The lateral boundary of the strip

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Dec 292012

In the past year, the rule regarding stepping off the side of the strip changed. Previously, when a fencer stepped off the strip, his opponent would advance one meter from the spot they occupied when the fencer stepped off the strip. Now, the rule (t.28.1) states:

If a competitor crosses one of the lateral boundaries of the strip, he must retreat one meter from the point where he left the strip, and if he goes off the strip during an attack, he must return to the position he occupied when he started his attack and then retreat a further meter (but cf. t.29).

Here are some important points to consider in applying this rule:

  • An action that ends with one foot off the strip remains valid as before. The fencer must have at least one foot on the strip.
  • If the fencer is not making an offensive action (that is, they are not moving forward), they lose one meter from the spot they left the strip.
  • If they are making an offensive action, they must return to the spot they started that action, and then retreat one meter.
  • The referee must also determine where the offensive action began. The current application of this rule is that it is the final part of your attack (advance-lunge or fleche). Preparatory actions are not considered.
  • If the fencer is within the last meter of the strip and steps off the side, he must retreat a meter off the back of the strip, and a point is awarded against him.

Here’s an example of this rule being applied:

Bob is fencing John. John steps off the strip immediately in front of Bob. John must now retreat one meter. If this happened in the middle of the strip, Bob would likely also have to retreat in order to take proper distance.

Now suppose that they are at Bob’s end of the strip. Bob has both feet on the strip with one foot on the end line. Since Bob cannot be forced off the back of the strip, John must continue to retreat until he reached proper distance.

Non-Combativity – some commonly asked questions

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Dec 292012

Over the past few years, non-combativity has easily become one of the most confusing rules facing the referee, the fencers, and the spectators.  Part of this is due to the fact that the rule has changed multiple times since being introduced after this bout. Even as the text of the rule has changed, the application has been just as variable. During the last quad though, the rules has been applied with more consistency. Here are a few important points about the rule as it currently stands.

  • Non-combativity only exists in direct elimination bouts.
  • If non-combativity is called, there is no one-minute rest between periods, and the coaches may not approach the strip. The next period begins immediately, and the fencers start back at on-guard lines.
  • If non-combativity occurs in the final period, this period ends; the referee must first flip a coin for priority, and then the fencers fence for one minute. This is NOT sudden death, and must be fenced in its entirety. If the score is tied at the end of this entire minute, whoever has priority wins the bout.
  • Non-combativity cannot occur in youth events that fence a best 2 out of 3 format. These bouts are similar to a pool bout.
  • Only 1 of the 2 criteria must occur for the referee to call non-combativity.
  • In foil, an off target “resets” the clock.
  • Note the language carefully: approximately one minute of fencing without a touch. If there is a fencing phrase in progress, the referee should be careful not to call halt too early just because the clock hit one minute.
  • Note the language carefully: at least 15 seconds without blade contact or excessive distance. This means the referee could wait longer if he feels the fencers are being combative.


Notes on t.33 – Injuries or cramp, withdrawal of competitor

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Dec 292012

As anyone who has refereed for even a short while (or who has watched “A Few Good Men”) knows, not everything that is relevant to doing your job well is in the rule book. Often the measure of a great referee is how he/she deals with situations that are not clearly defined by the regulations.

Interpreting and appropriately applying t.33 can present difficulties, even for experienced referees. However, the welfare of the athlete is paramount and if there is any question that an athlete’s health may at risk, then protecting the athlete must take precedence over the running of the competition.

The two main instances where problems arise are for athletes who have asthma or diabetes. According to the “strict” interpretation of the rules, neither of these conditions, even when an emergent acute attack occurs, qualifies as an “injury” and so the athletes are not entitled to benefit from the 10-minute injury treatment opportunity detailed in t.33.1.

