The Dreaded Double-Hit

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Me and Alex, making an embarrassment of ourselves.

It is relatively common in Historical Fencing, for spectators and participants alike, to bemoan the “double-hit.”

This is a situation where two bouting fencers will achieve an effective touch on the other during the same, or close to the same, action. It is quite normal in the early stages of learning to fence, and persists from time to time in experienced fencers. The reasons to consider this a negative outcome are nearly self-evident: in fencing, which inherited the characteristics of its rules from dueling with sharp weapons, any action which resulted in harm to the self would seem to be an incorrect one. However, there are a number of reasons such a situation might occur, each of them requiring a different, tailored solution and in some cases, minimal corrective action. There is a prevalent attitude that if one is touched as a direct or indirect result of their own actions, an incorrect decision has been made. In some cases this may be doing as much harm – pedagogically speaking – as good.

Broadly speaking, a double-hit can be categorised into two basic types: Those which resulted from incorrect decision making, and those which resulted from imperfections in technique. As far as tactical (that is, decision-making) errors, it can be my own tactical error. That is, my tactical decision caused me to be touched. The solution is to make a different decision. Likewise, the error can be on the part of my opponent. Their tactical decision caused both of us to be touched. Generally, no corrective action is required on my part, and no particular effort should be made to avoid the same decision on account of this double-hit scenario. Likewise, the double hit can be a result of my technical error. My physical execution was imperfect, resulting in a touch against me. Drilling and further repetition of the scenario is the best way to correct the technical issue. Avoiding the scenario in future will solidify the error as a persistent weakness. Lastly, the double hit can be a result of a mutual error. Relatively uncommon, certain limitations of the mind or body can cause a pseudo “random” double-hit scenario. Slow down, spend more time drilling, but never expect this problem to be eradicated completely.

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If a student is conditioned to process any situation in which they become touched by their opponent as a failure, they are likely to avoid repeating the same failure in the most immediate way: By avoiding the decision which created that situation in the first place. This means the student experiences less repetitions of that same situation. If the double-hit scenario was the result of their opponent’s incorrect decision making, the student will internalise it as a negative outcome and, despite not being responsible for the error, treat a sound tactical decision as if it were a dangerous error. Sometimes, and even worse, the student who made the tactical error can internalise the result as “at least I punished my opponent, so my mistake wasn’t that bad,” when in fact both the mistake, and the corrective action, are almost wholly their responsibility. If the double-hit scenario was the result of a technical error rather than a tactical one, the student is exposed to fewer and fewer opportunities to correct their technical error. This exacerbates, rather than soothes, a technical problem.

In a bouting environment rich with less experienced fencers, as HEMA often is, both technical and tactical errors are common. If the student is not taught and guided to contextualise a double-hit and take appropriate and informed corrective action, the breadth of scenarios the student is willing to expose themselves to will be limited, and over time a narrowing of technical repertoire and eventually, non-combativeness will result.

Photo credits: Justin Tan