New Requirements for Chest Protection in Foil for Summer Nationals

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Apr 132018

On April 12, 2018, USA Fencing’s Board of Directors approved a change to USA Fencing’s rules regarding the use of plastic chest protectors for foil fencers. This change is identical to the change voted in by the FIE Congress session in November 2017, requiring foil chest protectors to be covered by a soft material.

The revised rule, m.25.3, is as follows:

c) At all weapons, the use of a breast/chest protector (made of metal or some rigid material) is compulsory for women and optional for men. At foil, this breast/chest protector must be worn below the protective plastron.
At foil, the protector will have the following characteristics: The entire outside of the chest protector (the side facing the opponent) must be covered with a soft material such as E.V.A. (Ethylene-vinyl acetate) of four mm thickness and density of 22kg/m3. (The material can be attached to the current plastic models or incorporated into the manufacture of new chest protectors). The material must have the SEMI technical mark at the center of the upper edge.

June 28, 2018 for Cadet, Junior, Division I and Veteran USA Fencing national events.
August 1, 2018 for all USA Fencing-sanctioned national, regional and local events.

Note that this change takes effect at the 2018 Summer Nationals for Cadet, Junior, Division 1, and Veteran events. Youth events, from Y10-Y14, as well as Division 2, 3, and 1A events may use current plastic chest protectors.

The decision to roll out the rule in multiple phases was made to ensure that vendors serving USA Fencing can provide adequate stock in time for Summer Nationals 2018. The change will take effect for all USA Fencing events for the 2018-2019 season, beginning on 1 August 2018.

Referees: when working an affected event at Summer Nationals, be sure to add the check for a conforming chest protector to your regular pre-bout and pre-pool equipment inspections.

Good luck out there,
Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Rules Committee and Referees’ Commission

Rules Blog: Falling

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Feb 132018

Both fencers and referees often ask about what constitutes “falling” during fencing and when it should be penalized. An oft-heard refrain is “aren’t I allowed three points of contact with the strip?” and “isn’t four points of contact falling?”

Why we have a “falling” rule

The rule penalizing a “touch while falling” is intended to penalize fencers that throw themselves off balance or leave their feet to evade or deliver a hit (with regards to falling; jumping is permitted). This action can be deliberate, or at can be as a result of reckless or uncontrolled fencing.

Cases like these are actually discussed in rule t.87.2, which stipulates that “irregular actions” are subject to penalty. There are several examples in the text of t.87.2, but no codified descriptions of exactly what body motions are “allowed” or “not allowed”. These are subject to the referee’s best judgment. The penalty chart lists “touches made during or after a fall”, which are a subset of the “irregular actions” mentioned in t.87.2.

The rule is not intended to penalize fencers who, in the course of normal/controlled fencing actions, experience an accidental slip (for example, as their foot lands at the end of a lunge).

The “points of contact” myth

The idea of “points of contact” is a long-standing informal mnemonic used by some referees, and taught in some referee seminars, to determine what is a controlled motion and what is an uncontrolled fall. It is not mentioned in the rule book at all, and is not the primary determining factor as to what constitutes “falling”. The origin is likely that it was extrapolated by inference from rule t.21.1, which states “Displacing target and ducking are allowed even if during the action the unarmed hand and/or knee of the back leg come into contact with the strip.”

The idea of “points of contact” is just one way that a referee can use his or her judgment to determine whether or not a motion is controlled or uncontrolled. The points in rule t.21.1 about the unarmed hand or knee of the rear leg are specific examples, and were added to keep referees from over-penalizing controlled displacements. They are also artifacts of the translation from the official French to English.

Judging a fall correctly

When judging whether or not a fencer “fell” (made an uncontrolled motion to evade or score a touch), I suggest you consider the following factors:

1) Did the fencer’s motion result in them ending in a stable position on the strip with at least one foot on the piste? Could they then remain stable in that position? If so, the motion is probably “controlled” and should not be penalized.

2) Did the fencer lose contact with the strip with their feet? Is their primary point of contact now their posterior, hip, stomach, etc? If so, the motion is “uncontrolled” and should be penalized.

3) Was the fencer attempting to evade, or were they making an orthodox fencing action (a lunge or retreat for example) and they slipped? In the vast majority of cases, a fencer making a regular action who slips owing to piste conditions should not be penalized. The referee’s judgment is more or less the sole arbiter in these cases.

Halting the action

Regardless of whether or not a fencer is penalized for a fall or evasion, should a fencer fall or evade in such a way as to bring their unarmed hand or rear knee in contact with the strip without a touch being scored, the referee should call “halt.” Normal rules around halts then apply; an action in progress at the time of the halt should be allowed to finish.

