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Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Category: Rules and Regulations Page 1 of 9

Referees and Right of Way/Priority

Referee judging a foil bout, looking who has a final Right of Way or Priority

We can learn everything about right of way or priority, as it more often called, we could master every aspect of its understanding, and yet we would not be the final word on it. The referee is. Always. 

Some people say that right of way is subjective. It is not. But since it is up to the referee to decipher the fencing phrase, some referees might see it differently than other referees. In their head, the referees are shaping the actions of each fencer into these phrases. They are looking at the actions of the fencers with a keen eye that is clued into this specific and important point of right of way, because it is so essential. 

To understand right of way, you need to understand the referee’s perspective. It’s so incredibly important for fencers, because without understanding this you will always be stuck. Let’s dig into some specifics of referees and right of way. 

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A Dummy’s Guide to Right of Way or Priority in Fencing

A Dummy’s Guide to Right of Way or Priority in Fencing

One of the most difficult concepts in all of fencing is the concept of right of way.

This concept and the understanding of it are key to making sense of fencing, no matter if you are a fencer, a coach, a parent, a referee, or a fan. This post is long. It’s long enough that we’ve broken it up into sections to help make it easier to follow. This is a mega post, so get comfortable, or better yet –  bookmark this post so you can come back to it!

First, we’ll break down a new way of seeing priority. Then we’ll go through a dozen detailed examples to go even further and let you really get a deep understanding of what it’s all about. Coming at the concept from different angles is so important!

During a match, one that’s going quick as lightning already, it’s almost impossible to understand for non-fencers why the touch was not awarded. Even more difficult to understand is why the decision not to award the touch was the right one. 

Before we go any further – priority and right of way are the same. They’re synonyms, and you’ll see them used as synonyms here and in the real world of fencing. You have “right of way” or you get priority. Same thing. 

For a lot of people, the whole thing is so confusing, so unclear. This goes especially for newbies in fencing and for parents. It’s not just parents and fencing fans who don’t get it, epee fencers often don’t understand right of way if they didn’t start out with foil before they take on epee! Though they may have a cursory understanding of the concept, they usually don’t really get it. They might have an idea that they know that one action precedes the other, and obviously they can see parries and riposts, but often they cannot decipher complex foil or saber phrases. 

The thing is, learning right of way is something that you have to do intentionally. You’re not just going to pick it up by kind of half looking at foil and saber matches. The best way to really learn right of way is to fence it, but naturally that’s not really possible for parents or epee fencers or fans of the sport. That’s why we’re sharing with you a detailed understanding of right of way in fencing, and hopefully by the end of this article you’ll get that wonderful “click” in your brain that we all want to have!

Here, I’m going to break it down in a simple way that makes sense for non-fencers. The most important point is that this post is not explaining the rules or redefining the rules. It is laying out a different way to understand who has gotten priority and thus who wins the point in foil or sabre.

The conventions of right of way have stayed more or less the same through the last century. What’s changed is the commonly used interpretations by fencing referees, pioneered first at the FIE level and then propagated down to the FIE-member countries and their domestic tournaments. Also, the explanation and examples will not cover the whole spectrum of fencing, but it will give you an ability to understand at least 80% of what happened and why a specific call was made. You definitely will not be able to understand the other 20%. Heck, there are calls that even experienced referees argue about! But, guess what? You will be able to understand and comprehend what they are arguing about these calls! Isn’t this cool?

This post is long, complicated, and it took me a few months to write and rewrite it. (Well, the pandemic did hit in the middle!)  I suggest you read the first two parts till the end, preferably in the same sitting, and if you do I can guarantee you will acquire some deeper understanding of the concept. Enough that you will be able to see the phrase on Youtube matches and decipher it quite accurately, particularly if you have some training. 

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AFM Safe Shield – Returning to Training Guidelines & Plan

AFM Safe Shield - Returning to Training Guidelines & Plan

The “AFM Safe Shield” Returning to Training Guidelines are based on CDC health considerations and tools for operating during COVID-19, California schools’ guidelines, CDC Considerations for Youth Sports and Summer Camps,  and Santa Clara County’s Public Health update and restrictions

Fencing is traditionally about swords, but now we are in a time when we need to act as a shield for our fencing community.