However, it should be clear that there is no meaningful “up-side” to denying an athlete access to an inhaler or glucose if needed in a bout (as long as it can be done reasonably expeditiously) but there is a significant “down-side” in terms of risks to the athlete’s health. An interesting comparison is for an athlete who vomits during a bout. This condition is also outside the rules for “injury” time but clearly it makes sense to allow the athlete a short time to compose him/herself before resuming the bout. If vomiting, which is rarely likely to be life-threatening, warrants some lee-way in regards the application of the intent of t.33, it should be clear that similar latitude must be granted for more serious conditions, such as asthma or diabetic hypoglycemic crisis. Nonetheless, it is important to note that in such situations the athlete is not entitled to an unlimited treatment/recovery period. If the problem is not resolved in a reasonable time (i.e., it extends to where it is significantly disrupting the smooth running of the competition), the athlete must be advised he/she needs to withdraw. The key distinction here is that the athlete is permitted to access medication during the bout but that the interruption cannot be excessive. Although there is clearly no specific guideline I would argue that the resolution of these special cases should not be longer than the time permitted for the treatment of injuries under t.33 (i.e., 10 minutes maximum).

By the same token, if a second episode occurs the athlete must be allowed access to the appropriate care but he/she would have to withdraw if the interruption is anything other than minimal as there is no indication in the regulations that any athlete has an unfettered right to delay competitions for an unlimited amount of time. Just as there is a limit of one, 10-minute injury time per event, it seems the same general restriction is applicable in these cases under discussion (however, this is an area of referee discretion – if the initial interruption is relatively quick and benign (a minute or two), that is a different scenario than the athlete taking 5-10 minutes to get back on the piste. In the former situation I don’t see a problem with a repeat treatment (i.e., it would not be necessary to document the incident to count as “injury time”, just as most of the minor traumatic incidents for which the medical staff are called to the piste are resolved very quickly and do not involve “treatment time”); however, in the latter situation it would be important for the referee to document the use of “injury time” on the score sheet as with any injury to ensure the application of t.33.2 limiting such time to one per injury per event).

In terms of the normal application of t.33, it is important to remember that timing for the 10-minute injury treatment period begins when the medical staff determines that a treatment period is necessary. It does not begin at the point of the incident or when the medical staff arrives at the piste – only after an evaluation has been completed. The period is for the treatment of the injury or cramp and does not have to take the full 10-minutes (e.g., if a fencer twists his/her ankle and it takes 6 minutes to tape it and for the medical staff to determine the treatment is finished, the fencer is not “entitled” to the remaining 4 minutes).

It is important that referees make a note on the score sheet of any injury for which treatment time taken to ensure the appropriate application of t.33.2 (During the remainder of the same day, a fencer cannot be allowed a further break unless as a result of a different injury or cramp).

Finally, referees are very important sources of information for the medical staff during the assessment of a strip call. Please be ready to provide any information on the incident that resulted in the medical call to the medical staff if they request it.

Rules specific to Y-10/Y-12 competitions

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Dec 292012

The astute reader of the rulebook knows that with a few exceptions, it is almost a verbatim copy of the international rulebook. Unfortunately, the FIE does not have any tournament with similar rules to our Youth-10 and Youth-12 tournaments. The majority of rules that govern these events can be found in the Athlete Handbook on the USA Fencing website. There are certain rules that are still confusing to many when applied to Youth events. The below points are from the Rules Committee of the FOC to help clarify how certain rules should be applied.

  1. The maximum blade length permitted for Youth-10 competitions is 32.5 inches. (See Athlete Handbook, Section 2.6 and Materials Rules m.3). Parents and fencers are advised that blades marketed as “#0” or “#2” blades are believed to meet this requirement. Blades marketed as #0 or #2 blades that are longer than 32.5 inches, though, are not permitted.
  2. There are no special rules regarding the maximum blade length for Youth-12 and Youth-14 events. Blades must still comply with weapon-specific maximum blade lengths (see Materials Rules m.3, m.8, m.16, m.23)
  3. The format for Youth competitions at National tournaments is specified in the Athlete’s Handbook (see Table
  4. Any penalty cards issued during a direct elimination bout are valid for each subsequent encounter in that bout.

What is an attack?

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Dec 292012

The main problem appears to be the belief that the Rules Book states that the attacker’s arm must be extended. What makes an action an attack is something that has been discussed for centuries. There are, it sometimes seems, two schools regarding this question. One states that the arm must be fully extended in order to be attacking; the other school is just as adamant in stating that whomever starts moving forward with even the intent to hit is the attacker. The truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

Look at the Rules Book. Rule t.7 is supposed to define the attack. “The attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent’s target.”