Good luck out there,

Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Rules Committee and Referees’ Commission

Rules Blog: Notice to Coaches Posted

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Jan 182018


Please be advised that the following notice was sent today from the National Office to active USA Fencing coaches:

Notice to USA Fencing Coaches

USA Fencing has recently seen an increase in the number of complaints related to coaching behavior at all levels of competition. Often, the information provided describes situations of coaching behavior that are inappropriate and disruptive to athletes and others at the event.

As per our Rules of Competition t.82 3.a: “Everybody taking part in or present at a fencing competition must remain orderly and must not disturb the smooth running of the competition.” This includes not insulting the referee or attempting to manipulate or influence him or her in any way. Furthermore, “the Referee must stop immediately any activity which disturbs the smooth running of the bout which he is refereeing.”

Similarly, Rule t.93 provides: “Spectators are obliged not to interfere with the good order of a competition, to do nothing which may tend to influence the fencers or the Referee, and to respect the decisions of the latter even when they do not agree with them. They must obey any instructions which the Referee may deem it necessary to give them.”

The Referees’ Commission has been provided with this Notice to Coaches and has been asked to enforce these rules consistently. Individuals who are not in compliance with the rules of competition may be subject to a Yellow and/or Black Card and expulsion from the competition or tournament, and facility. See Rules t.82.3(b), t.93, t.118-19.

USA Fencing is committed to creating a safe and positive environment for athletes’ physical, emotional and social development. We ask for your cooperation in achieving this goal and that everyone allow our fencers to fence and our officials to officiate.

If you have additional questions, please contact the National Office at 719.866.4511 or

Per the Referees’ Commission Chair, these rules are to be consistently enforced at USA Fencing events; coaches have been informed to expect as such by the dissemination of the memo. Please re-familiarize yourself with rules t.82.3(b), t.93, and t.118/119.

Rules Blog: Using Video Replay

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Nov 072017

The introduction of video replay technology at all levels of fencing has been unquestionably beneficial to the sport. Particularly in priority weapons, where the referee and the judging of touches is such a crucial part of the action, video replay provides both the ability to prevent refereeing errors from unduly affecting the outcome as well as valuable learning opportunities for referees developing their abilities at all levels.

USA Fencing referees should be aware of the basics of using video replay: The challenge system, required reviews at 14-14 or 44-44 or in overtime, etc. This edition of the Rules Blog instead addresses some common questions and best practices for using video replay.

Decision-making Responsiblity

The important thing to remember is that final decision-making responsibility for the bout rests with the referee on the strip. In fact, per article t.42, the rule book describes the “video referee” as a “video consultant”–and a consultant is exactly what they are. The job of the video consultant is to lend their opinion and expertise to the proceedings, but the ultimate responsibility for what takes place during a bout or match belongs to the referee on the strip. There is no rule, for example, that mandates that a decision be “thrown out” if the referee and consultant disagree.

That being said: Any referee, regardless of level, should approach a video appeal with an open mind. We use video replay and the consultant system to help us get things right and to help us learn. It’s a rare opportunity for us, as fencing referees, to work as a team. I encourage the on-strip referee to make the best possible use of their teammate’s help, especially if the video consultant is more experienced.

In addition, only the referee and the video consultant are to be involved in any decision regarding the bout. No one else–including the assigner or head referee, the camera operator, other officials, etc.–may contribute to the opinion. No other personnel should be inside the video replay enclosure during the bout.

Being a Good Video Consultant

To be most effective as a video consultant, the best starting point is to watch the bout live as if they were refereeing themselves, and have an opinion on each action. Watching the bout live is actually stipulated in the rules (per article t.37), and the consultant’s opinion or “feeling” for the live action can be just as helpful to the final decision as the video itself. The video representation of a bout isn’t perfect, as there is no sound and the image becomes “flattened” and two-dimensional. It’s often much harder to get a definitive feeling for an action if you’re watching it for the first time on video.

When an appeal happens, I encourage the video consultant to give their opinion definitively: “I think the action is [x].” Video consultants shouldn’t be shy with their opinions, particularly more junior consultants–learning to be a good consultant also takes practice. Again, the consultant’s opinion is another source of help and input for the on-strip referee. However, I urge both referees involved in a video bout to keep the discussion calm, quiet, and rational.

