Priority (fencing)

Last updated

Priority or right of way is the decision criterion used in foil and sabre fencing to determine which fencer receives the touch, or point, when both fencers land a hit within the same short time-frame (less than 1 second). After this window, if one fencer had already landed a hit, the electrical scoring apparatus would "lock-out," or fail to record, an opponent's subsequent hit, and thus the one fencer to land a hit is awarded the touch. In épée fencing, if both fencers land valid hits at the same time, they each receive a point. Because of this foil and sabre are considered conventional weapons.


After a halt, a referee parses what happened into actions, from which it can be determined whether to award a point or not.

Offensive Actions

Offensive actions [1]

Counter-attacks [2]

Other Offensive Actions [3]

Defensive Actions

The parry is the defensive action made with the weapon to prevent an offensive action arriving. [4]

Point in line

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. [5]

Attacks on the blade

A fencer can 'Beat' their opponent's blade as a preparation to make an offensive action (as opposed to hitting their blade as a parry to defend against an opponents action)

Action Priority

Interpretation of Priority

Despite the simplicity of the underlying principles, priority rules are somewhat convoluted, and their interpretation is a source of much acrimony. Much of this acrimony is centered on the definition of attack. According to the FIE rules, an attack is defined as "the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent's target...". This is explained in the USFA Fencing Officials Commission FAQ: Initial refers to which fencer starts the action before his/her opponent does. Offensive indicates moving towards the opponent. Extending indicates that the weapon arm is moving away from the body - right of way does not require a fully extended arm. Continuously indicates that there is no "break" in the attack in which the attacker stops moving forward or holds back his/her arm. Threatening indicates that the attacker is in advance-lunge distance and close enough to hit, and his/her weapon's point (for foil) or blade (for sabre) are approaching the opponent's valid target.

The general consensus is that a useful guide is for the referee to look for which fencer's arm starts straightening first. In practice, referees, especially inexperienced ones, may go for the easy option and give priority to whichever fencer happened to be moving forwards. This is technically wrong, but it is far from unusual. There is also a school of thought, subscribed to by a relatively small minority, that priority should be given to the fencer who was the first to straighten his/her arm fully. This, again, is out of line with the current rules. The adherents argue that this is the more classical way of doing things, but this claim is dubious, as actual practice decades ago based right of way on which fencer started straightening the arm (not which fencer completed the extension); and the reworded rules conform better to actual, traditional practice which was documented in some older editions of the rules.

For example, the 1957 Amateur Fencers League of America (AFLA) rules says

The rules do not require that the attack be made with a fully extended arm; in fact, there are outstanding international champions in foil and sabre who attack without extending the arm fully. However, in all cases, the attacker must clearly take the initiative in combat by threatening the defender's target with a forward movement of the weapon, whether by extension of the arm or a movement of the body or a combination of both. The classical schools of fencing recommend the extension of the arm on the attack because this method simplifies the task of the President of the Jury in many situations, as for example in the case of attacks which deceive the parry (see § 11 below).


An attack which has failed (i.e. has missed or been parried) is no longer an attack. Priority does not automatically pass to the defending fencer, and at the moment an attack is over, neither fencer has priority. Instead, priority is gained by a fencer making an offensive action, as is always the case. If the attack was parried, the defender has the right to make a riposte, but it must be initiated without indecision or delay. Alternatively, (s)he may initiate his/her own attack if the initial attack missed. The fencer making the original attack may also make a new offensive action, a renewal of the initial attack. If the attacker immediately continues his/her attack in the same line, it is called a remise.

A parry is a defensive action made with the weapon to prevent an offensive action from landing. In practice, even a light blade contact is often sufficient to prevent an attack from landing, so long as it is not a "mere grazing of the blades" (as expressed in the rules). Therefore, it is not necessary for a parry to "close the line" (an "opposition parry"), though that may be used for tactical purposes. Consequently, foilists often parry with a sharp beating motion which does not necessarily end in a guard position that closes a line. In sabre, according to the FIE rules, "the parry is properly carried out when, before the completion of the attack, it prevents the arrival of that attack by closing the line in which that attack is to finish". In practice, sabre referees tend to look at the point of blade contact: contact of a defender's forte with an attacker's foible is generally counted as a parry, whereas contact of a defender's foible with an attacker's forte is incorrectly executed, and priority stays with the attacker. Some fencers refer to a retreat that makes an attack fall short as a "distance parry", but this is informal use: an actual parry requires blade contact.

Related Research Articles

Fencing Type of armed combat sport

Fencing is a group of three related combat sports. The three disciplines in modern fencing are the foil, the épée, and the sabre ; winning points are made through the weapon's contact with an opponent. A fourth discipline, singlestick, appeared in the 1904 Olympics but was dropped after that, and is not a part of modern fencing. Fencing was one of the first sports to be played in the Olympics. Based on the traditional skills of swordsmanship, the modern sport arose at the end of the 19th century, with the Italian school having modified the historical European martial art of classical fencing, and the French school later refining the Italian system. There are three forms of modern fencing, each of which uses a different kind of weapon and has different rules; thus the sport itself is divided into three competitive scenes: foil, épée, and sabre. Most competitive fencers choose to specialize in one weapon only.

