Get your mask design pre-approved!

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Dec 202013

Although mask designs have been legal for some time, their popularity started to skyrocket with the introduction of Team USA’s mask with the United States flag on it. Up until recently though, in USA Fencing competitions, the legality of a mask design was left solely to Head Referee at an individual fencing competition. This made it challenging for fencers to know ahead of time if their mask would be allowed. In an effort to help fencers prepare for tournaments, this rule was recently changed. As can be found in the Board of Directors meeting minutes from September 2013 (page 6), the new rule is:

Masks may feature colored designs, on condition that they are approved by the Fencing Officials Commission at least 30 days before being used for the first time in an official USA Fencing competition OR at the discretion of the head referee. Fencers must submit pictures that clearly show the entirety of the design. Accepted designs will be posted on the Fencing Officials Commission website.

The hope is to provide an alternative method of ensuring that mask designs will be legal prior to a tournament. This rule will be incorporated into the next version of the rulebook. Approved designs can be found posted on our website and fencers interested in having their mask designs approved should email pictures of their mask to

Summary of Rules Changes for International Competitions

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Dec 062013

UPDATE 12/13 5:34 PM – FIE has released the official decisions of the Congress. These decisions only affect international fencing, and do not affect USA Fencing. The decisions can be found here.

Original post below.

This past weekend, the 100th Congress of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) took place in Paris, France. The agenda of each Congress is determined partially by the current year of the Olympic Quadrennial; last year’s agenda focused on electing a new group of commission members. This year’s agenda focused on the rules of fencing. In total there were 75 proposed rules changes, some with wide ranging implications.

Although the FIE has not released the official decisions of the proposals yet — hopefully that will happen in the next few weeks — we are fortunate that the chair of the FOC, Sam Cheris, was present at the Congress. Based on his notes, the unofficial results of the proposals can be found below. The text of the proposals can be found here.

The most important thing to remember is that at the present time, these are decisions that only affect international fencing, mostly as of January 1, 2014. No rules changes have yet taken effect for USA Fencing competitions. The process for changing USA Fencing rules first starts once FIE makes public the English translation of their rules. After this, the FOC will review the international rules changes and make recommendations to the Board of Directors about whether or not the US should adopt them, including recommended implementation dates. The Board will then consider them at its Board meeting.

Some highlights of rules changes at the international level:

  • In foil, beats on the lower third of the blade will now be considered parries by the opponent.
  • Absence of blade contact will no longer be a criteria for non-combativity.
  • There will be no penalty for simple corps a corps for foil and saber, but the referee still calls Halt.
  • Visor masks will be forbidden in all weapons (Effective March 1, 2014).
  • Insulting a referee will be an immediate Group 4 offense (Black card).
  • Foils and epees must be made of maraging steel for FIE competitions based on SEMI Commission safety concerns.

We will post more information as it becomes available, and will post updates as USA Fencing considers adopting these rules for domestic competitions.

Executive Committee Proposals

1o.31Approved with Rules Comm amendmentPools/Schedule publication
2o.43Approved with Rules Comm amendmentJunior Team WC
3o.45-o.47ApprovedJunior Team WC
4o.54ApprovedJunior Team WC entries
5o.62ApprovedJurisdiction of various appeals
6o.75ApprovedJunior Team WC
7o.82ApprovedJunior Team WC
8o.84ApprovedJunior Team WC
9o.86Approved with the Euro as only currencyFines/Penalties for late registration
10t.82ApprovedBlack card for insults
11t.87.3Approved with original textThrowing equipment
12t.90Approved with Rules Comm amendmentTeam events Team Captain's right to approach DT/ref
13t.92Approved with Rules Comm amendmentCoach approaching during 1 minute break
14t.95.4ApprovedDelete guaranty requirement
15t.106ApprovedExclusion terminology
16Referred to working group for further studyDuration of relays in team events
17Referred to working group for further studyDuration of DEs
18Referred to working group for further studyDuration of pools

