Descriptive Analytics in Epee Fencing

In the context of an Epee bout, there are a million different variables leading to a Fencer’s success (or failure). When doing film analysis, a Fencer can look at the tape in front of them to draw his/her own conclusions based on distance, timing, preparations, and footwork. While a qualitative analysis produces a descriptive assessment of a bout, this approach is best suited for studying a bout independently of others, and becomes unwieldy when attempting to capture a Fencer’s preferences and tendencies over time.

Who a Fencer is, their approach to bouts, and their tendencies on the strip when leading (or behind) can be informed best by capturing descriptive analytics, which Gartner defines as “…the examination of data or content, usually manually performed, to answer the question “What happened?” (or What is happening?).”[1]

In order to capture a bout’s dynamics, I’ve begun capturing using the following 12 data fields, and using these to build cumulative profiles with each Fencer assessed. These data fields help to identify the Fencer’s preparatory tendencies, the number of strokes/tempos per action, and what the Fencer prefers to do with his/her closing actions.

Period: The period in which the touch was scored. This field helps us understand if a Fencer prefers to execute from the onset, or if s/he is using the early periods to assess/be patient up the bout’s denouement. 

Point For: The Fencer who scored the point (mark “double” for double touch)

Point Against: The Fencer against whom the touch was scored

Lead: The leading fencer at the time of the hit. This field helps to identify behavioral changes in a Fencer when leading. For instance, an offensive-minded fencer might begin demonstrating favorability of a defensive game when s/he has accrued a lead in a bout.

Deficit: The fencer who is down at the time of the hit. This will also help identify Fencer behaviors when in a hole.

Preparation/Hit: A more subjective and qualitative field that documents the foot and hand movements leading up from the time the referee calls “Fence!” to the closing final action. The description in the “Preparation/Hit” field should include a summation of the Fencer who is pushing/pulling (or initiating), the methods they use to collapse distance leading to the final action (where applicable), and how s/he uses his/her feet to prepare for the action. (example:  Borel takes lead for the first time in the bout. Pushes Park with small, fast tempo half advance/advance steps with acceleration into Park’s distance, and as Park tries a high low prep, Borel disengages to low line, searching for blade, misses, but hits 2nd tempo).

Distance: Another subjective field. I have captured distances in Epee bouts as “A,” “B,” or “C,” with the following descriptions of each:

  • A- Close distance. A fencer initiating an action at close distance is in a “do or die” spot, and usually must initiate a closing action from here or risk being hit.
  • B- Long lunge and/or Advance-Lunge distance. “B” distance is proper Epee distance, and most actions are being initiated from here.
  • C- Out of distance. A fencer initiates an attack from far out of fencing distance. The responding opponent will usually be the one scoring the point here.

Tempos: A field that captures the number of combined hand/foot movements in the closing action.

  • 1- A direct attack would be classified as “1” for one tempo. Zbiegnew Cjakowski’s Understanding Fencing defines this as a thrust that “begins and ends in the same line, without any change of line in between. (Czajkowski, 2005)”
  • 2- A compound action with more than one movement in the hand and/or feet would be classified as a “2” for two tempo. For example, an advance lunge would be 2 tempos, one for the advance, one for the lunge. If a feint comes in syncopation with the advance, followed by the lunge, this would still be classified as two tempos (not three), since the hand movement is harmonized with the feet.
  • 3- Can there be more than 3 tempo’s in a closing action? Of course. For the sake of simplicity, a tempo is marked as “3” for a more complicated action, such as a missed parry-riposte (2 tempos) followed by remise (+1). Actions marked with a “3” are often unplanned and unintentional.

Type of Action: The closing action used by the Fencer on a hit. This, combined with the time between touches field can signal if a Fencer prefers an offensive style, a counter-offensive style, or a defensive style.

  • Lunge: An attack to the opponent initiated by pushing off the rear leg.
  • Fleche: A running attack on the opponent in which the rear leg crosses over on the attack.
  • Parry-Riposte: A deflection of the blade followed by a thrust. Parry-ripostes can be two tempo when there is a cadence between the taking of the blade and the riposte, or one tempo is the Fencer closes the line in a singular action (or 3-tempo should a transfer parry to a riposte occur)
  • Counterattack: A responsive thrust to an opponent’s attack.
  • Remise: An unintentional continuation of the attack should the Fencer miss his/her intended action.
  • Flick: A preparatory attack or a responsive action to the opponent’s hand or arm with a graze of the tip.
  • Toe Touch: An attack to the foot.
  • P-Red: A fencer is awarded a touch as a result of a P-Red.
  • Red: A fencer is awarded a touch as a result of a red card.

Point Scored At: The time left on the clock in a given period when the Fencer scores.

Time Between Touches: The cumulative time between each touch. Time between touches is an important field, that when averaged out can identify the aggressive or passive tendencies of a fencer. A touch will, on average, take 17 seconds to prepare for and score. But a fencer like Yannick Borel takes 12.47 seconds on average, indicating more aggressive offensive tendencies, whereas Masaru Yamada takes 21.24 seconds, indicating a more calculated and cautious approach to his bouts.

How These Analytics Work Together: Using Igor Reizlin as an Example

Over time, the qualitative and quantitative fields captured build upon each other to identify trends and preferences for a Fencer. Let us use Igor Reizlin from the Ukraine as an example:

Closing Actions: On single lights recorded for Reizlin, we see that his preferred closing action is a Parry-Riposte:

Tempos: On hits recorded for Reizlin, he is going 2-tempo nearly 60% of the time.

Time Between Touches: Igor Reizlin averages a total of 16.54 seconds per touch, which puts him right in line with the international mean. However, it’s worth nothing that in periods 1 and 2, Reizlin averages 19.5 seconds per touch, which indicates a favorability for patience. When his bouts do go to the third period, his time between touches drops to 10.0 seconds/touch. Reizlin has had the lead going into the 3rd period the majority of the time, which lures his opponents into his preferred defensive style to an even larger degree.

Points Against: On points scored against Reizlin, his opponents are finding him in one tempo actions 58% of the time. He’s being hit primarily when forced to go on the offensive, usually with a simple counterattack on his initiation, followed by a direct one-tempo lunge into his preparation.

Distance: Reizlin is keeping distance at a long lunge/advance-lunge distance the majority of the time:

Preparatory Tendencies: Once a sufficient sample has been collected, you can look at trends in your “Description of Preparation/Hit” field to see common patterns and trends. While these are subjective, they form a nice scouting report of sorts to see how the Fencer is preparing, their shortcomings, and how they respond when they face a deficit. Reizlin’s profile I put together reads as follows:

  • Defensive fencer who prefers to draw opponent’s attack and respond with 2-tempo parry-riposte
  • Wide stance. Alternates between half advance and half retreat to deceive distance
  • Keeps low guard absence of blade and transitions back and forth between that and low 6 position
  • Makes wide invitation to high-line to draw attack, usually finishes with 6 riposte
  • Will recover forward in lunges to collapse and deceive distances
  • Struggles when forced to transition to an offensive game when at a score deficit; prefers to draw opponent’s fully elongated attack rather than play a counter-offensive game or be forced to transition into attack-mode.

Conclusion: Capture these fields to begin better understanding your own Fencing, your rivals, and your future opponents. By accumulating data over time, you’ll begin to understand Fencers better, and even be able to create a predictive strategy based on the tendencies they bring to the piste!

©Damien Lehfeldt, 2021. All Rights Reserved.


[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/glossary/descriptive-analytics#:~:text=Descriptive%20Analytics%20is%20the%20examination,%2C%20tables%2C%20or%20generated%20narratives.

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