During last year’s Summer Nationals in San Jose we had many kids who participated in a big competition for the very first time in their life. Competition – especially the very first one – always creates a huge pressure for fencer and for their parents. Knowing the rules is a concrete way to prevent additional stress for everyone. Unfortunately some families learned about the rules and how strictly they are enforced not from leisurely reading about them on our blog, but from real life yellow and red cards during a major tournament. Not pleasant.
One our fencers completely forgot to print her name on her fencing jacket, however in a strange twist of fate her opponent also got yellow card for (drumroll) her hair! WHAT?!! Yes, this fencer was yellow carded for her loose long hair, which was actually covering a pretty big target area, not to mention completely hiding her name on back. Both girls started their bout with yellow cards, what a coincidence!
The lesson learned here is that both male and female fencers need to be conscious of their hair, and to organize it in such a way as to follow the rules so that there aren’t penalties for unnecessary things during the match. We should be focusing on the technique and skill of fencers, not their lovely locks!
- USA Fencing Rules, April 2014, last version of rules
Here are the specifics:
t. 86, point 2 (Page 49) –
“Before the start of the bout, the fencers’ hair must be fastened and placed inside the clothing and/or mask in such a way as to ensure that:
— It does not cover a valid surface (and thus prevent a touch from being scored);
— It does not conceal the name and nationality of the fencer;
— It does not need to be put back in place during the bout, thus interrupting it.
In the case of violation of this rule, the Referee will apply the penalties for 1st group offenses (t.114, t.116, t.120).”
In other words – yellow card for long loose long hair.
One important point to make in this whole business. While the name is required only for national level competitions (NACs, Summer Nationals and JO’s) and not for any other competition, once you have your name on your jacket, the rule will be enforced. So again, even if the name isn’t required, you still have to keep the name uncovered if you have it on the jacket.
We have seen this issue pop up so many times, even in our local Bay Cup events. A referee makes a remark to some of the girls to fix their hair. The girls are always surprised – they just fenced in a similar local event only few weeks ago and nobody commented anything on their hair! Suddenly it’s a big issue? For their parents it’s also a source of confusion since they tend to believe that something has changed in the rules, or either that the referee was picking on their child.
In truth the referee isn’t showing any malice or special attention to those children! The change is that the fencer went to NAC between these two events, had her name printed on her back and now the referee is enforcing the rule, which of course didn’t apply before when they didn’t have their name on the back.
What’s the Reason for this rule?
The reason for the rule is pretty easy to see – long hair obstructs either the target or the ability of the judges to determine the fencer’s name. In the first case it essentially offers the fencer an unfair advantage. In the second it negates the whole point of having the name on the jacket if you can’t see it!
The requirements for hair are these:
- In foil and sabre, the hair cannot cover the valid target area. That means any part of the lame, even the back, will result in a penalty.
- In epee, the hair must not cover the name on the back part of the jacket. Of course this is only true for competitions that require the name, or those that don’t but in which the name is on the jacket. Of course this means Nationals, Junior Olympics and NACs. Names can actually appear on the leg instead of the jacket in the US, in which case hair can cover the back as long as it doesn’t cause any kind of hazard – but that won’t work in international competition where the name must be on the back of the jacket.
As a mom of two girls in fencing I always carry a few hair ties and a small hair brush in my bag. One way to keep it all together is with a carabiner (from the hiking section or key section of the store) that’s loaded with some tough hair ties, then attached to a brush and then attached to your bag. Simple and easy to keep up with! That way I am ready to tie their hair at any minute in few comfortable styles that fit under mask.
Keep in mind that you can also put hair up before a competition, which saves you a step once it starts. Braids are a good choice as they’re stable, just remember that the hairstyle has to be a flat one to ensure that it doesn’t snag in the mask – buns and high ponytails aren’t very practical!
If your child has VERY LONG HAIR, it probably will be a good idea to gently put it UNDER the fencing jacket.
Consider just practicing with hair up and out of the way as a rule, allowing girls (or long haired boys) to get used to the process of practicing with their hair up. If in doubt at a competition, just put it up!
Of all of the things that could go wrong, hair should be the least of our worries! Grab a brush and leave those cares behind you, and your child.