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Tournament Stories by Coach Liz

Getting some coaching from my then-boyfriend, now-husband David.

Getting some coaching from my then-boyfriend, now-husband David. I think this was the Crescent City, it would have been 2003 or so.


Coach Liz here. The 2016-2017 season is starting and it’s got me thinking about some of my favorite tournament stories. Here they are, for your enjoyment.

Non-Combativity in Women’s Epee – Tale as Old as 2003 or so

When I first got started I wasn’t good enough to be worthy of a rivalry with anybody, but I did come up against the same people a lot. There was one really great epeeist, we’ll call her Margaret (not her name), who was very tall, very strong, and fairly passive… until you tried to attack or something, and then she’d mow you down with this fleche that I couldn’t do anything about. At one tournament I realized that if I just didn’t attack, she wouldn’t fleche, so I could lose the bout with a shred of dignity and no bruises (give me a break, I was new). The joke was on me because they’d just introduced (reintroduced? decided to enforce?) non-combativity, so when we went a minute without doing anything we both got carded. Margaret thought it was on me to try to score so she shouldn’t have gotten penalized, but apparently not.

I lost that bout, are you surprised?

My First Rating

At another tournament, I fenced a DE bout against a fencer I’d never beaten before, but I was having a great day and won. I was very excited because I’d gotten into the top four, and earned my first rating, an E2005 (I think that was the year). I’d been fencing for three years at that point and had come close to earning a rating several times but never succeeded.[1] Just before my next bout, a semifinal, someone told me that the tournament was better than I’d thought and I’d actually just earned a D (which is better than an E). I was so shocked I forgot how to fence and lost the next bout. Oops.

Let the Ref Check your Stuff

A few years later, my first DE in the women’s event got pretty interesting. My opponent’s blade failed to register a touch pretty early in the bout. When she realized it wasn’t working, she began testing it herself to try to figure out where the problem was. This is a good idea during practice but a terrible idea during a tournament – if something is wrong with your weapon, you need to ask the referee to check it so that the ref knows you didn’t just deliberately sabotage your equipment. If the ref checks your equipment and finds that it’s broken, they will often annul your opponent’s last touch since clearly you couldn’t have scored. But if you check your own stuff, they will not annul the touch.

Well, the trick here is that it wasn’t her fault that her weapon had stopped working – the floor cord had come unplugged, all the way at the end of the strip, where she couldn’t have manipulated it. The ref decided not to annul my last touch because she had tested her own stuff, and the bout committee backed him. I have asked a lot of refs about this call in the years since, and most of them say my touch should have been annulled since she couldn’t have caused the issue. Whatever the correct call was, the ref made the call they made, and my opponent got furious.

She spent the rest of the bout getting increasingly frustrated with her inability to hit me. At the break my husband overheard her saying to her coach “I have never seen someone get so many lucky touches in my LIFE.” I wasn’t getting lucky touches, though. She was so mad that she was trying to hit me hard, whether consciously or subconsciously. Every time she attacked she’d pull her arm back and I’d neatly, lightly counterattack her arm. Then she’d slam into me with the force of a thousand suns (or a 110-lb teenage epee fencer) a split second after I’d already gotten the point. I began to get a little worried for my safety after one particularly savage blow to my knee (epee fencing tip: when you are mad and getting counterattacked, do not aim low, you only make their job easier). I walked away from that bout with about 12 bruises and a victory.

Time to Go!

Later in the same tournament, I ended up in priority. This means that the score was tied and we had run out of time. Priority in fencing means the referee tosses a coin and then you fence for one minute. If somebody gets a point, they win and the bout is over. If nobody gets a point, the winner of the coin toss wins the bout. I lost the coin toss, so my only path to victory was to hit this girl. We were fencing on a strip that had the clock displayed, and my opponent smartly maneuvered me to the point that I couldn’t see it. I wasn’t too concerned because I thought I had a pretty good idea of how long a minute lasts, so I was biding my time and waiting for the perfect moment. Well, I waited a bit longer than I meant to. I heard a few people start to yell “Go! Go!” and my husband said “Uh… Liz?” in the same tone he uses when I’ve forgotten something important like my keys on the way out the door. I realized this meant it was time to attack. So I lunged, and hit her, and turned around and there was one second left on the clock. Thanks for the coaching, honey!

Bad News, Good News

I won the next bout, too, and went to the final. I was fencing better that day than I ever had in my life, but that also means more fencing than I’d ever done in my life, and the fatigue was setting in, and I could barely hold my epee anymore. Sometime between the semifinal and the final I lost my glove. That was the bad news. The only glove we could find at that point was an old, stiff leather glove in size large. The good news was that because it was big and stiff, it actually helped me hold the epee. It felt like I had a little scaffold around my hand. With the help of that glove I won the final bout and earned my first individual gold medal.

A few months later I found out that one of my teammates had taken the glove home thinking it was his even though it had “Liz M” written on the cuff.

Want some stories of your own? Sign up for tournaments! The Cougar Call to Arms is coming up September 17-18 right here in Houston. Also, buy a 2017 calendar and then circle February 11, because that’s the second ever Brash Brewery Bash.


[1] You earn ratings by placing highly in a tournament of a certain size; the rating A-E depends on your placement and the size of the tournament, and the year you earned it in follows the letter.


New Rules for the Coming Season

Know the Rules

Hey all, Dan here. This season sees two new rules for saber and the return of an old rule for foil. Here’s a quick rundown with a little commentary by me.

