Fencing Lights as in yacht or spaceship - understand Fencing Scoring LightsIt’s a common thing that people don’t understand which color of fencing scoring lights belongs to which fencer. Parents often watch their children in a bout and don’t understand what’s going on and who’s scored.

That’s especially true in a large venue like at an NAC or at the majority of clubs, where the lights oriented differently. That makes it very hard for parents and spectators, particularly novice parents and spectators, to guess who among the fencing competitors has scored. They find themselves having to rely totally on the final hand gesture of the referee, and that can take a lot of the fun out of watching fencing.

Three lights, three colors

There are 3 lights on the fencing machine: red, green and yellow (white). That last light is usually yellow, but on some types of machines it looks white instead. Those sound just like the colors of a stoplight, but they don’t work anything at all like a stoplight. Not a bit. Totally, completely different than that “stop, slow down, go” orientation that you’ve learned your whole life. Sorry bout that!

Color (red or green) means a touch by a fencer in a valid target area. Which side the light is on is which side the touch is on. Note that – the side is what matters! They are different colors to make it easier to see, but it’s the side that’s important. In epee, that means any touch anywhere. In foil and sabre it’s only on a touch made on a lame (foil/sabre) or mask (sabre only). Yellow (white) indicates an off-target touch in foil or a fault in both foil and sabre.

On the machine itself, the lights are always on the same side. The red is going to be on the left and the green is going to be on the right.  This doesn’t change ever! It doesn’t matter which fencer is on which side, because the fencing scoring lights will always be red on the left and green on the right.

Note that it’s the referee that awards the point, not the machine. What happens with both lights light up? Well when that happens in foil and sabre and it means that the referee has to decide which fencer has the right of way, because both of them touched a the same time. Whichever fencer had a right of way in the last action is the one who gets the point. When both lights go off in epee, the both get the point!

Here’s a quick recap:

  • Colored light (red or green) – Touch was made on target, the color tells you which side only.
  • Yellow/white – Touch was made off target
  • Epee fencers both score if the lights go off at the same time.
  • Foil/Sabre – the referee chooses who scores based on right of way if the lights go off at the same.
  • The referee awards the point, not the machine.

Now check your yacht

Now that you know about where the lights on the fencing scoring apparatus are, go hop onto your yacht and see if it looks familiar. What’s that? It does? You’re right, it DOES!

The placement of the lights on the fencing scoring machine are EXACTLY like the placement of lights on ships at sea!! At night you’ll notice that right side of a yacht has green lights and the left side has red lights. Every sailor and yacht owner knows this rule, and based on the direction of the lights they know which side of the ship they are looking at.

Next time you’re watching a fencing bout, take a look at the position of the referee. Then you’ll know this – the fencer on the referee’s right will score with the green light and the fencer on the referee’s left will score with the red light. It’s so easy it’s almost too easy!

Coincidence? We think not.

What’s REALLY crazy and fun about this is that the fencing lights and the ship lights became standard at the same time, except exactly one hundred years apart. The 1830’s and the 1930’s. Yes, that’s right! That can’t possibly be a coincidence can it? Seems a bit of a stretch. They must be connected..

The first official usage of electronic fencing scoring happened in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.  For those of you keeping track, that system was called the Laurent-Pagan electric scoring apparatus, and it was pretty revolutionary. The light colors were the same as they are today though! And the same as your yacht. Epee became electrified first, the foil, and finally sabre (which didn’t fully happen until the 1990’s!).

Though ships were required by various countries to have running lights on at night for navigation (ie to keep other ships from running into them and everyone sinking), it wasn’t until the 1930’s that sidelights became standard. Sidelights are the red and green lights that you see on the sides of ships today. It’s incredibly useful for ships to have these colored lights standardized because not only could ships figure out that there were other ships nearby, but they could also know whether they were coming up on the starboard (left and red) or the port side (right and green) because these lights are standard. The SAME standard colors as competitive fencing scoring lights.

The really fun part is that airplanes and spaceships are the same: red lights are mounted on the left side and the green lights are mounted on the right side. This makes it so much easier for the little green men from Mars know which side of your spaceship they’re pulling up close to.

While it might seem like learning fencing scoring would only help you when you’re rolling up to the fencing match of your child or your friend, it turns out that this valuable information can help you to understand which way is which way on your yacht, your airplane, or even your spacecraft. And you most probably will now remember this forever.