In addition, both referees should treat the discussion as confidential, and as information that doesn’t leave the area of the table for the duration of the bout. The video consultant should ensure that no other parties enter the video area during the bout–not the head referee or assigner for the event, support staff such as referee evaluators, or unassigned referee colleagues. The one exception is a technician for the video system if there are technical problems with the camera or replay system. We must take care to avoid even the appearance of undue or outside influence in replay decisions. It goes without saying that the fencers, coaches, and spectators, are not to be involved, and it is the video consultant’s responsibility to protect the video image from outside parties (such as coaches) that might seek to interfere or inject themselves into the decision-making process.

Video Replay Speeds and Action Usage

While video is helpful, take care to use it to its best advantage by understanding the system’s limitations.

In right-of-way weapons, the referees determine which fencer’s action takes priority by using an intuitive understanding of how those actions fit into convention. Fencing takes place in real time, and slow-speed analysis or frame-by-frame parsing can often introduce artificial distortion into the process. For this reason, I recommend watching priority actions such as attack/counterattack at a minimum of 80% speed.

The video system also isn’t ideal for blade actions, such as determining when and where beats or parries occurred (such as “were there two blade contacts or just one?”). The image “flattens” and loses its depth; on video, the best you’ll often do is to see a potential for blades to intersect but rarely definitive proof of contact. The absence of sound also contributes to this issue. For appeals on these cases, it’s very important for the video consultant to watch the action live and have a second opinion to aid in the decision.

For purely chronological cases, particularly in epee, feel free to use the lowest replay speed available. These are questions such as “did the action arrive before the fencer left the strip?” or “was the scoring apparatus triggered when the fencer hit the floor?” In this case, slow speed analysis (10%) or frame-by-frame parsing can help the referee and consultant be definitive in their decision-making.

Failure of the Replay Apparatus

Occasionally, owing to a technical error in the software or a manual error on the part of the camera operator, there might be actions that weren’t recorded on video. Unfortunately, the rule book does not cover this specific situation, but the FIE Handbook of Regulations and guidance from FIE Arbitrage can provide us with a standard practice:

In the case of video failure, the on-strip referee has sole responsibility for the final decision. If they have already given a decision before a video appeal, that decision stands. However, the fencer making the appeal retains their challenge.

In such a case, do not charge the fencer for a failed appeal, because the appeal was prevented by the failure of the video system. The on-strip referee should clearly explain this decision (including the decision not to charge a challenge) to both fencers, so that they’re aware of the replay situation.

Lastly, should a video failure occur, remember that it’s usually counterproductive for either the on-strip referee or the video consultant to immediately announce to the entire room that the replay apparatus has failed. Doing so only encourages outside interference in the subsequent decision from fencers, coaches, and spectators. When possible, as mentioned earlier, keep the discussion calm, quiet, and confidential.

Hopefully, this advice can help you and your referee partners use video to its greatest advantage, and help make the sport better for everybody.

Best of luck out there!
Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Referees’ Commission and Rules Committee

Rules Blog: 2017-2018 NAC Pre-Season Information

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Oct 032017

As the 2017-2018 season gets underway with the October NAC in Anaheim, I’d like to cover some points of emphasis:

First, no rule changes, major or minor, for the upcoming season. As you may have heard, the FIE has officially shelved their rules experiment with non-combativity, making moot any question of adopting the proposal at any time in the United States. No other major rules changes have been proposed or adopted for 2017-18.

Armorers at NACs have been instructed to inspect any elastic strap-style safety devices on masks. At the direction of US SEMI, the armory staff at each NAC this season will begin inspecting the integrity of the elastic strap on fencing masks; this includes the horizontal safety strap on masks with the strap-and-metal-tongue design, and the straps webbing on Comfort Fit Leon Paul masks. The armorers are to ensure that the strap(s) stretches (the elastic has not been worn out) and is in satisfactory condition. From US SEMI:

“To check, give the strap a gentle tug. If there is no stretch or if it’s just too big to hold the mask in place, reject the mask and advise the strap be repaired. Do not fail or confiscate the mask. It is acceptable to stitch up a band to make it shorter as long as it can still stretch to hold reasonably well to the back of the head; otherwise, it must be replaced.

We understand there is some judgement involved in the terms “decent condition” and “reasonably well”. Therefore, for this season, it is advisable to be a bit more lenient in accepting or rejecting masks. For questionable cases, point out the problem and advise the fencer to get the strap repaired soon.”

Solder lugs cannot be used to secure weapon wires to the socket inside the guard. US SEMI was asked to make a recommendation on this practice, which some armorers have been using when assembling weapons. The solder lug and shrink-tubing obscures the connection of the wire to the socket. When wiring your weapons, please secure the wire in the typical way, i.e. wrapping the wire around the socket post and securing it with the bolt and washer.

