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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.

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Referee Stories


Hi, Coach Dan again. Last week I talked about my descent into madness becoming a referee. Today, I wanted to share a couple anecdotes that I think may amuse you.

So I reffed around the Southwest Section (Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana primarily) for a few years and started getting a little recognition as a decent referee. This happened maybe 1998 or so at the Poujardieu Memorial held at (then) Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. I was refereeing a semi-final match between two fencers we’ll call Joe and Lou[1] who have a little bit of a history – which is to say Joe generally beats Lou, and Lou doesn’t like it.

Regardless, Joe was winning 14-13 and Lou was methodically working his way down the strip after him. Joe threw out a point in line to slow the advance, Lou beat it and took a step forward, Joe threw a second line, and Lou started an advance lunge that hit Joe. I said the second line was established in time, Lou took exception and after some debate punted his mask to the other end of the gym. It was a beautiful kick. Probably traveled 75 feet in the air with lots of hang time.

Anyway, there’s 4 levels of penalties in fencing, creatively named Group 1, 2, 3, and 4. Group 1 is minor things, Group 4 is the things that get you kicked out. Things like punting a mask 75 feet. So I gave Lou his black card. Then, Lou realized that he could have earned a better rating if he hadn’t punted that mask, and he followed me around the rest of the day saying aw, geez, he was sorry, couldn’t I please change my mind. I didn’t; his rating did not increase that day.

Second story, a few years later I’m reffing another semi-final bout, this time in Oklahoma. The bout was between Sam, a former Olympic and World Cup fencer, and Ned, a promising junior fencer[2]. The bout wasn’t really that close, but at some point an action happens and words start coming out of my mouth describing it. I wasn’t even close. Exactly wrong, one might say. And I knew it as soon as I said it, that I had mistakenly given Sam’s touch to Ned. So did everyone watching it. So Sam lifted his mask, pantomimed Ned’s action, and asked if I was calling that an attack. I replied I guess I just did. Sam stared at me a couple seconds, came back en garde, and proceeded to finish beating Ned.

Both times I made a call, one right, the other wrong. Both times I stuck to my call because if referees start changing calls, it becomes a debate tournament. It’s not always easy to make snap decisions that affect the outcome of tournaments, people can take those things personally – I know I have as a fencer and a coach. But it’s an important job to the smooth running of a tournament and with practice the referee helps a lot of people have a pretty good time. Unless you black card them – no one likes that.

[1] Standard not name disclaimer

[2] Same deal on the names

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How I Became a Referee


Dan Reffing at the Robert Reed Benefit Tournament

Hi I’m Dan, I coach here, and I’ve been known to referee the occasional tournament.

When I started fencing, most collegiate tournaments that I attended had dedicated referees, while most local USA Fencing tournaments were refereed by other fencers. Generally, fencers would have a pretty good idea who was at the tournament and consensus would determine who refereed which bouts. Occasionally (usually when the stronger referees fenced each other), fencers would find themselves at the mercy of a ref with no understanding of the phrase. This rarely ended well.

After fencing a few years, I became one of the fencers asked to referee matches in my events. It wasn’t the most fun aspect of my life, but it was better than a sharp stick in the eye. In 1995, my then fiancée, now wife, and I moved to Texas and started traveling to tournaments with the Texas A&M Fencing Club. Since I was at the tournaments all weekend, but only fencing saber, I started refereeing the foil and epee events in return for food, my saber entry, and sometimes a little cash.

Midway through 1996, I signed up to referee at Summer Nationals. I tested, was observed, and refereed my first national event in July 1996. It was an eye-opening experience for which I was not as prepared as I thought. Pro tip, some people take their fencing incredibly seriously and insist on Olympic caliber refereeing at all times. Caveat, this is not correlated with their understanding of fencing, or what constitutes Olympic caliber refereeing.[1] Still, I came away rated 5 in foil and epee (first round of a top level national event), and a year later added a 5 in saber to my list.

I continued to referee at the occasional national event next 8 years, along with a steady list of local and regional events. I became fairly popular with most of the better area fencers, amassed a small arsenal of stories, saw a large body of fencers grow from noob to elite, and eventually disappeared from the refereeing scene as my coaching duties took more and more of my time.

Refereeing is a great way to subsidize a fencing habit, but hard work. Be prepared for verbal abuse, long hours, and a shocking level of work. Still, it will give you an appreciation of fencing actions that is hard to get otherwise, and an insight into the groundwork behind different schools of thought.

[1] Like toddlers thinking fair means getting their way, many fencers equate quality refereeing with getting the touch.

Interested in becoming a referee? Dan didn’t scare you away? Sign up for Coastal Bend Fencing Society’s referee clinic on July 9!

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Check out Wyatt at The Buzz Magazines

Wyatt, a member of our Bellaire Rec Center Thursday  youth class, has a profile up at The Buzz Magazine. Go check it out.

Wyatt continues to work hard and is having a great time with the sport. Come in and join him for a class and see what the Buzz is about!