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.

Wiring epees – Legal and Illegal Methods of Connecting the Wires

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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.


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.