First the foil change:

Once up on a time, foilists had to keep their front shoulder in front and their back shoulder in back, until, maybe 10-12 years ago, the powers that be decided to let foilists reverse their shoulders like the other two weapons. Now the powers that be have decreed a return to days of yore, and starting post-Olympics (Congrats Team USA on 4 medals!) foilists shall no longer reverse their shoulders.

There is some concern as to what this will be in relation to, either the strip or the opponent, but the rationale is that when fencers turn, they can obscure whether they’re covering target with the non-weapon arm. With this reasoning, I imagine the rule will essentially be enforced with respect to the referee – that is, if the fencer has turned in such a way that the back arm could be used to cover target, the referee will be expected to give this card. Otherwise, I expect the card to only given when the fencer turns in relation to the opponent and strip. Reality may vary.

The impact on foil will mostly be in the in-fighting. Reversing shoulders is a quick and easy way to give a fencer enough space to use the blade, while denying the opponent the same chance. Unless a fencer is allowed to turn to face the opponent, in-fighting will become more difficult with a switch to behind the back touches and prime (one) with a jump riposte.

Saber, Part I – the Lockout

In 2004, the saber lockout (the time from when the first fencer hits until the time the second fencer is locked out from registering a hit) was decreased to 120 milliseconds. This turned out to be a bit extreme, and made it hard for many fencers to finish attacks or ripostes. It also led to more fencing with the tip of the blade and is blamed for the end of the counter-riposte in saber. The last critique might not be entirely fair.

Starting from August 1, the lockout time has been increased to 170ms to try to encourage the riposte and discourage counterattacks and remises. According to Scientific American[1], consciousness lags about 80ms behind reality, so don’t plan to do a whole lot with your newfound .05 second. We’ve been playing with this at Houston Sword Sports for about a month now, and I haven’t noticed much change in what I can get away with.

Saber, Part II – the Box of Death

A little history, I started fencing in 1990. At that time the preferred tactic was to fleche as soon as the referee said fence. After 2 simultaneous actions, we entered this weird priority system that I’m not explaining here. A couple years later, they experimented with having simultaneous attacks be a double touch. That went poorly. Then they took out the fleche. They have experimented with hyper-technical interpretations of hand and/or foot preparations. All this in order to get rid of the simultaneous attack off the line in saber.

The newest idea is an experiment by the FIE to start saber fencers with the rear foot on the en garde line. USA Fencing has adopted this rule for the experimental period. The theory behind the rule is that the new en garde line will make it dangerous to attack on the command fence (off the line). Since there’s no room for a preparation and easier to make an attack fall short, the fencers will be less likely to both attack off the line. This will make saber more varied and interesting.

The common issue raised with this is that a taller fencer will very nearly be able to hit an opponent without moving the feet on the command fence. My issue with this is that saber is an offensive weapon. In the short term, this will have the desired results, but I think as fencers figure out the game, it will return to the simultaneous actions off the line. It will still be easier to attack than to defend.

Anyway, those are our new rules for the season here in the US. Good luck to all of you, and let me know your thoughts on this.

[1] http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/time-on-the-brain-how-you-are-always-living-in-the-past-and-other-quirks-of-perception/


Houston Sword Sports watched the Olympics!

The Olympic fencing events have ended (except Pentathlon, but I don’t know any of those people). It was a great games to watch, and we’re really proud of the American fencers who brought home two silvers and two bronzes. Since many of the events happened during the day, we had to find creative ways to watch the games and still go about our normal duties.


We wanted to watch two of the men’s epee bouts at the same time, had to find creative ways of propping up the phones.

We got to show the fencers in our Bellaire fencing camp some really amazing final bouts, to give them a taste for how fencing can look when it’s being done by someone with more than a few days’ experience.

We were so caught up in the bouts we showed the kids that we forgot to take any pictures of the group watching the Olympic fencing. It basically looked like this picture, where Dan is showing the kids the pool sheet from their end-of-camp tournament.

We were so caught up in the bouts we showed the kids that we forgot to take any pictures of the group watching the Olympic fencing. It basically looked like this picture, where Dan is showing the kids the pool sheet from their end-of-camp tournament.

Coach Liz’s favorite moments of the games, in no particular order:

  • Men’s Epee: Max Heinzer of Switzerland, who I was totally rooting for initially, running off the back of the strip for no apparent reason as soon as his quarterfinal started. I started rooting for his opponent instead, Park Sangyoung of Korea…
  • and that proved a good bet since he had that amazing comeback in the final to win the gold medal.
  • Men’s Epee part 2: In the bronze, one of the guys did this amazing move where he beat six (upwards and outwards) and then hit the other guy’s foot, because the other guy was stuck in a lunge. I have been trying to replicate this in practice, but since I can’t get that low and my opponents don’t generally lunge that deeply, it has not looked nearly as cool.
  • Men’s Foil: Enzo Lefort losing his phone on strip.
  • Men’s Saber: Daryl Homer’s semifinal. The whole thing.
  • Women’s Foil: The final bout was so close, it was heartbreaking to have it end by running out of time.
  • Women’s Saber (Team): The commentators ran out of things to say about the match because Team USA was winning by so much, so they started talking about opera instead. Actually, this was not a favorite. It was just really weird. I enjoyed the rest of the bout though.
  • Women’s epee: Sadly, since I am a woman epee fencer, I did not actually get to watch any of the women’s epee.

Coach Dan’s favorite moments of the games, in no particular order:

One of our members said her takeaway from the Olympics was “I guess I do need to move more.”

So what about you? What were your favorite moments? What are you trying in practice now?

P.S. If anybody has a video or GIF of Heinzer’s boneheaded move please email it to us!