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Let there be humans who can move their limbs three times faster than is typically possible. This is the only enhancement: Their reaction time and brain speed is normal, and they therefore cannot walk/run much faster than a regular person

Would such a power be useful in the sport of fencing? Normal modern fencing gear (made for normal-speed humans) is used by the faster humans

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    $\begingroup$ The first two sentences seem to contradict each other - the first says that they can move their limbs 3x faster, the second says that because <reasons> they cannot move much faster. In the second sentence, did you mean "move" or "react"? $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2023 at 0:07
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    $\begingroup$ Reaction time is only a limiting factor if you need to adjust your planned movement. So for example in running it is almost completely irrelevant because there you move your legs in a preplanned repeating pattern. Brain speed is only a limiting factor for complex mental tasks not really for any movement related activities. $\endgroup$
    – quarague
    Jun 28, 2023 at 9:36
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    $\begingroup$ I am eager to learn if there are any fencers on Worldbuilding. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jun 28, 2023 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ I don't see that as a contradiction. I read this is as "their processing & reaction time is the same as the other fencer, but their execution time is much faster". If two fencers begin a thrust at time 0, it takes fencer A 3 clicks to touch her opponent, while it only takes fencer B 1 click to touch hers. The buzzer will register a point for fencer B. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Jun 28, 2023 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ "Brain speed is only a limiting factor for complex mental tasks not really for any movement related activities." - I'm no specialist, but not sure this is quite right - even just walking involves constantly reacting to the ground we feel under our feet, to avoid things like tripping over. This is why getting robots to walk, especially on uneven terrain, has historically been so difficult. I'm not sure how much of the reaction is done by the brain specifically, but I'm also not sure that it matters - the question says "reaction time" is no faster. $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2023 at 18:26

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Yes.

Ex-uni fencer here. Yup, yup and yup, especially if the person in question isn't just some rando but an actual fencer who trains and competes.

In the end, all that matters is that you hit your target before they hit you. That's why we have electronic rigs that measure that for us, because it's usually not possible for the human eye at a high level. Near-simultaneous touches are common and every millisecond will count.

Remember; there are three kinds of fencing. Epee, foil, and sabre. This may have a small impact on what you're doing.

The different swords.

In epee fencing, the goal is to hit 'em with the pointy end, literally anywhere on the body. The sword is the longest of all three, and more firm than flexible.

In foil fencing, the only valid target is the torso, including the groin, not including arms, legs or head, and again, you use the pointy end. The sword is the shortest of all three, and exceptionally flexible.

In sabre fencing, the target area has increased to "anything above the waist". The sword is between foil and epee in length, with a slight curve, and typically fairly rigid. In sabre, we slash instead of stabbing. Think pirate fights.

Advantages and disadvantages

I would expect increased speed to have the least benefit in sabre duelling, because the slashing technique lends itself to larger blocking arcs and more back and forth. Though, sabre fighters are notoriously... violent in technique. Long charges forward and sharp "samurai-style" cuts down upon the head for instant victory are fairly common.

In epee duelling, I would probably expect the most benefit. Many epee duels end with touches the opponent's toes, because everything is a target. If the duellist is accurate, they're likely to win every single time. However, the sword is quite heavy and rigid, so it tends to be harder to reorient and change its momentum.

In foil duelling, I would expect an extreme advantage, but probably less than in epee. This may be an unpopular opinion, though. The foil is an extremely dextrous and agile weapon, and foil is all about speed. But, due to the shorter sword, closer distances and smaller target area, I would also argue that, as your fictional fighter doesn't possess increased reflexes, their increased speed may be of slightly less help.

Summary: Your guy probably crushes everyone.

Ultimately though, I would have to say that all of these are subtle differences that are unlikely to matter, because a speed increase of 200% is such a phenomenal advantage, that against a normal opponent, I would expect your character to essentially win every single time.

I am open to being challenged on this. I once had the pleasure of wheelchair fencing a silver-medal Paralympian. On his first attack, I didn't even see him move, I just felt horrible pain as he whipped me directly in the vertebrae. He was that quick. So, up against Olympic-grade athletes, the tables may balance somewhat.

