Attacks on the blade are preparatory actions directed at the opponent’s blade to remove the blade from the line, creating an opening through with a direct attack can be made. Alternatively they may remove the blade by provoking a lateral or circular response to the pressure which can be deceived by the attacker, for example, by disengage, coupe, or counterdisengage.
Although the term “attacks on the blade” has been criticized on the basis that a fencer cannot attack the blade, but only the opponent, I believe the term is the best description of what actually happens. These actions work by percussion, the application of quick, sharp force to the blade to set it in motion. The fencer applies force to the opponent’s blade to move it as part of an attacking action.
There are three common attacks on the blade:
The Press – executed from engagement, the press displaces the opponent’s blade by momentary lateral or semi-circular pressure on the blade until the actual attack is launched. The press is not as obviously threatening as the beat or froissement and may be maintained for a relatively long period before the final action of the attack.
The Beat – executed from a position where the blades are not in contact as a crisp impact on the opponent’s blade, displacing the blade from the line. The beat can be executed from engagement, but in this case requires detachment from the blade, potentially losing the element of surprise.
The Froissement (also termed Expulsion) – executed from engagement, this is a sharp grazing action which starts using the forte near the tip of the opponent’s blade and progesses down and in to violently deflect the blade, often ending with the attacker’s point out of line. This is the most difficult of the attacks on the blade to control, and probably the easiest to deceive. As a result it is not commonly used.