult) the execution of the double hit have to be identified.
Another consideration to make is that the time of the double hit, in the epee, is abundantly lower than the time of a simple reaction, which for a visual or tactile stimulus we can approximate to 150-200 milliseconds: this would mean that it cannot be done in time to react effectively to a stimulus. Let’s try, to give a practical example: to press the button of our epee with a finger (or by touching any target) when we see our opponent or training partner doing it. The second light will never come on, or only due to an error by whoever presses the button first (anticipatory movements, or attempts with equal intervals, which allow you to “take the time”).
On the other hand, it is a common experience that the double blow can be obtained and indeed, it is a tactical resource actively sought by those who have the advantage and know how to provoke it.
Why and how this can be done it can be explained by considering the concept of measurement: why do the two opponents place themselves at a specific distance from each other? Because the time needed to travel it allows you to react in a useful way, even if the initiative belongs to someone else. This brings us to the importance of concentration and attention, of knowing how to grasp the slightest movements that precede the action of the other and of knowing how to hide ones’ own. In other words, the blows should not be “called”, except intentionally, when you want to transmit false information and get a wrong reaction. The choice of the time, then, contributes considerably to the success of the attempt, knowing the rhythm of the opponent’s action and knowing how to predict his departure.
It is also important to take into account the relative speed: when the two opponents move towards each other, their speeds add up, while when one of the two advances and the other retreats, the speeds are subtracted. Therefore, a difference of a few centimeters in depth in the choice of the target, or in the length of the armed arm, or of the epee (grip with smooth handle), can determine a very considerable difference in time, in the different situations, such as to allow or prevent the implementation of double signaling.
Moving from theory to practice, it should be clarified that the purpose of the techniques and tactics suggested below is not to obtain the double blow, but to exploit the substantial advantage of those who do not need to avoid it, over those who do have to avoid it. Evidently it is not a problem, for those who have the advantage, if instead of getting the double they tap alone: because they can make use of less risky techniques, while the other has to resort to them. However, for convenience of exposition, we will speak of the search for the double hit, while implying the above.
It is evident, but it will not be useless to repeat it, that the recommended actions to obtain the double, and those to avoid it, cannot give certainties, but only a significantly greater probability of achieving the goal.
So what are the actions to avoid, and which ones to look for, to take exploit this advantage? There are no absolute rules, because each opponent has his own characteristics and makes his choices, sometimes even irrational, which should depend on the logical development of the assault, and on the observations made in the previous phases, as well as on a good tactical preparation of the action. However, some general indications can be given, especially useful for beginners, but which will not be useless even for the more experienced.
If you are ahead, remember that time “works” for you. If the opponent is not in a hurry, there is no need to venture into reckless attacks, offering him opportunities that he should instead earn with risk and effort. Try to keep the initiative anyway, even if only to make up ground, or confuse the opponent’s ideas. However, if you are low on energy, try suggestion n°5.
If you are behind, you are forced to take the initiative and take your risks: the time will work against you. Aim for the advanced target of the wrist or foot, and resort to counter-time, against the highly probable stop-hits of the opponent. Edges, beats and the whole repertoire of actions on the blade are good things, if your opponent gives you the chance.
If you have the advantage try to keep a longer measure, recovering it with fake attacks from a distance whenever given the opportunity. Avoid withdrawing for free and hiding at the bottom of the piste: you will no longer be able to withdraw and your departure will be more predictable. If you can’t avoid it, set a limit beyond which you won’t retreat, or you will start attacking, without the opponent being able to foresee it.
If you’re behind, try to get your opponent to the bottom of the piste, to take away his possibility to retreat. Start attacking preferably when the opponent starts the step forward, in an attempt to recover ground.
If you are ahead, don’t offer your blade, to avoid hits or ligaments, being very careful of your advanced targets. It is possible not to offer the blade with a very bent arm, ready to the stop-in time, preferably forward (higher relative speed), and varying the target in such a way as to make the opponent’s counter-attack more difficult. You can also not offer the blade, or make it more difficult to dominate it, by keeping the tip of your sword precisely in the direction of the point of the guard from which the opponent’s blade emerges, and following him in his movements: a position that also offers many other advantages, including optimal forward target coverage, the ability to make very tight and fast disengagements and parries.
