Many contact sports have a certain etiquette or rules of conduct that combatants must follow, or risk point loss and even disqualification. Fencing is no different, and is considered by many to be one of the most disciplined of sports when it comes to rules of etiquette – both for participants and for onlookers alike.
For most competitions, combatants must salute the referee and each other before beginning a match; for matches overseen by judges, they would be saluted as well.. Failure to do so typically results in disqualification; it’s simply that important.
In saluting an opponent, typically a fencer must hold his mask in his left hand with four fingers on top, look his adversary straight in the eye, bring the blade of his weapon up before his right eye, then sweep it down and to the right. The blade should whistle through the air, and must under no circumstances strike the floor.
To begin a bout, the referee stands at the side of the floor strip on which you compete. The fencers walk onto this area fully dressed, except for their mask.
Sometimes the fencers will plug their wires into the spools connected to the electronic scoring machines and test their weapons against each other to make sure everything is working properly. They then move to their en garde or starting lines, and of course salute.
The referee begins the bout, typically by shouting “En garde. [This is your last signal to be in your beginning fencing position and stance.] Ready? Fence!”
Although many bouts are scored electronically, there is typically still a referee who observes the entire match, and may signal for the combatants to stop at any time, to award a point or call a penalty. Most fencing bouts are still called in French, so the referee will probably use the term “Halt!”
When the referee uses this term, the combatants stop where they are. If a point has been awarded, then the competitors return to their en-garde lines; if not, they remain where they were when the bout was interrupted, and the referee will signal to restart.
Fencing bouts are timed; the clock is started every time the referee calls “Fence” and stopped every time he calls “Halt!”.
Asking a referee to “reconstruct” is the polite and proper way to ask for an explanation of their signal and scoring decision.
As in most sports, the referees use hand signals, as it may be noisy in the venue. On the next page is a photo of the typical hand signals used by referees in most fencing bouts.
It is considered necessary etiquette for both combatants to shake hands at the end of the bout. Another salute may be offered, but this will vary according to the competition’s regulations.
Etiquette for the spectators.
Much like a tennis match, spectators are expected to remain quiet when the competition is in play. Fencers are concentrating intensely, and calling to them, or shouting, whistling, or even applauding can interrupt that.
Referees also need to focus intently on the play at hand, since the action happens at such lightning speeds. So, spectators may applaud between bouts, but should remain quiet otherwise. However, this doesn’t always happen, and of course with many bouts being played in one auditorium or arena, it can become noisy regardless.
This is important information for anyone who wants to observe a fencing bout, but especially for parents of children who are competing. The “hockey dad” mentality or the cat-calling parent in the stands would absolutely not be tolerated at a fencing competition.
And if you are bringing friends or family along to observe any of your bouts, be sure that they’re aware of these rules and are willing to comply; otherwise, it’s probably safer to leave them at home!