What is a Point in Line
Let’s let Mr. Imboden demonstrate for us.
t.10 of the rules defines what 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
Then in a number of places describes when a point in line scores a point.
5. Only the fencer who attacks is counted as hit:
a) If he initiates his attack when his opponent has his point in line (cf. t.10) without deflecting the opponent’s weapon. Referees must ensure that a mere contact of the blades is not considered as sufficient to deflect the opponent’s
Fine. So if your arm is extended and pointing at your opponents target before they attack, they gotta hit your blade before they can hit you.
Nearly ideal point in line in practice
Here’s the cleanest example of point in line I’ve ever found.
The fencer on the left clearly has a line in place. The fencer on the right takes a few steps, and then searched for the blade and attacks. The fencer on the left avoids the blade (derobement) and touches with the line without bending his arm or twisting/dodging. The call is point in line, point for the fencer on the left.
It pretty much doesn’t get any cleaner than that. This almost never happens though. Normally the situation a much much messier, and the timing much much closer.
Compare the nearly ideal action above to this action:
The fencer on the right begins advancing and the fencer on the left makes a number of arm pumps finally culminating in an action with a very straight arm. The referee doesn’t hesitate to give the call as attack from the right.
The line needs to look confident. If the fencer placing the line breaks their arm, drops their shoulder, twists or anything, there is a high chance the referee will punish them for it.
What is “In time”?
A line must be placed before the attack starts. This of course immediately leads to the question “When does an attack start?”, and the answer is “It’s complicated”.
As demonstrated in the ideal first example, an attack does not start as soon as you start moving forward. And a similar principal can be seen with the following example.
The fencer on the left places a line. The fencer on the right successfully beats the blade (it’s hard to tell without sound), and begins advancing, takes 3-4 steps, and hits with an attack. After a video appeal, the referee gives the point to the left as a point in line.
It’s not written anywhere specifically, but as a rule of thumb it’s roughly agreed (by many, but not all) that an attack starts on the final step lunge. It’s generally safe to say however that a fencer making 3-4 steps and a lunge does not start their attack on the first step.
I have heard some FIE referees that say that it doesn’t matter how many steps are taken, but instead judge based on a sort of subjective combination of how much time the attack took and the distance between the fencers when the line is placed. That is to say, if the attacker is fast and immediate enough, he could hypothetically take 3 steps and a lunge and still have priority. Regardless, the above example will almost always be considered line in time – a slow advance and touch like that doesn’t constitute a single long attack.
On the other hand, if a line is place very late, it will not be counted. Often even a if the fencer placing the line avoids a search, despite what the rules say, they will not be given the line if they place it too late.
In this example the fencer on the left places a line just before the final step and lunge of the fencer on the right. The fencer on the right even makes an action that looks like a big search which doesn’t find the blade and big broken time arm pump before the attack. However this is still given as attack from the right.
Another example of the fencer on the left placing the point in line too late. Also the line is not especially cleanly placed, which doesn’t help his cause. The call is attack from the right.
In this example from 2011, the fencer on the left attacks and gets parried. He then replaces his point for a point in line. The fencer on the right fairly immediately makes an attack with a step lunge. Even though the fencer on the right makes a very large search with his attack, which is avoided, the attack is still given against the line.
In this example the fencer on the left very cleanly places a line just barely before the beginning of the attack. Initially this was called attack from the right, but upon video review it was called point in line, point to the left.
Can you move with a line
Yes. You can move forwards and backwards and still maintain a line.
Can you lunge with a line?
I don’t really know. No seriously, I don’t really know.
This question has a messy history.
In 2008, the George Kolombatovich, the President of the Refereeing Commission released an official letter addressing this question. I couldn’t find the original letter, but here is a Fencing.net thread talking about it.
In the letter he says:
The priority of the point in line is retained whether one advances, retreats, or lunges. With all this in mind, it is obvious that the referees are correct when one fencer finishes an attack that is short in the position of point in line, that fencer continues to have the priority, and the opponent must deflect the opponent’s blade.
Well that’s pretty explicit right. Even more to the point a video which called itself an “Official” study guide
Explicitly saying that this action:
Should be given as point in line.
Of course, most attacks don’t actually end in a clean line like that. The vast majority of the time, when an attack ends, the attacker drops their shoulder, or moves the blade in such a way that even if it was a point in line, they would have broken it – it’s a rare situation that an attack actually finishes in a clean line.
However, this ‘ruling’ caused a minor outrage among a lot of referees. And I have even heard of many refs explicitly saying that they would not make this call – even if it is a clean line at the end of the lunge. So occasionally, even when an attack finishes in a way that seems like it’s as cleanly a line as is possible sometimes the line isn’t given. Here’s an action that happened this year:
It’s hard for me to imagine a cleaner example of a line. I don’t know exactly what the referees justification for this call was, but I can only assume that it was because of the lunge that the fencer on the left made. I guess it’s possible that the ref was saying that it wasn’t presented cleanly enough, but it seems pretty clean to me.
On the other hand, we have other fingers.
This action seems similar in a lot of ways, and after video review, this was called the line.
My advice for a fencer would be – just assume that you can’t maintain a line while lunging. Chances are if you do it, then you will break the line at the end of the lunge anyway, and even in the case that you don’t break the line with the lunge, there’s a chance that the ref will not award it anyway.
For an aspiring ref, I would say be very critical about whether the line breaks at the end of the lunge, as the vast majority of the time it won’t still be a line. Then in the extremely rare case that the fencer clearly doesn’t break the line – I would say call it in the way whoever is evaluating you tells you to call it.