Second intention

By Kristian Ruokonen
Photos by Timo Toropainen

In this post I will examine second intention attacks, and how to deal with them. A second intention attack is an attack consisting of two actions, the second of which is intended to strike the opponent. They can either be preplanned, where you assume or know based on observation that the opponent will parry, or “open-eyes”, where you observe your opponents reaction to the initial feint and then act accordingly. A third category is a so-called switch-over reaction, where you attack in the first intention but change intention during the execution of your attack based on your opponent’s reaction. A simple right oberhau followed by a left oberhau to avoid a parry can fit into any one of these categories; the difference is in initial intention: did you plan all the way to only land the second attack, did you observe his reaction, or did you spontaneously change intention during the action.

This article focuses on pre-planned second intention attacks. It is very important to notice that in the preplanned second intention attack, the attack inside your head exists as a single motor program; meaning that you have planned and decided both actions before you begin the first.

Before you make a second-intention attack, you should have observed what the opponents reaction to your action is likely to be. Will he evade with footwork without giving you a blade to work with? Will he parry point high, or point in line? Will he counterattack? If your opponent prefers counterattacking instead of parrying, it requires a countertime action; if he evades and you can’t catch him a second-intention attack is likely to fail. With a longsword it is risky to strike around if the opponent parries with the point is towards your face (like Liechtenauer tells you!), and in this situation you could execute a second intention inwinden. Striking a different opening works best when the parry is done with the point off line.

The difficult part is discovering what your opponents intentions are without revealing your own. False attacks, appels, threatening changes of tempo and other preparatory actions work well towards this end.

One way could be drilled is the following: Both fencers are in vom tag. They move in zufechten, and the student does an appel (stomp the ground with the front foot) and begins to threaten a strike while observing how the coach reacts to this. On the next round, the student executes the correct action at an advantageous time: if the coach reacted to the appel by showing a point high parry, go for an feint, while if he reacts with an attack, execute a parry and riposte, and so on.

A false attack slightly out of distance or pulled short can be used to gauge what your opponents reaction to the threat is going to be. False attacks would probably work better in a bouting context, because the opponent will eventually catch on what your intention with it is with the appel, and you cannot repeat it with same results. False attack can be mixed with real attacks, and thus the opponent is pressured to give clues about his intentions.

One more possible problem is that your opponent might instead of genuine reaction fake his reaction if he knows that you are trying to gather information. if you believe he is gonna parry and he counter attacks instead, you are screwed. Generally you can gauge whether the action is genuine by how fast the reaction was. Reactions to threats perceived as real are always fast by nature, so if your opponent’s reaction was slow, there is a chance he was feeding you false information.

Another important factor in executing a second-intention attack is that your movement connects with your opponents. If I do a right oberhau followed by a left zwerchhau, passing forward twice, I want the opponent to move backwards during his parries, because then he is moving exactly where I want him to due to the pressure I’m giving him, forfeiting his freedom to act. If he moves sideways or forwards instead (assuming I want him to retreat), there is a chance of a double hit, or even a hit for him, because he is still maintaining his freedom to act. Note though that opponent standing still is always acceptable and good for you, because then he is taking away his freedom of action by not doing anything.

Against opponent who stand still, It is preferable to do second-intention attacks with a change of rhythm. Even for a relatively slow fencer, it is easy to make a real attack seem much faster with a rhythm change. Also the opponent needs to clearly see what the feint is in order to react the way you want him to react. If he cannot perceive what is happening, he might react with a random action. Against fencers who defend with distance I like to keep the speed high through the second-intention attack: if the first feint is too slow, you might not be able to reach him with the real attack if he retreats fast enough.tumblr_mzrni4ROI91rofk3wo1_500

Zucken and durchwechsel are good examples of potential second-intention attacks in German longsword. Notice how both finish as a thrust as a real action (or if you do Ringeck’s version, the zucken can also finish as a cut). Against a committed cut, if the parry is early, the cut will hit the sword, unless you change target. Imagine an oberhau against a parry in Ochs. Against a thrust, if the parry is early, the original attack will land, because the parry will fail to displace the thrust. This means that against thrusts, the parry must be executed in the correct time related to the thrust. If you are too early, you will get hit because you miss, and if you are too late, you will get hit because you are too late. This relates to zucken and durchwechsel like so:

If I execute a zucken as per von Danzig, this means that the second parry must be executed in the correct tempo and not too early, since the second part of the attack is a thrust. This means you can put much more pressure on the opponent with a zucken than a simple oberhau-oberhau compound attack, because you can also choose to go for a fast initial oberhau and then slow down for the thrust that follows the zucken, and the opponent might parry early because of this. The same applies to durchwechsel because it finishes as a thrust.

If you execute a zucken as Ringeck tells you to, you can also force a specific timing on the parry: If I twitch up after a right oberhau, and cut another right oberhaw on the other side of the blade, the parry must be timed correctly. If it’s early, you will just hit him on the same spot but on the different side of the head. If you would have done a left oberhau instead, the parry could be early and it would still work.

So how do we deal with second-intention attacks? The problem against feints is that even if I invite an attack, If I parry after the invitation and the attack was a feint, the opponent has quite a bit of say about what and why I am doing which is never good. I think the best way to deal with feints is simply to not react. This leaves you in control of the situation and makes it easier to make the real parry because there is more time, and it will also teach your opponent that his feints are not giving him the response he seeks, thus undermining his confidence in them. Your opponent is forced to attack with real attacks against your invitations, which means he is back on track doing exactly what you want him to do.

Another way to deal with second intention attacks is to counterattack into the first action. A feint by definition is not meant to hit you, so during the feint he is not threatening you in any way. This is good time to counterattack without opposition against the hands or even to the head if the situation allows. You could also in some cases counterattack with opposition to the head, but I think it is harder and more dependent on the nature of the feint. For example, it would work well against an attack with a rhythm change from slow to fast, but against two powerful, quick strikes it would be harder.

The key thing here is to maintain keep your freedom to act instead of doing what your opponent wants you to do. If you are in a situation where you have to parry because the opponent has successfully taken initiative and caught you at a bad moment (generally because you are to close to your opponent), and you don’t know if its gonna be a real attack or feint , the question is no longer what the correct action is, it becomes why did you not attack yourself.


One comment

  1. Hi Kristian,

    I find this a little more difficult to understand then your previous article about ‘Deep and shallow targets’. One thing that puzzles me in this article, is that it seems to contradict a bit with your earlier article on ‘When to counterattack?’. If your opponent has read your article on ‘When to counterattack’, then wouldn’t it become very hard to launch a second intention attack? Because it looks like a second intention attack should be made from a further distance then a simple attack (one needs to be able to move between the 2 attacks) but this is also the distance that one should use for an immediate counterattack. Maybe this is the reason that Liechtenauer advises us not to feint, because you don’t know if your opponent is taking the bait or not, which means that you should be prepared for 2 possible immediate counter attacks. It is possible that your opponent takes the bait and counter attacks, so you should cover yourself from this counterattack but it is also possible that he counter attacks on your second attack, so you should be able to cover yourself for that one too. But maybe I’m overthinking this a bit (after all, you explain that you should first try to see which reaction he will have on your attack before you try a second intention attack) and I should try this in reality to see how it works out.
    Anyway, an excellent article as always!

    With kind regards,
    Davy Van Elst

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