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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/

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