Deep and shallow targets

By Kristian Ruokonen

I teach that there are two kinds of targets: shallow and deep. I consider the hands, forearms and legs as shallow targets, and the torso and the head as deep targets. A complete fencer should be able to attack both kinds of targets at will. Attacking only deep targets makes your fencing extremely predictable, and only going for shallow targets will cause your opponent not to respect your attacks.

Varied targeting also has the benefit that it puts much more stress on your opponent.He has to be vigilant all the time and make sure he does not give the easy hand opening, but he still has to worry about committed attacks to deep targets. Your opponent will be more hesitant in asserting his own initiative and attacking if he is afraid of hand strikes.

In this post I will focus mostly on shallow targets, when you should strike them, and how to build combinations of attacks against deep and shallow targets into your own fencing.

The most common reason for having a shallow target attack land is a faulty mechanical positioning of your opponent. This usually manifests as holding Vom Tag or Pflug with the hands extended instead of withdrawn close to the torso as they are shown in the early German manuals (look at the pictures of the four guards in Von Danzig, for example).

Not holding the hands close to body means that the opponent can strike from further away and that he can strike from what should be passing distance on the and hands without stepping, or with only a small advance of the front foot. In both situations getting inside the opponents reaction time is relatively easy. I believe most fencers understand this easily.

Pflug and Vom Tag: note how the hand are near the body. Codex Danzig (Cod.44.A.8)

Pflug and Vom Tag: note how the hand are near the body. Codex Danzig (Cod.44.A.8)

Most people are aware of these things, and will hold the guards as they should, though many will fall to faulty positioning later in an exchange. Many people will habitually parry and at the same time defend with distance against a deep target attack, even if it’s done from very far away. When they do this, they often extend their hands forward habitually in their chosen parry. Against such fencers it is very easy to feint for the head and then strike at the hands.

If your defensive plan is to defend with distance, there is no need to offer the blade for the opponent to work with, especially if you’re not even in a position to riposte afterwards!

I think the most sophisticated way to use a shallow target strike is as an open eyes attack. There are a few ways your opponent can react to the initial strike to the hands: Withdrawing the target area, parrying or counterattacking. Obviously if he does not react at all, he will get hit on the hands.

Let’s look at the target withdrawal first. I think most people, after they land their first strike on the hands, fail to get successful strikes there later on because their opponent notices this, and withdraws their hands. This is a brilliant time to make a second intention attack. You strike the hands, and as soon as he withdraws them, you launch a strike to a deep target area.

If your opponent prefers to try to parry the strike instead, this is a perfect moment to switch to another shallow target instead. Threaten the hand strike once or twice relatively slowly. Then feint to the hand and strike to the leg. Most people expect you to feint around to a deep target, but usually they are caught completely unaware when you take another shallow target after they have become obsessed with defending another.

Doing a switch after a few attempted hand strikes to a fully committed vorschlag to the head works as well. Usually if you start by targeting the hands multiple times, it conveys hesitance to commit to your actions, and this can be then used to your advantage. When your opponent keeps worrying about the hand hit, it is a good time to go for the head or the chest.

The last way is to use the hand or leg strike to draw an attack, and then make simple, pre-planned, parry followed by a riposte. You can use the hand strike to draw the attack, but an attack to the leg also works well here. Many are so conditioned to void the leg and strike the head when somebody goes for the low opening that drawing that reaction on purpose is easily exploited.

And speaking of compulsion reflexes, one-handed leg attacks can be fantastic for drawing out a common, predictable reflex. Often people avoid them and immediately rush to close the distance afterwards (and sometimes they will also attack compulsively). This is a great way to set up your own attack or counterattack when the opponent just runs towards your point.
Cover photo by Ilkka Hartikainen



  1. This is one of the nicest articles I have ever read and I came to realise that sometimes my problem is that I try so long to hit a deep target that I forget that the shallow target might be accesible easily. The nice thing that 1 of the most basic techniques in Liechtenauer (basic being easy and totally in the begin of the treatises) is a perfect example of these concepts (all though the treatises never explains this concept):
    Das ist der text vnd die glos aber von ein° lere
    Haw nahent was du wilt
    kain wechslär kumpt an dein schilt
    Zu° koppf zw leib
    die zeck nit ver meid
    Mit gantzm~ leib
    vicht was du starck gerest treÿben ~

    [11r] Glosa Merck das ist wenn du mit dem zu vechten zu Im kumpst was du den vechten wild das treib mit gantz° sterck des leibs vnd häw im do mit nahent ein zu° kopf vnd zu leib vnd pleib im mit dem ort fur dem gesicht oder der prüst so kan er fur dem ort nicht durch gewechselñ vor setzt er mit sterck vnd lest denn ort von dir aus gen auff dÿ seittñ So gib im ein zeck rür auf den arm~

    This part comes from codex 44A8 but is also present with almost the same words in Ringeck.

    Another Liechtenauer technique that also kind of uses this concept is the Schielhau where you have in codex 44A8:
    Schül zw dem ort vnd nÿm den hals ane vorcht
    (Translated: Schiel to the point, take the throat without fear)
    This is the opposite of what is most common, here you will pretend to attack only the shallow target (the point or the hands) which will enable you to attack the deep target (= the throat).

    I hope that you like my comment since I really love the concepts presented in this article!

    With kind regards,
    Davy Van Elst

    1. Hi Davy!

      Thanks for the comment.

      I totally agree with the Zeck. Mayby I should have actually used the term in the article .

      I hadn’t though about the shielhaw in these terms in that instance, but it does sounds as a logical way of doing it. Thanks for pointing that out! I will explore this.

      Best Regards,


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