There are several essential components to a fencing match. One consists of the fencers themselves, who are vying for points. Another are the weapons, those things that make the points possible. And the final essential component to a fencing bout is the person who calls the points.
Fencing bouts are monitored by that same stalwart bastion of sport control that everyone has – the referee. Depending on the bout, the venue that it’s in and the purpose for which it’s being fought, the referee could be either an officially certified referee or another fencer. Either way, the ref is not part of the action. The more official the venue, the more official the referee must be. The more informal the venue, the less official the ref will be.
Why use hand signals?
Fencing refs use hand signals because there are often language barriers in fencing. Fencers often come from all over. That’s part of why we love this sport so much! It brings together people from everywhere. No matter what language you speak, you can learn to understand fencing referee hand signals fairly easily. It’s not that complicated!
Hand signals are also helpful because it can be loud in a fencing venue with lots of other bouts going on around you. Hand signals mean that you don’t have to be able to hear in order to understand what’s going on in the bout. That’s helpful for people watching the bout because they can just watch the big gestures of the refs without having to be close enough to hear what the referee is saying.
Hand signals give us a universal, simple language with which to communicate effectively about the fencing bout.
A simple primer to fencing referee hand signals
The good news is that hand signals are very, very easy to understand and we’ve created an infographic to help you to recognize and learn the hand signals. There is also a printable pdf version available to download (size 6’x2′) which might be a good tool for fencing coaches if it is hung in their fencing club. You can download it here.
You don’t have to feel overwhelmed by fencing referee hand signals! With just a bit of quick study, you’ll have this down in no time.
Why you need to understand fencing ref signals
While it might seem like you can just roll on without knowing the fencing ref’s signs (I mean they generally say things anyway right), it can actually make things MUCH more clear when you’re watching a match! Fencing matches run so quickly that there’s often not time to process the sound before the next thing happens. The better you know the fencing referee signals, the easier and more fun watching matches will be!
Keep in mind that every ref is going to be just a hair bit different. In general these signals are easy to recognize, but they can also be a bit confusing if you’re not exactly clear on what you’re looking at. That’s another reason it’s so important to learn those signals, because then you’ll have a better handle on what’s happening in the match, even if the ref’s signals are a bit unclear or vary slightly from the norm.
If you’re at a match with an electronic scoreboard, it’s incredibly informative to watch the scoreboard and the referee alternately to help you really learn the signals. This will allow you to make much more sense of the signals and to connect them with what’s happening in terms of the match winning or losing!
If you or your child is new to fencing, we highly recommend that you work to learn the hand signals of the fencing referee. Don’t just watch your child’s match – watch other matches to help you learn the signals and scoring!