Four Types of Opponent

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Meyer describes four main types of opponent in his Rappier section who exist on a spectrum of completely aggressive to completely defensive.

  • Type 1 - Offensive: "Cultivators of Frenzy"
  • Type 2 - Balanced Offensive: "Artful and Sharp"
  • Type 3 - Balanced Defensive: "Judicious and Deceitful"
  • Type 4 - Defensive: "The Fool"

While people have a certain preference a specific style, Meyer reminds us that we should assume all four of them as we fence so we can adapt to changing circumstances, and so we can deceive the opponent with our intent.

"So you must assume and adopt all four of them, so that you can deceive the opponent sometimes with violence, sometimes with cunning, sometimes with judicious observation, or else use foolish comportment to incite him, deceive him, and thus not only betray him concerning his intended device, but also make yourself room and space for the opening so that you can hit him that much more surely."


Type 1: Cultivators of Frenzy

The purely Offensive fencer will set on aggressively with cuts and thrusts, often with significant focus on speed and strength, and with little thought to defence.

Meyer's recommendation in this case is to use a strong and tight defence in longpoint/straight parrying. As they attack parry off with the strong and don't let the blade go more than a hand's breadth from you centreline, and let them become overconfident, tired, or careless, then extend measure and void their attack. They'll probably expect to meet your parry, so over commit, and so cut back in with Nachreissen.

Generally we don't see many of these kinds of fencers in HEMA, though occasionally someone will take on this role as they attack you to try and overwhelm your defences.

Type 2: Artful and Sharp

The Balanced Offensive fencer will not attack crudely, but will only attack when the opponent has extended with a cut, fallen low with his weapon, or otherwise left an opening in their guard. These fencers will set on with Nachreissen or Ansetzen to the nearest opening, often concentrating on first-intention attacks. In this they don't necessarily think about the subsequent defence, focussing instead on the attack to the opening itself.

Against this fencer Meyer recommends we move between guards cautiously before him, always keeping the point before him so he can't rush in easily, until you're ready to give him a small opening. As soon as he does see an opening, though, set it aside with [Dempffen] or [Absetzen], effectively using counterattacks and on-point parry-riposte fencing.

Anecdotally we see this type of fencer very often in HEMA - most rulesets favour this fencing, and so this type of tactic should be very familiar to you.

Type 3: Judicious and Deceitful

The Balanced Defensive fencer is quite like the Artful and Sharp fencer, though is more cautious and will only attack if they think they're safe. They deal very much in second intention attacks, using feints and other deceptions to try to draw your parry enough that they can hit and retreat.

Against these fencers Meyer recommends changing to guards that are somewhat offline for a while and by cutting intentionally to positions that leave you open in response to your opponent's feints, thus enticing/inviting attacks on you that appear safe, but you're actually ready to counter against with sudden and unexpected aggression. This requires that you understand their style and are able to recognise feints and compound actions.

This is another type of fencer we see quite often, though not as much as the Type 2 fencer.

Type 4: The Fool

The pure Defensive fencer will wait in the guard and refuse to leave it until the opponent has entirely set on with their attacks. Meyer suggests that these fencers are either fools or very sharp. Only someone very adept, trained and experienced can make this work, otherwise you're likely to be hit in first intention by the opponent. This type of fencer is the purest counter-fencer, and there are some truly excellent fencers who do this. Against this opponent you have to weigh their experience and skill.

If they are just very cautious but unskilled, you can use absetzen and ansetzen against them well enough. If they're more cautious you'll have to use the full range of deceptions to make them come out of their position to defend themselves. Be warned though - many experienced fencers will try to fool you this way (often by standing in "the fool"), and are actually waiting for the opportunity to use Type 2 fencing against you when you least expect it.

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