Epee Refereeing Nuggets from the June 2021 Richmond NAC

Hello friends and fellow aspiring referees around the world,

The following are my notes I took for personal epee referee development from the Richmond NAC. Many of these things are obvious, many of them are not. Regardless, I wanted to share with you all my notes, and maybe these nuggets will help you too. Sound off in the comments or on the Facebook page with any questions.

Unwillingness to Fight:

  • Remember, the “unwillingness to fight” or P-Card rules operate like a shot-clock. Unlike the old non-combativity rules which required approximately (bolded for emphasis) one minute to pass before being called, the new unwillingness to fight rules struck the word “approximately.” To quote rule t.124 of the USA Fencing rulebook, “There is unwillingness to fight when there is one minute of fencing without a hit…” We had a case on a finals strip I was doing video where exactly one minute passed as a fencer launched into a fleche attack and hit. The referee correctly did not award the touch, to the chagrin of the fencer’s coach. Whether or not you like these new rules is one thing, but the proper application means calling it like a shot-clock.
  • Speaking of unwillingness to fight, a confusing scenario came up regarding unwillingness to fight. First period, score is 0-0. Clock ticks down to the 2:00 mark. Halt! P-Yellow for both fencers. Clock ticks down to the 1:00 mark. Halt! P-Red for both fencers. Clock ticks down to 0:00, and still no touch. Should a 2nd P-Red be awarded here? The answer is yes, you can award the maximum of three P-Cards in a period. I had to ask about a million refs to get consensus on that.

Miscellaneous Notes on Refereeing Demeanor:

  • Admitting when you’re wrong is okay. The bout isn’t about you as a ref. We all make mistakes and it’s part of the game. A coach is more likely to respect you for a mea culpa than if you try to walk away from a mistake as if nothing happened. And if you get it wrong once, it’s easier to get right the next time.
  • There isn’t a quota for penalty cards, and bragging about all the penalty cards you’ve given doesn’t make you look cool. The bout is between fencer A and fencer B. A referee is not a third competitor, and if s/he believes himself to be a third competitor, s/he’s probably not reffing for the right reasons.

Other Nuggets of Refereeing:

  • If a touch is scored while falling, it’s a yellow card (more than one coach argued it was a red). If a fencer lands the touch, then happens to fall after the fact, the touch is to be awarded. The full rule can be found here (t.121.2, abnormal fencing action).
  • It’s an easy thing to overlook, but remember to insist the fencers are in the center of the strip (t.22.4). Lefties will often try to line up on the left side of the piste and start the sequence with a material advantage. Insist they get en garde in the center. You might not think it to be important, but it is.
  • Sometimes in epee as a period is winding down, fencers want to back away and not try anything drastic before a break. We were instructed, in situations like that to first issue a verbal warning to both fencers, and if they do it a 2nd time, yellow card for “refusal to obey.” But if time is winding down, and the fencer takes off his/her mask to salute before the referee calls halt, then it is a yellow for exactly that (t.125).
  • Corps-a-corps to avoid the touch is a sneaky one (yellow card), and a tougher call to make. You don’t see it called much in local or regional events, but it’s something to keep your eyes out for. Article t.20.2 states that “…it is forbidden…to cause a corps-a-corps intentionally to avoid being touched, or touched…” In epee, infighting is a big part of the game, and it’s perfectly natural for a Halt! to be called by a corps-a-corps. Devin Donnelly had a good summary on the rules blog about this, he advises to watch fencer movement. A stationary fencer is less likely to cause the corps-a-corps than his/her moving opponent. Donnelly also notes to look for scenarios where a fencer is “…at a disadvantage in the fencing phrase.” I called it one time this weekend. FotL and FotR made a simultaneous lunge at one another and found themselves bellguard to bellguard going for optimal tip positioning. FotL managed to position herself in a way that her tip was cleared for a riposte, and FotR found her blade awkwardly placed outside FotR’s target area. FotR stepped in to cause a halt. I awarded a yellow, because she was at a disadvantage and attempting to cause a halt. In summary, try to evaluate the intent of the corps-a-corps in its context. Is it happening naturally as part of the fencing sequence, or is it blatantly (or even subtly) deliberate?

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