Fencing: A game of intention

People say you can interpret any action in a hundred and one different ways and that’s certainly true of fencing. You only need to look at arguments found on messageboards and comments left on Youtube videos by people all over the world. Scrutinising points and how the actions fit with their interpretation of the right of way. But being honest fencing rules are not that complicated, even though it might look like two people randomly waving swords to a passer-by.

While looking at a fencing action we have to question the intention of the fencer in relation to the opponent. For example does the fencer on the right intend to hit the one on the left?


He clearly does, not only is he moving towards the opponent. You can see him extending his arm. This coincides with the FIE’s definition of an attack.

“The attack is the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent’s target, preceding the launching of the lunge or fleche (cf. t.56ss, t.75ss).”

But what happens if the opponent also attacks?

Two things can happen. If both attacks happen at the same time like this:


Nobody gets a point as they both cancel each other out.

[I used Sabre deliberately because simultaneous attacks occur more often. And also as a reminder that while the rules of Sabre might be different, the right of way principles are the same]

Or if there’s a way to differentiate the attacks such as one fencer starting before the other.


This is a tight call, although if you look carefully you can see both fencers prepare. The fencer on the right then begins to attack and the one on the left reacts therefore point to the right.

Knowing who is attacking and who is counterattacking is incredibly important, such as here:


Looking at the action, the fencer on the left never loses the right of way. To start the fencer beats his opponent’s blade three times, he then makes two disengages before finishing the attack. The only thing the opponent does is counter-attack so point left.

Is it possible for the defender to win the right of way?

Yes, one way is to make sure the opponent fails. For example stepping back, making the opponent miss then starting your own attack.


Again I’m using Sabre as an example. Both fencers begin attacking at the same time. The one on the right continues to attack and gains the right of way. The fencer on the left steps back making the opponent miss. He then starts an attack, picks up the right of way before hitting. Point Left.

Another way is by parrying.


In this example the fencer on the right gains the right of way through attacking. The fencer on the left blocks the opponents blade using a parry sixte before finishing with a riposte. Point Left.


This example is more complex because more things are happening. Firstly the fencer on the right attacks, so he has the right of way. It fails then the fencer on the left gains the right of way and moves towards the right hand side of the piste. A parry is executed by the fencer on the right although there’s no riposte. The fencer on the left retakes the right of way through another attack. We then see a circular parry from the fencer on the right who gains the right of way and hits the opponent with a riposte. Point Right.

Another way is to use a Point in Line, like this:


The FIE’s definition of a point in line is:

“The point in line position is a specific position in which the fencer’s sword arm is kept straight and the point of his weapon continually threatens his opponent’s valid target (cf. t.56.3.a/b/c, t.60.4.e, t.60.5.a, t.76, t.80.3.e, t.80.4.a/b).”

Although a point in a line can be a risky tactic, especially if the opponent takes the blade.


You can also score points by going against the right of way.

For example with a well timed counter attack.


Hoping the attack fails. (In this instance the opponent misses his beat attack)


Or by hitting the opponent on preparation.


I want to thank Fencing JapanFIE Fencing Channel and CyrusofChaos who I stole the footage from and to Make A Gif.com where I turned them into Gifs.

And finally to Mike Selig from fencingforum.com who inspired me to write this post.


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