At the highest levels of fencing, the window to attack is often small. Perhaps it comes on a small flinch of the opponent, or they step in close for just one moment too long. Perhaps they change direction with just a little bit too deep a step, or they overcommit in preparation or on the attack.
Existing fencing literature has heavily focused on the preparation and the closing action. These are of course, important in telling the overall story of a touch and how it’s set up to success.
But what we don’t often focus on is that miniscule quarter second window that opens up following successful preparation that enables the closing attack.
When is the right time to hit? It’s not something you can think about in the heat of a touch. It’s something you feel. Because the moment you begin to think about the window you have, that window is already closed.
The “Oh $@&#” moment is the moment your opponent steps on a Lego with bare feet or stubs their toe on the coffee table and scream an agonizing expletive without thinking. It’s the moment they fall victim to a jump scare as Michael Myers bursts out of a closet with a 9-inch knife, or when they slam on the brakes without thinking as a Florida Man runs a red light.
Oh $@&# moments rarely operate independently of one another. For example, a temps perdu (as defined below) is by virtue the creation of a distance trap. An instinctual folly can be generated off a punishment opportunity. These moments are interdependent, and to help you understand these openings, I’ve provided definitions and video examples below.
The most simple, common “Oh $@&#” moment comes when the distance collapses to striking range. Striking range may vary from opponent to opponent. For a 6’6 gargantuan with arms the length of an NFL offensive tackle, that Fencer’s striking range is going to be longer than that of a Mickey Rooney sized fencer. In general, Fencers will hover at ~2.5 meters (if we measure from the weapon armed shoulder to the same point on the opponent). Once they close to under ~2 meters, a fencer has typically entered into close distance, aka the “do something or get out of here” range. The French teach a concept of: “do not enter distance unless you intend to attack.”
Distance Oh $@&# Moment Example 1: In this video, you see Italy’s Valerio Cuomo against France’s Romain Cannone (2021 Tokyo Olympic Champ). Cuomo pulls Cannone, and Cannone backs away and breaks distance for a moment. You see Cuomo take a slow, decelerated advance into Cannone’s distance. With that step, the Oh $@&# moment is created, and he accelerates into a fleche attack for a single light.
Distance Oh $@&# Moment Example 2: Katerina Saligerova pushes Renata Knapik-Miazga, makes a flick over the top of the guard and creeps into closer distance. She then makes a half step, realizes her lunge can cover distance, and she attacks to the leg for one light to win in overtime.
In his article “In Search of Lost Time in Today’s Fencing,” Maestro Gil Pezza defines a Temps Perdu as “a momentary pause in a fencing action or movement. It can be intentional, accidental, or inevitable. If intentional, the temps perdu is called a broken tempo.” A temps perdu is ideally found to attack in the preparation, attacking not where the opponent is at the start of the initiator’s attack, but attacking to where they’re going to be and hitting them before their front foot hits the ground in transition. Sensing it is an important part of the contemporary Epee game.
Temps Perdu “Oh $@&#” Example 1: On Andrea Santarelli’s change of direction, Ruben Limardo finds the temps perdu and hits him with a single tempo direct lunge in the preparation.
Temps Perdu “Oh $@&#” Example 2: This is a combination of a Temps Perdu + Instinctual Folly. Canada’s Leonara MacKinnon beats the blade as Isola pressures, and the moment Isola changes direction, MacKinnon senses the Temps Perdu and attacks into the preparation for one light.
Temps Perdu “Oh $@&#” Example 3: In the first clip in this video, Yannick Borel hits a perfectly timed 8 opposition lunge on Aymerick Gally’s step forward on the temps perdu.
Instinctual follies are created when a fencer twitchily responds to a preparation, drawing the desired reaction (e.g. parry on a feint, counterattack on an invitation, biting on invitation with attack). It is the act of baiting the opponent into something they don’t want to do, showing them “A” and giving them “B” instead.