Referees should be aware that this method of wiring the weapon has been deemed unacceptable at the direction of US SEMI, and apply the rules (specifically t.45) associated with non-conforming equipment.

Thanks, and good luck out there,
Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Referees’ Commission and the Rules Committee

Rules Blog: The Field of Play

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Jun 232017

As you may be aware, USA Fencing uses a variety of pistes at our North American Cup tournaments, with some variance in size and markings. Because of this variance, there has been some confusion in the past as to what parts of a given piste are considered “in-bounds”, particularly with regard to the pistes we use for bouts on video replay (typically beginning in the round of 16 through the semi-finals).

Specifically, I’m referring to pistes supplied by Leon Paul or Absolute Fencing that look like these:

There has been some question as to whether or not the colored border along the sides of these pistes is considered in-bounds or out-of-bounds. Members of the Rules Committee who are active international referees have raised this question throughout the season with members of FIE Arbitrage, and the interpretation at the FIE level has been consistent: the entirety of the metal surface of the piste, including the colored areas, is considered “in-bounds”.

The rationale provided by FIE Arbitrage is that fencers often determine their location on the piste (whether on or off with respect to the lateral boundary) via tactile means (e.g. by feeling with their feet). If we enforce the edge of the strip as the painted surface, referees are compelled to cause numerous counter-intuitive and disruptive stoppages in the bout. These stoppages harm the fencing and make judgement more difficult. In addition, a large number of standard grounded pistes lack the side markings and are treated as entirely in-bounds, and fencers often struggle (or fail to) adapt to the change in markings.

This image from the Budapest Epee Grand Prix is an example of senior international epee fencers and officials treating the entire piste surface as in-bounds:

The Referees’ Commission is therefore directing American referees to adopt the same interpretation at our North American Cups and at the upcoming Summer Nationals.

Good luck out there!
Devin Donnelly
Vice Chair, Rules and Exams
On behalf of the Rules Committee and the Referees’ Commission

Rules Blog – Clarifying the Reversal Rule in Foil

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Sep 292016

It’s come to our attention here at the Rules Committee that there have been some further questions about our previous post, Interpreting Reversing the Shoulders in Foil. Specifically, there have been some questions about the last section, “pulling back at close distance”.

Some readers have interpreted that section to mean that a backward rotation should be considered legal, even if it results in the shoulders being reversed with respect to the opponent. That’s not the case. Reversing the shoulders with respect to the opponent (where the non-weapon arm is between the two fencers) is always a penalty, regardless of which way a fencer turns.

Here’s an example of an action where the fencer on the left pulls his weapon arm and shoulder back, as opposed to a forward rotation. However, note that relative to his opponent, he has reversed his shoulders and should be penalized according to the rule.

Downloadable Video – Shoulder Reverse

I’d like to stress that this section about pulling back is only relevant when a fencer is being passed on the weapon arm side, and the two fencers’ shoulders remain “squared up” relative to one another. The above video demonstrates a situation in which a fencer rotates backward, but should still be penalized for reversing because of the relationship of the shoulders with respect to the other fencer.

A good rule of thumb to follow: If the non-weapon arm is between the fencers and you ask yourself, “is that possibly covering?” the answer is that they definitely reversed.

I hope this clarifies a few things. Good luck out there.

Devin Donnelly
Vice Chair, Rules and Exams
On Behalf of the Rules Committee and the Referees’ Commissio

Rules Blog – Interpreting Reversing the Shoulders in Foil

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Sep 112016
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

Change of Application of the Rules Regarding Wiring Epees

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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

Information on new Youth DE Formats

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Sep 102013

With the new fencing season starting to gear up, there is one area that is already starting to see some rules changes: Youth fencing.  In June of this past year, the USA Fencing Board of Directors approved a change to the format of youth fencing tournaments: in particular, the direct elimination format.

Until this season, Youth-10 and Youth-12 direct elimination matches were fenced as the best 2 out of 3 encounters with each encounter going to 5 touches. Effective as of August 1, direct elimination matches have changed.

Y-10 events now end when a fencer reaches 10 points, or at the end of two 3 minute periods of fencing. The first period ends if a fencer reaches 5 points or if three minutes have expired, whichever comes first. There is a one minute rest in between each period.

Direct elimination bouts in Y-12 events are now the same as other standard direct elimination bouts; they last for 15 points or for three 3 minute periods.

One important result of the changes in these formats is that Non-combativity now applies to Y-10 and Y-12 direct elimination bouts. The application is the same as in other weapons.