When your child starts fencing, it can be overwhelming to learn the rules of a sport you may never have watched or learned about growing up. One important part of the competition is penalties. As parents, we want to understand why our child is being penalized if it happens, and we also want to be able to talk them through it if it upsets them. This post will explain the basics of the different types of fencing penalties, why they are given, and what happens if your child gets a penalty card.
It’s typical for new fencers to not understand all of the rules when they start out, even at their first competition. The current US Fencing rulebook is 200 pages long, and who can be expected to learn all of that material right off the bat? Some things just have to be learned as you go. It’s not uncommon for a younger fencer to receive a penalty and not understand why or to not know how to avoid getting one. In the event of a penalty, remind your child that it happens to many fencers and it’s not a big deal—just a learning opportunity.
The first thing to know is that the USFA provides a convenient penalty chart. While it’s only two pages long, it’s still a lot of information. However, in my experience, inexperienced fencers tend to make similar mistakes, so we can start with a smaller subset of penalties and cover most situations. The other good news is that most of these “newbie” mistakes are easy to avoid and you can talk your child through them ahead of time to prevent penalties.
Penalties result in fencers being carded, either with a yellow card or a red card. Often yellow-card offenses result in red cards if they are repeated within the same bout. Yellow cards are essentially warnings. Red cards give the opponent a touch. In the worst cases, with repeated offenses or very bad sportsmanship, black cards can be given, which means expulsion from the competition.
Here is a list of tips for younger fencers and new parents to stay on the right side of the rules.
- Always take two weapons, two body cords, and two mask cords (for sabre and foil) to any competition. While at the competition, bring both sets of equipment to the strip. Having a spare set in your fencing bag on the other side of the venue won’t do you any good once you’re competing—the delay caused by retrieving it will lead to a yellow card.
- Never touch the reel cord, the connected body card, or the socket. Children sometimes find comfort in keeping their unarmed hand on the connector. These actions can cause equipment malfunctions and lead to yellow cards.
- Always check your weapons before a competition, and before each bout once you are there. To avoid yellow cards, look for missing screws on epees and malfunctioning body cords (i.e., showing off-target for foil when wiggling).
- Never straighten your weapon on the strip! Always ask the referee’s permission to straighten your weapon if needed, and if granted, go off strip to straighten it. Straightening on the strip will lead to a yellow card.
- Similar to not straightening on strip, never drag your weapon on the strip. Younger fencers often drag their weapon, especially when returning to the en garde line if they’re disappointed because they just lost a point. This might be a yellow card offense, and although it’s not strictly enforced, I have seen it recently after a referee warned a fencer not to do that. It’s important to learn proper etiquette regardless, and learning this early will avoid penalties now and later.
- During Direct Elimination, fencers must stay on the strip and connected during the one-minute breaks. This can be confusing for new fencers, especially the 10-and-under age category (Y10), since they have a break at five touches and might logically assume they should leave the strip. Leaving when you aren’t supposed to can lead to a yellow card.
- In larger regional and national events, equipment is often checked and has to pass inspection to be used during the competition. Equipment that passes receives an identifying mark, and this is the ONLY equipment you can use that day. Never grab a spare cord or glove that hasn’t been stamped. This is an automatic red card.
It’s a great idea to go over this list with your fencer. I suggest not overemphasizing that penalties are “bad,” but rather a part of the game that you want to avoid. Chances are mistakes will be made and your child might receive a card depending on the referee. You don’t want to encourage them to get overly upset in this situation because it can affect their performance going forward and lead to a bigger punishment than the card if it causes them to lose the bout.