Tales of Epic Black Cards


In the lore of fencing whifferniny, no badge of dishonor resonates with more epic power than that of a fencing black card. Eurosport enthusiasts would believe that the penalty card system ends at yellow and red; but, Fencing is so cool that you can get a black card, which means you’re knocked the F out of the tournament and you don’t pass go and collect $200. Allow me to explain the card system:

  • Yellow Card- Like a warning. Received for equipment malfunction, other minor things. No big deal. You get two yellows and it becomes a…
  • Red Card- A touch against you if a red is received. You can get a red card directly without a yellow for things like saying naughty words, or if you try to tackle a little kid.
  • Black Card- You have done something so grievously whifferninnious that the ref hates you enough to expel you from the tournament. Depending on the magnanimity of your whiffernoodleness, your black card might include: forfeiture of points, suspension, and of course, permanently perceived as a whifferninnyby the fencing community. Hester Prynne’d by a gang of gentleman in a chivalrous sport. Oh, and because you have been such a buttwhiffer, you get expelled from fencing history. Not even with an asterisk. It will say Fencer Excluded on the record.

Luckily, due to the gentlemanly/ladylike nature of fencing, black cards are a rarity. When they’re handed out, it’s like time stops. But, if you ever want to get a group of fencers talking, bring up black cards. I have seen a few black cards in my time. They’re always funny. So, I reached out to some friends and the Reddit Fencing Community to produce this post. Which shall be called….


Tale number 1: Kevin “Shanabro” Shanahan is reffing a super youth circuit at the University of New Hampshire. Shanahan received score sheet. It looks like this:


Yes, you read that correctly. It said “This Ref Stinks.” BLACK CARD!!!

Tale number 2- From “Arium” of the Reddit Community- “I was fencing in an intercollegiate team tournament(unranked) with my university fencing club. Being a sabersit and our club’s captain\coach, I had some free time on my hands so during the pool, I was watching and cheering on our foil team.

One of our less experienced foilist was up and loosing pretty badly. Every single touch his opponent made on him was a simple beat attack to his right shoulder. At 0 to 4, one of the other foilist on our team popped up and noted that to him.

Our foilist just waited for the beat and then popped back for a distance parry before countering. His opponent remised and our foilist got the point. His opponent tried to argue with the ref but to no avail. The same thing happened for the next two points. On the fourth point for our fencer, the opponent got a red card for stomping in frustration after the touch.

After the our noob foilist got the last touch, his opponent yanked off his mask and immediately made his way to the ref. The guy’s teammates and coach jumped up and tried to stop him but by the time they got to him, the ref was already pulling the black card from her pocket.

The other team’s coach made his fencer salute and shake hands with our foilist and then came over to apologize to me and the foil team.” BLACK CARD!!!!

Tale number 3- From “Robdmarks” of the Reddit community- “I witnessed this at a NAC three years ago. This fencer is losing, no… getting wooped. It’s like 8-0 after the first period. He’s fighting his hardest to get back and FINALLY gets a touch. Proceeds down the edge of the strip and get a counterattack but he steps off the strip right before the touch arrives, the ref even calls halt. The fencer thinks the touch is scored and turns screaming his face off. As the fencer realizes that his touch was disallowed, he and his coach become furious. They both start yelling at the ref, while the ref looks calmly on amongst all of this. When the coach realizes he can’t win, he kicks over the entire row of strip dividers. The ref awards the fencer a red, and then proceeds to give a black to the coach, who angrily asks why he was given a back. As he refuses to accept that he was given a black, he has to be removed by security.” BLACK CARD!!!

Tale number 4- From “HitlerKonyMao3Way” of the Reddit community- “1989 World Championships: The guy who won flipped the bird to the loser and judges. Got a BLACK CARD!!!”

Tale number 5- From “TheGreatKimbini” of the Reddit community- I got black carded once.

I was fencing at a small tournament in new mexico. there weren’t a lot of people; 20, 25 people tops. I knew for sure i was going to be in the top 2.

when DEs rolled around, i had to wait a few bouts before i actually fenced. i triple checked the bout sheets and ran to the bathroom. when i came back, i found out i’d been scratched. i had no less than 10 people argue against the “bout committee” to get me back in the tournament, but they wouldn’t budge. the girl i was going to fence for gold grabbed me and said let’s have our bout now. we went to 15 and she kicked my butt, but it was still a nice gesture.

turns out that a coach from CO wanted me out so that his fencer could earn her D rating. i’m an A. great way to teach your student, if you ask me” Kimbini got BLACK CARDED!!! BUT THE COACH IS A DOUCHE!!!

Tale number 6- From ME- A 2006 (or so) Division 1 NAC. A fencer whose name rhymes with Bikel is fencing in the 32 to make the 16 (men’s epee). Loses 15-14, picks up metal rod barrier and chucks it against the wall in anger. As the ref reaches into her pocket to pull out the card, he says “I didn’t mean to do that!” (Yes, Bikel, the ghosts possessed you). She presents the black card, and he yells “F*CK YOU” in her face and storms off. BLACK CARD!!!

Tale number 7- From “ToolOfTheDevil” of the Reddit Community- “I have administered one black card in my entire career as a referee and it was at my very first national event. Vet 60 Women’s Foil. The bout was going poorly for the fencer on my right, down 7-2. She tries to rally, pushes hard, gets picked up by the parry. She remises and squirms but the riposte arrives.