Rules Commission Proposals

1t.15.2ApprovedPenalty for practicing without equipment
2t.20ApprovedNo penalty for simple corps a corps
3t.21.3ApprovedGoing past an opponent
4t.22.2ApprovedRemove “Abnormal movement” from covering target
5t.26.1Approved with COMEX wordingCrossing lateral boundaries
6t.32.4ApprovedWireless lights after end of bout
7t.39ApprovedReferee delegate assist referee assignment
8t.54.1ApprovedDelete m.27/28 reason for annulment
9t.56.4ApprovedBeats on lower third of foil are parries
10t.70.3Approved as modified by Rules CommForbidden to strike with guard
11t.87.2ApprovedForbid anti-sporting behavior
12t.87.4.2ApprovedDelete absence of blade contact from Non-Comm
13t.120.1.2ApprovedUpdate table about corps a corps
14t.120.1.19Approved with Rules Comm amendmentClarify special yellow card for whole team match
15t.120.3.5ApprovedUpdate table about warming up without equipment
16t.120.3.6ApprovedUpdate table about anti-sporting behavior
17o.70.4Approved with Rules Comm amendmentNumber of neutral referees needed

SEMI Commission Proposals

1Annex AApprovedRandom quality control of fencing equipment
2COMEX to add to HandbookVolunteers for weapon control
3Annex AApproved for foil/epeeBan simple steel blades in epee/foil (Maraging Steel only)
4COMEX to revise admin rulesNeed for SEMI at regional games
5Annex AApproved as amended by SEMIOccasional control of blades
6Annex AApproved with Rules Comm amendmentFatigue testing of blades

Medical Commission Proposals

1m.2.1.2Approved modified text (3/2014)Ban visor masks until protocol developed

Sam Cheris’s Proposals

1o.55Approved with Rules Comm amendment (3/2014)Power of Attorney

Peter Jacobs’s Proposals

1o.15.3.bApprovedOrder of bouts as in o.14

British Federation Proposals

1t.45ApprovedNeed for two mask wires
2t.71ApprovedSaber target
3m.34.1ApprovedSaber target
4t.120ApprovedText clarifying that the table is a summary
5t.120ApprovedFootnote about awarding black card immediately
6m.27.3ApprovedTolerance of coiled mask cords
7m.28.1ApprovedFoil lame requirements only while On Guard
8m.25.4DeferredJacket requires double lining

German Federation Proposals

1m.2.1.2Approved as in Medical ProposalBan visor masks until protocol developed

Hungarian Federation Proposals

1Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
5commission and councils to prepare consensus proposalNon-Combativity
6commission and councils to prepare consensus proposalNon-Combativity
7commission and councils to prepare consensus proposalNon-Combativity
8commission and councils to prepare consensus proposalNon-Combativity
9Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
10Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
11Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
12Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
13Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
14Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
15Addressed in Adminstrative Rules
16p.12Favoral concept - specific proposal to comeSurface area for logos on uniform
17Referred to working group for further studyReconsider the rules of foil

Iranian Federation Proposals

1o.43-47Not ApprovedZonal Championship format
2t.120.1.7ApprovedAsterix for crossing the lateral boundary to avoid being hit
3t.120.1.10ApprovedReference updated
4t.120.2.5ApprovedAsterix for deliberate hit not on opponent
5o.14-15Approved - effective season 2014-15Bout orders for tournaments
6o.83.1Not ApprovedPoints standing for those tied in ranking

Russian Federation Proposals

1Referred to working group for further studyOk to cross rear boundary
2Referred to working group for further studyDirect elimination format best 2 of 3
3o.27.2Approved with Rules Comm amendmentFinals held on same day
4Referred to working group for further studyTeam match substitutions
5Referred to working group for further studySaber timing changes

USA Federation Proposals

1Commissions and councils to develop consensus proposalCrossover in saber
2Commissions and councils to develop consensus proposalNon-Combativity

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.

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.