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A tempo is a specific interval of time which is either

  • a period of motion, bounded by two points of stillness (a step, a cut, etc.); or
  • a period of stillness, bounded by two points of motion (a pause or rest)

Alternatively, a tempo may refer to an opportunity to strike an opponent.

Capo Ferro's tempos of opportunity

Capo Ferro tells us that we have a tempo -- or opportunity -- to strike the opponent in the following circumstances:

  • first tempo: during a step by the opponent into our narrow or wide measure, before he has constrained us or attacked, or when he rests in his guard;
  • half tempo: when he uncovers himself by a change of guard or by a disengage, or in preparation for some other maneuver we may attack in the tempo of that uncovering -- essentially, when he is executing the first action of what is potentially a two-tempo attack. Since his attack will not begin until the end of ours, this is a half tempo;
  • counter tempo: when he attacks us, we may counterattack in a slightly shorter tempo and with superior strength or positioning; or
  • two tempos: whenever we have created an opportunity with some action of our own -- such as a beat, parry, or constraining -- we may immediately capitalize on that opportunity. This is simply an attack in two tempos.

These tempos should not be confused with the concept of a tempo as a duration of time (see above; e.g. one tempo or half a tempo), but instead, they refer to specific actions that you or your opponent executes that are answers to the question: "When is it a good time for me to attack?".


In Italian, the above tempos of opportunity are called:

  • primo tempo (first tempo),
  • mezzo tempo (half tempo),
  • contratempo (counter tempo),
  • dui tempi (two tempos).

Relative lengths of common tempos

  • The tempo of an advance is approximately that of a fixed-footed lunge (lunge in pie fermo).
  • The tempo of a lunge -- which includes a step and a fixed-footed lunge, is therefore one and a half tempos.
  • The tempo of a disengage is approximately that of an advance.
  • The tempo of a passing step is approximately that of an advance.
  • The tempo of a direct attack is shorter than that of an attack on the disengage.