Everything you always wanted to know about right-of-way.
Right-of-way is the set of rules used to determine who is awarded the
point when there is a double touch in foil or sabre (ie. both fencers
hit each other in the same fencing time). If there is only one hit,
or if the hits are separated by more than one fencing time, then
there is no question as to who gets the point, and right-of-way is of
little relevance to scoring.
The basic idea behind right-of-way is that a fencing bout is always
in one of three states:
1) nothing significant is happening
2) the fencers are conceiving and executing their actions
3) one fencer is controlling the action and tempo and the other
is trying to gain control.
Since no points will be scored in the first situation, we can ignore
it. In the second situation, the fencers' actions have equal
significance, and it is impossible to award a single touch. Either
neither fencer will be awarded the touch (foil), or both fencers will
be awarded the touch (sabre).
The third situation is the tricky one. The controlling fencer has
the right-of-way, and his hit has precedence over any hit from the
other fencer. It is inappropriate for the other fencer to attack
when he is not controlling the action, since such an action may be
tantamount to suicide. The job of the director is to decide which
fencer was NOT controlling the action, and annul his touch. If he
cannot decide, the director should abstain, annul BOTH hits, and
resume the action where it left off.
Control (and right-of-way) is taken whenever one fencer threatens
the other with his blade; the threat should be indicated by an
extending arm and a weapon that continuously threatens the target.
In other words, the scoring part of the weapon should be on a smooth
trajectory that will meet the target if nothing is done to prevent
it. This trajectory can be curved (especially if the attack is a cut
or compound attack) but should not involve hesitations or movements
of the blade away from the target. A "point in line" is also a valid
threat (although not an attack), since the other fencer cannot
approach without getting hit.
Some directors adopt a more liberal notion of threat when the above
criteria are ambiguous. In these cases, right-of-way can be assigned
to the fencer who is obviously controlling the tempo and action, such
as through an aggressive advance. This convention is not universal
at all levels of fencing.
Control (and right-of-way) is lost when an attack misses, falls
short, is broken off, or is deflected away from the target by a
parry, attack on the blade, or prise de fer from the defender. The
defender has a split-second window of opportunity to return the
attack (ie. riposte) before the attacker recovers; if he does so, he
takes over right-of-way and the tables have turned. Otherwise it is
a toss-up; the first fencer to start an attack will sieze the
Normally, control should be asserted in as clear and unambiguous a
manner as possible, not only to ensure that the director understands
that you are taking the right-of-way, but so that your opponent does
as well. If your opponent is not aware that you are in control, his
actions may be quite unpredictable and dangerous. Even so, sometimes
it is to your advantage to conceal your control from the opponent
(such as when you try to draw the counter-attack). Obviously it is
very unwise to conceal your control from the director.
The right-of-way relationships between common fencing actions are as
- the simple attack has right-of-way over the stop-hit
- the stop-hit in time has right-of-way over the compound attack
- point in line has right-of-way over the attack
- attacks on the blade have right-of-way over the point in line
- derobement has right-of-way over attacks on the blade
- the stop-hit has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
- the riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
- the counter-riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the riposte
- the remise of the attack has right-of-way over the delayed riposte
Link to the next chapter: Are flicks legitimate