As you might already know, USA Fencing has adopted a rule change from the international fencing governing body (the FIE), in which a foil fencer who brings the shoulder of his/her non-weapon arm forward of their weapon arm shoulder is now subject to a Group 1 penalty (a yellow card). According to the FIE’s proposal to the congress, the rule change is intended to cut down on cases where it isn’t clear if a fencer substituted valid target with their off-weapon arm while reversing their shoulders.
The thing to keep in mind when watching for this penalty is that you need to look for a forward rotation relative to the opponent–a fencer making a move to bring their off-shoulder forward such that it ends up closer to their opponent than the weapon arm shoulder. When both fencers are in front of one another at normal fencing distance, this is pretty easy to spot.
However, there are some cases where a fencer may end up in a position where their off-weapon shoulder is closer to the opponent than the weapon shoulder, but not as a result of that fencer making a forward rotation. These are cases where you should not apply the penalty. Specifically, these are situations when the fencers are passing one another, and situations where a fencer is pulling back at close distance.
In passing cases, fencers will usually end up with their shoulders reversed in relation to one another, but it’s because their position on the strip has changed–not because either fencer has made a forward rotation. Some examples of passing situations where you should not penalize a fencer for having their shoulders reversed:
- A fencer who has run or fleched past their opponent; they are not not obligated to turn around once they’ve passed and should not be penalized.
- A fencer who has been passed by their opponent, who is now behind them, should not be penalized.
- A fencer who turns to make a riposte on an opponent who is passing them should not be penalized.
It’s important that you differentiate between a fencer who is turning forward relative to a static opponent and a fencer who is turning to track an opponent moving past them. Only the former merits a penalty.
Pulling Back at Close Distance
This is perhaps the trickiest case. You’ll see it happen primarily with opposite-handed fencers (lefty vs. righty) when one fencer closes distance rapidly toward their opponent’s weapon-arm side. If a fencer rotates backward–meaning they pull their front foot and weapon-arm shoulder backward to make a hit on the target as their opponent moves closer to them–they may end up with their shoulders reversed. In many cases their shoulders will not be reversed relative to the target, though the target is still at least partially in front of them relative to the strip. In this case, you should not penalize the fencer who’s rotating and pulling back to make a hit. They aren’t bringing their off-weapon shoulder forward; they’re bringing their weapon arm back, in response to the opponent closing distance.
Intent of the Penalty
The penalty for reversing the shoulders is intended for fencers who reverse forward in order to avoid being hit. Keep that in mind when applying this penalty; we don’t want to create an incentive for fencers to either attempt a pass or collapse the distance in the hopes of getting their opponent penalized for trying to make a hit.
Bear in mind that we want to ensure that the United States’ referees interpret the rule in line with our colleagues in the international community; the Rules Committee will update our information here with observations from American referees that attend competitions around the world as necessary. Best of luck out there!
Devin Donnelly, Vice-Chair, Rules and Exams
On behalf of the Rules Committee and the Referees’ Commission