In the recent Arizona SYC, I witnessed a situation when in a pool bout an inexperienced referee called “HALT” and moved the bout to 1 minute due to non-combativity. Of course both coaches jumped in and explained the rule to the referee, who needed to verify with the head ref the nuances of it.
And of course, if even some referees are confused about the rule, what should we expect from the novice fencers that oftentimes have never even heard about the term “non-combativity” prior to their first competition and their referee’s call?
An easy to understand explanation of non-combativity
So what is non combativity in laymen’s terms?
The best way to understand what non-combativity means is think about a situation when two fencers did not make any touch in their bout for a “long” time or show a “total apathy” to each other for some time.
In the rule book this “long” time is defined to be approximately 1 minute.
By “total apathy” here I mean they stay too far away from each other and do not make any blade contact for about 15 seconds.
When Non-Combativity Happens
There are several reasons for non-combativity in fencing. Here are the 3 major reasons:
- The most common non-combativity reason happens in the bouts of beginner fencers. This happens unintentionally most of the time. A typical situation that you have probably witnessed many times is when two novice fencers (usually kids) are just afraid to make a move, hesitating to start first, and in general are making no headway in the bout.
- This happens mostly with experienced fencers (or at least when one of them is experienced). A fencer decides for some tactical or strategic reason to go to non combativity and the other fencer accepts it (or was deceived and followed the game). There are many reasons why a fencer might decide to go to non-combativity, and sometimes even elite fencers use this strategy.
- Bad luck. Fencers do not intend to go to non combativity, they do try to score but the bout just goes this way without any of them succeeding to touch.
Most often non-combativity happens in epee bouts, since in epee it is much more dangerous to attack for the offensive player – the counter attack might land faster. So fencers tend to prepare longer and might hesitate on the chance that they are risking an attack and thus it is easier to move to the non combativity zone.
Now that you understand what non-combativity is and how it can happen, let’s move on to explaining what a referee does in different bout situations.
How Referees Treat Non-Combativity Situations
Almost any fencing tournament is divided to two stages – pools and direct eliminations. Non-combativity is applied ONLY to direct elimination (DE) stage. Which means that if in the pools two fencers (from whatever reason) behave non-combatively, the referee will just continue to spend these boring 3 minutes with them until the end of the bout, and then will go on to a priority minute.
However in DE bouts, non-combativity will get a real treat from the referee:
- If the referee detected non-combativity in first or second period of 3 period bouts, or for the first period in 2 period bouts (e.g., Youth 10 or Veterans) they will call “HALT” and will immediately move the bout to the next period without a 1 minute break. During this time coaches are not allowed to approach their fencers.
- If non-combativity happens in the last period, the referee will move the bout to the priority minute, but in that case this minute will be fenced in whole. If there is a tie at the end of this minute, the fencer with the priority wins.
A few important notes on non-combativity
Just to clarify a few further things:
- The rule states “approximately 1 minute”. This means that the referee is the only person that will judge whether the situation is non-combative and warrants a call and whether he/she should wait for the whole minute, a bit less or a bit more. The judgment that the referee applies is based on what happens in the bout and whether the referee feels that the bout is non combative indeed. Sometimes a referee will call it after 50 seconds, and sometimes after 90 seconds.
- The rule by definition is formulated quite subjectively and it gives the referee a flexibility to apply his or her own judgment.
- One last point – in team competitions non-combativity is quite a typical tactical decision, and you can see it at any level of competitions, from local to the Olympic Games.
As any team match is fenced in 9 bouts, if non combativity happens in any of the first 8 bouts, the referee will stop the bout and will call the next bout with 2 other fencers. If non-combativity happened in the last 9th bout the referee will halt the bout and move to the priority minute, which will be fenced in its entirety like in individual competition. The team who has a priority wins in case of tie at the end of this minute.
Now you know what non-combativity is and when it is applied! So the next time a referee suddenly stops your child’s bout you will not be surprised by what has happened. It’s really very common!