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Fencers Should Make Note of These Rule Changes Taking Effect Jan. 1, 2023

12/31/2022, 5:00pm CST
By Bryan Wendell & Bradley Baker

The Referees’ Commission encourages fencers to pay particular attention to the rule changes related to touches made during or after falling and unwillingness to fence.

Cadet Women's Epee action at the October 2022 North American Cup. (Photo by Serge Timacheff)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — USA Fencing and the USA Fencing Referees' Commission, including Vice-Chair of the Rules and Examinations Committee Bradley Baker, are encouraging fencers to pay careful attention to some important rule changes that take effect Jan. 1, 2023.

The revised rules include:

  • t.18.4, which stipulates that the distance between the scoring machine table/stand and edge of the strip be between 1 meter and 5 meters
  • t.45, which clarifies the language around injuries and other medical reasons for a medical time-out or withdrawal
  • t.47, which revises the description of the duties of referees to be gender-neutral (for example: "the referee directs the bout" instead of "he directs the bout")
  • t.56 and t.121.2, which concerns touches made during or after a fall (see more below)
  • t.63, which covers referee hand signals and commands
  • t.124, which details "unwillingness to fight," also known as non-combativity (see more below)
  • t.170 — the penalty chart

The Referees’ Commission encourages fencers and coaches to pay particular attention to the rule changes related to touches made during or after falling (t.56 and t.121.2) and unwillingness to fence (t.124).

To read the new language for these or any other rules, consult the USA Fencing Rulebook, which has been updated to reflect these changes. Helpfully, the Referees' Commission has outlined changes to the USA Fencing Rulebook PDF in green.

All changes to the t (technical) rules described in this announcement are effective for USA Fencing domestic competitions at all levels (local, regional and national) as of Jan. 1, 2023.

No changes have been made to the o (organization) or m (material) rules at this time.

A Quick Look at How Rule Changes Get Made

As with all sports, fencing makes periodic adjustments to the rules to maintain the nature of the sport, ensure participant safety and shape the nature of competition.

Updates to the rules typically originate with the FIE (the International Fencing Federation) before adoption by USA Fencing for domestic use.

At the FIE 2022 Congress on Nov. 26, the FIE adopted a set of rules changes across all three major sections of the Rules (technical, organizational, and material), with most changes going into effect Jan. 1, 2023.

To maintain consistency between domestic and international competition for our athletes, referees, and coaches, the USA Fencing Board of Directors, in accordance with recommendations from the USA Fencing Referees’ Commission, Athlete Advisory Council and National Coaches, adopted corresponding updates to the Technical Rules (see PDF linked below). 

Touches Made During or After Falling

The Change

USA Fencing has adopted changes related to touches made during or after falling in both t.56 and t.121.2. 

A new clause (t.56.10) has been added to rule t.56 that reads:

10. Touch made during or after a fall must be annulled.

Rule t.121.2 has been revised as follows:

2. All bouts must preserve the character of a courteous and frank encounter. All irregular actions (fleche attack which finishes with a collision jostling the opponent, disorderly fencing, irregular movements on the piste, hits achieved with violence, blows struck with the guard, hits made during or after an intentional fall down to avoid the touch) or anti-sporting behaviour are strictly forbidden (cf. t.158-162, t.170). Should such an offence occur, any hit scored by the fencer at fault is annulled.

The Rationale

The motivation for this change was to modify the rules to penalize only an intentional fall to avoid receiving a touch and not penalize a fencer for a touch scored while falling due to accidental cause (e.g., injury, push by one’s opponent, loss of balance).

Intentional falls to avoid being hit continue to be penalized as offenses in the first group (yellow card on first instance and red card on subsequent infractions within a bout). The newly adopted t.56.10 clarifies that touches made during or after a fall must be annulled in any case, regardless of whether the fall was intentional or accidental.

Unwillingness to Fight (Non-Combativity)

USA Fencing has adopted changes to t.124, which addresses unwillingness to fight/non-combativity.

For a deep dive into this change, see our Dec. 19 article, which has been updated to include answers to FAQs fencers may have about the change.

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