Using Non-Combativity as a Tactic

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In the 2012 Milwaukee Division I Men’s Epee NAC, Benjamin Wieder was facing Jimmy Moody in the round of 32. Moody secured a 4-5 touch lead at the end of period one. Entering period 2, Moody proceeded to withdraw his blade from reach, fully understanding that Wieder’s forte was in his blade work. Wieder desperately searched for the blade for 15 seconds to no avail. The referee called “Halt!” and progressed the bout to the third period. Using control of the clock and continuing to keep his blade out of reach, Moody responded with counter flicks as Wieder searched, and proceeded to win the bout 15-9.

While some people will scratch their head or throw their arms up and curse the FIE for passing this rule, the point is, non-combativity is here to stay, so you might as well use it to your advantage.

There are various ways to incorporate this rule into your bouts for your tactical advantage, as I’ve displayed in the flow chart below:

Using Non-Combativity as a Tactic

Using Non-Combativity as a Tactic

Confused? Allow me to explain:

  • As you may or may not know, there are two non-combativity rules. They are as follows:
    • Approximately one minute of fencing without a touch progresses the bout to the next period.
    • Approximately 15 seconds of no blade contact, and the bout is progressed to the next period.
  • Unless you have a four to five touch lead and your opponent primarily relies on his/her bladework to initiate their attacks, using this rule as a tactic is playing with fire.
  • In the event that the conditions above do not apply, the first non-combativity rule you should seek to draw is 15 seconds of no blade contact. This can be drawn by keeping your hand far back and out of reach and/or doing circular motions to confuse your opponent in the line you are presenting. This will also force them to open up short targets as they search for your blade. The caveat—get too big with your circular motions and you could be met with a punishment touch.
  • If they are finding your blade and making contact but still not attacking, proceed to do your best to kill a minute of the clock.
  • Obviously, if they attack you and the opportunity for a touch is open, make every effort to score, and then repeat the cycle.

This is not a one size fits all kind of tactic. I have seen it used successfully at the national level and choose to employ it into most of my bouts and have had great success doing so. We can continue debating whether or not non-combativity is good for epee, or we can make every effort to use the rule to our advantage in bouts, and do what we try to best on the strip: win.

Damien is a competitive fencer and coach at DC Fencers Club in Silver Spring, Maryland. Damien was the coach of a London 2012 Olympic Athlete in Modern Pentathlon (Suzanne Stettinius). He is an A-rated epeeist and foilist and was a member of the 2012 North American Cup Gold Medal Men’s Epee Team.

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