Foil priority rules of thumb with examples

In general

Priority is a comparison of both fencers.

Just because someone has a bent arm, or is not super direct doesn’t mean that the other fencer automatically gets priority.

In this clip the fencer on the right makes a running attack with his arm moving backwards


Which you might be led to believe that means that it’s not his off target, due to the rule:

t.56 3) d) Continuous steps forward, with the legs crossing one another, constitute a preparation and on this preparation any simple attack has priority.

But the fencer on the left doesn’t make an attack. Instead the fencer on the left tries to extend and touch while trying to escape, and tries to block his flank afterwards. It makes no sense to be so critical as to not consider the fencer on the right’s action so heavily, while automatically accepting that the fencer on the left’s attack, just because there was a mistake in the fencer on the rights action. This is given as attack off target from the right.

Forward motion does not mean that you’re automatically attacking – however backward motion pretty much guarantees that you’re not attacking.

You can’t make an attack in preparation while moving backwards. Effectively this often means you just give it to the forward moving fencer – because the realities of the distance between the fencers one fencer will have to be moving backward. If that fencer can get far enough away to stop, and then make a lunge into the advancing fencer, then the attack in preparation is possible.

In this clip the fencer on the left makes a stutter and a broken time attack with their arm. The possibility exists for attack in preparation for the fencer on the right, but instead of making a real attack, the fencer on the right hits while jumping back (he also tries to block out the attack).

The call is attack from the left.

Similarly, in this clip the fencer on the right is advancing with his arm bent against a fencer who definitely straightens his arm completely first, and doesn’t try to dodge or parry. The fencer on the left appears to be trying to get the call for the line, but the call is absolutely not an attack in preparation, because the fencer on the left never really makes an attacking action beyond straightening his arm.

The call is attack from the right.

Dodging/ducking/dipping/diving/dodging or any body evasion can and often does give up priority

There are lots of cases where it’s perfectly acceptable to say “Yes it would have been your attack, but you turned it into a counter attack at the end by ducking”. The action needs to look confident. Though it’s not impossible to parry and riposte while dodging, it’s very common and acceptable for the ref to take into account body language when deciding whether an action was a beat or a parry.

In this case the fencer on the right finds not a bad moment to possibly make an attack in preparation, and even goes forward with their action with an extended hand. But the fact that he pulls his shoulder back and tries to close out the flick pretty much concedes his action to be a counter attack.

The call is attack from the left touch.

It’s not always the case that any body evasion always means that priority is lost. What counts as body evasion is subjective of course. Even just lunging low means you’ve kind of ducked in a way, but obviously we still give attacks to nice low lunges.

If one fencer makes something that is otherwise a really good attack, but has a slight duck at the end, it might be that it was still their attack. As always it’s a comparison of all the aspects of the movements that both fencers make.

Missing gives up priority pretty much exactly the same as being parried.

If one fencer makes an action and misses, there is a lot of leeway for the other fencer to make an action. e.g. if you miss your attack, it’s basically my turn to try to hit you, even if I’m ducking, or moving backwards when I do so. But I have to do so immediately. If you miss while I’m moving backwards and I hit just as or just after your miss that’s okay, but if I take 3 or 4 steps backwards before I choose to try to hit you, and you’ve already recovered and hit me while I’m still moving backwards, the story might not be the same.

In this example the fencer on the left misses her riposte.

The call is given remise off target.

Be careful about reading the rulebook

There are a lot of rules that when read seem to imply things that don’t match how it’s called in reality. Much like the first amendment of the US constitution seems to imply freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – that doesn’t mean you and a 3 dozen friends can assemble in the food court of a mall and and chant whatever you want. The actual application of the rules requires interpretation. In the case of fencing, it’s better to watch how it’s called at world cup level, and see how that matches up with the rules, rather than reading the rules and forming your own interpretations.

For blade contact

The last person to take the blade – unless there is a pretty big pause – will have priority

(hopefully this is obvious).

The fencer on the right attacks, is parried, and then makes counter parry.

This is a clear counter riposte from the right.

Blade contact confers a fair amount of leeway

If someone takes the blade, they don’t really have to be super direct, or incredibly immediate to the target. e.g. It’d have to be an incredibly slow riposte for a remise in time to have priority.

In this example fencer on the left makes a parry. Then the fencer on the right makes a remise before fencer on the left completes their riposte. The fencer on the left then places the riposte on the flank.

The call is riposte from the left, despite the fencer on the right hitting first.

Beats generally take precedence over parries

We try to give precedence to the aggressor in foil. If it’s clearly a much stronger blade contact from the defender it can be a parry, not a beat. But anything where both fencers go for the blade that isn’t clearly a parry, is probably a beat.

In this clip, the fencer on the right first defends an attack from the left with a parry and step back, then begins his advance. During his advance he sweeps for a beat attack at the same time that the fencer on the left makes a search that looks like it might be a parry. Both fencers hit, but the fencer on the left makes a slight body evasion indicating that it was not an attack.

The call is beat attack from the right.