No Punches Pulled: Answering Your Questions (April 2022)

Refereeing Questions

What’s the best way to control your strip as a referee? Credibility is the most important thing to establish first and foremost, and that means knowledge of the rules and the proper current application of the rules. If you show up to ref and you improperly enforce, say, the application of P-Cards or you still push the “three points of contact” bullshit, you will immediately lose the trust of the Fencers.

But knowledge of the rules is only part of the picture. Part of the reason I love watching Ivan Lee ref is because of his body language. When he makes a call, it comes with good posture, robotic and firm use of his hand signals, assuredness and confidence in his voice, and immediate and thorough explanation if questioned by the fencer or coach.

Body language and poise is everything. If you hesitate for even one second with an “um” or an “uh,” or if you make your hand signals with an ounce of timidity, it allows the fencer to pounce on your calls.

And remember—Fencers and coaches have good memory. The way you bring yourself to the strip as a referee will by remembered event to event. You want a personal brand associated with quality reffing, fairness and impartiality. Card-happy refs who believe themselves to be a third competitor in the bout will be remembered as such.

In summary, know the rules, be confident, and be invisible. That’s how you control your strip.

How do you remain consistent as a ref while improving at the same time? Reffing is a lot like coaching. You can’t rest on your laurels. What you knew yesterday is going to be different tomorrow. Rules are always changing, and beyond the rules themselves, the interpretation of the rules evolves too.

One of the best things you can do as a ref is find mentors. There is no such thing as too many of them. The referee community is gradually reducing the workplace toxicity that was so prominent a decade ago, so you’re more likely to find people who are willing to go out of their way to help you succeed as opposed to perpetuating a hostile work environment and make you feel miserable about your job.

Shoutout to Mary Mahon, Mary Frye, Lisa Sapery, Essene Waters, Taysir Mahmoud, Barb Anderson, and Sue Borgos who have been critical in my development as a referee.

Corps a corps in épée. I found that many referees call stop when there’s body contact. It’s allowed in epee. Is a corps a corps a card? What’s your take? A halt should be called when the body contact occurs. If a touch occurs before the halt, valid. If it occurs after, invalid. Now it gets a little more complicated than that.

Let’s say FotL fleches. FotR holds his ground, takes the parry. FotL comes plowing into FotR, collides for corps-a-corps, and FotR finishes the riposte. The touch is valid for FotR, even though the corps-a-corps happened first, but because FotL attacks, FotR gets an opportunity for the riposte.

Here is an example of this in action from a recent bout between Romain Cannone (FRA) and Koki Kano (JAP).

Corps-A-Corps and then the touch, still valid

As for a yellow card, NOPE! Corps-a-corps in epee has never been a yellow card (not to be mistaken with a corps-a-corps to avoid the touch which is a yellow, with a video example of that here.)

Corps-a-corps to avoid the touch, yellow card.

What you want to be looking for is potential jostling (video example here). If the attack comes in with enough ferocity that the receiving fencer is knocked off their center of gravity and stumbles, you probably want to think about the jostling call there.

Jostling, yellow card

The other thing about jostling, is it’s usually caused by the fencer initiating the attack. If I’m receiving the attack and I hold my ground (and my name isn’t Justin Meehan), in most cases, I can’t be responsible for the collision.

Training and General Fencing Questions:

We teach fencers to warm up their body, but any tips on warming up the brain, especially when you fence the same people every day? I have become a huge proponent of visualization prior to the tournament. As a matter of opinion, I think visualizing success is just as important as the warmup itself. I always encourage my Fencers to close their eyes, put on headphones, deeply breathe, and think about what a perfect bout looks like for them. What are the actions they want to hit? What strategy will they approach with? What are the positive, confidence-boosting things you can say about yourself with the voice inside your head?

If you have a moment of self-doubt creep in (e.g. “he beat me last time,” or “but I’m out of shape”), open your eyes, reset, and start anew. It’s important to approach every tournament feeling capable and empowered, and positive visualization is an excellent way to get in that mindset.

How to Fence Lefties Better? This probably constitutes an entire blog post, but the short and simplest answer is to follow their lateral strip positioning and give yourself a little more distance than normal. If the lefty is on the left side of the piste, stay there with them, trying to stay tip to tip. If you position yourself in the center of the piste when the lefty hands outside to the left, it gives them a better angle to attack and find your blade in opposition.

Ask your coach to give you the occasional lefty lesson so you can feel the difference a little more and work on your actions here. I personally love the applicability of an oppositional 7 to the leg when fencing against lefties, so get creative with your coach and try new things.

What’s are some good drills or exercises for new fencers to get in some extra practice when away from the club? In my opinion the two best things to do when outside the club are jump roping and footwork. Jump roping is great for improving stamina, foot speed, and hand speed. And as I’ve beaten like a dead horse, footwork is the most important part of a fencer’s foundation.

We could be doing a lot better with our lunging here in the US and A. Work on your lunges, ensuring you’re propelling off the back leg as opposed to falling into the front leg. When you’re working on your advances and retreats, maintain a good en garde position and make sure the feet aren’t coming heel to heel when moving rapidly in one direction or when you change directions. Footwork is everything.

Miscellaneous Questions

For people who don’t understand fencing, what’s happening? Why can’t I see the blade half the time? I don’t know if this is scientifically true or not, but I remember hearing in Olympic sports, the movement of the fencing tip is only second in speed to that of a bullet. Things move fast in Fencing, and to outsiders, it’s hard to keep track.

In my research of 2,800+ touches, I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that the quality of the video feed you’re getting directly correlates with the number of oil tycoons and oligarchs present in the host nation. Qatar, Russia, etc. have consistent 4K quality video feeds and it makes watching a lot more friendly on the eyes.

It’s a niche sport though with a lot of rules. The more you watch, the more you’ll understand.

Do you recommended particular food or nutrition plans for teen fencers? I don’t know enough about the topic of nutrition to give an informed answer here, but I do know that I absolutely need to be better about this myself. 

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