Instinctual Folly “Oh $@&#” Example 1: In this clip, Sergey Bida pulls Igor Reizlin. Bida, knowing Reizlin has a fast and effective counterflick over the guard drops his hand with a feint under the hand. In that moment, he draws that instinctual flick from Reizlin, creating the Oh $@&# moment from that instinctual folly. He scoops the parry-riposte and hits.
Instinctual Folly “Oh $@&#” Example 2: Anna Van Brummen pushes Italy’s Frederica Isola, and makes a half advance in preparation, opening the line with an invitation. Seeing Van Brummen’s open torso, Isola takes the bait and chooses to fleche on the invitation. This touch is an example of creating both a distance trap and an instinctual folly rolled into one.
Instinctual Folly “Oh $@&#” Example 3: Kelley Hurley and Natalie Moellhausen play a game of chicken in the box, with Kelley presenting her foot with a provoking half advance. Moellhausen tries to time a toe touch on Kelley’s provocation, but this is exactly what Kelley wants, and on attack, she finds the blade to hit with parry-riposte.
A punishment Oh $@&# moment is created when a fencer overcommits in preparation (often off balance) or sloppily recovers from attack, resulting in vulnerability. The French happen to be masters at capitalizing on these. Punishment touches can also occur when an opponent is moving in rhythmic patterns with the feet that allow the initiator to attack in time.
Punishment “Oh $@&#” Example 1: Josephine Jacques Andre Coquin pushes Sera Song, playing with a half advance in and out of Song’s distance. Song, who’s a master of toe touches attempts to capitalize on the rhythmic preparation and attack to the foot with a deep, somewhat unbalanced lunge. By the time she’s even begun to recover from her lunge, Coquin sees the overcommitment onto the front leg and responds with a toe touch of her own.
Punishment “Oh $@&#” Examples 2 and 3: Brazil’s Xandi Camargo flicks and overcommits to his front leg in preparation. On the next action in this video, Sych drops to the foot off balance, and Camargo punishes him with a fleche attack.
Punishment “Oh $@&#” Example 3: Justin Yoo attacks on Switzerland’s Michel Niggeler, who responds with an off-balance counterattack. Escaping certain doom on the touch, Justin finds his blade the punishes Niggeler for his imbalance with a 6 riposte.
Punishment “Oh $@&#” Example 4: Ruslan Kurbanov capitalizes on the rhythmic preparation of Nelson Lopez-Pourtier to hit him with a punishing foot touch.
A technical folly is when poor technique or extraneous movement (e.g. wide parry, large flick, leading with body) results in opponent spearing themselves. At the higher levels of fencing, these are few and far between, but they certainly happen! If you sense your opponent has flaws in their technique
Technical Folly “Oh $@&#” Example 1: Masaru Yamada comes in a little bit too high/large on the flick, resulting in a spearing under the wrist from Koki Kano
Technical Folly “Oh $@&#” Example 2: Yeisser Ramirez searches in the low line just a little too large, resulting in Kazuyasu Minobe counterflicking over the top while stepping back.
Angle/Strip Positioning Opening
This occurs when an opponent enters feeble lateral strip positioning, resulting in better angle/leverage on the attack (e.g. Fencing lefty in the middle of the piste). In his book How to Fence Epee: The Fantastic Four Method, Clement Schrepfer wrote:
“Not only do you have to use the length of the piste when creating opportunities for scoring touches, you have the width of the piste that also allows for many scoring possibilities (or mitigate those of the opponent). It is therefore important to position oneself laterally depending on your game plan and the intentions of the adversary.” 
Angle Strip Positioning “Oh $@%#” Examples 1 and 2: Jake Hoyle changes angles on Sangyoung Park, draws a fleche and gets a perfect angle to hit a parry 4 riposte. In the second example, Yana Shemyakina changes angle to the center of the piste to get a better angle on the flick on Kat Holmes.
 Schrepfer, Clement. How to Fence Epee: the Fantastic Four Method. Books on Demand. 2015.