Hope any of this is useful!

Addendum 1: Momentum

One thing to question is whether the increased speed comes with increased torque. Do they have more strength?

If yes, don't worry, they'll rock everything. If no, a small problem emerges.

Let's say your dude thrusts with the sword, three times faster than normal. Well, they'll also need the grip strength to maintain a grasp on a heavy sword travelling that fast. Just a thought.

Sub-addendum: Forces and Damage

One thing you may also wish to consider; if you choose to give your fencer the additional strength/torque required to handle objects at their increased speed, one issue may come up.

Your guy may actually find themselves breaking swords, or possibly even striking lethally. While the safety gear is pretty tough, injuries do happen, especially if the sword breaks or the gear is damaged, and at 3 times regular speed, you're looking at 3 times the regular force being delivered.

Sub-addendum: Collission

As @Oddrigue has pointed out, body-to-body contact in fencing can get you penalised. Consider that, as a triple-speed lunge is going to impart a lot of momentum on a body. This has to be balanced and corrected to avoid tumbling forwards.

Addendum 2: Reaction Speed

I covered this somewhat above but I felt I should clarify something.

The reason reaction speed shouldn't matter much in fencing (which is amusing in and of itself) is that it's first blood that counts. All your guy needs to do is make the first move every time and they'll be fine.

In a situation where they're on the defensive though, they'll struggle much more. Reaction speed is more important to your defense than "ability to move a sword quickly".

But, with even a basic sense of offensive strategy, they should dominate at an Olympic level without breaking a sweat.

Addendum 3: Priority

This one completely slipped my mind, but as @Nobody in the comments pointed out, in foil and sabre fencing, there is a system called priority, and touches that both land within a second of one another are settled via this system. Occasionally, the judgement here is a simultaneous touch.

In epee, you don't need to worry about this at all. Stick 'em with the pointy end.

In foil and sabre though, this is going to have a major impact on your fencer. They may potentially lose a lot of points to simultaneous touches, and without quick reflexes, they may even lose points on priority.

I still think that the advantage would be overwhelming, but this definitely balances things. As @Nobody has opined, it could actually be make-or-break at the Olympic level.

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    $\begingroup$ Real life experience is always a plus (one) $\endgroup$
    – No Name
    Jun 28, 2023 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ I have even less fencing experience than you I think, so, grain of salt, but I always felt the parries in sabre were very slow. There's just a lot of movement when you want to block a whole direction. So, I wonder if the order might be inverted there? Foil could be limited by reaction time, while sabre could be limited by movement time, giving speedy-man a bigger relative advantage in sabre. $\endgroup$
    – Zwuwdz
    Jun 28, 2023 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ "First blood" is not what counts in foil. An attack with priority will score, even if a counterattack lands first. I would expect a skilled foil fencer to quickly figure out that that the speedy person's attacks are unparryable and to adjust strategy to focus on controlling distance and establishing the attack whenever the opponent is within threat range. From there, an opponent with fast movements but normal-to-slow reaction times is going to be vulnerable to attacks with a change of line. The speedy fencer's powers would help a lot at regional tournaments, but by the time they got to ... $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Jun 29, 2023 at 13:09
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    $\begingroup$ ... the national, let alone Olympic, level it would be a minor advantage at best. Epee, on the other hand would be a different story. Even with slow reactions, you could probably salvage at least a double just by counterattacking into your opponents attacks. An epeeist with that kind of speed would be hard to beat unless they had some sort of exploitable flaw in their technique. $\endgroup$
    – Nobody
    Jun 29, 2023 at 13:12
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    $\begingroup$ One more thing to mind we the momentum aspect of super speed is collision. You may be sonic-fast but you still have to mind not bumping into your opponent to avoid a penalty $\endgroup$
    – Oddrigue
    Jun 29, 2023 at 15:17
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Yeah, I'd say it would be a significant advantage. Firstly, their attacks would be much harder to block - although with time and practice and getting used to the additional speed a very skilled fencer might be able to mitigate some of the advantage.

