Fencing Etiquette

We’re continuing with our subject series for this week, strip etiquette. Most of this will be covered in practice, but there are a few tips here that we may not have covered yet.

Lee Kiefer of the U.S. and South Korea's Hyun Hee Nam salute at the start of their women's foil team quarterfinals fencing match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Lee Kiefer of the U.S. and South Korea’s Hyun Hee Nam salute at the start of their women’s foil team quarterfinals fencing match during the London 2012 Olympic Games. ADREES LATIF/REUTERS

Proper Etiquette (Salutes and Decorum on the Strip)

After you have hooked up, been tested by the director and tested lames/bell guards, you’ll return to your on guard line, salute your opponent and the director (and in some cases, the audience), put your mask on, come on guard and wait for the command to fence. Stay still when the director asks if you’re ready; they hate a bouncy fencer and will get testy if they have to wait for you to settle down.

VERY IMPORTANT: When the director ask if you are ready – by asking “Fencers ready?” (Or some variation thereof) “Etes-vous prets?” (“Are you ready” in French) or in some other fashion, you MUST respond verbally if you are NOT ready to go, and loudly enough so the director can hear you over the other noises in the area. If you say nothing, that is deemed as an affirmative response, and the director may start the fencing before you’re actually ready. If you get scored on in that situation, it’s your own fault for not letting the director know.

When the director is satisfied that everyone’s ready to go (it may only be a second long of a wait), the command to fence will be given by the director saying “Fence,” “Begin,” “Allez,” (“Begin” in French) or some variation thereof. Once fencing begins, don’t stop until you hear your director call the halt. Even if you KNOW you hit your opponent, that doesn’t mean the light went off, and it’s a sure way to get hit yourself. If you need to, you can remove your mask to wipe sweat out of your eyes, scratch your nose, etc. only AFTER the director has halted the action.

At our club practice, and at most informal encounters between friends, there’s a lot of talking, jibing and “smack talk” between the fencers as they go at each other. You can’t do that in official competition. Nor can you crook a finger in a “bring it on” gesture. This is defined as taunting, and it’s a cardable offense.

If you see a potentially dangerous situation–such as a weapon with a very sharp bend beyond a normal curve, an untied shoelace, a broken blade, some doofus walking across the strip right behind your opponent, etc.–you cannot just stop fencing and call halt yourself. Back up a few steps, raise your non-weapon hand and stomp your foot a bit to get the director’s attention. He or she will stop the bout, and you can have the problem addressed.

Addressing the Director

Only the fencers have the right to address the director in reference to an action, although most directors at the local level will answer a question from a coach. If you need to ask a question, especially if you think you did a parry-riposte and the director says your opponent did a beat-attack, don’t yell at the director; be polite about it. My general rule of thumb is to ask once and let it go if it doesn’t go my way. For example:

Me – “That wasn’t a parry-riposte, Sir?”

Director – “No. Your opponent landed as you parried, then your riposte landed.”

After that, I let it go because arguing never changes the call. Keep in mind, if you’re relatively inexperienced, that the director and fencer will see different things on the same action. Also, in many cases the directors have been directing far longer than you’ve been fencing, so they know what they’re talking about. For good or ill, that person is the director, and he or she is the boss. If you don’t like a call, shake it off and get back to fencing.

Also keep in mind this: if the director states the action as “The attack is from my right, parry riposte from my left,” it cannot be argued because the director’s saying he saw a specific action. If the director says, however, The attack is from my right, and I think it was a parry riposte from my left,” you have the right to argue it if you think it was yours, because he wasn’t sure. Don’t do it too often.

Problems with Your Tip

If you keep hitting your opponent and the light just ain’t going off, you are either not hitting with sufficient pressure to trigger the light (remember the weight test), or hitting flat and not depressing the tip, or hitting later that 40 milliseconds after your opponent hits you (in épée), or the tip has gone bad.

You may ask the director if you can test the tip by touching your opponent – like during the original lame test – or you may present the blade to the director for him to test. Be advised: if you think the tip itself has gone bad, you MUST ask the director to test it for you. If it turns out the tip is bad, you may get a break, because it may invalidate any touch you received in the action where your tip failed. Testing it yourself is not a valid test as far as the refs are concerned.

Covering Target/Turning Back on Opponent (one word: DON’T)

Turning your back is self-explanatory. It’s a safety issue, since you don’t want the back of your head exposed. Covering target is a bit more complicated, but it boils down to this: if your non-weapon arm is covering your lamé in foil in any way during an exchange of action, it’s a penalty. Don’t do it; keep that arm back and out of the way. Covering can be as seemingly minor as having the non-weapon arm running straight down your side if it’s not away from the body; it’s still covering target if it touches your side.


(Source: Sam Sam Signorelli, SwordPlay Fencing Studio)


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