We’re all aware that when two fencers are in physical contact, we as referees need to stop the bout in accordance with rule t.20.1. When fencers are engaged at close quarters, such contact is relatively common and often accidental.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the contact may fall under the situations outlined under article t.20.2: “In all three weapons it is forbidden for a fencer to cause corps à corps intentionally to avoid being touched, or to jostle the opponent.” This contact merits a first group penalty: A yellow card at first offense, and a red for subsequent offenses.
So how do we tell the difference between an accidental or incidental corps-a-corps and a fencer intentionally making contact to avoid a touch? Like a lot of other decisions we make, this is a judgement call and is dependent upon the individual fencing situation. The rulebook doesn’t codify when to apply incidental corps-a-corps (a halt) versus corps-a-corps to avoid a touch (a Group 1 penalty), but the action can give us some context clues. These can include fencer movement and the priority of the action.
Generally speaking, a fencer cannot cause corps-a-corps (to avoid a touch or otherwise) if they’re stationary. A fencer holding still will almost always be subject to the other fencer’s corps-a-corps. If two competitors make contact and one of them isn’t moving, the stationary fencer most likely did not cause the contact. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the fencer causing the contact should be penalized, but it can help you make your decision based on other factors (like the priority of the action).
(A fencer can cause corps-a-corps without moving their feet by “pushing off” with either the armed or unarmed arm, or by leaning their torso, but in neither of those cases is the fencer considered “stationary”–they’re moving in some sense.)
The Priority of the Action
With movement established, another important clue as to whether or not a fencer has made contact to avoid a touch is the priority of the action during which the corps-a-corps took place.
The most common reason for a fencer to cause corps-a-corps to avoid a touch is because they are at a disadvantage in the fencing phrase: their attack has just been parried, or they made an action on the target that missed. Knowing that their opponent’s next action will take priority over theirs, such a fencer may attempt to force a halt by causing body contact. The penalty in t.20.2 is specifically designed to prevent a fencer from doing this.
Both the context of the larger phrase and the individual fencer’s action can give you information to help you apply a penalty (or not). If a fencer is collapsing the distance toward their stationary opponent, but their action has priority (they’ve just parried, or they started an attack first) and they’re trying to bring the tip to the target, then the corps-a-corps is likely accidental; they’re not trying to avoid a touch, they’re trying to score one. Causing corps-a-corps in such a situation confers no advantage to them, and as a matter of fact, puts their action at risk. In such a situation, you should not penalize a fencer under t.20.2.
While epee doesn’t use priority rules for scoring, all actions take time to perform and can confer similar relative advantages and disadvantages. An epee fencer might be parried, with the defender maintaining control over the attacker’s blade. The attacker might then cause body contact to try and create a halt and prevent the defender from taking advantage.
Intent of the Rule
t.20.2, or corps-a-corps to avoid a touch, has always been an important rule in epee. This season, it has become particularly important in foil. The new penalty for reversing the shoulders makes legal fencing at close quarters in foil somewhat more difficult, and creates an incentive for a fencer who is at a disadvantage in priority to collapse the distance or “crowd” their opponent. Should a fencer in such a situation make body contact, you should penalize them according to t.20.2.
Good luck out there!
On Behalf of the Rules Committee and the Referees’ Commission