Classes 9/09/2013 and 16/09/2013


These classes were dedicated to a study of tempo and how these theoretical concepts apply to fencing. In short, tempo represents an opportunity in which to attack. This doesn’t mean that just because you have a tempo in which to attack, you should do so – perhaps check if you have a line first? But as a rule, the nomenclature applied to tempo represents an opportunity for an attack.

We looked at:

  • Primo tempo: attacking as your opponent enters measure, aka your initial attack, but with a tactically sound basis. Expect this to fail, and have a second-intention action ready. Discussed also was using primo tempo as an invitation, using your primo tempo attack to draw a response and move to a second-intention action, etc.
  • Due tempi: attacking after you’ve cleared the sword and the opponent is recovering.
  • Mezzo tempo: attacking into the opponent’s preparation. I also include actions from the bind in this category.
  • Contratempo: attacking into an attack. These actions include attacks that both cover and offend (single time or stesso tempo actions), attacks to the advance target with evasion (generally the hands as the opponent attacks and you step offline), and tempo indivisible actions (single imperfect time) – best described as a single time action that doesn’t quite make it in time, but in which we can’t discern two distinct tempi. In musical notation, this could be a 1 & tempo, as in 1& ,2&, 3&, 4&… The up-tempo represents the additional half tempo.

Primo tempo was practised by designating a Player and Companion. The Companion begins out of measure and moves into measure using various footwork. When the Player senses his opportunity as the Companion enters measure, he attacks, ideally in the time the foot is in the air.

Mezzo tempo had students placed in near measure, and the Companion moved through guards. When the sword was removed from presence, the Player should thrust in the tempo provided. This exercise was repeated using cuts employing a volta stabile rather than a passing step, so the students could quickly take advantage of a short tempo provided.

This was put together dynamically, so the Companion moved in and out of measure, sometimes changing guards, others not, so that students could practise recognising both mezzo tempo and primo tempo opportunities. This is also great for practising measure.

Due tempi actions were glossed over, since much of the set plays in the MS are set up as due tempi actions. A quick demo was done, and students quickly recognised these opportunities for what they were. It’s interesting to note that they also recognised when, even having parried, there was not a tempo in which to act, since the line hadn’t been cleared. This is good.

Finally, contratempo actions were practised in different ways. First was single-time parries using both fendenti and mezani cuts. This is tricky, since timing is essential, as is judgement of measure. A longer sword helps, too…

Contratempo actions were also explored by using evasion and attacking advance targets. Hands and knees were both on the menu, and again, more importantly than recognising when to attack, students began to truly understand when not to attack – an even more useful skill for avoiding double kills, in my humble opinion.

Finally, the exchange of thrusts was practised as an example of a contratempo action, by thrusting in opposition to the opponent’s thrust.

In all, I trust students gained a better understanding of tempo and its role in determining a safe opportunity for an attack. And remember, you may recognise several opportunities or tempi in which to attack, the trick is capitalising on those openings at a propitious moment!

J