The compound attack occupies a central place in fencing technique. It consists of one or more feints of simple attacks followed by a final simple attack, all as one continuous action. Each action is intended to get and keep the opponent’s parrying reaction in motion, opening new lines to the final attack. The more actions included, the more periods of fencing time the attack requires. This article explores the variety of compound attacks likely to be found in both modern and classical fencing.
Compound attacks are typically initiated by one of four actions:
Straight thrust as a feint of an attack starting and continuing in one line.
Disengage as a feint of an attack starting in one line and passing around the bell to another line, either vertically or horizontally.
Coupe as a feint of an attack starting in one line and passing around the point to another line.
Change of engagement as a provocation to cause hand and blade movement on the part of the opponent.
In modern fencing, actions requiring more than two actions are rare, and are vulnerable to stop hits. This limits the range of compound attacks commonly found to nine:
(1) feint of straight thrust, disengage
(2) feint of straight thrust, counterdisengage
(3) feint of straight thrust, straight thrust
(4) feint of disengage, disengage (the One-Two)
(5) feint of disengage, counterdisengage (the Double)
(6) feint of disengage, straight thrust
The initial action of change of engagement draws three probable responses for a final action. It should be noted that traditional definitions of compound attacks do not include change of engagement as an initial action. However, the intent of the change, the multiple periods of fencing time, and the outcome of the following actions are essentially compound:
(7) if the opponent takes no action: change of engagement, straight thrust.
(8 if the opponent presses back to block the opened line: change of engagement, disengage.
(9) if the opponent starts to change the engagement to return to the original engagement: change of engagement, counterdisengage.
Note that the three compound actions which end with a straight thrust in this list are often described as being merely continuations of the simple attack. In reality, if you are fencing eyes open, they are clearly two-part actions in their tactical conception, even if they appear to the referee and the opponent as simple attacks.
Classical fencers, with the greater emphasis on blade work found up until World War II, had a much wider range of compound attacks to choose from. Many of these may still be useful as teaching exercises. The following list draws from works by Maurice Grandiere (1906), Felix Grave (1934), and Jules Campos (1981):
(10) feint of disengage, disengage, disengage (the One-Two-Three)
(11) feint of disengage, disengage, counterdisengage (the One-Two and Deceive the Counter)
(12) feint of disengage, disengage, disengage, disengage (the One-Two-Three-Four)
(13) feint of disengage, counterdisengage, disengage (the Double-Disengage)
(14) feint of disengage, counterdisengage, disengage, disengage (the Double-One-Two)
(15) feint of disengage, counterdisengage, counterdisengage (the Triple)
(16) feint of disengage, counterdisengage, disengage, disengage, disengage (the Double-One-Two-Three)
(17) feint of disengage, counterdisengage, disengage, counterdisengage (the Double and Redouble)
(18) feint of coupe, disengage (the Coupe and Disengage)
(19) feint of coupe, coupe (Double Coupe)
(20) feint of coupe, disengage, disengage (the Coupe and One-Two)
(21) feint of coupe, disengage, counterdisengage (the Coupe and Double)
(22) feint of coupe, coupe, disengage (the Double Coupe and Disengage)
The ultimate classical compound attack, initiated with the change of engagement, was (23) the Tour d’Epee, formed by double change of engagement, coupe, and disengage.
There are undoubtedly other compound actions which have been taught and used over the years. And as fencing evolves, it seems likely that we will see other actions added to this list. This provides a variety of actions that can be taught for use in combat and that can be used as exercises to develop blade control and fingerplay dexterity.