Basic Concepts of the Phrase

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Basic Concepts of the Phrase

Right of Way
The Attack
The Advance-Lunge
Parry/Riposte
Remise/Reprise/Redoublement
Preparation

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Winning a fencing match is a point by point endeavor, so knowledge of the "phrase" is crucial to determining how to get, and how your opponent is getting, the points in the bout.  Below are the various stages and concepts one uses to describe the action during a fencing match.

Right of Way - Directly from the USFA rulebook

"1. The simple attack, direct or indirect (cf. t.8), is correctly
executed when the extending of the arm, the point
threatening the valid target, precedes the initiation of
the lunge or the flèche.
2. The compound attack (cf. t.8) is correctly executed
when the arm is extending in the presentation of the
first feint, with the point threatening the valid target,
and the arm is not bent between the successive actions
of the attack and the initiation of the lunge or the
flèche.
3. The attack with a advance-lunge or a advance-flèche is
correctly executed when the extending of the arm
precedes the end of the step forward and the initiation
of the lunge or the flèche.
4. Actions, simple or compound, steps or feints which are
executed with a bent arm, are not considered as attacks
but as preparations, laying themselves open to the
initiation of the offensive or defensive/offensive action
of the opponent (cf. t.8)."

All clear?  

Seriously though, the best way to obtain a sense of right of way is to fence, particularly against those with a solid grounding in the concept.   I liken it to French new wave cinema--you don't understand what you're seeing the first time, but the more you engage in it, the more the actions become familiar.  Then, after you understand the techniques and methods used to create the action, you can begin to understand the concepts behind it.  

The Attack - The attack is either a simple or compound (see the Offense section) maneuver that successfully nets right of way for the attacker.  

The Advance Lunge - Note the excerpt from the rulebook in the "Right of Way" section.  Note point 3.  Note it again.  Reread it.  Now begin to memorize it.  Close your eyes are recite it.  Reread. 

Translated: if you begin your extension within an advance immediately preceding your lunge, you maintain right of way (unless it is taken) from the beginning of your extension through the duration of your lunge.  Know this rule.  Execute it, and respect it when your opponent does it.  Note: an arrest must begin before the opponent's extension begins to successfully score a point. 

  
Both a horizontal and vertical view of the advance-lunge.  

Parry/Riposte - Classically, a parry is an action of the blade that, through contact with the attacking blade, successfully moves the latter out of the defender's target line.  In modern fencing, it seems, a parry is any blade contact, initiated by the defender, that takes place during the initiation and conclusion of the opposing fencer's attack.  A riposte is an attack that follows the parry. In regards to the riposte, the rulebook says, 

"The parry gives the right to riposte: the simple riposte may
be direct or indirect, but to annul any subsequent action by
the attacker, it must be executed immediately, without
indecision or delay."

That last bit is generally a good rule to follow.  

Remise/Reprise/Redoublement - Ugh. Is this the most debated concept in fencing?  Perhaps.  Is it the silliest debate taking place?  Without a doubt.  For your purposes, any of these refers to an attack that is not a counter-riposte, but which follows either a failed initial attack, or an opponent's parry.  There are subtle differences between the three, but none of them are anything you should rely on to score touches consistently.   

Preparation - In my opinion, the second most important concept in modern foil, behind right of way.  If you can decide when preparation exists, you can decide when right of way exists, and vice versa.  In short, preparation is any action which precedes, or prepares the body for, the initiation of an attack.  Countless incarnations exist, and variations may include but are not limited to, a break in the forward motion of the arm during extension, a "search" for the opponent's blade, a reaction to an opponent's counter-attack that breaks the attack, and so on.