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Some thoughts on "Judgement" and the "Initiative"

"There is no doubt but that the Honorable exercise of the Weapon is made right perfect by means of two things, to wit: Judgment and Force: Because by the one, we know the manner and time to handle the weapon (how, or whatsoever occasion serves:) And by the other we have the power to execute therewith, in due time with advantage." Di Grassi, The true Art of Defense

Following on from this post I thought I'd put some thoughts around about reaction time or "judgement".

Speed is composed of two elements: movement speed and reaction speed. Most historical sources are aware of this distinction referring to movements of the body and your "judgement" or "reason." Improving the physical action is relatively easy: you work until you become faster. However this is of little use if you do the wrong action. Therefore being fast is also largely about thinking fast and forming the correct action. This is the subject of serious concern in many treatises because fencing is complex, it has both complex stimuli and complex reactions to those stimuli. It's not like Sprinting where you have a simple stimulus (the gun goes "bang") and a simple decision (go/don't go). The more complex the stimuli and more responses that are possible the longer the decisions process and the more important this is to the sport.

I'm going to slightly tangent here to have a ramble about the concept of initiative. I usually talk about the initiative in a very careless way but it's understood that whomever is dominating the fight has "the initiative" and letting the other person "lead" equates to "loosing" the initiative. But in general I have tended to equate who is moving first with who has the initiative. Surely the first mover is the faster, therefore they must be leading? I'll illustrate why this is incorrect with an example: press an opponent from the Onset and then, when they're flustered, pause at long measure to give them opportunity to attack an deliberately exposed opening, then deliver the prepared counterattack into the anticipated action. In this example I would argue that you have maintained the initiative throughout but have allowed your opponent to act first in the middle segment; you have simply varied the timing.

The point behind this is that it is not the first mover who dominates the fight but the first thinker. In other words: the first person to accurately evaluate the situation and select the optimal movement has the "initiative". Of course, as I covered previously, if you move really slowly then thinking time becomes unimportant however once you are conditioned to act at intensity thinking fast can take significantly longer than moving fast. Watching an experienced fencer lazily work a less experienced fencer into a frenzy of activity by seemingly always to be in the right place, at the right time with the right action is demonstrating the advantage thinking fast against simply moving fast.


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