Change of Application of the Rules Regarding Wiring Epees

 FAQ, Rules Application  Comments Off on Change of Application of the Rules Regarding Wiring Epees
May 052016

Effective immediately, there is a change in the acceptable way one may wire an epee.  In a post to the FOC site in 2013 it was stated that the wires may not pass through the “tunnel” created by the socket and the metal plate because the referee cannot verify if there is a hidden switch.  This application of the rules is contrary to the application in the rest of the world.  Epee sockets are manufactured globally with the “tunnel” to protect the wires from accidental or “non-accidental” breaks.  Allowing epees to be wired with the wires through the “tunnel” is the way the rules are enforced at every international tournament including World Cups, World Championships and at the Olympic Games.

Therefore, effective immediately, USA Fencing will change its interpretation of the rule to be in alignment with the rest of the world and permit epees to be wired in either fashion, either outside the tunnel or through the tunnel. See photos below for illustration.

Any questions should be directed to the FOC Rules Committee at

Wires through "tunnel"

Wires through “tunnel”


Wires between socket and bell guard

Wires between socket and bell guard

Wiring epees – Legal and Illegal Methods of Connecting the Wires

 FAQ, Rules Application  Comments Off on Wiring epees – Legal and Illegal Methods of Connecting the Wires
May 162013
Wires between socket and bell guard

Of all the weapons, epee can be one of the most the most challenging to apply the rules correctly. The vast majority of the rules in epee are in place because at one time or another, a fencer tried to gain an unfair advantage. But because the rulebook is a technical document that does not provide examples other than legal language, it can sometimes be challenging to understand the practical implications. Recently, there have been many questions about how one can connect the wires of an epee to the prongs inside the guard, and it’s not just a matter of attaching them any way that you please. Hopefully this article can clarify legal and illegal methods of attaching the wires. This article will focus on the wires inside the bell guard.

When attaching the wires to the sockets inside the bell guard, two main rules must be considered. First, the fencer should not be able to break or make contacts between the two wires – either accidentally or intentionally. Second, the wires must be arranged so that the referee can completely inspect them to ensure that the fencer cannot create a contact.

Let’s look at the pictures below. Picture A demonstrates wires that are completely conforming to the rules. Each wire is inside its own insulation (m.5.2.d, m.31). The insulation goes all the way up to the socket (m.5.2.e). There is no non-insulated wire projecting beyond the connections (m.5.2.f). There is padding sufficiently wide enough to protect the wires from the fencer’s fingers (m.5.2.a). The referee can inspect the entirety of the wires down to the bell guard (t.44.2). They cannot accidentally break the wires (m.5.2.b). To whoever wired this blade, Great Job!

Correct attachment of epee wires

Picture A – Correct attachment of epee wires

Pictures B, C, and D all show problems with attachment of the wires though, and pictures E and F show problems with the padding.

In Picture B, the referee can inspect the entire length of the wire, but since the wires wrap around the posts to the side of the socket where the fencer’s fingers are, it becomes illegal. When the wires wrap around the sockets, it becomes illegal.

Picture B - Wires incorrectly wrap around posts

Picture B – Wires incorrectly wrap around posts

In Picture C, the wires are on the correct side of the socket, and cannot be accidentally disconnected, but because they pass through the “tunnel” created by the socket and the metal plate, the referee cannot verify if there is a hidden switch. Using a “tunnel” like this is illegal.

Picture C - Inability to inspect the length of the wires

Picture C – Inability to inspect the length of the wires

Picture D shows a socket with both the problems.

Picture D - Multiple problems with the attachment

Picture D – Multiple problems with the attachment

The final pictures show problems with the padding. Pictures E and F below show examples of padding that does not sufficiently protect the wires from the fencer’s fingers. In picture E, the padding is not wide enough and there is a gap where the fencer’s fingers have access to the wires. In picture F, there is a notch in the padding where the wires are not protected. Neither of these are legal. Picture G demonstrates padding that is wide enough and completely protects the wires from the fencer’s fingers.

Picture E - Padding that is not wide enough

Picture E – Padding that is not wide enough


Picture F - Padding that is not complete

Picture F – Padding that is not complete

Picture G - Padding that completely covers the wires

Picture G – Padding that completely covers the wires

Eminent United States armorer and member of the SEMI Commission of the FIE Dan DeChaine has this to say:

“The two photos which show the wires attaching at the backs of the sockets [pictures A and C] demonstrate the proper method of attachment of the wires. However the two pictures [pictures C and D], which show the wires passing through the tunnel in the guard connector pose a problem.  The rules indicate that the referee must be able to examine the wires from the point where they enter the guard, and for their entire length up to the point where wires attach to the socket.  When a wire passes through a tunnel, it cannot be examined for the complete length of the wire (or certainly that portion of the wire which resides inside the tunnel).   Further, the rules stipulate that the wires be so attached that connection of the wire to the socket cannot “accidentally” be broken.  Therefore, both photos which show wires that wrap around the socket and attach at the front of the socket would be a violation of this mandate.

What this leaves us with is the sad fact that by strictly observing the rules, we must say that only the first photo demonstrates a completely legal method of wiring.”

At national tournaments in the US, the application of this rule has been inconsistently applied historically. Starting at the beginning of next season on August 1, 2013, referees will be instructed to ensure that epees meet all of these standards. Like other non-conforming equipment, the penalty is a group 1 offense. We hope this helps clears up any confusion about epee wiring!

Many thanks for the above photos go to Irene Seelye, fencer and armorer at heart, photographer by hobby.


What is an attack?

 FAQ  Comments Off on What is an attack?
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?

 FAQ  Comments Off on Are long fencing pants legal?
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.