If you are at a disadvantage, attack preferably in counter-time: feint the attack to cause a stop, parry and respond quickly, preferably with the edge, or peak parry firmly, preferably by advancing, and respond preferably to the advanced target. Or resort to the second type of counter-time: neutralize the adversary’s forward stop, caused by your effective fake attack, with a stop going backward, on a relatively advanced target. The retreat leads to a decrease in relative speed, and therefore to a lower probability of obtaining a double hit and it is difficult if one has not been well practiced, because it involves a rapid reversal of direction. Or, attempt a stop with a passata sotto or quarter, or even more difficult, with a stop-hit with opposition.
If you are ahead, always be ready to hit of remise. It is very likely that the opponent will resort to counter-time (typically a parry and reponse to neutralize your stop-hit), and you will need to be well trained to throw a remise that arrives before or with his reponse.
If you are at a disadvantage, it will be useful for you to make tight parries and quick reponses, going backwards: tight parries, i.e. with the minimum lateral movement of the blade and guard, reduce the opponent’s sensitivity, and therefore make his possible remise slower. Or, again with the aim of reducing the effectiveness of remises, parry by advancing and responding from very closed measure, or from a melee.
If you are ahead, and choose to attack, because pushed to the end of your piste, or because you feel you don’t have enough energy for a wait-and-see tactic, make simple attacks (without feints, nor retreats of the arm or tip, i.e. pistons or coupés ) but decided, preferably in the crook of the elbow, followed by an immediate remise, even better if in flèche. The attack to the chest, therefore at a greater depth, if parried, makes the remise more difficult and slower, because it requires a wider movement.
If you are behind, and the opponent has chosen to attack, stop by retreating (lower relative speed), or parry and reponse back as in the previous point.
If you are ahead, conceal your intentions, to induce the opponent to make wrong predictions. For example, in the preparation phases, you pretend, by going backwards, to parry, instead you will be ready to stop forward, always ready for a remise. Always remember that the tip precedence is fundamental, and allows you not to “call” your blows.
If you are at a disadvantage, even if your intention to recover is clear, it is always useful, even for you, to conceal the type of action you intend to enact, by pretending to make another one. For example, the search for the blade for a beat on the opposite line, or a feint over for a counter-action of seconde to the foot, or for a beat and blow attack. Above all, you’ll need a good ability to change your rhythm, abruptly switching from slow to fast, yet without “calling” the shots. Remember that effective feints are not done only to the arm, but mainly with the change of rhythm and with the lowering of the center of gravity.
If you are ahead, consider the recent introduction of the so-called “non-combativity,” or “passivity,” which further accentuates the difficulty of the behind one and may cause them to behave as described here below.
If you are at a disadvantage, you may find it convenient to search for a double hit, with an attack straight to the body (expecting the stop), to avoid the red light (after a previous yellow card), if the minute without hits is about to expire, but still remains some time to better prepare for the planned action, and the double hit does not lead to the conclusion of the assault. For example, if you are behind by 11/10, and there are still one or two minutes left to the end of the fraction, but the minute is running out without hits, it may be convenient for you to try the double hit, favoring the opponent’s similar intention , who could however take advantage of it, with roles reversed, for a parry and response.
In any case, look at the body, not at the sword of the opponent, and anyway do not stare at anything. A free gaze improves your perception of changes in size. This arrangement applies to both.
In conclusion, I would like to point out two articles from a few years ago. The first is on the management of the epee assault, here:
The second treats the importance of the way to watch, here:
by Giancarlo Toràn
translated by Lara Ortolani
The cover image is taken from “Baron de Bazancourt_The Secrets of Epee”, 1900
The first image is from a treatise by Paulus Hector Mair, De Arte Athletica, dated 1542
The second image is of a spectacular double shot, between Piero Tassinari, on the left, and the sovietic Kostava, at the 1959 World Cup in Budapest.
The third image, the most recent, by Augusto Bizzi, it is a double hit by Davide Di Veroli against Seiya Asami, at the 2018 Verona cadet world championships.