Art of Fencing, Art of Life

Stepping Out of the Fencing Strip: Why You Just Lost the Bout

Stepping off Strip - When you can lose the boutAfter a recent RYC in Santa Rosa, one of our fencers came to me and asked why she just lost the bout in priority when “nothing really happened, I just stepped sidewise out of the fencing strip and clock was still counting”.

When I started to investigate what actually happened, she explained to me the following (quite a typical situation). It happened when she was at the end of her strip and trying to avoid a touch – she stepped out of the strip sidelines. The referee declared victory for her opponent.

Our girl was totally confused. She didn’t understand what had happened. Since it was a DE bout, she packed up her gear and headed home. The next day she asked me why the referee awarded her opponent a winning touch and denied her an opportunity to continue.

What happens when you step out of the strip in a fencing bout

Since it might be indeed a bit confusing, I would like to explain what does it means – in pictures! I’ll walk you through the basics, then dive into the pictures to make it more clear.

First of all, let’s look to the official USFA fencing rule, called “Stepping out of Lateral Boundaries” (t.28):

t.28.1 If a competitor crosses one of the lateral boundaries of the strip, he must retreat one meter from the point where he left the strip, and if he goes off the strip during an attack, he must return to the position he occupied when he started his attack and then retreat a further meter (but cf. t.29). t.28.2. If the exercise of this penalty places a competitor with both feet beyond the rear limit of the strip, that competitor is considered as having been touched.  

While at the first glance this is all quite clear, a few comments are needed to make everything more clear. Let’s use a diagram to explain this.

1.     When referee calls “Halt!”

Fencers must have at least one foot completely off the strip for the referee to halt the bout.

2.     You lose a meter when one foot goes off

  • Moving backward (not an offensive action) – lost meter starts where the step off occurred
  • Moving forward (an offensive action) – lost meter where the offensive action started, as decided by the ref

3.     If there’s no room, the opponent gets a point

Should the fencer be at the end of the strip when the meter penalty is assessed, the fencer steps back one meter off the strip and their opponent is awarded a point

4.     It can force a retreat

It’s important to note that there are times when, thanks to this rule, if a fencer steps off the strip it can actually lead to their opponent having to retreat in order to reach the proper distance. That happens most especially at the end of the strip.

Not so crazy to understand after all is it? Just to make sure you get it, here’s a graphic that will help you to make better sense of the whole thing.

Illustration 1: Stepping off near one’s end of the strip

Fencing Rules: Stepping Off Strip - Scenario when Defending Fencer Steps Off

Illustration 2 – Stepping off the strip near opponent’s end of the strip

Fencing Rules - Stepping out of Strip Scenario of Attacking Fencer


Back to our fencer

So back to what happened with our competitive fencer from the beginning of this piece? How did she lose? Can you guess from the steps we just walked through?

Check part 3 of our explanation. Our young fencer was at the end of the strip when she stepped off, which mean that there wasn’t enough room for her to back up one meter and stay on the strip. Instead, she had to take that penalty in another way – it counted as a point for her opponent. Since she was already tied, that one point was enough for her to lose the match.

This is all definitely unfortunate for our fencer, but it’s good for the rest of us who get to look at her mistake and learn from it! If you’ve ever stepped off the strip and not understood why you lost the match, then here’s hoping you’ll have a clearer idea of why now!


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1 Comment

  1. Dr. Rudy Volkmann

    Great, but you missed the third possibility (and maybe the most difficult to understand): fencer on left is way back on the warning area and initiates an attack that ends up with one foot of the strip – even as far forward as past the warning area. Referee still puts the attacker back one meter from where the attack began (not where the fault occurred) putting fencer on the left off the strip.

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