Epee Referee Nuggets from the December 2021 NAC: P-Card Interpretation Will be Changing

Another NAC done, another round of 12+ hour days, and some gross food. Here are my nuggets from the Columbus NAC.

The P-Card Rules Interpretation will be Changing to that of the FIE’s: Take this section of my write-up with a grain of salt, and consider this the “hey, something resembling this is coming” statement. Don’t take what I write here as the gospel, and wait for the RC rules blog’s official interpretation. But the current P-Card rules interpretation will be changing, possibly in time for the January NAC.

Under the current American interpretation of the rule, the one-minute P-Card clock only resets when a touch is awarded. As I understand it, this is going to be changing so that when a Fencer triggers a light, even if the touch isn’t awarded, it will reset the clock (e.g. hitting opponent after the pass, hitting the floor accidentally, or 2nd riposte after pass, etc.). You may be thinking: “what’s going to stop a Fencer from just touching off strip to reset the clock?” The answer is, that’s a red card for deliberate touch not on opponent. The whole idea behind this is that they do not want to penalize fencers for willingness to fight, and attempts at combative actions should allow for more leniency on the matter.


On De-escalation: Even going back to my days competing, I’ve always looked up to and appreciated Mary Frye for her control of her piste, the firmness in her calls, and her no-nonsense approach to when Fencers step out of line. And you want to know how many black cards Mary has given in her career as a referee? Zero. Zilch. Nada. I remember over beers once, Mary said: “the black card is the result of a failure to deescalate.”

So I had a situation at the Columbus NAC that I’m being intentionally vague about. But let me put it to you this way: I refereed a bout that was among the most difficult I’ve had to direct. It required a constant eye as to whether or not it was corps-a-corps, then touch, or touch, then corps-a-corps. Action to action, this was changing, and let’s just say one fencer took exception to how I called it, and said something to me that could have easily resulted in a black card.

I didn’t want to give it, so I settled on a red for disturbing order on the strip. Why didn’t I give the black? In that moment, I thought back to the moment when one of my students threw his mask after losing 15-14 to make a Cadet final, and Sean Shumate walked over to him, read him the riot act, and made it a teaching moment. He never had a temperamental outburst again. I thought back to all the times that Mary had people acting a fool on the strip and chose to let their tomfoolery speak for itself rather than use the black card as an apostrophe.

But there’s one other thing I’m going to put out there about this: Just like in the rest of life, the sport of fencing contains its own share of racist microaggressions. We have unconscious biases we bring to the strip we all need to be aware of. We were just required to take a sexual harassment training as referees. And as we all know, being anti-racist requires everyone to do the work of self-awareness and being cognizant of our unconscious biases. Perhaps it would benefit us all to take some anti-racism training too.

The way I see it, is perhaps in the future, this Fencer will find trust in my refereeing the same way my student found trust in Shumate’s. I chose to make that a teaching moment. Maybe I’m an idiot. Maybe not.

Other Nuggets of Refereeing:

  • For the love of God, wear your face masks correctly. Referees want to focus only on the two fencers in front of them. When parents and coaches are coming to the pod trying to cut corners by wearing chin diapers (or being bold enough to take the mask off entirely), we have to not only worry about the fencers, but the people who don’t give a damn about our health and safety. Consider it like a pair of pants. If you can’t go out in public without putting them on, then don’t go out.
  • I awarded a red this weekend for “blow with the guard or pommel.” FotL fleched, and as FotR parried, FotL jumped in and made incidental contact with her bellguard to the body. There’s a few misconceptions to clear up about enforcing this rule: number one, is that to award this card, even incidental contact with the guard merits a card. There’s an urban myth out there that the card has to come on a bell punch. WRONG! And secondly, it doesn’t have to be to the opponent’s mask for it to draw the card.
  • Mistake I made that I will not make again: at one point, FotL squatted down before the attack, placing his back hand on the piste. I called halt. This was dumb and an error. Per rule t.27: “Displacing the target and ducking are allowed even if during the action the unarmed hand and/or the knee of the rear leg comes into contact with the piste.”
  • Look for calls first and cards second. Growing up, there was a referee in my division who would go “en garde, ready, fence” and if he saw a crook in the blade, he would call “halt!” pull out a centimeter block from his jacket, place the weapon on the table, and award a yellow if the blade was non-compliant. Was there anything stopping him in this scenario from simply saying “hey, straighten your blade” before the fencing instead of taking the time to start the action, then include the additional theatrics of measuring the curvature of the blade? No. If you enforce the rulebook literally, you’d be throwing cards left and right for patches that are too big in violation of the publicity code, or socks that have logos larger than 10 cm. Some divisions teach referees to go card-happy. Just focus on the fencing first.

Referee Food Review: The asparagus on day one was some of the nastiest stuff I’ve ever eaten. The after taste was worse. There was also a Chick-Fil-A in the venue, but it was closed the whole weekend. I didn’t have chicken tendies the entire event. Rude.

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