Does this tell the whole story? Hardly. To find out what an attack is, there are two important things one needs to understand.

One is that you’ll not find the answer by only looking in the Rules Book. (Remember that the Rules Book doesn’t even state which arm has to be extending to make an attack.) The Rules Book does not have a glossary so there are no definitions as to what an “offensive action” is or what “threatening” means. The definition as to what is an attack is derived from both the Rules Book and from convention — what is called an attack by the world’s best referees.

That it really isn’t what one person does that makes an action an attack is the other important point to consider. The attack is defined by what both fencers do in relationship to each other. Here is an example. In a foil bout between Mary and Sue, Mary lunges while extending her arm. Her arm is fully extended and straight just before her forward foot hits the ground. What fencing action has Mary done? Here are three possibilities:

  1. If Sue was immobile, in lunge distance, and in the On Guard position, Mary made an ATTACK.
  2. If, just before Mary started her lunge while extending her arm, Sue lunged while extending her arm, Mary made a COUNTER ATTACK.
  3. If Sue was immobile, beyond lunge distance, in the On Guard position, and advanced after Mary had finished her lunge, Mary established a POINT IN LINE.

In this example, the same “movement” by Mary resulted in three different “actions.”

One will overhear something such as the following at competitions all over the world after a top-level referee correctly says “Halt. Attack from the left. Point for the left.” when the fencer on the left went after his opponent with his guard next to his hip and then finally started extending just before the opponent — who had been desperately trying to make a parry — ultimately extended his arm: “‘We’ve got to let everyone know what’s going on. ‘They’ are calling any aggressive movement an attack.'”

It is important to realize that the referee is supposed to analyze “actions.” In this example – even though there was much “movement” – the end result was an attack.

What makes one’s action an attack is one’s movement in relationship to what the opponent is doing. Knowing this, take another look at Rule t7 paying particular attention to some key words.

“The attack is the INITIAL OFFENSIVE action made by EXTENDING the arm and CONTINUOUSLY THREATENING the opponent’s target . . .”

  • INITIAL — you must start your action before your opponent. This does not at all mean who started moving first.
  • OFFENSIVE — you must be going toward your opponent. Attempting a parry is not offensive.
  • EXTENDING — for those of you who know grammar, this is a gerund; it connotes action. The arm never has to become extended to have a correctly executed attack. To have an extending arm, your hand must be going away from your body.
  • CONTINUOUSLY — non-stop. You must keep attacking. If you “break” your attack — stop moving forward or hold back your arm — you are no longer attacking and, if your opponent starts an attack of her own, your continuation may become a counter attack. The attacker who lunges has the attack end when the front foot lands.
  • THREATENING — you must present a danger to your opponent. This word really has two parts to its definition. One is the relationship of distance between the fencers in determining whether one is threatening. If your opponent is within advance lunge distance, you can be threatening; you can start an attack. If your opponent is beyond advance lunge distance, you cannot be threatening; you cannot start an attack – even if your opponent were to remain completely immobile, your attack would not start until you were at advance lunge distance. The other part that is important in defining this word is that your point (for foil) or your blade (for sabre) is going toward your opponent’s valid target. It is a very common misconception that, for example, a foil attack requires the point to be “aimed” at the valid target before an attack starts.

If one were to only use the Rules Book to decide what constituted an attack one could easily argue in favor of foil fencer John in this completely absurd example: John extends his arm aiming the point directly at the middle of Bob’s chest. John then lunges without moving his arm. After John lunges, Bob sticks out his arm. John’s point arrives on Bob’s arm; Bob’s point arrives on target. Is it a point for Bob because John couldn’t have been attacking? Since John hit Bob on the arm, John clearly wasn’t “continuously threatening the valid surface” of Bob. Here, of course, the referee would say that John’s attack was off target and Bob’s action was a counter attack; no touch is awarded.

