What is Right-of-Way? How do I get it?

Two of the weapons in fencing–foil and sabre–use right-of-way (RoW) to determine which fencer receives the point for the touch. It can be difficult to understand in theory, much less in practice on the fencing strip when you are in Full Battle Mode. It’s not as simple as determining who hits their opponent first or whose light turns on slightly before the other. As I explain it to the new fencers at our club, right-of-way is when one fencer has the “right” to attack the other.

Sabre fencing rewards the fencer who risks attacking first by awarding him the touch. I won’t discuss what constitutes a sabre “attack” here, as that is a topic that is heatedly discussed in a variety of settings and can change from one season to the next. Individual referees can also differ in their opinion of what an “attack” is so as you gain more experience in fencing, you’ll need to figure out what your referee sees and calls.

Let’s go through four basic basic scenarios on the sabre fencing strip. I’ll explain who has RoW.

1. The referee says “En garde. Ready? Fence!” Both fencers do exactly the same action (for example, double-advance lunge or double-advance retreat advance-lunge) and hit each other at the same time. Both lights come on. It’s a simultaneous action and neither fencer scores a touch because no one has RoW.

2. The referee says “En garde. Ready? Fence!” Fencer A attacks with a double-advance lunge. Fencer B does a double-advance then retreats and makes Fencer A’s attack miss. Fencer B comes forward. Both fencers reach out and hit each other. Both lights come on. Fencer B has RoW and scores the touch.

3. The referee says “En garde. Ready? Fence!” Fencer A attacks with a double-advance lunge. Fencer B does a double-advance then retreats and parries Fencer A’s attack. Both fencers then hit each other and both lights come on. Fencer B has RoW and scores the touch.

4. The referee says “En garde. Ready? Fence!” Fencer A attacks with a double-advance lunge. Fencer B does a double-advance then retreats and makes Fencer A’s attack miss. Fencer B continues to retreat. Both fencers reach out and hit each other. Both lights come on. Fencer A has RoW and scores the touch.

Basically, the fencer who has a continuous, forward-moving action has RoW and the “right” to attack. That right can be taken away by failing to make the attack land on their opponent, either by missing or getting parried. The only way to score in sabre while moving backward is to hit the opponent without getting hit and just turning on a single light.

Here are two videos that will help you understand sabre RoW:
Y10 sabre bout

Sabre bout explanation

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One thought on “What is Right-of-Way? How do I get it?

  1. As Kate says, what an “attack” is, is subject to an evolving dialogue. Nonetheless, it’s important to understand the definition in the rules: “the attack is the initial offensive action.” A common situation beginners find themselves in is that they think they are doing a simultaneous action, but the referee calls it for their opponent, and they don’t understand why.

    Situations like this tend to fall under one of three categories (each referencing a different part of the definitions).

    1) after the referee says “fence” one fencer is off the line immediately and the other hesitates. The person who has the *initial* action has the attack.

    2) both come off the line together, however one person is coming forward, but is not being *offensive* i.e. they are waiting to see what their opponent does, or are trying to set up another action.

    3) both are coming forward together, and both are being offensive, but one person makes a technical mistake in their *action*.

    Again, the window of latitude for each of these situations to be called simulations or “separated” (referee parlance for calling “attack-counterattack”) does vary at different times. It is critical to understand what your referee is calling and what the current interpretation is. If your referee is consistently calling a certain action a specific way, note this and CHANGE YOUR FENCING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THIS.

    Or to put it another way, “if the answer you come up with to the particular tactical situation you find yourself in is to go harder, faster or whatever in order to convince the referee it’s yours, you are asking the wrong question.”

    Like

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