1.14 What constitutes an attack?
According to Article 10 of the FIE rules of competition, "the
attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arm
and continuously threatening the valid target of the opponent."
A threatening weapon is normally interpreted to be one that will
hit the opponent if nothing is done to prevent it. In other
words, a weapon threatens if it is moving towards the target in a
smooth, unbroken trajectory. This trajectory can be curved,
especially if the attack is indirect, compound, or involves a
cutting action. Hesitations and movements of the blade away from
the target will usually be perceived as a break in the attack or a
preparation of the attack.
One common misconception is that a straight or straightening arm is
required to assert the attack. While this was a traditional
interpretation of the above rule, both the strict wording and
prevailing modern interpretation do not require that the attacker's
arm become straight or even nearly so. It is sufficient if the arm
extends, even just slightly, from its normal on-guard position. A
long arm is still good style, though, since it gives superior reach
and clearly shows the fencer's intent. While the attack can often
be asserted with only slight extension, retraction of the arm will
almost always be interpreted as a break in the attack.
Another common misconception is that a point attack does not
threaten unless the point is aimed at the target. This is not
generally true. An out-of-line point does threaten if it is moving
towards the target on a smooth, unbroken trajectory. The most
common example of this is the coupe' (cut-over), in which the blade
is pulled away from the target to avoid the the opponent's blade,
and then returned into line to finish the attack. Coupe' takes the
right-of-way immediately, even though the point is initially pulled
away. So-called "flicks", relatives of the coupe' that involve
whipping the foible of the blade around parries or blocking body
parts, can also take the right-of-way when the blade starts its
final forward stroke.
Many fencers are under the mistaken impression that a bent arm or
out-of-line point constitutes a preparation, and therefore that
they can rightfully attack into it. If the bent arm is extending
and the out-of-line point is moving towards the target, however,
this assumption is usually false under modern fencing conventions.
A successful attack on the preparation must clearly precede the
opponent's initiation of the phrase or a break in his attack, or
else arrive a fencing time ahead of his touch.
Sabre fencers must also consider Article 417 of the Rules of
Competition, which states when the attack must land relative to the
footfalls of a lunge, advance-lunge, (and fleche, historically).
Attacks that arrive after the prescribed footfall are deemed
continuations, and do not have right-of-way over the
counter-attack. Sabre fencers must also remember that whip-over
touches can sometimes be interpreted as remises, and not
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