Also on defense - seeing an attack and being able to move to block it aren't the same thing, especially if you have commited to one parry or a thrust of your own, being able to reset if you will 3 times faster than your opponent would be a great advantage here that is less easily mitigated.

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Definitely (sorta)

Despite the normal thinking speed, it still means the speedy human can easily attack the opponent. The opponent can process and see the attack in their mind, but will not be able to carry out the parry/block, unlike the speedy human.

Furthermore this will ensure the opponent can't see the attack coming, much less be able to block it.

NOTE there is a difference between fencing faster and fencing better, so the advantage is limited.

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    $\begingroup$ Agree - fencing is like skilled chess. When moving offensively, the attacker has plotted out the series of moves in advance in their mind and are then limited in their execution speed by their muscles (especially wrist muscles). Defensive reactions are more limited by perception/reaction time, so increased muscular speed would literally make the best defence consist of a good offence. $\endgroup$ Jun 28, 2023 at 5:08
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A few years ago I estimated that, at my top speed, I could run (100m?? 10km) or swim crawl/freestyle (100m, 1000m) at half world-record speed, very roughly speaking. Possibly optimistic. I trained somewhat, but not seriously. Let's call that "average" or "normal person".

So an elite athlete is about twice as fast as a "normal person". And an elite athlete beats a "normal person" easily, hands down. Granted, running and swimming are not combat and don't tax reaction speed (probably).

Your "speedy human" is three times faster than their opponent. Perhaps this kind of comparison can help you reach a useful conclusion.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting figures. Elite athletes likely have two advantages over you: intensive training, and genetic predisposition. This brings them to 2x your speed. The OP's speedy humans have only one advantage over you: their magically enhanced speed. This brings them to 3x your speed. Now imagine if the OP's speedy humans also had intensive training, or genetic predisposition, or both. How much faster than you would they be? Is it cumulative, or is there some hard maximum? $\endgroup$
    – Stef
    Jun 29, 2023 at 11:33
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I'm not any sort of fencer, but my prediction would be "yes, and significantly so". I'm naturally assuming our super-speed fencer is properly trained.

All else being equal, the faster swordsman can better exploit openings in the foe's defense. Defending has a few basic steps:

  1. Detect the threat (the incoming attack, its direction, force, etc.)
  2. Determine the response (a parry, a direct block, how to angle one's blade, etc.)
  3. Make the response (actually moving your sword into position)

There's a finite amount of time to go through those steps. Obviously, the faster the attacker's blade is moving, the less time the defender has. Moving at three times the regular speed means that a normally quick strike might literally outpace the defender's reaction time when launched by our super-speed fencer: by the time their brain has recognized the movement as a swipe or stab (#1) and ordered their arm to bring up their blade in a block (#2/#3), they've already been hit.

However, you've specified that our super-speed fencer's brain has normal reaction times, etc. This means that their speed isn't as strong an asset in defense. In that three-step guide to defending earlier, their speed is only helping with #3: their reaction time being normal means it takes them just as long as the other fighter to spot the threat and figure out a good answer to it. An unexpected or misjudged strike can get through their defenses despite their speed, because it doesn't matter how quickly our fencer can move in step #3 if they've been hit before they finished the first two steps.

Normal reaction times with higher movement speeds also imply that precision of movement could be an issue. Sufficient training would overcome this, but they are at greater risk of botching their strikes and parries (aiming for the shin and having the blade go towards the thigh instead, for instance).

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It's an advantage, but not as much as you might think

Being able to launch a fast attack has obvious advantages, in that your opponents will have less time to react to your attacks. Because of this they will have a hard time parrying or dodging your attacks; however, there is a lot that happens before the attack that your speed doesn't help with. A skilled opponent will be able to figure out how to exploit any weaknesses in those aspects of the contest, particularly once they realize that the opponent is too quick to parry.

One of the most important techniques in fencing is controlling the distance. There is an optimal distance for launching an attack. Start too close, and you won't be able to get your blade in line with valid target before it lands. Start too far, and your opponent will have loads of time to thwart the attack, even with your speed advantage. A good fencer will try to manipulate the distance so that you come into range when they are expecting it and you aren't.

