Recently, I had a minor disaster at an in-house youth event. One of our young fencers had an emotional meltdown when her weapon wasn’t working and she lost touch after touch because nobody noticed and she didn’t know how to handle the situation.
I am determined not to let such a situation happen again, so yesterday I worked on preparing my high school fencers for their first competition by interrupting their bouts with scenarios they are likely to run into. I yelled:
- Your shoe is untied!
- Your hair is in your face!
- You stepped off the end of the strip!
- You think your weapon wasn’t working for that last touch!
- Your opponent ran into you!
- Your opponent turned around to look at the box!
- You’ve been injured!
- The ref is holding a yellow card!
- The ref blew a call!
- You don’t know if that foot touch you tried was good or not!
- You don’t know if that foot touch your opponent tried was good or not!
- Time ran out and the score is tied!
- There are only three seconds left and you’re a touch down!
- There are only three seconds left and you’re a touch up!
WHAT HAPPENS? or WHAT DO YOU DO? as the situation demanded. Like a choose-your-own-adventure novel.
I dropped as many as possible on the inexperienced first years. When they didn’t know the answer, I turned to the upperclassmen nearby – since we only had one strip, it helped to keep them engaged in the situational information I was teaching.
The point that even my more experienced fencers seemed not to have considered was the unclear foot shot. I do not and will never advocate lying about a touch, but in the confusion of a bout it’s often hard to know with 100% certainty if your tip was triggered by your opponent’s foot or if it just nicked the shoe on its way to the floor.
If there’s any doubt, I have told my fencers to act with confidence: go back to the en garde line if you were making the touch, and hold your ground if your opponent made the attempt. Then wait for the referee to make the call. After all, that’s what they’re paid to do.
The other situation nobody had an answer for was what to do when the ref blows a call – maybe one of those foot shots that you were 100% sure about. As experienced fencers know, there’s no recourse for the fencer other than one politely worded dissent that will hopefully encourage them to pay closer attention next time.
The only time anyone can fight a ref on the call is when they have cited the rule incorrectly. For example, if the ref gives you a red card for stepping off the side of the strip, or gives your opponent a yellow card for using the off-weapon hand? If I’m not stripside already, call me and I’ll have a little chat with the ref. I already printed out a copy of the penalty chart for reference.
Today, we’ll talk about the high school team format, requesting time outs, strip coaching, and cheering for teammates. In addition to the technique work, of course!
Thursday my five men will fence a pool to see who earns the three starting positions at our first meet on Friday. My freshmen have a lot of promise so I’m sure the competition will be fierce!