Parry (fencing)

A parry is a fencing bladework maneuver intended to deflect or block an incoming attack.

Foil (fencing) fencing weapon

A foil is one of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing, all of which are metal. It is flexible, rectangular in cross section, and weighs under a pound. As with the épée, points are only scored by contact with the tip, which, in electrically scored tournaments, is capped with a spring-loaded button to signal a touch. A foil fencer's uniform features the lamé. The foil is the most commonly used weapon in competition.

Épée a number of different bladed weapons

The épée is the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. The modern épée derives from the 19th-century Épée de Combat, a weapon which itself derives from the French small sword.

The remise is a renewal of an attack in fencing. It is performed when one fencer's attack has failed, either because their opponent has parried or they missed. If the attacker immediately continues their attack in the same line, they have executed a remise. The name also is applied to repetitions of other actions which did not initially succeed. The remise is at the bottom of actions in taking priority.

Classical fencing is the style of fencing as it existed during the 19th and early 20th century. According to the 19th-century fencing master Louis Rondelle,

A classical fencer is supposed to be one who observes a fine position, whose attacks are fully developed, whose hits are marvelously accurate, his parries firm and his ripostes executed with precision. One must not forget that this regularity is not possible unless the adversary is a party to it. It is a conventional bout, which consists of parries, attacks, and returns, all rhyming together.

In fencing, a riposte is an offensive action with the intent of hitting one's opponent, made by the fencer who has just parried an attack. In military usage, a riposte is the strategic device of hitting a vulnerable point of the enemy, thereby forcing him to abandon his own attack.

Sabre (fencing) discipline of fencing

The sabre is one of the three disciplines of modern fencing. The sabre weapon is for thrusting and cutting with both the cutting edge and the back of the blade.

Outline of fencing Overview of and topical guide to fencing

Fencing – family of combat sports using bladed weapons. Fencing is one of four sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games. Also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing.

Attack (fencing) offensive movement in fencing

In fencing, an attack is "the initial offensive action made by extending the arm and continuously threatening the opponent's target". In order for an attack to be awarded successfully, the fencer must accelerate their hand and feet towards the target. If the fencer does not accelerate the hand or foot, this is a preparation.

Rapier Combat is a style of historical fencing practiced in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). The primary focus is to study, replicate and compete with styles of rapier sword-fighting found in Europe during the Renaissance period, using blunted steel swords and a variety of off-hand defensive items. Participants wear period clothing while competing, along with or incorporating protective equipment for safety. Members of the society sometimes refer to the sport as simply rapier.

Flick (fencing) fencing technique

The flick is a technique used in modern fencing. It is used in foil and to a lesser extent, épée.

In fencing, the grip is the part of the weapon which is gripped by the fencer's hand.

Flèche (fencing) fencing technique

The flèche is an aggressive offensive fencing technique used with foil and épée.

The Amateur Fencers League of America (AFLA) was founded on April 22, 1891, in New York City by a group of fencers seeking independence from the Amateur Athletic Union. As early as 1940, the AFLA was recognized by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE) and the United States Olympic Committee as the national governing body for fencing in the United States.

Fencing practice and techniques of modern competitive fencing are governed by the Fédération Internationale d'Escrime (FIE), though they developed from conventions developed in 18th- and 19th-century Europe to govern fencing as a martial art and a gentlemanly pursuit. The modern weapons for sport fencing are the foil, épée, and sabre.

Anja Fichtel German fencer

Anja Fichtel-Mauritz is a German fencer. At the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, she won in the individual and team competitions, and she won the individual competition of the World Championship in 1986 and 1990. She was winner of the World Championships in 1985, 1989, 1993 as a member of the national German team and second in team competition at the 1992 Summer Olympics. From 1986 until 1996 Fichtel held the title of German champion.

Prise de fer is a movement used in fencing in which a fencer takes the opponent's blade into a line and holds it there in preparation to attack. Translated from French, the phrase prise de fer means "taking-the-blade" or "taking-the-steel". Alternate spellings include the plural Prises de Fer or "Les Prises de Fer", and (incorrectly) Praise de Fer. There are four prise de fer actions: opposition, croisè, bind, and envelopment. However, each fencing master and fencing doctrine has a separate view of prise de fer. William Gaugler lists all four actions under Prise de Fer in his dictionary of fencing terminology, while Roger Crosnier in his book Fencing with the Foil only mentions the croisé, the bind, and the envelopment as prise de fer actions. Any prise de fer action requires that the blades be engaged, and it works best against an opponent who uses and maintains a straight arm. Additionally, a successful action demands surprise, precise timing, and control.

Fencing tactics movement or approach used in competitive fencing

Tactics are very important to playing well in modern fencing and although technique is important in the sport, using an array of tactics will help fencers make the most of that technique.

This is a glossary of terms used in fencing.