Additionally, two of the three fencing weapons, foil and sabre, have a rule called "priority". In these weapons, once a fencer begins an attack, they have established priority, and the opponent must deal with the attack (e.g., by parrying) before making a counterattack. If they do not, then the attack with priority will score (assuming it lands) over the counterattack, even if the counterattack lands first. If your movements are quick, but your reactions normal, then you are vulnerable once your opponent establishes priority. In particular, attacks with a change of line will be difficult for you to counter, as your speed actually works against you. By the time you notice that the attack has changed line, your faster movements have carried your blade even further out of position than would be the case for a typical fencer. You will have to work very hard at keeping your movements small and precise, even more so than a typical fencer would.

Epee, on the other hand, has no priority rules. I would think that any time you get caught out you could rely on your speed to at least salvage a double-touch ("simultaneous" hits score a point for both competitors) with a quick counterattack. Your opponent will have to find some exploitable flaw in your technique to score on you. Nevertheless, controlling distance still helps, and crafty opponents have ways to lure you into leaving an opening.

These theoretical arguments match with my practical experience. When I was fencing, our division had a lot of college students, but also some middle-aged fencers who had been at it for a long time. Some of the college kids were very quick, yet the "old" fencers (they don't seem so old to me now) routinely finished in the top spots. They couldn't match the younger fencers' quickness, but they made better use of tactics.

So, I would expect your speedy fencer to absolutely dominate regional competitions. However, the further up they go, the more they're going to struggle, particularly if they have been relying on their speed to the detriment of their other skills. By the time they got to national-level competitions, I would expect that, for foil and sabre, at least, they would be getting beaten pretty routinely, unless they have developed other skills to complement their physical prowess. Their speed alone might take them further in epee, where their opponents don't have priority rules to protect them from quick counterattacks, but even then I would expect top international competitors to be able to find a strategy to cope with it.

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I'm going with "no"

Technically, you've already answered your own question:

Their reaction time and brain speed is normal, and they therefore cannot walk/run much faster than a regular person.

Which means they can't fence faster than a regular person, either. But let's ignore that and assume they'll try anyway. What I would expect is:

  • They would be constantly losing their balance as their arms (and therefore their center of gravity) end up someplace their brain thinks they shouldn't be.

  • They would be constantly bruising themselves and breaking bones as they fail to stop their arms from colliding with walls, tables, lamps, etc.

  • They'd likely pull their own shoulders out of their sockets.

It's certainly true that musculature, ligaments, cartilage and bones limit how fast a limb can move. But it's just as certain that your brain limits that speed. There are reasons a trained martial artist can move like greased lightening and I can't. At the top of the list is that their brain has been trained to accommodate the speed.

One more issue just came to mind. 3X movement speed but no faster reaction speed means you have a very high chance of opening yourself up to attack without the ability to parry. 3X movement speed but 1X reaction speed is the same as 1X movement speed and 1/3X reaction speed. The conditions you've suggested seem to me like a very fast way to get very dead.

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    $\begingroup$ Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Worldbuilding Meta, or in Worldbuilding Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 4, 2023 at 19:47
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In certain situations not a direct advantage

Being fast is an advantage and reaction speed limits this advantage a bit,
as mentioned by the many good-looking answerers before me.

I want to add:
The interesting part (which i haven't seen mentioned) though is that, if two opponents hold out their swords and walk towards each other (newtonian style) no matter how fast they are, both hit each other (practically at the same time) and its a draw

Fencing is not all about physical fitness and after all a game of skill and bribing the jugde :P

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Yes absolutely

Even if his reflex can't keep up with his speed, by just casually living and experiencing stuff, your character is going to adapt and deal with it as we always do, and will come up faster than anyone that doesn't have this perk.

Also, I think if you throw two people at each other, whoever has a lead, be it of skill or a pure "stat boost", wins in the long run, so if you character train and isn't against someone that is used to people moving this fast, he wins by a wide margin.

I would also argue that even the best fencer in the world isn't expecting his opponent to be THIS fast, sadly skills can't always keep up to such a wide gape.

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