What actually happens so often in competition is the combination of the technical and tactical execution of an action. Example: If a fencer starts a correctly executed attack and her opponent starts retreating while trying to make a parry, the aggressor may very well pull her arm back so that the defensive fencer has no blade to parry. If the parries continue, the aggressor will wait until she is close enough and then restart her attack. If the parrier were to start her own attack while the former aggressor had her arm back, then this attack would have right of way; it would be an attack into a preparation.

I do hope this helps. Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any additional concerns.

Dec 292012

Is my ___ handle legal? (Fill in the blank with “Dos Santos,” “Guardere,” “Spanish Modern,” or any other name.) This question is very difficult to answer in that there are just too many variables. Different vendors give the same handle different names and the size of the handle in relation to the size of the fencer’s hand also determines if a handle is legal. Yes, a specific handle that is perfectly legal for one fencer might be illegal for someone else.

Many people think that the rules concerning various types of grips are not very clear. The three main reasons for this are:

  1. People don’t know the rules.
  2. The rules are all too frequently ignored.
  3. Vendors sell illegal handles.

One should be aware that just because some vendor sells a handle or just because a referee allows someone to fence with a handle does not make that handle legal. (The complete Rules Book is easily available here.

If you look in the Rules Book at Article m.4.6, you will find that the handle with attachments that does not allow the thumb to be 2 cm or less from the guard is illegal for that fencer. (Now you can understand that a handle could be perfectly legal for someone with a very large hand while it would be illegal for someone with a very small hand.) Does your pronged handle allow you to hold it in more than one position (without going into some sort of contortions)? If so, it is illegal. If there are prongs that would allow you to hold it as you would hold a “French” handle with a finger hooked around a prong so that your thumb would be more than 2 cm from the guard, it is illegal.

The use of a strap to assist in holding the weapon has caused some confusion. If one has a legal orthopedic grip (including the Italian grip), one may use a strap. If one is using a French grip, one may not use a strap. (The applicable rules follow.) The basic concept here is that if one wishes to have a weapon that will allow for longer reach (French handle), one may not have a device (strap) that will give the user added strength.

The main rules that govern grips are:

t.16: With all three weapons, defense must be effected exclusively with the guard and the blade used either separately or together. If the handle has no special device or attachment or special shape (e.g. orthopedic), a fencer may hold it in any way he or she wishes and he or she may also alter the position of his hand on the handle during a bout. However, the weapon must not be – either permanently or temporarily, in an open or disguised manner – transformed into a throwing weapon; it must be used without the hand leaving the hilt . . .


  1. The maximum length of the grip in foil and épée is 20 cm, measured between lines B and E, and 18 cm, measured between lines B and D. In saber the maximum length of the grip is 17 cm (see Figures 8, 9 and 13, pp. 86, 89, 94).
  2. The grip must be able to pass through the same gauge as the guard. It must be so made that normally it cannot injure either the user or the opponent.
  3. All types of hilts are allowed providing that they conform to the regulations which have been framed with a view to placing the various types of weapons on the same footing. However, in epee, orthopedic grips, whether metal or not, may not be covered with leather or any material which could hide wires or switches.
  4. The grip must not include any device which assists the fencer to use it as a throwing weapon.
  5. The grip must not include any device which can increase in any way the protection afforded to the hand or wrist of the fencer by the guard: a cross bar or electric socket which extends beyond the edge of the guard is expressly forbidden.
  6. If the grip (or glove) includes any device or attachment or has a special shape (orthopedic) which fixes the position of the hand on the grip, the grip must conform to the following conditions.

a. It must determine and fix one position only for the hand on the grip.
b. When the hand occupies this one position on the grip, the extremity of the thumb when completely extended must not be more than 2 cm from the inner surface of the guard.


Are long fencing pants legal?

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Dec 292012

Long fencing pants used to be specificaly described in the rules, but since they’ve fallen out of common use, the reference has been removed. There is no specific prohibition of long fencing pants. The knickers have to conform to the following rule:

m.25.5. Knickers.

The knickers must be fastened below the knees. With knickers, the fencer must wear socks which cover the legs right up to the knickers. These socks must be held up in such a way that they cannot fall down.