As my hands are still in the air to signal a parry from my left, the fencer on the right starts walking back and throws her foil to the ground. I swallowed a massive lump knowing what I had to do. As I reached for my black card, I noticed that the fencer had actually unhooked and thrown the reel plug as well. But she didn’t stop there. She continued walking off the back of the strip. She took off her mask, her glove, her jacket, discarding these items as she made her way across the room to where she had stowed her bag.

In my inexperience, I trailed behind the fencer. Following her across the venue to deliver the black card to her in person. When I finally caught up with her, she was crying. Distraught with herself, she apologized profusely. She said she just couldn’t believe the quality of fencing she had brought to the strip that day and didn’t deserve to finish the bout. It was absolutely heart-wrenching. I told her that I accepted her apology, but that I had to remove her from the event, and she told me that she understood.

As I made my way back to my strip where a bewildered fencer and coach were waiting, I also found an FOC member ready to explain that while abandoning my strip to chase down a 60 year old woman might have seemed like a good idea at the time, it easily could have been misinterpreted as me ‘throwing the card in her face’ and could have gone much more poorly if this was a younger and furious fencer. In the end, we all breathed heavily at the situation and proceeded to the next bout.” BLACK CARD!!! But sad black card…

11 thoughts on “Tales of Epic Black Cards

  1. Found this on Reddit and fencing.net. Here’s a story for you. International training camp, final tournament, the lowest experience group of women’s foil. I think I was the oldest there with my 18 years at the time (I fenced for a LONG time, I was just never really good); most kids were like 10-14.
    DEs for top 8. Me against a German girl; the bout is tight, and time is of the essence – practically everyone was waiting on OUR bout to wrap up. With some 30 seconds on the clock, it’s 14:14. I scored the winning point in a *really* stupid-easy parry/riposte situation. German girl starts to cry before she even takes the mask off, refuses to salute anyone, and when I gave her my hand to shake – spits in it, then runs off. Never even got black carded, as it was a totally non-serious competition, and… well, she wasn’t there to experience it.

  2. I`ve seen so many times young fencers loosing its temper (even children) without any reaction from referee. Fencer needs to control his emotion from the beginning and here is great work for parents and coach.

  3. Another nice article, but alas I will have to do some serious word editing before sharing with the kids and their parents….or can you offer a clean version for family publication?

    1. Hey Kathy, glad you’re sharing with the parents! I don’t really have time to revisit this one, but feel free to edit as needed to fit the parental audience.

  4. I will say one thing in response to a statement made in this article: Black cards are not personal.

    Referees are trained to enforce the rules. The rules dictate that certain violent outbursts warrant exclusion from the competition; Usually there is little to no room for a referee’s judgment in black card scenarios. If a fencer chucks his/her mask in a way that could be dangerous to him/herself or the surrounding environment, then that fencer is excluded from the competition. Similarly, if a fencer loudly and/or deliberately uses vulgar language on the strip (or if that language is directed at anyone), then that fencer is excluded from the competition. If a fencer has falsified inspection marks on his/her gear when s/he reports to the strip, then that fencer is excluded from the competition.

    So what?

    Black cards aren’t really as significant as we think they are. We get excited when somebody does something stupid or dangerous, not when the rules are enforced. It’s boring when rules are enforced. For example, if somebody doesn’t show up to the strip, the result is the same as when somebody drop-kicks their mask halfway across the gymnasium. The former is less exciting because the offense is not stupid or dangerous. The latter, however, gets us thinking that something extraordinary is happening. As spectators, we are just suckers for drama.

  5. New England Club Championships in 2012 (I think?) I was refereeing saber. A coach of a certain New Hampshire based team was being a douche; yelling at refs, asking for a new ref after every bout and complaining about the new ref, yelling at unrelated people, as well as other fencers. Much to their credit, the team themselves actually composed themselves in a fairly good manner, a little grumbling but nothing too bad.

    I forget the exact tipping point for this coach, but it could have been a myriad of different things. At any rate, the bout committee gives him a black card, forcing him to leave the venue. To which he adamantly refuses and begins (continues?) to make a scene. This venue does not have security as it is a fairly low key tournament, so the police had to be called to escort him from the building.

    I later heard that this coach was removed from his position as treasurer of the NECC. And we all lived happily ever after.

  6. I was refereeing a women’s saber bout at an event in Bolivia. The fencer on my right was a 20-something head of a visiting club who, three times in a row, purposefully brutally slashed the teenage girl on my left harder and harder to the point where it was just shameful. Apparently she has a history of that which I hadn’t known about. At that point I should have just given the fencer on my right her black, but I was new to fencing in that country so I was hesitant, shame on me for that. Unfortunately, the teen girl on my left responds to the third touch by immediately walking forward after the halt and just slashing the living hell out the older woman. Hands tied at that point, black card for the teen.

  7. Well put, Pascal. In many years of refereeing I also have never given a black card. De-escalation and a sense of proportion are the keys.
    Referees should look first to calm the situation, then to give the yellow card for behavior issues. This will often calm the fencer, and generally lessen the number of black cards.

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