More on Priority or ‘right-of-way’

Thibus vs Jeon - OlympicsBy Robin Catling.

Having written about Priority recently, what do the rules say about ‘right-of-way’?

Priority or ‘right-of-way’ is the set of rules used to determine who is awarded the point when there is a double hit in foil or sabre – that is, both fencers hit each other in the same fencing time. Rules on priority are detailed in the FIE Rules of Competition, Articles t.56-t.60 (old 232-237) for foil, and t.75-t.80 (old 416-423) for sabre.

The core assumption behind right-of-way is that a fencing bout is always in one of three states:

  1. no actions are in progress
  2. the fencers are conceiving and executing their actions simultaneously
  3. one fencer is threatening, while the other is reacting to the threat

No points will be scored in the first situation, so we ignore it.

In the second situation, where we can genuinely determine the actions to be simultaneous – neither fencer gains priority and they hit in the same number of periods of fencing time – the fencers’ actions have equal significance, and it is impossible to award a hit. Both hits will be annulled and the bout will resume.

The third situation is the important one. The first fencer to establish a threat has priority (right-of-way), even if the other reacts by making a counter-threat. Any hit from the fencer with priority takes precedence over a hit from the other. The job of the referee is to decide which fencer did not have right-of-way, and annul his touch. If he cannot decide, the referee should abstain, annul BOTH hits, and resume the action where it left off.

A proper threat can be either an attack (see question 1.14), or a “point in line” (see question 1.16) that is established before the opponent attacks. Priority is lost when the threat misses, falls short, is broken off, or is deflected away from the target by a parry or other engagement from the defender. The defender then has priority if he returns the threat immediately. If he hesitates, however, that hesitation effectively cancels priority; the first fencer to establish a threat will seize the priority anew.

The right-of-way relationships between common fencing actions are as follows:

  1. derobement has right-of-way over attacks on the blade
  2. attacks on the blade have right-of-way over the point in line
  3. point in line has right-of-way over the attack
  4. the simple attack has right-of-way over the stop-hit
  5. the stop-hit has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
  6. the stop-hit in time has right-of-way over the compound attack
  7. the riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the attack
  8. the counter-riposte has right-of-way over the renewal of the riposte
  9. the remise of the attack has right-of-way over the delayed riposte

This marvellously simple listing of the rules relies on all concerned identifying and comprehending the raft of fencing terminology it contains – derobement, renewal, stop-hit, remise and the rest. Expect further posts in due course… RC