The last several months have been a whirlwind of change for everyone. Lockdowns, quarantine, social distancing, and a hefty dose of everyone feeling trapped and overwhelmed. Reopening is something that we all want to do, but we also want to do it safely. 

The problem is, most of us in the fencing world aren’t health experts. The good news is that we don’t have to be. There are a whole host of guidelines and structures that have been published to help businesses create safety plans that will make reopening fencing clubs as safe as possible. 

We’ve pulled information from the CDC, the government of California, and the Santa Clara County Health Department to create a plan for reopening fencing clubs, adapting it to the specifics of the fencing club training. Of course, there is always a risk and no system is perfect. However we have worked with experts and expert advice to come up with procedures that will minimize the risk of spreading the virus while also creating an environment where fencing training can continue. AFM is only working in clear accordance with the safety procedures laid out by Santa Clara County, all governmental restrictions and guidance, and what has been set out by Santa Clara County Schools. 

AFM continues to keep the wellbeing of our fencers, their families, and our coaching team as our highest priority. 

Flexibility, input, and accommodation 

Safety is what matters, whether it is in small groups classes or in private lessons as we move towards a new normal. The AFM Safe Shield Plan brings together the power of leading experts, parent’s suggestions, and the shared responsibility between us all.

AFM is adopting the hybrid approach for training our fencers. Members have several options for training with AFM. 

  • Small group training with precautions
  • Indoor or outdoor classes and private lessons
  • Zoom training
  • Any combination of the above

Everyone has their own considerations for safety and their own concerns about exposure. Whatever decision each family makes about their training, we support all of them. Accommodations and flexibility from us are a central tenet of our philosophy, especially now. Whatever we can do for fencing families, whether it is within these policies or not, we would love to hear it. All fencers deserve to have individual goals for training in fencing, no matter if they are in the club or training remotely. Growth is possible and still so important!

The input of families is a critical part of this process. This is a living document. 

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Talking Fencing and Coronavirus with Michael Aufrichtig, Fencing Head Coach at Columbia University

Talking Fencing and Coronavirus with Michael Aufrichtig, Head Fencing Coach at Columbia University

AFM recently had the amazing opportunity to sit down (virtually) with Michael Aufrichtig, the head coach of the Columbia University fencing team. He lives and coaches in New York City, which is of course the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. Through our interview, we were able to talk about training during the coronavirus pandemic, how competitive fencing is going to be potentially affected by all of this, and to gain some insight into the uncertainty for fencers who are pursuing their college fencing dream during a global crisis.

We cannot say enough how honored we were to be able to get this insight from one of the top fencing coaches in the United States. If you are not familiar with Michael, then after you read this interview we highly recommend that you watch his TED talk about his innovative coaching style, which is incredibly unusual in fencing. He is nothing short of a titan in the collegiate sport today, and his insight is invaluable to all fencers.

Thank you Michael for your time and your insight! It is of a great help to the fencing community in this time of uncertainty.

(When the Zoom call opens, Michael is sitting in what appears to be the fencing training facility at Columbia University.)

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How Postponing the 2020 Olympics will Affect Fencing – First Thoughts

How Postponing the 2020 Olympics will Affect Fencing - First Thoughts

This week, the International Olympic Committee announced that the 2020 Olympic Games will be postponed. The games will retain their name, the 2020 Olympic Games, but they will not be held until 2021.

This move is unprecedented in the history of the Olympic Games. Since they began, there have only been three Olympics that have been canceled. One in 1916, due to World War I, then two in 1940 and 1944 due to World War II. Two other times the Games were disrupted by world events, first the Moscow Games in 1980 that were boycotted by the Western Bloc, and then the Los Angeles Games in 1984 that were boycotted by the Eastern Bloc of countries. There have been a few other smaller boycotts, such as when Nazi Germany hosted the Games in 1936. Other than that, the Olympic Games have been held as planned and have been a show of world unity.

Postponing the Olympics is good

First of all, I have to give great kudos to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for postponing the Games. It shows what a fantastic movement this is. This decision communicates the commitment of the IOC to the safety of  everyone – the athletes, the organizers, the spectators, and the support personnel. The Olympic Games should bring joy and unity of people versus fear and concerns. It’s a great thing.

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